The Farm (Tennessee)
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The Farm is an intentional community in Lewis County, Tennessee, near the town of Summertown, Tennessee, based on principles of nonviolence and respect for the Earth. It was founded in 1971 by Stephen Gaskin and 320 San Francisco hippies; The Farm is well known amongst hippies and other members of similar subcultures as well as by many vegetarians. The Farm now has approximately 175 residents.
The Farm was established after Gaskin and friends led a caravan of 60 buses, vans, and trucks from San Francisco on a four month speaking tour across the US. Along the way, they became a community lacking only land to put down roots. After returning to California, the decision was made to buy land together. Combining all their resources would finance purchase of only about fifty acres. Another month on the road brought the group back to Tennessee, where they checked out various places that might be suitable for settlement before deciding on property in Lewis County, about fifty miles south of Nashville. After buying 1,064 acres (4.1 km2) for $70 per acre, the Farm began building its community in the woods alongside the network of crude logging roads that followed its ridgelines. Another adjoining 750 acres (3.0 km2) for $100 per acre was purchased shortly thereafter.
From its founding through the 1970s, Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions other than clothing and tools, though this restriction loosened as time passed. During that time, Farm members did not use artificial birth control, alcohol, tobacco, man-made psychotropics, or animal products.
Lacking any form of government, distribution of wealth and housing allocation fell initially to Gaskin, a position he did not seek or enjoy. This task was taken over by a "council of elders" and then a "board of directors" consisting of some of the most respected and influential members of the Farm community.
In the original manifestation of The Farm, all members were believers in the holiness of life and that smoking marijuana was a sacrament, though Farm members did not use alcohol or other drugs. What bound them was their shared psychedelic vision. They said that their cultural conditioning had been blown away enough to experience a world of higher consciousness, and that Spirit exists and we are all One. Stephen Gaskin, who had served in the United States Marine Corps, got his start as a religious leader in San Francisco in the 1960s, coming to teach a blend of Eastern religions and Christianity. Due to his devotion to marijuana, he and three followers spent time in 1974 in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville following convictions for growing marijuana on Farm land.
The Farm installed its own water system but resisted running 60-cycle alternating current powerlines beyond the main house that served as its administration office and publishing center, hoping some day to establish home power systems off of the grid. Communications within the Farm were carried out with an old plug wire phone system donated by a local town and later with CB radio for emergencies. Kerosene lamps and outhouses were standard for the first 5–10 years. A 12-volt trickle charge system charged used golf cart batteries in homes, which in turn powered automobile tail light bulbs hanging from the ceilings and walls. Often these home systems would be powered by returning off-Farm work vehicles' batteries. Many of the buildings on the Farm were unconventional, ranging from converted school buses to modified 16 x 32 army tents. Over time, larger homes were constructed, each providing shelter for multiple families and single people, often with up to 40 people under one roof. Visitors were also housed in a two-story tent made by sewing two army tents together.
The Farm had its own electrical crew, composting crew, farming crew, construction & demolition crew, clinic, firewood crew, alternative energy crew, motor pool, laundromat, tofu plant, bakery, school and ambulance service. It established The Book Publishing Company, which published the works of the Gaskins and other Farm members. The Farm's midwifery school and Ina May Gaskin's seminal book "Spiritual Midwifery" are well known throughout the world for their emphasis on maternal and newborn compassion, safety and success rates.
They also ran a "soy dairy", which developed and later marketed a soymilk ice "cream" called "Ice-Bean", and a vegetable store in the town of Summertown. A crew constantly manned the gate where all traffic passed and was logged.
Tennessee Farm Band
They maintained The Farm Band, a rock group in the early 'jam band' style, which toured the country performing for free at parks, schools, churches, and other accessible venues. Albums from the 1970s include The Farm Band on Mantra Records, and Up in Your Thing, High On the Rim of the Nashville Basin and Communion on Farm Tapes & Records. There were also a number of 45 releases. All Farm Band recordings were self-produced and distributed. During the 2000s (decade), Akarma Records in Italy have distributed bootleg copies of their albums. The debut album, a self-titled 2-LP set from 1972, is considered a classic among independently released acid-rock albums of the 1970s and has been compared to Ya Ho Wha 13. In addition to the rock music recordings, Stephen Gaskin released a spoken word album titled the Great Western Tour in 1974, which was produced and distributed in the same way as their other LPs. 
In 1974, after helping local neighbors after a tornado, the Farm formed Plenty (later, Plenty International), its charitable works arm. It began by gathering and supplying food for local disaster victims and holding weekly "quilting bees" to make blankets for them.
Plenty's most notable early project was its four-year presence in the Guatemalan highlands after the earthquake of 1976, helping to rebuild 1,200 houses and lay 27 kilometers of waterpipe. There, it established a micro-commune of volunteers and their families, living simply among Mayan populations and working under the approval of the military government.
