Raising money for "American Commune," a documentary about The Farm

SF writer Spider Robinson sends along this Kickstarter for "American Commune," a documentary in production about The Farm, a famous hippie commune in Tennessee, being made by two women who were raised on The Farm as small kids, then moved to Los Angeles. They need to raise $50K to finish their post-production (they've already shot and edited the movie, with the help of Emmy-winning editor Michael Levine).

I have a couple of friends who are ex-Farmies, and they're some of the sweetest folks I know. I'm sure that's not a coincidence.

In 1970, 300 hippies founded a commune in the backwoods of Tennessee and set out to change the world. Members shared everything, grew their own food, delivered their babies at home and succeeded in building a self-sufficient society. By 1980, The Farm had 1,500 members and hosted 10,000 visitors a year. Their socialist experiment sowed the seeds for many of today’s most progressive movements, including organic farming, natural birth, vegetarianism, and solar power. Countless reporters—everyone from Dan Rather to Walter Cronkite—have covered The Farm in news segments, but we are the first insiders to tell our story.

American Commune (Thanks, Spider!)


  1. Someone ought to write their PhD  dissertation on why The Farm failed and Twin oaks lives on to this day. Probably because Twin Oaks always tried to have a strong manufacturing and service base to bring in outside cash. They started with making hammocks, and now they run server farms.

      1. Wikipedia seems to have decent information on the history. Current membership is way down from peak (close to the Dunbar number now… funny that). However, given the seminal nature of the experiment, I hardly think it could really be said to have failed. 

        1.  defining failure requires a defined goal. it was never entirely clear what the goal of The Farm (or most other intentional communities was), and most of the people involved liked it that way. the “goal”, such as it was, was flexible, subject to change and nearly always aspirational.

          personally, i think that many intentional community members, particularly those at The Farm, wanted their community to “prove” that other styles of human social organization and inter-relationship were possible. i suspect that they would have included some notion of “for the long haul” in that ideal. in this sense, almost all intentional communities have failed – there are almost none that have existed for even as long as a typical US town.

          of course, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t still accomplish things for both their members and for the rest of tus.

  2. Holy cow!  Is this related to “The Farm” that is in western illinois in the middle of cornfields near Galena?

    I remember taking a wrong turn on the way to Chestnut Mountain and coming across a same-named compound.  Huge church looking building with a fresh blacktop driveway (along all dirt roads).  Very cultish looking.

    Has captivated my imagination since, but there is 0 public info on it.

    Clearly visible on S. Rodden Rd. In whatever town is next to Galena.

    (apologies on no linky to map.  Posting from underdog device, HP Touchpad)

  3. Cool, thanks for the promotion! Some of the information and experiences from women who did homebirth at the farm were helpful to my wife in deciding to deliver our last two kids at home.

  4. EDIT *** you know what? You’re right. I picked the wrong argument for the fight. I have no problem with these folks and what they were/are all about. My knee-jerk reaction was to the misappropriation of terms that have little to do with this post***

    Carry on. I apologize. I was out there.

    1. This is not a farm.

      See how the T and the F in The Farm are capitalized? That means that it’s a proper noun — a name.

      They also grew their own food. That’s called subsistence farming, a term which you may note contains the word “farm”. Just because it wasn’t the same kind of farm on which you were raised doesn’t make it not a farm. In fact, it’s kind of sad that you define farm in such a way that it excludes family farming. I’m sure that agribusiness would feel the same way about your farm.

    2.  I know who you are! You’re that stern old bald guy with the pitchfork and glasses, with the sourpuss wife! I saw that painting of you!     

  5. Wow, this brings back memories, unrecalled for decades. Somewhere I still have  the paperback on Stephen Gaskin and The Farm that was a treasured item when I was a 16-year old hippie neophyte…it seemed they were like hippie farmer Jesus freaks (when Jesus was cool, before he got co-opted by the religious right), and my dream was to make it there or to live, somehow, the idyllic life I imagined they led. Me and my girlfriend used to talk about running away to The Farm. A dream that fell by the wayside long ago.

  6. My husband and I went out there last year to see if it’s something we wanted to do. Sadly, there are a lot of financial barriers to living/working there, not least that you either have to have a lot of savings or telecommute…except that web access is spotty. It’s a pretty far commute to even midsized communities. Not impossible, but a lot of those still there either have a mailorder business, are retired, or are in fields like teaching, nursing, or carpentry that are easier to do in rural areas. They have an amazing school there, that we would have loved to put our kid in, though. And it was really beautiful. They are trying to start up programs to attract/house/employ young people, but as a middleaged married couple we weren’t really their target demographic. Everyone was super nice and full of stories of the Old Days, and there are still rusting derelict hippie buses on the premises. They make some money now by doing weddings out there, some other catering businesses, and selling organic stuff online. Not much in the way of subsistence farming; the family we stayed with shopped at Costco as well as grew veggies.

