The Leaves of Twin Oaks

The Leaves of Twin Oaks - Electronic Edition

Issue 106 - Summer 2009

E-Leaves Inaugural Issue (Leaves #106)

In this issue:
News of the Oaks
Keeping Chickens at Twin Oaks
Soy is Joy-Tofu Business Update
Communards Make Music
We're Full!
Red Barn Renovation
Supporting Twin Oaks Without Living Here

Events at Twin Oaks Community!

Welcome to the first e-issue of the LEAVES!

Zadek and Karma hanging out in a hammock.

We've just passed Summer Solstice, and life is big at Twin Oaks. As of this writing, we have more members than we ever have in our 42-year history-94 adult members, with a Waiting List of about 15 people ready to move here when space opens up. New life and celebrations are bursting out all over, as we're in the midst of a mini "baby boom" here these days with 2 newborns, another baby due this fall, and two more planned for next year. This will raise our child population, and that combined with Population Capacity, means we're taking a break from accepting any new families into the community. We had a spring wedding in May, with two members exchanging vows in one of our large yards, with many friends and family gathered to help the happy couple celebrate.

We haven't had very many fires at Twin Oaks over the years. One was in the early '80's, the next in the late '90's. Now we've had three in the past year. What's up? First Oz burned in June 2008 (on Twin Oaks' anniversary, in fact). Oz was the furniture-finishing building, where we oiled hammock spreader bars and varnished hanging chair frames. It seems likely caused by spontaneous combustion (those notorious oily rags that we should all remember learning about in school). Next, an intentional fire got out of control--we were burning the remains of one of our slaughtered cows, and the fire spread to surrounding grass. Most recently, the Tobacco Barn burned to the ground. We don't know why. At 5:30am, when someone noticed the smoke and flame, it was already too late to do anything. The Louisa volunteer fire department came quickly (thanks!) and contained the blaze. There's speculation about the cause but no clear evidence. The worst immediate impact was that we lost th
e use of the new agricultural well located near the Tobacco Barn. We are now using the old well for the garden, and are starting community process to build a new structure for the water-related services lost in the fire.

The smoking ruins of the Tobacco Barn.

Speaking of the Oz fire, the replacement chair-finishing building is just about done. It's a pre-fabbed structure, made of metal (doesn't burn! at least not so easily). The exterior is green, of course, to match the overall color scheme at Emerald City, our complex of industrial buildings. Insurance money paid for it, fortunately, though of course insurance can't make up for the trauma and inconvenience of the fire. For the last year, stretcher oilers worked in a nearby shed, and the chair varnisher used a jury-rigged set-up in a storage trailer. As a result, we were short of hanging chairs to sell last summer and fall, but we had a good supply for this spring's big sales season.

Some recent membership stats, as of June 1, 2009: Our average adult age is 39, with 44 members who are age 18-39, and 40 members who are age 40-85. Fifty-six percent of current members are female. The average length of membership is 7.6 years. (The average male has been here 2 yrs longer than the average female). More news about membership lower down in this newsletter.

And now, the weather. We've had a cool, rainy spring, and this past winter it got cold enough that we had significant frozen water pipe damage but also a wonderful week of ice skating on our pond. Sadly, the cold temperatures resulted in every single fig bush on the property dying back to the ground, although they are already making a come back with a spring growth spurt.

Weather news naturally leads to garden news. This year is described as "promising". Lots of asparagus, a good supply of strawberries (both for fresh eating and jam), the corn will be late due to untimely heavy rain, potatoes look good, only a few harlequin beetles so far in the brassicas. We've planted more fava beans this year. Five new kinds of blueberries are bearing for the first time this year, and we are taste-testing to see which we want more of. We're continuing to develop our own vegetable varieties, especially Roma paste tomatoes and Crimson Sweet watermelon, selecting for early maturation, disease resistance, and good taste. We been saving the best seed for some years, and started selling some last season. In garden equipment news, the potato digger burned in the Tobacco Barn fire, and a replacement will cost $5-6,000. We bought two count 'em two new-to-us (used) rotary cutters AKA bush hogs for use with the tractors. The dual spindle model is fabulously better t
han our old one for grooming pastures. (We had the old one for 30+ years.)

