Twin Oaks Tofu Upgrade

from the Twin Oaks facebook page:
TOFU WASTEWATER. Construction is now moving ahead quickly on the urgently needed tofu whey wastewater handling project. This part of the project involves specially engineered drainfield lines.


from the Commune Life facebook page:

Upgrades to Twin Oaks Community Foods tofu factory have been going on for over five years. There have been many hiccups along the way, but the project is finally reaching its conclusion. One of the major roadblocks this year has been the surprise need for a more robust wastewater management facility. Construction is just beginning on this critical piece.


Twin Oaks Tofu Upgrade

Not That Hard:The They/Them Song

Julia and Brooke from Twin Oaks got stuck in traffic on their way to pick up some cooking oil for a big dumpster meal they were cooking for HONK! Festival  and decided to make some music while they waited.

This song is called “Not That Hard” and was written by Julia Amanita and features Brooke Courtemanche.

Here are the lyrics:

You say you’re not able
But you say, “Who left their shit on the table?
I wish they would take their shit away.”
But see, you just used the singular “they.”

It’s not that hard
You just want it to be
So you can justify seeing me
How you want to see me
If you said it three times in a row
You would know

They/them they/them they/them
A singular human
Rejecting a restrictive role
For a moving point on the gender spectrum

You say it’s too awkward
Asking people’s pronouns just feels absurd
You say it doesn’t fit in dialogue
But you ask strangers on the street the gender of their dog

It’s not that hard
You just want it to be
So you can justify seeing me
How you want to see me
If you said it three times in a row
You would know

They/them they/them they/them
One person against the system
Making people women and men

As a divide and conquer strategy against a rebellious peasant population
To elicit the help of men in the subjugation of women
To piece us out one by one for direct control and supervision
No control over your life but control over your wife
A sick consolation prize to tie men to the propertied class and privilege their position
So that unpaid feminized labor can reproduce daily life
Under capitalism

You say it’s no fun
You want to make assumptions the way you’ve always done
It’s the minimum standard of human decency
So get with the program and stop calling me “she”

It’s not that hard
You just want it to be
So you can justify seeing me
How you want to see me
If you said it three times in a row
You would know

They/them they/them they/them
The switch in your brain can totally happen
Practice makes perfect and perfect is then
Seeing me as who I really am

Not That Hard:The They/Them Song

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults

Autumn at the communes.

From the Commune Life Instagram account

Bonfires, Mushrooms, Cats, and Cults

Food at Twin Oaks

from the Commune Life Instagram account:

View this post on Instagram

@jacquelinelasry and I pulled all this food out of 2 dumpsters on Saturday. These little dumpster monsters helped me process and eat it all. From left to right we have 16 cans of coffee, a big bowl of citrus, a hotel pan full of fruit, a hotel pan full of veggies, cakes & pastries, juice and tea, 28 loaves of bread, several pounds of hummus, fruit cups, snack packs, cheese, 16 ham steaks, bacon, chicken, smoked salmon, a 3 pack of razors, command hooks, an ethernet cable, and a bag of chia seeds. Thank DumpRa that I have a community to feed. -Julia . . . #dumpsterdiving #dumpster #dumpsterdivinghaul #realfoodrevolution #groceryindustrialcomplex #foodsystem #communelife #intentionalcommunity

A post shared by Commune Life (@communelifelife) on


Food at Twin Oaks

Policy and Compassion

Posted 27th February 2014 by keenan from Keenan’s Twin Oaks Blog

How to be a bureaucrat and also a decent human

What Twin Oaks is is contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is not is also contained in our policies.  What Twin Oaks is likely to become in the future is contained in our policies. As individuals we are protected by our policies.  Our entire alternative income-sharing, non-violent, ecological and cooperative culture relies on the clear communication and effective enforcement of our policies.   Having policy is vital; understanding policy is vital; adhering to policy is vital.

However, given all that, I also believe that it is wrong and dangerous to then conclude that everything written in Twin Oaks’ policy notebooks is flawless. The vicissitudes of fate and the vast range of human behavior guarantee that policies will inevitably need interpretation and alteration.

Most people believe that unless they are on some decision-making committee, they don’t need to understand the arcane issues about the application of policy, but even two people in a relationship discussing whether it’s OK to have sex with someone else are “drafting policy.”   I think understanding concepts and issues around application of policy makes the world a healthier place.

Because there are so many ways we affect each other at Twin Oaks, we often have to interpret policy here.  An example:  It’s important that Twin Oaks drivers drive safely.  Periodically, the issue comes up of some people feeling unsafe with a tripper’s driving.   The policy is that an unsafe driver loses that job.  OK then. How unsafe is too unsafe?   Is one complaining passenger enough?   How many warnings is enough?  The policy is clear, but the implementation of that policy requires interpretation.  Really, the implementation of every policy requires interpretation.

