Walk the gravel path from the cow pasture, past the dairy barn and vast
garden planted with rows of vegetables, through the woods to the dining
hall and beyond to the living quarters, and you'll encounter very few
people. It's hard to believe that 100 people live here. Twin Oaks is,
above all, tranquil.
"A lot of people come here looking for
utopia," says Russ McGee. Although he says he doesn't believe the
Virginia farm is a paradise, he has no regrets about what he left
behind nearly seven years ago when he moved here.
a certain commitment to simplicity," McGee says. "You can't have a lot
of the travel or cultural entertainments in your life, but
nevertheless, there is a great richness and connectedness to this life."
is also a connectedness to the land. Nearly all of the food members
eat is grown and raised here, says Valerie, a member for 17 years.
"All summer long we are eating our own vegetables," she says. "We dry
and can and freeze a lot, so even in the winter we are eating a lot of
the food we produced." There are also chickens and cows on the farm.
"We get eggs and milk and meat from them."
Very different from mainstream American life
Life at Twin Oaks
is very different than most Americans are used to. Notices are posted
on billboards and clipboards instead of Facebook and Twitter. And,
because members live in dormitory-style buildings that house 10 to 20,
there is less privacy. But Arthen, who left his job as an executive
chef two years ago, says one of the reasons he moved to Twin Oaks was
to get closer to people.
"I worked out in the world for 25
years and lived next to somebody for four years and never even knew who
they were," he says. "Now I live with 90 people and I know them all.
It's like living in a little village."
A village where everything is free, says Valerie."We
get housing. We get health care. We get food. We get clothing. Plus we
get $75 dollars a month for extras that the community doesn't provide."
don't pay any fee to join Twin Oaks, and if they have assets, they
don't have to relinquish them. What keeps this community going, and
has kept it going since it was founded in 1967, is work.
"Basically the agreement is you work here 42 hours [a week] and the community covers all of your costs," says Paxus Calta.
Members can choose what work they want to do, Calta says. There is a lot that needs to be done to support the community. "Pretty
much all of the aspects of daily living that we can get away with doing
here we do. We fix our own cars. We build our own buildings. We
educate our own kids."
Capitalism in the commune
In addition, Twin Oaks runs two
businesses where members can spend their 42 work hours: constructing
hammocks and making tofu. The success of those enterprises is another
reason Twin Oaks has survived, because they provide cash to purchase
things like insurance and automobiles. The community owns 17 cars,
which, like everything else here, are shared.
with other practices, such as hanging laundry out to air dry, using
solar power to heat water and burning wood harvested from the farm to
heat buildings, makes Twin Oaks more eco-friendly than most American
communities, says Calta.
"We consume 66 percent less
electricity, seventy-five percent less gasoline, 88 percent less solid
waste goes into the landfill," he says. "It comes from this sharing
thing. That kind of lifestyle lends itself to a reduced ecological
It's a lifestyle that is, in essence, based on
communism, but Keenan Dakota, a member for 25 years, says there is an
irony to Twin Oaks: "this communal society is training future
Dakota says most members who leave Twin Oaks
become entrepreneurs, running small businesses. "Ex-members have
started a thrift shop. They have started a tofu business. They have
even become stockbrokers."
Right now there is a waiting list
of people who want to move to Twin Oaks, because the community is at
capacity. But there is talk of starting a sister community nearby.
That was done before in 1993, when Acorn was established. Although it
only has 14 members, the heirloom seed business it runs is thriving.