The Louisa County Community Cluster

by Raven Glomus

Louisa County is a 511 square mile county in central Virginia with a population of over thirty-three thousand folks.  It is also home to ten communities, including Twin Oaks, the oldest secular income-sharing community in the United States.

I had not realized how many communities there were in the county, until Paxus published his post on Meet the Communities and I counted the communities listed that were in Louisa, Mineral, and Cuckoo (all locations in the county).  There are nine in the table Paxus included and I am adding a tenth that I know of. Here’s my summary of the communities in the county.  (I want to thank Jules from Twin Oaks who went over all the communities with me and knows a lot more about them since they actually live in the county.)

Twin Oaks

Twin Oaks, as I said, is the oldest of the communes, having been established way back  in 1967.  It has a population capacity of 93 adults and 15 children but currently has around seventy members.  It has a lot of industries, from making hammocks to making tofu and from indexing books to growing ornamental flowers to changing the flooring of an auditorium in Charlottesville to managing the Seed Racks portion of Acorn’s seed business .  Right now, given their low population, they are actively seeking new members. They ask interested folks to begin the membership process through their visitor program.

Acorn

Acorn Community has been around for around twenty-eight years now (established in 1993). Traditionally, they kept their numbers low–to around thirty full members.  Recently they began talking about expanding to closer to forty full members, however, there has been some major disagreements among members resulting in a lot of folks leaving and their population has plummeted to currently about fifteen folks.  They have one, very successful business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  They are actively looking for folks now.

Living Energy Farm

Living Energy Farm is a community dedicated to the idea that it is possible to live a fulfilling life without the use of fossil fuels.  Although they started planning the community in 2010, they began living together in 2012.  They originally started with the idea of being an egalitarian, income-sharing community, but they have changed their status with the FEC to being an ‘Ally Community’, mostly to focus on their work of developing sustainable living situations.  I sometimes refer to them as being the research arm of the communes in Virginia. They run Living Energy Lights as a way to make some of their solar energy systems available to the public.  They have done projects to help underdeveloped areas use these systems, like their work in Arizona with the Navajo and Hopi reservations and in Jamaica.  They are currently looking for both volunteers and members.

Magnolia House

Magnolia House is a house in the town area of Louisa that Living Energy Farm owns and has retrofitted it to be “off-grid.”  In his table of communities, Paxus lists it as an ‘LEF Affiliate’.  My understanding is that the people who are living there would like it to become a community in its own right.  Unfortunately, beyond this I have little information and no pictures–I have never seen the place and know little about it other than what I have heard.

Cambia

Cambia is a quirky, creative little commune with a high degree of playfulness and whimsy.  Founded in 2015, they see themselves as trying “to create human habitat that emulates the beauty and complexity of living systems.”  They run an educational program that they call “Rustling Roots” and do a variety of work for other communities and outside programs.  I’m not clear whether they are currently looking for folks or not, but they do write a bit about visiting and joining them on their website.

Little Flower

Little Flower describe themselves as a small Catholic Worker homestead.My understanding is that it is primarily a couple who grow food, practice radical hospitality, and engage in political activism.  They welcome visitors.

Community of Peace

Community of Peace describes itself as “an ecumenical Christ-centered community of welcome, sung prayer, dialogue, and solidarity” and claims to be inspired by the Taize Community in France.  I know little about this community, other than it’s in Louisa, it was listed on Paxus’ table of communities that might be coming to the Meet the Communities at the Quink Fest, and what I could get from the website.  Honestly, it looks like the efforts of one person at this point.  It’s not clear whether the community is looking for members right now but the website talks about what they do and how to connect with Brother Stephan Andre.

The Cuckoo Compound

The Cuckoo Compound is in a village that is part of Mineral, Virginia, and is actually called Cuckoo.  They say that they are “a loose collective that anticipates hosting lowkey events like potlucks, craft nights, and shows!”  I know of some of the folks there and they seem pretty cool but I’m not sure that they are looking for new members.  They look like they have some fun events there, though.

