Driving Food Home: Part I, Tennessee, Visits

The Farm (Summertown, TN)

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If you are curious about communal living at all, you have probably heard of The Farm. Home of Ida May Gaskin (author of Spiritual Midwifery) and many other alternative leaders from that time, The Farm is one of the longest-running and most well known intentional communities in the entire U.S. While dubbed “The Farm,” there is currently very little food production on the property; individuals seem to be growing small plots for personal consumption, if at all.  Although there is a general focus on overall health and wellbeing, the goal here is not on growing food; it’s instead focused on growing community and human relationships, as well as each person’s relationship with the world around them. The Farm was established 1971 by Steven Gaskin, based on the principals of non-violence and respect for the earth. What sounds like a simple ideology was a totem pole in building an extremely strong and tight-knit community, one that has become an icon and a lasting model. Although there is too much to go into as far as the history here, if you are interested we encourage you to look up some of the published literature (listed here). Just know that this place has a long history of dedicated members that have always stayed true to these core values and a intentional way of living; we acknowledge their determination and loyalty to a common vision.

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We reached out to The Farm well in advance due to its cornerstone position as a stop on our route, and had been put in touch with a few people to potentially show us around. We were eventually hooked up with Jaysun The Green, a Farm member of thirteen years who spends most of his time working on an on-site nonprofit called The Prancing Poet Ecovillage & Training Center. Although on The Farm’s property and the provider of jobs for some of its members, the Ecovillage is a separate non-profit entity that provides many functions for visitors not necessarily affiliated with the community. We were invited on a tour around the training center, a site whose purpose was to serve as a bit of a “micro-village living emersion training center” within the “macro-village” of The Farm.

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Jaysun teaches what he calls “Appropriate Technologies,” a people-centered, labor-intensive but environmentally minded way of approaching a wide range of fields, which “focuses on the whole bottom like,” he describes, “simplifying the simpler way of life.” The eco-center is host to teachers of many disciplines that teach classes in agriculture, design and beyond, as well as hostel and workshop visitors. One of their main programs is a two-month permaculture design course and work intensive. This includes elements of natural building techniques, which are experimented with by using the skeleton of “The Green Dragon,” (“Ya know The Green Dragon from Lord of the Rings? Yeah, it’s our pub,” Jaysun gaffaws.) This beautiful natural building has been in the works for 15 years and counting due to its permanent status as a teaching tool.

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As a model for sustainable living, the site (whose population maintains at least 3 people over the winter months, reaching up to 12 full-time residents during the summer) has some awesome approaches to resource management and conservation. Full from a quick stop at the blueberry patch, we walked through one of the many small gardens on the property. Jason picked a fresh fat cucumber, offering it to us. We gnaw on the fruit as we walk towards the solar shower.

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This is where the grey water system starts. Collecting water from the gutters along with all the water that goes down their drains, it’s then filtered through a built wetland using floating water hyacinths. The hyacinths are harvested at the end of every summer to be incorporated into their compost, which will eventually be re-applied to their garden, ensuring micronutrient retention. This small system (which covers less than ¼ acre) successfully filters all of the water for the full time residents as well as the visitors of the site.

grew watter system

We ran into Albert Bates, long-time Farm resident and author of The Biochar Solution playing around with newly burned bamboo biochar. Fiddling with the ash in his hands, he explained the many uses of the product, specifically highlighting what this batch would be used for; his intent was to use it as a ‘sponge’ for the building being erected behind us. Albert proceeded to explain that the massive amounts of pores within the bamboo biochar specifically make it the perfect vessel for soaking up mold spores that seep into walls built with natural materials. “My goal is to heal a sick world,” Albert says simply, “We gotta go back to a garden planet.” Along with its many immediate physical uses in agriculture and construction (see Albert’s 55 Uses of Biochar, if you’re curious!) biochar also assists in sequestering carbon, a goal that is near and dear to Albert’s heart, and important in combating global climate change.

albert baits

You could spend a lifetime (and many have) exploring the ins and outs of this community built around the non-violent ideals of the Summer of Love. Our brief visit merely wet our whistles, giving us a taste of what you could learn from people living so connected with the land and each other. So what has kept Jaysun here for the past 13 years? “You know, this place has been through hell and back. If it wasn’t for the tribal connections with people, people raising other people’s babies… It’s really the human element being incorporated into an intentional lifestyle. It’s a unity consciousness thing.” From the free-lovin’ hippies in the 60’s to the more realistic and individualized endeavors that are coming out of The Farm currently, it’s clear the members of The Farm love where they live, daily acting with much more intention and communication than a common outsider.

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I’m sure if you were to search the most frequently used words on this site, community would definitely come up high in the top five. An appropriate definition of this term is more then due; we have found an excellent one in the book The Farm, Then and Now that we would like to share with you.

“The word ‘community’ has become a buzzword and in the process can lose its deeper meaning. Any collection of people gathered together around an element in common … is labeled as a community. These identities can fill a void that is no longer satisfied by the actual place where people live … [Mainstream culture] leaves people hungry for something more.”

 This was a perfect example of people doing there best to live in accordance with there beliefs, to make this world work for them, and find others that have a similar vision. In a true community, people rely on each other and support each other in their endeavors. Jaysun said it well: “I can do a lot of things – hell, I can do anything! — but I can’t do everything. But that’s okay! You just need to be friends with someone who can.” As the sun set and the tour came to a close, we thanked Jaysun and made our way over to the ‘Wholeo’, a stained glass dome structure.  We sat in thanks and gratitude and took everything in. Another orange sunset, another loving community, another splendid day, thank you universe!

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About Driving Food Home

The articles published by the Collective between June and September 2014 were written collaboratively by Ali Mediate, Sarah Anderson, Evelyn Block, and Sera Deva. Articles published by the Collective through November and December 2014 were written collaboratively by Rachael Saland and Sera Deva.

Discussion

One thought on “The Farm (Summertown, TN)

  1. Another magical mystery tour!!

    Posted by Laura | July 31, 2014, 5:39 pm

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