Since 1983, I have lived, worked and raised a family in a progressive, egalitarian, income-sharing intentional community (or commune) of 100 people in rural Virginia. AMA.
My name is Keenan Dakota, I have lived at Twin Oaks, an income-sharing, intentional community in rural Virginia for 36 years, since 1983. I grew up in northern Virginia, my parents worked in government. I went to George Mason University where I studied business management. I joined Twin Oaks when I was 23 because I lost faith in the underpinnings of capitalism and looking for a better model. I have stayed because over time capitalism hasn't looked any better, and its a great place to raise children. While at Twin Oaks, I raised two boys to adulthood, constructed several buildings, managed the building maintenance program, have managed some of the business lines at different times.
Proof this is me. A younger photo of me at Twin Oaks. Here is a video interview of me about living at Twin Oaks. Photo of Twin Oaks members at the 50th anniversary.
Some things that make life here different from the mainstream:
- The labor system - all work is considered equal, whether you are earning income for the community or not. Cooking/cleaning counts the same as planning the annual budget. Also, you don't have to do the same job all week - your day can be a mix of indoor and outdoor work, you have freedom to arrange your day, and you can gain skills in a wide array of tasks and trades.
- Non-gender binary, queer and trans people are very welcome at Twin Oaks. People introduce themselves with their pronouns and a significant number of our members go by they/them.
- Verbal consent culture is very important here. It is not okay to touch anyone without asking.
- Nudity and partial nudity is allowed in some parts of the farm, such as in the sauna, swimming hole, on the hiking trails, etc.
- Our social norms prohibit using phones in common areas when other members are present, with the exception of a few cafe-style spaces.
- Every day we provide a home-cooked, plant-based lunch and dinner with options for special diets including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and no onions & garlic.
- Raising kids here is easier. Some of the time that parents spend raising their children counts towards their labor quota. Many of the kids are home-schooled or "unschooled", and they spend more time outside than in front of a screen. The kids have no problem passing the state's annual standardized test to move onto the next grade level.
- We have a shared clothing resource called Commie Clothes, which is like a free thrift store. Borrow something and then return it dirty, and it gets washed and re-hung up.
More about Twin Oaks:
Twin Oaks is an intentional community in rural central Virginia, made up of around 90 adult members and 15 children. Since the community's beginning in 1967, our way of life has reflected our values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology.
We do not have a group religion; our beliefs are diverse. We do not have a central leader; we govern ourselves by a form of democracy with responsibility shared among various managers, planners, and committees. We are self-supporting economically, and partly self-sufficient. We are income-sharing. Each member works 42 hours a week in the community's business and domestic areas. Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money from the community.
We have open-slots and are accepting applications for new members. All prospective new members must participate in a three-week visitor program. Applicants to join must leave for 30 days after their visit while the community decides on their application.
We offer a $5 tour on Saturdays of the property, starting in March. More info here.
Ask me anything!
TL;DR: Opted out of the rat-race and retired at 23 to live in the woods with a bunch of hippies.
EDIT: Thanks for all the questions! If you want some photos of the farm, you can check out our instagram.
EDIT2: I'm answering new, original questions again today. Sort by new and scroll through the trolls to see more of my responses.
EDIT3: We DO have food with onion & garlic! At meals, there is the regular food, PLUS alternative options for vegan/vegetarian/no gluten/no onions & garlic.
EDIT4: Some of you have been asking if we are a cult. No, we are not. We don't have a central leader or common religion. Here are characteristics of cults, FYI.
Edit: Yikes! Did I mention that I am 60? Reddit is not my native land. I don't understand the hostile, angry and seemingly deliberately obtuse comments on here. And Soooo many people!
Anyway, to the angry crowd: Twin Oaks poses no threat to anyone, we are 100 people out of a country of 330 million? Twin Oaks reached its current maximum population about 25 years ago, so not growing fast, or at all. Members come and go from Twin Oaks. There are, my guess is, 800 ex-members of Twin Oaks, so we aren't holding on to everyone who joins—certainly, no one is held against their will.
Twin Oaks is in rural Virginia, but we really aren't insular, isolated, gated or scared of the mainstream culture. We have scheduled tours of the whole property. Local government officials, like building inspectors, come to Twin Oaks with some frequency. People at Twin Oaks like to travel and manage to do so. I personally, know lots of people in the area, I am also a runner, so I leave the property probably every day. There are lots of news stories about Twin Oaks over the years. If you are worried about Twin Oaks, maybe you could go read what the mainstream (and alternative) media have to say.
