Stephen Gaskin, founder of The Farm, dies at 79
Stephen F. Gaskin, a professed “hippie priest and freelance rebel rouser” who assembled, preached to and presided over the Farm, one of the largest and longest-lasting communes born of the counterculture era, died July 1 at his home near the settlement in Summertown, Tenn. He was 79.
Douglas Stevenson, who described himself as an unofficial spokesman for the still-extant Farm community, confirmed the death and said he did not know the cause.
In his day, Mr. Gaskin was a countercultural celebrity, the figurehead of a commune that seemed to have achieved the critical mass, wherewithal and collective commitment needed to make such a society work when so many others had petered out.
He had first attracted notice in the late 1960s in San Francisco, where he convened weekly seminars called Monday Night Classes. They began, the New York Times reported, with the sounding of a horn and a long “om.”
With the charisma of a guru, he drew hundreds of attendees — sometimes as many as 1,500 — for sessions in which he delved into topics including religion and personal fulfillment. In 1970, he embarked on a national speaking tour. A caravan of some 60 school buses carrying several hundred followers came with him.
In 1971, they pooled their money and bought a tract of land in central Tennessee for $70 per acre. There they founded the Farm, with Mr. Gaskin as their leader.
Years later, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, an early communard recalled the decidedly counter-countercultural aspects of the region where they had settled and compared their arrival to “a spaceship landing in Tennessee.”