    1.  Most people choose a career and then live wherever they can find a job. In the 80’s I had to make a conscious decision about staying on The Farm and then figure out how I could support my family.

      The Farm has become a model of what types of business and skills can fit a rural lifestyle.

      The EXCEDE internet service now delivers speeds of 7-12 megs for $50 a month. Our businesses can now get access to T1 lines.  

      Bottom line: You can make it work if this is what you want, but since The Farm changed from a “commune” to a collective in 1983, earning a living remains one of the primary challenges facing people who want to become residents of The Farm..

  7. There’s an incredible book of oral histories about The Farm, which addresses many of the issues that they faced- many of which are good lessons for modern nonprofits and community undertakings (like mission creep, which in this case happened when they got involved in providing ambulance service in devastated communities in the Bronx, and working on projects in Central America, while some of the community back in Tennessee was still economically struggling). Whether you’re interested in hippie history or in other ways that people work together on idealogically-driven projects, this book is great:

  8. Going to school in Nashville, I knew quite a few kids that were Farm diaspora.  Really great people.  Never made it out there, unfortunately, but going back with them to visit was a popular thing to do amongst the freak kid community.

  9. This reminds me of http://www.kerista.com/ -another blast from the past with a famous early 70’s intentional community.

  10. I visited The Farm with some college friends in the fall time about 1981.  My experience put me off of any romantic notions I had about communal living forever.  Their idealism led to some of the grimmest poverty and starvation conditions I’ve ever seen (and by now, I’ve traveled quite a bit).  Crops and harvest were inadequate to feed the population – the women I spoke with said they had only sweet potatoes to get through the winter and not enough of those.  In the year before, they starved so their kids would have something to eat, literally.  The kids I saw were happy enough but were mostly dirty, illiterate, and wary of strangers.  The dwellings they lived in were drafty – poorly insulated and cold.  The men were sexist and dismissive toward me – before I had even said a word.  Among those who lived there, there was an obvious male/female division of labor and only men, a few men, essentially enforced the communal rules.  Consensus?  Not really, only lip service for that.  Instead, a person was talked with(at) until they agreed that the existing rules were correct – I saw a couple undergoing this for hours. 

    These were my observations.  Others who visited may have seen something else.  My guess would be that since we weren’t famous reporters and we stayed longer than just a couple hours, things didn’t look so rosy.

    1.  For these and many other reasons, The Farm went through a radical metamorphosis in September of 1983 called The Changeover. We dropped the Vow of Poverty, established democratic management, and eliminated all “rules” except for a commitment to nonviolence, backed up by a rule of no weapons. Now some 30 years later, our most successful companies have women CEO’s, our people who attend college often graduate first int heir class, and the community is a model for green building.
      Learn about the new Farm at http://www.thefarmcommunity.com

  11. I visited there in 80′ or 81′ and really admired them for what they were trying to accomplish.  But at the same time I couldn’t get over the way things weren’t taken care of.  I guess I’m to far into the material world but there is still an attraction to what they did. It was a learning experience and allows me question the mainstream and keep somewhat liberal.

  12. I went to college in New Orleans, graduated in the early 90’s. My guess is The Farm people showed up on campus somewhere about Mardi Gras time when we got people from all over the place coming for the big party. The Farm guys – these were college age boys – had flyers they passed out telling us women to get rid of birth control pills/condoms/diaphragms and invest in speculums instead, which we could use to look up each other’s twats to determine where we were in our cycles. We could also test the stringiness of our mucus to figure out when we were ovulating (rhythm method). For people who were supposedly so “free love,” why so retro? This pamphlet seemed misogynistic and strange, like it was supposed to be “underground” but instead it came off as “ass backward”. I couldn’t figure out what their issue was with modern birth control. Whatever more I learn about them that might give me a warm fuzzy, I have to pass through this experience as a filter. I suppose they were sweet guys and well meaning, but, sorry, I don’t have any friends I’m close enough with to share a speculum.

      1. Before I posted that, I did a little research because I wanted to make sure my memory was accurate. I had hoped to find one of the flyers online, which I did not; however, I found this link which supports what I remember, although it seems like the flyer was a throwback to something they were promoting earlier on:


        I found it so odd that these guys – I remember them as really cute, hemp-wearing types that were young, in their early 20s – with all of the things at The Farm that might have appealed to college students – proselytizing the rhythm method. It was particularly odd given that the early 90’s was the height of the AIDs crisis, before they had developed the antiviral drugs they have today. At that time, getting the HIV virus meant you were handed a death sentence. On campus there was a strong message advocating the use of condoms. 

        I have since then grown to be a supporter of midwifery and give a lot of credit to The Farm midwives for what they have done to teach and promote midwifery. I can see how the idea of birth control that was “natural” and “free,” would be a part of their ethic, but I also believe that women having control over their reproduction is necessary for women to have equal standing to men. I felt like what these young men were promoting was naive and well-intentioned, but harmful to women’s health and social progress.

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