Transparency Tools–Conference Kick-off!

I think that there are two extreme philosophies of community building. The first is the Field of Dreams Model: if you build it (buildings, infrastructure, gardens) they (community members) will come. The second is the Take Care of the Relationships Model. The relationships between the people building the community are the most important thing, and the strength of the community depends on the strength of these relationships and their ability to successfully work through conflicts. If the relationships are strong, any other problem is manageable by the group. This is of course an incredibly reductivist view of community and naturally both elements are crucial to successful community building. But I think that the elements of the Relationships Model tends to get overlooked more frequently than the elements of the Field of Dreams Model. People get excited about a shared vision and shared values, and in all the excitement this vital piece can get overlooked; often with detrimental results down the line.

ListeningSo 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? That’s what the Conference’s Friday night teaser will start diving into. We will give you first-hand experience of these tools, and start building our little weekend Communities Conference Community right off the bat. There will also be an entire workshop block dedicated to this topic, and likely some Open Space options as well. To get your juices flowing, here are some examples of relationship building tools for a community context.

  1. Check-ins: Get present! This is a chance to share whatever is up for you in the moment; physically, mentally, emotionally.
  1. “If you really knew me….” This is just what it sounds like. A go around (or series of go arounds) where people complete the sentence “If you really knew me, you would know….” and then share whatever you want. This can range from the most mundane: “I love chocolate chip cookies but I hate oatmeal raisen cookies!” or “I always floss,” to broader things about your life “I’ve never lived in the same place for more than 2 years” “I’ve been married 4 times,” and even something you’ve always dreamed of doing “I’ve always wanted to ride a camel through the desert” or “Someday I’ll join a Bulgarian women’s choral group.” And it can be something deeply personal or hard to share. This game quickly puts the group at a deeper level of connection; suddenly you know all sorts of things about each other that normally can take months or even years to reveal in a “normal” relationship.Faces divine
  1. Hot/Love Seat: Now that you have heard lots of interesting tidbits about each other, this game allows you to go deeper and follow your curiosities. Whoever is on the hot/love seat is asked questions one at a time by everyone else for a set period of time. The focus person can pass on any question, and can answer the questions to whatever extent they feel comfortable. Each person gets a turn on the Hot Seat.

 In the end, these games help you get authentic, vulnerable, and connected way faster than you ever thought possible! If you want to read more about these kinds of games and transparency tools in general, check out this awesome blog post.  (The author attended a Transparency Tools workshop given at the recent Loud Love Conference near Twin Oaks last month).

We’re excited to start connecting with YOU at the Friday night Conference kick-off!


Communities Conference Inspirations

Thanks Nexus (ex-Twin Oaker) for creating this video for us!

5 ways to get the most out of the Communities Conference

by Paxus

1. Reconsider your living situation.  If you let it, the Communities Conference can really shake you up.  Daring people who are trying new or untested lifestyles are presenting or in attendance.  Step outside your comfort zone a bit and start from the assumption that you could live somewhere else, or with other people and see what this event has to offer and demonstrate.  Let go of the assumption that your next year has to look like your last year and go back to your own personal values.  What do you really care about?  How could this be better experienced in your daily living situation?

2. Chat with a rock star.  There are a bunch of inspiring personalities at the Communities Conference and they are more accessible in this relaxed 3 day event than they are at most times in their busy lives.  Seek out the people who say something that excited you and ask to have lunch or a more private chat with them.  If this is your first time attending, read the entire set of workshop descriptions upon arrival and find out which presenters sound like they are doing stuff you are excited about and then get any of the event organizers to point that person out to you.  This conversation might just change your life.

3. Fall in love with someone new.  I’m not just talking about romantic love. Most participants of the Communities Conference come with the intention of stepping out of their regular lives at least a little bit.  We arrive open to new experiences and people who we might not consider dancing with in our more mundane day to day life.  The conference also throws people together in various small groups in workshops, or child care shifts, or mealtime chats.  Dare to be open to someone new, introduce yourself, dont be afraid to share your thoughts, show up.

4. Engage deeply in the workshops.  There are too many good choices at this event, but dont let that stop you.  Figure out which workshops are going to make the most sense to you and figure it out early.  If you are unsure, go check in with the people who are presenting and figure out if they have things to offer you.

5.  Give a workshop in open space.  So you have never given a workshop before?  Time to give up the idea that you can’t.  Start by thinking about the thing you care most about in the world, then think about what it is that might make other people interested in it.  One of the easiest ways to give a workshop is to recognize that it is not a lecture.  The wisdom is in the room, not just in your head.  So think of discussion questions, let other people offer their truth, often they will hit the most important points, then you can just bat clean up and add the details which make it a bit richer.  Keep the conversation moving, watch for the attention of your participants.  Ask questions of people who seem engaged and curious. It is time to share what you are passionate about


Another Neighborhood Is Possible

dsni logoMy mission to seek out interesting examples of innovative community building recently brought me to Boston where I was fortunate to be given a tour of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. Wow!

