These Frequently Asked Questions were invented and answered in Summer 2014 and are current to that time. If you have questions that you think would be helpful for us to add to this list, we encourage you to e-mail us suggestions.
General Questions for Visitors, Interns, and Work-Exchangers
- What do I need to bring with me for my visit?
Your toothbrush. Prescription medication, if you require it. $75. A pair of shoes with which you could walk through a raspberry- and poison ivy-infested field. We might have a flashlight for you, but you’re best off bringing your own flashlight and batteries.
You can use ours, but if you prefer yours, you could bring: Your own tent and/or bedding. Clothes. Shampoo, toothpaste, bug repellent, sunscreen, and the like. A water bottle. Musical instruments.
Don’t bring weapons, illegal drugs, or your own laundry detergent (unless it’s biodegradable).
- What is the labor system at Acorn?
All visitors and members are expected to work a minimum of 42 hours per week (with exceptions for children, individuals with disabilities, and older members). Many members work substantially more than this. During our busy season in the business (January through April), visitors are asked to spend at least half their quota working in our seed business. During the growing season (April through September), visitors are asked to spend at least half their quota working in the gardens, fields and greenhouses.
Labor includes work done for community benefit. This includes washing community towels, but not your own laundry; cleaning the kitchen or living room, but not cleaning your own bedroom or personal messes you made; working on an approved community mural, but not painting your friend’s room.
- Isn’t there someone who’s in charge, like a leader or something?
- Are people in charge of certain areas?
Sort of. There are people who know more about certain things. There are people who have been here longer than others and know how we do certain things. There are people who like doing certain things more than others. There are people who consistently do the same things every day. We do not have “area managers” like Twin Oaks, who are officially in charge of a work area.
Acorn does have “honchos” for some projects, who are people committed to making sure the project gets done and solicits help from others. We also have “committees,” but these are ad-hoc and members rotate in and out by participating or not participating.
- What food is available at Acorn?
Currently, 87% of Acorners are omnivores. Many of our meals have some type of meat in them (even if it’s just beef or chicken stock), but there are always vegetarian options available. If the cook is aware of vegans on the farm, there will be vegan options. Talk to us if you have food allergies before scheduling a visit.
Most of our eggs come from our own laying flock, but when we are short on layers/high on residents, we buy organic eggs. Our goats make our milk for drinking, but they do not yet make enough to process into cheese, yogurt, etc. We buy cheese from a farmer co-op from Charlottesville. UNFI sends a refrigerated truck to our neighbors at Twin Oaks every other week, and our share contains organic dairy products as well as bulk grains, honey, salt, sugar, non-dairy milk substitutes, herbs and spices.
We grow a lot of our own vegetables and mushrooms, and process them into a variety of things like pickles, coleslaw, kimchi, preserves, etc. Members have been known to produce wine, mead, and beer, although this is not paid for by the community.
Members have agreed not to buy factory-farmed meat with Acorn money. We buy free-range, grass-fed beef from local farmers. We raise our own chickens (usually 30/month) and goats (around 10/year) for meat. Meat that is non-organic (meat that we got for free) is labelled “non-groovy” when served at meals.
- Where do you get free food?
We have friends who are in charge of rotating stock in warehouses. Most grocery stores and the like throw away massive amounts of food that hasn’t gone bad yet when they get a new food shipment in. Instead, we get to put this food into our cargo van and take it home.
We also take food out of the trash. Dumpster season is during the cooler parts of the year, so this kicks into high gear in the autumn and tapers out in the spring. No, no one at Acorn has ever gotten sick from dumpstered food over the years that we’ve done this.
- Can Acorn handle my food allergies or dietary restrictions?
Probably. The cooks will likely be able to work with you. Let us know how allergic you are. If you cannot have your food touch surfaces that have touched allergens, we will not be able to accommodate you.
- Do you have access to computers and other technology?
There are twelve or fifteen desktop computers in different buildings and a handful of functional laptops, all of such are free for anyone to use (although people working in the business have the prerogative to kick people off office computers if they’re playing Facebook) and wifi in all of the residences. The internet can be slow with all these people using it. There is a projector for watching movies in the upstairs Heartwood living room. Anyone can bring their own laptops or other devices.
Before photographing or recording any people on the farm, explicitly ask consent from each person.
- What about pets?
Our most recently agreed-upon pet policy includes five member cats, two member dogs, and the possibility of up to two well-behaved, leashed “guest dogs” for temporary visits. Guests must ask the community before bringing a dog. There is no limitation on members owning small, caged pets. Please ask before you bring your leashed kangaroo or free-range bunny.
