Scene, June 1975

Truth and Soybeans

What are those lazy, good-for-nothing beatniks doing with those hoes?

By BOB KASPER, SCENE Staff Writer, June 1975

At 7 am, they are up, brushing their teeth, cooking sausage and coffee, readying for a day of work. Except their “coffee” is made from soybeans. So is the “sausage.” And they are preparing to work in air that smells of pine needles, not bus fumes.

They are the “flower children” of the 1960s, the gentle people who once swarmed to San Francisco, a species
most of us thought was extinct.

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Haight-Ashbury was their home, and from it they gave birth to a national state of mind. Their dress, their language, their music and their drugs soon appeared in suburbs from sea to shining sea. One group of 250 flower folks took to the road in 30 school buses. It was a road show to test and spread their gentle philosophy. It played in 40 cities, always drawing attention, sometimes drawing heat. Outside Chicago, in the Northwestern University parking lot, the caravan’s first child was born.

They returned to San Francisco, r but the vibrations weren’t right. So, four years ago, they gathered the buses together again and headed for Tennessee. There they figured they could work the soil and search for an alternative to middle-class living.

They say they have found that alternative—l,750 acres of rural Tennessee, 90 miles southwest of Nashville. They call it The Farm. Now, after the locals’ initial fears have been calmed, after a marijuana raid sent four of them to jail, the long-haired Farm folk have settled in as part of the 7,000 solid citizens of Lewis County, Tennessee. They vote in local elections, grow vegetables and search for Truth.

“Working with your hands is a real juicy thing to do,” says Peter Schweitzer, a graduate of Centre College in Danville, Ky., and one of The Farm’s original members. “You can see your‘ work and it gets you close to God.”

“They are real nice folks,” says Martha Jones, a clerk at her son-in-law’s combination grocery store and gas station near Summertown. “But I still don’t understand them.”

The beatniks who inhabit The Farm-— they prefer “beatnik” to “hippie”—— have formed their own community. It is a communal arrangement, and The Farm folk share their food, cars and work. They are strict vegetarians, and their meals of spinach, onions, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and soybeans come fresh from their 800 tillable acres.

In their “dairy” they squeeze soybeans into soy milk, soy yogurt and an imitation ice cream known as “ice bean.” An offset press in their print shop has just turned out a 125 page vegetarian cookbook which includes, recipes for such rarities as soy pulp cookies and soy cheese cake.

Their school-age children walk to The Farm’s’ unfinished one—room schoolhouse. Teachers carry their infants on their hips while drilling classes on reading. The construction crew is hammering away on a new building for a vegetable canning and freezing operation.


Christopher checks out The Farm’s “Beatnik Bell” phone system.

Three telephone systems, one named “beatnik bell,” link The Farm’s families, and an elaborate shortwave radio  system, keeps them in contact  with the outside world. Cooks pick up vittles for the evening meal at The Store, where provisions are distributed according to need and . no money accepted. At their tiny clinic, clinic ladies give shots t0 infants, and midwives give advice on nurturing another of The Farm’s abundant products —babies.

An’ old school bus has been converted into a dental clinic where a woman with a masters degree in history from Yale cleans teeth. There is also a, fully, equipped ambulance and fully qualified ambulance crew.-

A husband-and-wife team builds The Farm’s outhouses. And a 24-hour team staffs the gatehouse which greets each of The Farm’s visitors. Last year 15,000 people visited.

“We are the square’s of America” says David Frohman, who graduated from Penn State University with a degree in business administration or as he says, “Jewish engineering.” Now he works at the gatehouse and takes photographs for The Farm’s publications. “We do the jobs that don’t have status. The jobs that make this country run.”

Tennnessee border. Visitors. are welcome if they are sincerely interested in the Farm philosophy and if they are willing to work in the fields. While most of the- veteran residents of The Farm are from either the East or West Coast, visitors and members regularly arrive from the midlands.

Most of the adults on The Farm are  between 25 and 35 years old, are college educated and white. The population also includes teenagers – some of them runaways and a former convict, who, despite the, tattoo on his arm spreading “Death,” reportedly grows good vegetables.

What has drawn this sundry collection to the fields of Tennessee and what keeps them there is a strong belief in religion, manual labor and family.

Pirvilat Kahn visits The Farm

Pirvilat Kahn visits The Farm

Their religion is especial mix of Eastern and Western thought, They believe in one God, but in many prophets, among them. Jesus and Buddha.  During the School’s year-end performance, the kids chirped one verse of a song saying “I take Jesus as my Savior.” Then during the next verse happily sang that they also took Buddha as their savior.

They believe that the whole, world will someday adhere to their religion, so they reason that they have to be kind to everyone.

