I’ve been living down in Virginia since the beginning of this year, mostly at Twin Oaks and Acorn. (And taking side trips with the Point A crew up to Baltimore and New York.) As of the end of this month, I will be moving into the Ganas Community on Staten Island. But I’ll miss living at the Virginia communes. They are, in many ways, the flagships of the income sharing communities movement in the US. Here are some stories and reflections from my nearly three months here.
As many readers may have guessed, my real name isn’t MoonRaven (or Moon--first name--Raven--last name, as I’m listed on gmail). I used the name, beginning over ten years ago, because I wanted to remain anonymous on the internet. It’s the name Paxus at Twin Oaks first knew me as, because I would comment on his blog using it. When I finally met him in person, I told him my real name and he said he preferred to think of me as MoonRaven because it was more poetic.
When I moved down to the Virginia communities in January to help him with his Point A project, Pax asked if I’d go by that name. My real first name is quite common and people at the communes often take new, exotic names--partly to avoid confusion with other people who have the same mundane names.
So I agreed to go by MoonRaven down here and that’s what people know me as at Twin Oaks and Acorn these days. I’m even considering keeping it when I move to Ganas in a few weeks. Ironically the name I’m using on this blog and elsewhere on the internet to cloak my identity, has now become the name I’m using day to day--I’m getting getting used to people saying “Hey MoonRaven”. In a way, now I’ve become MoonRaven and left the name I was born with behind.
When I came down to Virginia in January, Pax and I decided I’d stay at Twin Oaks for a while. There was no visitor program until the end of the month and so I stayed in Aurora, the lovely visitors cabin that I stayed in during my two previous visitor periods. However, ‘visitor’ has a particular meaning at TO. It means you are part of the visitor program. Since I wasn’t part of the program this time, I was a ‘guest’, which means a TO member hosts you, and I was welcome to stay at Aurora until the next visitor program started. When it did, I moved over to Acorn, which does not have a visitors cabin.
When I stayed at Acorn the first time, it was September and I stayed in a tent. Last time I was here I got lucky and was able to stay in the new seed building. This time I’ve been staying in a small building that Acorn has been using to house visitors, guests, and interns.
I didn’t get my own room this time. The building I’m staying in is one big room where someone has built a wall of bunks for people to sleep in. I imagine it being the way that sailors sleep in bunks in a submarine. There can be as many as five other folks sleeping around me--and one night I think we might have had six since there was also one person sleeping on a couch that someone moved into the place. For a few nights recently, I was the only one sleeping in the building, but last night I think there were three other folks sleeping there besides me.
Both Twin Oaks and Acorn are farming communities and both communities grow food. They also both have animals. Twin Oaks has chickens and a herd of dairy cows. Acorn has chickens, and goats, and pigs, and some rabbits, and a stray cow that wandered over and looks silly amidst the goats, and two dogs named Horus and Odin, and an indeterminate number of little cats (one of which regularly tries to sneak into the bunkhouse I’m sleeping in).
Aside from farming, Acorn’s one business and concern is the seed business. Twin Oaks, on the other hand, is very diverse. Besides hammocks and tofu (their main businesses) they also doing indexing for books (something that dates back to their early days) and sell ornamental flowers. One of their more interesting sources of income comes from a nearby college that got a fancy arena that can have several different kinds of flooring, depending on the type of event they want to host. They’ve hired a team from TO to change the flooring regularly.
And besides tofu, Twin Oaks also makes tempeh, something I’ve participated in on occasion. They steam soybeans and then sprinkle a culture on the beans. Then someone (and I’ve done this) needs to spend several minutes working (nearly kneading) the mold spores into the beans (inoculating them). The beans are then put in little bags which will be kept warm until the mycelium grow and the beans ferment.
At Acorn, mostly what I’ve done is pack seeds and pick seeds. Packing seeds involves weighing out a measured amount and putting it in a packet which is then sealed. I’m given instructions to do this for some number of packets ranging from six to four hundred. It’s a fairly repetitive task. When I’m done the seeds are put in the seed room. Picking seeds involves looking at orders people have sent or called in and going into the seed room and walking around finding the seeds and rubber banding together all packets of seeds that make up an order.
Ironically, the work that I’ve been doing most often the last few days is washing dishes. Like any community Acorn provides meals and people dirty dishes. This week there have been a lot of people away and the usual dishwashers were gone--and no one signed up to do dishes. I volunteered a few times. Dishwashing is particularly daunting here because, unlike Twin Oaks or Ganas, it’s pretty much a solo task. One meal can be eaten by twenty to forty people, plus cooking equipment and miscellaneous dishes and cups from people snacking.
If no one does the dishes after a meal (which is what was happening), it means the dishes begin piling up in the dish room. I was ending up cleaning a good twenty-four or more hours worth of people’s dishes on a couple of occasions.
And, of course, my main focus has been working on Point A projects with my comrades Paxus and Triple Threat Tony. We’ve been having breakfast meetings where we lovingly grump at each other and divide up the tasks. One of my latest task lists begins with my first task (sent by TTT): do “not do any more dish shifts”.
I will miss working face to face with these two folks. I’ll continue working with them by email after I move to NYC, but it won’t be the same. And I know I’ll need to come down here again, since I think of this place as the heart of a movement towards working cooperatively, collectively, together.
Quote of the Day: “It amazes me how difficult it is for people to think in terms of collective phenomenon.” - Evelyn Fox Keller