What it’s Like to Organize All Three Twin Oaks Conferences

By Julia Onedia

“Ask me again in September.” This phrase is my shield against requests of all kinds—everything from friendly hangouts to an offer to join the tofu management team. I say it so often now that I’m just waiting for the moment when someone asks me “what’s your name?” and all that I can say is a dreamy “September…”.

I was the Twin Oaks Women’s Gathering intern in 2016, which is why I decided to join Twin Oaks [you can read more about my protracted membership process in a future post]. Therefore, it was only logical that I would become a Women’s Gathering organizer this year. I’ve been attending the planning meetings since I was a visitor in January; I traveled to the farm from Baltimore for every meeting but one between then and when I became a member on May 26th.

TOCC pavillion roof.jpg
Twin Oaks Conference Site Pavilion Roof

At some point this spring, I joined the Queer Gathering team thanks to some friendly pestering from the original organizers. From there it became a slippery slope: I was just dipping my toes into Communities Conference work when someone who had agreed to bottom-line the whole conference suddenly left the community to take care of a family member. At that point, I decided to stop fighting it, and I allowed the conference beast to consume my being in its entirety.

As July inches in, everything is eerily calm. The conference site is slowly becoming habitable after its long winter hiatus. I usually have no more than twenty unread emails in my inbox at any given time. I still have time for tofu shifts, cooking, and childcare. But I know that’s all about to change.

Come find me at the Queer Gathering on August 3rd—only slightly deranged—as I lead a workshop on using glitter to battle gender dysphoria and body hate. Then, join me again at the Women’s Gathering on August 17th, slipping into full lunacy as I fittingly lead a group of women to howl and scream at the moon and the sky (it’s healing, I swear). Finally, you might recognize me as hot pink hair on a human-potato hybrid at the Communities Conference from August 31st to September 2nd  as I coordinate childcare and put out (hopefully metaphorical) fires all over the conference site.

Julia asleep on keyboard.jpg
Portrait of the communard as a conference-induced human/potato hybrid

On September 3rd, I sleep. Then you can ask me your questions.

If you want to follow developments of the events on Facebook, here are the pages for these events:

What it’s Like to Organize All Three Twin Oaks Conferences

Bicyclist’s Diary

By Noah

In early April I was biking from Washington DC to my hometown of Greenville, SC, on an old mountain bike with all my belongings tied on to it with paracord from Walmart. At the end of the third day I was 150 miles into my journey, in the middle of nowhere Virginia. The sun was setting and I was loudly dying of exhaustion as I pedaled slowly past a pointed sign, ‘cyclists welcome.’

welcome signs matter

I looked at the place, looked at the sign, looked at the road ahead, looked at myself, looked at the sign.. I was indeed a cyclist and all signs pointed to a place that I would be welcome. I didn’t even notice the giant, suspended boat with a deck built around it, or the huge wooden tricycle immediately to my right. I didn’t notice much other than an old house and a rumbling in my tummy. I hopped off the bike, walked past another welcoming sign, and knocked on the door.

I never got back on the bike.

I had arrived just in time for dinner. Gil, who had let me in, was cooking, while another dirty man, woman, and child smiled at me from the bed in the kitchen. I was sweating so much it looked like I had pissed myself. My first impression was suspicious, but after a shower and being shown the composting toilet I felt mostly safe with my new hippie friends. We laughed a lot at dinner and I decided I would stay a day to rest and see what this place was about.

Thumbs cooking

5 weeks later I was driven to the bus stop to complete my ride into South Carolina.

Cambia is a small egalitarian community comprised of nomads and a small central family. They build everything on their property themselves, live in harmony with the natural world around them, and work as hard as they play. I have never known such immediate, unpretentious warmth and love. We lived together, worked together, and played together. I’ve probably never had so much fun, like, ever. Can’t wait to see them again.

Noah – author of this post
Ruby + Whimsy
Bicyclist’s Diary

We Build Community by Building Community

By Thumbs  from Cambia

“Work is love made visible”

                          The Prophet, Khalil Gibran

           This Spring a team of colorful communard builders convened for a secular barn raising.  Even though everyone came for different personal reasons, the shared goal was clear, make an old sheep barn more hospitable for commune members.  One would assume that a simple, tangible goal would lead to a predictable week, but jumping to that conclusion would skip all the flying fish and cornucopia of magic that happened in-between.

