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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Have a pal who used to live there. (6+ / 0-)

    Known several others who have visited.

    IMO they tried hard as they could to live their beliefs and even though they have changed over time it's pretty amazing they have still remained in any form.

    I think they probably messed up some when they tried to use some of their money globally when their own community was still in pretty severe poverty.

    But overall their intentions were/are good.

  •  Very interesting and I'll definitely be (6+ / 0-)

    looking for the next installment.  

    I had the opportunity about 30 years ago to to Arlington, Washington, home of the Love Israel children where they had a farm.   They also had numerous businesses in an area in Seattle known as Queen Anne.  I was out biking one day with my wife in Queen Anne and overheard some of them talking about needing a drummer.  I stopped, struck up a conversation, and ended up playing drums with their group for a few times.   I was invited out to their Arlington farm, which was almost unheard of for someone not formally a member of the group.  One of these days maybe I'll write in detail about that experience.

    They split up and disbanded about 15 years ago.  At the time of thier split they were one of the largest and longest surviving communes in the country.   They broke up  largely due to the friction that developed in trying to educate their children in a home school situation vs public school.  There were other reasons too but that was a main one.

    I'm not positive about this but I'm pretty sure I was on the infamous Ken Keesey's  Electric Koolaid Acid bus at their farm.  

    Heady days!!  

    Thanks for the great post.  I look forward to the next installment.  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

    by John Crapper on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 10:38:45 AM PDT

  •  Very cool (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you!!

    I never liked the term "counterculture." Probably because the greed and war loving assholes that define the mainstream way of thinking are far from cultured.

    Be radical in your compassion.

    by DWG on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 10:48:36 AM PDT

  •  Good start, but the women are very important (4+ / 0-)

    In how The Farm works. Without them, it would have collapsed.

    The leaders who were men realized that early on, and decided that the women were as important, if not more important, than the men. They could figure out how to cooperate without competition, which the men struggled with.

    Everyone I have met that spent time at The Farm said that it was almost always the men that caused disruption, that needed help to get it.

    Women create the entire labor force. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Sympathy is the strongest instinct in human nature. - Charles Darwin

    by splashy on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 02:34:37 PM PDT

    •  They're coming. We haven't actually gotten to (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, too many people

      the actual Farm yet.

      I would agree with this: if a large, full consensus, 100% income-sharing commune is ever going to work, it will be because a group of women have trained the community over numerous years, perhaps multiple generations, on how to cooperate day-in and day-out, the small stuff and the big stuff...

      Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

      by Words In Action on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 03:04:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I would have to say it's a bit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, Words In Action

    of a stretch to give Chet Helms credit for the whole Summer of Love.

    I remember going out to State a couple of times to hear Gaskins speak,  early on in Spring '67.  I was impressed by what he had to say,  but not enough to go on his trip.  His deification was already well under way.

    There were a few stories that went around concerning the Great Exodus,  when the Farmers all packed it up and went to Tennessee in a big caravan.  There were some hard decisions made when vehicles broke down on the way and they (and their people) were left behind while the main cohort continued on.  Prolly was the wise choice,  simply because they were such a large caravan that staying anywhere en mass while repairs were made was attracting trouble.  Nobody wanted 40 bus loads of hippies hanging around being highly visible in Bum Fuck, Flyover Country.  As long as they kept moving the authorities were glad to see the backs of them.  The story resonated for me at the time because in the convoys I traveled in in those days,  nobody was ever left behind.  Course,  there were not 500 of us, or however many went on that trip with Gaskins.

    I myself had occasions to ride the Great Bus Furthur, Neal Cassidy at the wheel, once in early '66 (iirc, although it could have been late '65), when Kesey brought the whole show down to LA and put on THE Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that was held down near Watts in South Central LA.  I was the ad manager for the venerable LAFree Press at that time,  and we got out the publicity for the event, which got me aboard the bus driving through downtown LA.  Yes,  the Great Bus Furthur looked just like that photo above.  Old garage/warehouse building at 108th and Alameda.  Tom Wolfe later immortalized the event in his book of that name.  And yes,  I passed the Acid Test.

    The other time was just a goof ride in '67 when Kesey had to get out to his attorney's (Brian Rohan) house in Marin and Furthur was the only wheels they had.  I just happened to be around that night.  This was when Kesey was working out the details for his return from being on the lam in Mexico for some pot bust. He had snuck into the Bay Area incognito the week before, and was out at some kind of do at SF State, coincidentally  in the same room Gaskins used for his Gatherings.   I next saw the bus up at the Hog Farm in Llano, NM when I arrived in NM in '71.  This was right after the Famous Bus Race held somewhere up behind Tesuque, outside of Santa Fe.  

    Geez, I start thinking about those times and the memories just come spilling out.  Very cluttered attic,  my mind.  Thanks for the memories.

    don't always believe what you think

    by claude on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 05:44:00 PM PDT

    •   more, more...:> (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Words In Action

      very interesting claude, thanks.

      This machine kills Fascists.

      by KenBee on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 07:28:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  NYT, LAT, Billboard, Boston Globe, Variety, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Today Music, AllMusic,vwikipedia, The Guardian, wikipedia...

      On google, the list is long of those who referred to Chet as the "father of the Summer of Love" ... I'm just the messenger :)

      Thanks for reflections, though. I envy those Kesey gems, and I would have liked to hear Gaskin even once.

      Did you run into Wavy Gravy or any members of the Dead, Airplane, Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield, etc.?

      I was 8 in '67... The best I can say is that was listening to all of the music, because my 14 yeard-old brother collected everything! And I inherited it all when he graduated college! Still have about 500 45's from the 60s, 1100 albums, even reel to reel of the Dick Clark's annual countdowns of the top 100...!

      Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

      by Words In Action on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 08:02:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  yes, and then some (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Words In Action
        Did you run into Wavy Gravy or any members of the Dead, Airplane, Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield, etc.?
        I first met the Dead in the context of them being the house band for the Acid Tests, and then later in the Haight.  None of them would remember me, I suspect.

        I can be found in the index of several histories and memoirs  of the times; a very minor underground culture hero.  Some of us from those times remain in contact.

        It is a bit of a shock to realize all this history is nearly 50 years old.  I was 21 in the Haight, late '66 - late '67.

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Thu Mar 28, 2013 at 09:47:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Perfect timing. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Especially if you avoided 'Nam.

          Me, I turned 21 when Reagan won the election...

          I managed a good run personally, but the culture was really all downhill from there.

          I'm putting my hopes in Son of Occupy.

          btw, I was in SF last June. Walked through the Haight and Golden Gate Park. It was good be back. It had been a while. Went there a lot in the 90s. Couple times in the 80s.

          How about Quicksilver Messenger Service. Weren't they out of SF?

          Are you in the Bay area now, Claude?

          I'd like to retire as a minor counterculture hero. Working on it. :)

          Mindfulness is the first necessity of sanity and survival and the first casualty of Consumer Culture.

          by Words In Action on Fri Mar 29, 2013 at 06:30:34 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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