I (Raven) was curious how the pandemic was influencing people in terms of community, so I asked this question on Facebook:
As you can see, we only got three folks to comment, but I thought that the comments were sweet and on target.
I know that inquiries about community have gone up during the pandemic–we’ve gotten a bunch at Glomus–but we also are more reluctant to take on folks, especially short term folks, given all the precautions we need to take to take on someone.
Even now, in November, the pandemic is raging. Be safe out there.
The Federation of Egalitarian Communities (otherwise known as the FEC) is a network that tries to keep the communes connected with each other. We have a once a month call where the delegates from various communes talk with each other. Last month, on the call, someone joked that the FEC currently was five folks, the same five folks (representing four communities) that had been on the call for several months. (Fortunately, this month, we had six folks on the call, including someone from a west coast community that hadn’t been on the call in several months.)
We generally have an assembly for the FEC every year (although, due to the pandemic, it may not happen this year). I was looking at the essay I wrote for the assembly that was held in December, 2018 ( published in January, 2019 ). I am struck by the number of attending communities that are now no longer with the FEC. Part of it was the demise of the three urban communes that were part of the FEC. But while the urban communes spectacularly fell apart, it feels like there are many rural communes that are just fading away.
I think that Oran Mor, where the assembly was held, is now down to one member and her family. Sadder to me is that Sandhill, which had been an income sharing community since 1974 and was one of the founding members of the FEC, is also down to two families and my understanding is that they are no longer income sharing. Ionia, in Alaska, is still around, but they no longer seem interested in the FEC. There are a few other rural communes that are still ongoing but, since they are in sparse to no contact with the FEC, it’s hard to tell what condition they are in.
The pandemic, of course, figures into this, but so does the regular boom and bust cycle of commune building. It seems like 2018 was the end of a boom cycle and we seem to be in a bust cycle now–with the pandemic on top of that. Twin Oaks, the biggest and longest running of the secular communes, is at their lowest membership in many years and, with the pandemic, they aren’t able to bring in a lot of new members.
Still, the term “low ebb” comes from a discussion about the tides, and describes the point where things are farthest out. What happens next is that the tide begins coming back in. Similarly, I have chosen to use low ebb in the title just because I think things will begin changing soon.
In spite of how it feels, the pandemic won’t last forever. The 2018 Assembly was not a happy occasion. Things were very difficult at both East Wind and Acorn Community. A year later, both East Wind and Acorn were on the upswing, while it was Twin Oaks that was having difficulties–and just before the pandemic hit, they started getting some new folks in. Here at Glomus Commune (formerly East Brook) we are having a very good year this year in spite of the pandemic. We have four income sharing members (the FEC now requires a community to have five in order to be a full member community) and I think that we might well have six income sharing members by the end of the year.
Finally, I think that in the long run, the pandemic may well benefit the communes. This seems true economically: Acorn’s seed business is booming and I also think that some of Twin Oaks and East Wind’s businesses have actually done better because of panic buying. More importantly, the FIC (Foundation for Intentional Community–the larger communities organization) reported a “sharp uptick” in searches for communities following the onset of the pandemic. People have been realizing the benefits of communal living and I would not be surprised if membership in the communes grows as the pandemic ebbs, and I also think people who have been thinking of starting a commune or community may well decide to just do it once they can.
I would like us to find a way of moving beyond the boom and bust scenario and figure out how to stabilize the communes, but for now, I think that it’s important to build and maintain what we have and look hopefully at the future.
East Wind is the most isolated of the big communes and, in many ways, the most individualistic. The level of response there was different, in some ways, to the Louisa communes. Some folks refused to take the pandemic seriously. On the other hand, they too cancelled their visitor groups and discouraged visitors in general.
Boone Wheeler published these ironic pictures of “Social Distancing” at East Wind:
The official East Wind site, on the other hand, doesn’t even mention the pandemic and the one post from the beginning of April was simply captioned, “Preppin the beds”:
My intro on the Commune Life Facebook page was: “It’s spring and, coronavirus or not, life goes on at East Wind”
My understanding is that East Wind *might* have a visitor period in July. They definitely don’t have one for June.
And Twin Oaks is saying that August is the “earliest” that they might have visitor periods.
If you are interested in visiting either East Wind or Twin Oaks, I would check in with them regularly. With the pandemic, everything is still up in the air in all the communes.
