I am always interested in the Farm because I attended Stephen Gaskin’s Monday Night Class metaphysical lectures in San Francisco, and later followed the story of the tribe that formed in those classes, became a cross-country caravan for the book tour of the book created from Stephen’s talks, and then created a rural commune. The commune they envisioned and created in Summertown Tennessee became arguably the largest and most influential commune of them all, launching numerous large-scale charitable projects, publishing books, founding and running a natural birthing clinic, and manufacturing and selling vegan, organically grown, food products. Eventually they created the concept of the ecovillage, inspiring the founding of ecovillages all over the world, which are connected through the Global Ecovillage Network. My friend, author/scientist/attorney Albert Bates, who joined The Farm in its early years, established and directed the Ecovillage Training Center, which is still teaching new generations to live off-grid while saving the planet.
The cultural cliché has it that the flower children danced at Woodstock, crashed at Altamont, and gradually shed their naïve ideals as they made themselves into ice-cream moguls, media magnates, and triangulating politicians. But the 200 people who live at the Farm—a 1,750-acre spread in the heart of Tennessee—have managed to hang on to the hippie spirit. It isn’t like they sit around talking about peace and love all the time, and hugging one another, and meditating, and eating tofu, and drinking soy coffee, and smoking weed, and criticizing the government, and making hopelessly earnest remarks—well, actually, it is like that, come to think of it. Farm residents do all that stuff, as I learned only too well during my four-day visit, this past January. But the Farm isn’t where you go to dream your life away in a 1960s-besotted haze. The place is active, fully engaged with the world. And it has a strong backbone in the form of 10 nonprofit companies and 20 private businesses.
Unlike the rest of us slobs, who sleepwalk through the workweek only to collapse at Friday’s finish line, the people at the Farm haven’t given up on the half-forgotten, laughable-seeming notion of making the world a better place. They have energy and enthusiasm. They take long hikes, they chop wood, and they actually bother to take part in marches against the war. They build their own photovoltaic solar panels, they grow tomatoes in backyard gardens, and they try not to be grouchy with one another. After dinner, when it’s time to wash the pots and pans, they don’t make a huge deal out of it by running the water full blast while listening to loud music, the way I do at home. For Farmies (as they sometimes call themselves), doing the dishes can be a meditative act involving a few inches of hot water at the bottom of the sink basin and some light splashing with a squirt or two of a non-petroleum-derived soap. They’re making a constant and conscious effort, in other words, to live without harming other people, animals, or the planet. So it’s not just some goofy lifestyle thing.