           Within the Federation for Egalitarian Communities (F.E.C.) this type of trip is called a LEX, and it’ as culturally far from the norm as East Brook is from any major city.  With each turn down another unmarked country road, you are taking another deviation from the cultural norms around work, leadership, and purpose. Officially a LEX, short for Labor Exchange, is a time based currency used between participating members of the F.E.C. through which community members can help their fellow communities, and expect equitable hourly return of help at their own community   Yet, the culture of LEX goes far beyond any quantifiable market exchange, and unlocks a culture of radical generosity that questions cultural norms most people take for granted.

           While driving down Country Highway 22, the first intersection I had to make a turn at was “Construction projects need clear blueprints in order to be productive.”  It seemed obvious that would be a right turn, but I was wrong. On the first day of the build, the travel weary crew was introduced to a small warehouse of materials and an even smaller dilapidated barn, with the general guiding principle being, “The more of these new building materials that we can refurbish the old dilapidated barn with, the closer we will be housing more communards.” One week later 1,000 square feet of insulated flooring was installed, two new walls were built, two doors were installed, and the ceiling was made watertight with a glistening new roof, and yet I didn’t see a single blueprint drawn.  Not even a back of the envelope sketch was made. This whole project was a streaming interplay of experimentation, action, teaching and rethinking.

EBCF Group Photo in snow
Snowing on the last day of April, normal doesn’t happen at East Brook Farm (from left Nina, Rebecca, Ananda, Rachel, Skylar, Keenan, Becky, Thumbs, Mittens, Denise)

          The next crossing on the road was across the train of thinking that says “successful projects need leaders”, which I expected to be a mandatory stopping point, but instead we rolled right passed it.  While gaining labor credits through LEX was a periphery benefit to some of the builders, the majority of us came with the intention to gain more confidence in our building skills. Keenan and Nina have decades more building experience than the rest of us, but I’d be surprise if an observer would have been able to discern this.  Both of them held space for learning in the egoless way a graceful mentor let’s you flourish in the skills you already have while opening the door for you to lean into your learning edge. It wasn’t that we were leaderless, but more accurately it was that each of us lead ourselves to show up the responsibilities we could fearlessly accomplish.

EBCF Three Gals under the ceiling
Step aside patriarchal norms of men leading construction, this is an egalitarian team of communards (from left Becky, Mittens, and Nina)

            Now that the previous turns had lead me to unfamiliar territory I knew to turn the other direction when I arrived at the assumption that “efficient productivity needs schedules”.  One of the experiences of commune culture that has profoundly changed my life is the experience of abundant food, beauty and friendship without the sweaty palm anxiety of fiscal scarcity putting you a couple paychecks away from being homeless.  This separation of work from pure fiscal survival, to making work a voluntary choice to celebrate ones gifts within their chosen commune family, is rarely more alive than at a LEX build. From 6 a.m. till 7:30 p.m. there was a steady stream of workers gracefully picking up the hammer where the last person left off.  Slipping away for a nap or meandering down to the stream to get lost in the glistening water where so common that announcing you were taking a break felt unnecessarily formal. We all trusted that everyone was giving as much as they felt called to, and our love for each other dwarfed the importance of renovating a barn, so we skipped planning our day in the morning, and instead celebrated our accomplishments in the evening.

EBCF Last Nail Dance Party
Mandatory dance party initiated by Becky after the last screw of the floor was finished! (from left Becky, Thumbs, Nina, and Keenan)

            I knew I was close to my destination when I was faced with the assumption that “hot tubs are expensive indulgences for wealthy people” and I turned the other direction to arrive at East Brook.  Communes tend to be wealthy in “resource yards”, sometimes called junk piles by other Americans, which are often stocked with a variety of metal tubs. These bulky containers are as hard to find a use for as they are to get rid of, so they tend to become vernal pools for mosquitoes.  However a few of us had experience turning these treasures into fire heated hot tubs, lovingly referred to as Hippy Stew pots. With juvenile enthusiasm we tinkered and toiled until the old barn was outfitted with the makings of a hot tub. Granted it took a few kettles of water boiled in the kitchen to nudge the temperature up to the point of indulgence, but the sensation of winning at life was authentic.