Our two dogs are Odin (a German Shephardy mutt) and Horus (a black lab). They will bark at you when you arrive, but are harmless. Our five cats are Zelda, Emily, Rhubarb, Fight Club, and Quetzalcatl. We have had rats, rabbits, and a snake, but none live here anymore.
If you want to bring your dog for a work-trade or internship, we’re going to ask: What will you do if your dog doesn’t get along with our dogs or tries to eat our chickens or free-range baby goats? If the dog has never interacted with livestock, and you don’t have the ability to remove the dog from the property and house it elsewhere, we will refuse to let your dog visit. We are most comfortable approving guest dogs if we can meet them for brief visits before approving longer visits.
If you want to visit for membership, you will not be able to bring your cat or dog to live with you. We have a wait list of members who desire to get pets when our current pets pass or move away.
- Are you associated with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)?
- Are you a cult?
- Do you have any poisonous or dangerous animals in your area?
Copperhead snakes, black widow spiders, and brown recluse spiders are our poisonous outdoor friends. Ask and we will help you learn to identify them. We also have ticks, including deer ticks which could carry Lyme disease. Acorn Community is also home to marvelous amounts of poison ivy.
- Why isn’t there enough room for me to come visit at my desired time, even if I stay in a tent?
Acorn is our home. There are many people living here and we must all live in harmony. Some of these people really don’t enjoy the fact that their life is a fishbowl where people come in and look at them and then leave again. Others just don’t like walking around the farm and seeing a bunch of strangers. The rate at which people show up is a consideration; we like to chunk people up so that the stranger factor all comes at the same time instead of a new stranger arriving once a week. The other is that we, the visitor team, will never invite a number of people greater than 25% of the current membership. Yes, much of the time, 25% of the people staying on the farm are not members and do not live here. This is the point at which we will no longer accept anyone to come visit during that time.
Questions about Membership at Acorn
- How does Acorn handle medical expenses?
If a member, visitor, intern, or guest is injured while working for Acorn Community Farm, we will pay all associated medical bills.
Acorn is responsible for all medical costs that provisional members accumulate after their first six months of membership. This is to avoid people applying for membership solely for medical expenses. After one year, members are given full dental coverage. For major medical expenses, our catastrophic health coverage (PEACH) kicks in. PEACH is a collection of income-sharing communities (members of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities) who pay into a common pot, choose members who figured out how to invest and handle the money, and then pay out whenever a member of the community calls on it.
- How do you get accepted or rejected for membership at Acorn?
This is top on my list of the most difficult questions to answer because it’s incredibly variable, but people ask me this all the time so I’m going to try. This list is, of course, incomplete.
Ways to get rejected (that are easy to avoid): Physical violence. Touching people without permission. Not working quota. Lying about how much or what work you do. Doing only work that is easy and/or is not high-priority. Misusing alcohol or drugs (e.g., operating machinery while drunk) or doing dangerous things while sober. Failing to practice fire safety. Harassing others, which could include making sexist or homophobic comments, berating someone for their religious, political or spiritual beliefs, or staring at a person who isn’t wearing clothes. Encouraging others to be irresponsible and deterring them from working.
Ways to get rejected (that are trickier to avoid): Having disadvantages that will cause us to expend effort or money (high health care costs, emotional instability, children) without having corresponding advantages to cancel them out. Not especially getting along with any members while you are here. Having members distrust you as a person to live and work with, such as being seen as unlikely to be motivated to work, or inconsiderate to others’ needs, or being irresponsible with our collective resources. Making members uncomfortable. Being perceived as someone with a reason to reject themselves.
Reasons to reject yourself: You are really stressed out by living with people (lack of privacy, your cleanliness standards are higher than ours, you don’t want to check in with people before you use or do things). You do not like to work at the kinds of work we have. You need schedules, organization, or policies imposed on you by others in order to be comfortable or work consistently. You are not prepared to settle down in one place. Naked people make you uncomfortable.
How to make members uncomfortable: Use the word “we” to mean “Acorn as a group” during your first three weeks on the farm. Being overly enthusiastic about Acorn and saying that you want to live here forever before you’ve gotten to know us. “Being creepy.” Applying for membership but not having a clear interest in the mission and work of Acorn, but instead just using Acorn as a stopping place that’s better than your last place.
- Can I build my own tiny house at Acorn?
No. There is a ban on personal shelters. Some reasons why are listed in this blog post by Paxus.
- Can I apply for membership if I have children?
Our official policy is that parents with children, after writing a letter of introduction, will be discussed by the community and we decide if we want to get to know them. If so, we schedule a weekend visit. After the weekend visit, we will discuss the family at a meeting and decide if we want to invite them for a visitor period (which is normally 3 weeks long but may be shortened or extended by this community discussion). At this point, the adults of the family would go through our normal membership process.
