Frequently Asked Questions

Q – What is the Farm?
Q – What was the original vision of The Farm founders?
Q – Why life in community?
Q – Why is it called The Farm?
Q – Why Tennessee?
Q – Where is the Farm?
Q – What are the religious beliefs?
Q – What are the beliefs and agreements of The Farm?
Q – What was the change The Farm went through in 1983?
Q – Why did it happen and what were the social dynamics surrounding it?
Q – What are your thoughts on memories of the economic change in the 80’s?
Q – What is Right Livlihood?
Q – How do people support themselves?
Q – How is the community managed?
Q – What is the economic commitment of membership?
Q – How have things been with local relations? How were they early on, and how have they shifted over time?
Q – How would you describe the cultural creativity of the Farm?
Q – How has the culture shifted over time regarding gender roles?
Q – Describe Farm youth culture, what’s special about it, how it became so strong?
Q – How has the culture shifted over time regarding ecosustainability?
Q – Is The Farm an ecovillage?
Q – What is the architecture of The Farm?
Q – Is it accurate to say that when the Farm started Stephen was your leader?
Q – What was so compelling about Stephen, why were people so captivated?
Q – Was The Farm a “cult”?
Q – What about visitors?
Q – What is involved in establishing something the size of The Farm?
Q – What is the Farm up to these days?

 

Q – What is the Farm?
A- The Farm community is a cooperative enterprise of families and friends living on three square miles in southern middle Tennessee. We started the Farm in the hope of establishing a strongly cohesive, outwardly-directed community, a base from which we could, by action and example, have a positive effect on the world as a whole.

The Farm is a human scale, full featured settlement founded by Stephen Gaskin and 320 San Francisco hippies in 1971 as an experiment in sustainable, developmentally progressive human habitat. Being “full featured,” it has all of the usual implements of village life–grocery store, medical clinic, schools, water system, pharmacy, post office, cemetery, and scores of businesses and residences. Using the terminology of Permaculture,” it attempts–in all aspects–to harmlessly integrate human activities into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.

Being “developmentally progressive,” The Farm has a history of constantly pushing the envelope of what is economically feasible or even possible. While failures are an integral part of the experimental process, The Farm’s successes are numerous and dramatic.

Among ourselves we try to use agreement and mutual respect to generate a friendly working environment. We recognize that there are many paths toward realizing personal ideals and that people have a wide range of individual social values, but as a group, we do not accept the use of violence, anger or intimidation for solving problems. The fabric of our community is created by our friendship and respect for one another, and for our land. The institutions we have developed to organize our community have changed over the years and will probably change more. The Farm is not really what we are doing–it is how we are currently doing it. It is a process, rather than an end-result.

 

Q – What was the original vision of the Farm founders?
A- To live a “back to the land” lifestyle while still remaining engaged in social change to make the world a better place. To create a new social experiment based on compassion and a spiritual relationship to your fellow beings on the planet and the earth as a whole.

 

Q – Why life in community?
A- Members of The Farm have had the satisfaction of realizing many of the dreams and aspirations with which we first began. After more than four decades on this land, we appreciate even more the security of a tight-knit, compassionate, community environment. Our children have the freedom to explore the woods or go anywhere in our town in safety. The adults they interact with are honest and caring. We have very nurturing and healthful surroundings. No one has to carry the burden of his or her problems alone, or to bear the entire brunt of some catastrophe. We hold as a common belief that our outward works and goals should be seamless with how we choose to live–and we choose to live in community with one another

 

Q – Why is it called The Farm?
A- Like many things on The Farm, the original people who founded the community called it just what it was, with little embellishment. Other examples of this “Zen” approach to naming things iclude: Farm Road, First Road, Second Road, etc.; the Book Publishing Company, the Soy Dairy, the Tempeh Lab, The Farm School, the Farm Store, the Welcome Center, , etc. Today the Farm is less a farm and more like an ecology of systems.

 

Q – Why Tennessee?
A- In the mid – 1960s, many people went through a cultural change that took them away from their roots and cast them adrift, searching for something better. Disillusioned by the Vietnam War, disturbed by increasing violence and injustice in the nation, encouraged by the successes of the Civil Rights and other movements, and empowered by the strength of their numbers, many gravitated toward the West Coast, looking for alternatives. In 1970, a group of approximatly than 300 left California in a caravan of school buses to start an experimental community where our ideals could find expression in our daily lives. At $70 an acre, Tennessee gave us access to a large amount of land at an affordable price.