The “check-down” analysis required in using policy is something like this: do we have a policy that covers this situation? Yes?  Great!   If this situation is unusual and no policy covers it, is it a truly unique situation that requires an exception to policy?  Or is this new situation something that is likely to recur and so this new decision isn’t an exception but, rather, a new precedent? Is the policy totally outdated?  Does it need to be ignored in this situation and then eventually rewritten?

Throughout all of these steps, the first and foremost thought should be, “Does this decision make sense?” and “Is this what a majority of the community would want to have happen?”


         Errors in policy interpretation:

To me, one of the least compelling arguments is that we should assume that the judgment of earlier bureaucrats is always better than the judgment of current bureaucrats. Another error is trying to re-draft a policy to cover an extremely unusual situation that will, in all likelihood, never occur again. If a unique situation arises, a unique decision needs to be made.  It’s best to announce that we don’t have policy for this situation and make a decision based on common sense—and let the policy alone.

The third error, and I think the most common, is mindlessly applying policy that is not relevant in this particular situation. For any decision-maker, the safest path is to hide behind policy and to not use independent judgment.   My take is that the mindless-adherence path is what most people mean when complaining about bureaucrats and bureaucracy.  If the gap between communal common sense and bureaucratic decision making becomes too wide, it leads to cruel outcomes,  mistrust and dysfunction.

        Enforcing policy

No one wants to be the bad guy, but there has to be an enforcer when someone violates policy.  But enforcing policy does not mean letting go of your basic humanity.  For most of us, enforcing policy is regrettable.  Communicating your personal regret, can take the some of the sting out of receiving bad news.  Also, telling someone the process they need to go through to change this outcome (even if it’s unlikely that the decision will change) goes a long way toward softening the blow of enduring sanctions, or being on the losing side of a policy debate. When the time comes to enforce policy, be sure you have the support of the community.  Don’t make it a dyadic power dynamic between the two of you If you think you are representing the community, be sure that you are representing the community and then include others in your enforcement campaign.


Errors in applying policy: secrecy

The whole design of our egalitarian community ensures that there are going to be amateurs in most positions, including decision-making positions. The temptation is to keep troublesome decisions quiet. Whether we make decisions that make someone unhappy, or we screw up the proper process, the right thing to do is to 1) make the decision public and 2) to make the thinking about the decision public.  By making information public, people understand how a manager or committee came to a decision. This serves several salubrious functions. The main function is that it helps everyone understand why and how a decision was come to and, usually, that it was a difficult decision.  This contributes to the second function which is increasing trust.  Trust is the foundation upon which our entire alternative culture rests.  Secret decisions erode trust and weaken the community; clearly explained publicly-announced decisions—even unpopular ones—even about a process mistake the group made–builds trust and strengthens the community.

An important additional function of explaining the thinking around a decision is that it helps educate everyone about the process of making decisions.   Decisions that are explained increases the overall competence of the community in making decisions. And, if you are making a decision and you can’t publicly justify that decision, or you don’t want to, then maybe you should go back and revisit the decision and make a decision that you do feel comfortable explaining publicly.

It is understandable that bureaucrats don’t want to explain their thinking in making decisions, because they(we) are going to get flak and—worst case scenario—the decision-maker might be wrong, that is, they may not represent the majority of the community, they may have misapplied policy, they may have done the process wrong.  And this is all the more reason to share decisions publicly—specifically to correct erroneous decisions.  Bad decisions that don’t represent the wishes of the community  erode trust. So, as awful as it can be to post a decision and have people rise up in outrage and then overturn the decision, that’s actually a good thing.  That means that people have the ability to correct poor decisions by well-meaning (we can assume) but misguided decision-makers.


         Errors in applying policy: ignoring your own conscience

Being in a decision-making role usually means not making up your own mind, but, rather, following policy and representing other’s interests.  Inevitably, there will be times when these can conflict with your own sense of what is right.  What to do?  Sometimes people recuse themselves; I think that they shouldn’t. The main reason for recusal is when there is a conflict of interests, that is, the decision facing you will affect your personal interests.  That is a good reason to recuse yourself  from a decision.  But the world is not made better if people of conscience recuse themselves from decision-making.  I ask you, who is left to make decisions then?  So, caring about the outcome of a decision is not the same as benefiting from that decision personally.  Because you have an ethical compass is no reason to recuse yourself from a decision.

But if a policy mandates that you make a decision that is at odds with your own conscience, what is the right thing to do?  In the world I want to live in, don’t follow policy if the outcome is ethically wrong! This is exactly the place where you should make the decision according to what you think is right, and then you publicly state your reasons for doing so.  Let those who disagree with you then attempt to overturn your decision—and make them explain why.