Except about equality Twin Oaks is not particularly dogmatic about anything. (I know some people at Twin Oaks will disagree with that statement.) Twin Oaks isn't really hypocritical about Capitalism, Socialism, or Communism, we just don't identify those concepts as something that we are trying to do. Twin Oaks is not trying to DO Communism, we are trying to live a good life with equally empowered citizens—which has led us to try to maintain economic parity among members. Communists also do that. In making decisions in the community I don't remember anyone trying to support or oppose an idea due to excess or insufficient Communism, Socialism, or Capitalism. In most practical senses those words aren't useful and don't mean anything. So, no need to hammer Twin Oaks for being insufficiently pure, or hypocritical.
Twin Oaks is very similar to the Kibbutz in Israel. If anyone has concerns or questions about what would happen if places like Twin Oaks suddenly became much larger and more common, read about the history of the Kibbutz, which may have grown to possibly 1% of the population at their largest? There was and is no fight with Capitalism from the kibbutz—or with the State. My point is—not a threat.
To the other people who think that the ideas of Twin Oaks are interesting, I want you to know it is possible to live at Twin Oaks (or places like Twin Oaks) and happily live ones entire life. There is no central, critical failing that makes the idea not work. And plenty of upside. But do lots of research first. Twin Oaks maintains a massive web site. (Anyway, it takes a long time to read.)
But what I would like to see is more people starting more egalitarian, income-sharing communities. I think that there is a need for a community that is designed and built by families, and who also share income, and provide mutual support with labor and money. If you love this concept, maybe consider gathering together other people and starting your own.
-Ecology: the best response to ecological problems is for humans to use fewer resources. The easiest way to use fewer resources is to share resources. Living communally vastly cuts down on resource use without reducing quality of life.
-Equality: ideologically speaking, most people accept the idea that all humans have equal rights, but most social structures operate in ways that are fundamentally unequal. If we truly believe in equality then we ought to be willing to put our bodies where our ideology is. In a truly equal world, the issues of sexism and racism and all other forms of discrimination would, essentially, not exist.
-Democracy: Twin Oaks uses all manner of decision-making models and tools to try to include everyone and to keep people equally empowered. There is no useful word for this. We do use a majority vote sometimes, as a fallback. But sometimes we use consensus. We sometimes use sociocracy (dynamic governance). The word "Isocracy" (decision-making among equals), would be useful to describe Twin Oaks' decision-making model, but Lev in Australia has written an incomprehensible "definition" on Wikipedia, that he keeps changing back when someone corrects it.
-Happiness: The overarching goal of all ideologies is to make people happy, right? I mean, isn't it? Capitalism is based upon the belief that motivation is crucial to human aspiration and success (and therefore more happiness). Under Capitalism, equality is a detriment because it hinders motivation (less fear of failure, or striving for success). Twin Oaks believes that humans are happier when they are equal, and equally empowered. So the place to start up the ladder of happiness is to first make everyone equal. Well, Twin Oaks is mainly still working on that first step.
EDIT5: Some have asked about videos - here are links to documentaries about Twin Oaks by BBC, VICE and RT.
Our egalitarian ethics means we want to keep everyone on the same economic level. So, essentially, no you cannot earn outside income. There are exceptions like earning income off-farm in your free time for vacations.
How are disputes resolved - that's a tough one, we all live together and we have a lot of disputes. Mainly informally, but we do have teams of mediators and facilitators to help people work through issues.
Yes. If they are longer than just short-term they are expected to contribute to the community.
A jealous ex-lover was ejected after they threatened another member's life.
Where do the group's resources come from? How do you decide what you can spend money on? Presumably you've got access to technology allowing you to write this. Is there some sort of budgeting group or something?
We have businesses that produce income - we produce commercial grade tofu, hammocks, and heritage and heirloom seed packaging, all on our 500 acres.
We collectively decide on the annual budget, and then area managers are given a yearly budget.
Yes, WIFI in every building!
There is a long budgeting process, and everyone who wants to can be involved.
You say people can leave at anytime, but you're also not allowed to work on the side or gain personal income (outside of the group's "allowance")- so if you are kicked out (or decide to leave) how does someone fund their new life?
Good question. It's a little challenging. Sometimes the community loans people money to get started.
Do you vaccinate your children within the commune?
Parents have a lot of choice over how they raise their kids. I believe that most of the parents vaccinate their kids.
What are the negative aspects to this sort of society in your own eyes?
Living closely with people is hard. People are often accurate mirrors for our strengths, and also our weaknesses. It can be not fun to have one's weaknesses reflected back.
Other people leave messes. It gets wearing after awhile.
One hard thing is relationship break-ups, when you see the person you broke up with everyday, and you see them be happy with someone else.
Do you vote?
Yes, we have swung some local elections!
Please enlighten me, why no onions or garlic?
We took a survey about food restrictions, and some people identified that they don't want to eat onions & garlic.
Sounds fascinating. Although many will wonder if this is a cult. Maybe a silly and uninformed question - but are you free to leave at anytime? And how do you deal with community members who don’t pull their weight or behave criminally?
