A Glimpse of Twin Oak and Acorn; Intentional Income Sharing Egalitarian Communities

I drove up from Crow Forest Farm today into the unknown world of intentional income sharing communities to visit Twin Oaks and Acorn. These two places are, to undo their re-branding, communes. Twin oaks was established in 1967 while Acorn was establish in 1993 with help from Twin Oaks.

Twin Oaks living area Twin Oaks Community

The two communities have a shared value system but radically different organizing and decision making procedures. I wont comment much on the social and interpersonal systems due to my very limited time there.

Driving into acorn I came first upon a band of people manipulating dirt near the parking lot where the shared vehicles rest, doors unlocked, keys at the ready. Beyond a stand of young fruit trees is a beautiful building described by some as the seed palace. This recent addition to the property is where the main coop business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, is run. The building uses passive solar and under the floor heating. It has been designed to reflect the sustainable goals of the commune. While neither acorn or twin oaks top priorities are sustainability - like you would find in an eco village - they do their best to be low impact.

Beyond the palace is the old bar where I will be sleeping for the next two days. To the east is the old farm house which came with the property. It is one of a few buildings devoted to housing members. To the west is Heart Wood. I'm told it is the most desirable living space probably because it is also home to the kitchen where community meals are prepared and plenty of food is kept.

There are smaller structures scattered about the property. A stage is set up in a small clearing and a small smoke hut contains the tobacco smokers.

Behind the palace is a steal building scared black from a recent fire. The building still stands and contains multiple work shop areas. A group of people cut and cement tiles ceramic bits into a tile mosaic which will be fit above the seed palace door.

Acorn is a self identified anarchist community. It operates under modified consensus and a general culture of autonomy. There are two meetings a week, one for decision making and another for long form single topic discussion.

My tour guides Paul and Pax fill the group of visitors in on the inner workings of the commune while walking us across the long narrow track of land. Beyond the seed cultivation areas and subsistence garden plots are large hay fields. Some small fenced in areas with goats dot the landscape. Beyond the fields is a swamp and some woods where we are told the wild flowers grow.

I spend an hour weeding rows of freshly sprouted pole beans with a couple visiting from the East Wind Community, a fellow member of the The Federation of Egalitarian Communities, like Acorn and Twin Oaks.

Later in the day a bell is run warning us that dinner will be in ten minutes.

Everything here is shared. From books to bikes to cars. Some even half joke that boyfriends are on that list. The culture of sharing allows for the million dollar a year seed business to run at a very tight margin while still providing for nearly every need of the members here.

If you do the math everyone living on each of these communities is well below the poverty line. However they all enjoy full health care, full employment, 4 weeks vacation (minimum), access to cars, housing, and food. They don't worry about waking up tomorrow and not having a job or getting sick and not being able to see a doctor or having their rent increase.

Twin Oaks Garage Twin Oaks repairs their own vehicles
Twin Oaks Car Share This simple magnetic chart manages the vehicles share program at Twin Oaks

According to Pax, at twin oaks the hundred members live in a manner that allows them to use 80% fewer resources than their mainstream counterparts. This fact is what draws me to these communities. They don't strive for a reduced carbon footprint, it isn't their mission, it is simply a side effect of living and working together. For all the talk about climate change this is the first time I've ever seen truly revolutionary action.

Twin Oaks Land

It is clear to me that these communities represent, in the broadest terms, what needs to happen right now across the world. A shift from the individualistic to the community. From scarcity to abundance. From hording to sharing. We already rely on a massive shared resource, the earth, and if we don't change our behavior now that shared resource will not continue to sustain us.

Twin Oaks Residence

Another Twin Oaks residence

I look forward to returning to Acorn in June for an internship.

Crow Forset Farm

I got to spend the weekend visiting Crow Forest Farm. I drove in Saturday afternoon and found an exhausted Christina in the Octagon. She had just finished teaching a small class about Ukranian eggs, messages to the heavens. I got to meet her little chicks:

After an early night we awoke and began preparing for a day of work and education. The farm is hosting "shed" talks (in the shed) where people present on interesting topics. This weeks topic was the Keystone XL Pipleline. There was an interesting discussion after a compelling (and dire) film. There is a protest in D.C. on the 26th to push for the rejection of this pipeline.

the shed

After the shed talk a few of the guest stuck around to help plant in the garden and build the chicken's coop

Chicken coop design plan

We were able to put up the frame before eating an amazing dinner that Christina prepared.

Occupy’s Percarious Plualism, a Report

I’ve been credited in the following report done by James Owens.

Click here to download the PDF
Click here to download the PDF

There is some very interesting data in here, I’ll share some quotes and graphs from the document.

The movement helped build democratic power
in the form of alliances across social divides reinforced by the ruling order. The network of allies brought together by Occupy organizing in NYC in the first half of 2012 displayed the kind of inclusion across differences of race, class, and social identity that characterize democratic pluralism. The study found Occupy organizing in NYC enabled a pluralistic network of alliances connecting over 200 non-profits, emerging grassroots groups, religious organizations, and incorporated businesses with over 120 Occupy groups. Those partners described themselves and their constituents using a broad range of marginalized as well as professional identities.

This provides evidence that Occupy was much more inclusive than is commonly believed.

Of the 124 political projects analyzed in this study only 2 sought to create or revive Occupy assemblies along the lines of the New York General Assembly (NYCGA) or Spokes Council. That so few projects sought to produce GA style authority structures does not support conclusions that the leading purpose of OWS or the NYC Occupy movement was to produce large consensus structures. Another finding that challenges common claims about the movement is that only 4 projects in the sample sought to produce alternative systems compared to 21 projects producing campaigns to reform existing financial, education, legislative, and electoral systems. This contradicts generalizations of OWS or the NYC Occupy movement as primarily an exercise in prefigurative politics, that is, more an attempt to produce alternative systems than to reform existing systems.

Keep in mind that this data is focused on self reporting groups. The more radical factions of OWS probably didn’t report themselves as revolutionary. Though I think this information should put to bed the idea the OWS is a strickly revolutionary movement. Which, in my humble opinion, is a irrelevant and tired debate.

chart-1-occupy-priorities-9This chart reflects the stated priorities of OWS groups. While the one below looks at some specific groups and the racial and income identities they brought together.

chart-1-occupy-partners-13This chart is interesting in so far as it shows that very few groups bridged the upper and lower income, while the middle income went both ways.

I’m happy to have an internal report like this that can back up my experience from within the movement that was very diverse. It was my pleasure to help (in some small way) bring this into the world.