Pam Dawling of Twin Oaks
Cultivating community with every seed
Pam Dawling grows much more than just plants: she stewards both the land and community. A seasoned gardening expert and author, Dawling lives and farms at Twin Oaks in rural central Virginia, an intentional community dedicated for over 50 years to the values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence and ecology.
“We run a large production garden here at Twin Oaks, different from small-scale backyard gardening and fortunately also different from industrial agriculture,” shares Dawling, a spry 66-year-old who rooted at Twin Oaks from her native England. “Our garden crew provides a variety of tasty, fresh, organic seasonal vegetables and fruit for our community for as much of the year as possible, and that reflects our values of improving sustainability for our community and the planet.”
“Before moving to Twin Oaks in 1991, I lived and gardened in the UK, for ten years in South Yorkshire up on the moors (think Wuthering Heights) and for six years in Shropshire (think Housman’s Shropshire Lad),” she explains. And she kept on learning, from other gardeners, books and sustainable agriculture events.
More than 100 people live at Twin Oaks, ranging from infants to those in their 80s. The work is distributed via an income-sharing model, where everyone has a role and contributes 42 hours a week, for which each member receives housing, food, health care and personal spending money. “By collectivizing resources, we can have access to more resources than an individual can alone,” explains Dawling. Some folks work in the garden as Dawling does, as part of their work contribution to the community; Dawling served as garden manager for more than 20 years and worked keeping the bees and helping with the dairy program.
“Our bigger goal is reduced dependence on the cash economy, reduced fuel use and more self-sufficiency,” adds Dawling. “In the garden, we do this by minimizing off-farm inputs, which would be materials and supplies brought onto the farm from somewhere else.” For example, Dawling makes compost and plants flowers that attract beneficial insects that eat pest bugs.
A big perk of Dawling’s garden guidance: a bountiful and tasty menu of seasonal meals for the community. “The garden crew harvests vegetables almost every day and the hoophouse provides fresh salads and cooking greens in the winter. We grow vegetables to put by as well as for immediate use, so this sometimes means enormous harvests need to happen in a short time, so it’s good to have a big pool of people to call on to help.”
The community also models Mother Nature’s love of diversity by cultivating a range of other businesses to provide income, including hammocks and rope chairs they sell at various East Coast craft fairs along with tofu, book indexing and contract seed growing.
“At Twin Oaks, we continue to build on the collective wisdom accumulated over time here, increasing productivity and fine-tuning and experimenting on a small scale,” sums up Dawling. Keen on sharing her farming experience and inspiring others to start planting seeds, Dawling compiles her wisdom in her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres. Her new book, The Year-Round Hoophouse: Polytunnels for All Seasons and All Climates, supports the growing consumer trend of wanting more locally raised produce beyond the summer season.
Twin Oaks offers scheduled walking tours and various public events throughout the summer as well as a three-week visitor program for those curious about joining the community.
See more of the Faces Behind the Food!
Pam Dawling of Twin Oaks
Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko are the authors of Homemade for Sale, Soil Sisters and Farmstead Chef. They run Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B in rural Wisconsin, completely powered by renewable energy.