A Detailed FEC History: Part Three, the 1990s

by Raven Cotyledon

(This is part three of a series. Part one is here and part two is here.)

In 1995 I helped found a community that became in dialogue with the FEC. So the FEC history of the nineties is more personal for me because I was involved and remember details, not only about our community’s involvement (we were Common Threads), but also what was going on for other communities at the time.

It was a busy decade, with lots of communities popping in and out. Our community lasted five years. Just after it fell apart, I saw an article in Communities Magazine that suggested five years was the average lifespan of a community. (I plan to publish a piece next week about longer lasting communities.) So here is my detailed history of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, Part Three, focusing on the 1990s and starting with the year 1990.

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1990  There were two Assemblies held that year, one in May and one in November. It seems like the May Assembly was held at Krutsio.   Metanokit dropped membership because they were no longer income-sharing and Apple Tree was absent. (In his Phylogenetic History of the FEC video, Maximus points out that Metanokit eventually becomes a summer camp and workshop business.) The good news at that Assembly was that the PEACH fund then held $60,000. The Ganas community attended the November Assembly, but Dandelion dropped membership and it seems that Apple Tree did as well. Twin Oaks listed its population as 65, East Wind reported 40, and Sandhill 7.  Ira Wallace made an impassioned speech at the November Assembly where she said, “I’d like to see us participate in a non threatening way with people who are really different… To change our major inflow of white, ‘middle class’ people, it will take things that not everyone wants to do, but which the FEC theoretically supports. Having contact with other communities not qualifying or ‘not’ interested in FEC membership. It’s not our differences but our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences, that really comes up for me. I think being around different people will challenge us.”

1991   There was one Assembly in November, but it was very well attended. Besides Twin Oaks (population then 76), East Wind (45), Sandhill (9), Krutsio, and Ganas, Veiled Cliffs (population 7), Tekiah (5), Moon and Stars Farm, Community Evolving, Alpha, and the Communes Network all apparently were there. Sandhill was certified organic and the Nashoba building was completed at Twin Oaks. Someone also noted that Pam joined Twin Oaks. (Tekiah, which joined that year, was in Floyd, VA, and apparently was home to several former Twin Oakers.)

1992     This was an important year. There were two Assemblies (April and November). The April Assembly was sparsely attended (only four communities were listed), but the delegates listed the reasons  communities fail and talked about Twin Oaks considering splitting. Twin Oaks, indeed, split, in the sense that it gave birth to a new community. A core group was formed at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference and with the help of a large loan from Twin Oaks and a lot of assistance from the FEC, Acorn came into being, just seven miles down the road from Twin Oaks. The November Assembly was very well attended, including Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, Veiled Cliffs, north woods community, Community Evolving, Kerista, Krutsio, and Tekiah.

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Acorn in 1993–note Ira Wallace in the middle back and Kat Kinkade on the far right

There didn’t seem to be an Assembly in 1993.

1994     There was one Assembly that year, in November.  Attending were Twin Oaks (population 76), East Wind (50), Sandhill (5), Acorn (16), Ganas, and Tekiah (2). It was noted that the nutbutter warehouse was completed at East Wind.

1995     There was an April Assembly that year, with Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Acorn, and Tekiah attending. There were no notes left.

1996    This was a busy year. There were two Assemblies in May and December. In May, the Assembly was held at Tekiah and the FEC celebrated its 20th anniversary.  In December, Krutsio left and Terra Nova came in, and Dancing Rabbit and Common Threads became Communities in Dialogue. Dancing Rabbit folks were being housed at Sandhill. It was noted that Dancing Rabbit was not planning to be an income-sharing community, but would contain Skyhouse, with 6 adults, that would do income-sharing.  The Heartwood building was completed at Acorn and the tofu business at Twin Oaks was reported as being stable.  (Common Threads was, as I said, a community that I helped form, and I attended the December Assembly, which was held at Twin Oaks.  I think that it was my first time visiting there.)