We have some phone system changes and challenges. All calls go out by VOIP using our internet line (inbound calls still come over analog lines), a service which saves $2000 a year. But all is not well in Twin Oaks VOIP land. The main problem is high bandwidth media consumption. Some VOIP calls are choppy. We only have 1.5Mbps capacity to service the 47 computers (public and private) on the farm. People watch streamed movies, and use Skype and Google video conferencing. We try to prioritize phone traffic but someday when the connection is saturated by the incoming stream of dominant culture media, someone's emergency VOIP call to her doctor is going to break up. We may need to have a difficult conversation about limiting some high bandwidth media.

In April we had two workshops on Sexuality and Communication in a Community Setting, prompted by concerns about some behavior at parties, and around alcohol use. 30 members came to the first, 35 to the second.

New car news: we have our first Subaru. This is a change as almost all of our small cars are Toyota Corollas. Another first: it has heated seats. We name all of our vehicles, but the entire naming process for this new car was too arcane and controversial to describe here. In brief: the first naming party came up with "Darth Dingo". (The car model is an Outback, hence the Australian reference). There were enough concerns and complaints due to the aforementioned arcane controversy to warrant a re-run, which chose Waltzing Matilda.

Our sister community Acorn (7 miles down the road) is also full, but that's not stopping growth there. Some of the 16 current members and several interns are gamely living in improvised rooms while the community expects to get some extra space built by a straw-bale workshop this fall. (If you are interested in hands-on experience with alternative construction, see elsewhere in this issue for more info on the workshop.)

Acorn's main business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is expanding by leaps and bounds. This reflects terrific growth in the whole seed industry over the past couple or three years. Acorn bought a new (used) insulated truck trailer for air conditioned seed storage and hopes to build a new seed biz building in the next year or two.

And Twin Oaks is getting into the act. As hammock sales continue to decline (especially wholesale) because of the economy and lower-priced imports, we are looking for new income areas. This last winter a dozen or more Oakers filled many thousands of seed packets as Outside Work. Some did their hours at Acorn, others worked in a new seed packing facility set up in the old Archives room in Nashoba. It's perfect low-stress sit-down work for some older Nashoba residents. Also it's definitely a "right livelihood" job, providing certified organically grown, heirloom and other open-pollinated seeds for a company that promotes sustainable gardening and seed-saving. Check out

In addition to packing seeds, we've also grown them for the past four seasons. We have growing-for-sale seed areas at Lawson Land, Baker Branch, and neighbor George Payne's, in order to provide isolation distance for different varieties. The total area is about 2-1/2 acres. Some locations have irrigation water, some don't. All are certified organic. This year Twin Oaks is growing over 60 varieties of seed for sale, including 6 tomatoes, 5 flowers, 4 squash, 3 corn, 3 peppers, 3 watermelon, plus 7 kinds of garlic.

A few last quickies: one of our under-used buildings has been revamped as an Art and Recreation space; we've created solar clearings just south of two of our residences (to increase natural heat and light inside) and planted low-growing fruit trees a-plenty in those clearings; we were donated a new kiln for the ceramics studio; we now have 4 tropical birds living at Twin Oaks with various members, some of whom also volunteer at the local tropical bird sanctuary; Wednesday evenings now host two different community events-Art Therapy Night, and our weekly musical-film-watchers club; and members continue to be physically active in a weekly yoga class, twice-a-week ultimate frisbee and semi-regular hikes in the nearby-ish Blue Ridge Mountains; and lastly, we soon may not be located along a dirt (gravel) road anymore, as the local paper announced that the state expects to pave our main county road sometime in the next year or two. The end of a era....

Keeping Chickens at Twin Oaks

by Debbie

Our portable chicken coop.

Here at Twin Oaks, we pride ourselves on our food self-sufficiency. We
don't buy vegetables for the community, but rely on what our garden
supplies us year-round. Our dairy provides us with ample quantities of
milk and beef. And this spring, for the first time, our young but growing
chicken flock is supplying all of our eggs.

