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Twin Oaks Intentional Community
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Frequently Asked Questions - All FAQs

FAQs - All FAQs
Founding

Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 by a group of people who were studying psychologist BF Skinner's book about a fictional behaviorist community, called Walden Two. They were so impressed and intrigued by his fictional community that they decided to create a real-life community modeled after it. A supporter leased the land to Twin Oaks for 3 years for $50 with an option to buy at the end of that time if the group was still in existence, which it was and which we did. After a few years, we stopped defining ourselves as a "behaviorist" community, although we still use the labor credit system and the Planner-Manager system of self-government originally described in the book. We have also bought more land since that time, mostly contiguous but also about 100 acres of non-contiguous agricultural land up the road. Our current total acreage is 465 acres.

Walden Two

Twin Oaks was founded in 1967, based on the book Walden Two by BF Skinner. The book described Skinner's vision of what a community would look like if his principles of behaviorism were practiced. The book was the blueprint for the original forming of the community.

The community has changed significantly since we were founded. We no longer identify ourselves as a "behaviorist community", and haven't for a long long time. However, we have kept several of the features from the book, most notably the Planner-Manager decision-making model and the labor-credit work system. Some of our members have read Walden Two, but the majority are not very familiar with it. BF Skinner did visit Twin Oaks twice. When he was here in 1979, his visit was featured on the PBS program "Nova".

A Day in the Life of a Twin Oaker

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.

A Day in the Life of a Visitor

7 AM My alarm wakes me up and I roll out of bed, ready to start the day. The other visitors and I chat as we're getting ready in the Visitor Cabin, Aurora.

7:30 AM I make myself breakfast (toast with homemade bread and an egg from one of the chickens) in the main kitchen. Lunch and dinner are served buffet-style, but there are a handful of smaller kitchens for breakfast and snacking. As I eat, I read a novel I pulled from the public collection of several thousand books—no library card needed.

(Summer-time) 8 AM I head to the main community Garden, a two-minute walk down the hill from my room—not a bad commute. It's a pleasantly cool morning, but I know it'll warm up quickly as we work. I meet the Garden Manager and chat with the rest of the crew until our shift begins and we're instructed on harvesting tomatoes and how to tell exactly when they are ripe enough for picking.

(Winter-time) 8 AM I head to my wood-splitting shift. The community heats most of its buildings with energy-efficient wood furnaces using firewood harvested from their almost 500 acres of forest. I've never done this work before, but the "honcho" (what Twin Oaks calls their shift coordinators) shows me how to use the wood-splitter and what size to split each log. Soon I get into the rhythm of it and have amassed a pile of wood ready to be stacked.

11 AM My shift is over, and I head inside to do some email on one of the public computers in the office. I've promised to give my friends and family "the inside scoop" on life on the commune, and I don't want to disappoint them.

Noon It's lunch time, so I walk up to the main dining hall. Lunch is mostly leftovers, supplemented with a fresh salad and baked potatoes. The community grows greens throughout the winter in the huge greenhouse, and they harvested enough potatoes in the summer and fall to last through the winter. Some members (adults and kids) are practicing their hula-hooping skills on the deck outside after they finish eating, and I end up giving it a try.

1 PM Time for a tofu shift. I head to the Tofu Hut and put on boots, gloves, a hairnet, and an apron, where my job is to weigh blocks of tofu, making sure each one falls within the total weight advertised on the package. All around me other members are using all manner of industrial equipment to grind and cook the soybeans, before curding them, draining out the whey, and pressing the curds into the blocks I will eventually weigh. The whole operation functions like a finely-tuned machine, all set to background music—each person in the Tofu Hut can choose a playlist for a part of the shift.

3:30 PM By mid-afternoon I'm ready for some more relaxing work. Today I've been assigned a shift helping out with some work in the office. It's not too challenging, and even though I'm focussing, I can take it easy while I work.

5 PM I hang out in my room a bit before dinner, reading or 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, which can be fun for meeting people, but getting down-time is important too.

6:00 PM Dinner is served! Tonight it's veggie burgers, with sides of steamed spinach and sweet potato fries. Some of each meal, both veggies and meat, is homegrown. I sit at the "Fun Table" with about ten people. 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 that is being planted, the latest news from Twin Oaks' sister community 8 miles up the road, and trying to work out if people's schedules will allow the belly-dance troupe to meet on the same night as the queer-theory discussion group.

7:30 PM Tonight is Games Night. A bunch of people show up and we end up playing Code Names, Settlers of Catan and plain old Pictionary. One person doesn't play at all but hangs out, knitting a pair of socks. It's a festive atmosphere, though there's no particular occasion; we just like to enjoy each other's company.

9:30 PM I head back 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.

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