Income-Sharing Community Expands Tofu Business

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Imagine this: a place where everyone has job they want, and no one makes more money than anyone else. A community in Louisa County is doing just that and now it's expanding.

Twin Oaks is one of the nation's oldest Intentional Communities. Now it's celebrating a milestone and expanding one of its biggest businesses - something you may have seen at your local grocery store.

Income Sharing Community

Twin Oaks is a sustainable, income-sharing community collectively owned by everyone who lives there. People get to pick different jobs and one hour of any type of work is valued the same.

"Running the million dollar business is as valuable as sweeping floors," said Paxus Calta, who has lived at Twin Oaks for over a dozen years.

Overall there are about 200 different jobs, all filled by people who volunteer to do them. The only job that doesn't get filled: dishwashing. For that, people get assigned to shifts.

Calta said the hardest jobs to fill are managerial positions. People don't want to run a company when they can make the same money to do less stressful work, he said. Calta said originally at Twin Oaks, they gave more incentive for what they thought would be unpopular work.

"We assumed you had to give extra labor credits to unpopular jobs and less credit for popular jobs."

But, he said, using that system, if there was even the smallest increase of work credit for any job, people would flock to do that work.

"We ended being forced into this philosophically desirable place where we say all work is valuable," he said. "There's no such thing as universally popular or unpopular work."

Although no one makes much money, everyone is provided with all the basics: food, housing, medical care, education, and clothes. That's why, they say, there's practically no crime.

"The incentive for crime, like 'I don't have a job,' or 'I don't like my circumstance,' or 'I want to take from this person who has much more than I do', most of those incentives don't exist here," Calta said. "It's important for the community to provide all the needs."

Calta said there's a joke among people who live at Twin Oaks that if you were to go on vacation for a week and leave your door open with a $20 bill and a chocolate bar on your desk, when you came back the money would still be there, but there's a small chance the chocolate bar would not. "It's a trust based culture," he said.

Personal Perspective

Alli Mills is one of the newest members, after moving to Twin Oaks in November. She once had a more "normal" life. In Pittsburgh, she had a boyfriend, lived in an apartment and worked in a restaurant. She then worked as a cook at a summer camp in Vermont.

"Eventually it just seemed to me like it wasn't what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to do something more different and more exciting," said Mills.

Mills originally planned only to visit Twin Oaks, and perhaps stay for a few weeks, but said she fell in love. "This is the first place I've been in a while that's felt like home," she said.

One of the main things she loves about her new home is the variety of things she can do, from cooking, to working in the dairy, to taking care of children, going on speaking tours, and making and selling hammocks. "I do a lot of different work, so I'm appreciative of that. I get bored if I do the same thing all the time," she said.

And she enjoys the people who live there, citing the fun they have together. "We have a lot of parties here," she said.

In fact, there's a lot of love. There are many monogamous and polyamourous relationships, where people have several partners. "For a while I was doing that and I had several boyfriends and several girlfriends... Now I'm starting to scale back and I have one boyfriend," Mills said.

Business Boost

At Twin Oaks, the biggest business used to be making hammocks. Now it's the perfect recipe for tofu. Calta said each product brings in around $1 million a year. They now make 1,500 pounds of tofu on a regular production day, and it's one of the most labor-intensive jobs on the farm.

A million dollar tofu production facility expansion is now underway, which will include new machines that will make much of the labor easier. That project and a new Hospice facility for the older residents are both expected to be completed within the next 6 months. Then, Calta said, it's possible the community could consider whether their next construction project may be to build new houses so that they can expand.

Right now, there are about 100 people who live there, and there is a waiting list for new members. People could have to wait a year to be able to join the community. Mills said she's glad she gets to live at Twin Oaks, and she could see herself living there for at least two years, if not five or more.

"I thought when I came here maybe I'll run into people who drop out of society or can't hold a job or want to be lazy, but really the people I met here are incredibly interesting, talented, hardworking individuals," she said.

You can buy Twin Oaks tofu at many area grocery stores, organic markets, and specialty stores.

Meanwhile, the community will celebrate its 46th anniversary on Sunday.

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