Technologies for Living – Year 2

We were reasonably settled. The locals seemed to have reached an equilibrium point about us. The hippies, though strange and possibly immoral, kept to themselves except when they were spending money in the local economy or helping out some neighbors. We were breaking even and that was OK.

Meanwhile, those of us with any craft skills were hard at work training the majority of us who had none. There were a few carpenters, a few gardeners and even tractor drivers, a couple of printers, programmers, radio experts and electricians, nurses, teachers and plumbers. Because there was no infrastructure beyond The House, a tumbledown shack, a sheet metal barn and some dirt roads, we had our work set out for us.

We invested in used equipment and bought nothing new. This included  a press and copper cooking pans for making sorghum syrup, several vintage trucks and tractors, farming implements, a road grader and backhoe, our aforementioned phone system, big Harris printing presses, washing machines and driers for the laundromat, refrigeration units and a surplus Greyhound Scenicruiser bus.

Through an informal apprentice system we manned crews for construction, vehicle repair and customization, food growing and processing, book publishing, primary health care, midwifery, road and water systems, phone installation and maintenance, and canning and freezing.

We cooked on propane stoves and one of the few exceptions to allowing outside businesses into the community was the propane truck that would fill the large supply tank at the head of the roads. No matter where you lived on the Farm, you had to fill your household tanks from that central supply. If you lived within a hundred yards or so, like us, and had a 5-gallon tank, you could carry it to and fro on your shoulder. Forty pounds. No sweat. If you lived further away, or had a larger tank, you needed wheels – at least a little red wagon and probably a motor vehicle – to handle the refill and transpo.

Firewood supplies came from wherever you could get them during the first winter, but by the second we’d established a working relationship with Homer Sanders, who owned his own wildcat sawmill. We helped him harvest hardwood logs and he taught our guys how to run the mill. In exchange for labor we’d take a share of the sawn timber along with the slap – the bark-covered slices that had no value for construction. The logging/firewood crew would drop off the slab – sometimes cut into stove-sized pieces, sometimes not – in locations ranging from public piles to custom home delivery. You’re luck in getting firewood might vary according to how close you were to someone on the wood crew.

There was also the Salvage Crew, who arranged with local towns and property owners to demolish structures in exchange for our keeping the materials – lumber, bricks, roofing, flooring, windows and doors. These resources were trucked back to the Farm for use in building our own structures. As with any other resources, the policy was officially to provide to those who needed them. But since we were all in need of these resources and there was never enough to go around for everyone equally, some game-playing and deal-making was involved in the distribution.

I’ll bring you firewood if you drop off some bricks.

I’ll let you use my crew’s truck if you fill and pick up my propane tank on your way.

I’ll bring flooring to build our tent platform because, well, I’m driving the truck that carries the flooring.

Some days you were lucky; some days not so lucky. And some people were in a position all day, every day, to make deals. It was perhaps not the most idealistic demonstration of spiritual collectivity, but it was the most organic and practical. Trying to manage pure equality would take a bureaucracy and we simply didn’t have the people or money to support such a management structure.

The functions most closely approached bureaucracy and the “power of the state” were probably the Gate, housing and manpower.

The Gate needed to keep track of the comings and goings of everyone. We kept a Gate Log that tracked every visitor that arrived and/or entered, and every vehicle that exited, whether visitor or resident. It was all hand-entered and visitors were told how long they could stay. If they didn’t show up at the Gate on the day they were schedule to leave, we’d call or send someone down on the Farm to get them.

Housing was closely related to the Gate because anyone staying for a night or more needed to be assigned a household to stay with. That household was accountable for them. And given that we had little housing, even at the most primitive level, putting visitors up was almost always a stretch. And yet, we hoped for visitors once we got beyond our initial “closed gate” period. More visitors meant more potential members, which meant – we hoped – more resources for growing a larger and more exemplary intentional community. And once we issued our invitation to any expecting mother to come to the Farm and have their babies home-delivered for free – along with our offer to care for and even adopt unwanted babies – our housing obligations expanded to providing homes for up to 3 months for these temporary individuals or couples.

Housing was also charged with finding homes for people who, for whatever reasons, needed to change dwellings. We were a restless, nomadic lot, and in the communal living experimentation process, people would often find themselves incompatible. Good enough friends to live on the same commune, but not good enough to share the same bus or tent or small house. For many others, the beginning of childbearing defined the need for more or more weatherproof spaces. It was like musical chairs – to make room for one family required another family to move. There was never a situation where a new housing development opened up. It was always “just squeezing by” and whoever was in the role of Housing Lady (it was always a lady, just as there was always a Bank Lady) had one of the most socially challenging positions on the Farm.

Manpower was almost as big a headache, for whoever sat in that chair had to balance the Farm’s needs for public services with those of income. Strictly through word of mouth, the manpower guy (always a male) learned of every person’s situation. Were they gainfully and effectively employed? If not, did they have an excuse? Did they need to learn a new skill to fill in a vital gap in community needs? Were they a problem to their crew or straw boss? Was diplomacy required or did they require a more hard ass approach?

The deal was, you did as much as you could. Every resident needed to be tapped into the Farm’s needs. But due to many circumstances – our frequent epidemics of debilitating flu or the need to be home with newborn babies or the occasional visits from off-the-Farm family, or the need to move or build a new dwelling structure – even the most responsible hardworking members might become unavailable. And yet, operations could not be shut down when it came to farming or using the good weather to construct buildings, or keeping paid crews working in the field.

We were inventing self-governance practices as we discovered new needs. We didn’t adopt any established practices and procedures; we made it up as we went along and everyone was supposed to go along with our ad hoc solutions. There were occasional protestations and flareups. It was obvious, sometimes, that our systems were not capable of dealing efficiently with business needs. Sometimes operations seemed just plain dumb, but most of us were willing to give the people with the responsibilities the benefit of our doubt. I’d think, “Better them than me” in those position. But being a frequent Gate man, I did my share of negotiating and taking the heat from frustrated friends as I twisted their arms to persuade them to take yet another visitor into the confines of their family lairs.

