The Leaves of Twin Oaks

News of the Oaks
by Gordon and Valerie

Welcome to the second online issue of the Leaves of Twin Oaks!

Snow at the SaunaAs reported in our last issue, we've been upgrading our tofu/soy foods business AKA Twin Oaks Community Foods, and those efforts have continued. We've been to trade shows in Chicago and Boston and for the first time ever we've hired outside sales representatives to promote our products, bring in new accounts, and hopefully teach us some new sales tricks. We've also been sending our Tofu Management Team out to offer tempting tofu tastings at local natural food stores. In one afternoon at Whole Foods, shoppers cleared the shelves of our products after sampling a dish that Benji and Drea offered.

Also from our last issue, when our Tobacco Barn burned down, we lost the plumbing and electrical connection to one of our wells. McCune and Mushroom are now almost done constructing a cute new well house. McCune particularly enjoyed the chance to lay block again, but not too much of it, after a few years off from that work.

Another important function of the Tobacco Barn was being our slaughter house for the beef our cows provide. We're in the very beginning stages of building a new structure for that purpose.

Speaking of slaughtering things, in late October we shot the first deer in recent memory at Twin Oaks. Or rather, Alexis ex-member shot it, with a crossbow, from the upstairs Storage Barn. Large groups of deer have plagued the garden all year - much more than ever before. It's not hard to imagine that as a non-violent community, it was a Big Decision for us to even consider killing deer. Many members are vegetarian (as is Alexis, in fact). Folks worried that a person might be shot by mistake. (There are lots of people around the gardens, at all hours of the day and night.) Another concern was that bow hunting might result in injured animals escaping only to die in agony somewhere. After much discussion and many weeks of formal community process, the Planners eventually decided to allow hunting under carefully limited conditions.

snow at the Morning StarIn other community process news, one part of our shared economy here at Twin Oaks is what we call the OTRA Game. This happens at times when we have a surplus of either work hours or money, over and above our on-going budgets. With the community continuing to be at our population maximum, we have lots of hands for work. And so we played an OTRA Game. OTRA stands for "One Time Resource Allocation" (and nicely ties in by also translating to "other" in Spanish). Any member can propose a special one-time project that we would not normally have enough work hours to cover. Everyone gives input, and the projects with the most support each receive a portion of the extra work hours available. This year some of the projects that became OTRAS include workshops on Non-Violent Communication and diversity, sending some members to protest at the "School of the Americas/Assassins" (a military training facility associated with human rights violations), creating an illustrated map of the community, giving hours to our Garden Manager who is writing a book on organic gardening methods, supporting solar clothes drying, and putting on a live theater performance that would be a Twin Oaks' spoof of the movie and stageshow Grease. ("Three-week visit, had me a blast, Three-week visit, happened so fast....")

We're continuing to slowly but surely develop several new agriculturally-based businesses. We've grown shiitake mushrooms for ourselves for some years, and are now looking at growing enough to sell as a business, and adding other varieties such as maitake. We've also just completed our second full season of growing vegetables for seed for our sister community Acorn's heirloom-variety organic seed business. (This is in addition to our own huge vegetable garden that provides food for us). Manager Edmund's walking tour of the three seed fields proved so popular he ended up offering a second tour the next week to accommodate everyone who wanted to come along!

And our own internal agricultural scene has received a huge boost with the fantastic fruit tree planting extravaganza that has been happening. Last winter, in an effort to bring more naturally-provided light and heat into two of our buildings, we created a solar clearing by felling an area of trees on the south sides of Tupelo and Morningstar, two of our residences that house a total of almost 40 people. In order to prevent the trees from growing back and once more blocking the sun, and to take advantage of the newly-sun-filled yards, we planted somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 fruit trees, including peach, pear, persimmon, apple, cherry, mulberry, paw paw, fig, elderberry, and the list goes on. They are all dwarf trees, so will never grow high enough to interfere with the sunlight reaching the building.

