This month's Vanity Fair -- which is full of Earth Day-related stories -- has a feature on The Farm. With a slide show and some lovely photos of Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, it's called Sex, Drugs and Soybeans, by Jim Windolf.
The Farm, in Summertown, Tenn., has long been the most famous of the communes -- intentional communities -- and perhaps the most willing to live a public life. Its members lived on a frontier way too edgy for most; back-breaking pioneer life and soybeans at every meal weren't part of the urban counterculture. And the West coast seemed more fertile ground for homegrown gurus.
Ina May and Stephen Gaskin, 1976. Photo by David Frohman.
So here's how Vanity Fair leads into the story:
In 1970, pot-smoking guru Stephen Gaskin, a former U.S. Marine, led his band of acolytes on a mystic trip out of San Francisco and into the American heartland. But a funny thing happened on the way to enlightenment: Gaskin's hippies learned the ancient virtues of hard work, good hygiene, and crop rotation. Deep in the Tennessee woods, they formed a spiritual commune called The Farm, which has morphed over its 36 years into a high-tech eco–think tank.
(Unfortunately, this is also repeated atop each of the 18 photos in an otherwise interesting slideshow of then and now.)
New Yorker Windolf could have blown this off into caricature but he doesn't: "When I watched Family Ties, I sided with Michael J. Fox against his parents. But I was curious that a place like the Farm had managed to survive." He turns out an interesting exploration of how a Utopian idea grew, rooted and morphed over decades.
The Farm attracted more than 10,000 visitors per year. Some were seeking a reasonable alternative to modern life. Others were whacked out of their minds. Those on gatehouse duty would tell them the rules, as summed up by Figalo in his memoir: "No animal products, no tobacco, no alcohol, no manmade psychedelics. No sex without commitment, no overt anger, no lying. No private money, no large pieces of private property. Accept Stephen as your teacher …"
Although his focus is primarily Stephen Gaskin, he acknowledges that Stephen's wife, Ina May, is the better known by those who have encountered her books.
Ina May is internationally known in obstetric and midwife circles, serving as a Visiting Fellow of Morse College at Yale University, according to a Wikpedia bio. In 1999, Katie Allison Granju wrote a bio of Ina May for Salon: The midwife of modern midwifery. (This link has been squirrely, as though this older interview is stored elsewhere now. It works consistently if I go to Salon.com and paste it in, but with the printer version you only have to do that once.)
Stacy Fine went to The Farm to give birth in 2003, and did this email interview with Ina May that focuses on birthing, and midwifery. Interesting advice:
What are 3 things you tell your pregnant clients?
1 Remember that you are as well made as any monkey.
2 Don't forget to bring your sense of humor to your labor.
3 Smiling as your baby's head is coming out helps to relax your perineum and therefore makes it less likely that you'll tear.
It is startling to learn that Stephen Gaskin is now 72; Ina May was born in 1940 in Marshalltown, Iowa. The most interesting recent photo I found of them includes the detail above, from Earthdance 2006 last September, where both spoke. Here Stephen is talking and Ina May seated beside him. It's uncredited, on on this page by Skip Stone.
Bonus: Children of the Farm: Windolf writes,
Rena Mundo was born on the Farm in 1972. Her father was Motor-Pool mechanic (and Farm-School track coach) José Mundo, a Puerto Rican immigrant out of the Bronx. Her mother, Jan, was a Berkeley graduate from Beverly Hills, a nice Jewish daughter of a prosperous surgeon. Farm midwives attended Rena's birth and also those of her brother, Miguel, and her sister, Nadine. In the past five years the Mundo sisters—now Brooklyn-based filmmakers who have worked at MTV's news-and-documentaries division—have amassed 250 hours of footage; some archival, some from their own interviews with current and former Farmies. By summer's end they hope to have a cut ready to submit to Sundance. The working title is Commune.
There's a loft party in Brooklyn April 30 which doubles as a fundraiser and sneak peek.
Feature creep: The adventure has been going on for 36 years, and as part of their efforts toward autonomy, they've long been wired. Third Planet Report by "hippielawyer Alan Graf" offers podcasts from The Farm. Stephen has his own site, as does Ina May. It's not hard to find folks who stayed awhile, left and moved on to building Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand's virtual community, The WELL -- Matthew McClure, Cliff Figallo and John Coate (the last two pictured here at The Farm in Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community by Stanford professor Fred Turner in the journal Technology & Culture. It's more readable as a pdf.)
Sidebar: The Tennessee State Library and Archives hits the highlights with a page of images as part of what is apparently a long tradition of Searching for Utopia in Tennessee: The label head is The Happiest Days of My Life. Here's the very brief overview of The Farm in that long parade.
Liz has other good links on that post, but I'm on vacation so I'm going to let you riff on them yourselves.