Our technology for handling these social transaction was ingrained in our way of communicating with one another. The engine that drove it was our mission – our agreement – that these difficult passages needed to be negotiated as gracefully as possible as the means to demonstrating global level collaboration. Patience and surrender were the teachings. We had all come there as students.

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31 Comments

  1. Karen said,

    June 16, 2009 at 10:36 am

    How did you buy the copper pots and tractors and stuff in the first place? How did you decide what things to buy? Was it a collective decision or did some people think “let’s start making sorghum to sell for the community” and put in their own money to start it? Or was every venture (the printing press, the electronics, etc.) proposed to the community and if approved, money given by the bank lady to buy equipment? Was there any private money or was whatever one had handed over at the beginning, like you did?

    • June 30, 2009 at 4:07 pm

      “and all that believed held all things in common, and parted to each as he had need,” as the book of acts says…I was not close to the decision-making process, but i think a lot of our “big ideas” (sorghum mill, printing press, etc.) came from Stephen, with implementation left to others. Some who joined us had a lot of money, which gave us “windfalls” to do big capital investments–America in the early 70’s was a much richer country than it is now, too–there was a lot of cool, usable technology just lying around unused, and people were willing to part with it for, as they say, a song. After a few years, this process got formalized into a board of directors, and therein lies a tale…which I will let Clifford tell, at least on this web page. Suffice it to say that one of the things that happened after 1980 that helped precipitate “the changeover” was that our “windfall” funding dried up–all through the 70’s about half our annual budget had come from windfalls, and it really put our financial system through the bends when we had to earn it all.

  2. Don James said,

    June 17, 2009 at 5:37 am

    I can’t speak about year 2, but when we went there in year 5, we gave everything we had. My car and all of our money. Our stereo. We just kept personal things like clothing and a small radio. I was never given any personal money after that. If I went out to work with one of the farm crews, someone would take care of the food for our lunch. Then at the end of the day, we’d all go home (in a van) to the farm and some other people would have our dinner cooked for us. I don’t remember really needing money during a day like that except for one issue. I hadn’t really quit smoking cigarettes and I was trying to but it was hard and I was hiding them. So I would have to have money mailed to me for that, kind of sneaky-like. Then I’d sneak away and buy them and wrap them in tinfoil and hide them out in the woods and sneak out now and then to grab a smoke. Of course, the thing I didn’t know was that you could smell it on my clothes, even tho I made sure to quickly brush my teeth so it wasn’t on my breath. That was part of why I didn’t stay, I couldn’t quit ciggies. I finally did 4 years ago, at age 59 when I was diagnose with chronic obstructive pulminory disease (copd). It’s much better now, but I was coughing constantly for awhile and the research I did said I would die if I didn’t quit.

    • June 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm

      yes, there was a lot of that…one friend of mine told me of being way out in the woods, smoking a cigarette, when somebody else happened upon him, and later “turned him in” for the dastardly deed. (btw, my own opinion of contemporary American tobacco use is that it’s a form of Russian roulette, i.e., suicidal behavior, and I am distressed at the number of my friends, especially younger ones, who engage in it)

      anyway, my friend got in deep doo-doo with Plenty for it, while the woman who turned him in (her initials are almost the same as those for liquefied propane gas) went on to a position of serious responsibility in the community. Years later, after “the changeover,” she confessed to my friend (whose initials are nearly the same as those for dimethyl triptamine) that she herself had also been out in the woods to smoke a cigarette….

      • Don James said,

        July 1, 2009 at 11:49 am

        Hey, bro Martin, nice to meet ya. When I was there it must’ve been a well-kept secret that others (beside me) were smoking cigs. Although I did hear a rumor once…Yeah, it’s suicidal and when you get older and have lung damage you really realize it. When you’re younger you don’t think of it as suicidal because it’s just who you are, at least it was for me. I started at 13. For me (and perhaps others), it was a way of dealing with this innate fear that I had all the time of my fellow man. Who’s going to rip me off one way or another next? Who’s going to try and steal my girl, stash, car, energy etc etc. Suck suck on that smoke, look around. Who? I had rationalized all kinds of reasons why I smoked. In truth, it’s a drug addition. So you rationalize. I tried quitting before coming to the farm but it had been my first attempt at quitting and I was only semi-successful. I got it down to 2 or 3 a day, a huge improvement over a pack a day. And after that, I never went back to pack a day. Just before I got sick I was down to 3 or 4 a day and not until after 5 PM. But too many years of it had done it’s damage. I’m ok now, don’t use the inhalers (also bad for you) anymore. Wheeze once in a while. It’s nice to have kicked the habit. 4 years now. I’ll smoke a cigar once in a while, maybe one or two a month but you don’t inhale those.

  3. Cliff said,

    July 1, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    You should have visited during the first 3 years, Don, when we were PURE.

    Actually, we were well aware of our faults and those of our fellow students. And even – to a more guarded extent – of our teacher. I didn’t know about people smoking, but we discovered some scandalous stuff from time to time about someone’s behavior.

    Still the large thing was always our community’s mission. Sure, we were imperfect like residents of any other small town, but we were all willing to sacrifice in terms of comfort and wealth because the overall group thing offered us something we couldn’t get in any other way.

    Eventually, though, the draw of independence and self-determination became too strong for too many of us to resist. I don’t know many ex-Farmies who smoke, but many of us drink a little, eat meat, wear leather, own shit, etc. And I’m in regular communication with enough of us to know that we still hold our humanitarian values and global perspectives.

  4. Cliff said,

    July 8, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Again, I have to fall back on the fact that the Farm was originally established as Stephen’s ashram, and that if you didn’t accept him as your teacher, you were free to leave. As the years rolled on and we all realized just how much “skin” we had in the game, people did begin to challenge his opinions – not his spiritual chops, but his judgments on management level stuff. You still had to brace yourself for the comeback, at least in my limited experience, and some folks told him what they thought and THEN left. I think our progress was pretty good for the first few years, then began to lag behind what we could have and should have accomplished.

    What’s there now, from what I can see from a distance, is pretty nice.

