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.
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.