The Plaid Zebra, 2015

Peace, Drugs and Earthships, The Oldest Hippy Commune

The Plaid Zebra 5/2015

This article has a lot of tongue in cheek references, and as always, some mis-information, even in the title. Read my comments at the end of this article.
Douglas Stevenson, webmaster

Founded in 1971 by former U.S. Marine, Stephen Gaskin, The Farm is the longest running hippy-commune in America.

In the beginning, The Farm was home to approximately 320 members. The hippy movement had spurred a congregation of tie-dye, long-hairs, weed-smoke and free love across the west coast, and most specifically San Francisco, California. Looking to develop these ideals into a progressive and functional society, a group of like-minded individuals, led by Gaskin, took off across the country to spread the good word.

Unfortunately, society at large is a tough structure to shake when you’re armed with only a few hundred people, acid and a handful of indian-beads. They needed a starting point, and California land was costly. Looking to middle-America, they began by purchasing 1,064 acres of land in Tennessee for about $74,480, subsequently buying an additional 750 acres shortly after for another $75,000.

Descending from the hills of San Francisco, Gaskin and his merry hippy band swarmed Lewis County, Tennessee in a skunky-haze of weed smoke and body odour, amassing 60 buses, vans and trucks. What began as a U.S. speaking tour, transformed into a blended community of progressive thinkers, red-eyed activists and ambitious hippies on a mission to perpetuate the values of non-violence, ecological living and minimalism. Members of the community swore an oath to remain materialistically unattached, save their clothing and farm tools. Birth control, booze, tobacco and animal products were outlawed from their community.

Dwelling in converted buses, army tents and homes that were built to shelter up to 40 people, the group made do with what little supplies they had, trading wealth for a life in what they believed to be a higher form of consciousness.

After a few failed attempts at forming a governmental structure, the community developed a non-profit corporation named The Foundation. Members made financial contributions, which would then be re-allocated to necessary causes within their micro-society.

To Farm members, marijuana was a sort of religious tool, used to attain a pure and holy life. They made claims to accessing a higher consciousness, with a precedence on oneness and spirituality. The community’s philosophical beliefs were no doubt a product of Gaskin’s Christian and Eastern religious practices, which he would teach to other Farm members.

Today, The Farm isn’t too far off from its original ideals—although rather than a commune, it’s now deemed a cooperative community. Today, The Farm is home to approximately 150 permanent residents—many of whom have lived on the property for the majority of their lives.

The Farm is also the proud owner of a school, which is even recognized by the state so kids are able to attend college once they graduate. About 20 kids attend.

Beekeeping, garden tending and home construction are all jobs that contribute to the sustainability of The Farm. Most of the members build their own homes, which are built sustainably using the clay, sand and straw found on the property for construction. The homes resemble what is today referred to as “earth ships,” using many of the same construction methods including green roofs that are carved from the earth itself to provide air-conditioning in the summertime.

Though the grounds have begun to gain an increasingly progressive edge, the old values of weed, peace, free love and music are still cornerstones of Farm life.

If you’re interested in running away to The Farm, you can attend one of their Farm Experience Weekends, a bi-annual event that gives newcomers a rundown of Farm life and what to expect should you decide to join the community.

My comments

During the 70’s, The Farm and The Foundation was a 501-D, a Federal tax status used for income sharing monasteries. Since the early 80’s, The Foundation has been a for-profit corporation, which basically means it cannot accept tax deductible donations. However there are numerous nonprofits within The Farm, including The Farm School , The Farm Midwifery Center, Plenty International and Swan Conservation Trust.

The article stated: “Most of the members build their own homes, which are built sustainably using the clay, sand and straw found on the property for construction. The homes resemble what is today referred to as “earth ships,”

Earthships are built ramming earth into tires. There is one small pond that used this technique to build up a wall, but no structures on The Farm or at our Ecovillage Training Center use this building technique. Perhaps the author of the article is referring to the use of earth plasters as an exterior/interior stucco used on two homes and several structures at the Ecovillage Training Center.

About 50% of the homes were built during the communal period, although all needed a lot of additional work, from windows to roofs, bathrooms and interior finish work. Most new homes are built using Farm contractors who employ Farm members for their work crews. Three exceptions are ICF homes (Insulated Concrete Forms) which were built by a local New Order Amish contractor and crew.

I encourage anyone using articles to research or learn about The Farm to read several, in order to compare and identify discrepancies in information. In my over 20 years of working with the press, I find that all get some things wrong, but the general sense of who we are comes through.

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