    • Don James said,

      July 10, 2009 at 1:32 pm

      well, geez, Cliff, it looks like I’m turning your blog into a forum, doesn’t it? You never said anywhere here that you wanted to debate the merits of what you were saying. Obviously we have different takes on it, but so what? I would have to say I’ve become more cynical than you in my old age. I for one, would like to hear more of your story. You’re only on year two, you were there for a decade or two, weren’t you? 🙂

  5. Karen said,

    July 14, 2009 at 11:33 am

    One thing I keep hearing about in regards to the Farm is how long it lasted and was relatively good about people getting along and the Farm accomplishing good things. There were a lot of communes starting up in those days and human nature being what it is, they disbanded quickly. The only communes in history that have had any longevity have had both a spiritual basis and a strong leader to pull together all the energies of so many selfish egos. So, Stephen was selfish — so was everybody else, no doubt. And in any endeavor, the strongest personalities do the most, benefit the most.

    • July 14, 2009 at 6:08 pm

      I find it somewhat ironic that you perceive my former homeso positively…I remember Stephen talking about how he had read a lot of the literature on communities, and that “communities with a spiritual basis tend to last a hundred years, but communities with a non-spiritual basis tend to last about thirteen years.”

      And how long did the communal phase of the Farm last?….thirteen years…hmm….As for the kind of community it is today, my perception is that it’s a fairly inbred, isolated, vaguely liberal gated community, with friendly young faces in the foreground and a few veterans behind the scenes, pulling strings to make sure nobody does anything they consider “too radical” there…..

      Stephen used to say that the fact that the Farm was making it was proof of the validity of his teachings. Oops.

      At “the changeover” there was, as I recall, a committee from the Board of Directors that went to him to tell himthe community was no longer his monastery….asked later how that felt, I hear he said, “like being dragged by the heels down the main road behind a jeep,” a reference to the death of Mussolini, curiously enough….

      I can remember seeing him speak without a microphone to a crowd of a couple thousand outside the shuttered Family Dog on the Great Highway in 1970 and thinking that I just might be in the presence of the reincarnation of Christ–he held our attention so well and spoke so eloquently….and I also remember being at a rock festival in 1999, when he was running for the Green Party’s presidential nomination, and witnessing him just kinda losing it–his train of thought and the crowd’s attention. It was pretty sad, especially since it seemed he was not really aware of how muddled his talk was or the loss of his audience, but just kept soldiering on. It didn’t quite get the point where folks were chanting “Rock n’ roll!” to shut him down, but nobody wast paying attention to him long before he quit. I was running a sales booth, and we were getting customers…..

      He’s a brave old man and I wouldn’t be who I am without the encouragement he gave me. But, to use a phrase he employed about others in Amazing Dope Tales, he’s “just a shadow of his former self.”

  6. Karen said,

    July 21, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Well, I did visit the Farm in 1979 when I was young and idealistic (about 23) and thought then that the Farm wasn’t living up to its ideals (the TVs and white sugar and white flour disapointed me — now, I eat both white unbleached flour and unbleached sugar if it’s organically grown, but still shun TV). Also, people were grumbling then about the Farm and some had left. Being only a visitor, I probably only got a bit of what people really felt, but since I was thinking of joining, I had to ask questions and people probably thought it best to bring realism to my idealism — I’m glad for it.
    That was the only time I heard Stephen speak in person, at the Sunday Morning Service and I felt his charisma, then, that I felt in his books and teachings. Usually, seeing the real person is a disapointment when I read books that impress me. But, charm doesn’t last forever, like most of the things we humans value — maybe it’s a car (ages and breaks down) or beauty (fades away) or some talent (we lose some capabilities as we age — I’m feeling some of those losses now). We all fade and deteriorate and just get old, become pathetic, if we don’t die young — it’s probably harder on a public person. I wished I could have met Stephen or Ina May face to face, but I had no courage to just go up to them.
    I was talking mostly about the hippie communes that started up and it seemed most of them lasted only a couple years. Anything else lasts as long as the leader holds power or is something like a monestary with a long history and a political church behind it. Anyway, when I was reading about communes, it was long ago and I can’t remember much of what I learned and read — one of my lost skills.
    It seems like the Farm has had 2 phases so far — #1) was the hippie commune phase with Stephen as the spiritual leader. #2) is an intentional community with a board of directors (government) and I find most of those kinds of places (without visiting, but reading to see if it’s somewhere I could live) are gated communities usually with more rules, more people governing your life. What appeals to me about the Farm now is the eco-village learning center…or as an example of sustainable living, but since I haven’t been back, I don’t know how true that is.
    So, the Farm, the “old” Farm has become a place of nostalgia about ideas that just can’t seem to work out for humans, for people like me who didn’t live there, but followed the Teachings or read the Spiritual Midwifery books. For those that did live there, we get the stories — how real it was, how hard, some of the politics (none of it surprising to me now since I’m old and cynical, not young & idealistic).
    My thoughts, now, are that I wouldn’t live in a commune or start one up even if I had the land or money. I just don’t think people can do it.
    I’ve been reading about “sustainability” for many years now, and alternative building. I don’t think I’d need a learning center for it (just the land — combine basic building skills with natural materials and uncommon “common” sense), but it is good to educate people about it.
    If I had land now for an organic farm, I’d run it as a business.
    Have you thought of writing a memoir of those days, Martin?

    • July 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm

      as i said someplace on this blog, i’ve got chunks of it written, mostly about 15-20 years ago, waiting for me to revisit it and computerize it…

  7. cfigallo said,

    July 21, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Well, this has become quite an interesting conversation. Truth be told, if I had it to do all over again, I’m not sure what I would have done differently. And if I had done things differently, based on hindsight, the adventure wouldn’t have lasted as long. I would have probably decided on my first face-to-face encounter with him that Stephen was not really my cup of tea as a teacher. I’d hate to think, though, that I would then have led a conventional life. Maybe the Peace Corps or some other excuse to travel would have been in the cards.

    But that’s neither here nor there. Those of us who stuck with it for over 10 years all harbored some hope that we’d figure things out and find a way to make it work. I share your doubts, Karen, that a purely communal lifestyle is viable, at least among people who have grown up in Western society. I do know that cooperatives work for some folks, and I believe that such lifestyles will be adopted by more people in the near future. But within them, there is a lot of choice regarding lifestyle preferences, and no spiritual teacher or leader.

