The View from a Real Sustainable Community

People are rediscovering the importance of community, sustainability, and self-sufficiency.  In this personal perspective below, Janel H. Reflects on her new life in an agrarian, non-violent, income-sharing intentional community in Virginia.

Imagine if you could spend more time with your kids and friends, live closely with nature and be a part of a movement for social change, no matter what your socioeconomic background. At the Twin Oaks Community in rural Louisa, Virginia--the place I call home--you can. Here, we lead an egalitarian, income-sharing way of life. What this means is that the 94 residents of Twin Oaks share homes, cars, gardens, greenhouses, pastures, rivers, canoes, Frisbees, board games, washing machines, tools, tractors, and the fruits of our successful community-owned tofu and hammock-making businesses as a family. As a tribe.

People are drawn to Twin Oaks for all sorts of reasons. Maya, mother of two, loves raising her young children here. Day in and day out, her kids interact and bond with a number of trusted adults, and Maya and her partner are surrounded by peers whom they can turn to for love, advice and child rearing assistance. The community is also committed to taking care of the family’s health and happiness needs. Twin Oaks is a living example of the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Here, the isolation and anxiety of the traditional American nuclear family unit have been diffused.

Meredith, a Twin Oaks elder, is grateful that her fellow community members rushed to assist her when she was recently hospitalized. Not only did Twin Oakers take turns visiting her in the hospital each day, but when she was finally able to return home, a care team formed to ensure that she would get breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed and all the help she needed until she was well. Like other community elders who feel that walking has become a struggle, Meredith navigates the dirt roads of Twin Oaks in her very own utility vehicle, and she is no longer expected to put in a full workweek. Since she has been a part of this community for twenty years now, it seems only fair that we should thank Meredith by showing her care and respect in her old age.

Chris, a former political activist, is happy to finally be living in a place where he feels his vote and voice actually count. He is proud to be a part of a community that has created an alternative to the exploitative, wasteful and consumption-driven global system that keeps so many people trapped in the ever-frustrating “rat race.” By living communally and sharing resources, we here at Twin Oaks are trying to do our part when it comes to reducing and reusing, and we’re able to avoid the disparity between rich and poor that plagues the world around us.

Micah and Pat are, respectively, a wood-working fanatic and a master gardener. Instead of having to work a nine-to-five and relegating what they’re passionate about to their spare time, they can choose to spend their 42-hour Twin Oaks work week entirely in a wood shop or garden/greenhouse. The work they love to do is considered just as valuable to the community as making hammocks to sell or marketing our organic tofu. Here, all labor is considered equal, and one can put as much or as little time into a particular labor area as one would like. Spend a couple hours indoors blogging for our businesses or making yogurt, then head outside to stack firewood or aerate a compost pile. Your schedule is yours to design, and whether you like to work inside or outside, with your hands or with your head, you will find a job--or many jobs--that fit you.

Emma, a vegan with a PhD in nutrition, appreciates that Twin Oaks supports her dietary choices. As a person who believes that meat and dairy-based diets keep the rest of the world starving, she is grateful that many dishes served at our communal lunches and dinners are vegan and vegetarian-friendly. I, too, am here for the food. However, as a meat eater, I am grateful that Twin Oaks raises and slaughters its own cows and chickens, so I don’t have to consume factory-farmed animal products anymore. In fact, from cheese to strawberries to eggs to broccoli, Twin Oaks produces about 70% of its food! In a fossil fuel-addicted nation, I appreciate living in a place where I can reconnect with the earth and empower myself by learning the basics of local, organic food production.

Imagine working and living and loving amongst this diverse group of humans, from the tiniest babiest to the most wizened elders. Then imagine plucking ripe berries from raspberry bushes in the spring, floating in a pond as the summer sun caresses your face, stargazing on a crisp autumn night, and hiking through a snowy forest you can see from your bedroom window in the winter. This is life at Twin Oaks.

Of course, Twin Oaks might not be right for you. Perhaps you’re interested in community living, but Twin Oaks has too many people, or it’s too rural, or you don’t feel inclined to income-share. If so, there are hundreds of other options within the U.S. alone, including city co-ops, suburban cohousing, ecovillages, and even small groups of primitivists living out in the woods. No matter what you’re looking for--large, small, spiritual, secular, urban, rural, “eco,” egalitarian--you can find an intentional community that matches your needs and values.