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THIS WAS MADE crystal clear at my first orientation meeting, when my visitor liaison handed me a labor sheet. Written on the top right hand corner: Labor Quota: 43.4. As in 43.4 hours. Little did I know at the time that this flimsy piece of paper was to dictate my very existence for five weeks.
I had read on the website that the communards were expected to contribute labor to the farm and been aware that it was called a farm. But for some reason or another, when I saw several “gardening” shifts on my labor sheet the connection didn’t immediately snap into place. I suddenly found myself shoveling compost over rows and rows of lentils. Then I got it. These people actually farm the farm.
Farming wasn’t the only task I was to be assigned as a Twin Oaks visitor. I learned how to make hammocks, mix cement, and use various wood chopping, straitening and de-moisturizing machines.
None of these things were done at my leisure. As a visitor the majority of my labor was assigned for me. They told me when to be where and they were pretty serious about it.
Three of us were assigned a 7AM tofu shift one morning. One of us was five minutes late. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
Visitor periods at Twin Oaks last three weeks. Upon the fourth week of my adventure my name changed from Erin V to Erin G (for guest). I still had a labor sheet, but the assignor was more lenient with my shifts. I never “gardened” again.
Members have the same luxury. There are several shifts that everyone is expected to contribute to, such as tofu and hammock production, but once members find their niche they can often move into more fulfilling work.
Long-term members are not spending 43.4 hours a week on menial labor unless they want to. Given time, a member could fill their labor schedule with various team meetings, have a few community sponsored kids and spend the majority of their time talking to people and playing with children.
That certainly beats “gardening” in my book.
OF COURSE, tastes differ. Some people at Twin Oaks like the gardening shift. Even after they realize it’s really farming. These people, however, do not make up for the new members who would rather be involved in positions that only open up every so often.
Newer members often get stuck with the menial labor — all the work that I was doing. They either burn out and leave or stay until the jobs they really want open up. In this way Twin Oaks survives. They need a constant supply of new people, thus their three-week visitor program. They have 12 a year. Without this program and the new members it generates the commune would surely fail
Twin Oakers recognize this fact and openly discuss it. During the third week visitors are given a new members orientation. Our liaison, Ezra, explained that it had taken years to finally fall into his position as a book indexer. Ezra had wanted the job since the beginning of his membership but the slots had always been full.
I could hear the frustration in his voice, waiting and waiting to be trained and get the position. He explained that for most people it doesn’t take nearly as long. It all depends on what you want to do and when the person currently doing it wants to give it up. Could take a month, could take years. No one is ever fired from a job at Twin Oaks.
DANIEL RECENTLY moved to California with his wife, Ivy, who moved to Twin Oaks at 18. Ivy spent two years as a communard. She met Daniel, and they got married and eventually decided to move on. She will be a freshman at Mills College this fall.
Being a member without being a lifer was a great experience for Ivy. “I think it’s really shaped my life,” she says. “I learned more than I ever thought I would.”
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