    I tell these stories because for the most part I was a pretty happy camper in those days.

  8. Karen said,

    July 21, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    At about the same time that I discovered this blog, I was reading the current web-site of Twin Oaks, which is a long time community, but it had a leader for a long time and now, even though it is liberal and “loose”, I don’t think it could work for me. Maybe it’s my innate fear of not being Hip enough or just that, even if the lifestyle might suit me (such as an eco-village), I know that there are always going to be the people who controls things or who disaprove or who make the “rules”. I’m not a loud person, but leaders just rub me the wrong way, especially self-appointed ones. I’m sure I would have grumbled about Stephen’s authority had I stayed. “Question Authority” was one of my bumper stickers for years until the vehicle went to the graveyard and I didn’t put anymore stickers on my vehicle because I was tired of people bashing my vehicle. I don’t think I wanted a spiritual leader so much as a group of people with agreements that don’t allow others to take over and push people around or out of a place … sounds like all that happened anyway …disapointment. Oh well; as I said before the “hipstory” is important. Even if we didn’t live on the Farm, the beliefs of that time were more wide-spread and it was like a national community in a way — no more, now. There seems to be no uniting belief, such as “Make love, not war”, “Peace”, “Farms, not Arms”, etc.
    Thanks for your stories, Cliff

    • Karen said,

      August 5, 2009 at 4:32 pm

      To clarify what I wrote about egos and everyone on the Farm being selfish — I meant everyone on earth is selfish. We are selfish beings in order to survive and have egos as part of that. Without it we might not be motivated enough to even eat, or to care about living or accomplish anything. That’s why I never got into zen too much and that’s why the “householder yogi” appealed to me. It seemed that the world sorely needed and still needs a new way of being and relating and what attracted me about the FArm was the psychic way of relating, the gentleness, the connection — looking people in the eye, and having a “lot of heart” as Don said in earlier posts. Maybe it was the drugs, but drugs stayed on in our culture at large and kindness did not. Maybe egos have to be leashed a bit in order to live communally, but not so much that the work doesn’t get done or so that people don’t take care of themselves — without a personal connection to what one is doing, one (myself especially) doesn’t want to do it. For example, if profit is the only motive and I’m making profit for someone else, but not getting much of anything for myself, I don’t want to do it. Perhaps its just an age-old balancing act that humans must constantly learn. There was something about that time for many people no matter where you were. It seems sad to me that it might be just nostalgia now. I hope, like Cliff, that things can be learned from it — perhaps to get “stoned”, astonished, without …what? drugs? dogma? rules? Rulers? Who knows.

      • August 26, 2009 at 10:13 am

        I think we don’t understand “Zen” and “ego” quite the same– Zen or other Buddhist meditation practice generally does not result in people becoming nambie-pambies–it commonly seems to result in sharply focused individuals whose motivation is usually more selfless than the average person’s. “Loss of ego” is a process, which Stephen expressed very well in his epigram, “If you find out you’re wrong, just give up”–which presumes, of course, that one is open-minded enough to realize that one is wrong.

        And that leads to the technical role of sacrament (as we called it) on the Farm. One of the effects of marijuana (and I wish I could give you a reference for this, but I’ve been unable to relocate it) is to loosen up the neural connections that guide our learned and conditioned behaviors. This makes it easier to feel more detached about those behaviors, and, as we used to say back in the Old Country, “cop it and drop it.” Of course, being habitual behaviors, they would tend to resume, but a little weaker each time, if the “cop” was genuine and the behavior not too engrained…well, i could write a book about this…enough for now.

      • kotascatch said,

        August 27, 2009 at 5:50 pm

        Yes, Martin, I think there has always been some confusion about ego in my thought of it as well as in many others’, including some therapists, who worried that Zen or other meditations might be too much for the fragile egoed individuals who had been pushed around or booted around a lot before. Abuse tends to erase the victim’s ego and I’m sure that is the intended point. At a woman’s shelter I worked at, it was always a fine line trying to boost these womens’ egos enough so they’d protect and defend themselves. It was especially hard if they believed in a religion that said to forego ego. Yet, I understand how one needs to let go of ego enough so that one is not always hard-headed and self-righteous. Admitting error or even just acknowledging that someone else might have a different way is good, of course.

  9. Judith said,

    August 21, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    hi folks. I’ve followed this and the other threads of Farmola with some interest. like Karen, I’m someone who was very drawn to many aspects of Farm culture and life but never wound up living there.

    this is a slightly differnt tack, or take, that may be of interest in the discussion about intentional communities in general. I’ve been reading a book called “Farm Friends” by Tom Fels which is not about the Farm in Tennessee at all, but about the people who were part of Packer Corners/Total Loss Farm in Vermont in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with a lot of “where are they now” followup by one of the old communards there.

    these comments about fate and who lived in the community by an alumnus of their community, identified as Tim, the author’s old crony from their heady days in 1969-1972 or so, and no his neighbor in rural Vermont. it;s obviously a very diffent sort community than Stephen’s spiritual community in tennessee, than the Open land communes that ahd their heyday here in California, or than something such as Twin oaks or the more conventionally ashram-like groups…but Tim’s musings on the workings of “destiny” are instructive. I know that my own life has sometimes eld a tension between what felt “meant to be,” and someone else’s take on the same – this has definitely becme apparent, painfully at times, in group living situations.

    see what you think! caution: the sentences are long, as I believe this came from an oral history…but it’s worth staying with Tim’s apologetics here to see how they resonate in your own experience with communal and community efforts.

    viz. (p 21-22)
    “The people at the farm could be divided into those who believed that they, and thus others, had come there by chance or reason, and those who believed they had been placed there by the workings of fate. The believers in fate were those who neglected to observe that those two were, fr all pracical putposes, the same.
    ..While this mythology was an imaginative and artful construct, and could attimes be a pleasure in its own right, it was at bottom an attempt to manipulate facts and to rearrange them to greater than natural advantage….
    Thus, if one had come to the farm by chance, and as it eventuated was well-liked, coould fix cars, direct plays, can prodigious amounts of peaches,or fall irrevocably in love with a respected member of the farm family, it was clearly felt that he had come by fate, and the members of the farm family fell in ranks behind him. if, on the other hand, one arrived, as many did, with his meager belongings in a tiny knapsack, a legitimate refugee from school, parents, job, marriage, or war, but overstayed theopen but tentative welcome that the farm offered to any and everyone who appeared at its door, without managing to turn it into an event of cosmic origin, or at least of an obviously functional purpose, it was just as clearly sensed that this was simply chance, and after a brief but obligatory soul-searching, the members of the farm would set him on the road again.

    the burden of a mythology that bore such an ambiguous relation to the facts was constant uncertainty, and an ongoing effort to extend and redefine the mythology itself, and to correctly apply it ot each new case that arose.

