The Farm

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The Farm is a successful commune in Summertown, Tennessee, based on principles of nonviolence and respect for the Earth. Stephen Gaskin led 320 San Francisco freaks and hippies from San Franciso to establish the community in 1971. The Farm is now an ecovillage with 300 full time residents.

The Farm is home to the Farm midwives, led by Ina May Gaskin, Stephen Gaskin's first wife, who has been called "the mother of authentic midwifery."[1]

From its founding through the 70's, Farm members took vows of poverty and owned no personal possessions, though this restriction loosened as time passed. During that time, Farm members used no artificial birth control, instead experimenting with a natural method involving tracking the woman's body temperature. Alcohol, tobacco, man-made psychotropics and animal products were not used, though organic psychedelics were considered the Farm's sacraments.

After buying 1,000 acres (4 km^2) for 70 dollars per acre and another adjoining 800 acres (3.2 km^2) for 100 dollars per acre, the Farm began building its village in the woods alongside the network of crude logging roads that followed its ridgelines. It installed its own water system, but outlawed 60-cycle alternating current beyond the main house that served as its administration office and publishing center. Communications within the Farm were carried out via CB radio. Kerosene lamps and outhouses were standard for the first few 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, with newly-charged batteries being delivered each day. Visitors were housed in an army surplus two-story tent. Many of the buildings on the Farm were unconventional, ranging from converted school buses to yurts. A few conventional old farmhouses were home to massive numbers of people sleeping several people to a room. New arrivals were segregated by sex for six months, due to a tendency for romantic alliances which might interfere with their adherence to community goals.

The Farm had its own electrical crew, compost crew, farming crew, construction crew, clinic, motor pool, laundromat, tofu plant, bakery, school and ambulance service. They also experimented in 1977 with a tofu-based ice-cream substitute they called "Iced-Bean". A crew constantly manned the gate where all traffic passed and was logged. In 1974 - after helping local neighbors after a tornado - the Farm formed Plenty (later, Plenty International), its charitable works arm. Plenty's most notable projects came through its 4-year presence in the Guatemalan highlands after the earthquake of 1976. 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.

In 1983, not only due to financial difficulties, but also a challenge to Gaskin's spiritual leadership, the Farm changed its agreement with members to require them to support themselves with their own income rather than donate all income to the central bank. Most of its members moved off of the property around that time. At its peak, the Farm claimed somewhere between 1500 and 1700 members, living on the main community and many small "satellite" communities located in the U.S. and internationally.

Four ex-members of the Farm were instrumental in establishing and managing the Whole Earth Lectronic Link (The WELL), one of the most influential early online communities. One of them went on to found Women's Wire, which became Women.com, the first commercial women's focused online community. Another founded SFgate, one of the first newspaper-based online sites.

References

  • Fike, Rupert (ed), Voices from The Farm: Adventures in Community Living (1998) ISBN 157067051X
  • "Why We Left The Farm", Whole Earth Review #49, Winter 1985, p56-66 (stories from eight former members)
  • "Farm Stories", Whole Earth Review #60, Fall 1988, p88-101 (reprinted from the WELL, by two former members)

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