In the Guatemalan Highlands, 1980From May 1971 through October 1983 there was a collective community mostly made up of people in their twenties living on 1850 acres of woodland and fields in southern middle Tennessee. Most of the population, which peaked at somewhere between 1300 and 1600 all-told, lived on that land in dwellings they’d cobbled together from rough cut timber and salvaged materials. A few smaller pockets of from 6 to 80 members lived in satellite enclaves in places like the South Bronx, South Africa, the San Francisco Bay area and highland Guatemala.

This centralized but distributed community called itself The Farm. It was founded around the ideas and philosophy of one Stephen Gaskin, an ex-Marine and college English teacher who had dropped in to the creative culture of the Haight-Ashbury scene and attracted a following in the late Sixties.

I was a latecomer to Stephen’s school of life, but arrived soon enough to ride with the caravan of converted school buses and vans that migrated, like a wagon train, east from California to the midst of the Bible and Moonshine Belt where land was cheap and where we wouldn’t be mistaken for any of the other longhaired hippie-types that characterized California.

I was a member of the Farm for all of the 12 years it existed as a pure collective – where everyone owned nothing and surrendered what they earned to a central bank for distribution to meet community needs. We lived as groups in buses, then tents, then simple houses. We were complete vegetarians and became experts at it. We delivered our own babies and become world famous for our midwifery skills. We were a no-tobacco, no-alcohol, nonviolent culture with spiritual underpinnings.

The Farm was founded to have an effect on the world. We believed in “being straight” with one another – telling the truth, trying to get down to who we really were with our neighbors. We hoped to achieve a graceful, sustainable lifestyle that others in the world at large could emulate.

Today, as the world becomes aware of the limits we’ve reached in terms of our use of resources and the climate changes we are causing, what we practiced and learned on The Farm provides us with a unique history. Sharing resources fairly and peacefully will become an essential social skill. Being creative in the face of crisis will be a necessity for communities as this century unfolds.

Farmola was a kind of hot cereal that our millers invented to get us off to a good start in our days of heavy manual labor – farming, building, logging, salvaging and just lugging stuff around in a big village with few vehicles. I remember Farmola as a heavy, sticky, tasty glop that stuck to the spoon and everything else on the way down.

The Farmola blog is my personal memoire of life on the Farm. The experience served me well, and served me at The WELL, where I and three other Farm veterans managed one of the earliest and most influential online communities before the Web. Some of The Farm’s DNA made it through to what we now call the Social Web.

Not that The Farm invented the way people behave in persistent group environments – but you’ve got to understand how to build trust with people if you’re going to share space with them. Through the Web, many people are learning to do that in virtual space. One hopes that those lessons will transfer to the physical space.


  1. Judith said,

    April 6, 2008 at 5:23 am

    here’s the recipe for Farmola, per the New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook ,by Louise Hagler and Dorothy Bates (of blessed memory,as we say in my tradition.) is it indeed heavy, sticky,and gloppy but tasty? yep…it’s 20% soy flour,after all. so be sure to cook it enough. see pg. 185 of the book,if you like.

    combine 1 part soy flour,1 part cornmeal, 1 part cracked rye, and 2 parts cracked wheat,or cream of wheat cereal. Toast in a cast iron skillet over medium heat,STIRRING CONSTANTLY,until grains are browned with a nutlike aroma.

    Whisk a part of combined cereal into three parts salted boiling water. Stir the cereal constantly while it is first thickening. Then reduce heat and cook for a good 25 minutes, stirring often.

    Serve hot with soymiilk,sugar, sorghum, molasses,margarine, or just plain with salt.

    I cup of uncooked cereal(which probably makes up to a two cup or so serving, but I’d need to see) contains 28 grams of protein, per the cookbook. Whew,that’s about half of the protein an adult needs for a whole day from ALL sources. you betcha it sticks to your ribs.

    next week I get all the ingredients and try this one out.

    how’d you guys eat it? sweetened, plain, with (more )soymilk?

    I often like my hot cereal with a dash of shoyu or gomasio (ground sesame seeds with sea salt) and maybe a sprinkle of yeast instead of something sweet…guess that’s my Asian aliimentation kicking in again.dunno ’bout cooking the soy “flahr” right into the cereal mix though,sounds a little hard on the digestion…but I’ll give it a try next week and let you know. (I qm hippie, hear me fart? sorry…)

    the cookbook also features a similar concept-cereal,called Mellowmeal…4 parts cornmeal,2.5 parts soy flour,2.5 parts cracked rye, 1 part cracked buckwheat,0.5 parts millet.

    “the best to you each morning” as the Kelloggs folks used to sing…

    by our glopshallwe be known.

  2. Cliff said,

    December 2, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    As with many other things, I ate Farmola with lots of margarine and white sugar. If there was honey or sorghum molasses around, I’d pour that on, too. As you can see in the first photo on this page, I did not get fat on our diet.

  3. Judith said,

    January 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    what years are the photos? I looked closely and no, it’s not the same shirt…

    it’s funny, “fat” was seen as a sign of spiritual weakness from a lot of the Farm literature but between the long hours of hard work for most and the limits on the food supply, seems there were more folks in your situation via a vis body fat…

  4. January 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    First photo was from 1980, taken while I was in Guatemala. Second photo (different, but similar Solola shirt) was taken in 2008 here in California, about 25 lbs later. What was really funny was that in 1982, many households were able to run the video tape of the Jane Fonda Workout (“feel the burn”) and many women (with a smattering of men) were working out daily.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: