To Infinity and “The Farm”

*Post written by Josh Knecht, student assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

Aerial view of The Farm in Summertown, Tenn., c. 1975. (Source: Robert Rosenthal Collection, CS 665-5619)

Aerial view of The Farm in Summertown, Tenn., c. 1975. (Source: Robert Rosenthal Collection, CS 665-5619)

Of the many communal collections located up in the Rice Library Archives, I have had the pleasure of working on a donation given by Mr. Leigh Kahan. This collection is a combination of newspaper clippings, photocopies, pictures, magazines, journals, and letters detailing many of the historical facts and day-to-day aspects of “The Farm,” an intentional community formed in 1971 by Steven Gaskin. Gaskin and over 300 followers, Kahan included, left from the San Francisco Bay Area in a caravan of sixty vehicles and eventually planted roots in Lewis County, Tennessee.

Steven Gaskin (center) speaking at an outdoor Sunday meeting in Summertown, Tenn., c. 1975. (Source: Robert Rosenthal collection, CS 665-6998)

Steven Gaskin (center) speaking at an outdoor Sunday meeting in Summertown, Tenn., c. 1975. (Source: Robert Rosenthal collection, CS 665-6998)

The Farm was an apt name for the commune twofold; it both described the rural acreage in which the men and women settled, as well as the philosophical stance adopted by those living in the commune. Gaskin preached peace, more specifically nonviolence, to those living on The Farm, as well as a love for the Earth and the “natural way” of life. Those living on The Farm partook in such practices as midwifery, joint marriages between two couples, and growing food for an individual is family or self. Consumption of meat was prohibited; instead, soy was used as a replacement for many food items, such as burger patties or ice cream. While the daily duties of one member may have varied considerably when compared to any other, all pulled their weight and contributed to an enriched and tight-knit sense of community for all.

View of Ecovillage Training Center with geodesic dome (right), two solar heated showers (left center), and organic garden at rear in Lawrence County, Tenn., 2002. (Source: Don Janzen collection, CS 662, 070pc-0003)

View of Ecovillage Training Center with geodesic dome (right), two solar heated showers (left center), and organic garden at rear in Lawrence County, Tenn., 2002. (Source: Don Janzen collection, CS 662, 070pc-0003)

The Farm conducted many ventures over the years. One such endeavor was their very own Farm band, which toured the country playing in parks and community centers free of charge. Another was the formation of PLENTY, a charitable nonprofit organization. Probably the most famous action PLENTY committed was a four-year long stay in the highlands of Guatemala after an earthquake in 1976, in which they helped rebuild over 1,200 destroyed homes. For acts such as these, PLENTY became the recipient of Sweden’s first Right Livelihood Award.

Abandoned vehicles, some of the original buses that came to the Farm from San Francisco, Calif., 1993. (Source: Don Janzen collection, CS 662, 070sc-0019)

Abandoned vehicles, some of the original buses that came to the Farm from San Francisco, Calif., 1993. (Source: Don Janzen collection, CS 662, 070sc-0019)

This collection, which contains more interesting stories and facts, is the life’s work of Mr. Kahan, as he was the archivist of The Farm’s media presence over the years. He gathered any mention of The Farm in newspapers, magazines, journals, and other mediums throughout his years on The Farm and even after. Thus, Rice Library’s archives is in possession of one of the premiere collections on The Farm history in existence, and the knowledge contained can only truly be beat by taking a trip to The Farm itself, which is still going strong in Lewis County, Tennessee to this day.

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