Eight days ago, I was packing up my friend’s dirty tent, exhausted and satiated after an incredible weekend in Louisa, Va. Twin Oaks, a rural intentional community in central Virginia, was the site for the 2015 Communities Conference. The plug for the event, according to the website: "If you live or want to live according to the values of cooperation, sustainability, and equality this conference is for you. You’ll get something out of this event whether you’re brand new to communities and cooperatives, or have been living and working in them for decades. The conference focuses on Intentional Communities, including models such as ecovillages, cohousing, and housing cooperatives, and the larger cooperative movement, including all kinds of cooperative and collective organizations."
As a proud member of a brand new intentional community, it felt fitting to find myself back at Twin Oaks, the beginning of my ongoing journey that led to ecovillages in rural Missouri, organic farms in Keezletown, Va., action camps in West Virginia, and ultimately, a burgeoning baby homestead in Hinton, Via.
The communities movement is not new news: From ecovillages to college dorms to co-ops, folks have been experimenting with intentional alternative living for decades, with degrees of success as varied as the participants. The movement has been garnering increasing attention in recent years. Articles featuring Twin Oaks, one of the oldest communities in the U.S., can be found on CNN and ABC. A CNN photo series from August 17 captures some vivid snapshots of the community throughout the 2000s.
The conference drew over one hundred registries, representing close to a dozen communities. There were old-timers who've lived non-conventionally for decades, and kids like myself, who have spent a handful of months in the homesteading, intentional community, co-housing game.
Anarchist collectives from Richmond. Va., faith-based organizations, groups from New York City to Oregon, to homesteaders from the Midwest all participated in the four-day-long event. It was a chance to network, reconnect with old friends, attend workshops, brainstorm, and commune with nature and a fabulous gathering of peoples. I was reminded of why I am living ten miles from my job, and spend my off-days doing things like weeding and building composting toilets out of scrap material.
Tanya, an intern at Twin Oaks writes, "Communal living can be a mode for survival under capitalism. The finances of it are pretty intuitive: you’re sharing resources and labor with a group of people, so you can do more for cheaper.
"Communities have the marvelous potential to become sites of personal and political healing. To build systems that can feed, house, employ, and nurture people is therapeutic work. Having a place where your labor is valued, your needs are met, and where you have friends shouldn’t be as revolutionary as it is."
The fact of the matter is, whether you’re the owner and manager of hundreds of acres of farmland, living in a dorm room, or watering your first potted plants, humans seem to be called to share life together. The Communities Conference highlighted the creative potentiality for doing this. While living in intentional community is a ginormous commitment for a host of reasons, it makes returning back to nature and focusing on DIY solutions much easier.
Additionally, I know my mental health has never been better than when I’m surrounded by a group of loving friends, striving for a simpler, richer lifestyle.
The Fellowship for Intentional Community is a nonprofit that provides a plethora of resources regarding cooperative living, including a directory of intentional communities, a communities magazine, and much more.
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