Zadek in the SnowWe've been busy having fun as well. In late summer, while the evenings were still pleasantly warm, our Video Manager hosted an outdoor movie night. Using an old reel-to-reel machine, we viewed vintage footage of Twin Oaks in the 1970's, projected onto the wall of one of our buildings, as we sat in picnic chairs munching popcorn with nutritional yeast (a Twin Oaks standard snack)....... Another summer event included a Space Walk by new member Biddy. Different sized spheres were used to represent planets, in appropriate scale, ranging from a peppercorn to a basketball. We started out in the center of the community, with a ball for the sun, and the group walked along and we'd place each "planet" along the path, in an appropriate ratio for how far each is from the sun. All laid out, the "planets" were spread out over half a mile along the central path of the community...... Although our ultimate frisbee games don't end with the warm weather, one of our more enthusiastic players realized it was time for her to take a hiatus from the game when she reached the later stages of her pregnancy. She hosted a Pregnant Ultimate Frisbee game, in which each player had a large pillow stuffed under their shirt, to simulate Elsa's experience. Apparently many players had shed their encumbrance before the game was over.....Our women's a capella music group, The Jessica Maries, performed a range of barbershop-style songs at the local Heritage Harvest Festival at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and they cut their first (home-produced) CD, "In the Good Old Summertime and Other Hits."

Deer, Water, and Blight, Oh my
By Kathryn

No gardener can resist bemoaning the adversities of the season, no matter how successful. And, despite our overall success this season, it didn't all come easy. With our barn (and the water tank inside it) destroyed by fire this spring, our access to irrigation water was cut in half. Since our intense periods of rain this season were separated by weeks without rain, some of our crops suffered. On top of that, the relatively cool temperatures, along with ill-timed deluges, left us vulnerable to downy mildew in our watermelons and other cucurbits, and early blight in our tomatoes. And, finally, the deer pressure in our garden has grown to a level that we can no longer overlook. Deer consumed nearly all of our edamame, and have wreaked havoc in our carrot patch, while eating other crops - strawberries, peas and beans - to a less devastating, but still demoralizing, degree. As a result, we are experimenting with hunting deer on our property, and we will probably have to fence all or part of our garden in the future.

But enough about the negatives, how about the positives? In July, we broke our previous records by far when we harvested over 7000 pounds of potatoes, a yield of 2.25 lb/foot of row. When you add to that the over 2600 pounds we harvested last month from our summer planting, that's a lot of french fries and mashed potatoes this winter! We dug these potatoes with our new potato harvester, which we bought after our old harvester was destroyed in the barn fire. The new harvester has made the process of picking potatoes from the field dramatically easier, while creating other challenges. (It doesn't handle weeds or mulch, so the field has to be cleaned before we harvest.) Sweet potatoes and winter squash were also outrageously successful, challenging us to find enough storage space, and perhaps enough stomach space as well! The list of other crops consumed over the summer, or waiting for us to eat this winter, is long and satisfying: sweet corn, watermelons, turnips, green beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, eggplant, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, blueberries, onions, leeks, parsnips, collards, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes, grapes, kale, garlic, beets, summer squash, and more. One of the strengths of our diverse, (non-certified) organic vegetable garden is that, even in a year with significant challenges, we are still able to feed our community with an impressive array and quantity of vegetables.

We are pleased that 2009 was our fifth consecutive season of providing almost all of the vegetables consumed by the community, and most of the fruit, too. Of course, a major reason we can boast of this accomplishment is that our cooks have become enthusiastic about and proficient in working with what we can provide from our own land, and our food processing crew does an outstanding job of putting food by for the winter. There's nothing like the sight of packed root cellars, pantries, and freezers to make a gardener feel proud!

Potato Harvesting in our garden (video)

Twin Oaks' Communities Conference

By Roberto & Marta

ComConProgramWhat a treat! This year's Communities Conference held at Twin Oaks was quite a gem of an experience. The event was a nice size-- just over 100 people attended. There was enough variety of community experience represented, yet the size was intimate enough that we felt connected to everyone by the end of the weekend.

