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Learn more about our member communities or start your own egalitarian commune! Review all of our communities past and present bylaws & policies in our Systems & Structures area

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5 months

I have been at Twin Oaks for five months now. The days have turned colder, and quieter since we don't have a visitor group in December, and there are less guests this time of year.

We all bundle up, build up the wood stoves, and eat our meals inside, except on the rare, slightly warm days that we still have.

We eat lots of greens; kale, spinach, lettuce, and many other Asian greens we grow in the greenhouse. We're also eating lots of potatoes and sweet potatoes, and the turnips and radishes are coming in. I spend one day a week now working in the greenhouse, and harvesting greens and leeks from outside.

My full member vote is coming up in a month, which involves writing my six month letter about my experience here so far.

I'm excited about living at Twin Oaks, and I am learning so much. Sometimes I wonder if Twin Oaks is too comfortable for me, and perhaps a more primitive, off the grid community will be in my future, but I don't think I am ready for that yet, and want to continue gaining lots of skills involving sustainability and simplicity. I also feel like I can continue to strive toward a lifestyle that fits with my ideals while still living here.

Plants seem to be my passion, whether they are wild, cultivated, or medicinal. I just joined the full garden crew, which means I made a full time commitment to the garden. I have also made a part time commitment to the Seed Growing business. I am excited to work in both gardens, and it has been incredibly interesting to me to learn how the techniques of growing plants for seed is so different than growing plants for food. I continue to learn about wild and medicinal plants in my free time, drawing them, and studying them.


By Janel Twin Oaks

In just a matter of weeks, Twin Oaks’ 150 laying hens have become frozen fodder for future community meals.

Janel and the Chickens

It all started late in the summer when new member Sapphyre and I decided to fill the much-needed poultry management position. We started doing research about proper chicken care--and the answers we found left us shocked. Suddenly, aspects of our fenced-in chicken yard that once seemed benign to my untrained eye began to pop out at me--the lack of top soil due to vegetation depletion, for instance, or the broken feathers on birds’ backs (indicating a possible feather mite infestation). Not to mention we realized that many of the hens were too old to efficiently produce eggs anymore.

Pop Gang

The job of running a hyper village is a rigorous one. Pretty much anyone who is willing to can take on an organizing or managerial responsibility.  There is a tremendous quantity of logistics and administrative work to keep this full service commune functioning. We have dozens of buildings in need of repair. There are half a dozen businesses which could all use more guidance and support.  Most weeks a 8 to 10 visitors some of whom want to live with us who have questions about how we do things and if their personal situation can be merged into ours. Add to this endless pocket dramas about romance, children, housing and other personal topics which frequent our little village and there is enough going on to hold almost anyones attention.

And as I have mentioned we are full. It is something like 3 years now we have had a waiting list (tho it has certainly thinned at points, it has never vanished in this time) and this means on top of the above described condition, we also have a space shortage and fewer degrees of freedom to relocate members when someone moves out. Pop Gang to the rescue!

Pop Gang is a group of members who are pulled from various community bodies (the planners, the membership team, recruiting, the room assignor and a member at large) to discuss things which can be done to make our crowded situation better. While this body is technically advisory, without any executive power in its collective state – what my experience of it is, is that when the Pop Gang agrees on a policy direction, the members take it back to their respective executive groups and make the change happen.


So much has happened. Twin Oaks has become my home. Home. But maybe this feeling is temporary? I'm not sure. A couple weeks ago I was feeling unsure about wanting to be here, but now I am starting to settle in. Yes, there was an earthquake, and most of the scariness has passed for now. I am almost over it.

I have been taking joy in little things. Mostly plants, and animals, and watching the sun rise and set. Castor oil beans are beautiful, and watermelon and squash are delicious. Taking care of chickens has been very fulfilling.

I woke up before the sun was up yesterday, and I watched the sky change from blue and pink rivets to completely pink in five minutes. I looked away for a minute and the sky changed.

Things change so quickly. I will feel overcome with sadness at one moment, and then completely happy and content at some other moment. Some of it has to do with my changing relationship with Shua (Joshua is now Shua) lately, but I notice that I can see my perception and emotions changing, if if ever so slightly, from moment to moment.

Speaking to others has been difficult for me lately. Sometimes I hate speaking. I fear expectation in the other person for me to create a connection through words with them. I fear saying something weird, that doesn't make sense, and I see myself doing that a lot, and for some reason it bothers me. I am trying to be more okay with how I communicate.