By 1984 over 20% of properties in the Dudley Neighborhood triangle were abandoned.   Many had been burned by their owners for insurance money, and many had become trash dumps.  The neighborhood had also suffered from divestment, and redlining. DSNI was created to empower the diverse residents of the neighborhood to take control of redevelopment so that it served the people and not the interests of developers.

dsni property map

A key success was when the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved Dudley Neighbors Inc. (DNI) the power of eminent domain.  In situations where there was arson, neglect, or back-taxes owed, DNI could go to property owner, offer to buy the property, and if they didn’t accept they could simply take it from them.  All but one property owner took the money.  Now, over 60 acres in the area is part of a Community Land Trust, and over 200 affordable housing units have been built, including 78 units organized under two Cooperatives.  DSNI and DNI have also created about 3 acres of garden space and a massive green house, a playground, and about 5000 sq ft of commercial development.

Design window dsni

Neighbors using the Dudley Design Window, a transparent dry-erase board, to envision possibilities for a large city-owned piece of property that will be developed according to neighborhood guidelines and given to the Dudley Neighbors Inc. From the DSNI website

But they count their most important achievement as that of organizing and empowering the residents of the neighborhood.  From their website, “Partly through its diverse, 34 seat Board of Directors including 16 residents from each of the 4 major ethnic groups (African-American, Latino, Cape Verdean, White) plus 2 additional Board-appointed residents, 3 youth, 7 nonprofit agencies, 2 churches, 2 businesses, and 2 CDCs, Dudley residents and its community partners develop strategies that will ensure that local residents are the primary beneficiaries of the community economic growth, and that human development and environmental issues are addressed.”

Walking around the neighborhood with my guide, Bayoan, who’s lived in the area his whole life, I couldn’t help thinking, this is what everyone wants!  This is the kind of community that Intentional Communities are trying to recreate, but here it’s managed to re-emerge from the wreckage of urban decline, and done in a way that honors the existing residents and relationships and culture, and keeps it financially accessible.

It’s not like this hasn’t been tried in countless other places.  Why has it worked so spectacularly here?  That’s not an easy question to answer, but you can bet people will be trying to tease out the lessons learned for years to come.  Check out the documentaries Holding Ground and Gaining Ground featuring the initial and ongoing successes of this remarkable neighborhood.

With any luck we’ll get someone from DSNI down to the conference to tell their story, and at the very least we’ll be screening the documentaries.


Early Bird Discount extended – New workshops added

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We’re extending the Early Bird discount.  Prices will now go up on June 30th.  The jump will be about $15 per night/option.  Basically, if you’re staying Friday and Saturday nights the rate will go up $15, and then add $15 more for Sunday and Monday nights each.  But you’ve got more time to take advantage of the lower price!


We’ve got two more confirmed workshops for ya!  Annamarie Pluhar, author of Sharing Housing will give us a workshop on the Principles of Happy Housemating.  Also Twin Oaks’ own Paxus and Roberto will lead a workshop on Transparency Tools.

Other workshops in the works are Urban Homesteading, Activism and Community, andFossil Fuel Free Living.

Rates go up on June 30!!

The last day for our Early Bird Discount will be June 30th, so if you know you’re coming you should register by then!

Current rates can be found here.  Basic rates for staying Friday and Saturday nights are $75 for camping, $155 for the Sophia House retreat center, and $175 for the Aurora Visitor Cabin.

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This is how you may look if you miss the Early Bird Discount.

Rates will increase by $15 on June 1st! That’s $15 more Friday and Saturday nights.  The additional fees for staying additional nights will also go up by $15 each.

Rates will go up again 1 week before the event.

Up-coming Likeminded Events

The Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy is in July!

Held in Philadelphia, July 26 – 28, their theme this year is, “Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities” – Democratic Community Economic Development Through Worker Ownership.

“We have a voice in our own communities’ economic development through democratic workplaces!  Democratic workplaces – such as worker-owned cooperatives – are growing in many ways as a viable alternative to a society that lacks meaningful humanizing jobs and democracy in everyday life.”

And one more event, up in Vermont this June!

Connecting Community Visions

June 15th at Wheelock Mountain Farm in Wheelock, Vermont

A gathering to explore politically and socially focused intentional housing communities.  Come join us for a day of workshops and storytelling.  Come share your ideas and skills to make us all stronger. Everyone invited to come early on Friday night June 14th for informal storytelling, potluck dinner, networking and socializing.  There are several indoor places to sleep and lots of space for camping. An additional donation of $10-$15 and a head’s up to is requested of people staying Friday night.

Planned workshops for Saturday June 15th include: Developing a Language of Interdependence, Exploring Various Ownership Structures for Intentional Housing Communities, Educational and Child Rearing Practices in Intentional Communities.  If you have an idea for another conversation or workshop, please let us know.  Childcare available, please RSVP and let us know if you will be coming with kids.  Morning snacks and dinner provided, potluck lunch. Requested donation for the day of $10/person.