As new members at Twin Oaks, we had the privilege of doing some prep work to set the stage for the weekend. That meant lots of exciting work from getting the site ready to designing the programs. By the time opening circle came around we had managed to prepare a rich experience for both veteran communitarians and people just beginning to explore community living. Representatives from over 20 communities were present at the event.

The event consisted of two fully-packed days of workshops put on by experienced presenters on topics related to cooperative living, including Consensus Decision-Making, Diversity in Community, Income-Sharing as an Economic Model, Peak Oil and Community, and a look at the personal decision about whether to join an existing group or start your own.

Evening activities included a slide show of a tour of European communities--how fun to know that people across the ocean were doing such radical and diverse experiments in living together. Saturday night was busy with a dessert party, benefit auction for the FIC, and the highlight, a DJ'd dance party for all.

ComConPavilionOne highlight for us was being invited to facilitate the Open Space forum. It was an opportunity to support people's willingness to share a rich array of passions and expertise. Including ourselves! In addition to our own workshop on heart-centered connecting games, other Open Space topics included Permaculture, Being White in a Racist Society, Food Not Bombs, Yoga, Becoming a Better Listener.... to name a few.

From listening to people during and after the conference, it certainly seemed that many people were inspired to continue their personal quests for utopia, be it in their already existing communities or in the formation of future ones. After talking with people during and after the conference, we came away feeling confident that the impact this conference has can be felt like ripples of hope and cooperation throughout the communities movement.

Twin Oaks 26th Annual Women's Gathering
By Calliope

Slumber party, summer camp. These are magical memories, full of mystique. Overnight summer camp is a special example. New faces dimly illuminated by flashlights and campfires. Anything is possible when new faces meet.

Despite worries about higher gas prices in particular and recession woes in general, Twin Oaks 26th annual Womyn's Gathering had a great year. The three-day event was well-attended, bringing in 70 registrants, plus some of our own community members.

Shadhavar-BellydancePerformances, workshops and diversions included DIY psychotherapy, bike repair, mud pit, polyamory, fire poi, an enchanted forest for children, acupuncture, body painting, sexuality, and a performance by a professional belly dancer. Other items of interest included a barter tent, open mic, open drag show, community singers (enhanced entertainingly by sign language interpreters), yoga, organic home-made meals (courtesy Twin Oaks' ace chef Ira), and a sweat lodge.

Self-reliance through community -- a community of women, not women-born-women necessarily, but women who have chosen to be women -- is what the Twin Oaks Womyn's Gathering offered. A little adversity-- some bugs, some rain, some pebbles in the sandals-- is the essential ingredient to this particular form of self-discovery and improvisational community. It's a hike and a camp-out without the expert. The "service" is simply the milieu: inventing and exchanging various expertises from sisters. The fireflies flashing and the crickets chirping are bonuses.

Was there any quality that made this year different from previous Womyn's Gatherings, I asked the main organizer, Byrd. "We've had vendors in the past but wanted to promote a less capitalistic culture this time," she said. "It was cool to see direct exchanges, like bartering massages for art." Another new characteristic was an increase in Queer presence. "We specifically used the language 'non-male identified' to insure that trans-people and people without a definite gender presentation would feel included."

There is a way in which Twin Oaks the community may be seen as a rural enchanted village. There are lots of young people at Twin Oaks enjoying the conscientious absence of any seniority schemes and, since young people are hot to change the world, a fiercely postmodern, post-LGBT culture enjoys an optimistically contrarian expression, too. To put it in pop music terms: The Womyn's Gathering, a specialized yet less tangible form of community, attracts the Holly Near people, pairs them with the Yoko Ono people, then shakes 'em up with the Ani DiFranco and Pink people.