I have been working about 45 hours and week, mostly agricultural, and it's been taking a toll on my back. But I love the work, and I love working outside. I tried to receive a massage from someone yesterday, me sitting cross legged, and it was hard for me to enjoy it because my back started aching.

A visitor’s-eye view of Acorn

Thanks to Ruth for a wonderful visit, and thanks for letting us share your perspective on the community.

My five-day visit to Acorn:

It’s great to meet a group of people – especially so many young ones – who have opted out of the capitalist rat race and are trying their best to live their values: community, sustainability, kindness. The few ramshackle buildings where people live and work are surrounded by oak, poplar and beech woods. There is both seriousness – they run a seed business that sustains the community – and playful: the path to a dance party last night was lit by a row of Christmas lights. The party took place in the “love shack” just past a collection of diverse and amazing tree houses. People mostly danced in a circle and for a while, four young women were dancing on a bouncy mattress in the corner. Daniel (ah, if I was only 40 years younger!) was walking around with a box of wine, playfully offering little cups of “the blood of Christ” to willing takers. He then put a big pillow under his shirt and asked people if they wanted to punch him, then made another round and offered well-padded hugs.

Although they joke about being a hippie commune, there actually isn’t a lot of public physical affection. People seem contained. One member described himself as being on the cusp of extrovert and introvert: he would not be comfortable talking to random strangers in a bar, but he loved living with people and was friendly with those in the community.

There is a lot of talent here: Delicious meals are routinely prepared by people who sign up ahead of time to make them. Although the booklet titled “READ ME” -  which must have been written a long time ago when there were children here – says the commune is vegetarian, that has evolved and there is meat or chicken at almost every supper and often also at lunch. People are on their own for breakfast.

life in community

Emma Goldman Finishing School is Seeking New Members

We are looking for new members at the Emma Goldman Finishing School (an egalitarian housing community in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle). We are, like a lot of people all over the place, trying to figure out how to have different relationships with each other and the world. We think the world is burning and the time to collaborate and try and struggle and work is now. We would love for a group of 2-5 people who know and love each other to move in, as this has worked well in the past and we have a number of openings. Individual members would be great, too.

Our community started fourteen years ago when a bunch of radicals pooled their resources together and bought a funky old twelve-bedroom house. They turned it into an egalitarian commune where people lived together and experimented with different economic and political models. For example: we save up money every month in the hopes of seeding other radical and egalitarian communities in Seattle, and have a time-based micro-economy where everyone's time is valued the same as everyone else's. Core to our project is that people need a strong home-base to be effective and healthy activists, organizers, and humans, and that we should try to live with each other in more egalitarian and humane ways. To that end, everyone who lives here has healthy food, transportation, health care, and a safe and cozy place to call home.

We are just one strategy amongst many social justice projects in this town, this country, and this world. We don't have all the answers. We don't even know all the questions. We are messed up and problematic in interesting and specific ways, and could write tell-all books about the missteps and heartaches of life at Emma's. Another way of saying this is that we are a human project made up of humans. At the very least, we are an excellent training ground in direct democracy, and all the messiness that horizontal structures bring. And on our good days, we're a lot more than that.

Twin Oaks' Annual Communities Conference 2011!


Hello, communitarians and friends! Janel from Twin Oaks here. We've already begun thinking about this year's Communities Conference, and let me just say that it is sure to be an unparalleled celebration of positive change!

Our annual conference is an excellent place for those interested in learning about the Intentional Communities movement. Whether you are looking for a community to call home, wish to network with others already in community or are simply curious about an alternative lifestyle to the "mainstream," come camp out at the beautiful Twin Oaks Community with fellow community-minded folks from August 19-21st! When not attending fascinating, challenging workshops on everything from sustainability to group communication, you'll find yourself making friends, swapping stories and admiring the forest from a homemade hammock.

For more information about the event, the content and the people, feel free to peruse our website. Oh, and do please check back in every once and while--we'll be blogging about our preparations from now on!

Communities Conference Website

Why I Live at Sandhill

This May, I will have lived in intentional community for 37 years, all at Sandhill Farm. That’s more than 60% of my life. While this experience has been profoundly inspirational and satisfying, it hasn’t been easy. My relationship with my home community is complex and has evolved over the years. In today’s blog I want to explore what’s precious about that.

