An intentional community occupying some 1,750 acres in southeastern Lewis County, The Farm is located near Summertown. In 1971 San Francisco resident and New Age religious leader, Stephen Gaskin, and his followers founded The Farm as a spiritual community. The group chose the Upland South for their home after several months of traveling in a caravan of brightly colored school buses in search of suitable land. Rejecting the materialism of modern society, they moved to the hilly country of southern Middle Tennessee, where they took up farming and the formidable task of establishing their utopian community.
Gaskin’s teachings, an informal blend of both western and eastern religious principles, stressed nonviolence and the power of good works. Enthusiastic and idealistic, his youthful supporters accepted a life of voluntary peasantry to demonstrate the concept of shared abundance as the method for providing for the needs of the world. The residents promoted vegetarianism and cooperation as the means to that end.
Honest, sincere, and industrious, the residents also tended to be moralistic. They held all possessions in common, ate no meat or dairy products, and practiced neither mechanical birth control nor abortion. They espoused natural childbirth, and The Farm’s midwives, under the direction of Ina Mae Gaskin, became the vanguard, and later the center, of a national movement toward home birthing.
Despite the countrified name, few members had any actual farming experience, and the soil of the Highland Rim was not very productive. The little money remaining after the purchase of the land quickly dwindled, and the rural environment provided few opportunities for employment. When their agricultural efforts failed, though, the group developed a number of successful businesses in the areas of construction, electronics, trucking, publishing, and specialty food sales.
Through hard work and near self-sufficiency, The Farm’s numbers grew from four hundred to fifteen hundred residents by 1979, but the standard of living never kept pace with the population increases. The lack of infrastructure seriously affected the well-being and success of the communal experiment, as the large numbers of newcomers overwhelmed the meager resources. The need for adequate housing, running water, sanitation facilities, transportation, and other key necessities became acute.
The recession of the early 1980s proved to be the last straw, and many residents left The Farm. In 1983 the remaining members discarded the communal system in favor of the present cooperative one, in which the land and other assets are held and maintained in common, with all residents paying a set fee for monthly dues. Under this arrangement, members retain control of their personal assets.
For the last several years, the population of The Farm has remained stable at approximately two hundred people, and the businesses remain prosperous. The Farm’s continued success is a clear demonstration of the benefits of nonviolence and cooperative living.