Submission by Amaranth Sander
At Twin Oaks Intentional Community in Louisa, Virginia, right between Charlottesville and Richmond, around 90 children and adults are living away from the conventional nine-to-five schedule. To conduct my thesis research about foodways at Twin Oaks, I participated in a three week visitor program and lived at the community from May to August this summer. While living there, I was hosted by and formed a deep connection with two New College alumni, who have lived at Twin Oaks for nearly two decades, and their two children. My time there forever changed the way I think about what it means to live and work and the lifestyles that exist outside of a conventional career path.
Here, members work to earn “labor credits” instead of getting paid a wage or salary. One hour of work equals one labor credit and each member is obligated to work at least 42 hours each week on average during the year. That amount of work appears the same as the American average on the surface, but what counts as “work” at Twin Oaks is radically different than at an office job. At Twin Oaks, one day of work can consist of half a dozen different tasks. One week, I earned my labor credits working for a few hours in the garden, waking up before 7 a.m. to harvest vegetables, sow seeds, weed and spread compost with other visitors and members. I also made lunch for the entire community, worked at the “Unicorn School” taking care of toddlers, did a kitchen clean up shift after dinner, worked in the community’s tofu factory and more.
These tasks all contributed towards my “labor quota” for the week. The rest of my time was spent socializing and relaxing on the beautiful land that made up the commune. The community owned over 500 acres of rural land that included sprawling forests with walking trails, access to a river for canoeing, a pond for swimming and dozens of hammocks and hammock chairs, which were crafted and sold by the community, for relaxing. During my summer at the community, I spent my free hours swinging in shaded hammocks reading novels, a luxury I can’t seem to find time for during the school year, watched the sunset from a roof over the landscape dotted with the community’s herd of cows and played board and card games with new friends.
Each month, members receive an allowance that ranges from about $50 to $100, depending on the year. This allowance is the only cash that most members spend on a daily basis and can be spent on anything from vodka to vacations to video games. Living on only $3 a day seems impossible in the United States, but at Twin Oaks, all essential needs are taken care of by the community. Members do a variety of work on the farm and in turn, they have their own rooms, meals provided by the community, and healthcare. Members do not have to worry about paying rent, cooking their own dinner each night, commuting to work or paying insurance. Communal living involves trade-offs, such as not being allowed to own a personal vehicle, sharing common spaces with others and living on a limited allowance.
As well as valuing economic egalitarianism, Twin Oaks centers around feminism and queer culture. A significant portion of members identify as LGBTQ+ and work in the community is chosen by interest instead of dictated by gender roles. Twin Oaks is a place where members can use skills they already have to contribute to the community as well as learn many new skills and gain experience with diverse work they may not have had the opportunity to access in other spaces. At Twin Oaks, one can learn to garden by growing fresh vegetables for the community, process dairy products from the community’s own herd of cows, learn vehicle maintenance, do carpentry and still have time for an afternoon swim in the pond.
Twin Oaks is currently seeking new members. The community offers regular Saturday tours and a 3-week visitor program each month for prospective members or anyone interested in experiencing communal living first-hand. Visit TwinOaks.org or email Valerie at email@example.com for more information about the community and arranging a visit.