Work is the Currency

by Raven Glomus

I have written about the differences between living communally and living in the mainstream (occasionally called ‘Babylon’ by communards).  One big difference is that money is essentially irrelevant within the communes.  (Money is highly relevant to the survival of communes in a capitalist society but, in this case, we are talking about how income sharing communities interface with the mainstream.)  There are jokes within the communes that you can leave a $20 bill lying around and find it in the same place several days later (assuming that no one has been cleaning the room) but don’t leave a candy bar lying around–because candy bars are worth something.

So what is the currency within the communes?  I would love to be idealistic and say something like love or compassion or justice, but the truth is that work functions as a currency within most communes.

East Wind’s nutbutter plant

I’d like to illustrate this by starting off comparing communes with cooperative households, a somewhat different form of community that I’m familiar with.  In a co-op house, you are asked to pay monthly for a room (and food and utilities, etc).  In some co-ops all rooms are priced equally, in some the price varies by the size of the room, and some use a sliding scale to price things but there is a price for everything.  They have to charge the residents in order to pay their rent or mortgage.  In addition, everyone is asked to do chores.

In a commune, there is no price and no chores.  There is no price because all income is shared equally and, thus, money is irrelevant.  There are no chores because it is all work.  Work is the currency.

Working on the Rope Machine at Twin Oaks

In many of the bigger communes, work is actually tallied up.  How careful this tally is depends on the community (Twin Oaks tracks hours carefully, Acorn is much looser about it).  In addition the amount of hours varies (although I’m not up on the latest policies, for years there was a 42 hour a week requirement at Twin Oaks and Acorn and it was a bit less, 35 hours, at East Wind).  In addition, Twin Oaks has a ‘pension plan’ that slowly requires less and less hours from older members.  Even though forty-two hours seems like more than the usual mainstream forty hour work week, they argue that it’s actually less because everything is counted as work.  

This is why I say that ‘chores’ are irrelevant.  At Twin Oaks, if you cook or clean or grow food or even take food to a sick friend, that is considered just as much to be work as work that makes income for the community.  Of course, you are cooking or cleaning for the community, but if you don’t cook, someone else does and you still get to eat it.  So you don’t need to cook unless you get hours for it and they argue that since most work is done on the commune, there’s no commute. If you averaged the amount of time many folks spend cooking and commuting in addition to paid work it would probably add up to sixty or more hours.

At Glomus, which is a much smaller commune, we don’t track hours directly.  Rather we pay attention to each other.  We can see each other working, we report in a meeting that we have each week about what we have been up to, and we do a yearly “Roles and Goals” report about what we’ve done and what we plan to do.  I can tell you that everyone here works hard–not because they are required to but because they love most of what they do and they want to make sure that certain things get done.  If someone did nothing but sit around and play video games or watch shows and didn’t do any observable work (and they weren’t having some kind of health crisis), we would probably asked them to either work or move on because there’s so much that needs to be done and we want to be fair to everyone.

Cicada at Glomus in the midst of our glorious garlic

And this is the reason that I say that “Work is the Currency”.  Everyone works so that we can survive.  We still pay attention to money (at least some of us) to make sure that the community’s bills are being paid, but within the community, we just make sure that everyone is working (and often working together) to make sure that we get what we need to get done, done.

And, maybe, if you are a Kahil Gibran fan, you might say that love really is the currency.

Work is the Currency

East Wind Interview: Jim Adams

East Wind is now publishing weekly video interviews with current and former members. I will republish them on Wednesdays, the day we have often posted videos. You can see the first interview, with ex-member Zan, here.

Jim Adams is also an ex-member, who lived at East Wind from 1977 to 1987 and this interview is a deep history of East Wind, including the history of East Wind Nut Butters and the building of Rock Bottom, East Wind’s dining hall. Jim Adams also lived at Twin Oaks and talks about differences and similarities between the two communities.

East Wind Interview: Jim Adams

Dancing in the Aisles

We published on Wednesday about how Twin Oaks has been helping the Acorn Community with the Seed Racks portion of their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Apparently, folks from Twin Oaks have also been going over to Acorn and helping them directly with shipping out seeds. Here’s a little video from the seed room at Acorn.