EBCF Tractor and Hot Tub
Moving the insulated cow trough into position to be the new Hippy Stew pot! (from left Skylar, Keenan, Thumbs, Ananda, and Grant)

          Now that all my assumptions on people’s relationship with work had been inverted, I was hardly surprised when fish began raining from the sky.  We were cautiously enjoying a hot afternoon, after a couple days of snow in late April left us suspicious of the order of the seasons, when an epic toil of prehistoric ferocity began in the sky above us.  An osprey resolutely clutching a fresh fish catch from the adjacent brook was blindsided by an eagle that mistook the osprey for a food delivery service. The two toiled hundreds of feet above the ground, claws and feathers rolling through the sky in defiance of gravity, until the still squirming fish slid out from the talons and came plummeting towards us.  With a crash it landed gasping for water on the metal roof. Maximus and Rachael swiftly collected, gutted and fried it. That night I ate flying fish, and when I tasted it, I realized that to be abundantly wealthy is to be grateful for all that I have already been given.


EBCF Sky Fish Fry
The bounty of East Brook feed our souls in so many ways!


We Build Community by Building Community

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

May is the month when the organizers for the Twin Oaks Communities Conference ask people to think about Labor Day weekend.  Specifically, we ask people what types of workshops they might be interested in offering at the Twin Oaks Communities Conference (TOCC).  These come in two broad types.


Fixed Time Workshops:  This is the collection of 16 (or sometimes 20) workshops which are selected in advance and are all relating to intentional communities.  We are exploring different themes and it is likely we will choose a couple of them.  If you are interested in presenting on an intentional community related topic we would encourage you to submit this workshop proposal form.  The deadline for proposals is May 31st.  These workshops happen Saturday, Sept 1st and Sunday morning. Workshop presenters who are selected for these fixed time slots will get their registration fee waived.  And if you are coming from NYC metro area (or south of there) you might be able to come on our totally groovy bus.


Open Space Technology Workshop:  There are way too many clever and interesting people at the TOCC to not provide a forum for them to demonstrate or propose their own workshop even if it has little or nothing to do with community.  The problem (from an organizers perspective) is which ones do you choose?  Fortunately, this problem has been well worked by others and there is a democratic, self selecting mechanism called Open Space Technology.  These workshops are giving Sunday (Sept 2) midday into the afternoon and typically we do between 10 and 20 workshops ranging in size from 25 participants (like at a urban squatting or polyamory workshop) to just a couple of excited participants (bird watching or Python blockchain programming).


Even if you don’t want to offer any workshop there are three types of people who might want to come to this annual event, which often has over 150 participants and 40 plus communities represented:

  1. You want to find an intentional community to move into
  2. You are starting a community with friends
  3. You live in a community and are looking for new members

If any of these three things is true for you, then you can register for this event here.  If you want to see who is already coming and who is interested go to the Facebook event (35 attending and 215 interested so far (May 1), and we have just started our outreach).

Call for Workshops: Twin Oaks Communities Conference

What Would Jesus do about Racism in Community?

Reflections on the Building a New World Symposium

By Thumbs Cambia


Clockwise from top left: Participants in workshop, First Methodist Church, Reverend Gracie bowl of soil demonstration, Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, Brother Anton and Carlos.


I rolled into the community long after sunset, and slipped my truck between the first gathering of parked cars I spotted, thrilled to be reunited with my numb lower back.  The cows gazed at me in the unimpeded glow cast from a moon sliver across the broad horizon of a southern savanna. I peered around the building closest to me and spotted a humble one room kitchen and communal space, which vaguely matched the description of the campsite kitchen I was told of.  I slipped in the door, and groped the wall till a satisfying switch clicked, lighting the room, and inspiring the letters written on the wall that proclaimed “[insert inspiring text] GOD [rhetorical question] [insert male pronoun][righteous command].”…oh yeah, I remembered, this was a Christian community.


