The Leaves of Twin Oaks Issue 108
Since the last edition of the Leaves, we've gone from the frigid cold of Winter to the sweltering heat of mid-Summer. We're taking advantage of the sun these days with our latest solar energy project. We've just completed the installation of a 10 KiloWatt array of 48 photo-voltaic solar panels in the central field of the community. The electricity generated will be used to power three of our buildings and one of our well pumps, with any excess electricity being fed back into the main power grid (via our local electic co-op), and we will be compensated for that power.
installing one of the 48 panels
Earlier in the year, we found out that there's nothing like being snowed in for days and weeks on end to bring out people's creativity. In January, Twin Oaks took advantage of the avalanche of snow we received (and the 30-hour power outage) and members' inventiveness was bustin' out all over! Our very own 'outsider-artist-in-residence', aka our member Purl, used the time to construct a chair out of hickory saplings and hemp rope for his daughter Anya, aged 15 months. And when our pond froze, Noah decided a game of ice-hockey was in order, but we only had 2 sticks. Undaunted, he used some scrap wooden stretcher bars from our hammocks business to construct 6 very realistic hockey sticks, 5 of which lasted until the end of the game! And on a more cultured artistic note, Kayde organized a Variety Show in which members could showcase their talents, including poetry, singing, piano, dancing and a puppet show featuring Marshall Rosenberg of NVC (Non-Violent Communication) notoriety as the main character.
Anya sits in her new chair.
Another big January event was the arrival of our newest Oaker, a healthy baby boy born to Elsa and Scott. Elsa delivered him into the world at home, with the help of a midwife, her assistant, a doula, Scott and big brother Luuk. We welcome Ridgeley Ember Jennings Linden to our lives!
Ridgeley Ember Jennings Linden
In February, as an alternative to Valentine's Day, Twin Oaks celebrates Validation Day, a day in which everybody, not just people in intimate relationships, receives a handmade, individually designed card, inside of which other members have written validating messages. On Validation Day, we hand the cards out after dinner, and then break out into a dance party. This year, we also had a 'Songs of Love' performance, which was graced with the presence of the KITCH Army, sharing their version of KISS's new song 'Stand'.
Memory, Calliope, Claire and Keith transformed in to the KITSCH ARMY
Some people might say Twin Oaks has hit the big time, when we were featured in an Earth Day special on CNN news in April. In two of our fifteen minutes of fame, the piece focused on Twin Oaks as an example of how to live a sustainable lifestyle in contemporary America. We were pleased that information about our alternative culture was able to reach the masses.
There's also good news for our two largest community businesses. We've launched a new and improved website for Twin Oaks Hammocks. We sell hammocks both to wholesalers and to retail customers, and the new site makes it easier for our retail customers to make a purchase. Please go to www.twinoakshammocks.com if you'd like to take a look. And with our newest tofu account, we've increased our workweek to 5 tofu production days. This enables us to make the additional 5000 (yes, five thousand) pounds each week for the new account.
And several members have been busy working on creating new community.
We've been having meetings of a group of former and current members
who are working towards creating the Living Energy Farm. Now in the
process of finding land, the project will ultimately encompass an
intentional community with an environmental education center, which
will focus on sustainable ways of living, free of fossil-fuel. It has
been informally dubbed neo-amish (ie. Amish-style, minus the
For more information: http://www.livingenergyfarm.org
6 a.m. My alarm wakes me up and I roll out of bed, ready to start my day. The sun hasn't quite come up yet, but there's some soft light coming through my east-facing window. I don't have to get up this early--we each set our own schedule--but I like being up before the hustle and bustle of the day really begins. Plus, since nine of us live in my building, I probably won't have any competition for the shower.
6:15 a.m. I make myself breakfast (toast with homemade bread and an egg from one of our chickens) in the kitchen in the Courtyard, where I live. Lunch and dinner are served buffet-style at Zhankoye (ZK), our main dining facility and community center, but we also have a handful of smaller kitchens for breakfast, snacking, and preparing meals for small groups of people. As I eat, I read a novel I pulled from our public collection of several thousand books--no library card needed.