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Skyhouse

1997     It looked like there were three Assemblies that year, in June, October, and December. Tekiah was absent at the June Assembly, and in October it was reported that Terra Nova was no longer income-sharing (although they continued to attend the Assemblies), and Shakti reported doing outreach at the Rainbow Gathering. There was also a discussion about violence at the October Assembly. At this point, Skyhouse was the Community in Dialogue attending the Assemblies. (The original intention of Dancing Rabbit was to be a community formed of several sub-communities.  Skyhouse was the only sub-community that emerged. Dancing Rabbit eventually filled up with families and houses where individuals lived.)

1998     There was only one Assembly, in April. Two new communities attended, Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers, in Seattle.  At this point, the FEC was dealing with a new problem. Up until now, all the FEC members were rural communes. With Common Threads in Cambridge, MA, and Beacon Hill House and the Jolly Ranchers in Seattle, the FEC had urban members, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.  (It was also noted that Acorn community lacked the funds to attend the Assembly that year.)

1999         Again, only one Assembly, this one in May.  There was no other information listed for that year, not even who attended.

And with that, the nineties end. Next month, the ‘Oh-oh’ decade.

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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!

Deep gratitude to all of our patrons:

Communities

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part Three, the 1990s

A Detailed FEC History: Part Two, the 1980s

by Raven Cotyledon

(This is part two of a series. Part one is here.)

This is not my blog.  The reason that I write so much here is because most communards have so little time (and perhaps incentive) to write.  

I have my own blog (that I seldom write on, because I am so busy writing here) and the most popular post I ever wrote (by far!) on my own blog was on Social Movements in the 80s.  The 1980s were a powerful time.

So, for Commune geeks everywhere, I present Part Two of my detailed history of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, focusing on the 1980s and starting with the year 1980.

The-eighties

1980   There were two FEC Assemblies that year.  Membership started off with Twin Oaks, East Wind, Sandhill, Aloe, Dandelion, Los Horcones, and North Mountain.  Unfortunately, that was the year that Aloe community disbanded and North Mountain community dropped out of the FEC.  It was also the year that the Community in Dialogue status was created, an important step for the FEC. By the second Assembly, East Wind had a population of 40, Sandhill 9, Dandelion 12, and Los Horcones 28.  Twin Oaks didn’t list a population that year.

1981     There were two Assemblies in ‘81 as well.  Los Horcones dropped out of the FEC. They were a ‘Walden Two’, behaviorist community, similar to the way Twin Oaks started, and they wanted to focus on that. Two new communities, Chrysalis and Apple Tree, joined the FEC, presumably as Communities in Dialogue. Twin Oaks listed its population that year as 71, East Wind as 55, Sandhill as 7, and Dandelion listed 10.  Finally, East Wind started their nut butter business that year.

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1982     This year, the FEC had only one Assembly, which was held in August. This was the year that they made contact with Alpha Farm which showed up at the Assembly, and also showed up at occasional future Assemblies, but never seemed to stay with the FEC. There were debates about consensus that year and conversations about PEACH, which would become the FEC’s homegrown health insurance alternative. Twin Oaks was dealing with the suicide of a member that rocked the community. Twin Oaks now listed their population as 62, East Wind as 50, Sandhill as 7, and Dandelion as 15.

1983    Back to two Assemblies, one in April and one in November.   Twin Oaks questioned the utility of the FEC and wanted to emphasize the recruitment of minorities. In November, there was a sorghum harvest at Sandhill and Chrysalis was admitted as a full FEC member.  East Wind listed their population as 57 in April and 45 in November. Twin Oaks listed 72 members, Sandhill 7, Apple Tree 6, Dandelion 18, and Chrysalis 4.

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1984       Again, two Assemblies, which seems the norm at this point. This seemed to be a busy year at the communes: Sandhill was accepted for 501d status, East Wind adopted a new labor system, book indexing was going well at Twin Oaks, and Apple Tree loaned money to East Wind and star flower. (Presumably, star flower is another community.)  At the November Assembly, Short Mountain, a queer community in Tennessee, joined the FEC, probably as a Community in Dialogue. Populations: Twin Oaks 67, East Wind 45, Sandhill 5, Apple Tree 6, Dandelion 8, and Chrysalis 5.

