Twin Oaks Community, Virginia
Twin Oaks Community is an ecovillage and intentional community of about one hundred people  living on 450 acres in Louisa County, Virginia. It is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. Founded in 1967, it is one of the longest-enduring and largest secular intentional communities in North America. The community's basic values are cooperation, egalitarianism, non-violence, sustainability and income sharing.
The community was founded on a 123-acre (0.50 km2) tobacco farm in 1967 by a group of eight individuals with no farming experience that included Kat Kinkade, who wrote two books about the community. The community's initial inspiration was B. F. Skinner's novel Walden Two, which describes a fictional behaviorist utopia. However, Skinner's vision quickly faded from prominence at Twin Oaks, as behaviorist principles were abandoned in favor of egalitarian principles. The community struggled greatly during its first few years, as member turnover was high and the community members didn't earn much income. According to Kinkade, the community avoided the problems stereotypically associated with communes (particularly laziness, freeloading, and excessive lack of structure) by adopting a structured, yet flexible, labor system.
Modified versions of the community's initial organizational structure and labor credit system survive to this day. As in Skinner's novel, the original labor credit system utilized "variable" credit hours. Certain jobs were worth more credit hours than others in order to make each job desirable. What the community found once the population reached about 40 is that there was neither universally desirable work, nor undesirable work and the variable credit hour system created distortions in which work was getting done. The modified version of this plan in place today uses "standardized" credits; each job in the community is valued the same in terms of credit hours.
Life as a member
Twin Oaks has approximately 100 members. People interested in joining Twin Oaks must attend a scheduled three-week visitor period. During this period, visitors tour the community and attend orientations on various aspects of membership: Unlike most co-housing situations, there is no cost to join the community, nor any rent or ongoing costs associated with living there. Basic necessities—housing, clothing, food, health care—are all provided to members in return for their 42 weekly hours of work. Since 2011, Twin Oaks has consistently had a waiting list, so visitors who are accepted for membership need to wait typically 3 to 9 months before they can join. Before a new member can join, while the community is at its population capacity, a current member needs to drop membership. Historically, Twin Oaks has expanded its housing when it has had a waiting list for a prolonged period by building new residences and expanding the stock of bedrooms available.
A member of Twin Oaks works around 42 hours a week. Some labor is directed toward generating income, and the rest consists of domestic work like gardening/food production, cooking, bike repair, building maintenance, cleaning, and child care. Most Twin Oakers perform a wide variety of tasks each week instead of spending all of their time in one labor area. Members can also choose to work outside of Twin Oaks. The income from this labor may go to the community, although some portion of it can go into a member's "vacation earnings". Excess labor done in a week accumulates as vacation time.
Though live television viewing is prohibited, Twin Oaks' members have access to the Internet as well as to public computers. Members can also watch movies and tapes of TV programs. People in the community often gather for other recreational activities such as dancing, meditating, discussing literature, staging musicals, and playing board games.
Twin Oaks members are religiously diverse. The membership includes Christians, atheists, Pagans, Buddhists, and others. The community hosts Pagan handfastings, Equinox parties, and Thanksgiving dinners, and it celebrates June 16, the anniversary of its founding.
Twin Oaks' 42-hour work week is divided between domestic and income-producing labor. Twin Oaks operates several community-owned businesses, including Twin Oaks Tofu, Twin Oaks Hammocks, and Twin Oaks Book Indexing. Additionally, members working in the Twin Oaks Seed Farm grow seeds for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. From these sources, Twin Oaks generates around $600,000 per year. This money pays for community upkeep and goods that cannot be produced on site, and each member receives a monthly stipend for personal use (i.e., to purchase items that the community does not provide). In news segments, Twin Oakers often attribute the longevity of the community to its engagement in capitalism through its tofu and hammocks businesses.
Twin Oaks and the communities movement
Twin Oaks has helped establish three sister communities: Acorn Community, about 7 miles (11 km) from Twin Oaks, Living energy farm, also in Louisa County, VA; and East Wind Community in south central Missouri.
Twin Oaks also hosts annual intentional community gatherings cosponsored by the Fellowship for Intentional Community. The Communities Conference, and the Women's Gathering, both of which take place every August.