At present, I divvy up my time mainly among four major commitments (there are other commitments tossed into the mixed salad of my life, yet these are far and away the biggest):

A. My Community

Sandhill is a rural, income-sharing community. We’re homesteaders who grow a large fraction of our own food and emphasize simple living and taking care of one another. As much as possible, we try to support whatever any member wants within the context of our common values of ecological consciousness, nonviolence, and a commitment to work through our issues with one another.

It’s officially busy season

I am not the only one whose excited.

It’s finally winter!!!!  And to prove it there is a light dusting of snow covering the gardens left from the last snowstorm.  I have been looking forward to winter for a good long time.  Temperatures have dropped from triple digits to the occasional single digit, which is cause enough to merrily sing the glories of winter. But, I have also been looking forward to the legendary busy season.

Ashley chipper as always picking orders at 5:00am Saturday morning.

I have been hearing the tales post late night customer order assembling (picking) marathons, and pleas on the message board to help ship orders.  As a new member who arrived for a visitor period just after Land Day picking is something you do for about a half an hour to an hour after breakfast.   And shipping is something that just magically happened — not something I learned.  But, the whole enchilada is different during busy season, so the legend goes.

New Communities Directory!


Communities Directory - print edition

Cover price: $35 with special price of $28 at

Also available at a further discount when purchased with Communities magazine or Finding Community.

Communities Directory 2010 Cover
The sixth edition of the Communities Directory: A Comprehensive Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living is the essential reference tool for those interested in finding or creating community. Compiled by the nonprofit organization the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC) from This is the eagerly awaited new edition for 2010. Paperbound, 8-1/2 x 11 inches, 512 pages, ISBN 978-0-9718264-5-8.

The Sixth Edition is in stock and can be ordered now!

The Communities Directory is the door to an amazing range of choices in cooperative living today - some of which have been tested by time, and others that are on the cutting edge of experimentation. The Communities Directory is an encyclopedia of positive alternatives to a mainstream culture that is often fragmented and alienating. It is the inspiring stories of groups all over the world pioneering ways to share resources and live cooperatively.

2010 Fall Assembly a Rousing Success!

The 2010 Fall Assembly took place at East Wind, and as the title of this post indicates, it was a rousing success! The FEC fall assembly is a time for delegates from FEC communities to get together to both review the activities since the last assembly and look at our goals and plans until the next time we meet. This year at assembly, there were delegates attending from member communities Acorn, East Wind, Emma Goldman Finishing School, Sandhill, and Twin Oaks, and from Community-in-dialogue Community Autonomy.

To read more about the 2010 fall assembly, including a review of our activities since the spring assembly, PEACH news, the status of Community Autonomy, and the exciting world of the FEC 2011 budget, click below.

How are the bees?

This is a question I am asked often these days (& years…). For most of this summer, my answers were ambiguous: well, they seem to be alright, but they sure are not making much honey, they are swarming a lot; in general, they seem to be holding their own, but not really kicking butt, y’know what I mean?

Then a raised eyebrow and “any CCD?” (colony collapse disorder). No, no, I reassure them; fortunately, we have not had that scenario.

We currently have 20 hives (including 2 top bar hives). We harvested a little honey a few weeks ago: the second consecutive year of lowest ever honey harvest – average of 1.5 gallons of honey per hive (our average had been 5 gal/hive). Then I got worried: maybe we took too much honey and did not leave them enough for winter (that happened last year).

BUT – here it is Oct 2 and y’know what? Our bees are doing fantastic! Better than they have all year (maybe 2-3 years…): they have good brood & populations, energy in the hives is focused, and they are bringing in honey & pollen. It is being a beautiful fall: finally, some dry weather, comfortable temperatures, and lots of wildflowers (as well as our planted buckwheat). The change in the hives is remarkable.

My current theory: we have not done any of the “chemicals” for 10 years and now we are off all “treatments” – even organic ones. We are also not bringing in queens from the outside. I figger the bees are coming back to their equilibrium in this environment – which is a mixed one: there are conventional crops within their flying range – but not very many; however, some of the symptoms we saw this summer were eerily similar to effects of exposure to pesticides. Yikes! That’s scary.

AND – I am reading an AWESOME BOOK: I highly recommend it:

Is BDSM violence?

My community has non-violence as a core ideal.  This seems like an easy one to agree on.  But i remember finding myself uncomfortable when i was giving a tour to a group of Richmond vegans, who asked about how we killed the cows we eat.  ”With a shotgun” i replied.  ”hardly seems non-violent” one pointed out to me.