6:55 a.m. Since I like being up early, I signed up for a 7 o'clock tofu-making shift last week when all of our labor was being scheduled. I head to the Tofu Hut, a mere two-minute walk through the woods from my room--not a bad commute. It's chilly out, but the Hut is warm and steamy. I put on boots, gloves, a hairnet, and an apron, and start pressing curds into big slabs of tofu.
10 a.m. My shift is over, and I head back to the Courtyard. I check my email on one of the public computers in the office. In addition to actually making tofu, I also do a lot of customer service for our soyfoods business. Someone has contacted us to find out where they can buy Twin Oaks' tofu in their area; I respond, and also check out the orders that have come in locally from stores and restaurants in Charlottesville and Richmond.
10:45 a.m. I see my friend Sabrina outside with one-year-old Anya in a carrier on her back. She's doing a "primary," labor-creditable child care. We make tea and go for a walk together, Anya making cute faces at me the whole time.
12:05 p.m. It's lunch time, so we walk up to ZK. Lunch is mostly leftovers, supplemented with a fresh salad and baked potatoes. We grow greens throughout the winter in our huge greenhouse, and we harvested enough potatoes in the summer and fall to last us through the winter.
12:50 p.m. I walk back to my room to put on work boots for my forestry shift, then ride a public bike up to Modern Times (MT), where Carrol, River, Purl and I will meet for the shift. MT is our main shop building, with space and tools to fix our cars, bikes, tractors, and vacuums.
1 p.m. We head out into the woods, where we'll selectively cut trees and haul them in to be processed into firewood. All the wood we harvest is done so sustainably, and all of our buildings are heated with wood all winter long. It's too hot to do forestry work in the summer, so during the off-season, I'll switch some of my work scene indoors to do data entry and accounting work to monitor our communal money budgets.
5:15 p.m. I hang out in my room a bit before dinner, finishing up a letter to my family and listening to music. I find it's important to carve out alone time for myself--it's very easy to get sucked into the social scene 24/7 here. There's always something going on, someone to talk to.
6:00 p.m. Dinner is served! Tonight it's my favorite--veggie burgers. (And, OK, hamburgers too. But I'm a vegetarian.) There are plenty of side dishes, like steamed spinach and sweet potato fries. A large percentage of the meal, both veggies and meat, is homegrown. I sit in the Lounge with about ten people and chat with McCune about his latest plumbing adventure. Sometimes at dinner there's one main conversation but tonight several smaller discussions have sprung up. Besides copper-vs-plastic waterlines, people are talking about the new fruit orchard we're planting, the latest news from our sister community 8 miles up the road, and trying to work out if people's schedules will allow our belly-dance troupe to meet on the same night as the queer-theory discussion group.
7:30 p.m. Mala has invited me to her residence (named Beechside) to hang out--there's a really cozy kitchen/living room there that's highly conducive to fun social gatherings. A bunch of people come over, and we sit draped on the couches and on the floor. Debbie and Trout play fiddle and guitar, Casey is knitting a pair of socks and Ezra makes a large amount of popcorn. Zadek, age 4, and Samir, age ten months, provide a lot of the entertainment. It's a festive atmosphere, though there's no particular occasion; we just like to enjoy each other's company.
10:00 p.m. I head home to my room. I record the work I did today on my labor sheet and write in my journal a bit to unwind before bed. I'm very tired, but happy. It's been a good day.
Debbie (above), Elsa, Jessie and Summer, 4/5 of the Quintet
I'm standing downtown in Charlottesville with my 6-month old daughter strapped to my front, singing with four other women. We run through our repertoire as a small but steady crowd of people gathers to listen. We are appreciative of the donations they leave, and afterwards we go to soothe our voices at the gelatto place down the street.