Twin Oaks in the media
The history of Twin Oaks Community is detailed extensively in two books by Kathleen (Kat) Kinkade, one of the co-founders of the community. The first, A Walden Two Experiment, covers the first five years of the community. The second, Is it Utopia Yet?, covers the next 20 years. Another book from the 1980s, Living the Dream, by Ingrid Komar (the mother of a member at the time the book was written), also discusses Twin Oaks' history. Many newspaper and magazine articles have been written about Twin Oaks. About half a dozen dissertations and a dozen master's theses have been written about the community, as well. A list of such publications can be found on the community's website. In 1998, the Washington Post Magazine did a cover story on Twin Oaks.
Twin Oaks and ecology
Twin Oaks seeks to be a model of sustainability. The average Twin Oaks member consumes fewer resources than the average American due to the community's practices of resource sharing and self-sufficiency. Members hold all resources in common except for the personal items they keep in their bedrooms. For instance, members share housing, a fleet of 17 vehicles, and a large "clothing library". Twin Oaks members consume 70% less gasoline, 80% less electricity, and 76% less natural gas per capita than do their neighbors.
Critiques of Twin Oaks
The community itself acknowledges that it has yet to create the perfect society; it even provides a guidebook entitled "Not Utopia Yet" to visitors. For instance, there is little privacy at Twin Oaks. Also, those who choose to live at Twin Oaks for several years—including founder Kinkade—sometimes feel "trapped" there. This is because members have little opportunity to build up equity or savings.
Twin Oaks' founders were inspired by B. F. Skinner's utopian novel Walden Two. In the early years of Twin Oaks, members engaged in behaviorist experiments to change personal behavior, but there was no attempt to impose behaviorism as a central guiding principle of the community. Behaviorist ideology persists at Twin Oaks today only in attempts to make conditions reinforcing in work areas (e.g., treats and coffee being served, or live music being played). There is an absence of any form of punishment, which is due to an ideology of non-violence.
A common critique of Twin Oaks both by visitors and members is that the community is dirty and cluttered. The egalitarian principle of the community and the self-selecting nature of the labor system means that there is no lower class to perform unpleasant work like cleaning. Visitors are often assigned work not of their choosing, but a community rule forbids visitors being assigned cleaning work in which a member doesn't also participate.
Another critique of Twin Oaks is interpersonal conflict between members that the community does not attempt to resolve. Many other intentional communities prioritize interpersonal communication by making a condition of membership that extreme conflict must be worked out. Twin Oaks has a committee of facilitators called the "Process Team" that helps individuals resolve conflict, but participation is voluntary. Some members in conflict refuse to deal with their conflict through direct communication or through the Process Team. Twin Oaks has no formal consequences for these members.
The initial vision that the founders had for Twin Oaks was for a total membership of one thousand. Supporters of Twin Oaks are often critical that the community is unwilling to grow. Twin Oaks has remained at a population of around 100 (including children) since 1996.
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- "The Other American Dream". Washington Post Sunday Magazine Page W12. November 15, 1998.
- Federation of Egalitarian Communities
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- Kat Kinkaid, 1994 "Is It Utopia Yet?: An Insider's View of Twin Oaks Community in Its Twenty-Sixth Year" Twin Oaks Publishing; 2nd edition (August 1994). ISBN 0-9640445-0-1
- Kinkade K., Is it Utopia Yet ?, page 29, Twin Oaks Publishing, 1994
- Spalding, Ashley (2000). "Positioned Within 'The Outside World' The Cultural Construction Of Gender In An Egalitarian Intentional Community". Dep't of Anthropology, University of South Carolina. (hosted at twinoaks.org). Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- "Twin Oaks: Living in Harmony". NBC 29 WVIR-TV. 2010-08-31.
- New York Times Magazine, Sun., Aug. 3, 1997. Daniel Pinchbeck, "Paradise Not Quite Lost," pp. 26-29
- "Twin Oaks Communities Conference". Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- Twin Oaks Women's Gathering
- "Twin Oaks: Living a Sustainable Lifestyle". NBC 29 WVIR-TV. 2010-09-01.
- "A Human-Sized Answer to a Global Problem".
- Twin Oaks Community website
- Federation of Egalitarian Communities
- TOAST: Twin Oaks Academic Speaking Tour
- Twin Oaks Tofu (Twin Oaks Community Foods)
- Twin Oaks Hammocks
- Twin Oaks Communities Conference
- Twin Oaks Women's Gathering