Serenity Community for Justice and Peace

The Serenity Community is one of the newest, forming communities in Louisa.  It’s an ambitious project to start a BIPOC led community and, as far as I know, they do not even have land yet. They do have support from the other communities around them.  I am hoping to have more about them on this blog as the community develops and I, personally, am hoping to become more involved with them.  I don’t think they have a membership process yet but, particularly if you are a person of color who has been disappointed in how BIPOC folks have been treated in most communities, you can probably contact them through their Facebook page.  (Also, for those interested in understanding the experience of BIPOC folks in community, the Foundation for Intentional Communities is sponsoring a panel on Zoom called BIPOC Members Speak: A Conversation About Community. Follow the link for more information.)

Bakers Branch

I have been hearing about these folks for years but have little information about them other than they are an association of ex Twin Oakers and others that have formed a land trust on a road halfway between Twin Oaks and Acorn.  I doubt that they are looking for new folks (they were not even listed in Paxus’ Meet the Communities event) but I just think that it’s good to know that they’re there, one more part of the conglomeration of communities in Louisa County.

The Louisa County Community Cluster

The Importance of the Right Allies–Serenity Community

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

When the nation was exploding in protests over the murder of George Floyd, some skeptics, perhaps tired of the nations inability to hold Trump for any of his many crimes, said “these protests won’t change anything”.  They were wrong.

Viewers of mainstream news could be forgiven for thinking the big effects were removal of confederate statues and the confederate symbol from the flag of Mississippi and NASCAR races.  And i fear the biggest effect of the Trump presidency is that many news sources now focus more on telling us what we will get upset about, rather than what is actually important.  

The Floyd uprising changed policing in America.

However this short list misses most critical reforms and changes, many of which took place shortly after Floyd was murdered.  Some terrible laws were cancelled, including A 50 in New York which protected criminal bad cops by hiding their disciplinary records and complaints filed against them.  Colorado stripped cops of qualified immunity. LA cut over $150 million from the police budget and redirected it to other community services.  Over a dozen police chiefs were forced to resign, including in large cities like Atlanta, Tucson, Richmond and Louisville.  Police chiefs almost never resign suddenly or are fired.  Letitia James, the Attorney General of NY State made history by being the first AG to sue their own police department for use of excessive force.  At one point, i started to track all the things which had actually changed because of this uprising, it ended up being overwhelming by it and i quit.

Serenity Community – circa summer 2021

The communes also changed.  There were disruptive internal protests at these intentional communities about systemic racism and there was a lot of education of white communards about how despite their best intentions they were maintaining racist systems.  And in part because of these internal  protests POC members of communes started more seriously considering options which had only been discussed before.  Importantly, a number of BIPOC community members realized there was a need for a  BIPOC led income sharing community near the cluster of communes in Louisa county.  And so Serenity Community was born.  

OG Serenity

While Serenity (taken for the name for the starship in the Firefly TV series) is still forming, it is already making good things happen.  One of the things we are especially excited about is that Serenity has taken on the difficult task of dispersing scholarship (discount) tickets for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who need economic assistance to come to QuinkFair.  Recently, has also agreed to take on the granting of scholarship tickets to other economically disadvantaged participants.  

And while they have been actively dispersing scholarship tickets, there are still more people who want to come to this event than can afford it. If you could help grow these scholarship funds it would be quite helpful.  If you are on Facebook, you can donate at this fundraiser or you can venmo 541-505-0803, be sure to include a note “QuinkFair Scholarships”

George Floyds death forced America to admit it had a systemic racism problem and while these important changes are to be lauded, we know the real work lies in front of us, but i am glad and excited to have the talented and energetic Serenity folks help in crafting a more fair and equitable world.

The Importance of the Right Allies–Serenity Community

Dumpster Cherries!

One way that we get food at Glomus is called dumpster diving. Theresa does a lot of it and makes videos about it. This particular video got over 10 million views! Next week we will publish one important response to this video.

