It was a series of seemingly inconsequential events that led me and two of my traveling comrades to the Twin Oaks Community in Virginia this July. An underestimation of the drive from Philadelphia to Asheville, a cancelled Airbnb reservation that opened a room up for our last minute snag, a casual conversation with the Airbnb hosts, the revelation that they used to live in a hippie commune, the chance that the conversation took place on a Friday night and the weekly tour of said commune took place every Saturday afternoon.
Then we found ourselves under the scorching Virginia sun in the bold heat of the afternoon, at the entrance to one of the original hippie communes from the 60’s. I was thrilled to be there. Since living in an intentional community in the Panamanian jungle this winter, I have begun to explore different ways of organizing society and different ways of living. As we had just embarked on our cross-USA road trip, this commune seemed like an ideal place to begin.
We were led on a three-hour tour by Pamela*, a woman in her sixties who had been living in the community for several decades - “not a true cradle-to-grave’r” since she was not born there, but she does intend to die there.
We began the tour in the tofu manufacturing area. Many of the communes that began in the 60’s have since died out - largely due to an inability to support themselves financially. Twin Oaks has been successfully supporting itself since 1967 through production of hammocks, furniture, and most recently tofu, which we were informed with a great sense of pride. They are currently in the process of switching over to more modern machinery, which as a community they had saved up for collectively and are thrilled to have since this will drastically reduce the labour requirements and make the entire process more efficient.
Twin Oaks, we were told, is an income-sharing, egalitarian community where each adult member is required to work 42 hours a week. Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and a small monthly stipend of US $100 that they can spend however they like. There is no leader - decisions and regulations are established democratically by various elected committees. There is also no specific group religion or ideology and the community is accepting of all ages, races, genders, and sexual preferences.
For many of us, working 42 hours a week for $100 a month seemed tremendously menial. However, Pamela reminded us that they have virtually no living expenses and they can spend those 42 hours doing whatever work they like. This was another difficult concept to grasp, but Pamela explained that there is a master list of daily and weekly tasks that must be completed and the scheduling and selection of these tasks takes place the week prior by means of having everyone fill out a timesheet identifying which areas of work they plan on attending to. With approximately 85 adults, there is enough diversity of interests that every task gets completed, “Yes, even the toilet duties” Pamela kindly responded. They use a bulletin board to communicate whether there are tasks or chores that need extra hands.
An afternoon in the Twin Oakes commune