 

Q – Where is the Farm?
A- The Farm was settled near Summertown on 1750 acres of rolling hilltops in one of the poorest counties in rural Tennessee. It is 25 miles from the nearest hospital, 40 miles from the nearest interstate highway, and 75 miles from the nearest major city. It is also 35 miles from the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.

The early community settlement was built entirely from salvaged, recycled and local materials. A $1 road grader cut the roads. A $1 tower from a railroad yard held the public water supply. Scrapped schoolbuses and army tents provided shelter from below-zero temperatures, until a local sawmill could begin milling native oak and salvage crews could harvest old  barns, factories, and condemned houses for building materials.

On a budget of $1 per person per day and no grants, no food stamps, and no welfare, the original settlers bought the land, erected the buildings, and became agriculturally self-sufficient within 4 years.

 

Q – What was the change The Farm went through in 1983?
A- By 1980, the population had swelled to over 1200, but a series of economic  losses in agriculture and other enterprises led to a scaling back in the early ’80s. “Human-scale” for the community’s infrastructure had been exceeded. Aware of their impact on the surrounding forest, the settlement cut its agricultural acreage by going to more intensive and permacultural farming methods, relocated outlying neighborhoods that impinged too deeply into the hardwood forests, and zoned off more than half of its acreage from all development other than management designed to encourage natural biodiversity.

From 1971 to 1983, the Farm had a traditional communal economy like the Shakers or the Hutterites. After 13 years, a financial crisis forced the reorganization of our economy.

 

Q – Why did it happen and what were the social dynamics surrounding it?
A- By the early 80’s The Farm was over $400,000 in debt. Some from bad investments, such as trying to be commercial vegetable farmers. We did not have insurance and had very large medical bills. A large, corporate hospital placed a lean against the land. It was finally decided that each adult member would have to contribute some cash each month. The debts were paid off in about 3 years.

 

Q – What are your thoughts on/memories of the economic change in the 80’s?
A- It was much easier to manage a collective income on the smaller farms of 20 to 60 people than it was for the 1200 we grew into. “The Changeover” also gave individuals more personal freedom, eliminating dogmas that we had inadvertently created, such as allowing people to cut their hair or try out different diets. For example some people cannot digest soy, which was a core staple of The Farm’s collective diet. Avoiding soy was virtually impossible on the old system, since everyone got food rations from our store and did not have personal money to buy different food. The Changeover also allowed the individual to pursue education, different career paths, to live a subsistence lifestyle or maximize their income, and many more things, without the community having an opinion.

 

Q – What are the religious beliefs?
A- The Farm is a nondenominational church. It could be said we are “free thinkers,” because we discuss religion and philosophy in terms that do not exclude any possibilities. People come to the Farm from a variety of religious traditions and disciplines and find those views treated with honor and respect. While individual practices may vary, our group practice is an on-going, free-ranging discussion. We consider ourselves to be a spiritual community. In keeping with our deep reverence for life, we are pacifists, conscientious objectors, and many or most of us are vegetarians and vegans. On Sunday mornings a number of us like to gather for group meditation at various locations throughout the community.

 

Q – What is Right Livlihood?
A – Right livelihood – is a Buddhist concept which states that your work should be seamless with your beliefs. This is what has led us in every aspect of our lives, from midwifery, to international development, to work with inner city youth, to the peace movement… the list goes on.

 

Q – How do people support themselves?
A- About a third to one half of the adults in the community work in nearby towns to support themselves and their families. Some work as independent contractors, while others work in industries or medical field. The rest of us make our living within the community, working for homegrown cottage industries like the Book Publishing Company, SE International, The Farm Catalogthe Soy Dairy, the Tempeh Lab, Village Media Services, and Mushroompeople. Others are involved in community services like The Farm School, The Farm Store, the Welcome Center, the Clinic, WUTZ-FM, and our community government. Some of us work in global transformation efforts through Farm-based charities.

 

Q – How is the community managed?
A- All members of The Farm are expected to contribute to the financial upkeep of the community through their earnings. Since our community operates like a small town, it has some of the same needs. We maintain our own roads, municipal buildings, and public water system. Community policies are arbitrated and implemented through an elected board. Important questions are discussed at town meetings and decided by community votes. We don’t always reach complete consensus, but we generally try to have a high level of agreement in everything we decide.