Dumpster Cherries!

Dealing with Debt

by Raven Glomus

Last week I talked about how the older communes didn’t seem to have thought about the fact that most people don’t stay forever in communities and that you wouldn’t want it to be hard to leave an income sharing community–and the problems that caused, and how the newer communes created Exit Agreements to deal with that.  This week I want to talk about another issue that the older communes didn’t want to deal with: Debt. 

In my made up story to illustrate the need for exit agreements, I said that the homeless man had no money but no debt.  That would be an unusual situation.  Actually, a lot of folks come to the communes with a little money and a lot of debt.  Twin Oaks’ solution to this is to say that folks either have to not pay the debt (ie, default on it or declare bankruptcy) or not move into the community.  At one of the newer communities, at least in one case, the solution was to actually pay off all of the debt for one of the members.

This is a more expensive solution and probably wouldn’t work in one of the larger communities.  It also probably wouldn’t work if the community had a lot of folks with lots of debts.  But it does illustrate a more radical solution to the debt problem.

The problem is that our current society runs on debt.  Student loans alone constitute an enormous amount of debt. It turns out that this past year, US students owed nearly $1.6 trillion in debt.  Furthermore, nearly 12 million student loan borrowers were in either loan deferment, loan forbearance, or loan default. 

And then there is credit card debt.  The outstanding total US personal debt, most of which was credit card debt, reached $998.4 billion in July 2021.  There was a $5,525 average balance on credit cards over this year.  Once you are in debt, it’s hard to get out of it.  Defaulting on loans when you enter a commune is one solution (and it makes sense as a way of just getting out of an horrible system), but when you figure a lot of communards are going to leave the commune at some point, starting over could be very difficult with bill collectors on your back.

Again, I realize that simply paying off debt for every member with it probably wouldn’t work in the long run.  But, just like the new communes needed to come up with new policies to deal with folks leaving, such as Exit Agreements, we need to figure out more possible solutions to folks in debt–because there’s a lot of them out there and, if communities are going to offer real alternatives, dealing with debt is something, especially for those who are trying to start new communities and find folks, that is going to have to be built into the new community’s policies.

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Dealing with Debt

It’s Fall

by Raven Glomus

I post everyday on Facebook and three times a week on this blog.  One of the ways I am able to do that is that both Facebook and WordPress have scheduling features that allow me to schedule posts well in advance.  I was looking at my scheduled posts for Facebook this past weekend and suddenly noticed that I had the same exact starting wording three days in a row.  As you will see below, they all began with  “It’s fall and…”

Apparently, the seasonal change has gotten to me.  I could have changed several of them (as I said, these were scheduled well in advance) but it sort of amused me and I was curious to see if anyone on Facebook noticed.  If anyone did, no one said anything, but given that most people see these posts on their feed along with dozens of other posts from dozens of other sources, it’s quite possible that no one noticed.

Other than that, as you will see, these posts did quite well, although they didn’t really attract a lot of comments.

The first was a picture post on fall flowers around Glomus Commune. I double posted it on Facebook and Instagram and it reached 561 people on Instagram and 280 folks on FB.  (Instagram posts usually reach a lot more people than FB posts so this isn’t really surprising.) It got five comments, but they were all from Rejoice–with pictures of fall flowers from Acorn.

Here’s what Rejoice sent us:

For the next day, I was hunting for material when I went to the SESE website and saw this useful looking checklist for gardeners.  Because these are pictures of the Facebook feed, the link there won’t work.  Here’s a working link to the original article: https://blog.southernexposure.com/…/garden-checklist…/

This was what went up on our Facebook feed (beginning, of course, with “It’s fall and…”):

No comments, but it reached more than two hundred people.

Finally, I was trying to think up a question for our Monday post.  What I came up with was this:

It reached over 150 folks, which isn’t bad, but I write these questions to solicit comments and I only got three–and one of them was from me and, honestly, L Elizabeth Storm is my cousin and probably just saw this on her Facebook feed because we are related.

