2014 Annual Community Conference Recap: First Exposure

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This was written in 2014 after my first visit to the Annual Communities Conference hosted by Twin Oaks, near Charlottesville, VA. I’ve since returned every Labor Day weekend to catch each year’s conference.

Those in attendance hailed from all corners of the US and even some from across the pond. Many were already living communally, others were somewhere in the process of forming communities, while others were just community-curious. Each day consisted of morning and afternoon workshops, communal dining, open space discussions, and parties.

Breakfast is Served

I awoke to the sounds of breakfast being served in a gathering area with hexagonal picnic tables. Twin Oaks fed us Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner each day. You grabbed a plate, sat with strangers and spent time learning about one another. Just that simple act alone built empathy & community glue. Initially, I sat with strangers but by meal’s end, I dined with friends.

No one really jumped up and left when they were finished eating. We would sit for an hour and share. I was able to glean a lot of helpful info that applied directly to my goal of forming or joining a community.

Meet the Communities

After breakfast over a loudspeaker, representatives of all communities in attendance announced their community: its location, platform, uniting theme, whether it was accepting new members, etc. The representatives then availed themselves to one on one questions with anyone that was interested in learning more about their community. This alone makes the conference worth it. It would take sizable resources and time to learn about and visit various communities. Here you can determine which communities closely match your wants and then bend their ear, and even set up a date to visit. If your goal is to form a community, they can start you off on the right foot too.

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Learning about Twin Oaks 

At about this time, a tour of Twin Oaks was offered. Twin Oaks is situated on 450 acres and is home to about 90 adults & 15 children.

I was shown various co-housing units, including one created for elderly/handicapped members that had an attached hospice. We toured their tofu factory; hammock business; office areas that handle mail, town trips & automobiles; a communal clothes “store”, their massive restaurant-sized kitchen, communications hub, dining areas and party rooms. A swimming lake, sauna, food gardens, & visitor housing. In the two or so hours that we spent touring, we only saw a fraction of it. It is amazing what people can build when working cooperatively instead of competitively.

Learn more about what it is like to live in Twin Oaks.

Workshops

There are 2 days of workshops. Each day features a morning & afternoon workshop time slot. You have 4 or 5 workshop options to choose from for each time slot.

For my first morning slot, I attended the Radical Sharing Platforms workshop, that taught how people can pool income or duties to collectively improve their community and quality of life. I learned about timebanks and how to implement and run them. I learned the ins and outs, advantages & disadvantages of pooling income.

Another notable workshop I attended was the Cooperative Business workshop that taught about the various structures, strengths and weaknesses found in cooperative businesses. Part of Twin Oaks’ success story is that it runs several worker-cooperatives, which financially support the community.

In a worker cooperative, the workers are also the owners. The bottom line isn’t money, it’s the needs of the worker-owners. 

During another workshop, I toured & learned of some of Twin Oaks existing 3 worker cooperatives – 1) Seed Business, 2) Hammock Business & 3) Tofu Factory.

Other workshops covered topics such as legality & taxes, conflict resolution methods & promoting community glue.

A Peak at Nearby Communities

We toured 2 nearby communities: Living Energy Farm (LEF), an innovative off-grid community & Acorn Community.

Acorn was one of two communities that were created by Twin Oaks when it reached its maximum population cap. Acorn is probably my all-time favorite community. They are very informal. Their work week is 42 hours, but no one documents their time. You can work at any time of the day or night that you wish. They are very hesitant to add additional rules when a problem arises. Instead, they have very well-established conflict resolution policies to address any issues or abuses of their informal work arrangements.

Our stay at Acorn included dinner, a few games of volleyball, & a bonfire.

Take Away 

Sadly, Monday morning came all too quickly. I didn’t want to leave, because this type of living just felt RIGHT.

We all ate a little slower on Monday. Sat in groups and shared a little bit longer than the previous days. I was not alone in my resistance to leaving. Several people stayed for the optional “Communities Clinic”, which was specific to starting, running and maintaining a community.

Bottomline, next Labor Day check out the Twin Oaks Community Conference. Even if you are completely opposed to the concept, I definitely think it is something that everyone should experience. This was my first exposure to community. It was magical.

Get tickets to next year’s community conference. I’ll see you there!

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Jill Kanto

Jill Kanto combined her background in Intentional Communities, living in her DIY Tiny House, her skills as a Front-End Web Developer and not being able to sit still to create SearchTinyHouseVillages.com. She travels to 1-2 Tiny House Festivals a month as a speaker. Learn more about her journey.

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