 

Q – What is the economic commitment of membership?
A- All members of The Farm pay weekly or monthly dues which contribute to the upkeep of the community. We call it our “rent.” The level of individual contribution, which is usually between $75 and $125 per adult per month, is based on a budget that is drafted and re-drafted at town meetings and voted on once a year. In addition, new members are also asked to provide a one-time membership fee, which may be paid in installments over time. This money goes to our development fund, which is used to maintain the land, improve the community’s facilities, stimulate cottage industries, and otherwise help the Farm grow.
Q – How have things been with local relations? How were they early on, and how have they shifted over time?
A- In general we have good neighbor relations. In the early days there was more effort to connect with our immediate neighbors. Now our neighbor relations extend to the local businesses and banks in nearby towns and in Nashville.

 

Q – How would you describe the cultural creativity of the Farm?
We are a very mixed group. Some are artists, others are nuts and bolts people. We recognize and appreciate the creative spirit.

 

Q – How has the culture shifted over time regarding gender roles?
Gender roles have shifted as the first generation of children have left home enabling more women to pursue more varied and lucrative careers. However in the new families with young children in my observation we tend to remain somewhat traditional, encouraging moms to be with the children with the dads being breadwinners, at least while the kids are still little. However dads change diapers, feed, bathe, and play an active role in their family.

While its true we honor women/mothers who choose to stay home with their children, we also have many women young and old who are actively pursuing careers. Our largest company, an electronics manufacturing form, has a woman CEO and most of the managerial staff are women. Women hold many of the other key positions, such as the head of production.

A husband and wife team manage The Book Publishing Company, (our second largest business, both in income and in the number of people it employs), which is owned by the community.

Several women in the medical field represent the highest incomes for members of the community. Of course the midwives have always been held in the greatest respect by the community, carrying a profound responsibility for life and death and the guiding energy that brings our children into this world. Midwifery services and teaching workshops provide income for 6 midwives and their families. Several of the Midwives are now active in nationwide organizations, MANA (Midwifery Alliance of North America)and NARM (National Association of Registered Midwives), which have their organizations offices here in the community. Several travel around the country and the world to lecture, lobby and promote the acceptance of lay midwifes.

 

Q – Describe Farm youth culture, what’s special about it, how it became so strong?
A – Over 2000 children have been born here. Over 1000 spent a significant part of their early years here and several hundred grew up here. They share a deep and special bond, and an international viewpoint.

 

Q – How has the culture shifted over time regarding eco-sustainability?
A – Some folks are more driven to pursue eco-sustainability projects. Mostly we take a broader view. Our community allows us to live lighter on the planet. Our book company encourages vegetarianism, which in turn reduces the need for cattle pastures devastating the forests of the world as they are converted to pastures. Right now sustainability also means establishing a new generation to make this land their home. This next generation is attracted to eco-sustainability and hopefully will continue to lead us in that direction.

 

Q – What is the architecture of The Farm?
A- Twenty-seven multifamily residential buildings built between 1974 and 1978 experimented with two inexpensive and cost-effective elements of design, direct solar gain and super-insulation. Since 1978, many buildings constructed at The Farm have solar-orientation and are designed for energy efficiency. There are extensive examples of both green and natural building. The Farm School is the largest passive solar, earth-bermed, and recycled-material school in the State.

 

Q – Is it accurate to say that when the Farm started Stephen was your leader?
A- Stephen always used the line, “I am not a leader, I am a teacher. If you lose your leader you are leaderless. If you lose your teacher hopefully they taught you something.” This was a more accurate description of his relationship to the community. He was not engaged in the day to day operations of the community.

“I lived on the Farm 7 years before I had a personal interaction with him. He was more like the Sunday preacher, doing a “sermon” on Sundays after meditation,” explains DOoglas Stevenson, author of Out to Change the World and The Farm Here and Now. “The people you lived with in communal households, your co-worker, were also your teachers, since they saw you up close and could recognize your faults and hip you to them.”

 

Q – What was so compelling about Stephen, why were people so captivated?
A- He was charismatic, but he also had a track record of recognizing people’s strength’s and weaknesses, cutting through ego bullshit with compassion (although it might still be difficult or even painful…which Stephen referred to as the “hairy bandaid”. Being older, he also had some maturity, helpful in developing our neighbor relations and in pointing us in the direction of service to the planet rather than contemplating our navel seeking personal enlightenment.