    {note from Judith: this is where it starts sounding quite close to what many other communities, including the Farm in Sumemrtown, experienced…]
    anything falling between the poles of felicitous fate and irksome chance provked a great many problems. …Jim, let;s saym, was a nivce fellow but he didn’t do any work. Did the pleasure of his companionship outweigh the liability of supporting him? Jack, on the other hand, worked incessantly but he seemed to be out for himself. Would his motives become more enlightened if he were allowed to stay? Such questions would be sorted out in the New Age version of an executive session, or in someone’s room in the hope of fitting the fact to the fancy.

    However high the ideals (of)..the farm’s mythology, its effect was to act as a constraint; it constituted a negative force encouraging conformity. It was always there as a tool, an extremely malleable one, to be used by whoever, or whatever was the dominant force at the farm at the time. it was…an unwritten constitution that could be invoked to further one action o curtail another….it was a sense that underwent considerable elaboration and redefinition according to particular needs.”

    heady stuff: I’d be interested in how it jibes with other people’s experiences here!

    • August 26, 2009 at 11:24 am

      One big difference between a small place like Total Loss and the Farm is that the Farm was a much bigger place, and thus capable of absorbing a great many “foot soldiers”–single men and women, and couples, who did a lot of the nitty-gritty stuff, while some folks came in with great abilities (including the ability to connect with and navigate the Farm’s social structure) and rose to the top. Others, who had skills but not the social connectability, either soldiered on at lower levels or were cast out. I’m thinking in particular of a member with terrific “alternate healing” skills, who was not allowed to practice his profession for “spiritual” reasons, but stayed on, now lives there, supporting himself through the healing work that was once forbidden–and that, in my experience, is tremendously effective.

      Another example is an MD who came to the Farm many years ago and, in his wife’s words, “thought it would be him and Stephen running the place.” He was put on the Farming crew as an initiation. We took him up to an off-Farm work gig in the famous “big pickup.” As I remember, there were a dozen or so of us riding in it. As we were driving through Franklin, this (married/w young kids)MD spots a couple of attractive young women walking down the street, leans his head out the window, pounds on the side of the bus, and shouts at them, “WOO! WOO!” to the tremendous consternation of the rest of us.

      Long story short, he bounced on out pretty quickly.

      • Judith said,

        September 1, 2009 at 12:06 pm

        Martin, this is HILARIOUS! thank you!

        since Martin and Don both knew my aunt Elizabeth…Martin from before the Farm and the Caravan, when she was called Betty and married to Dean Wallace – honestly, I’ve long long thought that part of my aubnt;s problems on the early Farm (she lasted eight months there) included the ways SHE wanted to be “Guru Lady” and helping run the place, or at least dispensing sagely insights into the Universe, alongside Stephen, Margaret, and Ina May. (did Michael ever dispense such insights along with the rest of them, guys? or was a lack of inclination or aptitude to do so part of why he moved back to California and away from them all?)

        on the “ego” thing, I often thnk that we hippies, derivative of the traditional practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism, mistranslated the concept of “ego” and thus got it ass-backwards.

        examples from my present-day life: I’ve just returned from a 6 day road trip with my teenaged daughter, a friend who is 40, and her 7 and a half year old son, who might have been “straightened out” a bit (possibly even with a spanking!), or at least ignored for as long as possible, had he lived on the old Farm, with his whining, demands for attention and treats, and general lack of ability to self-regulate or to conform to the standards of wishes of the adults around him.

        heh, you are probably hearing that it was a bit of a high stress trip, driving, camping and staying at my parents’ house with little Stormy, who;s reallyt olde enough as I see it to know a bit better. my dad asked him to quit bouncing on the couch, and it too three or four requests, and fairly firm but not unkindly ones, before Stormy got that this was not just a differnce of opinion in which he, Stormy, might prevail. my dad,a WWII veteran who is politically a liberal activist and a kindly soul who cut us a fair amount of slack growing up, is also, like Stephen, a deveotee of the “Bandaid on the hairy leg” school who can be surprisingly direct with kids, and adults, who aren’t remembering that they are not the center of the universe.

        the reason I bring it up in this context is that after spending the better part of a week in clope company with this young man, I’m going to say that Stormy’s problems have to do *not* with having too much ego but with not developing, in the sense of Western psychology at least,enough ego the child is bright but very immature, such that he doesn’t have a sense of himself as a separate being from his mama and thus doesn’t have a sense yet of other peope having needs and feelings just as he does.

        we don’t and shouldn’t expect a little baby to have an ego, or to have any kind of empathy. they cry and we nurse them or change them or cuddle them and don’t demand that they wait or think of our comfort and needs, but if it’s going along okay …I think Stephen would back me up n this and so would you folks, especailly the folks, Farm alumni and others, who have raised chidlren…little by little a child develops that understanding that “I am one among all beings and so are you” to paraphrase my dear Buddhist teacher, Robert Aitken roshi.

        anyweay, Alan Watts, that iconoclastic intlelctual and experiential popularizer of Eastern philosophy for Western audfiences, was right from the larger Asian-influenced spiritual perspective, which I ultimately share. he said it’s an illusion to think *you* exist in one bag of skin with boundaries, and *I* exist in another – that’s about hetting beyond ego boundaries.