I believe that it is essential that we not lose our compassion, kindness, or essential humanity in coming to decisions.  It can be challenging to make a decision that is not backed up by policy, but I believe that is the essence of being not only a good bureaucrat, but a good human.  I believe that all of us want decisions that are guided by, not just proper process, but also by people who have a heart and are trying to make ethical decisions; in a community, I think that we should demand nothing less of our decision-makers. I believe that it is not only possible to be a bureaucrat and a decent human being; I think it is crucial.



[All photos from Twin Oaks archives–not in original article]



Policy and Compassion

Bye Denny Ray

From your passport to complaining

Denny Ray left Twin Oaks many years before i arrived (and that was over 2 decades ago). But from early on in my membership i knew who he was, because he fixed things. Twin Oaks prides itself on on being self sufficient. And in many ways we are, in ways few families or even companies can brag about. But our little secret is we have some ringers. Denny definitely was one.

Denny Ray and his impressive camera

Denny was an independent political force in the labyrinth decision making system at Twin Oaks. He would get an idea in his head that we should do something and he would make it nearly irresistible to follow his advice, He wanted us to change to Blossman Gas; he argued that it would save us money, he argued that they gave better service, he argued they have safer equipment. But in the end what really won over the planners is when he said “And i will manage it”. We would have paid him, but he would not take money this time.

Denny brought the Blossman crew in and they went around to all our residences. They proposed a bunch of new hardware and i was frankly a bit scared that in the end it would not end up saving us money. Denny asked me to give hammocks and pillows to the Blossman engineers, which i happily did.

Denny was of course right. The new gas company ended up saving us over $10K a year, even after we paid for all the new equipment. Denny had negotiated a great deal for us. Best hammocks we ever gave anyone.

But Denny was loved for far more than his utility. He was funny, friendly, generous and highly opinionated. He loved his little house and would never move back to Twin Oaks, but he was often over for lunch consulting with old friends who were members, or newer members who knew he often had sage advice or a good story to share.

Denny also was a photographer. He would catch us walking on the road with our kids, and later send us a much loved picture to remember the moment. He loved our plays and musicals as well, and took photos of the performers in costume. We very much appreciated his generosity and artistic dedication. The sight of his much-beloved blue truck was always a cause for celebration.

Twin Oaks Forestry Crew: Photo Credit Denny Ray

Denny would get frustrated with us for poor decision making or treating a member poorly, and then he would take time away from the commune, a week – sometimes even a month. But his love for the place and its people always brought him back.

Denny’s last year was a tough one, He spent a bunch of nights in Twin Oaks hospice facility, Appletree. We don’t use Appletree for anyone who is not a member, but Denny was exceptional and no one even considered challenging the decision to bend the rule for this old friend.

I’ll miss Denny, who used to often joke about my many girlfriends or how i was upsetting the bureaucrats on campus. I’ll miss him, and i will remember him, his commitment to community, and his willingness to be part of something greater than self.

Good Journey, Denny Ray, thanks for everything.

Bye Denny Ray

Welcome to Twin Oaks Community

from the Twin Oaks website 

Twin Oaks is an intentional community in rural central Virginia, made up of around 90 adult members and 15 children. Since the community’s beginning in 1967, our way of life has reflected our values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. We welcome you to schedule a visit.

We currently have membership openings! If you’re interested in exploring life at Twin Oaks, we welcome you to schedule a Three-Week Visitor Period.

We do not have a group religion; our beliefs are diverse. We do not have a central leader; we govern ourselves by a form of democracy with responsibility shared among various managers, planners, and committees. We are self-supporting economically, and partly self-sufficient. We  income-sharing. Each member works 42 hours a week in the community’s business and domestic areas. Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money from the community.

Our hammocks and casual furniture business has generated most of our income in the past. Making tofu as of 2011 has become roughly equal in importance to hammocks. Indexing books and now seed growing are also significant sources of income. Still, less than half of our work goes into these income-producing activities; the balance goes into a variety of tasks that benefit our quality of life—including milking cows, gardening, cooking, and childcare. Most people prefer doing a variety of work, rather than the same job day in, day out.


A number of us choose to be politically active in issues of peace, ecology, anti-racism, and feminism. Each summer we host a Women’s Gathering, Queer Gathering, and Communities Conference where we welcome both experienced communitarians, and seekers who are new to community living.

We give tours of Twin Oaks almost every Saturday afternoon from March through October, and on most alternating Saturdays from November through February. 

We offer a structured three week visit designed to give the visitor some general education and experience in living at Twin Oaks. 

Please do not drop in and expect to get a tour or be able to stay overnight. Tours and visits must always be pre-arranged, and to be a guest here, a member must agree to be your host before you arrive.


Welcome to Twin Oaks Community