Jon Norcross' TOCC Trip Report 2015

  At 7:30pm I arrived at Acorn and met up with Paxus & Nicole. While listening to the conversation between Paxus and other Acorn members, I noticed that people were casually walking around nude (both men & women). I'll later come to learn that this is fairly normal and would experience it more. Paxus gave me a quick 15 minute tour of acorn and showed me where I would be staying for the night. The building is named Stardust. It is a very small tree house structure just big enough for a bed. I ate dinner and joined in on a meeting. The meeting was about child care and how much "labor credits" should be given for taking care of your own children. I was shocked when I first went up because there were two women who were openly breastfeeding which I didn't expect considering that this is a common area with an ongoing meeting. After the meeting, those who were left talked for a bit before I went to bed.

  Early in the morning, Paxus introduced me to Irena who was supposed to help me get situated with working in Acorn's seed exchange business. Irena is a very soft spoken women who is incredibly busy at Acorn with assisting with both the garden and their seed exchange business. After we were introduced, she went off to do something so I waited outside Heartwood (the name of Acorn's main building) for her to return to provide me with further instruction. During my time outside I got to meet and talk with various people who are either currently living at Acorn or are a guest/visitor. One person in particular that I talked to was a woman named Liz. She was part of a non-incoming sharing community located in North Carolina. She mentioned that she wasn't particularly happy with it because the community was struggling so much that people were only looking out for themselves instead of joining together and sharing what they had. She had come to Acorn to see what it is like in an income sharing community and was interested in joining Acorn.
  At this point, I had been outside of Heartwood for a number of hours and Irena had passed by me a number of times, but still had not provided me with any instruction. I got tired of waiting around and Liz and Rejoice were about to leave to go to the smoke shack so I asked if I could join them. On our way to the smoke shack, Rejoice gave us a mini tour of the buildings of Acorn walking us through some of the residential areas as well as the seed exchange business. Once we arrived at the smoke shack, Liz and Rejoice enjoyed themselves while I waited outside. The smoke shack is the only building in which smoking is allowed inside and around the area. While we were at the smoke shack, Matt came around and mentioned that he was filling up the truck with water. Once the water container was partially full, we brought it around to provide water to all of the pigs, chickens and goats. After we were done, we went back to Heartwood as the lunch bell had rung. The bell at Acorn is rung 10 minutes before the food is ready to be served; Acorn doesn't follow any time schedule for when meals will be available if they are available at all.
  At lunch, I sat next to Irena and she mentioned that I could assist with preparing tomatoes to be used as tomato paste for Twin Oaks. So for about an hour, 7 of us worked to prepare the tomatoes. The work involved taking the freshly picked tomatoes and washing them, removing any remaining stems and cutting off the bad parts. By the time we were done, we had prepared roughly three 5 gallon buckets full of tomatoes. There was still more to do, but as many of us needed to leave to go to the Community Conference at Twin Oaks we cleaned up and left.
  Once I arrived in the parking area, I checked in and setup camp for the weekend. After I was setup, I went to the main registration tent to sign up for work shifts. I ended up signing up for the same shifts Nicole did which was MOOP (Matter out of place) patrol. This task involves picking things up that are left lying around like trash, dirty dishes, clothes etc. As I was interested in spending as much time as possible with Nicole, I hung out with her instead of going on the tour as I figured that I could always catch a later tour. Unfortunately, I never went on a tour of Twin Oaks as I was always interested in something else when they were occurring. Before dinner, we had a really bad storm come through which came with both hail and a ton of rain. So much rain that there was a river flowing around the living area under the tarp which was dug out further as the stream overflowed. During this storm we assisted Illy in keeping the communities magazines from getting wet. Once it calmed down, I went to check on my tent and found that it was still standing even though I had staked it fairly lightly, but it was fairly flooded with water. I was able to get most of the water out, but it was still damp until I was able to receive assistance from those in Twin Oaks who provided additional towels and dried the one I brought which was soaked. 
After dinner Nicole and I attended the evening session. During this session Paxus explained two of his transparency tools. One was kind of like a game where you play fill in the blank. The phrase you have to fill in is "If you really knew me _______" and then you proceed it with whatever you would like the group to know about you. We were in groups of 5-7 and went around with each person filling in the blank or passing if they didn't want to share. I really enjoyed this because everyone got a chance to share something with the group. The next tool that Paxus discussed was called "Crosstalk". This tool involves picking out something that was shared earlier with the group and then providing an experience which you had that is similar. During this tool, instead of going around the group, we used something called "popcorn" where anyone can jump in and share. I didn't like this setup as I could never find a pause long enough to feel comfortable that I wasn't talking over other people and thus, I never had a chance to share anything. Also, since people were sharing personal stories, some couldn't keep them short so I felt like they were monopolizing the time/conversation. After these exercises, we broke up into four different groups in order to answer the question "How can the FIC better assist the Intentional Community Movement?". The four groups had different focus areas such as finance and economics, organization structure/governance, and social outreach and activism. From this exercise, it was apparent that what we are doing here at The Transition is severely needed within the movement. We have solutions already available on our website for a fair number of issues which were brought up and we had previously discussed some other items which were brought up such as funding platforms.

