Twin Oaks




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American Mojo Productions documenting a visit to Twin Oaks community in Louisa, VA.




History of a Successful Commune

Twin Oaks Community

by Raj Ghoshal

from www.culturechange.org

This coming June, Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia will celebrate its 35th anniversary. Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 by a small and struggling core group of communitarians committed to building a sustainable and egalitarian society. Since then it has developed into one of the largest and most successful intentional communities in North America. While Twin Oaks has always been committed to nonviolence, egalitarianism, and sustainability, the last several years leading up to the millennium have seen the blossoming of an increased ecological orientation to such an extent that we are beginning to consider Twin Oaks an eco-village.

Twin Oaks occupies 400 acres of land in rural central Virginia, about halfway between Richmond and Charlottesville. It is currently home to about 80 adult members and 15 children, though with community friends, guests, and visitors frequently around, there are usually more than 100 people around on any given day. The vast majority of our members do almost all their work "on the farm," meaning on Twin Oaks property. We work in community-owned businesses (hammock-making, soy foods, and book indexing) and in domestic areas such as gardening, cooking, and child care. Community members pool incomes and resources, and live together in a total of 8 residences spread across the community. Every member works about 43 hours a week; in exchange, the community provides for all personal needs and many personal "wants." Our resource-sharing lifestyle enables us to live lightly on the earth, minimize waste and inefficiency, and invest wisely in collective goods (an artificial pond, a volleyball court, a miniature home theater, computers, shared music equipment, and many other things).

Our lifestyle has enabled us to largely do away with driving within community boundaries. Most of us walk or bike to our work areas. Several of our members work as bicycle managers, taking responsibility for maintaining and repairing all the community's bikes. There are bike racks in front of our dining hall and in our central courtyard, and no bike is ever chained. Any member can use any available public bike. Our bike managers are currently using money from the bike budget to purchase cheap, barely-functioning used bikes and upgrade them to workable condition to ensure that enough bikes will always be available. Former Twin Oaks members have been instrumental in spreading bike activism to the surrounding area; for example, one ex-member successfully worked to have Charlottesville add bike lanes to many of its roads.

We share a fleet of 8 cars and 10 other vehicles (pickup trucks, vans, work-only vehicles) among all members. A structured vehicle sign-out system enables us to coordinate our travel schedules. Given how few cars we need for how many people we have, the community budget can afford to subsidize travel. The community's labor budget also funds a daily "bus" service to Louisa, a semi-weekly trip to Charlottesville, and a weekly trip to Richmond, so that a single trip can take care of dozens of people's errands. The night before a trip, members submit descriptions of errands they need to have taken care of, and the assigned "tripper" does them all--purchasing chocolate for one member, returning another's borrowed videos, taking still another to a dentist appointment, and more. We have our own community mechanic who keeps the cars in good shape and emitting only a minimum of pollution.

In addition to encouraging biking and minimizing driving, the "Twin Oaks lifestyle" strives to limit our use of fossil fuels in our residences. We use solar-heated hot water throughout the community during the spring and summer, and one residence uses wood instead of propane for heating water during the winter. We use scrap wood from our sawmill business for this heat, rather than relying solely on wood from clear cuts. Ten percent of our population lives in a residence in which electricity is generated by solar power. Several of our members have developed expertise in alternative energy systems, and Twin Oaks' labor credit system allows them to receive full credit for the use of their time in maintaining and improving these systems.

We are currently moving toward more environmentally benign systems in other areas of the community as well. We have installed low-flow toilets throughout the community, and also have a functioning composting toilet. Our organic garden provides an ever-increasing proportion of our food. Our tofu business uses local organically grown soybeans and provides consumers with a low-environmental impact alternative to meat. In general, we are continuously striving to use our unique resource-sharing social structure to enable us to live with minimal environmental disruption.

Twin Oaks currently operates a 3-week long visitor program for people who are interested in experiencing our lifestyle and for those who are considering joining us as members. We also offer "sustainability internships" for students and others with special interests or skills in sustainable living. For more information, check us out on the Web atwww.twinoaks.org, or call (540) 894-5126. 




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