        so: part of us needs to recognize the ways that each of us DO exist in a bag of skin, and a less tangible “bag” of thoughts – call it ego if yo wish – and that other people have their own sacks of “stuff” that have similar needs to ours.

        see, I’m positing here that the development of empathy for other sentient beings (that phrase is another Western construction…the original Buddhist word translates just as “beings”) comes from developing ego in the good sense – elarning that the world doesn;t really rise and fall 9strictly) on one’s own rear end.
        I distinctly remember that idea taking hold of me, or vice versa, when I was in nursery school. I was possibly four years old, nmaybe three. a ilttle by at the school, and one I did not know well or play with much, had injured himself slightly – he had a skinned knee or scraped arm or something. a teacher was getting him a Band-aid. I looked at the bandage and thought “oh, Band-aid, hurt” and remembered that when I skinned my knee and needed a bandgae, i hurt! I “got” right then that the kid who was being tended by the teacher probably ahd the same kind of hurt in HIS knee.

        that’s “ego” in the positive sense. much, much later, if we are fortunate, we realize there isn’t that big a differnce between HIS hurt and my hurt because we are interconnected and that is about “dropping” ego in the positive sense.

        but if we never develop that ego to drop later as a spiritual practice, you are like little Stoprmy, whining about wanting ice cream or hopping on to the computer in someone hose as soon as you see it, without asking permission because we don’t recognize that there ARE boundaries and that other people have needs too.

        and on that note, I will exit.

        ironially, perhaps: I must write a paper about interconnectedness in the sciences for an environmental studies class I’m taking, so I will sign off.

        I’m not traveling with this child until he is older and has more ego, which may be quite a while. his mom is a good friend who looks up to me as an older sister, and I’m happy to do some more journeying with HER (we had fun despite her kid’s energy) but my usual family-tolerant approach has its limits, bounded by my own self-respect, really. I must say she does a little better at asking him to wait on stuff, speak more courteously, etc.now if it were a dire emergency and I had to take Stormy somewhere and no one else could, i;d do it because it’s what’s right, gut I;d stillt ell him “you dont get to whine at me and make faces when you have to wait or get down off something.”

        now, is that *dropping* my ego, or developing it? I’ll let my friends here decide.

  10. Karen said,

    August 25, 2009 at 10:51 am

    This is interesting, not just in the Farm’s view, but in anything a person might face. If one was a legitimate “refugee” but did work, but nothing special and could be considered dipensible and a bit of an outsider, I bet that it would not be considered “fate” that they had arrived there.
    Also, in the 70’s and my youth, there were so many good things that one could do and so many good places to be. It was a time of happening, I think — post 60’s, when young people were trying to change things and build a new society. Even though I get nostalgic that I didn’t get to stay on the Farm, I’m sure, like Cliff, that I would not have done anything differently. If I could have done MORE and put myself in 2 or 3 places at once, I would have. I’m glad to have at least visited the Farm and I’m glad that it existed, even with all it’s problems! So, thanks again, Cliff, for these stories, and this opportunity for a forum. It’s a nice connection!

  11. Judith said,

    November 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    new topic for discussion – animal life and the Farm

    this seems as good a place as any to pose the question about the evolving relatioship with animal life on the Farm as a vegetarian ([retty much vegan) communjity tht did keep a ew critters, and since the Changeper has more.

    maybe Martin, who is passionately and intellectually involved in agriculture and home food supply issues can comment, and some of the other folks who’ve lived at the Farm at various points..Cliff, you around for this at all??? I know you’ve been busy…

    ther is a sluightly cryptic lage in”Hey Beatnik” talking about horse care, how tomake non-leather harness from old tires and such, and how getting involved with horses is about being tied up with animals who live and die just like us, nd we can;t get too sentimental… I say Cryptic” beause I don;t really know jsut what was considered crossing over into relating to darft horses :sentimentally.” teh farm was interesting with when things were labelled “Sentimental” or “spuerstitious” anyway..

    I also know ther were other farm animls there, some sheep for woll and such? and that there was, and to this day though the diet is less vegan than in the old days, a strong cmmitment to not slaughtering animals. but that also Stephen fond it :too high Brahmin vegetariasn” to oppose, say, vaccines or medications based on animal products such as horse-derived serum (not sure how they felt about Premarin, which is made from captive Pregnant mare’s Urine, hence the name, my aunt took it religiously the last fifteen or so years of her life, maybe more, but then she wasnt really vegetarian after leavng the Farm either. I’m, frsaked out by premarin and by animal experimentation, thgh i;m working on the equivalent of a biology degre and it;s ahrd to avoid animal specimens or parts that were killed jsut for study and research. I’m not a strict vegan, do eat a little gpat cheese and I don;t wear all-vegan shoes all the time.

    anyway, I also know the Farm went from being entierly down on honey because it was made from the ahrd work of honey bees to actually keeping bees and having some honey-based recipes in the Farm Veg Cookbook, and Stephen and Ina May have talked openly abut sometimes eating cheese at elast on the road these days…and later Farm cookbooks, like Kids Can Cook, included a little egg and cheese in the recipes, which surprised me some.

    now I know karen who posts here regualrly has said several times that not being in aa position to give up having a pet dog was some of why she didn;t stay logner on the Farm – i also know that there were some cats, maybe for utilitarian reasons – one of the clor photos in an early edition of SPiritual midwifery shows a Farm family including a fluffy orange tabby cat.

    and that the guys at the Gate talked abut rat problems there and needing rat poison and/or cats..which route did they go on that?

    anyway, as someone who;s still philosophically inclined to vgetarian food production adn closely involved with a lot of integrated, omnivorous prganic local farmers, I’d love to hear where the Farm, from whom I first learned the ethical arguments against dairy and eggs being “gifts” that animals “give us painlessly”, went with the whole stewardship question.

    well, tgat’s my priming of the pump for today. must go…hope to talk with as many of you as possible about a subject that fascinates me, soon. love,Judith

  12. Cliff Figallo said,

    November 11, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    We were complete vegans sometimes to the detriment of our overall diet. We ate lots of white sugar and margarine, didn’t shy away from white flout. We did not raise sheep or goats or any domestic animals for their byproducts. We did have the horses, but we quickly dropped the idea of doing all of our farming with them like the Amish down the road.

