Louisa commune flourishes for 43 years

By Curt Autry - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

LOUISA, VA (WWBT) – About 50 miles west of Richmond, right off Interstate-64 in Louisa County, "Twin Oaks" not only survives, but flourishes - thanks in part to an infusion of young blood, dedicated to the principles of the past with a practical eye to the future.

It started with the rental of an old, weather-beaten farmhouse in the hills of Louisa County. The vision - a self-sustaining, eco-friendly utopian village where joy & free love reign - and jealousy, consumerism, and wastefulness are taboo.

In 1967, at the height of Vietnam, and the civil rights movement - hippies, drifters, and the disenfranchised came by the dozen to work the farm, weave hammocks, and swim naked in the farm pond.

43 years later some things haven't changed. People still skinny dip at the swimming hole. They still grow most of their own food and the idealism of the 60's remains.

"Where I see suffering, where I see gross inefficiencies, in the system, I want to go out there and get involved in it," said resident G-Paul.

The 100 plus residents still live dormitory style. There is a sense of sexual freedom here...everyone has their own, separate room - even husbands & wives. They eat, sleep, shower & recreate communally in what has become the longest - continuously operating egalitarian commune in the country.

"This is a place where people can come and raise families and their kids are safe. Where they can eat food they helped grow, that doesn't have pesticides. Where they can live in a circumstance where they're sharing their material resources with other people who they like and care about - and therefore don't have to have every single individual thing themselves," said Paxus, resident.

This teenage girl - we'll call "Marie" breaks with tradition. At just 19, she is one of the managers of the tofu factory. Valedictorian of her graduating class at 17 - Marie was bound for Georgetown but got sidetracked. Since her arrival, tofu production has doubled. Proprietary. On a regular basis - she drives into Richmond, where Marie has secured some big contracts with restaurants - even grocery chains, like Whole Foods - where they sell the commune's organic tofu "Tempe" and soy sausage. This new generation at Twin Oaks has embraced capitalism in a way their hippie brethren of the past would have held in contempt.

"It's like a game or a race, how fast can you go, the best tofu - make the best tofu faster, make it more efficiently - make it extra firm. I sort of liked it, it became a sport, almost," she said.

Across the complex there is a rival business - hammock weaving. Twin Oaks is the 4th largest hammock manufacturer in the country and the reason they can compete is the ridiculously low cost of labor. Everybody, managers to the entry level weaver, earns just $86 a month. Spending money, they call it. But despite the 3rd world wage - almost nobody talks about leaving.

"I have a friend in the silicon valley who keeps asking if I'm done with the commune yet, and ready to come out and make some real money.  And I keep telling him, I'm enjoying it too much," said Paxus.

"This isn't a phase for you? No, if it were a phase I think I would have gone to school after one year of being here. I can see myself here for at least two more years before I start thinking about college seriously," said Marie.

And when it comes to being eco-friendly -Twin Oaks generates 75 percent of its own electricity, heats their buildings with firewood, and over-all, their collective carbon footprint is about 80-percent less, compared to average Americans.

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