The host community for Building a New World symposium was Koinonia Farm, a 75 year old community that is steeped in the civil rights movement of the Southern United States and global christian service.  Koinonia has lived their activism through lifestyle by functioning as a multi-racial farm where all workers receive equal pay for labor, sat at the same table for meals, and practiced their faith in communion.  Mid century 20th century this egalitarian agrarian lifestyle was a vexing contrast to the local chapter of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, who used violence and boycotts to attack Koinonia Farm. In innovating their farming business and non-violent persistence they became a national hub for the civil rights movement, eventually establishing Habitat for Humanity and spreading their lifestyle of equal opportunity internationally.


Briars in the Cotton Patch (2005) is a documentary which traces the story of Koinonia Farm from the founders inspiration, Clarence Jordan, through the Ku Klux Klan resistance and into the creation of Habitat for Humanity.


I dipped into the flow of the workshops, thankful that the nature of talking head workshops means the audience can be either physically or mentally absent without actually influencing the presenter.  My experience of the first workshop was the familiar dis-ease of hearing how inspiring the civil rights work of the mid century was, with the whitetop mountain range of an audience agreeing and smiling proudly, while I felt the gapping distance between myself and political activism.  I wanted to throw myself under a bus, to prevent humans from being deported of course, but still, throw myself under a bus.


After a traditional southern lunch of green beans and peach cobbler washed down with iced tea we gathered in the humble chapel, where a brief, unscheduled dialogue became an inextricable briar in the fluffy rhetoric of the symposium.  In an open forum folks shared their work in community, and riding on the wave of hope the stories were stirring, two older white men spoke of their valiant actions of moving into brown neighborhoods and bringing culture to places that had no leaders.  Their work was so brilliant, that other houses were being renovated as well and the community was improving. Take cover white knights piercing truth is about to pop your altruistic illusion.


“I don’t mean to be that black guy, but I’ve got to call out Gentrification” announced a black young person from the crowd.  They articulated the plight of brown and black communities being infiltrated by Whites, and that even well intentioned white neighborhood immigrants were disempowering the community by taking over leadership.  Pastor Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove spoke quickly, even gently interrupting the black man, to redirect the discussion towards positive affirmations of everyone’s work. However, this briar hadn’t been removed, and later they would take their grievance to the center stage where it could not be ignored (they preferred gender neutral pronouns).


After getting back in stride Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Rev. Erika introduced the pillars of nonviolent direct action which guide the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival.  This event has established civilian leaders in 33 states to hold 40 days of civil disobedience by holding daily protests in front of state government buildings and organizing activism events throughout their community starting on Mothers’ Day 2018.  They are holding many logistical details in secrecy to protect their activism plans from the powers that be, but you can find out more by joining the movement at PoorPeoplesCampaign.org.


In Washington, D.C. and more than two dozen states across the country supporters of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival will kick off 40 days of “moral action” to highlight “the human impact of policies which promote systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and environmental devastation.” in May of 2018.


Reverend William Barber’s stage entrance matched his larger than life personality by lighting up a movie theater size projector screen.  With a beaming face looking down on us, and his momentous voice erupting through concert worthy sound system I felt the waves of energy a southern preacher can send pulsing through the audience.  Tuning out the words I realized his delivery felt like standing on the beach and watching awesome waves approach the shore, building with each sentence and climaxing with a thunderous proclamation, but only finally gently touching your toes when he finished the verse with a gentle utterance of God.  The true power of his delivery came to light, when the projector went out, he finished the sermon from the speaker phone of a cell phone held up to a mic, and still the audience rumbled with sporadic “Amen” and closed with a standing ovation.


Reverend Barber’s speech was an unforgiving criticism of modern political and corporate corruption.  He recited verses in the Bible about religious institutions conspiring with political powers to twist God’s words into weapons to validate their agenda at the cost of the well being of the poor and immigrants.  His sermon spiced up the namesake evil fearing southern preacher rhetoric by unearthing the origins of the 2nd amendment as being a political negotiating tool to appease Southern United States through sanctifying slave patrols to uncomfortably familiar government budgets which clearly prioritize the military at the cost of impoverished women and children.  His presentation of current news stories had the stinging blows of comedy news with the laugh track replaced by “Amen”, and the thunderous voice of conservative radio, all held in the studio set of the world’s largest religious party, made me feel how a sermon could inspire a congregation to take the streets.