Anyway, it’s fall…

It’s Fall

What do you do for a living?

Theresa (aka teiresiaskadish) lives at Glomus Commune–and also on the internet. She has made dozens of TikTok videos–many of which have had hundreds of thousands of views (the one below has had 108K views according to TikTok). I intend to publish a bunch of these, that are at least somewhat related to communal living, over the next bunch of Wednesdays. I particularly like this one where Theresa replies to someone who asked her what she did for a living. It’s a great response that reflects the reality of living in community.

@teiresiaskadish

Answer to @deecy123 – My living is living with others and caring about their lives is my work #community #commune #empathy #work #emotionallabor

♬ Harmonium – Bruitages
What do you do for a living?

Exit Agreements

by Raven Glomus

This is in many ways a follow-up to what I wrote last week about ‘Turnover’.  A problem is that many of the early communities, and especially the communes, didn’t anticipate turnover.  The idea was that people would join the communities and want to live there forever (or, at least, for the rest of their lives).   Many people who join communities will say just that–and a few actually do stay at one of the communes for the rest of their lives.  Most, however, at some point, will move on, or at least want to move on.

Here is where this becomes a particular problem for the income sharing communities.

As an illustration, I sometimes tell the made up story of two folks that join a commune at about the same time.  Let’s call them Alpha and Beta.  Alpha happens to be a “trust fund baby” with a million dollar endowment in the bank and Beta is a homeless man with no money (and, let’s say, no debt).  But they are both skilled, likable people and are both accepted into the community.  Since this is an income sharing community, Alpha is not allowed to access any of their wealth for the time that they live there and both Alpha and Beta are (at least in theory) treated equally and have equal access to all of the community’s resources.  (This is one of the points of being an ‘egalitarian community’.)

Let’s go on to say that, each for very personal reasons, decide to leave the community at about the same time, say five years later.  Alpha goes back to their inherited wealth.  They can certainly leave the community anytime they want, no problem.  Beta would return to his previous situation with no money, no job, and no resources.  In practice, it is doubtful that he will leave at all, in spite of how dissatisfied with the community he is, since he has nothing outside the community to build a new life with.

One way to build a new life…

I saw this actually occur at Twin Oaks, at Acorn, and at Ganas (which isn’t an income sharing community, but pays its workers enough to live decently, but not really enough to save up money).  I met several folks who were quite dissatisfied with the community (which can happen anywhere–nothing works for anyone).  I asked them why they didn’t leave and they told me that they didn’t have enough money to start a new life.  They felt very stuck in their situation but unable to leave.

This is a really bad scenario, not only for the dissatisfied members, but for the community.  I can’t imagine many better ways to destroy community morale, than to fill it up with disgruntled people who don’t feel like they can leave.

As I’ve said, this is a problem in many of the older communes.  Most of the newer income-sharing communities have realized that many, if not most, of their folks will leave at some point and plan for it.  One of the chief tools to deal with this issue is something most of the communities call ‘Exit Agreements’.  

We talked about this at Cotyledon and I think that this was part of what helped us to end well.  I know that this was a major item of discussion at Compersia when it was running.  And we are carefully implementing this at Glomus Commune, partly having learned from the mistakes of older communities.

At Glomus,there are three parts to our Exit Agreements: a Privilege and Need Assessment, a section on Exit Savings, and a section on Exit Requests.  The Privilege and Need Assessment is something that each of us writes up about our background, our current amount of wealth and access to resources, and where we would be financially if we left the community and what we think we might need to do okay if we did.

