Wisdom from a great communitarian

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ira Wallace recently.  When I told Ira about the fundraising campaign for the conference site kitchen she was excited and more than happy to help spread the word.

In this video she talks some about what community means to her, why it’s important, and how she came to it.

Images from last year’s conference

Here’s a selection of pics from the 2013 Communities Conference.

2012 Conference in Photos

Take a look at photos from last year’s conference to get an idea of some kinds of connection you can experience next weekend. A new set of 69 photos has been posted at http://www.communitiesconference.org/images/?wppa-album=4&wppa-cover=0&wppa-occur=1

Schedule for the Monday program

C.T. Butler will be facilitating this dynamic program.  Check out the schedule here!

Image by Faruk Soyarat http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/6064

Image by Faruk Soyarat

7 reasons to come to the Communities Conference instead of Burning Man

by Paxus

Tragically for some of us, the Communities Conference and Burning Man both happen over Labor Day weekend. Burning Man is a 50,000 person festival which happens in the middle of the dessert in Nevada and is transformational for many of its participants. Here is a comic review of why you should choose the Communities Conference instead.

1) You dont want Playa dust in everything you own for the next month. Try as everyone does, the incredibly fine desert sand follows BM participants home and gets into everything they own.

2) It turns out sleep is important to you. The party goes on 24/7 in Nevada, and the blaring techno music can be heard across the entire temporary city.

3) You can’t get tickets to Burning Man. The event is sold out, and it is extremely hard to get tickets. The Communities Conference still has plenty of spaces and you can register here.

4) You can actually afford to go to the Communities Conference. Registration is still a unusually reasonable $90 – $130 for camping out. Burning Man is $400 for the ticket alone, and easily more than $1000 to get there and be equipped]

5) You don’t need to figure out a complicated costume to come to the Communities Conference, though feel free to bring one if you want!

dont forget your batteries

dont forget your batteries








6) This month you are more interested in building sustainable collective connections than energy intensive art expressions.

7) If you have seen one massive pyrotechnic explosion demonstration you have seen them all.

pass the matches

pass the matches

New Registration Option – New Economics Monday Program

If you can’t come for the whole weekend you can now register to come just for the New Economics Symposium on Monday, September 2nd!  $40 gets you access to the day’s program as well as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.



Local currencies, barter networks, Time Banks, co-operative businesses: the New Economy has been around for a long time.  With peak oil, climate change, and casino capitalism looming large, more and more people are seeking and creating a system based on cooperation and sustainability, people before profits, social justice and equality.

Join presenters Lyle Estill, Carol Peppe Hewitt, Solidarity Piedmont, the Baltimore Free Farm, Casa Alma and others for the Monday program of the Communities Conference at Twin Oaks Community.  It will be a dynamic and high powered day exploring the big picture of new economics, stories from the front lines, and topics such as financing and development, mapping and networking, and neighborhood integration.

Register here, either for the whole weekend or just for the New Economics Monday program.

Urban Homesteading or Transparency Tools? YOU decide!

Howdy folks!  We here at conference-organizing central are putting the final touches on our awesome workshop lineup.  Its getting quite tight and we will need to make some tough decisions.  Since this conference is for YOU, we thought we’d seek your input as we finalize the workshops.

[polldaddy poll=”7274364″]

So here the deal.  Urban Homesteading Panel, or Transparency Tools Workshop?  There’s a bit more info about each below, and a poll for you to weigh in.  Thanks so much for your help!


Urban Homesteading An all-star panel of local and non-local folks who are on the front-lines of this exciting movement!  Topics may include: urban gardening, raising chickens (meat or eggs), tapping into waste streams, seed starting, fall gardening, soap making, canning and putting food by, etc.

Transparency Tools Build on the Friday night teaser and add to your toolbox of relationship-building skills.  How do you build and strengthen relationships in a community context, or amongst a group of people who are interested in creating a new community?We will give you the tools and some first-hand experience of how to use them.



4 Kinds of Participants and the Questions to Ask Them

by Paxus Calta

Generally speaking there are four different types of people who go to the communities conference:

  1. Communards (who are likely seeking new members for their communities),
  2. Prospective community members (looking for places they might live)
  3. People starting new communities
  4. People are are curious about communities (but are stable where they are)

Communards:  Perhaps 1/3 of the people who come to the communities conference are already members of formed communities.  Last year 27 communities were represented at this event, mostly located in the North Eastern portion of the US with a smattering of other locations including Costa Rica, California and Germany.  The communards often come to recruit for their community and talk shop with communards from other communities.  The first place you will likely see communards (who you dont already know) is the Meet the Community gathering on Saturday morning.  Where they will present about their home in 90 seconds.  If you are talking to people who are in community, regardless of your status, the two most useful questions you can ask are:

  1. What is great about your community that causes you to stay there
  2. What needs changing in your community and what is your strategy for change

These questions will not only give you insight into this specific community, but they will help you to understand how communities work and fail and what type of things bring satisfaction and trouble to community living.  The other thing about these questions is that everyone who has lived in community for longer than a couple of months usually has well thought out answers to them.  These questions allow you to jump in and start a deep conversation with people who are living experts in this lifestyle.

Communards may not always be this easy to spot.