Keenan Dakota from Twin Oaks added this comment when the video went up on our Facebook page:

Dancing in the Aisles

Seed Racks at Twin Oaks

Acorn Community’s business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (aka SESE), is probably the most successful of any of the communal businesses, and with the pandemic, it seems to have become even more successful. In fact, Acorn has more business than they can handle and has been really good about sharing the business with other communities, starting with their neighbor (and the commune that helped start Acorn), Twin Oaks.

One of the parts of SESE is their wholesale business–selling seeds to garden stores and other businesses that then sell seeds to individual customers. Because these businesses display the packets of seeds in display racks, the wholesale wing is called Seed Racks and Twin Oaks runs that part of the business. Recently, with the increased sales, Twin Oaks had to create a larger space for the business. They put up a piece on Facebook and we copied it to the Commune Life Facebook page.

As you can see, over three hundred folks looked at this, and we got five responses.

I think that it’s great that the communes can support each other.

Seed Racks at Twin Oaks

Ira Wallace

by Raven Glomus

Ira Wallace is amazing.  She helped found the Acorn community, where she lives to this day.  She also has been a major force in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Acorn’s business, which has been booming during the pandemic, and helped start the Heritage Harvest Festival, a big agricultural exposition in Virginia.  The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) recently inducted her into their hall of fame.  Here’s some relevant pieces from their press release, along with a picture of Ira who, in spite of age and disability, continues working and inspiring folks.

The North American Students of Cooperation Inducts 2020 Hall of Fame

The North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO) is the bi-national federation that educates and organizes youth and emerging leaders to create and care for co-ops in the US and Canada. On Friday, November 6, 2020 at the annual NASCO Cooperative Education and Training Institute, held online, four cooperators were honored as inductees in the NASCO Cooperative Hall of Fame. The NASCO Hall of Fame, created in 1989, provides broader recognition to individuals who have made a truly significant impact within the cooperative movement. NASCO is proud to honor the 2020 inductees:

Ira Wallace, Founder

Ira Wallace has a lifetime of history in the cooperative movement. Ira has been a member of Acorn Community since the beginning of the community and was instrumental to its founding. Acorn is a 27-year-long experiment in egalitarianism based on living cooperatively with each other and the environment in a non-hierarchal fashion, located on 72 acres of certified organic land in Central Virginia.

Ira is also a prime mover and shaker behind Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE), a worker-coop seed company owned by Acorn that specializes in preserving and propagating heirloom seeds by getting the seeds and practice of seed saving into generations of future gardeners. Ira started saving herb and flower seeds in the 1970s and became professionally involved in the seed business in 1998. At SESE she coordinates education and outreach as well as co-managing variety selection and new seed grower contracts with SESE’s network of 70+ seed producing farms. It is the oldest company in the southeast focusing on heirloom, organic, open-pollinated seeds. Since 1983 Southern Exposure has been helping people in the southeast get control of their food supply by supporting sustainable home and market gardening, seed saving, and preserving heirloom varieties. Ira also started the Heritage Harvest Festival in a back lot at Monticello 12 years ago and worked to grow it to a premier celebration of a vision of America of small farmers and gardeners.

***

When I posted this on Facebook, we got a few comments. Here’s what folks wrote, including some replies from me:

(This was in reference to a post on feasting at East Wind and Cara, a former East Winder, said that she “met Ira the first month I was there, she came for some conference or exchange – and she made the most amazing pastries! and we realized I knew her daughter – I’d met her in college”)

Ira Wallace

Communes and the Coronavirus

by Raven Glomus (with assistance from Theresa Glomus and JB East Wind)

The subject of this post will probably not surprise anyone. In one way, I hate to add to the constant drumbeat of coronavirus stuff.  It’s all our news feeds are filled with and it gets tiring–to me, at least. On the other hand, I think that it’s important that folks know what the communes are doing about this pandemic. 

