If spiritually-based collectivism is a path to actualization, then the award for "The Most Well Worn" would go, hands down, to The Farm.

If an evolved ethos and practice of intentional community and cooperation are integral to saving the world from humanity, then The Farm's history ought to be required study for those who would pursue it.

The Farm is the oldest and biggest intentional community. It's lasted longer than any others (from the sixties, at least). It once had as many as 1,500 members, a dozen locations and numerous service activities across the nation and abroad. It's aspired to foster spiritual growth, world peace and ecological harmony for over four decades.

The Farm - 40th Anniversary

The spiritual precepts of The Farm are not based upon the scriptures, teachings or dogma of organized western religions. The Farm's spirituality is a product of 1) the societal conditions of the Sixties within which they were formed and 2) the passionate efforts, predominantly of "the young generation," to explore and construct more promising alternatives. The very definition of radical: extreme, non-traditional; favoring drastic change. Even on the spiritual level.

The forces defining the times were toxic: the tragic escalation of the Vietnam War; impending atomic apocalypse; the reprehensible complicity and obedience of media and the monolithic mainstream population to militarism; fascistic demands for rote, unexamined conformity to superficial, repressive religious dogma and social and sexual mores; racism and sexism; the mechanistic, soul-sucking, morally bankrupt processes of corrupt capitalism, fraudulent government and the laws of the establishment upon students and workers; Madison Avenue's devious commercial propaganda, epitomized in subliminal advertising; the gathering environmental storm being fueled by scientific hubris and industrial-strength greed, as revealed in Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring, Murray Bookchin's Our Synthetic Environment and other exposés.

The inquisitive minds among which future Farm members' thoughts and beliefs were developing found instruction in political philosophy, the history of social justice and revolution, and Eastern religion. They practiced activism and civil disobedience. The contemporary creative community affirmed their judgments and rebellions. Underground, some experimented with anarchism and militant opposition. And most received copious amounts of marijuana and head-spinning psychedelic experiences, which resonated, vibrated actually, with many.

cosmic vibration

And they were nourished by meditation and the calming, hopeful pursuit of enlightenment, inner peace, global equilibrium, and cosmic union.

cosmic buddha

The Farm today is far different from that which was founded. There are a few people who have been called or who have called themselves co-founders of The Farm. Certainly the efforts and achievements of The Farm have required and involved massive collective action. And the role of "leadership" has changed substantially. But the farm had a founding leader who was the spiritual guide, and that was Stephen Gaskin.

Because of this, some considered The Farm a cult. The Farm addresses this claim as follows:

Although we had our own jargon and other social eccentricities, in my opinion we did not cross the line to true cult status. Anyone was free to go at any time. We valued and encouraged relationships 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. - The Farm FAQs
All this is true. As we know about such circumstances, however, the "freedom" to come and go would mean letting go of the pursuit of one's spiritual mission within the context of The Farm, under the guidance of a strong leader, among kindred spirits, relationships with whom had been forged in the fires of rebellion and hardship, ties that would not be so easily severed, even though one was "free" to do so.

One need only glance at a handful of photos of those early days to know that Stephen was the cause of The Farm, which originated as a San Francisco "happening."

monday night class

Tellingly, there appears to be as much information in the world on Stephen as there is on The Farm, though both are well covered. Accounts on both subjects vary. I can't claim to have completely teased out fact from fiction, anecdote from myth, or an inside scoop from sour grapes, grudges or gossip. But there's a fascinating story and some clear, hard lessons to be had here nevertheless.

Stephen Gaskin 8

Stephen Gaskin (born February 16, 1935) is a counterculture hippie icon best known for his presence in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1960s and for co-founding "The Farm", a famous spiritual intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee. He was a Green Party presidential primary candidate in 2000 on a platform which included campaign finance reform, universal health care, and decriminalization of marijuana. He is the author of over a dozen books, a father, a grandfather, a teacher, a musician (drummer), a semantic rapper, a public speaker, a political activist, a philanthropic organizer, and a self-proclaimed professional hippie.


He went to prison in 1974 for marijuana possession, as members of the community had, against his recommendation, planted several marijuana plants on the property.[2] He served one year of a three-year sentence.[2] While in prison, a class action suit on his behalf returned voting rights to more than a quarter of a million convicts.