The current debate about non-violence is around BDSM.  Specifically, should the community conduct BDSM workshops at our annual Women’s Gathering.  This is not an issue about feminism as it is sometimes framed.  Twin Oaks does not have an agreement about being a feminist community, tho we often talk about our feminist principals in our presentations and our propaganda.  There is no generally agreed definition of feminism (i have always liked the idea that feminism was the practice of the philosophy of anarchism – but this will upset some folx).  But even if there were an agreed definition of feminism, Twin Oaks did not subscribe to this belief set at our inception and we do not embrace new philosophies easily now.  We are an “embrace diversity” community, which often means there is no consensus.

Many members argue compellingly that if there is consent in rough sex play, then it is not violent.  And one might think that this would be a away out of this bind, but our community history gets in our way.

Tomato Seed Saving

Tomato season is starting to slow down around here. In the last month or so, though, we’ve collected lots of seed!

Tomatoes are one of our crops which can only be used for either seed saving or for eating. To save the seed, we’ll select ripened tomatoes, puree them, and then let them ferment for four days. During fermentation, we speed up the process that occurs naturally in the tomato life cycle. The goo substance that holds the seeds in place will deteriorate, and the good seeds will collect at the bottom of the bucket. The tomato skin and flesh (and bad seed) will float.
It’s  important to stir the tomato mush several times a day to avoid mold production.

After four days of fermenting and stirring, comes the fun part!

To separate the seed from the tomato we implement a succession of water pours.

First I add water to the fermented tomato mush

First I add water to the fermented tomato mush

Step 2

After adding water, pour off floating tomato particles (we strain out the tomato to feed to the chickens). Add more water and repeat until only seed remains. Be careful not to loose any seed from the bottom of the bucket! If too much seed is escaping with the tomato particles, you can always go back at the end and repeat the process.


This batch is almost clean!

The Renaissance Homesteader

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and therefore had almost no relationship to practical skills or where my food came from. This persisted through college and a couple years working as a junior bureaucrat in Washington DC. When I moved to Sandhill at the ripe age of 24, things started to change.

While I still have plenty of the bureaucrat in me (I've been a community network administrator for since 1982), I am now somewhat handier than a person who can merely change a light bulb or boil water, and this competency has been a great source of satisfaction over the years.

What do I mean? Let me walk you through what I've been doing the last 30 hours, just as an example…

A. After checking email over my morning cup of coffee (no emergencies), I drafted a fundraising letter that I'll mail in the next two weeks to the 1000+ communities listed in the FIC's upcoming 6th edition of Communities Directory. I'll ask them to buy copies of the new book and also to help capitalize our Directory Endowment, the interest from which will allow us to pay for the labor needed to keep the data fresh and readily accessible. On average, I write at least one report or draft one proposal every day. The letter I composed in the morning allowed me to meet my quota for Tuesday.

B. After circulating that draft for review, I emailed a number of friends and acquaintances in Massachusetts, inviting them to attend the FIC fall organizational meetings, to be held Nov 12-14 at Mosaic Commons in Berlin (about 30 miles west of Boston). Failing that, I'll try to get together with folks one on one (as someone who is on the road 60% of the time, I spend a hefty portion of my time on logistics, and it's good to have my oar in those waters every day).

2010 Crops

It has been a long time since I have posted – one of the reasons is that it is being another very challenging year. This was the third consecutive very wet spring with the most rain and heavy rains I have seen in my 30 years here. When we planted crops in the fields, the heavy rains washed away a lot of the seed. The seed that remained often rotted before it could grow. We planted some of our sorghum and black beans three times – now they are very late. They will need good fall weather to mature.

This kind of weather is particularly difficult for organic farmers. Conventional farmers often no-till their seeds into the ground: they have a custom applicator spray an herbicide on the field and then plant with a no-till drill/planter and it’s done! Organic farmers rely on tillage to destroy weeds or green manure crops in preparation for planting. This means we need the soil to dry out enough to properly till the soil and kill weeds before planting. This year whenever we could work the ground, it usually rained again before we could plant. In that small window, conventional farmers planted their crops. When we finally did plant crops, we often had a heavy deluge – which made for erosion and poor germination. Then we could not get in the field to rotary hoe and cultivate – to control weeds; sometimes, the weeds took over the crops. (I now wish I had taken photos of several of our crop plantings that were so poor that we destroyed them and replanted; at the time, I found it so depressing that I did not remember how helpful photos can be).


It started out like any other Monday morning, the birds were singing and Laurne's long locks were secured in a very pedestrian ponytail.