In some ways, the communes are great places to ride out the pandemic. At this point, they are all rural and a bit isolated. It’s fairly easy to disconnect from the social world and you don’t need to feel isolated, since you have other people who are just as isolated with you.  It’s perfect–until someone somehow gets the coronavirus. 

This is the downside of the communes. We share income, we share a mission, we share our stuff. We also share germs. Once someone in a commune gets the coronavirus, everyone is probably going to get it.  There is also more back and forth between the various communities than there is contact with the outside world. That means there is also the likelihood of it rapidly spreading from commune to commune.

So what are specific communities doing to deal with the coronavirus?

Twin Oaks had been talking about quarantining sick folks in one cabin and only allowing caregivers in and out.  The caregivers would not be allowed to eat in the dining hall, to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

Now, as of Saturday, Twin Oaks is in full quarantine/locked down mode.  No visitors are allowed except for essential services, such as UPS. Members leaving the property without the consent of the Planners won’t be allowed to return until the pandemic has abated. 

They have cancelled visitor periods for March and April and all Saturday tours at Twin Oaks have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

At Acorn, they quarantined themselves early. They have instituted thorough sanitation procedures in every area of the community. These include thoroughly wiping down surfaces that people interact with, and even nearby surfaces that might not be interacted with.  For off farm business trips, members have been instructed to wear gloves during the entire trip, to drop off items at designated areas and sanitize priority items, and then discard gloves in designated trash areas and sanitize hands with hand sanitizer immediately.

Acorn further instructs that if a person is having difficulty breathing, they should have a designated emergency person take them to the hospital. That person should prepare to shower upon returning to Acorn and put the clothes they wore immediately into a washing machine (with hot water), sanitizing all surfaces of the washing machine. 

Anyone at Acorn who feels sick or shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, has been told to stay in their own room. They have been instructed to stuff a towel under their bedroom door, keep a window open as much as possible, have a designated person bring them meals, and have a stock of snacks in their room. If they need to leave their room, they should wear a mask and sanitize all knobs and surfaces that they come in contact with.

Read the center gray bar

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (Acorn’s business) has posted the following on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/SouthernExposureSeeds/posts/10156779388296254 

At East Wind, they have had two community meetings to discuss the Coronavirus. They have stopped visitor periods for April and have effectively made a prohibition on guests.  They say that they have a solid amount of food and could be well situated to weather the pandemic.

Economically, their nutbutter business has been impacted with a drop in sales to those who use our product as an ingredient in their manufacturing (some examples are juice and snacks). On the other hand, the distributors that they work with are experiencing large spikes in sales. It seems unclear if they will lose money due to the virus but it is definitely a possibility.

Being one of the most rural communities, East Wind has yet to see the full extent of impact it will face. As things change, they may start taking more serious actions, but of the various communes, they think they may be in a pretty good place in terms of being prepared and isolated.

Here at the Glomus Commune at East Brook Community Farm, we are smaller and are looking at people coming here on a case by case basis. We have told people who just want to visit not to come.  With other people, who are planning to come here on a long term basis, we are checking on their health status and whether they are coming from a high risk area before giving them permission to come. As with all the communes, things are changing daily. 

Communes are semipermeable and still quite connected with the larger society. We are all going to have to see where this pandemic goes. 

____________________________________________________________________________

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! 

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:  

Communities

  • Compersia Community
  • East Brook Community Farm
  • The Federation of Egalitarian Communities
  • Twin Oaks Community

Communards 

  • Aaron Michels
  • Brenda Thompson
  • Caroline Elbert
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Em Stiles
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Janey Amend-Bombara
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Joseph A Klatt
  • Julia Elizabeth Evans
  • Kai Koru
  • Kathleen Brooks
  • Laurel Baez
  • Lynette Shaw
  • Magda Schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Peter Chinman 
  • Raines Cohen 
  • Suzi Tortora
  • Tobin Moore
  • Warren Kunce
  • William Croft
  • William Kadish
  • William Scarborough

Thanks! 

Communes and the Coronavirus