Four years ago, ex-member Woody began the poultry program. He built up
the population by purchasing chicks and running incubators which
hatched chicks outside his room.

In March of this year, Drea and I inherited management of 130 laying
hens and roosters, and a new batch of chicks coming out of the
incubators every month. By April we were producing more eggs than the
community was consuming. But springtime is a chicken's favorite time to
lay; they tend to slow down in summer and often stop completely in the
winter. In large confined poultry factories, hens are kept under
artificial lights which trick them into thinking it is always spring. We
are not fans of this system, either for the energy it consumes or the
stress it puts on the birds. If consumption stays high, we will run low on
eggs sooner or later.

As the poultry team, Drea, Kayde, Edmund, Bean, and I have taken on the
goal of making the community self-sufficient in eggs. But we believe that
meeting this goal will require education along with increased production.
Like other participants in the growing local foods movement, most Twin
Oakers have a very good awareness of the seasonal availability of
vegetable foods. All winter we happily munch on spinach, dreaming of fresh
tomatoes but knowing we won't have them again until June. Unfortunately,
this awareness does not generally extend to animal products. Most Twin
Oakers find it easier to do without fresh broccoli than to give up eggs
for breakfast. But to be sustainable, egg consumption must also adjust to
the changing seasons.

Along with education to shift consumption patterns, the poultry team is
continuing to grow the flock. We envision an ultimate size
of around 200 birds in the next few years. We experienced one very
dramatic setback when the barn where we raised young chickens, burned
down in April. Plans are in place for re-construction and an upgrade.

Another constraint we've run into concerns the impact of our main laying
flock. Some of our chickens live in a grove of chestnut trees
next to a cow pasture. We noticed this spring that the impact of 130 birds
scratching and pecking around their coop was spreading beyond the chestnuts and into the neighboring pasture. Knowing that a flock
of 200 chickens would make this impact much worse, we began to search for
other places to put the birds.

Inspired by Joel Salatin and others practicing the increasingly popular
technique of pastured poultry, we looked for ways to run chickens on our
cow pastures on a rotational basis. If moved around regularly, chickens
have a very positive impact on a pasture. They scratch up cow patties,
providing more even fertilization and eating fly larvae and other
parasites. Their manure adds nitrogen to the soil. Benefits for the
chickens include more and cleaner space to roam, as well as bugs, grass,
and clover to eat.

To facilitate this rotation, we have build a portable coop, similar in design to a garden cart, that can
house about 20 chickens. We've had them out on pasture for a few weeks
now and the chickens definitely seem pleased with the results, and so are we. We plan on
building more portable coops, and making pastured chickens an integral
part of our poultry program.

Soy is Joy

by Mushroom

The tofu business is in high gear these days! We've seen several big changes in the past few months and look forward to more this summer.

Our new tofu packaging machine,
the glorious VC999

The most dramatic upgrade is, hands down, our shiny new packager. It's about 12 feet long, with a conveyor belt and a fancy touch screen for changing the settings. As it is a bit of a behemoth, it required a team of experts to install it: Shal and Carrol masterfully maneuvered it inside via forklift; Louis and Kansas hooked up the electrics, and Jason and Casey were the air compressor gurus.

We package over one thousand pieces of tofu every production day, and the new machine suits our packaging needs much better. All we need to do is just drop the tofu into cube-shaped pockets and let the machine do the rest, which is a big improvement over the more labor-intensive previous machine. Kele and Noah have been extremely dedicated to seeing that it runs smoothly, and the payoff is big: on a good day, we can package all our tofu in just a few hours. We'll also be saving money, since the new plastic film is much cheaper than bags. Hopefully more labor- and money-saving upgrades like this one will be coming soon!

It's a good thing we're on the road to smoother, more efficient production, because we're about to start selling through United Natural Foods (UNFI) starting in July. We hope to get our tofu, tempeh, and soysage on the shelves of big chain stores on the East Coast. Benji and Steve have taken on marketing projects, as well, like getting a sense of how our tofu stacks up with competitors in terms of pricing and packaging, and applying to participate in a program that would make our products readily available for purchase by schools. We're also experimenting with marketing through trade shows like All Things Organic in Chicago.

