May 27-30, 2013
Acorn Community is located about an hour outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, an impressive college town similar to Madison, WI. (Cool side note about Charlottesville – their one room public bathrooms are unisex! No waiting in line when the bathroom is for one person – genius!) 🙂
My Acorn first impressions: the land was flat, there were a variety of historic buildings on the property, and it was hot. An even more prominent component to our first impression was the sound…the cicadas were in mating season, an occurrence that happens for only 2-3 weeks every 17 years (this cycle varies depending on the region and type of cicadas.) For the rest of the time they live underground. The paths were littered with little holes and the call was a loud and persistent buzzing. I felt lucky to be at the right place at the right time to witness this phase of their cycle. This site describes the whole cycle: http://bugs.osu.edu/~bugdoc/PerioCicada/PeriCicadaBehav.htm
Acorn is unique in a lot of ways. It is a commune, which means it is an egalitarian income sharing community. The community was founded 20 years ago by former members of Twin Oaks, a 40-year old commune down the street in Louisa, VA. From what we’ve heard, Twin Oaks has a lot of structure and organization; Acorn does not. Acorn is currently comprised of ~30 residents who share housing and all work, in some way or another, for the community’s business: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com/), a well known and successful heirloom seed saving and selling company. In exchange for their work at the business (which is upstairs in the community building), residents get room and board and a small stipend (~$75/month).
When Adrian and I arrived, we only had a few days to stay there. They have a formal three week Visitor Program, but Adrian and I opted not to commit to that much time there. Since we were only there a few days, there was no cost to stay nor to eat their food, and they told us we were not required to work. However, we wanted to work to repay the generosity and to get to know the people, business and community better. Adrian worked in the garden and I helped out with preparing seed orders for mailing. I particularly liked my work gathering seed packages since that’s the only air conditioned room on the property (and it was sweltering outside).
As I mentioned, there isn’t a lot of hierarchy within the community. No one is the kitchen manager, farm manager, etc. Of course, this occasionally leads to some disorganization. But for the most part, I was very impressed by the level of self determination and personal responsibility people exhibited. Stuff got done without bosses or much discussion. I wish we could have been there for a community meeting to see if that’s where the bulk of the ‘hard stuff’ comes up. We’ll be back in the area when we do the Twin Oaks three week Visitor Program July 12 – August 1, so there’s a chance we’ll be able to attend one of their meetings then.
Overall, I was surprised by the degree to which I developed an affection for the community. My personal first impression was that people were busy, on their own paths, with little interaction and cooperation. However, as I spent more time there, I actually felt I could both understand that way of being and also find unexpected opportunities to connect. This may not be the place we end up, but I appreciate the experience we had there and certainly support this ‘alternative’ way of living and working.