1985     The middle of the decade and another busy year at the communes. There were two FEC Assemblies, Twin Oaks held its first women’s conference, had indexing taking off and a record hammock production, and Sandhill had their best sorghum harvest ever. A bunch of new communities came, including Metanokit, the Foundation for Feedback Learning, and, for just one meeting, windstar.  Bad news was that Apple Tree was denied their 501d status. A big discussion on art in community. The question was, is art primary or secondary?  Does no art lead to more turnover? Community populations stayed the same except Apple Tree went down to 4, Dandelion down to 6, and Short Mountain listed 5.

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1986     The tenth anniversary of the FEC!  Once more, two Assemblies, and this was the year that PEACH, the health insurance plan for the FEC, actually started.  By the November Assembly, communal populations were: Twin Oaks 67, East Wind 45, Sandhill 9, Apple Tree 4, Dandelion 7, Chrysalis 3, and Short Mountain 5.

1987   As usual, two Assemblies. Chrysalis dropped membership this year, as did Short Mountain, when their policy of being a sanctuary for queer folks only was seen as being in conflict with the FEC’s policy against discrimination. Apple Tree apparently abandoned their use of consensus. There was a suggestion that the FEC have some sort of general disclaimer stating that though they fall short of their principles sometimes, they do seek to be more in line with them.  At the November Assembly, populations were: Twin Oaks 65, East Wind 45, Sandhill 6, Apple Tree 4, Dandelion 4, and Metanokit had 14.

1988    The usual two Assemblies. Krutsio begins coming to the Assemblies, and grass valley came to the one in May and Alpha Farm apparently showed up at the Assembly in November. At East Wind, their sandal business was booming and they actually thought of cutting the nut butter business. At Twin Oaks, Pier One threatened to cut their hammocks contract with them. And there was a discussion at the November Assembly about using consensus for the FEC. Populations didn’t change much except East Wind went down to 40 and Sandhill went up to 7.

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1989    Two Assemblies, Krutsio officially became a Community in Dialogue, as did spring tree (but not for long), and a community called Purple Rose showed up at one Assembly. Populations at the communes remained stable.

And that ends the FEC history for the Eighties. Next month, I will document the Nineties, the decade that I became involved with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, so I will have a lot more personal information to share in that post.

If anyone has more information about the FEC or any of the communities in the Eighties, please pass it on in a comment.

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part Two, the 1980s

A Detailed FEC History: Part One, the ’60s and ’70s

by Raven Cotyledon

This is for commune geeks.  

Maximus put out a video of The Phylogenetic History of the FEC.  It was surprisingly popular. My one complaint was that it left out so many details.

Maximus shared with me the spreadsheet that his video was based on.  Using that, Kat Kinkade’s books, Laird’s blog, the Communities Directory, and my own memory of events in the 1960s, 1990s, and recently, I intend to put out a detailed description of the history of the communes and the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.

I will break it up by decades and publish one a month to keep it from getting too long and boring.  This part covers the 1960s and 1970s.

The 1960s

1967  Twin Oaks is founded.  That was fifty-two years ago and Twin Oaks is still going strong with nearly a hundred members. To put it in context, there were hundreds of ‘communes’ formed in the late sixties.  Very, very few of them are still around. Kat Kinkade attributed Twin Oaks survival to a combination of hard work, structure, and freedom, and getting big fast enough. She thought thirty people was “the minimum for security” and said that TO reached that in their third year.

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Signing up for labor in the early days at Twin Oaks

 

The 1970s

1970  East Wind was started. Kat Kinkade claimed that she “left Twin Oaks, taking two members and some visitors with me, and we set out to form a community that would be just like Twin Oaks in every way except one: We would never close our doors!”  East Wind is also still around with about sixty members.