Speaking of experimenting, we've recently been making a product called Nufu for ex-member Jon Kessler's soyfoods company, Sunergia. What is Nufu, you ask? It's like tofu...but with peanuts. That's right--no soybeans whatsoever. The process is pretty much the same: we soak the peanuts overnight, grind them and mix them with hot water, pump out the peanut milk, curd it, and press it. Nufu is especially great as a base for vegan "egg" salad, and can be enjoyed by folks who are soy sensitive. We're also still producing soy-based Sunergia products for the "More Than Tofu" line: seven flavors of seasoned tofu with quinoa and amaranth added for texture. Totally delicious!

On a less cheerful note, Dennis, who has painstakingly prepped the Tofu Hut in the wee hours of the morning before production for the past four years, is retiring. Every day when the start-up co staggers sleepily into the Hut and finds it immaculately clean and ready to go, it's all thanks to Dennis. He'll be staying on as the equipment manager, but it'll be up to the start-up crew to do their own prep. His intensive 100-page how-to manual should help them out. Thanks for all your hard work, Dennis.

With all these new developments, it's really exciting to work in the Tofu Hut right about now. It feels great to help people eat locally and lower down on the food chain. We hope to stay on this track of growth and expand our role as a Twin Oaks business even more in the coming months.

Communards Make Music

by Kayde

Communards making music.

For many of us here at Twin Oaks, music is a part of our every day lives. When we are not singing, dancing, or playing instruments, we are thinking of the next available time we will be able to.

Recently, on a drive home from the airport, Elsa who had flown in from New York, was telling Jess, who had flown in from Seattle, how she had learned one of their new songs on the plane. They are both members of the female a cappella group The Jessica Marie Quintet, which consists of Jess, Jessie, Summer, Elsa, and Debbie. They perform songs like "Hello My Baby" and "In the Good Ol Summertime". It is great to have a group that just about everyone enjoys listening to at Twin Oaks and it is fun to watch people smiling and laughing as they perform. A few months ago, the Jessica Marie Quintet had their first off the farm gig, and soon they will record a CD. We are grateful to have so many beautiful voices in our community.

Trout playing the guitar.

This year something great big and Irish happened at Twin Oaks. Trout put together a group of people to play for St. Patrick's Day. Along with Trout on guitar, there were also drums, fiddle, mandolin, upright bass, and banjo. The Jig Riggers played to a packed Tupelo (one of our residences with a large living room). It was a pleasure to have an active St. Patrick's Day on the farm, complete with Irish music.

Trout also plays in another band here named after the construction company that built our newest building up at Emerald City, called Charlie's Steel Erection Band (Trout, Ezra, Keith, Ghost, and Christian). They performed at our Anniversary party, and you could tell they were a hit by all the sweaty bodies on the dance floor, getting down to their Homegrown 70's Grunge.

Violas Heartfull.

Violas Heartfull is the name of the music project created in 2007 by Kayde Deardorff. This project is an exploration of sound and music that is emotional, visual, and child-like. Often the songs are sad and repetitive. This year Violas Heartfull has performed at Twin Oaks, in Virginia and Washington, and West Coast tour is in the works. Currently she is working on a new album that includes parts for dulcimer, piano, violin, drums and vocal harmonies.

Memory is one of our newer members, arriving here in the fall of 2008 and bringing with her two instruments that are new to Twin Oaks, the ukulele and harp. This winter while her sister was visiting from out of town, they performed duets on ukulele, complete with lots of harmony. There's nothing like the vocal harmony of members of the same family. Memory also recently played the harp for Summer and Purl's wedding in May.

For a few months this spring we had an active drum and dance group called Drumgasm. Keith and Kristen began playing together and inviting others. This group has been exploring many varieties of drums, tambourine, ocarina, crystal bowl, and many others. Drumgasm is also friendly towards bellydancers and anyone else who likes to dance.