Exit Savings was originally individually determined, but in our current financial situation (and we now have seven income sharing members) we collectively decided to give everyone $20 a month (regardless of their financial situation) except for two folks who have a lot less financial security than the rest of us and we decided to give $50 a month to them.  I think that the idea of monthly savings is useful since this represents a kind of ‘equity’ or ‘compensation’ for a person’s time and work for the community.  Thus, someone who lives here for six years will get significantly more than a person who is only here for six months.  It’s true that for some folks, this money doesn’t make much difference. (I worked in the mainstream for decades before coming to community and I have quite a bit of money saved–I will probably donate the money that I get upon leaving to a worthy cause.)  It was decided that everyone (regardless of their circumstances) would get some money saved so we would all be in similar circumstances, but that there would be folks who would get more because they might truly need it.

Exit Requests are things (usually besides money) that we might need or ask of the community so that we can transition well.  I did not ask for much in my exit agreement (often folks ask for a car since many people need one to start a new life, but I don’t drive), however, I am currently thinking of asking that Glomus use its van to help move me to my next location, because moving in the past has literally cost me thousands of dollars.  Folks that I have talked with about this said that it sounded reasonable and they felt the community would gladly accommodate me on this.

There are probably many ways to structure exit agreements, but the point is to have them, to anticipate people leaving, and to support these folks who have done work to make the community work–not to mention, to avoid having a commune full of unhappy people.

Yes! Happy people!

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Thanks for reading! This post was made possible by our patrons on Patreon. The Commune Life team works hard to bring you these stories about our lives in community, and that work couldn’t happen without support from our audience. So if you liked this article, and want to help us make more like it, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/communelife to join us! 

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Thanks! 

Exit Agreements

Peaches, Moths, Mushrooms, and Manure

by Raven Glomus

Wrapping up some posts from the Commune Life Facebook feed that blog readers might find interesting, here’s some stuff (mostly food and agriculturally related) that is happening at Glomus Commune and Acorn Community.

At Glomus the last couple of weeks have been about the harvest and what to do with all that food. The biggest, juiciest harvest recently has been peaches–so many peaches!–and what to do about them, and lots of the other things we’ve been harvesting is canning.

Here’s what we said on Facebook: “Peaches, peaches, peaches! Glomus Commune is currently blessed with three trees full of ripe, juicy peaches.” And the pictures:

And then the canning: “Yesterday’s peaches have been canned. With the harvest coming in, there’s a lot of canning going on at Glomus Commune. Along with the peaches are canned tomatoes and there are two different types of relish canned, all done in our outdoor kitchen, created this summer for the mycology camp. (Not sure why this is called canning when it’s all being done in jars.)” Of course, more pictures:

And the comments responding to my question:

Acorn has put out a number of posts this last month that we have re-posted on our Facebook feed. One of the most surprising (to me at least) concerned a moth. When I saw the picture, I was certain that it was a hummingbird and I had to look it up on the internet to learn that, indeed, moths also drink nectar from flowers this way.

What I wrote on the post was: “Like a hummingbird, this moth is drinking from a flower at the Acorn Community.” Acorn wrote:”A spectacular shot of a moth drinking from one of our primroses! We love all our pollinators here at the farm🌻🦋🐝🌸🌼🌹” Here’s a still of the moth:

And a link to post with a little video clip: https://www.instagram.com/p/CSMf3CUAAxh/

Then, there’s Acorn’s post about finding a lovely ‘Chicken of the Woods’. Look at the size of that thing:

Acorn wrote: “Found this chicken in the woods mushroom on our property! We cooked it up for our community dinner and it was delicious! 🐓🍄” There are also pictures of the mushroom cooked up and the satisfied diners on their Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CUBTj0glCcy/

Finally, Acorn’s business is Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. On SESE’s website, they wrote this piece on “Using Manure in the Garden” with everything you might want to know about using manure. I was kind of flip on our Facebook page: “Here’s a load of manure: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Acorn Community’s business) talks about how to use Manure in your garden.”

Here’s a link to the article from the SESE blog: https://blog.southernexposure.com/2021/09/using-manure-in-the-garden/

And that’s some of what’s been happening so far this month at the communes.

Peaches, Moths, Mushrooms, and Manure