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REIM, one of the original structures at East Wind

1974  Sandhill Farm founded.   Laird Schaub described its founding this way: “In February 1973 I was in a public library and happened across the current issue of Psychology Today. It included an excerpt from a new book by Kat Kinkade, A Walden Two Experiment. It described the first five years of Twin Oaks Community, and it changed my life. …

“By the following spring, we had founded Sandhill Farm: four people willing to try to make that happen.
“Because Twin Oaks was the inspiration and because I’d already done a fair amount of work to reject materialism, we set up Sandhill as an income-sharing community, where all earnings would be pooled. The community still operates that way today.”

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Sandhill

1976  The Federation of Egalitarian Communities was formed.  Laird’s description: “…five North American communities shared a dream of cooperation. As a result, representatives of these communities got together and founded the Federation of Egalitarian Communities.”  The first Assembly was in November of that year. Attending communities were Twin Oaks, East Wind, Aliya, Aloe, Dandelion, Genesis, North Mountain, and Springtree.

1977  There seemed to have been three Assemblies that year, one in February, one in October, and one in November. (At least, that’s what was listed.)   Aliya and Springtree seemed to have already dropped out. The February Assembly lists the population of the other communities at the time, Twin Oaks (72), East Wind (55), Aloe (6), Dandelion (13), and North Mountain (12).

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Undated picture of an Assembly at Twin Oaks

1978   On the other hand, there only appeared to be one Assembly in 1978, in July, with the same five communities.

1979   There were two Assemblies in 1979, one in January and one in August, and a new community, Los Horcones, came to the January Assembly, and the August Assembly saw Sandhill attending for the first time.   The August Assembly also listed community populations at Twin Oaks (75), East Wind (55?) [yes, that’s how it’s listed], Aloe (10), Dandelion (10), Los Horcones (12), and North Mountain (12). There was no population listed for Sandhill.

That was the beginning.  Only Twin Oaks, East Wind, and Sandhill are still around today and right now, Sandhill is struggling. But the FEC continues to this day, with new communities and new energy.

Next month, I will detail the FEC through the eighties with communities coming in while others leave or disband. It will probably have too much detail for most folks, but I find it fascinating to watch the communities and the organization as it grows and struggles. This is how we change the world folks, one small step at a time.

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Kat Kinkade and others harvesting corn at Twin Oaks around 1969 or 1970

(If you have any information about the early days of the FEC or its history at any period, please add it in the comments.)

____________________________________________________________________________

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

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

Communards

  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
  • Michael Hobson
  • Sasha Daucus
  • William Kadish

Thanks!

 

A Detailed FEC History: Part One, the ’60s and ’70s

Urban Kibbutzim: A Growing Movement

 

 

By Anton Marks

from Communities magazine, Winter issue #177

 

The first kibbutz was established over 100 years ago, and over the following century, a network of almost 300 full income-sharing agricultural communes was established all over Israel. The plan was based on anarchist principles, whereby this federation of communities would coalesce into a whole cooperative society, without centralized government or borders.

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Fast forward to the year 2017. The rural kibbutz communities are in retreat, there’s a strong central government and, albeit for very different reasons, the country has no clear borders.

However, there are those who have taken up the mantle of taking responsibility for shaping the society, young people who are establishing hundreds of urban communes that, both individually and as movements, are affecting change in the inner cities—communes of educators who are working against violence, racism, homophobia, and poverty.

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I am a member of Kibbutz Mishol, one of the many intentional communities that have been established over the past 20 years. We are 130 people, all living under one roof, making decisions together, bringing our children up together, sharing all of our income, 10 cars, our living spaces, and a handful of dogs, cats, and chinchillas.

Our kibbutz is in the city; in fact, we are situated in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country—and it’s a choice. We’ve made this choice to work together with our partners in the local municipality, and together with our partners who live in this city, to shape the wider community for the benefit of all of its citizens—Jews, Arabs, those from the former Soviet Union, from Ethiopia, asylum seekers, religious, secular, left, and right.