Brenda, the amazing Twin Oaks pianist, has been coordinating and performing in various concerts here (often for holidays.) The most recent concert was on Validation Day. Brenda often plays accompaniment for voice and duets. This year the Validation Day Concert consisted of a unique blend of songs about love, with lingerie for decoration. Next, Brenda is planning a bad love concert that will be a variety of songs about love gone wrong.

Those are just some of the musical highlights at Twin Oaks this year. If you are lucky you will make it to one of our coffee houses, concerts, or shows, where you will be entertained and warmed by all of our musical explorations. Don't forget to bring some of your own funky instruments to add to the mix.

We're Full! Twin Oaks at Population Capacity

by Paxus

With a couple of brief technical exceptions, Twin Oaks has had a Waiting List for over half a year. Our population capacity ("Pop Cap"for short) is based on the number of adult rooms in the community (currently we have 93 adult members). Being at Pop Cap is a bit of a blessing and a bit of a curse.


On the plus side, Pop Cap means we have lots of people to draw from for work which is sometimes hard to get covered, from kitchen shifts to tofu production work to gardening. Since our population forecasts, which are used to create our labor budgets, assume less than a full house, being at Pop Cap means the Planners have extra hours (called Pop Hours) to fund special initiatives and occasional unplanned holidays. And of course being full gives us an indication that we are doing something right!

On the down side, because of the Waiting List, sometimes people who have been accepted for membership can't wait for a space to open up, and we never get them as a member. Zhankoye, our dining hall, is much more crowded and to some members that can feel like too many people. Another dilemma, especially during an economic downturn, is that members who might otherwise leave the community, instead linger. This can lead to dissatisfied members who don't want to risk leaving the community because if they discover they can't find or create the situation they'd like for themselves in the mainstream, they may not be able to return to the community.

Another aspect of being at our population limit is that we tend to become more selective in our membership process. With so many choices, we become pickier. While this slightly slows the growth of the Waiting List (which is at 15 people as of this writing), it also means that some people who might be good communards are pushed to find other options.

And these options are limited these days because many of our sister communities are full also. East Wind in Missouri has been at it's limit of 70 members for some months, and even discontinued it's associate member program to make space for full members. Acorn (8 miles from us), while still seeking new women members to balance their gender demographics, does not have anywhere to house them immediately with 16 members and 6 interns already occupying their living spaces.

Many people believe the poor mainstream economy is driving our peak in population. I believe this is a factor, but not the largest one. Most of our visitors have not lost their jobs and are coming to community because they think it is a better way to live.

Red Barn Renovation
by Keenan

Proud Keenan & the Red Barn.

In 1967 when Twin Oaks was founded, there were several barns on the property. Each barn, except for the one that recently burned down, is still with us and they have each been in continuous use.

One of them, the Red Barn, has been in disrepair for years. The siding has been falling off for years and materials have piled up and become disorganized. Ironically, this is the building most used by community "tool-users."

The Red Barn is where construction materials are stored. "Stored" is not quite the right word, "dumped" would be more accurate. Well-meaning
communards would have some useful thing left over from a project and
assume that someone, someday would find a use for it.So the inside of the Red Barn became crammed with old doors, half sacks of solidified cement, tufts of fiberglass insulation, long pieces of interesting metal, and much, much more.

Seeking projects that would give the teens here building experience, I took on the task of fixing up and cleaning out the Red Barn. This project has lots of community support. We want to preserve out old buildings and the Red Barn had become an eyesore. But more, it is hard on everyone who does any maintenance and repair to spend three hours sorting through clutter to find the material for a half-an-hour project.

We started in the winter, since wasps took over the Red Barn every spring. To even get to the decaying siding, we had to start about thirty feet out from the building cutting down and pulling up the trees that had grown up around it.

When we finally started pulling the siding off, we realized what a beautiful view there was on the south side. We would sit and enjoy the view after our days' work was done. People said this would be a great place for a deck, so we posted a request to include a deck on the barn, overlooking the pond, the sauna and the new orchard.