I am part of the The Jessica Marie Quintet, nee Oakapella or FEC-Sharp, which started in 2008 with eight original members singing a broader range of a cappella music, and has gradually narrowed to a focus on barbershop. When the idea first arose, I squealed with irrepressible dorkiness my delight at the thought of being in one of these groups again--in high school I was head of our 8-member a capella group. Characterized by close harmonies and four distinct voices that often sing the same lyrics (as opposed to doo-wop, which usually features a lead singer and several backup vocals), barbershop feels more egalitarian, more cooperative.
After a few months we were down to 5 people, and renamed the group the Jessie Marie Quintet, in honor of the two members who share that name (Jess, our bass; and Jessie, our tenor). Free online sheet music eventually gave way to specific arrangements ordered off the internet; one practice grew to two 2-hour rehearsals a week; and we began to perform as much as we could, including at homespun coffeehouses, busking in Charlottesville, at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Christmas/Solstice caroling, at a nursing home, at Acorn's Land Day, and for Twin Oakers in full-on JMQ concerts. Twice we've taken an educational trip to town to rehearse with the Skyline Chorus, Charlottesville's Sweet Adeline 30-member women's barbershop chorus. Their director has come out to Twin Oaks with two members of the chorus to help us through a rehearsal. We finished the practice with new warm-up exercises, help with posture, breathing, mouth shape, diphthongs, and lots of other information that has helped us advance our singing together. Last summer we used Twin Oaks' recording equipment and squeezed ourselves into the young adult library on hot evenings to put out our first CD.
Recording together was another learning experience: how far away do we each have to stand from the mic? Which room captures the best sound? We feel proud of the result and hope to make another album once we've added enough new songs to our repertoire. Right now the group is working on our theater debut singing and dancing for the community's performance of Greasel. After that, a belated two-year anniversary concert is in order. And after that, who knows? [The Jessica Marie Quintet is comprised of Jessica Marie (Jess) on bass, Summer on lead/baritone, Debbie on lead/tenor, Elsa on lead/tenor, and Jessica Marie (Jessie) on lead/tenor. Our CD, *In the Good Old Summertime and Other Modern Hits* is available for $8 (sliding scale).]
Edmund processing seeds.
As Winter comes to an end, and warmer seasons slowly unfurl, I look
forward to working again in the Seeds gardens. I remember last year,
three days after harvesting a van full of over-ripe (as they must be
to ensure proper seed maturity) Suyo Cucumbers, the experience of
slimy, smelly, fermented cucumber pulp on my arms, which I admittedly
enjoyed, as I plunged through phase II of the project. After
fermenting the seeds in buckets of water for three days to help
disengage them from the gooey cucumber innards, as well as kill off
potential pathogens, I disturbed the viscous liquid and waited the
minute or two it took for the viable seeds of our bounty to sink to
the bottom of the bucket. Once the floaters were poured out, and the
process repeated 2 or 3 more times, good seeds were set onto screens
and placed into fan powered drying racks. Germination tests were
administered and met the standards of our biggest buyer, Southern
Exposure Seed Exchange, which are often much loftier than the national
Twin Oaks Seeds business is contracted by seed companies, such as
Southern Exposure Seeds and FedCo, to grow and then process our own
organic seed yields. And like our seeds, we've grown. The business
started out as a solo project in 2006 by ex-member River with an
income of approximately $5,000. Under the managership of Edmund
Frost, along with a dedicated crew and expanded growing area, Seeds
generated an income of $27,600 in 2009.
We project doubling our profits, which means doubling our output for
the 2010 growing year. Why? We have demonstrated to the Community
that the Seeds business is a viable business and one worth investing
time and money in. It's an income area we feel really good about;
it's organic, our methods of cultivation rely heavily on our own
sweat, and the products couldn't be Greener. Our seeds inspire
backyard garden sanctuaries, help provide nourishing food for many,
and promote the genetic diversity necessary in preserving our food
sources for the future.
To most of American society, 'community theatre' means a group of theatre people, who happen to live in general proximity of each other, bound together by the act of putting on a professional-looking show. Here, it seems we take the word order of 'community theatre' more literally. It's more community, with a 'Hey! Since we're all here, let's do a ridiculous Twin Oaks-based spoof on Grease this winter!'