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We have established a nonprofit organization through which we run all of our educational projects. For example, we run a local public elementary school, non-formal education in after-school centres, a youth movement, a coexistence project, and educational tours to Poland. In addition, we have teams of people working together taking responsibility over the inner functioning of our community—looking after our cars, our building, our children, our finances, our learning, our relationships, and our culture.

It’s a healthy tension in our lives: to what extent are we focused on the internal—living together and improving our relationships, creating a community making decisions by consensus, challenging societal norms when it comes to gender roles, understanding the different needs and different abilities of our members—and to what extent on the external—our interactions and impact on the surrounding society? Do we exist for ourselves, as a lifestyle choice, or is our aim to use community as a vehicle for changing the world around us?

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The kibbutz-building enterprise started as a way of taking responsibility over the needs of a developing society and a developing economy—agriculture, creating towns and villages, defending the borders, building a public health system, a nationwide union, newspapers, etc., etc. Today the needs of the country can be found in the inner cities, draining the social swamps of society, rather than the physical mosquito=infested swamps of the early 20th century backwaters of the Ottoman Empire.

These urban communes, largely situated in the geographical and economic peripheries of Israel, springing up like mushrooms after the rain, are a model of how an alternative society can be built within the existing capitalist society—not as isolated independent communities, but as a network of communities which together offer an example of how society can be structured in a more just and equitable way.

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  • ● ●

Having previously been living communally for 18 years in the North of Israel, I’ve now spent the last 18 months living in the American suburbs of Rockville, Maryland. It’s a surprisingly easy adjustment to make—two adults and two young children living in a faceless apartment block with pool, fitness center, and Amazon deliveries 24/7.

I have been active on the international communal scene for many years—I am a board member of the ICSA (International Communal Studies Association) and have attended three of their international conferences.

In addition, I have been general secretary of the Intentional Communities Desk (formerly known as the International Communes Desk) and was editor of their magazine C.A.L.L. for 15 years.

I’ve visited communities in different places in the world and so upon coming to the US it was important for me to connect to what is going on here. Here is the list of communities I have visited on the East Coast, several within a few miles of where I have been living.

  • Baltimore Free Farm: an urban farm of activists and gardeners who gave me a tour of the farm and showed me their space where they host events.
  • Compersia, DC: a small urban commune whose members I’ve met a couple of times, including a visit to their house in DC.
  • Twin Oaks, Virginia: I attended the Communities Conference last year at the 50 year old full income-sharing ecovillage. I was extremely excited to visit their former children’s house named after the first kibbutz, Degania.
  • Platte Clove Community: I stayed for a few days at the Bruderhof community as a guest of members who had visited me in Israel
  • Maple Ridge Bruderhof: a visit for a couple of hours, including a tour of the community and meeting old friends who had also visited my kibbutz in Israel.
  • Rondout community in Kingston, New York: an urban Bruderhof community that runs their own preschool.
  • Eastern Village Cohousing: a community in the nearby neighbourhood of Silver Spring, Maryland.
  • Takoma Village Cohousing: another local cohousing community.

 

 

Urban Kibbutzim: A Growing Movement

Twin Oaks Over Time

by Valerie

from The Leaves of Twin Oaks, Fall 2017

Fifty years is a long time, and we know life is change. Here are some aspects of life at TO that have not-changed and changed; how we’ve remained “True To Our Roots” and how we’ve “Embraced Change”.

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Group Photo from 20th Anniversary

“True To Our Roots”

What’s Stayed Essentially The Same Over 50 Years

Egalitarianism and Income-Sharing: We have stayed true to these original values. This (combined with our size of 100 people) sets us part from most intentional communities. We continue to have a communal economy and non-hierarchical decision-making and access to community financial and other resources. We still share the profits from our businesses, as well as our houses, cars, bathrooms, a checkbook and the joys and challenges of living so closely together.