When Reverend Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove took the stage the following morning his tall, lanky figure seemed proportional to the heaven bound architecture, and his sermon stepped directly into the tension of whiteness.  He spoke of it as a religion all of us are born into that distorts our perception of reality. The time has come for white folk to step off the stage, and into the roles of support. White folk can open themselves to be led by others through closing their mouths, opening their ears, and permitting their spirits to be changed.  And in living his word he passed the mic to the silky-smooth linguist, and dark skinned Reverend Gracie.


Walking into the church that morning a couple humble bowls of dirt straddled the altar.  Reverend Gracie spoke of finding the source of the difference from which our perceived differences have grown, and if we trace it all the way back we will reach the soil.  By putting out hands back into that soil, the soil of Georgia that is fertile with the blood of discrimination and the fertility to bring forth new possibilities, we can each step to the altar and bury what is holding us back.  In solemn rows, we each shuffled along and sowed our fluorescent post-it-notes into dirt that looked progressively more like the contaminated earth of the Anthropocene.


Sarah Thompson jumped from the choir to the stage to perform a speech which had the staccato cadence of a singing cardinal,  yet told stories that tore at your passive acceptance of global exploitation. She was the executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams which she outlined as an organization who approaches peacemaking with the same strategic, well trained, and organized techniques that militaries wage war.  The audience was jarred awake when she quoted Shailja Patel “What the NRA is to the American population, the US government is to the global population. A cult of mass murder, lost to morality, rejecting humanity, refusing culpability.”  She followed this by leading us down harrowing story she lived which illustrated how a “green” company subcontracted to international development thugs, but multinational non-violent activism and campensino permaculture turned the tides of exploitation.


Brother Anton set the tone for his minutes behind the altar by speaking of his “sheroes” and handing the mic off to an El Salvadorian refugee.  Brother Anton stood beside the young man, translating every sentence to feed us, bite by bite the story of the young man holding his little sister tight by his side for their Northbound escape of blood thirsty criminals.  I saw the young man, I heard his story, and yet the grit and foreignness of that life was too many degrees beyond my own for me to grasp it. Brother Anton knew this, and followed up that story with videos of a sister city relationship he has midwifed between a remote Mountain town in Mexico, La Libertad, and the city in Georgia many of its resident travel to work in, La Grange.  He brought this beautiful story arch home by weaving in a story of personal tragedy so raw it brought the heady ideals of immigration policy down to the muted emotions of my heart with a stream of tears connecting mind and body.


Carlos escaped gang violence in El Salvador with his sister, traveling all the way to the states across land and eventually finding sanctuary with Brother Anton.


The afternoon Plenary started with three brief introductions of various organizations, and here the briar would agitate the white progressive façade again.  The black person stood behind the mic with their head lowered in a humble way but their arms span spread wide like a bird of prey-judice sweeping over the crowd.  They said in this self-righteous space, where villainizing other, dangerous, close minded Americans had become one of our shared identities, there were still microaggressions making them and other black participants uncomfortable.  If there was still tension in these private interactions, then wasn’t the foundation of our progress crumbling. The black person would not take the onus of articulating the charges by retelling specific interactions but asked everyone to look within themselves and own up to the mistakes they were making.  The audience was quiet, the symposium schedule rolled on, but blood from the briar prick was still staining the white cotton.


You probably haven’t met Kathleen Kelly, but she defines an archetype that stirs inspiration in the most jaded cynics.  This petite woman of Irish descent glows with warmth and tells stories of spending time in prison with the same awe for the wisdom gleaned from the experience as I’m used to elders beaming about their grandchildren.  She spoke of throwing birthday parties in Iraq with widows that couldn’t escape the city while the bombs poured like rain outside. Stories of watching her fellow inmates cry after seeing the images of abu ghraib, not because they pitied themselves, but because they knew disgrace that miserable was the product of universal disrespect in the military effort.  She may have not given the audience an easy access point to start their walk towards activism, but she illustrated beauty in scenarios the news has painted as a soulless, monotone of misery.