  This morning I'll talk briefly about the accommodations which were available on site. For restrooms there were two porta potties and two composting toilets. There was one shower and a couple of sinks. There were three larger sinks for washing dishes as everyone was expected to do their own. There was also a space for charging electronic devices. For food, there was a really good variety and most of it was vegetarian friendly. There were also some foods which were gluten free or vegan. Most of what was served for breakfast was eggs or granola/oats with vegetables (mostly potatoes). For lunch and dinner, there was rice or noodles with vegetables (green beans / eggplant / peppers), bread and lots of tofu. As everyone was required to assist with snacks, there were always snacks of all sorts available throughout the day. For sitting/eating there were a large number of picnic tables as well as a living room under a tarp. After introductions at the opening circle, all of the communities were each given a minute or two in order to introduce themselves further to the group for the Meet the Communities session. As there were a large number of people who lined up, Paxus mentioned that only those communities with actual locations should be in line. Nicole at this point jumped out of line, but I was able to convince her to go back in line after Point A from New York introduced themselves; they didn't have an exact location, but a general one. During this session we only had a few people come to us to start. However, as others found out that we were giving out a free book titled "The Internet is My Religion" by Jim Gilliam CEO and founder of Nationbuilder, we began attracting more people who were both interested in the book and what The Transition was doing. Nationbuilder donated 200 of these books for those at the conference and we were able to collect a large number of contacts in this manner. We have roughly 140 left to still give out. This session continued until lunch.
  After lunch, everyone broke out into separate workshops. This was the time slot for our workshop so both Nicole and I attended it. We were expecting four presenters, but two didn't attend so we were able to have half a session (roughly 50 minutes) to show case The Transition. We received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and were also able to sign up additional people for beta testing the site.
  During the second half of the afternoon new workshops were put on and I decided to attend "Intentional Villaging". This was led by a man named Michael who had a dysfunction in is brain which prevents him from remembering faces so each time I went to greet him after the session I needed to tell him my name before he understood who I was. This session was all about Allegheny Crest Intentional Village where they practice active outreach, local integration, radical acceptance, porous membership, compassionate anarchy and abundance. For active outreach, the community puts on a large number of events in which they invite everyone who wants to participate. Local integration means that they work with the people in their vicinity in order to provide services and build connections. Radical acceptance means that anyone who wants to participate in the community may do so even if they might have disabilities or different work patterns, thought patterns or priorities. Many intentional communities have very rigid membership agreements; at Allegheny Crest they practice Porous Membership which allows for people to have any kind of relationship with the community in whatever way they feel comfortable. For example, people within the community might be guests, renters, part time volunteers or full time residential members. Compassionate Anarchy is a form of governance in which everyone is free to do what they want so long as they take into account all members who may be affected by their actions. Instead of having centralized meetings, the meetings are more casual and decentralized and concerns are incorporated as they are brought up. Most intentional communities are happy with subsistence living, but at Allegheny Crest, the people strive for abundance in all aspects of life such as emotions, economics, energetics, social connections and time.
  We then had dinner and the FIC benefit auction. Lots of various items were auctioned off from community magazines to therapeutic healing services. Some of the items that went for the most were hammocks from Twin Oaks and a fairly large train set. Afterwards, we went to the dance party at ZK. The only thing out of place at the dance party was that there were a fairly large number of topless men and women, but otherwise it was a pretty standard dance party.

  Roosters woke me up at 5:30am again when the sun is just barely rising from the sky. I was still fairly tired as I had gone to sleep around just after midnight when the dance party finished. Breakfast wasn't for another couple hours so I just started doing MOOP patrol early and cleaned up the site.
  Nicole and I were both interested in the same workshop today so we attended Cooperative Games together. I've done things like this a lot when I was younger so I was more interested in observing and seeing what additional things I could learn about communication instead of in the past where I usually just focused on solving the problem given. 