It started out like any other Monday morning, the birds were singing and Laurne's long locks were secured in a very pedestrian ponytail.

Lauren had been talking about wanting a mohawk for some time.  She didn't a faux-hawk but a real one kind of like the one Nightshade has...

Lauren had been talking about wanting a mohawk for some time. She didn't a faux-hawk but a real one kind of like the one Nightshade has...

Yeah, Acorn is pretty much in the sticks, so not much happens.  So when something finally does there are sure to be at least a handful of spectators- Here Mardock, Andros and Darla (who also just got a DIY haircut) came to offer support and to be among the first to catch a glimpse of Lauren's new 'do.

Yeah, Acorn is pretty much in the sticks, so not much happens. So when something finally does there are sure to be at least a handful of spectators- Here Mardock, Andros and Darla (who also just got a DIY haircut) came to offer support and to be among the first to catch a glimpse of Lauren's new 'do.

heirloom tomatoes

heirloom tomatoes

heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes…are ripening everywhere, and acorn is rich in them. Our tomatoes are used for seeds, eating, processing, snacking on, etc….and some of the lucky hand selected tomatoes are even fortunate to get their photographs taken by Airy.

Photo by: Airy

The Leaves of Twin Oaks Issue 108

The Leaves of Twin Oaks, Summer 2010 Issue# 108

News of the Oaks Issue #108

by Valerie

Since the last edition of the Leaves, we've gone from the frigid cold of Winter to the sweltering heat of mid-Summer. We're taking advantage of the sun these days with our latest solar energy project. We've just completed the installation of a 10 KiloWatt array of 48 photo-voltaic solar panels in the central field of the community. The electricity generated will be used to power three of our buildings and one of our well pumps, with any excess electricity being fed back into the main power grid (via our local electic co-op), and we will be compensated for that power.

installing one of the 48 panels
for our new solar energy array.

Earlier in the year, we found out that there's nothing like being snowed in for days and weeks on end to bring out people's creativity. In January, Twin Oaks took advantage of the avalanche of snow we received (and the 30-hour power outage) and members' inventiveness was bustin' out all over! Our very own 'outsider-artist-in-residence', aka our member Purl, used the time to construct a chair out of hickory saplings and hemp rope for his daughter Anya, aged 15 months. And when our pond froze, Noah decided a game of ice-hockey was in order, but we only had 2 sticks. Undaunted, he used some scrap wooden stretcher bars from our hammocks business to construct 6 very realistic hockey sticks, 5 of which lasted until the end of the game! And on a more cultured artistic note, Kayde organized a Variety Show in which members could showcase their talents, including poetry, singing, piano, dancing and a puppet show featuring Marshall Rosenberg of NVC (Non-Violent Communication) notoriety as the main character.

Anya sits in her new chair.

Another big January event was the arrival of our newest Oaker, a healthy baby boy born to Elsa and Scott. Elsa delivered him into the world at home, with the help of a midwife, her assistant, a doula, Scott and big brother Luuk. We welcome Ridgeley Ember Jennings Linden to our lives!

Ridgeley Ember Jennings Linden

In February, as an alternative to Valentine's Day, Twin Oaks celebrates Validation Day, a day in which everybody, not just people in intimate relationships, receives a handmade, individually designed card, inside of which other members have written validating messages. On Validation Day, we hand the cards out after dinner, and then break out into a dance party. This year, we also had a 'Songs of Love' performance, which was graced with the presence of the KITCH Army, sharing their version of KISS's new song 'Stand'.

Memory, Calliope, Claire and Keith transformed in to the KITSCH ARMY

Some people might say Twin Oaks has hit the big time, when we were featured in an Earth Day special on CNN news in April. In two of our fifteen minutes of fame, the piece focused on Twin Oaks as an example of how to live a sustainable lifestyle in contemporary America. We were pleased that information about our alternative culture was able to reach the masses.

There's also good news for our two largest community businesses. We've launched a new and improved website for Twin Oaks Hammocks. We sell hammocks both to wholesalers and to retail customers, and the new site makes it easier for our retail customers to make a purchase. Please go to if you'd like to take a look. And with our newest tofu account, we've increased our workweek to 5 tofu production days. This enables us to make the additional 5000 (yes, five thousand) pounds each week for the new account.

