Minimalists Today: Twin Oaks Intentional Community

Twin Oaks

harmony residence, twin oaks © mele avery, used under Creative Commons license

“Just outside of Richmond, Virginia, down a long and winding road shaded by dense greenery exists a world entirely different than the one that you and I inhabit. The world of Twin Oaks.”

– fp Julie, Egalitarianism And Tofu At Twin Oaks Intentional Community

Twin Oaks is an intentional community on about 450 acres in rural central Virginia. The community, which began in 1967, was originally based on the utopia described in Walden Two, the 1948 novel by behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Since then, other influences have shaped the community’s character as well.

The Twin Oaks community is self-supporting economically, isn’t centered around a particular religion or guru, and describes itself as a resource-sharing eco-village.

Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money, which costs the community about $5,000 per member per year. In exchange, each member works 42 hours a week in the community’s business and domestic areas.

Less than half of the work of Twin Oaks members goes into business ventures, including making hammocks and tofu for sale, indexing books and growing seeds. Other work hours involve domestic activities, like milking cows, gardening, cooking, and childcare.

“Arriving at the Twin Oaks compound inspires instant calm.”

– Beth Greenfield

As a community, Twin Oaks values cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. Twin Oaks is a member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, which is an organization made up of communities that share those values.

Its Planner-Manager system of self-government comes from Walden Two. Three rotating “planners” are responsible for deciding issues that affect the community as a whole through a lengthy consultation process.

They review Twin Oak’s bylaws and policies and ask for community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, and talking with members. Members can overturn their decisions by a majority vote.

“Managers” head up specific aspects of community functioning. For example, the garden manager makes decisions like when to start harvesting tomatoes, and the holiday manager chooses treats to serve at celebratory dinners.

The community has seven residences. Each member has a private bedroom. Most other spaces are communal, like the large dining hall, outdoor sauna, woodworking shop and music room.

Members receive a small allowance for discretionary purchases like chocolate, cigarettes and alcohol.

Interested in Joining Twin Oaks?

Around 90 adults and 15 children live at Twin Oaks, and this fills the community to capacity. There’s a wait list for new members.

Potential members must visit for three weeks before being considered for provisional membership, during which time, you must live as much like a member as possible, including meeting the work quota. Then, you must spend a minimum of one month away from Twin Oaks while the community decides whether to accept you and you decide whether you want to join.

If you join Twin Oaks, you can keep your pre-existing assets, but, with few exceptions, you can’t use, spend, sell, exchange, or earn income on pre-existing assets while you’re a member of the community. One of the exceptions is for use of stuff that fits in your room, like clothes, bedding and books.

TVs aren’t allowed at Twin Oaks, but most members choose to stay connected to the “outside world.” Personal computers are okay (several are available for shared use). The community shares a T1 Internet connection as well.

Just interested in a quick tour? Twin Oaks offers three-hour tours almost every Saturday afternoon from March through October and most alternating Saturdays from November through February.

4 thoughts on “Minimalists Today: Twin Oaks Intentional Community

  1. I would love to visit but I don’t handle rules all that well so wouldn’t probably not be invited to return. 🙂 I had read about Twin Oaks a while back but got the impression that Skinner felt this was a failed project that didn’t live up to his dreams. Did you come across in your reading what Skinner thought of the project?

    • I’m with you on the rule-following 🙂

      I didn’t see anything about how Skinner felt about the project, and a quick Internet search didn’t turn up the answer. Perhaps he considered it a failure because they ended up making changes to his plan instead of continuing to fully follow it.

  2. Hi Christy, Such an interesting post! I’m curious about one thing — are there families living there?
    Wishing you well, Carol

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