Description of the various games:
1) Named Pairs -> Each person was given a piece of paper with a name like gark, mark, lark, ark etc. Each person was then given a blindfold and starting in a large circle the task was to find the person with the same name and stop talking once that person was found.
2) Freefall; Trust building -> In the same pairs from the first game, we took turns with one person being the spotter and one person being the faller. The faller had to trust that the spotter would catch them. 
3) Tangled Rope -> This was the only competitive game. The task was to try to gain as much of the rope as possible. The rope was about 200 feet long and was completely tangled up.
4) Rope Transfer -> Split into two teams with a rope at shoulder level between the two. Nobody is allowed to touch the rope or have any part of the body go under the rope otherwise everyone has to go back to the other side. The task is to get everyone across to the opposite side.
5) Life Boat -> Everyone is standing on a tarp and the task is to flip the 'life boat' as it has been capsized.
6) Silent Shapes -> Everyone is standing in a circle with both hands on a rope. During this game, nobody is allowed to talk and both hands must stay on the rope. The task is to make a shape (equilateral triangle, five pointed star etc.)

From the various games I learned/observed the following:

1) Named Pairs -> Different people have different strategies/solutions to the same problem
2) Freefall; Trust building -> As long as we start small, building trust to higher levels becomes easier
3) Tangled Rope -> Once we have a mindset for a task, switching to another mindset seems illogical or impossible; people easily become rooted in one mindset and won’t try to change it.
4) Rope Transfer -> People may not always listen or understand through verbal communication, but through action they are able to see how the solution works
5) Life Boat -> Building on ideas works wonderfully once the group is able to let go of their ideas being their own
6) Silent Shapes -> When there is a lack of communication, we often give up and just go with the group to proceed to the next task. Knowing the end goal and understanding each other’s expectations is extremely important in completing tasks.

After the games, there was some organizing for the open sessions followed by lunch. I decided to attend the open session about Tiny Houses and ultimately concluded that they are for people who want to be more mobile which I'm not particularly interested in. I've found that it's much cheaper to buy an existing house than to build a new Tiny House after factoring in the cost for land. The second open session I went to was about Community Meetings which I thought was going to be an actual workshop with reflection on the issues that come during them. I later found out when the session began that it was just going to be a theatrical performance intended to create a viral video for another workshop Paxus is planning for the West Coast Communities Conference. The session was still fun and entertaining though I didn't participate. I probably would have picked a different session had I of known from the start.

After the open sessions, we went over to Acorn for a tour, dinner and additional activities. I went on the tour with Irena which focused on the garden area. We discussed various things about what Acorn is growing (tomatoes, beans etc.) and for what purposes (seed, eating). Irena showed us the small apiary they had which is mainly used to house bees for pollination rather than honey. We also went through a tour of the seed business and I got to see their packing machine, the air conditioned spaces used to store seeds and their loading dock for trucks. Afterwards, we ate dinner and I was invited to play a game of dominion. However, due to an issue with the children spilling paint everywhere, the game was put on pause for about an hour. By the time they were done cleaning up the mess, we barely had enough time to finish the game before the last shuttle to Twin Oaks left.

  Monday was all about Money; there were two sets of workshop times, but they were run by the same people and were intended to be the same or similar content, but that did not end up being the case for the workshop I attended. I went to the New Models workshop done by Laird Schaub former director of the FIC. In the first workshop in the morning, we were answering the question "What are the characteristics of a healthy system of economics?". Some of the characteristics are listed below:
- Tracking -> How is the system tracked if at all?
- Flow
- Corruption -> How does the system handle corruption?
- Accounting for Externalities -> How does the system take the environment/people into account?
- Trust 
- Enjoyable activities -> Econcomic activities should be fun; not monotonous and boring
- No Exploitation
- Consentual / non-coercive
- Balance of return
- Measurement of labor
- Quality rewarded
- Minimum standard -> Everyone should be given a minimum amount of stuff to be successful
- Transparency -> Everyone should be able to understand how the entire system functions and from where the products/services come from.
- Giving without receiving / positive balance
- Debt? -> Should debt be allowed?

We then went on to have a discussion on the question "How much do we really need?". We discussed having access to resources instead of ownership. We also discussed about security. Is it better to form relationships or have ownership of resources in order to be secure?

The final discussion was on "How do we intertwine the social with the economic?". The points which came up follow:

- Facilitating exchange between disassociated groups
  - Similar to Non-violent Communication (NVC) at the economic level
- Collision of usage
- Tragedy of the commons - who takes care of the commons?

During the second portion of the workshop, instead of focusing on economy, we focused on solving everyone's immediate problems. Some of the things which came up are below:

- Going back into the workforce after being a part of a community for some time or stay at home mother
- Marketing skills
- Public relations for new intentional communities
- Support for personal issues
- While being on the move, what are some places and ideas that will help people to stay connected?

The rest of the evening was spent with Nicole and we discussed our observations from the conference.