The Farm folk also believe in nonviolence; the necessity of a strong moral structure, and the sacramental value of smoking marijuana.

This last belief get them in trouble with the law. August of 1971, officers of the’Tennessee Bureau of Criminal Identification, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and sheriffs from two counties raided The-Farm. They  found marijuana plants growing in the woods and arrested four members of The Farm, among them Stephen Gaskin, the group’s spiritual leader known to followers simply as Stephan.

Stephan and a lawyer contested the arrest all the way to the United States  Supreme Court. They argued that marijuana smoking was part of their religion and, therefore, anti-marijuana laws interfere with their free exercise of religion.

“We  found that it is a way to meditation that helps us to pray and, to understand our Creator. Also it helps us to see the truth in our personal problems and in our interactions with each other,” Stephen testified. In a statement accompanying the legal briefs, he elaborated, “We believe that you don’t ever have to be angry or afraid. If someone comes on angry to us, we go off and do the thing we do to get cool: meditate, smoke marijuana, go for a walk in the woods and get our peace back.”

Trying to convince the court that the group was serious about its religion, Stephen and the lawyer pointed out that The Farm prohibits the’use of alcohol or tobacco. The court was not impressed. The Lewis County Criminal Court found the defendants guilty, and the Supreme courts of Tennessee and the United States refused to hear their case. Stephen and three other defendants served one year in the state prison.

Stephen, a 40-year old former student and teacher at San Francisco State College is now out of jail. This summer he is touring the United States with The Farm rock—and-roll band. The band puts on a free concert during which Stephen invites the audience to join the Farm team.

Since the run-in with the law, The Farm- folks have lowered their voices on the religious values of marijuana. Work, they say, can also get you high. They are now on good terms with local authorities.

“They are fine people,” says Lewis County Judge T. C. Carroll, who back in 1971 was one of the sheriffs participating in the marijuana raid. “No young folks from around here have joined them . . . most-of them are from the East Coast- But one thing I can say for them, they aren’t on welfare. They pay their own way.”

Judge Carroll also notes, with some pride, in the election for county judge, he carried The Farm’s voting precinct —one of the largest the county —- by an 8 to 2 margin. “If they think a fella can do his job, they’ll vote for him,” Judge-Carroll said.

“When they first came here,” says Evelyn Smith, “people said awful things about them… like they didn’t believe in God.” Mrs. Smith and her husband, Carlos, sold the group the land which makes up most of The Farm.

elaineSince then, tensions have eased, and The Farm folks are generally regarded as unusual, but helpful neighbors. When Mr. Smith learned that he had cancer and would have to travel to Texas for Chemotherapy, some of The Farm’s members stopped by the Smith’s home with fresh vegetables and-offers of assistance. “My oven went out and my washer quit, and they had somebody over’here to fix it,” Mrs. Smith said.

It is hard to find anyone in the vicinity, of The Farm who has anything disparaging to say about it. The least enthusiastic is probably, Dr. Neil Kellman, a physician in nearby Hohenwald, Tenn. Dr. Kellman and his family left a profitable practice, near Richmond, Va. to live on The Farm. After quarreling with Stephen they moved out. “I had difficulty accepting that just one person should be the spiritual leader,” Dr; Kellman says.

Nonetheless, he still .speaks fondly of the Farm, its health practices and Stephen. “I haven’t found any better,
workable alternative . . . Stephen seems to have the sanest thing going.”

Another major part of life on The Farm is telling the truth. As simple as that sounds, truth is often a casualty of the slick transactions of urban life. At the Farm the pace is slow, and people look at each other right in the  eye when they talk.

John, a newly arrived 14-year-old, is told to stop smirking and start working or he will be shipped out. Sometimes the truth telling gets more serious, or “heavier.”

“They really get into you . . . tell you where you are coming from, get right up into your thing,” says Dr.  Kellman. “I’ve been in encounter groups and they were never like that.”


Mail Lady Margaret Wilson makes her rounds astride Silver Lee.

On The Farm everybody works. Ladies (all the women are called ladies) with children belong to babysitting pools and work several days a week. The high-school students work two days a week as part of their education.

Adults rotate jobs and can, choose what they want to do. Without much apparent structure, the work gets done. On big occasions, calls go out for volunteers. A few weeks» ago, for instance, school was called off for a day so the students could pick the glut of strawberries.

Some Farm residents gave up white-collar careers to toil in the sun. A former advertising salesman for The Chicago Tribune is a bearded and barefoot sorghum farmer. A stockbroker now happily labors as The Farm’s plumber.

When questioned about their career goals, most Farm members answer in terms of working for the greater good of The Farm. Schweitzer, who taught high school in Philadelphia after leaving Centre, is excited about the growing number of teenagers coming to The Farm. When a runaway shows up…

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