Communal Living: Twin Oaks and Little Acorn

Southern Exposure Seed Exhchange

Farming the land
Farming the land

This week in the mail, I received my annual copy of “Southern Exposure“.
Snow is forecasted. Super Bowl festivities are underway and I am remembering a time 2 very hot summers ago. I met a woman who was weaving hammocks at the Kutztown Folk Festival. While I was photographing her art, I was curious about her background. She related that she lived at Twin Oaks Intentional Community (modern name for a commune) in rural Louisa County, Virginia. I was intrigued – what would make people choose this lifestyle? After several phone calls back and forth, Paxus Calta (Earl Schuyler Flansburg) invited us into this lifestyle. I travelled down with my friend Ann Lauder who is an excellent writer. I would photograph and she would tell the story.

Twin Oaks is referred to by the 100 residents as an ecovillage and intentional community. It was started in 1967 by psychology students studying “Walden Two”. Homes can have up to 26 members and possessions are shared to promote the greater good of the society. Clothes, underwear and shoes can be found in “Commy Clothes”. There was definitely a musty odor but certainly variety! Clothing can also be optional. Each member, whether married or not, has their own room. Bathrooms are open to all, locking doors is frowned upon. Unconventional and alternative lifestyles are as readily supported as conventional lifestyles. This is not a religious community and all denominations are welcomed.

Home at Twin Oaks
Home at Twin Oaks
Commy Clothes
Commy Clothes

Car Sharing

Weekly Work Chart

There is car sharing and chore sharing, all very organized. Each member is asked to give 42 hours of service each week. A few examples are: washing dishes, child care, gardening or working in one of the three multi-million dollar companies the community owns. Twin Oaks sells hammocks, tofu, and heirloom seeds. For the work, a monthly stipend of $80 is provided. Residents are provided with all the basic necessities of food, shelter, health care, child care and education. Decisions must be made by the entire community, even as far as deciding if someone can get pregnant and bring a child into the community.

Waste from Tofu


Hammocks For Sale

Paxus and the Hammocks

Organic Farming

Heirloom Tomato
Heirloom Tomato
Seed Collecting
Seed Collecting

Southern Exposure Seeds

As much as possible is recycled. There are areas that appear to be filled with junk, but the items are just waiting for that creative touch. Even fecal matter is recycled into green energy. More and more, members are trying to live off of the grid and rely on solar energy. The majority of what is eaten is grown or raised right there. Cows, chickens and gardens supply members with a variety of food.


Human Waste Recycled

Breakfast and Dinner

Some members left Twin Oaks and began “Little Acorn”. It has fewer members and decisions are made by the majority rather than the entire body. The focus of this community is on harvesting heirloom seeds for their “Southern Exposure” company. Gardens are totally organic and they make sure that the quality of the soil is preserved with absolutely no genetic engineering.

Grow It to Eat It

What are the positives of this lifestyle choice? In this economy, people do not have to worry about bills, shelter/food and loneliness. There is individual freedom in choosing how to spend time and what to work on. Residents can take pride in decreasing their carbon footprint. The negatives expressed had to deal with the lack of funds limiting the freedom to travel and the difficulties which can arise when relationships do not work out in such close quarters. While television is not allowed, access to the internet is. New members are now coming with lap tops and spending more time on their own rather than in community as it was before this technology arrival. While older members have been there for decades, younger members seem to stay only a few years and move on. Some said they came to learn entrepreneurial skills with the hope of leaving to start their own organic farms or small businesses.

We met a son of a former CIA agent, a former buddhist monk, teachers, artists, true hippies, political activists and those so very concerned about what is happening to our environment. In the rural hills of Louisa, Virginia one may definitely come across that “road less travelled”.

My Work and My Hope


A Mother and Her Child







The Past and Present


Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Silk Weavers


John Denver made famous the term, “Rocky Mountain High” (little did he know how high Colorado will be starting today!) but he also created another song which I recently heard and the words keep repeating in my mind as I stand at this threshold of a new beginning with hopes for a life well lived.

“There are children raised in sorrow on a scorched and barren plain

There are children raised beneath the golden sun

There are children of the water
And children of the sand
And they cry out through the universe
Their voices raised as one

I want to live I want to grow
I want to see I want to know
I want to share what I can give
I want to be I want to live

Have you gazed out on the ocean
Seen the breaching of a whale?
Have you watched the dolphins frolic in the foam?
Have you heard the song the humpback hears five hundred miles away
Telling tales of ancient history of passages and home?

For the worker and the warrior the lover and the liar
For the native and the wanderer in kind
For the maker and the user and the mother and her son
I am looking for my family and all of you are mine

We are standing all together
Face to face and arm in arm
We are standing on the threshold of a dream
No more hunger no more killing
No more wasting life away
It is simply an idea
And I know it’s time has come

I want to live I want to grow
I want to see I want to know
I want to share what I can give
I want to be I want to live”

This past week did not take me to far off lands.  I was local with a camera in hand.  I was invited in to capture the tender moments of a family, a wonderfully happy  engaged couple, a 99 year old mother and her daughter keeping memories alive and getting her mom to enjoy an afternoon. Then, I was with a courageous, generous woman who is a breast cancer surviver raising two beautiful daughters.  At the same time all of this was going on, I was working on a story about silk weaving in Cambodia and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalogue arrived from those  who live on a commune in Virginia and are dedicated to saving the past for the future.  Whether far or near, all so unique and yet we are all seeking the same …health, happiness and prosperity. So many are voicing their longing for world peace, but I believe it comes one person at a time…one person who opens and tries to understand another, one person who reaches out, one person who looks within and decides not to take themselves too seriously and try to find the humor in the midst of humanity. As a photographer, it would be my hope that my visual images and storytelling will act as a path, a bridge bringing one person together with another, dispelling those boundaries and borders which serve to negatively separate us.

A friend sent me a wish for 2014 that I think we all share…”May your eyes continue to see beautiful and significant things, and your soul dance to good music!”

Happy New Year everyone!