Prospective Community Members:  Almost half of the people attending last years conference were individuals or families who were either looking to move from the community that they were in to a new one, or were looking to leave mainstream life for the more holistic environment of community living.  Most of these people are looking for something in the next year, but i talked with more than one “sleeper” who was interested in this lifestyle, intended to move to community, but needed to finish school, or have kids graduate or some other life transition which was going to take more than a year.

When in doubt, look for violens

There are a whole series of questions you might ask people who are interested in moving to community:

  • Are you looking for something spiritual or secular (most are secular at our event)?
  • Are you looking for something rural or urban?
  • Are you looking for incomes sharing? or Co-housing? or a land trust or some other type of model?
  • What are your dietary requirements (if people are going to eat together)?
  • Have you lived in community before?

There are many more questions you could ask, but these are strong ice breakers.

Founders:  The smallest important group of participants to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference are the people who come with the intention of starting a new community.  Most broadly speaking these folks come in two flavors, those who have land and those who do not.  Founders who already have land selected or (better) purchased or (even better) developed with some housing on it, are quite a lot farther along than the people who are still talking about forming community and dont quite know where yet.  Pioneers of the communities movement are doing some of the most important work.  It is also work that is often fraught with set backs and frustration.  A huge fraction of community pioneers abandon their projects before they even come close to moving onto the land.

Pioneers may not be this obvious

Characteristics to seek in a likely successful founder are: tenacity, creativity, good social skills, access to resources and mechanical/construction skills.  Ideally they would have several of these, and if they dont they have other people in their founding team who do.  Dont be afraid to ask, these questions are bonding, even when the answers are not as fully fleshed out as the pioneer might like.

Community Curious:  Perhaps 1/4 of the attendees are not in a situation where they can move to community anytime soon, but they enjoy community life, they may be a satellite to an existing community where they have some of their social life.  They might be hangers on from the recent Twin Oaks Womens Gathering, itself often a life transforming event.

Are you considering urban living?

Depending on which of these groups you fall into, you are encouraged to think of your own answers to these questions.  Thoughtful responses show that you are connected to the importance of these issues and how they can influence your future paths.

Solidarity/New Economics Symposium

These seedlings will be planted in the garden soon!

The Monday program is starting to take shape!  This is going to be a high powered and dynamic day covering a wide range of topics about Solidarity/New Economics. We’ve got a range of presenters confirmed that we’re very excited about.  We’ll get to hear stories from the front lines by groups including The Baltimore Free Farm: a horizontally organized collective whose mission is to “create ecologically sound alternatives by combining the best of age-old and modern technologies,” in addition to promoting urban agriculture, creating community sanctuaries, and using reclaimed materials.  “By providing entertainment, educational opportunities, and ethically produced food to local residents, [they] hope to instill a sense of pride in one’s community and its ability to sustain itself.”

Casa Alma is the Charlottesville Catholic Worker Community and sustainable living center. They have 3 houses, including two hospitality houses for folks in need, as well as a robustly permacultured yard with vegetable gardens, fruit trees, bees chickens and goats.  They are committed to living sustainably, supporting their community, and standing for social justice.  They are supported by community donations.

Community Autonomy_1The Midden is the newest FEC community!  Here’s what they say about themselves:  “We call our house The Midden because we make use of the artifacts (groceries, furniture, shoes) thrown away or overlooked by mainstream society. And all the while, we’re using this stuff to build more whole and meaningful systems to provide for ourselves.  We also love to care for each other, share our skills and ideas, and do what we can to confront systems of oppression that bring us all down. We’re eco-Community Autonomy_1activists, prison abolitionists, housing justice advocates, writers and theatre artists, adventurous human beings and more.”

We’ll get a regional perspective from Solidarity Piedmont, who are doing some interesting online mapping of the new economy in their region. They are focussed on building the Solidarity economy both by transforming current economic institutions and by growing alternatives to them.   We’ll also have a presentation by Lyle Estill, author of several books and co-founder of several businesses, who will help give us the big picture. Lyle is an environmentalist, activist and social entrepreneur.SmallStories-books


The program will be a mix of presentations, panel discussions and knowledge cafe-style interactions by presenters and participants alike.  While we will have some straight ahead presentations we also want to draw out the wide range of wisdom and experience that we know many of the participants will bring.



Workshop Lineup

DSC_0001Our lineup of workshops is shaping up to be a pretty exciting range of offerings this year.  Here are some titles to intrigue you.  Click on the links to see the descriptions and presenter bios:


How the Five Principles of Sharing Housing Leads to Happy Housemates and Connected Communities  By Annamarie Pluhar

Online Storytelling: How to Build Your Community or Cause with Modern Tools  By Janel Healy,  Online Communications Project Manager at Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in California

Zones of Intimacy Understanding Personal and Group Social Dynamics in a Permaculture Context   By Lee Walker Warren, Co-founder and Co-director of the School of Integrated Living at Earthaven Ecovillage in NC

Permaculture in Community  By Kimchi Rylander of Earthaven Ecovillage

Membership: questions you should have asked before joining  By Laird Schaub, Sandhill Farm founder

coverintactCommunity is the Ecological Solution  By Alexis Zeigler, Living Energy Farm founder

Starting an Intentional Community  By Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig

Embodied Intimacy for the Human Animal  By Elena Zubulake and Victor Warring