Plenty donated an ambulance in the early 1980s to the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in upstate New York. Two Farmies – one a paramedic and one an EMT – taught a licensed Emergency Medical Technician course to 22 reservation residents, helping them set up their first Mohawk-run EMT service, the "Mohawk Council of Akwesasne Ambulance Unit". Plenty has set up clinics in Lesotho and Mexico and created the Jefferson Award-winning South Bronx Ambulance Project in New York City.
Plenty maintains an office in Belize, Central America, which initiated a school lunch program based on organic gardens planted next to each school to help provide more vegetables for the children's diets. A midwifery program helped train over 60 Mayan women from villages throughout the region in prenatal care and safe delivery techniques.
Plenty was one of the first relief organizations to enter New Orleans, getting past federal roadblocks to bring supplies to survivors just three days after Hurricane Katrina. Plenty helped establish a base camp for volunteers and channeled funding to Common Ground Collective, a local group assisting in clean up, legal defense services, and the operation of free clinics. Plenty volunteers purchased and restored a home in the area to serve as a headquarters for housing relief volunteers and construction crews helping to rebuild homes.
Gaskin believed that marriage was a sacred act and that the sexuality between two people was created by the flow of cosmic energy, which was known as “the juice”. “For a community to exist in harmony and balance, both kinds of energy had to be nurtured, and most importantly shared.” The ideology of marriage at the Farm could be described as “synergistic”. Seriousness and commitment were required in marriage. Birth control was frowned upon, and abortions were prohibited in the community. Childbearing was natural, and births were attended by midwives. Premarital sex was greatly discouraged, and most couples on the Farm were married.
Some of the original community members believed in the practice of group marriage. The “four marriage system” was viewed as an important social structure in the early days of the commune. Gaskin himself was in a “six marriage” in which there were three women and two other men. They shared three beds and would switch partners continuously. This, however, was not required; Gaskin understood that not everyone was ready to be in a group marriage. It was taught only people with great ability and “the juice” were in plural marriages. None of these marriages survived more than ten years, most lasted no longer than five. And in some instances, the couples switched partners when the "four marriage" ended.
At its peak, the Farm claimed somewhere between 1200 and 1600 members living on the main property, along with many small "satellite" communities located in the U.S. and internationally. However, the Tennessee community lacked the infrastructure and income to properly support its growing numbers and grew increasingly in debt. Furthering the Farm's growing pains was a "baby boom" shortly after the commune's establishment resulting from its beliefs being put into actual practice. As the Farm's population peaked, the proportion of the population that could not significantly contribute to the work required to maintain the commune increased.
In 1983, due to financial difficulties and also a challenge to Gaskin's leadership and direction, the Farm changed its agreement and began requiring members to support themselves with their own income rather than donate all income to the central bank.
This decollectivization was called the 'Changeover,' or 'the exodus.' The local area provided few possibilities for employment. The nearest large city, Nashville, was a 1.5-hour drive and 75 miles (121 km) away.. Disillusioned, many people left to start over, and eventually the population settled down to its current (2009) level of about 175 adults and children. Those that stayed made the choice to continue living in community for its freedom and peaceful atmosphere, and the safety and security it provided for the children. It is also argued, however, that the members who stayed were close to Gaskin and had been benefiting from a disproportionate distribution of wealth for years. Many of the members were upset with an inequitable distribution of wealth, favoritism and a lack of plumbing despite large giardia outbreaks.
The $400,000 plus debt was paid off after several years and the community has remained debt-free to this day. An entrepreneurial spirit took hold, and numerous small businesses were established to provide support for the residents. Many members went back to school to get degrees in the medical field, and many now work at clinics and hospitals throughout Middle Tennessee.
In the nineties, with the community back on solid ground, The Farm returned to its original purpose of initiating social change through outreach and example. The Ecovillage Training Center was established as an educational facility in new technologies such as solar energy, bio fuels, and construction techniques based on locally available, eco-friendly materials.
In 2004, the Wholeo Dome (a geodesic dome fourteen feet in diameter and seven feet tall, covered with curved stained glass panels) was installed at The Farm. It was created in 1974 by artist Caroling Geary. In May 2010 repairs were completed on the Wholeo Dome.
The Farm maintains contact with its over 4000 former members through listserves, an annual reunion, and through the work of its nonprofit organizations. Former members have gone on to become leaders in many different fields and endeavors, maintaining a sense of right livelihood and a commitment to the betterment of the world.
Work of former members
Four ex-members of the Farm (Matthew McClure, Cliff Figallo, John Coate, and Nancy Rhine) were instrumental in establishing and managing the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (The WELL), one of the most influential early online communities. One of them (Nancy Rhine) went on to found Women's Wire, which became Women.com, the first commercial women-focused online community. Another (John Coate) founded SFgate, one of the first newspaper-based online sites (of the San Francisco Chronicle).
The man who had been in charge of growing food for the Farm (Michael O'Gorman) is an established leader in the organic farming movement, managing production on over 4,000 acres (16 km2). Recently,[when?] O'Gorman has extended his farming reach to establish the Farmer Veteran Coalition, bringing returning war veterans into the fold of small-scale family farming. Former members of Farm Foods are now the marketing force behind many healthy food products found on store shelves nationwide. A former member who was a medical doctor, Gary Hlady, spent years helping to eradicate polio in India. Many other former members help manage other nonprofits. Melvyn Stiriss, former editor of the community newspaper The Weekly Beat, is author and publisher of Voluntary Peasants, memoirs and histories about The Farm.
