Life in an Intentional Community

Douglas Stevenson, a former hippie, recalls moving into one of the largest intentional communities in the country and adjusting to farm life.

| October 2014

  • “Out to Change the World,” by Douglas Stevenson, is a first-person chronicle of The Farm, a massive intentional community in Tennessee.
    Cover courtesy Book Publishing Company
  • While many young Americans were moving from the farm to the city, several hundred hippies left their cities to move to The Farm in the summer of 1971.
    Photo by Fotolia/lesyanovo

Out to Change the World (Book Publishing Company, 2014), by Douglas Stevenson, tells the story of how more than 300 hippie idealists landed on abandoned property in central Tennessee to establish and maintain The Farm, one of the largest and longest-lasting intentional communities in the country. In the following excerpt from Chapter 4, “Three Days or the Rest of Your Life,” Stevenson recalls his and his wife’s first experiences on The Farm.

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The 1970s saw a cultural shift away from farm life in America. When Stephen Gaskin and his followers landed in Summertown, Tennessee, in the summer of 1971, young people who had been born and raised in the rural areas of the country were leaving the family farms to find work in the city. The Farm’s neighbors, who represented perhaps the last generation of their kind, were thrilled to see a group of young people leaving the cities and earnestly seeking their knowledge of farming. Many of these neighbors took the hippies of The Farm under their wings, becoming teachers and mentors.

In retrospect, the mid-1970s were in many ways the peak period of hippie culture. Thanks in part to the mass media, the ideals of the counterculture were broadcast across the nation. Baby boomers were in their twenties and early thirties, still young enough not to have put down roots. Millions of boomers hit the road in search of something, even if they were not quite sure what they were seeking. The Farm became a mecca and for many a required stop on their journey. Up to ten thousand people a year would come by for a visit to see for themselves this most visible example of the counterculture alternative to the capitalist status quo.

Attracting New Folks

For many young people, The Farm was an alternative to college. Often those attracted to it were university dropouts, individuals who could not see the relevance of pursuing higher education and a career path leading to the corporate world. The pool of people arriving at The Farm tended to be highly educated, which fostered a forum for discussions on philosophy, world affairs, existential literature, and humanity’s relationship to the universe. It was a stimulating environment that gave those making a commitment to stay the feeling that they were active participants in the creation of a new structure for society. They were fashioning a reality from the Aquarian vision—the Sixties’ ethos of a boundary-breaking, uninhibited, revolutionary take on life.

In the spring of 1973, Stephen went out on the road with The Farm Band, traveling to cities all across the country. After playing music for about an hour, the band would take a break and Stephen would talk about The Farm, displaying a slide show to illustrate what was taking place in the backwoods of Tennessee. Our hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, was the first stop on that first tour.

11/4/2014 4:45:42 PM

I liked reading that article. I live in a less intensely connected type of intentional community. We just took over our apartment building-- basically, we got together and bought it, and decided that "we the residents" are now the property management company. We collect our own rents, make decisions as a group via consensus, pay our utilities, do most of our own repairs, grow some food, have a group bulk buy program to save money on groceries, and share 5 meals a week. Everyone has their own independent apartment and has their own career. True, not as connected as the folks in the article AND still a great way to live. Cheap too, and beats suburban isolation hands down.

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