 

Q – What are your thoughts on the “cult” label?
A- Although we had our own jargon and other social eccentricities, the inside opinion is that we did not cross the line to true cult status. Anyone was free to go at any time. We valued and encouragedrelationships with your parents and family. All of us had our own psychedelic experiences that formed the foundation for our belief that we are all one, rather than relying on Stephen’s experiences or believing a book to be the word of God.

 

Q – What about visitors?
A- We enjoy having visitors. We have a primitive campground with running water and an outhouse. Lodging is available in cabins and homes at reasonable rates. The Ecovillage Training center has a youth hostel and dorm space, as well as private rooms.

The Farm Store has an assortment of foods and supplies. Visitors are asked to not bring weapons or pets. Swimming is available at a guest rate of $2 per day. We can also make arrangements for groups to include a tour and a vegetarian luncheon. Retreat and conference services are also available. For information, write to the Welcome Center, 34 The Farm, Summertown TN 38483.

 

Q – What is involved in establishing something the size of The Farm?
A- Most of the early settlers of The Farm arrived with only the clothes on their backs and a pocketful of dreams. Many life savings had been spent to get to Tennessee, find and acquire the land, and make the first land payment. Racially, religiously and ethnically diverse and spanning as much as 90 years of age, the original group of 320 were occasionally harassed by racially intolerant neighbors and the clandestine infiltration of state and federal law enforcement authorities.

Guided by ecumenical spirituality and an abiding sense of the utmost importance in their mission (the slogan on the lead bus of the caravan into the land was “Out to Save the World), the group persevered through its adversities. The first winter was marked by an outbreak of infectious hepatitis from a polluted stream. The second–known as “wheat berry winter”–is remembered as near-famine.

But within 4 years The Farm had gained self sufficiency in food production and established a construction company with more than 80 skilled craftsmen. The Farm built schools, greenhouses, dry goods and grocery stores, and automotive, welding, woodworking and machine shops. It established child nutrition and sanitation standards, fire codes, and electrical, heating, lighting, and housing safety standards.

Within 5 years it had founded a clinic, laboratory, dispensary, neo-natal ICU, and infirmary with more than 60 community medical personnel and wide range of innovative programs in preventive medicine, serving not only The Farm, but the medically underserved area out to a 20 mile radius.

The midwifery program, born in 1971, has delivered more than 2000 babies with outcome statistics vastly better than hospitals (Caesarean rates are only 1.8% versus 20% or higher for hospital delivery). In large measure this is due to a comprehensive, family-based support program in prenatal and postnatal education, nutrition, and care. And because of early support and intervention for individual family problems, there is no poverty, little domestic violence, and virtually no crime within the community.

Establishing a close working group with a good sense of fair process, acquiring land, incorporating and writing bylaws, and creating a means of support are less difficult than finding a common vision that will carry you over obstacles. No one can predict what those obstacles will be, only that they will be there. Our “glue” is our shared determination to make a difference in the future of our tiny blue home in space

 

 

Q – What is the Farm up to these days?
A- The nearly 200 present-day residents of The Farm have not rested on their laurels, but continue to create and demonstrate low-consumption, high-fulfillment lifestyles within a caring, socially active community; to conceive, finance and launch daring business enterprises that revolutionize the fields they compete in; to reduce the burden of external government; to mitigate the negative environmental, health and economic impacts of unsustainable global patterns; to demonstrate and export a variety of integrated social development strategies which can encourage diverse cultures worldwide to bypass unhealthy transitions; and to become a living example of the healthy and fulfilling interdependence of human and natural communities.

In 1995, The Farm helped to launch the Ecovillage Network of the Americas (ENA), headquartered initially at the Farm Ecovillage Training Center. ENA links together the efforts of a wide variety of green communities, Eco-City projects, and incipient ecovillages to make the way easier for future ecovillagers and to lay the foundation for a major shift in Western consumer lifestyles across the broader culture.

In 2015, Swan Conservation Trust, a nonprofit land trust founded by Farm members in 1994, established the 1400 acre Big Swan Headwaters Preserve which surrounds the community, raising over $1.3 million dollars to purchase he land.

The work to make the world a better place continues.

 

 

 

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