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Voices From The Farm: Adventures In Community Living
by Rupert Fike, editor
Publisher:
The Book Publishing Co. 
Year:
1998 
ISBN:
157067051X 
Categories:
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Scotto, 1/20/2006

In 1970, counterculture guru Stephen Gaskin led a cross-country caravan of hundreds of hippies from San Francisco to Tennessee, where they established The Farm, an influential commune that still exists today. During its heyday, The Farm was a nexus for idealistic pioneers, spiritual seekers, and troubled souls for whom the standard script of American life was no longer adequate.

Voices From The Farm recounts the rather amazing results of this grand experiment. The book is a collection of first-person accounts that chronicle the formation of The Farm, its severe growing pains, its impressive global outreach, and its unique societal microcosm. Life on The Farm was no picnic: with rapidly dwindling cash resources, the community was forced to develop a complex infrastructure, literally from the ground up. Farming was obviously key to providing sustenance, but every other basic service also needed to be accounted for, often by people with little or no practical experience and varying degrees of emotional stability. Families were thrown together in communal households of up to fifty people, including children, under one roof; needless to say, the pressures of these configurations were unusual and demanding. A dedicated midwife community opened the doors of The Farm to any and all comers who needed a place to safely deliver – and safely abandon – their children. The Farm became a destination of last resort for juveniles in legal trouble and mentally ill individuals who had no other hope of treatment.

Voices from The Farm offers tantalizing glimpses of the underlying spiritual philosophy that theoretically held the place together, but no clear description is given; instead, the tales revolve around the innumerable daily struggles of individuals surviving essentially a third-world level of poverty and hardship. Also missing from the book is a clear depiction of the true influence that Gaskin held over The Farm; he remains offstage for most of the book, revered and mysterious, although a few of his key mistakes are highlighted. And no definitive account is ever offered of what forced The Farm to abandon its communal economic model – a transition that spurred the vast majority of The Farm’s population to leave.

What the book does provide, however, is a fantastic glimpse into this idealistic experiment, told by dozens of alumni. Gaskin’s tribe made a true leap of faith, and as this book makes clear, had an unexpectedly lasting effect. For all its faults, The Farm in retrospect is often if not usually described as a success story, and those who seek communal living today have much to glean from the lessons learned of this community. These voices are well worth hearing.

1 Comment »

  1. I grew up on The Farm. Not much to compare it with, but – It seems pretty cool, comparatively, I guess. It was what it was. It is what it is. I still enjoy it immensely, when I can get back

    Comment by Sam — 10/7/2007 @ 9:06 pm

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