The initial conception of that deck was that it would be a quiet space for a few people to sit and watch the sunset. But many people came over and said what a great spot that will be for parties and that it was big enough to dance on. Yikes! I had nightmarish visions of 40 people all bouncing up and down together to "YMCA". So the teen crew and I have taken some extra time to add additional posts and cross-bracing to make sure that the deck is really durable and able to withstand whatever possible abuse the community might inflict.

This whole project has minimal funding, so we have been scrounging materials wherever we could find them. All those materials that people stored in the Red Barn thinking "...someday..." well, the day has come. We found a wonderful glass door to install onto the new deck. We found plenty of joist hangars for the deck.

Throughout the community, random materials have been popping up. I have found huge oak slabs of wood that are perfect for the posts to hold up the deck on the back of the Red Barn. I also needed lots of cement slabs to put the posts on. Carrol and Chiron both offered up cement slabs that had been sitting around for years covered in weeds. I needed lots of bolts to hold it all together and one day while mulling over where to get bolts, Kristen walked over from the Fairs shed and said, "We have all this tarnished hardware that we want to get rid of, can you use it?"It was a box of long carriage bolts with some surface discoloring, but otherwise in fine shape. I was bolting them on the deck 15 minutes later. And it has continued that way -- with me finding, or people offering, the right size wood, cedar siding for the south wall, pressure treated joists...

The project is about half finished. There is no particular time-line for completing it, but it should be done in time for Twin Oaks' 43rd anniversary.

Supporting Twin Oaks Without Living Here

Receive a tax deduction for a donation that goes to Twin Oaks! This a great opportunity
to do this. It isn't a gift; it's a wage paid to Oakers doing "movement support" work. Programmers at the Oaks have written and tested the core of some software for FairVote,
an educational non-profit. More labor is needed to make these new tools
work on the Web. You can make donations to FairVote and earmark them for
the "Twin Oaks project."

Your $10 gift gives Twin Oaks $10; it helps make new tools for co-operation, and it gives $10 to FairVote campaigns that are improving elections in cities from Burlington Vermont to San

And it feels good to give a little.

All the best,

To make a donation, please contact
Rob Loring, member '75-'77


Twin Oaks Communities Conference
- Friday August 14 through Sunday August 16, 2009

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

Join us for a weekend of sharing and celebration!

Find out more and register at:

If you want to come, we want you to be here! If you are having financial difficulties due to the economy, or have some other hardship, let us know and we will work out a work-trade or other arrangemet to help get you here! Contact for more information.

Womyn's Gathering
- August 21st-23rd 2009

The Twin Oaks Womyn's Gathering is an annual event for non-male ID folks from all over the world to share, dance, learn, laugh, meditate, and dream! This year the theme is "womyn rising up: exploring the radical in the everyday". We all participate in radical acts every day, each time we mend a pair of jeans instead of buying new, each time we share a car, ride a bike to the grocery store instead of driving. The real revolution will be in all the small actions, and this year we will be sharing our skills and dreams, inspiring eachother to keep rising up!

Find out more and register at:

3-Day Natural Building Workshop!
-October 23rd - 25th

Learn how to build straw bale shelters in this hands-on workshop. October 23rd - 25th

Twin Oaks Community would like to invite you to attend our three day earth shelter workshop. Come learn about straw bale construction from expert instructors while experiencing our legendary hospitality. Our workshop will be a fun and informative experience you won't soon forget!

We will present both hands-on experience opportunities and "classroom" style learning while we build and learn together. We will give you the explanations you need to understand not only what you are physically working on, but will also help you grasp the wider perspective on how to build as a whole, with an emphasis on natural building and green design, including passive solar.

Find out more and register at:

Twin Oaks Events Newsletter

You can also join our Events newsletter at the following web address:

This is a newsletter for all the events held for the public at Twin Oaks. Sign up to hear news and information on the Communities Conference, Natural Building Workshops and Womyn's Gathering.

Twin Oaks Community

Twin Oaks Community - 138 Twin Oaks Rd - Louisa, VA 23093

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