For more information see: or email:

Wheelock Mountain Farm exists to create fundamental social change through education and non-violent action.  As a non-profit we create and host experiences that empower people to make change in their lives and to develop democratic leadership within their communities.  Located on 600 gorgeous acres of pasture and woodland, we are committed to preserve and protect the ecological integrity of the land and to share its richness with the larger community.

Call for Workshop Proposals

Help us put on an amazing conference!  Got a great idea for a workshop to present?  Send us a proposal.

We are looking for dynamic presenters who can offer interactive and/or engaging workshops.  The focus of the event is on intentional communities, but we also have workshops on other forms of cooperative living and working, as well as other alternative lifestyle topics.  There is of course limited space in our schedule of workshops, so if you’re proposal is not selected you can also present it in our Open Space sessions on Sunday.

Resource-sharing panel discussion

Workshop blocks are usually 1.5 or 2 hrs.  The conference site is rustic and mostly outdoors. There is limited electrical access; presentations requiring projectors or other electrical presentation tools can be accommodated if requested in advance.

Presenters are encouraged to participate in the whole weekend.  Camping is the standard accommodation; indoor accommodations are available for a fee.

Please send a one to three paragraph workshop description with title and a little bit about yourself to conference(at)twinoaks(dot)org.


The Baltimore Free Farm!

sign3510Sky and I went up to the Baltimore Free Farm last week to share our communities slideshow and drum up excitement for the Communities Conference. We left feeling super jazzed and inspired, enough that we gave a strong invitation to the BFF folks to come down and present at the conference.  No final word on that yet but we’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, here’s their story; or hopefully enough of it to get YOU inspired and excited about them too!


We showed up blind on Wednesday evening and right away it was clear that there’s a lot going on here. A little crew of folks hung out in the bikeshop area, and remnants of Free Food day lingered in front of the door. Across the street was a large garden and a cluster of 3 row houses.

After our presentation, we stayed to chat with Billy, one of BFF’s founding members. A short, wiry guy with mussed hair and a little fluff of bunny-tail pinned to his jean shorts, he happily stayed chatting with us until nearly 11pm, despite having just made plans with another Free Farmer to meet at 5am to break down a greenhouse.

The inception of BFF:  About 4 years ago Billy’s contracting business had exploded in his face, along with his dreams of mainstream success. He and some friends all found themselves in the same position, jobless and without prospects.  They started squatting one of the 3 adjoining rowhouses…3houseand right away started eying the warehouse across the street. They managed to find the owner, and did a walk through with him while spinning the vision of what they would create here; workshop space, performance space, beer brewing space, etc. After meeting these kids for a couple hours, the owner handed them the keys. objectsThey cleaned it out in exchange for rent for many months, and now pay a ridiculously low rent (now about $800/month). Meanwhile, Billy and his wife Ali purchased the “black hole” house from the city for $7500, next door to the one they’d squatted. They and their friends continued squatting the house next door while working on the warehouse and the house. Eventually they worked out a rental agreement for the 3rd of the three houses.

There are also a number of plots surrounding the 3 row houses. Up above is a collective garden, managed by the BFF folks. They give away a lot of the the produce on BFF’s weekly “free food” days. There’s a greenhouse, where they grow starts for many gardens in the city.  greenhousecisternThen there’s the orchard on the side; this land was bought by a developer who doesn’t seem to be moving very quickly. Still, it is under threat at any point. The front plot is a community garden, nominally $30/plot for the season. collective gardenThey have a 5 year agreement with the city for this plot. There’s also a chicken house, a giant brick oven, a rabbit warren, and a neighborhood tool library.

BFF is abuzz with activity. The warehouse has a performance space where they host 2 shows a month, with home-brewed beer and pizza (made in the brick oven) for donation; this money goes towards covering their monthly rent. There are workshops, presentations, yoga classes…there’s a large work area with lots of tools, and part of the space is taken up by a community bike shop.bikeshop2 There’s an office, zine library, and basic kitchen as well.officeworkshop

 Billy himself is very inspiring. He grew up in this neighborhood, and knows everyone on the block personally. They all feel comfortable telling him their problems, asking for beer, and just chatting. He is totally committed to transforming this little piece of the city. As he told us, “This whole area is on fire. And that fire is sending out millions of sparks to all the rest of the city. I want to come back in five years and see that fire spread all over the city.”billy

First workshop scheduled!

We have our first workshop confirmed! Embodied Community Intimacy will be led by Elena   Zubulake and Victor Warring:

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“This workshop is about creating strongly embodied relationships in community. Through experiential movement, improvisation, dance, music, body work, conscious communication, play, and contemplative practice, we take a group dive below the thinking mind to experience ourselves as members of an embodied organism.”