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Virginia Rendler

Peace Issues - Utopian Experiments January Term Trip

by Virginia Rendler | Jan 30, 2017

This January, I took my first class off campus, spending twenty days in a van with five other students from Manchester. Together, we traveled to seven states, eight communities, and spent an inordinate amount of time together. We left campus on January 7th, and headed to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, to the historic Shaker Village.

There are only two Shakers left anywhere, due to a faith-based commitment to celibacy, but the Shaker Village in Kentucky includes a tour, restaurant, farm, and old house renovated for house guests. Most of this day included our fearless leader, Dr. Katy Gray Brown, telling us to not get used to nice beds and Wi-Fi. Highlights included finding a creepy drawing in the house, and trying to learn card games but failing miserably.

Leaving Kentucky, we spent a night in Nashville and then headed to The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee. More of a neighborhood than an actual commune, The Farm is home to a community with shared beliefs and a commitment to right livelihood. We stayed at the EcoVillage Hostel and Training Center, where we learned about living sustainably, worms, and the commune lifestyle that began the Farm in 1971. Highlights included great food and straw bale houses! After this visit, we still felt that we had yet to experience a true commune style intentional community.

So we headed to Georgia! On the way to Koinonia community, we visited the Civil Rights Institute in Montgomery, Alabama. At Koinonia, we toured the pecan and chocolate bakery, dug a trench for irrigation, and pruned grape vines. It was the first time I’ve ever had a sunburn in the middle of January. Koinonia truly felt like the kind of intentional community I had been picturing. With less than twenty members, but many volunteers and interns, they all work and eat together, sharing almost everything and living communally. Highlights included a nice lady named Barb, and really good pecan bark. Staying at Koinonia allowed us to visit the Habitat for Humanity museum in Americus, Georgia, and the Stewart Detention Center. An organization called El Refugio facilitated our visit to detainees in the detention center, one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

We also had the privilege of visiting Plains, Georgia, hometown of Jimmy Carter, and attending his Sunday school and meeting him. He taught about how important it was to tear down the walls that divide us, and gave us a thumbs up for Peace Studies! Then we were off to Jubilee Partners, a community that houses many refugees and teaches them English. It was incredible to see the work that the volunteers and members were doing, and to be able to work with them. We helped with childcare, dug post holes, and mulched the gardens.  Highlights included burning a lot of incense and really good stew.

On the road again! This time, headed to Little Flower in Virginia. Bill and Sue, members of the Catholic Worker Movement, opened their home to us and taught us everything we might need to know about civil disobedience and living in the theory of community. We mulched the chicken and goose yard and collected firewood. Highlights included a chicken named Sandy. The next day, we headed into D.C. to meet the other Manchester folks for the Women’s March on Washington. The march was a once in a lifetime experience, a collective raising of voices against injustice. Some of our group even made it on the news, including Niles resident Amy Weeks! It was great to see people we knew outside of the eight of us, not that we were tired of each other or anything.

After the Women’s March, we spent a few hours at Living Energy Farm, a community living entirely without the use of fossil fuels. We also spent some time at Twin Oaks, the largest community we visited, with values of nonviolence, equality, and ecology. We got to tour their tofu farm and hammock factory. The final day of the trip we visited the New Vrindaban temple in West Virginia, which included incredible temple services and a cow sanctuary!

This trip was a wonderful experience. I learned what it means to be committed to a way of life, to live with a devotion to the well-being of others, and to have love for nature and family. I was inspired by the way these people live with reduced waste, separate from capitalist society. Below are links with further information on each of the individual communities.

Shaker Village:
The Farm:
El Refugio:
Little Flower:
Living Energy:
Twin Oaks:
New Vrindaban:


Virginia Rendler ’20 is a Peace Studies major, and is hoping to double major in English, as well as double minor in Spanish and Visual Art. She loves animals and is a Leo. 

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