Born on a commune

Over at Vanity Fair, Erika Anderson writes about growing up on The Farm, the famed Tennessee commune founded in 1971:

i.1.s-the-farm-commune While men worked in the fields, or off The Farm to earn money, women had weekly or biweekly “house days.” One or two women would look after the kids in their home, make meals and do the laundry if they could. Then they would spend the other days of the week working in the community, outside the home. “I got to have a varied life,” my mom has said. “That was one of the things you missed when you moved away. But it was the only thing you missed.” That and friends, who had all but become family.

The Farm was not a farm in name only, or it wasn’t meant to be. The farming crew planted staples like soybeans, corn, and sorghum, among other crops. But the harvest couldn’t support the whole community, and kids went hungry, my sisters included. Two months after I was born, on July 11, 1980, state police showed up to bust the commune for growing marijuana, when in fact the city kids didn’t know how to identify marijuana. What had looked like pot from their helicopter was in fact ragweed, flourishing in row after row. That miscalculation became an annual celebration known as Ragweed Day.

"What Life Is Like When You’re Born on a Commune" (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

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  1. raines says:

    Some of the coolest people I've met here in the SF Bay Area, leading the way in pioneering online and real-world community, turned out to come from experience in community/communal living at the Farm and elsewhere.

    Some alternative views on the Farm's history shows up in the WIthin Reach movie and the forthcoming "40 Years on the Farm," as well as last year's "Birth Story."

    In my work helping people organize cohousing neighborhoods that will persist through changes in leadership and serving members at all phases of life, I've found certain patterns that keep showing up. Finding the right balance of privacy and community is one of these; providing easy exits and market leverage (i.e. access to conventional mortgage financing by working with the system enough to be treated like any other condo) is another - although this approach needs to be balanced with creative approaches to promote financial diversity and access.

    Many key elements of this social/communications/group leadership "Pattern Language" is reflected in the Group Works card deck and the Group Pattern Language Project, a CC-licensed open source collaborative venture of community facilitators that created it. If you build a community culture that makes it easy for people to care for one another, everything gets easier, including going beyond what seems possible with the ordinary tools at hand.

    PS Did Vanity Fair get Boing'd? Pages are currently unreachable w/multi redirects. Once they're back up, here's a 2007 piece they ran on the Farm.

  2. Now I want to know why they were growing rows of ragweed. Did someone have a grudge against an allergy sufferer?

  3. It's a strange article because the way the author describes The Farm you'd think it was a major part of her childhood. But about two-thirds of the way into the article she mentions that her parents left when she was two. So it basically played no role in her conscious memory.

  4. I think that's because BoingBoing introduces this as an article about "growing up on the Farm." In fact, it's an article about the way the author's life and the lives of her parents were impacted by the Farm.

    I think a big piece of the puzzle with the Farm is that it attracted too many people unable to make a meaningful contribution, and not enough people with viable, necessary skills. I think this is a problem common to communities formed around charismatic personalities.

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