    As to those ethical traps like animal-derived serum, that’s where we got practical and didn’t quibble. We were not into Ayurvedic medicine or golden seal. We were pretty orthodox when it came to health care except for childbirth.

    Some people and their kids are still vegans, but most ex-Farmies I know are not complete vegetarians anymore. They eat dairy, at least.

    If I’d had a choice, I probably would have had a goat or two.

    Glad we didn’t have dogs and cats, though. Better for the wildlife.

  13. November 14, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Agriculture, animals, and the Farm….there’s two levels of comment I’ll offer.

    The first is that, although we didn’t keep animals other than horses, our early agricultural success was largely due to spreading manure from other peoples’ cows on our land, which, according to the descriptions in the Soil Conservation Service handbook, was generally considered too thin, rocky, steep, and porous (won’t hold water, except where there’s a hardpan) to be useful for anything but marginal pasture and forest. There are a few areas, mostly the basin around the old tractor barn, that are a little better, but I understand that the wildlife conservationists on the new Farm won’t let the new farmers farm that part because it’s host to a rare bird of some sort…

    As the years went by, we hauled less manure (we had kind of mined out the big sources), and found our yields declining, especially as we attempted to keep fields in constant cultivation without allowing much fallow time. Also, the deer population of the area mushroomed, in part because we weren’t hunting them and in part because most of the deep forest around the Farm was cut down, creating ideal deer habitat, and deer will eat just about anything but potatoes. This has been a problem all over Tennessee, not just on our little 1600 acres. Tennessee WIldlife Management’s decision to reintroduce deer into the state (they were virtually extinct around 1940) has pretty much destroyed the viability of small-scale agriculture in what used to be one of the top ten fruit and vegetable growing states in the country. Wildlife management gets to collect hunting license fees instead. Talk about selling your birthright for a mess of pottage….deer fences are very expensive, and don’t necessarily work.

    I understand that at least two Tennessee organic farmers/gardeners who have been consulted by those seeking to re-establish farming on the Farm have recommended the addition of livestock. I suppose this is being considered.

    One great source of manure that we never used was…ourselves. Humanure that has been composted for a year is completely safe, but instead of putting our digested veggies back on the fields we sucked ’em up and sent ’em to local sewage treatment plants, a serious failure to close the ecological circle, in my humble (but very opinionated) opinion. Poop-yucks continue to be an impediment to ecological living in the community, I hear, as a group of folks who wanted to start an ecological neighborhood were more or less run off by opposition to their plans in that respect. (Anybody who knows more about this than i do is welcome to chime in!)

    That brings me to the second part of my critique of farming/gardening on the Farm….we centralized it, and lived away from the fields, for the most part, and jumped into big-scale, capital-intensive farming. I think we would have been much more successful if we’d set the community up in such a way that we were all living on the edge of the fields, and gardening them intensively, so that produce was basically available within an easy walk of where it was going to be consumed. As it was, I think our overly long lines of communication and supply–food water, miles of muddy roads, need for household trucks, etc.–helped weaken the community and contributed to its failure.

    I have said this before in other places, maybe even here, and it is interesting to me that, the last time I saw Stephen (in the lunch line at the Continental Bioregional Congress, held on the Farm last month), he confessed to me that “We didn’t have a plan…we just did it.,” or words to that effect.

    Wow….all these years, I thought he and a circle of his close friends were planning things…..now he says they weren’t….and we ran it into a tree….I guess that shouldn’t be surprising….

  14. Judith said,

    November 14, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    thanks guys. interesting about the deer, and about he forest, and also about how things became to centrailzed. hunters love to say they are the original conservationists and I keep hoping they are full of shit. you didn;t mention whetehr predators such as wolves and even smaller ones such as weasels and raccoons were also severely limited, which could have something to do with the deer.

    speaking of full of shit: here’s what little I know about human manure; controversy about whether to use it on edible crops, though it;s a tradition in CHina and japan (when the old Zen parable says that if what Zanzen says is a lie, “dig up my skull and use it to big nighsoil” that’s what he;s talking aout.

    however, humans are near the top of te bio-concentration food chain, even vegan humans, and tend to have high concentrations of cadmium and other heavy metals that really have no place in the diet…maybe if you’d never eaten meat and never smoked cigarettes and enver eaten processed food, the metal profile is a lttle dffernt..but still,it;s a consideration. I have SIm van der Ryn’s classic book “The Toilet Papers” (he was California’s Stete Architect under Gov Jerry Brown in the early 80s, and a founder of the Intgral Urba House in Berkeley in the 70s, one of the first “green living” urban food projects ever. they are not vegetarian NTW, raised rabbits and chickens for meat, liek some of our lcoal ubran homesteaders do today.) and Sim doesn’t recommend for using well composted people-poopy for anthing but ornamental plants.

    seems to me that a good compromise wuld be using it on orchard crops; fruit and but trees, rather than on something where the edible leaves or stems are likely to become contaminated with either minerals or bacteria from nightsoil.

    now people-PEE on the other hand…great source of available nitrogen, and generally not septic at all when it comes out. urine is liquid gold. confession or is it bragging; I save mine and use it diluted with runoff water, 1:10 or so, to water and fertilize my own food garden, except the p[lants such as strawberries that seem too sensitive to sodium.

    not eeing in the outhouse is the key to good aerobic composting of soil.

    now ther seem to be rumprs of a few critters here and there on the old Farm, mostly in Spiritual Midwifery when someone..one of the ladies descrinbing her bnirthing… mentions peripherally that a lamb had been born up the road (I assumed it was somewhere on the Farm) or, like I say, where a family is photographed holding a fat orange squishy cat. and in her tribute to Dawn after Dawn died in 1996 or whenever it was, in Birth Gazette, Ina May remarked that Dawn not only was a whiz with horses who “rode ike the wind” despite her disabilities, she was “midwife to every creature we seemed to collect” which implied to me that there were occasional creatures besides the forses…maybe mules or donkeys? and maybe one or two or so woolies or something around for Dawn to nurture. )story as Ina May told it is Daen thus set out o become a veterinarian, made the highest grades ever at the lcoal community colelge, decided to apply to med school rather than vet schol…amybe ther;s too much having o “off” animals in most vetirinary training, I dunno…it wold stop me but then I don;t expect to get the highest grades ever in analytic chemistry either.