Prominent open source software figure Asa Dotzler grew up on the Farm.
Today the Farm's population has leveled off at about 175 residents. As new crops of young families seeking a lifestyle that combines environmental, political and spiritual awareness discover the potential and opportunity the community has to offer, they also struggle with the existing processes and agreements of the community. This has resulted in a disparity in age that leans toward a larger number of baby boomers (about 80%), many of whom have lived on The Farm for most of its existence. Those interested in becoming residents are encouraged to visit during the bi-annual Farm Experience Weekend, an inside look at how the community operates and functions and the agreements that have enabled it to survive for over 35 years.
In the media
The Farm was featured in Peter Jenkins' travel book A Walk Across America. Jenkins lived and worked at the farm for some time before continuing his trip.
The Farm is home to many organizations. These organizations include the following:
- The Midwifery Center, led by Ina May Gaskin, referred to as "the mother of authentic midwifery."
- The Ecovillage Training Center, which offers conferences and seminars on organic gardening, permaculture, strawbale construction, and sustainable technologies.
- Plenty International, an international aid and development NGO that helps indigenous populations, at-risk children, and the environment.
- Kids To The Country, a Plenty project that brings at-risk kids to The Farm to enjoy nature, to relax and be kids, and to study peace education.
- More Than Warmth, an educational project for students of all ages to learn about world cultures. It fosters understanding, knowledge, and compassion between cultures through nonviolent, nonpolitical, and nonreligious means.
- The PeaceRoots Alliance links individuals and groups dedicated to peace efforts around the country and beyond with real projects and actions.
- The Swan Conservation Trust is an organization dedicated to restoring and preserving natural resources and wildlife habitat.
- The Rocinante Health Center, an ecotopian retirement and health care center on 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land adjacent to The Farm.
- SE International, Inc., designer, manufacturer, and distributor of Radiation Alert detectors, Geiger counters, dosimeters, and ionizing radiation spectrum analyzers.
- The Book Publishing Company publishes books about sustainable and healthful living. Imprints include Books Alive, Healthy Living Publications, Healthy World Cuisine, Botanica Press, and Native Voices. Most of the books are authored by non-members of The Farm.
The Farm School
The Farm School is a K-12 school that provides alternative education to approximately 30 students on its main campus and over 300 homeschooling students in its Satellite Campus Program. Peter Kindfield, Ph.D., principal.
The school's aim is that "At The Farm School students learn as they apply basic skills and content to real-world issues with a focus on peace, equality and sustainability. We use responsive curriculum to connect what our students learn to their and our community's needs, interests, experiences and values. We tailor curriculum to individual student's wants and needs."
- Michael Gavin, The Farm in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture,
- Meunier, Rachel (1994). Communal Living in the Late 60s and Early 70s. Human Issues Project. Retrieved on June 23, 2007.
- See published article, "How They Keep Them Down On The Farm" in Harrowsmith, v.2,no.1 (whole number 7, from original start), May/June 1977, pages 45–47 et. seq., AS REPRINTED from The New York Times; specifically quote: "The Farm's way of life is religious communism in which work and raising children are considered spiritual disciplines... ""No private property, no private use of money, no Government welfare, no artificial means of birth control, no abortions.... "Smoking marijuana, according to their religious beliefs, is a sacrament... "Stephen and three followers spent much of 1974 in the Nashville Penitentiary..."
- The Acid Archives, book by Patrick Lundborg
- (Kern, 1993)
- Lorente, Carol. (1995) "Mother of midwifery: Ina May Gaskin hopes to birth a local movement of midwives". Vegetarian Times - Special Women's Health Issue. July. Retrieved on June 23, 2007.
- About Us, The Farm School website
- Curriculum (main campus), The Farm School website
- Coate, John (1987). "Life on the Bus and Farm: an Informal Recollection."
- Fike, Rupert (ed), Voices from The Farm: Adventures in Community Living (1998) ISBN 1-57067-051-X
- Jenkins, Peter. A Walk Across America. Jenkins discusses his stay at The Farm in Chapters 20 through 22. William Morrow & Co., 1979.
- Kern, Louis (1993). The Farm Midwives. Retrieved February 1, 2008, from The Farm Web site
- Stiriss, Melvyn. 2013. Voluntary Peasants, Marijuana Church Commune, Part One (Holy Hippies and the Great, Round-the-Country, Save-the-World, School Bus Caravan). ASIN B0057P2ZWO; http://www.voluntarypeasants.com/
- "Why We Left The Farm", Whole Earth Review #49, Winter 1985, pp 56–66 (stories from eight former members)
- "Farm Stories", Whole Earth Review #60, Fall 1988, pp 88–101 (reprinted from the WELL, by two former members)