Yes. You can leave anytime. People at Twin Oaks like to travel, and do so.
Everyone is expected to work 42 hours a week, except for elders. Twin Oaks obeys the laws, however, if someone has chronic behavior issues, the community has support groups and community feedbacks to help change their behavior. Members can be immediately expelled for any act of violence.
Anyone been expelled yet? Acts of crime committed or even reported? I would think depending on the community and how they want their images to be portrayed, that there is a risk of cover ups as with any communities but just asking, thanks for the AMA.
Yes, people have been expelled.
Twin Oaks doesn't like to bother the local law enforcement, however, the local sheriff speaks well of Twin Oaks and is welcome on the property anytime.
What do you (individually and collectively) do for fun?
Honestly the main thing people do is hang out with each-other in small groups. We linger over meals because we enjoy each-others company.
We are all responsible for creating our culture, and almost everyone creates some kind of social gathering. There are lots of quirky, interesting and unusual social events, like for instance sitting outside watching old junior high documentaries on the side of a building with a projector.
There are often parties. Folks like boardgames here. People have DnD groups several times a week. Some people play MarioKart Smashbros or watch movies.
In the summer, people swim in the pond. In the winter, we hang out in the sauna. Year-round walks in the woods.
Lots of folks do art and crafts. We also offer yoga and dance every week.
Friday nights there is a free ride into the nearby city to go to concerts or bars.
Sometimes we have large group excursions off-farm to go hiking or something.
New people have a hard time getting their work done because there is so much social distraction and things to do.
I truly think if I could work my ~40 hours a week, have my needs provided for, and then get to play DnD or Wargames and just hang out with people who are never going to be too far away to have a consistent schedule of meeting up, I'd be in heaven.
So, Twin Oaks might work for you. I promise, you will not think that you are in Heaven. Maybe better than other alternatives, but far from flawless. For instance, most spaces are not air conditioned in the winter, so it can get moldy. That is but one example, but thank you for your kind comment.
While I love the idea of your community, and it sounds very progressive, your comments about home-schooled / UN-schooled children worries me.
Look, it perfect world homeschooling children should work fine, un-schooling in whatever stretch you mean also. But it's not a perfect world.
Is there any sort of checks and balances on the schooling within the community? Visits from teachers from local schools, standardized testings to bring them up against a national standard?
Along with this your comment about "not spending much time in front of screens" and "No phones in public spaces" is also concerning. Like it or not, being able to intuitively and easily interact with screen-based, symbol lead technology is an essential modern skill and one that will not be going away anytime soon. My nephew spends more than a quarter of his lessons interacting with either a tablet, or some sort of screen interface, and this will only continue once he moves into the real working world.
Now, the worst-case scenario here, which I will happily admit might not be your case but entertain it for me. You're preparing your children to not be capable of living any sort of life except for one within a screen limited technology limited commune. Even then, they could end up on the bottom rung of that commune system, working only as basic handymen with no transferable skills if they wanted to leave the commune.
This is compounded by their lack of screen exposure. Their ability to intuitively use a tablet or computer rivals that of the elderly, which makes them a poor fit for any office environment. Finally, this lack of screen exposure also damages their ability to find a social fit in groups. The complex and layered interaction of things like whatsapp, instagram, facebook. All of these are learned skills which these children will be severely lacking. Now while the jury is definitely still out on the benefit of social media long term, on a person to person scale having no ability to even comprehend the nuances of various social platforms and how they work is the same as being an adult in the 2000s and not understanding the difference between a landline and a telephone.
Thanks, and I hope I have not ruffled any feathers.
No feathers ruffled, however, once I was done laughing, I re-read your comment. So, 1) the academic standards of mainstream schools are disturbingly low. Home-schooled and un-schooled kids have to take the same standardized tests that kids in school take in Virginia, and they do fine. The community puts lots of resources into raising the kids. The teacher to student ratio varies from 1:1 to 1:3 adults to children. The kids get lots and lots of attention from a wide range of caring adults.
I home-schooled my two boys through high-school. The oldest was attending college classes at 15. My younger is now attending UVA.
In a day, if a kid spends 3 hours in a pond and walking through the woods, and 2 hours on a tablet, that doesn't mean they can't work a tablet.
How did you decide that you should work 42 hours per week? Is it an old rule no one has addressed in a long time? Is it a practical number?
We vote the number of hours up or down every year depending on how much money we want and how much we want to work.
Does everyone date and marry within the community? Is there enough of an influx of new members where this isn't a problem, or shortage of potential mates?
Dating and relationships is a big topic. An important thing to keep in mind is that no-one is desperately lonely at Twin Oaks. Everyone at Twin Oaks has at least some friends.
