Columbia TN Daily Herald 2006

State’s most famous hippy and founder of The Farm – 2006

Turner Hutchens, The Columbia Herald | 11/7/2006

THE FARM – Tennessee’s most famous hippy is getting on in years, but says his productive days are far from over.

Stephen Gaskin author, speaker, Counterculture Hall of Fame member, and founder of The Farm, turned 70 years old Wednesday.

Gaskin said he’s spent half his life so far – “the more fun half” – on The Farm, where hundreds of self-described hippies have made their home since 1971 when they rolled into Lewis County in painted school buses, hoping to create a Utopia.

“I’m so pleased and happy and content with my family and friends and community,” Gaskin said, stretching back on his bed with his Macintosh computer in his lap.

Gaskin is a long, lean man with a wry smile and an easy chuckle. His hair remains uncut, though what’s still there has faded to mostly gray.

An ex-Marine who saw combat in Korea , Gaskin became a hippy while teaching creative writing at San Francisco State College in the mid-1960s.

In 1967 he began holding “Monday Night Class,” a weekly meeting of young, idealistic people trying to figure out how to change the world and live right. This group was the beginning of The Farm, which was at one point the largest commune in the world with 1,500 residents.

As many as 4,000 people have lived on The Farm, and The community spans far beyond the physical home in the woods of Tennessee into places around the country and world, Gaskin said.

Though he shunned the title “guru,” Gaskin was at one time the spiritual leader of The Farm. He described his religion as just “hippy,” which means being a “non-superstitious, psychedelic, free-thinker.”

“I feel like a religion is mostly alive before somebody puts a name on it and nails it to a wall like a butterfly,” Gaskin. He’s non-violent, vegetarian and thinks there’s still hope for the world.

Gaskin said The Farm has gone through changes in the last 34 years but is impressive “because we’re still doing it.”

The hippy residents have learned a lot from their southern neighbors and earned a good reputation by dealing honestly, working hard and trying hard to “never burn anybody,” Gaskin said.

Along with his wife, Ina Mae – herself a world-renowned midwife and author – Gaskin is now part of the community on The Farm but not its leader.

“People here just think, oh, that’s old Stephen down on Apple Orchard Lane ,” Gaskin said with a smile.

Hailed as a counter-culture icon, Gaskin spends his time writing and lecturing – an activity that takes him around the world.

Gaskin said lately he’s been spending a lot of time explaining America and its actions to people in other parts of the world – talking about what’s wrong.

“The government is almost out of the people’s hands,” Gaskin said. “The people have to act in a strong and steadfast way to keep democracy happening.”

He said the state of the world is similar to the one that gave rise to the counter-culture movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“We felt the grownups were messing it up so bad the kids could tell – and it’s like that again,” Gaskin said, “and it’s like that again.”

The one-time youth movement leader said he’s glad for what he’s learned and thinks he’ll have many years to continue learning, teaching and enjoying the world. People in his family often live to 100, and – with the help of good living and a vegetarian diet – he said he expects many more good years.

“My father lived to 94, and he didn’t eat his vegetables,” Gaskin said. “I eat my vegetables.”

For his 70th birthday celebration, Gaskin has planned a low-key evening at home without to much fuss.

“I think some hippies are going to come over,” Gaskin said, chuckling.

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