Talent? That, we have in buckets here. It started with the unbelievably hilarious team of writers (or re-writers, rather) creating songs and a script for the fantastic band and actors that then assembled. From within our ranks also came choreographers, set designers, props and costumes managers, publicity, lights, and no fewer than three directors. Not to mention those that pick up the slack within the community for this motley and brilliant team to have time to put a show up.
We knew we wanted to spoof the plot of the original show, placing it in a Twin Oaks setting, with lots of references to our alternative culture. Just the name alone-- 'Greasel' -immediately presented itself as a tip of the hat to the alternative energy practice of using vegetable oil for fuel, so-called 'greasel' instead of 'diesel'.
The 'cool kids' in this show were we communards. Members Michael and Summer starred as a hippie, dread-locked Danny paired with Sandra V, the mainstream commodities trader plopped into the middle of our commune for a visit. Musical highlights included 'Oberlin Dropout' as Crunchy (aka Frenchy) ponders returning to grad school, and 'You're The Ones That I Want' as an homage to polyamory. And what would Grease be without 'Hopelessly Devoted to Tofu' (performed, of course, by some of our most committed tofu workers)?
Really, though, there is more to what makes theatre here so interesting: while we do happen to have a lot of talent residing on these 450 acres, talent is also not exactly the point. In community, art is everywhere, and everyone can have a role-not just the 'artsy' people in society to whom we delegate the task of moving our culture forward. Anyone that wants a way to contribute here can probably find one, and while we don't aspire to Broadway with our work, we do aspire to enrich all of our lives through a collective creative process. So, we do. We shape our time together as we wish, and it is certainly never boring. Besides, what makes life worth living if not some Twin Oakers singing about how unexpected romance can blossom over pickling the beets?
Here at Twin Oaks, we generally consider ourselves beyond conventional conversation restraints; this becomes immediately obvious by listening to a mealtime discussion of the lurid details of gruesome symptoms related to the latest sickness going around.
When it comes to talking about politics, it becomes a little more complicated. There are certain topics that we can all discuss with ease and generally agree upon. However, somehow there are others that are more like opening a can of worms while walking through a field of landmines...
Acceptable: global warming and polar icecap melt
More delicate: what temperature to set the communal hot-water heater, and the ecological implications of using ice-cubes
Acceptable: Obama versus Hillary
A bit trickier: Organic versus Local
Acceptable: increasing water shortages and the evils of the bottled-water industry
Tread carefully: the fact that a certain communard-who-shall-remain-nameless replaced the low-flow shower head with one that delivers the approximate force and volume-per-minute of Niagara Falls, without any process.
Acceptable: the discriminatory aspects of impending US immigration policy
Walking on eggshells : our membership process about whether to accept that controversial visitor from the last visitor period.
Acceptable: gay marriage
Call in the Process Team: your lover announces their desire to form a polyamorous triad with that statuesque blonde who arrived as a new member last week.....
Copyright 2008, Valerie Renwick-Porter and Communities magazine. This
article first appeared in Communities: Life in Cooperative Culture,
Autumn 2008; for further information on Communities: communities.ic.org.
Join us for a weekend of sharing and celebration at the 2010 Communities Conference, August 13-15th.
With workshops and events focused on:
The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for anyone
interested or involved in co-operative or communal lifestyles.
Friday August 13 through
Sunday August 15, 2010
$85 (sliding scale) includes
meals and camping.
Come join us for the annual Twin Oaks Women's Gathering on August 20-22nd.
Our 27th gathering to celebrate the strength, diversity and power of women in community! All female and non-male ID folks are welcome to this event, which is a three day conference on themes ranging from sex and sexuality to positive relationship building to DIY music, art and movement. There will be scheduled workshops and performance spaces, as well as lots of free time to network, drum, dance and play at beautiful Twin Oaks Community. Registration fee (sliding scale from $60-$160) includes meals and tent space.
Learn more and register online at http://womensgathering.org