Off the grid: Striving for a utopia

Residents of an egalitarian community in Virginia share resources, vision for 'simpler life'

(Source: WRIC)

LOUISA COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Imagine a society where you can work when you want to work and pick the job you want to perform. That’s the type of lifestyle the people who live in an egalitarian community in Louisa County named Twin Oaks enjoy.

Twin Oaks is a commune, and the people who live there share their resources. But they caution those who refer to them as ‘hippies.’

“We have hippies here, people who identify themselves as hippies but a lot of people don’t,” said Twin Oaks resident Tom Freeman. “People are here for a lot of different reasons. Some people are here because they feel there’s an opportunity for personal growth, they can develop spirituality because they have a lot of freedom. It’s not all about doing crazy hippy stuff, you know wearing your hair long, wearing flowing skirts and dancing to the Grateful Dead, it’s not like that all.”

Twin Oaks members said their community, which was started nearly 50 years ago, is one of the oldest and largest secular communities in the nation. Keenan Dakota joined the community in 1983.

“The reason I came here was for ideology, I wanted a simpler life,” she said. “The things that kept me here are different, I wanted to raise my kids, I like the work with my hands, I like to build things, I think that’s true for a lot of people who live here.”

The community was founded on the beliefs and works of renowned psychologist and behaviorist B.F. Skinner. Residents believe in sharing their income, and by living together, they believe they consume less. They grow most of their food and they have livestock for meat and dairy. They share a fleet of 13 cars, most of which are hybrid vehicles. The commune also has seven houses, and even a hospice. Residents are literally born on the property with the assistance of a mid-wife and residents have actually died on the premises, which also has a cemetery.

(Source: WRIC)
(Source: WRIC)

Twin Oaks initially started with only a few acres, but now the community members own nearly 500 acres of land. Members were able to buy land build from selling hammocks to Pier 1 Imports for about 30-years. However, about a decade ago the popular retailer stopped selling the hammocks. Fortunately for the community, members saved enough money to continue to exist. They continue to sell hammocks through other venues, but they also grow, package and sell tofu to various stores.

“So people call us hippies!” Freeman exclaimed. “I say, ‘wait a minute, we run very successful businesses and big name players in the industries and make millions of dollars.’”

People in the community take on various jobs and they work on an honor system basis. Residents are expected to work around 40 hours a week. With the various businesses the community owns, each adult is taxed about seven thousand dollars a year, and that money earned is put into a pot to take care of all of the needs of the residents, everything from food, medical and even dental.

So, since the residents live in a commune, are they communists?

“When you think of communist, you think of places like the Soviet Union and stuff that’s kind of oppressive, that’s the opposite of what we are,” Freeman stressed.

Right now, more than 90 adults live in Twin Oaks as well as 15 children. There is a waiting list to get in and potential members must intern or stay on the property for three weeks as well pass a series of interviews to make sure the future tenant can get along with others.

The popularity of the community has grown and there are two other communes in Louisa County, Acorn and Living Energy Farms.

Twin Oaks members stress they are just like everyone else.

“We earn our money we pay our taxes, we just want to live our lives,” Freeman said.

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