    y the time Hey beatnik came out, the Farm was already distnuishing itself from the “mystical ct: of wannabe organic farmers and acknowledging that they had plenty to elarn from the local conventional farmers. which is a good thing but even in the early 70s, there were farmers converting to all-organic emthods who worked, say, with Rodale Institute (Cliff has remarked that his family were big ROdale enthusiasts even in his childhood) and there could have been plenty of shared elarning had the Farm been elss isolated at the time.

    there are even a small minority of organic farms experimenting with all-vegan inputs, or nearly all vegan, and I am cautiously supportive, especially in the wake of feces-borne diseases spreading to so many veg crops (and sometimes even tree fruit, as in the Odwalla catasrophe in 1996. dirty apples from cow poop on ground, it appears.

    from an energy-loss at every trophic level standpoint, less reliance on consumers as food makes sense.

    some of the more successful organic farmers I know in northern California are farming 300 or more acres with a wide diversity of crops, and only a few animals. they do have to import some prepared compost that contains manure.

    the two main “industries” besides how-to books that began on the early Farm were midwifery and food production, mostly in[house. as the Farm population aged and got past their baby boom, and the collective ability to care for all who came without charge disappeared,the midwives had developed a marketable product that attracted other families seeking a Farm birthing. some of the vegan foods really took off on their own (who;d ever heard of tempeh before the Farm unless they were Indonesian? not I…) and jsut as the Midwifery center started reaching out more to other, nonp-Farm midwives (and became more accepting of alternative and complementary medicine when they saw how successful other midwifery practices had integratd it)..maybe the Farming Crew could have benefited by really seeking out other successful organic and/or vegan farmers to find out what they grew, how they grew it, and how they marketed it.

    now these are indeed Technologies for Living…how to feed ourselves and each other, what to do with our pee and shit, how to care for our families’ ehalth from conception thorugh childhood and into old age. leaqrning from others is never a bad idea; from out here, I think it took the Farm a little while longer than it should to have recognized that. Ina May ahs said ehrself that she :wasn’t aware of what was happening in midwifery” outside the Farm in the 70s; seems like an unfortunate lack of awareness. fortunately, though, she remedied that and got involved with national and ten international coalitions of midwives, and they all learned one from another.

  15. Cliff Figallo said,

    November 14, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Martin, you’re right that we could have done the farming bit a lot better, and the knowledge was already there if we’d chosen to make use of it and really acted in a forward-thinking manner. I admit, I was a lot more follower than leader, at least in the first years. We kept a nice garden in during my last 3 years there, but really – why didn’t we at least prototype composting toilets and more sensible neighborhood planning when we had such a chance?

    Stephen was right if he said that – we had no plan. We had no open planning.

  16. Judith said,

    November 20, 2009 at 12:25 am

    well, here’s a source of rich herbivore manure that the Farm should check out. about 20 miles away, in Hohenwald TN, there’s a sanctuary for ill and aging elephants from zoos, circuses and the like. I stumbled into these fol’s wen site today while searching something entirely different, and they sound like they would be great partners for what was being marketed here as zoo-doo. they have a lot of elephants, and as they point out, elephants eat a very high fiber diet with only abott 48% digestibility, so plenty of nice porous poopedy without having to deal with the loife-force ambiguity (god I DO talk like an old Farmie sometimes, don;t I?) of, say, dairy cows or goats and their male progeny.

    the Elephant Sanctuary sound like very spiritual people though without a strong religiousity or dogma about anything.

    check them out, and as I say, it’s a short drive from the Farm.

    http://www.elephants.com

    and you might have heard this elsewhere but there could be an additional if somewhat “winkwink” second harvest; turns out that the spores of various psychedelic fungi weren’t all that uncommon in zoo-doo from elephants and sometimes giraffes – that’s how some species of shroom from Africa and Asia are supposed to have become common in North America.

    speaking of technologies for living, oh my.

    off the elephant topic, bit still on the “doo” matter any of you read Rose George’s recent book “The Big Necessity” – she studied sewage and sewers around the world, especially focused on London and New York CIty, an informative and entertaining read.

    as they say, we are what we don’t excrete, and i guess that goes for elephants too.

  17. Karen said,

    November 23, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Didn’t some people have composting toilets? I thought Cara, the midwife, had one in her house off what I think was Second road. It was indoor, too — a room off to the side of the house. I was very impressed by it.

  18. November 23, 2009 at 11:29 am

    The only composting toilet I recall was ours, which I built with help from Francesco after the changeover, when Cara was long gone…..It was still in good condition (including two very-well composted piles) last time I visited, when the house (Canned Heat) had been torn down for some years….I hear a new place has been built on the old foundation, but haven’t been back for a visit…..don’t know what they did about the old outhouse….maybe i shoulda got my s–t outta there while the getting was good! 🙂

  19. Karen said,

    November 26, 2009 at 9:55 am

    heh! Heh!Thanks for the laugh, Martin. Where was Canned Heat located? I also visited a 2-story house way back in the woods by a small creek, but don’t re-call using the toilet there.

  20. November 27, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    “Canned Heat” was called that because it was a double envelope, earth-sheltered building–kind of a house inside a house…unfortunately, there was not enough provision made to remove moisture/circulate fresh air, and it was getting pretty moldy by the time we left it in 1991 or so…the floors and ceilings started rotting out a few years later. ..it was/is on Oak Ridge Road, just across the hollow from where the Second Road water tower used to be. My son Silas was born in a schoolbus on the 2nd Road side, and my grandson Forest was born next door to Canned Heat, in another earth-sheltered dwelling, “The New wave Cave.” Where the next generation of our family will be born (presuming there is another generation) is anybody’s guess….


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