And several members have been busy working on creating new community.
We've been having meetings of a group of former and current members
who are working towards creating the Living Energy Farm. Now in the
process of finding land, the project will ultimately encompass an
intentional community with an environmental education center, which
will focus on sustainable ways of living, free of fossil-fuel. It has
been informally dubbed neo-amish (ie. Amish-style, minus the

For more information:

A Day in the Life of a Communard

by Mushroom

6 a.m. My alarm wakes me up and I roll out of bed, ready to start my day. The sun hasn't quite come up yet, but there's some soft light coming through my east-facing window. I don't have to get up this early--we each set our own schedule--but I like being up before the hustle and bustle of the day really begins. Plus, since nine of us live in my building, I probably won't have any competition for the shower.

6:15 a.m. I make myself breakfast (toast with homemade bread and an egg from one of our chickens) in the kitchen in the Courtyard, where I live. Lunch and dinner are served buffet-style at Zhankoye (ZK), our main dining facility and community center, but we also have a handful of smaller kitchens for breakfast, snacking, and preparing meals for small groups of people. As I eat, I read a novel I pulled from our public collection of several thousand books--no library card needed.

6:55 a.m. Since I like being up early, I signed up for a 7 o'clock tofu-making shift last week when all of our labor was being scheduled. I head to the Tofu Hut, a mere two-minute walk through the woods from my room--not a bad commute. It's chilly out, but the Hut is warm and steamy. I put on boots, gloves, a hairnet, and an apron, and start pressing curds into big slabs of tofu.

10 a.m. My shift is over, and I head back to the Courtyard. I check my email on one of the public computers in the office. In addition to actually making tofu, I also do a lot of customer service for our soyfoods business. Someone has contacted us to find out where they can buy Twin Oaks' tofu in their area; I respond, and also check out the orders that have come in locally from stores and restaurants in Charlottesville and Richmond.

10:45 a.m. I see my friend Sabrina outside with one-year-old Anya in a carrier on her back. She's doing a "primary," labor-creditable child care. We make tea and go for a walk together, Anya making cute faces at me the whole time.

12:05 p.m. It's lunch time, so we walk up to ZK. Lunch is mostly leftovers, supplemented with a fresh salad and baked potatoes. We grow greens throughout the winter in our huge greenhouse, and we harvested enough potatoes in the summer and fall to last us through the winter.

12:50 p.m. I walk back to my room to put on work boots for my forestry shift, then ride a public bike up to Modern Times (MT), where Carrol, River, Purl and I will meet for the shift. MT is our main shop building, with space and tools to fix our cars, bikes, tractors, and vacuums.

1 p.m. We head out into the woods, where we'll selectively cut trees and haul them in to be processed into firewood. All the wood we harvest is done so sustainably, and all of our buildings are heated with wood all winter long. It's too hot to do forestry work in the summer, so during the off-season, I'll switch some of my work scene indoors to do data entry and accounting work to monitor our communal money budgets.

5:15 p.m. I hang out in my room a bit before dinner, finishing up a letter to my family and listening to music. I find it's important to carve out alone time for myself--it's very easy to get sucked into the social scene 24/7 here. There's always something going on, someone to talk to.

6:00 p.m. Dinner is served! Tonight it's my favorite--veggie burgers. (And, OK, hamburgers too. But I'm a vegetarian.) There are plenty of side dishes, like steamed spinach and sweet potato fries. A large percentage of the meal, both veggies and meat, is homegrown. I sit in the Lounge with about ten people and chat with McCune about his latest plumbing adventure. Sometimes at dinner there's one main conversation but tonight several smaller discussions have sprung up. Besides copper-vs-plastic waterlines, people are talking about the new fruit orchard we're planting, the latest news from our sister community 8 miles up the road, and trying to work out if people's schedules will allow our belly-dance troupe to meet on the same night as the queer-theory discussion group.

7:30 p.m. Mala has invited me to her residence (named Beechside) to hang out--there's a really cozy kitchen/living room there that's highly conducive to fun social gatherings. A bunch of people come over, and we sit draped on the couches and on the floor. Debbie and Trout play fiddle and guitar, Casey is knitting a pair of socks and Ezra makes a large amount of popcorn. Zadek, age 4, and Samir, age ten months, provide a lot of the entertainment. It's a festive atmosphere, though there's no particular occasion; we just like to enjoy each other's company.

10:00 p.m. I head home to my room. I record the work I did today on my labor sheet and write in my journal a bit to unwind before bed. I'm very tired, but happy. It's been a good day.