However, it is a small dating pool. There are other local communities that have social events, and people have friends and relationships with folks in those groups. There is a sizable community of 45ish nearby called Acorn that tends to have younger members. The hardest part of dating is not being unable to find a relationship at Twin Oaks, but amicably dealing with a break-up.
Some people find dates on okcupid and date people in Charlottesville or Richmond.
Hello. What does the community do for sewage, drinking water, and trash? These details often seem to be missing from rural, off-the-grid groups.
The state mandates that we have a sewage treatment plant, that the state mandates.
We have a lot of very deep wells and really, really clean water, also tested by the state.
We generate a lot less trash because of our ecological living, much of our waste is re-used or recycled. We take a one-a-week trip to the landfill to dump our trash.
There are very nice clivus multrum composting toilets available if people want to use them.
What sort of financial contribution are you expected to make upon formally joining?
Zero. But you have to work.
Let's say that I want to join, and have significant life savings. Does that mean that my money is now "everyone's"? Am I allowed to keep it? What if you find out i have a bank account that i never told you about?
You keep all of your money. You are not allowed to use it while you live at Twin Oaks, except to pay down debts or maintain assets such as properties.
Does nobody at Twin Oaks work in IT or as a technical artist?
Well we have WiFi and computers, so we have people working on IT internally.
What is the process like if someone wants to leave the commune?
You walk out.
Are you getting hours for this AMA?
Someone from East Wind did one of these recently. Are you all coordinating? Are there other social media sites you are showing yourself on?
I am on vacation in Costa Rica, sitting on a porch doing this, so no labor credits.
We are not coordinating with East Wind in regards to the AMAs, but thanks for letting me know I will go look at that.
We have an instagram and facebook.
I read somewhere that you have to get community permission to have a child. If this is true, why do they require this? Also what if it happens by accident?
We do have an upper limit on the number of children living in the community, so we are often not accepting new families joining. Twin Oaks requests that potential parents let the community know their plans for budgeting reasons, this can look like asking for "permission." FYI, there are accidental pregnancies at Twin Oaks currently riding bicycles, if you get my drift. Twin Oaks pays for birth control, vasectomies and tubal ligations, but won't make any woman have an abortion who doesn't want one.
Do you ever worry that you are forcing your children in to this life? You mention you have raised two sons, did they choose to stay or leave for the outside world?
Every parent is making choices for their children. I wanted to give my children the best possible upbringing that I could, and I think I did that. (People tell me both my boys are amazing. I concur.)
One stayed, one left.
Your tofu is fantastic!
Sold the hell out of that stuff when it was my job to keep Charlottesville well supplied with such things.
To my question - how does your family feel about your chosen community, and all that goes along with it?
Edit: PS - I'm so relieved that this turned out to be a post from someone at Twin Oaks, and not those nutters over at Zendik. Do you ever run into issues where people confuse your community with theirs?
Well, after the first ten years, they quit saying it was a phase I was going through. My parents love how the children are raised at Twin Oaks. And by the way, they are very polite and loving towards their grandparents. These days, my family very much embraces Twin Oaks and the life I have chosen.
Does Zendik exist anymore?
How do you file/pay taxes?
It's kind of boring. Twin Oaks does pay taxes. Twin Oaks is a corporation, every member is an equal owner (see: every law firm that has an unlimited partnership) so the IRS looks at our income as dividends distributed to the members (which they very much are not) so that the IRS has something that they can tax.
Are there other Communities outside of VA that are similar? Wondering if you guys have a similar minded ‘outreach’ type program which can learn and communicate with other like minded communities...
Yes, we are part of the FEC, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, and FIC, the Fellowship of Intentional Communities.
Also, over the last 50 years, there has arisen around Twin Oaks a network of cooperative and collective ventures.
God, this is so fascinating to me. I completely agree with your critiques of capitalism, but do you ever fear having to reenter the workforce? Further, do you think this way of life if applicable in a large scale community?
Living at Twin Oaks isn't that easy. You gain real skills in dealing with money and people. People who chose to leave Twin Oaks have no trouble finding employment. The most common career path of ex-members is 1) entrepreneurs and 2) nurses.
As for the large scale community question, see the kibbutz in Israel.
Are there any non vegetarian members of you community?
Girl cows give milk. Boy cows turn into hamburger. We also have chickens. We also trade waste tofu with a pig farmer for pigs. Yes, is the answer.
I love this.
What’s something the mainstream public may not know about your community that you’d like to share?
What do newcomers seem to struggle with the most?
Those are good questions.
The mainstream public may not know that people gain more freedom in their lives than they had in the mainstream culture.
Living with other people ALL THE TIME can sometimes suck.
Since a TRUE commune would not have technology from the outside world, how are you on Reddit?
There is no non-sarcastic way to answer this question.
View HistoryShare Link