The Planner-Manager System: Taken straight out of B.F. Skinner’s book “Walden Two”, this model of self-government has served us well over our 50 years. Each work area (Garden, Kitchen, Office, etc.) has a Manager who organizes and keeps that area functioning smoothly, while issues that affect the community as a whole are facilitated by a rotating group of 3 Planners.

The Labor System: Although we’ve tweaked it a few times over the years, the Labor System is still at the core of our self-organizing.  Every Tuesday, each member hands in a Labor Sheet for the coming week. The Labor Assigner essentially has a list of all the jobs that need to be done that week, and they work their magic to match up the open jobs with the people who sign up to do that type of work. At once flexible enough to allow members to do only the work they want to do, and structured enough to fill several hundred workshifts a week, the Labor System is a thing of administrative beauty. In a significant way, it is the backbone of the community and some people believe what kept us from folding like so many other 60´s communes.

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Group Photo from 50th Anniversary

“Embracing Change”
What’s Changed Over 50 Years

Technology: Like the rest of the planet, this is more present here than ever before. Along with much of humanity, we have cell-phones, social media, websites, and our long-term ban of commercial television is somewhat moot in the age of online streaming video.  However we do have some communal limitations on when, where and how much members can use some technology.

Child-Care: We long ago abandoned the 100% communal child-raising that Skinner favored and we practiced for a time, although we do still do some group childcare shifts.

Community Income Streams: During the “Pier 1 decades” (roughly the 70´s – 90´s), making hammocks comprised up to 80% of our communal income. When Pier 1 dropped us in the early 2000´s, we had already begun to diversify our businesses. Today, Hammocks makes up about 20% of our income, Tofu/Soyfoods about 30%, with the remaining 50% divided among various smaller collective businesses including Book Indexing, growing and packaging seeds for our sister-community Acorn’s Southern Exposure Seed Exchange company, doing administrative work for the Fellowship for Intentional Community, and more.

“No community is an island”: For many years, Twin Oaks was the sole intentional community in Louisa County where we are located.  Beginning in the early 90´s when we helped start Acorn Community 8 miles from us (to accommodate our Waiting List of 25 people), every few years another new community has sprouted up, with appropriate tree-themed names to boot-first Acorn, then Sapling, and now Cambia (as in tree bark cambium) and Living Energy Farm (shortened to LEF, pronounced “leaf”). There is a high degree of interconnectedness among the Louisa communities, from Labor Exchange agreements to cross-community friendships and romances.

Twin Oaks Over Time

What Past and Present Communities Can Teach New Communities

by Raven MoonRaven

from Communities Magazine, Fall 2017


I was inspired to write this by a link I was sent to an article entitled “Utopia Inc.” It was subtitled: “Most utopian communities are, like most start-ups, short-lived. What makes the difference between failure and success?” (Find it at aeon.co/essays/like-start-ups-most-intentional-communities-fail-why.)

As someone who is interested in starting communities (and has started communities), I’m well aware of the precariousness of new communities. What can folks who are trying to start new communities learn from the communities of the past as well as those around now that have lasted?

First of all, as the author of the online article (Alexa Clay) points out, 90 percent or so of new communities fail—but that’s also true of business start-ups. Starting a new venture is always risky. However, as the author also points out, many of these communities weren’t very well put together to start with. She goes on to say that “intentional communities and utopias can serve as short-lived petri dishes for emergent culture.” This is very similar to my personal view of communities as laboratories for social change. In communities, we see what works and doesn’t work. So looking at other communities can help us decide to whether it makes sense to try something or not.