The general sense that we have around children is that we are interested in having our own children right now (75% of the membership is in our 20s and early 30s). We have increased our child population from zero to a handful in the last three years (three born on the farm, two whose families moved here). We do not have adequate facilities to support all the existing children. Multiple members are talking about having children in the near future. During 2016 and until we increase our indoor space, we are not accepting any applications from families.
- Do you mean you have to get approved for pregnancy if you’re an Acorn member?
It is strongly recommended. Pregnancies and children impact the community so it is important to make sure everyone is informed of your plans and wishes. If your pregnancy is approved by the community, we pay your medical costs associated with having a baby however you choose to have it, and costs associated with raising the child for as long as you are a member. More information about Twin Oaks’ policies, which are similar to ours, is here…
- Can I apply for membership if…
… if I have debt? Yes, if you are willing to work out alternative payment options or simply not pay it. Acorn does not take on debt of its members.
… if I have to pay child support? No. Because our individual monthly allowance is only $75/month, Acorn cannot support members who must make regular child support payments.
… if I own a car? Yes. When people join Acorn as members, they have six months during which they can continue to use their personal vehicle and look into selling it and getting onto the Acorn insurance plan so they can drive Acorn vehicles.
… if I’m on probation? Yes, but only if you are allowed to travel to central Virginia. Please do not come to Acorn against the wishes of law enforcement officials.
- Can members have outside jobs?
This has happened before. It requires discussion with the community if you’re going to hold a long-term job (rather than a one-time gig) because outside jobs will make it harder for you to work at the minimum of 42 hours per week for the community. If you are stressed out due to overwork, this is our problem, because we have to live with you. It is also relevant if you need use of a vehicle to commute or perform your job.
Commonly, if a member is holding an outside job and working half-quota at Acorn, they give half their income to the community to make up for the hours they aren’t working for us. Doing this work has to be seen as beneficial to Acorn in some way. For example, a previous member worked as a nurse (gaining valuable medical experience that she could use in the community) and another as an organic inspector. Acorn is not interested in housing a person who works elsewhere and does not fully participate in community life.
- But how do you make money as an Acorn member?
Generally, you don’t. Acornistas tend to live off of $75/month in their allowance, which pays for their junk snacks, alcohol, tobacco, and so forth. It is considered rude to spend more than this amount of money every month, because some members do not have access to outside funds.
Departing members generally leave in the same economic circumstances as they arrived. We do not require members to give us savings or other assets they may have prior to membership. If new members decide to sell their cars to the community, there is usually a clause stating that they will receive the car back or its Blue Book value when they leave.
But members do sometimes want to make money to take a vacation or do something cool off the farm. In the last few years, members have made money: doing web development, writing articles online for cash, playing poker, being in medical studies, moving furniture for people in town, dog-sitting or cat-sitting for neighbors, cleaning houses occasionally for neighbors, setting up gymnasium floors, and taking a leave of absence to be a janitor in Antarctica. (Long-term gigs require community approval.)
- Once you’re a member, how often can you leave the farm?
All members receive one month of vacation per year of membership. You can spend this in any fashion you desire. If you are part of our car insurance program, it’s considered thoughtful to ask if you’re planning on taking a car for more than two days. If you work more than quota, you can use your over-quota hours to justify additional vacation.
Members can apply for a leave of absence (LOA) or personal affairs leave (PAL) by having clearnesses and discussing with other members what they want. The longer a member has resided at Acorn, the more generous the group usually is with the details of leave.
- Can members have personal…
… cars? No. The cost of insurance makes cars prohibitive to members. Members with good driving records can join our collective insurance and then drive our cars. We have a fleet of 8-12 functioning vehicles at any given time, which those on the insurance can sign out whenever they like. New members have six months to sell or re-home their cars upon taking up membership.
… pets? Yes. Pets are individually owned by members. We have a limit of two dogs and five cats, whose food and medical costs are paid for by the community. Members can own unlimited small, caged pets.
… shelters? No. Acorn requires all residential buildings to house at least three people.
… clothing? Yes. You do not need to participate in our commie clothes system even though it is awesome.
… phones? Yes. Some of our younger members have cell phones provided by their families. Three members who travel frequently for our business have cell phones paid for by the community. Any member who wants to try to pay for their own phone could do so.
… computers? Yes. You can bring your own personal electronic devices to Acorn and use them while you are here.
I still have more questions and want to talk to someone directly.
There is no community office that you can call. Our home phone number is not on the internet because it is our home phone number, and calling it means that you are going to reach a random communard who’s in the living room, probably reading a book or eating a snack or otherwise not prepared to deal with your questions.
However, if you e-mail us your phone number and a good range of day/times to call you back, we’re totally likely to do it.