Communal Utopia: The Farm in Rural Tennessee

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The idea of the “utopian” community began in 1516 with Sir Thomas More’s fictional perfected society to present-day attempts to build the most sustainable urban ecosystem. Once the largest hippie commune in the US, the Farm persists as an intentional community in rural Tennessee, based on principles of nonviolence and respect for the Earth. It now advocates permaculture, sustainable and renewable energy, a vegetarian diet, and midwifery.

The Farm, Tennessee, intentional community, hippies, communes

In 1970, Stephen Gaskin and other original “flower children” from San Francisco didn’t like the changing scene at Haight-Ashbury which had turned to the use of hard drugs. and about 350 of his followers headed to Tennessee to get a piece of land and live a different life. Image from “American Commune.”

The Farm, Lewis County, Tennessee

In 1971, a group of 320 flower children and free-thinkers left San Francisco to blaze a trail eastward. Steven Gaskin led the caravan of 60 buses, vans, and trucks on a speaking tour across the country, an alternative to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, they painted their buses white, sort of a Puritan touch. They eventually settled in rural Tennessee, 50 miles south of Nashville.

Thus they founded one of the country’s oldest hippie communes on 1,750 acres of rolling hilltops in Lewis County. The locals, seeing the tie-dyed color spectrum and back-to-the-land ethic, called them the “Technicolor Amish.” Taking voluntary vows of poverty, members shared everything, sometimes marriages, grew their own organic food, delivered their babies at home, used alternative technologies and succeeded in building a self-sufficient society. By 1980, The Farm had 1,500 members and hosted 10,000 visitors a year, but had to scale back in a decollectivization move due to exceeding the carrying capacity of the land and their own finances.

Tennessee, intentional community, green building

Cob Cottage with living roof at “The Farm,” a utopian community in rural Tennessee. Photo By pjchmiel on Flickr.

Utopian thought, as the basis of communal ideology, idealizes social unity and maintains that humanness exists only in intimate and collective life. Within these small scale communities great emphasis is placed on providing a controlled and manipulated environment in which social life may be structured to create the perfect human being. In other words, the belief of happiness in the present, or “heaven on earth” underlies the establishment of utopian communities.  — Rosabeth Moss Kanter

The Farm, located just outside Summertown, Tennessee, is still around to this day, and was the subject of the 2012 documentary “American Commune.” Now composed of roughly 150 members, the vegetarian intentional community, employing permaculture practices, continues to create and demonstrate low-consumption, high-fulfillment lifestyles within a caring, socially active community dedicated to nonviolence and respect for the environment.

In fact, they have morphed into a sort of high-tech eco-think tank, with ten non-profit companies and 20 private businesses, dedicated to making the world a better place.

American Commune is a documentary about the rise and fall of The Farm, a community in rural Tennessee (trailer). It is the work of two sisters who grew up at The Farm, Rena Mundo Croshere and Nadine Mundo.

H-T Huffington Post

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Jack Eidt

About Jack Eidt

Writer, urban theorist, and environmental advocate, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion - Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com.