Official end of conference was on Monday so this day begins my stay as a guest (not a visitor) at Twin Oaks. A guest is a person who is temporarily staying at Twin Oaks and that person needs to be hosted by a member of the community. A visitor is someone who is staying for a three week period in order to become a full member.
  In the morning, I helped clean up and organize the conference site such that like objects were put next to each other in the main conference area. Afterwards, Nicole and I went for lunch where we met up with Paxus. He brought me over to Acorn for the day as I had already been 'integrated' with that community previously. I spent the afternoon assisting with garden related tasks like removing older/almost rotten tomatoes from storage to be used for dinner that night as well as picking tomatoes and lima beans. Just before dinner Paxus came to bring me back to Twin Oaks. I moved into Aurora which is the building normally used for visitors where I would stay for a couple nights. Nicole introduced me to 'Commie Clothes' which is their building that stores all of the bed sheets and clothes for anyone to take as they need. The building also doubles as a laundry facility and houses community members.

  Twin Oaks doesn't serve breakfast so I was on my own there. Lunch is served at noon and dinner at 6pm. Paxus put me on an early morning garden shift from 8am to noon. The majority of all the garden shifts I attended were made up of roughly 70% women and 30% men. During the shift, I worked alongside other people at all times and we did the following things:

- Picked corn -> This involved finding which ones were firm and ready to pick and then breaking off the tops and removing any caterpillars which were inside.
- Assisted in sowing turnips -> My task was to cover and pack down the seeds.
- Picked weeds -> This is a daily activity on the garden shift and was included on every shift
- Break for 15 minutes -> about 5/8ths of the time into the shift we would take a break where people would eat, drink or read in the nearby kitchen space
- Assisted in sowing spinach -> This time I helped by marking the places where the seeds would be sown as well as covering and packing as I did earlier.
- Picked squash

Some of my observations from the first day include the leisurely pace that people work at as well as how inefficient the setup is as the manager of the garden manages all of the tasks and was making the groups so large that the work was being completed relatively quickly which resulted in time loss going back to the manager to retrieve the next task. However, this setup seems to have the benefit in that one is never performing a task which they do not enjoy for very long. Another observation is that the individuals in the group have partial say in what tasks they want to perform out of the master list which the manager explains at the start of the shift. Anyone who doesn't want to perform a certain activity only needs to say so and the manager will find some other work that they would enjoy doing more.

  I worked another early morning garden shift where we did similar activities mentioned yesterday such as sowing more spinach, picking squash, pulling weeds and transplanting strawberries. At one point, we had everyone in the group picking weeds as we needed to clear an entire row that was right next to the strawberries we had planted. 
As Aurora was being used for incoming visitors, I had to move over to Tupelo where I stayed in North's room for the remainder of my stay. After dinner, Claire invited me to join a lecture on the Russian communist movement as well as revolutions in general which was led by a man named Spot.

  Due to the seasonal shifts, the morning garden shift was moved to the evening from 1-5pm. The only new thing we did on this shift was sifting compost and putting it into a raised garden. The trickiest part about the task was navigating the wheelbarrow full of compost over the cinder blocks which were connected only by wobbly planks of wood. We also played two games while sifting the compost. One was called contact and the other is called "Is it like waffles?". Contact is played by having one person pick a word and then telling the group what letter it starts with. The group then asks questions with a word in mind that starts with the letter given in order to find the question which results in the word the person is thinking of. If another member of the group thinks of a word that might answer the question then they yell out 'contact'. After some time if the person who picks the word has not provided an answer to the question which they would state in the form 'It's not _____' then everyone who said contact would count down and say aloud at the same time the word they are thinking of and if both say the same word then the person who picked the word gives the next letter. Play proceeds until the word is found. "Is it like waffles?" is played by having one person pick a word and then everyone in the group asks a narrative in the form "is it like {previous thing it was most like} or like _____?" So the first person may ask is it like waffles or like compost? The person then picks whichever word is closest to the thing they are thinking of. So if they say compost then the next question will be something like "is it like compost or like sand?". Play proceeds until the object is discovered.
I spent most of the day reading books such as Formal Consensus and Consensus for Cities as well as a book about fascism that I received from Spot the night before. It was a refreshing change from being social every day prior.

  Nicole and I were up early along with Bill in order to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival which was a fair that was going on near the Piedmont Community College on top of Monticello. I spent the morning assisting in running the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth which is the full name of the business that Acorn runs mentioned in previous days. The booth allowed people to sample a number of different tomatoes and peppers so I spent most of my time stabbing pieces of peppers with toothpicks for everyone to sample. Around lunch time, I was able to walk around and check out the other booths which were selling various products like granolas, ciders, salsa, alcohol, seeds and farming items. As we were at Monticello, I took some time to read through the history of the building which had been previously owned by Thomas Jefferson and the view looking down into the valley was amazing.

I departed from Twin Oaks early in the morning for my long drive back home.

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