Jessica Marie Quintet

by Summer

Debbie (above), Elsa, Jessie and Summer, 4/5 of the Quintet

I'm standing downtown in Charlottesville with my 6-month old daughter strapped to my front, singing with four other women. We run through our repertoire as a small but steady crowd of people gathers to listen. We are appreciative of the donations they leave, and afterwards we go to soothe our voices at the gelatto place down the street.
I am part of the The Jessica Marie Quintet, nee Oakapella or FEC-Sharp, which started in 2008 with eight original members singing a broader range of a cappella music, and has gradually narrowed to a focus on barbershop. When the idea first arose, I squealed with irrepressible dorkiness my delight at the thought of being in one of these groups again--in high school I was head of our 8-member a capella group. Characterized by close harmonies and four distinct voices that often sing the same lyrics (as opposed to doo-wop, which usually features a lead singer and several backup vocals), barbershop feels more egalitarian, more cooperative.

After a few months we were down to 5 people, and renamed the group the Jessie Marie Quintet, in honor of the two members who share that name (Jess, our bass; and Jessie, our tenor). Free online sheet music eventually gave way to specific arrangements ordered off the internet; one practice grew to two 2-hour rehearsals a week; and we began to perform as much as we could, including at homespun coffeehouses, busking in Charlottesville, at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Christmas/Solstice caroling, at a nursing home, at Acorn's Land Day, and for Twin Oakers in full-on JMQ concerts. Twice we've taken an educational trip to town to rehearse with the Skyline Chorus, Charlottesville's Sweet Adeline 30-member women's barbershop chorus. Their director has come out to Twin Oaks with two members of the chorus to help us through a rehearsal. We finished the practice with new warm-up exercises, help with posture, breathing, mouth shape, diphthongs, and lots of other information that has helped us advance our singing together. Last summer we used Twin Oaks' recording equipment and squeezed ourselves into the young adult library on hot evenings to put out our first CD.

Recording together was another learning experience: how far away do we each have to stand from the mic? Which room captures the best sound? We feel proud of the result and hope to make another album once we've added enough new songs to our repertoire. Right now the group is working on our theater debut singing and dancing for the community's performance of Greasel. After that, a belated two-year anniversary concert is in order. And after that, who knows? [The Jessica Marie Quintet is comprised of Jessica Marie (Jess) on bass, Summer on lead/baritone, Debbie on lead/tenor, Elsa on lead/tenor, and Jessica Marie (Jessie) on lead/tenor. Our CD, *In the Good Old Summertime and Other Modern Hits* is available for $8 (sliding scale).]

From Seed to Seeds

By Cloud Supernova

Edmund processing seeds.

As Winter comes to an end, and warmer seasons slowly unfurl, I look
forward to working again in the Seeds gardens. I remember last year,
three days after harvesting a van full of over-ripe (as they must be
to ensure proper seed maturity) Suyo Cucumbers, the experience of
slimy, smelly, fermented cucumber pulp on my arms, which I admittedly
enjoyed, as I plunged through phase II of the project. After
fermenting the seeds in buckets of water for three days to help
disengage them from the gooey cucumber innards, as well as kill off
potential pathogens, I disturbed the viscous liquid and waited the
minute or two it took for the viable seeds of our bounty to sink to
the bottom of the bucket. Once the floaters were poured out, and the
process repeated 2 or 3 more times, good seeds were set onto screens
and placed into fan powered drying racks. Germination tests were
administered and met the standards of our biggest buyer, Southern
Exposure Seed Exchange, which are often much loftier than the national

Twin Oaks Seeds business is contracted by seed companies, such as
Southern Exposure Seeds and FedCo, to grow and then process our own
organic seed yields. And like our seeds, we've grown. The business
started out as a solo project in 2006 by ex-member River with an
income of approximately $5,000. Under the managership of Edmund
Frost, along with a dedicated crew and expanded growing area, Seeds
generated an income of $27,600 in 2009.

We project doubling our profits, which means doubling our output for
the 2010 growing year. Why? We have demonstrated to the Community
that the Seeds business is a viable business and one worth investing
time and money in. It's an income area we feel really good about;
it's organic, our methods of cultivation rely heavily on our own
sweat, and the products couldn't be Greener. Our seeds inspire
backyard garden sanctuaries, help provide nourishing food for many,
and promote the genetic diversity necessary in preserving our food
sources for the future.

Twin Oaks Theatre: 'Greasel'

by Kelsey

To most of American society, 'community theatre' means a group of theatre people, who happen to live in general proximity of each other, bound together by the act of putting on a professional-looking show. Here, it seems we take the word order of 'community theatre' more literally. It's more community, with a 'Hey! Since we're all here, let's do a ridiculous Twin Oaks-based spoof on Grease this winter!'