***SHOW TIME***Within the first few selling points of my description of this symposium, I’d always mentioned there would be performance of the Cotton Patch Gospels musical.  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but now I was about to find out, or at least find a bit before the bad taste in my mouth made me leave at intermission. Initially the shortcomings of the performance were hometown sweet, with actors referencing their script book while on stage, costume discrepancies, and missing the high note, but once I noticed no black actor came on stage to represent the back roles, and that light skinned Jesus was going to be lynched I couldn’t laugh it off.  Now I better understand how good intentions can pave the road to hell.


Have you ever heard of the Red Letter Christians, I hadn’t, but now I’m definitely going to glean their treasure trove of creative non-violent activism to build community that serves people, not an ideal people must serve.  The Philadelphia steel industry has been replaced by the opioid trade, yet in that fiscal poverty Shane Claiborne has harvested an abundance of community.  As a charismatic white male I was interested to see how he’d navigate gentrification, and if I had to summarize his technique, it would be “create the space and let the people fill it.”  For example, he has navigated bureaucracy to have their city block off limits to cars during the summer months so local children can choose their mayhem. Red Letter Christians requests people donate their guns, and then gives the blacksmithing hammers to childless mothers to forge the gun barrel into a garden hoe.  Red Letter Christians paints a street art letter on the wall of a vacant lot asking the city to donate this to become park land, and then 1500 local residents show up to sign the letter on the wall. Shane Claibornes actions speak so much louder than his words I walked away almost unable to see the white knight in the sea of brilliant local community.


Beating Guns to Plows Video

Inspired by the biblical image of ‘beating swords into plows’, Shane Claiborne and friends have begun to turn guns into garden tools. For more information on weapons conversions, check out the RAWtools website (www.rawtools.org).  


Riding on a wave of moist eyed hopefulness we were once again jostled to awareness of the tensions within our own community when two young women announced that a closing workshop was going to be an open forum to discuss the interractional microaggressions during this symposium.  When I walked into the venue space the architecture of the chapel screamed hierarchy so loudly with pews obediently kneeling at the feet of one alter I wondered if an equality conversation could be had here. While the conversation strode proudly then stumbled and fell, like a first time ice skater moving forward but flailing in every direction, the fragility of white folks self-confidence became clearer.  Some white folks were unwaveringly resistant to admitting that they had made someone else feel insulted or in their ignorance had perpetuated racism. Male identified white folks were requesting, even demanding, clarity on what offenses they had committed, but the answers were not forthcoming. Most people walked away from this feeling at least confused, but many even angry, distraught, and discriminated.


The unresolved tension felt in that open forum is my personal invitation to let this symposium continue to affect me.  I remember first hearing the public complaint of an unidentified aggression between participants, and immediately I began rummaging through my rolodex of interactions grasping to find where I’d gone wrong, so I could validate the misgiving as quickly as I thought of it.  After soothing myself, I was able to ask how I could improve that behavior the next time, and walked away from this self-conscious frenzy with wisdom to guide my next mistakes. I eventually engaged one of the individuals I thought I may have hurt, only to find out they were unphased by my perceived misgivings.  While I was relieved to be absolved, I also promptly stopped thinking of my previous actions impact, and became that much more blind. Resolving specific conflicts can be a false sense of progress when we live in a culture where the fog of discrimination can permeate our very thought process. Instead finding a deeper self-love to sustain one living in a constant awareness of their mistakes, may help us move to a solution that is not a game of politeness but an experience mutually flawed beings striving to co-exist peacefully.


After a few days to let the buzz of the conference quiet within me, I realized that this conference was able to hold space for the pain of inequality around that world and within our own communities by balancing harsh truths with community singing.  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove shared that “The point of song is to get us singing and the point of singing is to get us to community”. Communal singing wove together the space between workshops and reunited the community after a break out. Even when technology glitches would leave the speaker awkwardly silent on stage a few verses of song would be lifted into the air space, and soon the entire congregation was swaying and singing together.  Forget the hymn books, these were simple songs about life that any denomination could rally under, which is a fitting way to welcome all color, class, and career into the same life song.

What Would Jesus do about Racism in Community?