Straw Bale Natural Building Workshop
by Marta

At the end of October, Twin Oaks and Acorn Communities co-hosted a wonderful Natural Building workshop. The presenters, Steve and Mollie, were a stellar team who offered a weekend filled with dynamic presentations and fun cooperative hands-on work.

Workshop!With just over 30 participants, the workshop started with a colorful slide-show that got me salivating for beautiful, undulating straw bale houses. Mollie and Steve showed pictures of the many building they've designed and built, and walked us through the process of building a straw bale house.

Once we were all fueled with straw-bale inspiration, we headed to the site to get our hands dirty. The project was a 18' by 27' building for Acorn community, using the "post and beam" method. A foundation, roof, posts, and earth bags had been prepared ahead of time and we were ready to add our piece.

The afternoon consisted of everyone plugging into the different jobs of the building process. There were people preparing the bales by rasping the edges; another group was setting up a cob-mixing pool; yet another was shifting clay to use in the cob. By jumping from job to job, each participant got to learn how each step works. It was a sunny day, and with my feet in the cob pool, toes swishing in the mud, I looked up to see a lively assembly line of new friends and acquaintances collaborating.

Workshop!On Saturday evening, Steve and Mollie blew us away with their understanding of natural building with a presentation on passive solar design. They covered basics such as building orientation, configuration options, the benefits of natural materials for insulation, and ventilation.

Even though we got bombarded with rain for the next two days, we got a lot done. All four walls of straw bale were pieced together, each bale placed neatly and measured to fit snug up to the ceiling. Any holes were filled with extra straw, and the final leveling of the surface was done by some participants who woke up at 6am to speed up the process. By the middle of the day on the last day of the workshop, everyone was thrilled to see a building ready for plastering!

Workshop!Attending this workshop was a highlight of an experience for me. Thanks to Bucket and all the community support that went into making this workshop happen, and to all the muddy hands that sculpted this new building. To anyone interested in learning about this alternative and earth-friendly building technology, Steve and Mollie will add fun, spirit, and an incredible wealth of expertise to your learning experience. For more information, visit their website at:

Mourning at Twin Oaks
By Valerie and Paxus

This fall, Twin Oaks mourned the deaths of two people close to us. In mid-October, one of our new members ended his own life, after years of struggling with depression. Later that month, a beloved ex-member in nearby Charlottesville died following some years of living with cancer.

Though he hadn't lived here for very long, Allen was a bright light in our lives. He was diligent, musical, mechanically inclined. He relished using his cooking skills for 100 people and had recently taken on repairing our equipment and machinery. His parents reported that he had been happier here than anywhere he'd been in a long time, but ultimately he was overwhelmed by his suffering.

 Danele had outlived her doctor's initial prognosis of 6 month by almost 5 years. Always a loving and generous person, Danele's relationships to her family and friends became only more poignant as the preciousness of life was held in awareness every day. She was surrounded by a large extended family, who received as much from her as they gave in supporting her through her illness.

As a community, we are each of us affected by the death of any one of us. We grieve. We support each other. As one member put it: "This type of support is the reason I moved to community". During these times, as a community we shine a healing light on ourselves. When we are at our best, we integrate it into our daily lives, and if we are really good, we will find the switch for that light.

Twin Oaks in the Media

We've recently had two documentaries include Twin Oaks as part of their films-in-progress.

"Sharing & Caring" by David Sheen. A Canadian film-maker who has lived on kibbutz in Israel, David's current project includes rural ecovillages and inner-city squats, lifestyle activists and political radicals. He says: "I am attempting to understand and paint an accurate picture of a movement of people consciously sharing their work lives and their homes lives with one another." To see the Twin Oaks segment:

"Americas Mojo" by Adam Tate and Gena Kelly. This project primarily focuses on how individuals and organizations that are thinking of innovative ways to re-invent the workplace and our daily lives during this economic slump. They include Twin Oaks as a place that fosters and promotes individualism and creativity all while working together for the common good. To see the Twin Oaks segment: or for more general information

read more