Talent? That, we have in buckets here. It started with the unbelievably hilarious team of writers (or re-writers, rather) creating songs and a script for the fantastic band and actors that then assembled. From within our ranks also came choreographers, set designers, props and costumes managers, publicity, lights, and no fewer than three directors. Not to mention those that pick up the slack within the community for this motley and brilliant team to have time to put a show up.

We knew we wanted to spoof the plot of the original show, placing it in a Twin Oaks setting, with lots of references to our alternative culture. Just the name alone-- 'Greasel' -immediately presented itself as a tip of the hat to the alternative energy practice of using vegetable oil for fuel, so-called 'greasel' instead of 'diesel'.

The 'cool kids' in this show were we communards. Members Michael and Summer starred as a hippie, dread-locked Danny paired with Sandra V, the mainstream commodities trader plopped into the middle of our commune for a visit. Musical highlights included 'Oberlin Dropout' as Crunchy (aka Frenchy) ponders returning to grad school, and 'You're The Ones That I Want' as an homage to polyamory. And what would Grease be without 'Hopelessly Devoted to Tofu' (performed, of course, by some of our most committed tofu workers)?

Really, though, there is more to what makes theatre here so interesting: while we do happen to have a lot of talent residing on these 450 acres, talent is also not exactly the point. In community, art is everywhere, and everyone can have a role-not just the 'artsy' people in society to whom we delegate the task of moving our culture forward. Anyone that wants a way to contribute here can probably find one, and while we don't aspire to Broadway with our work, we do aspire to enrich all of our lives through a collective creative process. So, we do. We shape our time together as we wish, and it is certainly never boring. Besides, what makes life worth living if not some Twin Oakers singing about how unexpected romance can blossom over pickling the beets?

Politics at Twin Oaks

by Valerie

Here at Twin Oaks, we generally consider ourselves beyond conventional conversation restraints; this becomes immediately obvious by listening to a mealtime discussion of the lurid details of gruesome symptoms related to the latest sickness going around.

When it comes to talking about politics, it becomes a little more complicated. There are certain topics that we can all discuss with ease and generally agree upon. However, somehow there are others that are more like opening a can of worms while walking through a field of landmines...

Acceptable: global warming and polar icecap melt

More delicate: what temperature to set the communal hot-water heater, and the ecological implications of using ice-cubes

Acceptable: Obama versus Hillary

A bit trickier: Organic versus Local

Acceptable: increasing water shortages and the evils of the bottled-water industry

Tread carefully: the fact that a certain communard-who-shall-remain-nameless replaced the low-flow shower head with one that delivers the approximate force and volume-per-minute of Niagara Falls, without any process.

Acceptable: the discriminatory aspects of impending US immigration policy

Walking on eggshells : our membership process about whether to accept that controversial visitor from the last visitor period.

Acceptable: gay marriage

Call in the Process Team: your lover announces their desire to form a polyamorous triad with that statuesque blonde who arrived as a new member last week.....

Copyright 2008, Valerie Renwick-Porter and Communities magazine. This
article first appeared in Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture,
Autumn 2008; for further information on Communities:

Twin Oaks Conferences!

You are invited to come to Twin Oaks and participate in our two summer events:

Join us for a weekend of sharing and celebration at the 2010 Communities Conference, August 13-15th.

With workshops and events focused on:

  • Intentional relationships
  • Group process
  • Collective child raising
  • Creating culture
  • Forming communities
  • Sustainability
  • Appropriate technology
  • Community economics
  • Music
  • Dancing
  • Slide shows
  • Campfires
  • Swimming
  • Magic
  • More!

    The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for anyone
    interested or involved in co-operative or communal lifestyles.

    Friday August 13 through

    Sunday August 15, 2010

    $85 (sliding scale) includes

    meals and camping.

    Come join us for the annual Twin Oaks Women's Gathering on August 20-22nd.

    Our 27th gathering to celebrate the strength, diversity and power of women in community! All female and non-male ID folks are welcome to this event, which is a three day conference on themes ranging from sex and sexuality to positive relationship building to DIY music, art and movement. There will be scheduled workshops and performance spaces, as well as lots of free time to network, drum, dance and play at beautiful Twin Oaks Community. Registration fee (sliding scale from $60-$160) includes meals and tent space.

    Learn more and register online at

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