May 9 – May 13, 2013
Hey Everyone! Adrian here as Christie is on a short trip to Florida to visit with her mom and sister.
Ohhh the farm! It’s a must visit on so many people’s list; both those interested in community and those in midwifery. With us leaving East Wind (where we had a three week stay planned) after only two hours, we suddenly had some new possibilities of what to do, for how long, and when. We left southern Missouri and went East, stopping for a day and a half to regroup in a West Plains, MO hotel before we went to Tennessee.
Before we left, we had sat down and thought long and hard about communities that were high on our list to visit. The Farm made it, but because they didn’t have a visitor program we didn’t plan on staying long. As we’ve been finding out and will elaborate on later, it’s much easier to get to know a community if they have a formal way for visitors to transition and meet the members who live there. Anyway, here we finally found ourselves at The Farm for a yet undetermined amount of time (up to a month if we fell in love).
If you don’t yet know of The Farm, let me fill you in a bit (and only a bit). As most of us know, there’s a lot of history that’s wrapped up in most places, and The Farm isn’t immune to that. Their history is probably more interesting then some, especially for places their size. They started out in the late sixties and early seventies in S.F. California when a man named Stephen Gaskin started organizing new-agey talks that people wanted to listen to. He started to have 100+ people showing up; a small force. L
ike others in his day, his response to the pressures of the Vietnam war, isolated and violent culture, and unsustainable living by those around him was to go back to the land. He was able to gather a sizable group to travel around the country, giving more talks, and in search of a new home for their social experiment. Along they way, they picked up some more folks and made their way to Summertown. There are photos of their journey and arrival where someone is looking back at a long, long line of yellow school buses packed with people on their way. And in 1971 they arrived and began to attempt a life together.
There is a lot of history, and if you’re interested you can find a number of books written by people who live or have lived at The Farm. Their website also has lot of info. The Farm was doing well and continuing to grow up until about 1983 when from what we heard there was a breaking point. They were up to about 1300 people and there was a lot of pressure on those who worked the hardest to support many of those who didn’t. Work in the area was hard to come by and they were sending people out to far reaches of the state to earn money to bring back to the commune. Then something big happened. Stephen who was their inspiration, stepped down and left (though he’s back now). That was the time of the Change Over. Much of the commune left because he did and they went from an egalitarian and i
ncome sharing community to one that suddenly had a lot of new start up businesses by individuals. And that’s basically where they find themselves today. To support yourself at The Farm you must either have your money in savings, or you need to be creative and create your livelihood.
Our first destination point when we arrived was The Farm visitor center, just inside the entry gate to the community. Vickie runs the visitor center every weekday from 12 to 5pm. She is always happy to answer any questions of guests and orient you to the community. She set us up with a camp spot and off we went! Where was everyone? The farm sprawls out quite a bit over a number of finger ridges. The main gathering point is definitely not the visitor center campground, though there is a disc golf course that starts there that some men often play at. Instead we were told we’re welcome to walk around any of the land and we will most likely meet people around The Farm Store when people are arriving and leaving the shopping hub. After spending some time walking around and checking out the interesting array of vehicles and buildings at the Ecovillage Training Center, we went up to hang up the towel and relax for the rest of the evening. Over the next few days we did have the opportunity to meet a few people, but most of those who we met were not residents. In contrast to the visitor program of Dancing Rabbit, we actually met very few residents of the farm. We still did our best in our short four day visit to integrate in and have our questions answered.
Besides Vickie and one other resident, we weren’t really a
ble to ask many other questions of members. My most insightful and memorable experience while there was actually located just outside of The Farm at Spiral Ridge Permaculture. They are a five minute drive around the corner to another finger ridge where a few folks who visited the farm over four years ago decided to settle and start up a permaculturally based homestead and informal community. Their biggest “beef” was not being able to raise animals for meat over in the main community so they decided to look close by. We had an invite from a young man of The Farm to come on over and help butcher a big if we would like. I’ve butchered two before, so I thought I would see if I could be of any use (and luckily I was). From them and from one of the sons of Stephan Gaskin and Ina May we were able to hear about some of the deeper ongoing issues within The Farm, how they’re still changing, and what they’re doing right. Their biggest issue seems to be bringing in the next generation of people. We were told that because of their firmly held beliefs of non-violence and vegetarianism/veganism and their two year membership process (even for those who grew up there), a new generation of back-to-the-landers and self-reliant youth were driven to look elsewhere (the lack of work and it being hard to find a partner are other reasons that were mentioned). Apparently some of this is changing (they now having laying chickens… but what do they do when they age and lay no longer?), but it’s painfully slow for those who want the change. We were told that in the end change has to come. The members aren’t finding the same ideals in the youth that they want to replace them and the youth that want to jump in want to do it their way. That will either lead to The Farm dying out or morphing into a yet unknown entity.
For me (Adrian) The Farm was an interesting stop on our way to the next place. It was a place that I had heard people mention as a must visit community, but also heard people say that they would never live there (for various reasons). It has the presence of elders who have seen it all which I consider very important, but it doesn’t have much of a focus on self-sufficiency and food production which I hold so dear. Although I don’t know how the community acted in the past, it seems to me that it has morphed into something of a gated suburban community. There is a lot of sprawl over those finger ridges and not a whole lot of gathering place in between. Cars dominate and even to get to the community center or farm school it is a mile and a half for some people. My feeling was that people just didn’t rely on each other enough and that I would be an isolated farmer in community for the majority of my time there. While my experiences were not negative, I feel there wouldn’t be enough to hold me there. While it’s not for me, I still highly recommend the visit to see if it’s right for you.