The last two days we have been looking at the response of Twin Oaks to the pandemic. There are actually six communities in Louisa county (Twin Oaks, Acorn, Living Energy Farm, Mimosa, Cambia, and Little Flower–which is a Catholic Worker community). Today I will look at how Acorn and some of the other FEC communities dealt with the challenges of the coronavirus.
Acorn went into rather drastic quarantine early–one of their founders is still living there and dealing with cancer, so to protect her, they took rigorous measures. Acorn, being Acorn, didn’t document this. Instead, they looked at the effect that COVID-19 had on their business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Basically, when people realized that we were moving into a pandemic, everyone wanted to buy seeds.
Here’s how it happened. It starts with this note on a seed order:
Theresa pointed out:
The comments to this point, especially from Rejoice, further elaborated.
Southern Exposure was forced to put up this notice:
And, in the midst of this, Acorn celebrated Land Day (their annual holiday to commemorate when they were actually able to move onto the land). There was the usual big bonfire. But this year the celebration was a bit different.
And then another invoice from SESE:
The person who was most in the midst of this is Rejoice, a former Acorn member now living at Mimosa, who everyone trusts, and thus became the courier between the communes as well as carefully bringing things back and forth to and from the outside world. To do this job, Rejoice had to resort to extreme measures:
SESE continued doing a brisk business and began putting out information about their business, both before and during the pandemic. The article is linked here.
The start of it says: “As most of you probably know, we’ve been inundated with orders this last month. We’re thrilled that folks are looking to our seeds during this challenging time but we’ve also had trouble keeping up. We’ve had to suspend taking new orders several times now while working to get seeds packed and shipped. We thought this would be an appropriate time to take a look behind the scenes at Southern Exposure.”
With everything going on, the response from Twin Oaks changed as the pandemic progressed.
New signs went up. From what I wrote in early April: “Twin Oaks is still trying (like all of us) to come to grips with this new reality.
“In their newest post, they write: ‘THAT PANDEMIC. In many ways too, our focus has shifted to trying to keep C19 out of our community, and to planning how to handle it if and when it gets in.’ “
And, “Even in the midst of a pandemic, new life is born. Twin Oaks just got an addition to their population:”
And then there was Karaoke. From the TO FB page: “PANDEMIC KARAOKE. Here’s the very funny playlist from this week’s karaoke, as suggested by Mala. Best to keep laughing in hard times.”
The pandemic has even changed the meeting (or non-meeting) culture at Twin Oaks. What I wrote: “How do you keep a large community going during a pandemic? Twin Oaks is holding regular outdoor meetings where they talk about how they are going to manage things–outdoors so that folks who are concerned about social distancing can attend. Here’s a bit more about their weekly ‘COVID conferences’:
Meanwhile, other communities had other responses. Tomorrow, the responses from Acorn and the other Louisa communities.
So, I am now sharing Facebook posts from mid-March, which is just when the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit us. This post will document the early evolution of the responses from Twin Oaks. Tomorrow, I will continue with some later responses from Twin Oaks, and I will further post on responses from Acorn and East Wind.
Here’s what I (Raven) wrote on Facebook: “Here’s the beginning of looking at the evolution of Twin Oaks’ response to the coronavirus. This is an changing situation and these posts represent their early responses:”
And here is the first Facebook post from Twin Oaks:
But they were able to deal with the situation with some humor. “In the midst of a pandemic, why not hold a party? There are ways to do it responsibly:”
This was the next step in Twin Oaks’ responses:
“CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE. Due to concerns around the spread of COVID-19 coronoavirus, we have cancelled the March and April Visitor Periods, and have cancelled Saturday tours for the foreseeable future.
“We are currently scheduling for May and beyond but that may change depending how everything unfolds. We will be looking for new members at that time, so if you are interested please do schedule a Three-Week Visitor Period for the summer or later.”
Also check out the message on their web page:
Then, “This is the new face of Twin Oaks: QUARANTINE! Please leave…”
The comments that we (Commune Life) got to this post were telling:
Mac then elaborated:
I probably don’t need to add, but never show up unannounced to a commune, and that goes triple if there is a pandemic going on.
Tomorrow, more responses from Twin Oaks, as the pandemic grew.