Stephen Gaskin - Right Livelihood Award

Gaskin was recipient of the first Right Livelihood Award in 1980 and an inductee into the Counterculture Hall of Fame in 2004. He was awarded the Golden Bolt Award by The Farm Motor Pool (for helping buy a lemon semi), and won the Guru-Off (without even entering), racking up 77 points to Krishnamurti’s 73. - wikipedia/Steven Gaskin

Note: per the Right Livelihood Award list of laureates, Hassan Fathy of Egypt also received an award in 1980, "for developing 'Architecture for the Poor.'" Stephen and Plenty International (AKA "Plenty"), an organization established and run by Farm members, were acknowledged "for caring, sharing and acting on behalf of those in need at home and abroad."

Beginning in early '67, Stephen -- then an assistant professor of creative writing, semantics and English literature at San Francisco State -- cultivated a following by holding free Monday night "classes" in a series of increasingly larger venues.
Stephen Gaskin 9

By 1969, with regular attendance of about 1,500, class moved to the Family Dog On the Great Highway, a rock hall. The Dog was owned by Chet Helms, who founded Big Brother and the Holding Company and recruited Janis Joplin. He also had an event production and promotion company called "The Family Dog," and he was, by many accounts, father of the Summer of Love (1967).

chet_helms 2

"The San Francisco Rock and Roll scene was invented by the Family Dog and the Charlatans. All we wanted to do was throw a big dance to raise money to buy land in Arizona to run a mail order pet cemetery." - Travus T Hipp (quote source)

Family Dog

Stephen and his audience sought a paradigm to unify the impulses, understandings and possibilities that the sixties (on acid) had awakened.

monday night class 2

For many, the "trip" revealed an immediate, compelling intimation of oneness. Oneness was considered, prima facie, of supreme spiritual import. It made the need for peace and love both obvious and vital. And this oneness extended to the natural world. The trip was seen as a door to spiritual dimensions and new understandings of reality. One such epiphany recognized oneness on the material "plane" as the connection shared by all matter and energy through constant flux and exchanges within the atomic and quantum web.

Pretty sure this is where "far out" and "heavy" came from. :)

cosmic oneness

In this sense, conflict and violence with "others" is a war with "I," "I" being everything at once: people and nature. Volence and war among people or between man and nature became not merely not good but not good for anything. Ever. A complete dead end.

When people came to a class for the first time, they were usually somewhere on this line of thought. Some were nearer the beginning:

"Stephen's spellbinding tales of telepathy, amazing trips, realizations and apparent quantum leap in spiritual development -- encouraged me to trip," Stiriss writes. "Now, I believed I was tripping not just for myself, but for all Mankind. I was tripping to get enlightened, to save the world from ignorance, poverty and war." - Melvin Stiriss
Others came to him already much farther along.
"We were the kind of people who came out of the drug experience of the Sixties, who acknowledged vibrations and other realms of existence besides the material plane. We'd seen the Vietnam conflict escalate and many of us had been tear-
gassed in the streets. We'd had some kind of spiritual realization that we were all
One and that peace and love were the obvious untried answers to the problems
facing our society; many of us had given up our material possessions before we
even met Stephen. That's the kind of people who started the Farm experiment." - Matthew McClure
The class did more than simply turn these concepts over in its mind.

Stephen Gaskin 10

Stephen would say, "Lets talk about how we're gonna be." Not "how we're gonna stop the war" or "how we're gonna make it fair," but "how we're gonna be." - America's Communal Religions
Having arrived at an understanding of how oneness, love, peace and the environment were related, the class also examined what it would mean to "be" that understanding in the world. Steven had the intellectual background, the spiritual awareness, and the charisma to lead that discussion. And that's why others followed.

gurus gate

As we shall see, the community of the class was not only contemplating "how to be", but preparing for putting those Words In Action. ;^)

Stephen Gaskin 7

Note: Stephen's wikipedia entry does not mention his equally illustrious and influential wife, Ina May Gaskin. I've done the same but will describe her and work on The Farm at a later point.

Originally posted to Words In Action on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 09:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Intentional Community Research and Development and Holy $h*tters.

Your Email has been sent.