In looking at past communities, Ms. Clay talks about Fruitlands, which is my favorite example of how not to start a community. The founders (Amos Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane) mandated a very strict and rigid routine. The Wikipedia article on Fruitlands claims, “Diet was usually fruit and water; many vegetables—including carrots, beets, and potatoes—were forbidden because they showed a lower nature by growing downward.” There were no formal admission requirements or procedures to join the community and they attracted quite a few men (apparently Alcott’s and Lane’s wives were the only women) who do not seem to have been the most stable characters. I think that one of the biggest problems was (quoting Wikipedia again): “many of the men of the commune spent their days teaching or philosophizing instead of working in the field.” Fruitlands lasted only seven months. Given how it was structured, I’m surprised it lasted that long. But we now know that you can’t run a farm by discussing philosophy.

The author also talks about New Harmony and she points out that (not that different from Fruitlands), “Of its population of 800, only 140 were adept at working in local industry, and just 36 were skilled farmers. The community was far too open and indiscriminate in its invitation, allowing anyone to join, and attracting a lot of free-riders without the necessary skills or appetite for hard work.” New Harmony lasted two years.

When Alexa Clay looks at success stories, she points to spiritual communities such as the Shakers, Quakers, and Amish. One thing that I notice about all of them is a willingness to work hard.

One community that I’m surprised she doesn’t mention is Oneida, which lasted a

Oneida Community
A building at the Oneida Community between 1865 and 1875

good 30 years, and embraced a very communal structure and complex sexual structure in the 19th century, and, from something I read, was missed by many of its members after it was gone. Unsurprisingly, they had a good work ethic. (From Wikipedia: “All Community members were expected to work, each according to his or her abilities…. Community members rotated through the more unskilled jobs, working in the house, the fields, or the various industries.”)

A spiritual community that has lasted much longer is the Amana Colony, which was founded in 1859, and continued communally until 1932, when the community split into a spiritual “Church Society” and a for-profit company which continues to own much of the land. Again (from Wikipedia): “For eighty years, the Amana Colony maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy, importing very little from the industrializing American economy. The Amanians were able to achieve this independence and lifestyle by adhering to the specialized crafting and farming occupations that they had brought with them from Europe. Craftsmen passed their skills and techniques on from one generation to the next. They used hand, horse, wind, and water power, and made their own furniture, clothes, and other goods.” Amana refrigerators were a legacy of this community.

These communities come from what I think of the first wave of communes, that occurred during the 19th century, mostly between the 1840s and 1890s. The next major wave of community building occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s. Most of these communities are gone.

Ms. Clay does mention Findhorn, which began evolving in 1962 but was established as an official foundation in 1972. She quotes social entrepreneur Kate Sutherland who said: “It’s not utopia. It’s microcosm. Everything that’s in the outer world is there—marginalisation, addiction, poverty, sexual issues, power. Communities are just fractals of society.” However for Sutherland the difference between Findhorn and the rest of the planet boiled down to “good will and a clear commitment to waking up” or as she said, “People are willing to look at their stuff.”

However there are some other communities from the ’60s and ’70s that are still around. One of them is Twin Oaks, which is turning 50 this year, has almost 100 members who live very communally, and appears to be going strong. And, yes, they have a strong work ethic.

Twin Oaks hammocks and tofu, Oneida silverware, Amana refrigerators, Shaker furniture, Amish farming. Alexa Clay notes: “Perhaps the irony is that many of the administrative and managerial forces that individuals are running away from within mainstream society are exactly the organisational tools that would make intentional communities more resilient: that regardless of how much intentional communities with utopian aims seek to step to one side of worldly affairs, they succeed or fail for the very same pragmatic reasons that other human enterprises—notably businesses and start-ups—succeed or fail.”

But it’s not just about the willingness to work hard. It’s about building relationships, looking at your stuff (as Kate Sutherland said), and willingness to listen to each other. What amazes me, as someone trying to start community, is how many people still think just having a good idea is enough to build a community.

Unless we are willing to learn from other communities, both past and present, the failure rate of new communities isn’t going to decline.
Raven MoonRaven lives at the Ganas community in New York City and works with the Point A project  to start new egalitarian, income-sharing communities in the city. He also co-manages the Commune Life blog which focuses on the diversity of egalitarian, income-sharing communities.

What Past and Present Communities Can Teach New Communities