It all started in the fall of 1966 when someone decided to start an experimental college in San Francisco ... and way over in the corner of the registration room a guy named Stephen Gaskin put up a little sign which said he'd be teaching something called "Monday Night Class."
Only six people made it through that first semester with Gaskin. So he began tinkering around with new names for his course. First it was "Group Experiments in Unified Field Theory" ... then "Magic, Einstein, and God" ... and then "North American White Witchcraft." But what that Monday Night Class was really about all the time was religion and the psychedelic-drug-inspired, long-overdue spiritual reawakening which was then just beginning to stretch, come alive, and sweep across our jaded, materialistic, modern world.
And ... slowly at first ... then faster and faster, the most aware "flower children" and "hippies" who had come to San Francisco in the 60's because they'd heard that "something" was going on there ... the best and the brightest of these people were attracted to Stephen's class. And as the class grew, Gaskin had to move it from the campus where it had begun ... to a church ... to the Straight Theatre ... to a rock hall. And he had 50, then 250, then 1,000, then 2,000 people filling that hall every Monday night. Two thousand people out of a total congregation of at least 5,000 of the happiest, most joyous souls in San Francisco! Laughing, loving, gentle people who looked into each other's eyes ... and found God.
And it is still curious that neither the "establishment" nor the "underground" press of the city ever reported much about this magnificent achievement. Instead, they devoted whole pages of every edition of their papers to the false prophets of the day: the warped and twisted prophets who said that The Answer was ever-more-exotic mixtures of reality-altering chemicals ... that The Answer was "kill your parents" ... that The Answer was "drop out, steal, and live on welfare" ... that The Answer was violent confrontation in the streets.
But some of the rest of the country was not so retarded, and Stephen began getting a trickle — then a flood — of invitations to come and speak at churches and colleges across the United States. And every time he suggested the idea of recessing the Monday Night Class for a few months while he toured the nation to honor these requests, a funny thing happened: Members of what was now a religious congregation kept popping up to ask, "Can we go with you?"
"When we finally pulled out of San Francisco on October 12, 1970," Gaskin now remembers, "there were about 250 of us in 20 or 30 old buses. We were on the road for four months and the farther we went, the more people there were who joined the caravan. Pretty soon there were three or four hundred of us and the police were meeting us every time we crossed a state line."
The local constabulary was vitally — sometimes even aggressively — interested in Stephen's caravan almost everywhere it went, of course, because of the general smart-ass attitude exhibited by far too many members of 1970's self-proclaimed "counterculture." The only other psychedelically painted bus that most of those cops had ever seen had been driven by some dirty, drug-crazed freaks who'd crapped in the middle of the street and ripped off the local service station for a tank of gas. And now here were thirty more busloads of the same kind of crazies pulling into town all at once! Lord have mercy!
And the Lord did have mercy. Because Stephen's caravan was honest ... and polite ... and as clean as you can be living out of a bus ... and ... and ... and ... joyously religious. Sure, they had long hair and there were rumors they smoked that there maryjewennie and they were all dressed up in brightly colored secondhand clothes just like that last busload ... but these people were different. They were different. As a matter of fact, they were downright OK. And that Gaskin fellow who seemed to be their leader ... well, he was a pretty good preacher too! Knew his Bible, that was easy enough to see.
By the time Stephen's caravan rolled back into San Francisco in late January of 1971, it was obvious to all aboard that they were somehow ... stronger ... more tied together ... than they'd been when they'd left the town four months before. "We had become something on that trip. We could no longer just separate and go back to our separate apartments and our separate lives. So we thought back to the parts of the country we'd especially liked on our tour and Stephen said, `Let's go to Tennessee and get a farm,' and we all said, `Yeah, let's go to Tennessee and get a farm'. "
And that's just what Stephen and 250 of his spiritual followers did. They went to Tennessee and, after some minor hassles and a few months spent looking over property and letting the natives see that they weren't going to go on welfare or put a hex on the livestock or start a violent revolution in the cornfields, they bought a 1,014-acre farm for $70 an acre.
That was in late 1971. Since that time, The Farm has been expanded to 1,700 acres and incorporated as a non-profit church and foundation and Stephen has been officially recognized as a minister by the state of Tennessee. And he marries people who, if they expect to stay on The Farm and in his congregation, understand that they're also to stay married and true to each other till death do them part.
There's none of this hippie "free love" monkeying around on The Farm. And Farm ladies are expected to stay clean and nice and feminine and be good mothers, and Farm men are expected to be chivalrous and knightly and help their ladies and be good fathers, and everyone is expected to work hard and have a lot of fun and, all in all, the whole set of Farm ground rules makes more sense than almost anything happening anywhere else in today's generally screwed-up world.
Maybe that's why the population of The Farm has steadily grown to its present level of 1,000 happy souls, and maybe that's why The Original Farm has now spunoff I2 or 15 other Farms — with a total of an additional 600 members — in all parts of the country. Not to mention a nonprofit, international aid service called PLENTY. And an evangelical rock band. (Yes, evangelical!) And a whole bunch of other good things.
This started out to be a Plowboy Interview with Stephen Gaskin. But it's hard these days to know just where Stephen ends and the rest of The Farm begins. And besides that, there are so many good statements of purpose andintent and success and joy and plain common sense in various and sundry publications issued by The Farm ... that this turned out to be a Plowboy Papers instead. And tremendously inspiring ones at that!
- We live in a community of 1,000 people on a 1,700-acre farm in Tennessee. But that's not the first thing we do. The first thing we do is we are a church and we live a spiritual life of "right vocation." If you really want to be spiritual, you don't want to have to sell your soul for eight hours a day in order to have 16 hours in which to eat and sleep and get yourself back together again. You'd like for your work to be seamless with your life and that what you do for a living doesn't deny everything else you believe in.
- We're complete vegetarians and we grow most of the food we eat. We've also delivered 600 babies at home. We have our own school, bank, motor pool, construction company, public utilities, medical clinic, and ambulance service ... all of which are incorporated as a non-profit, religious foundation. We hold all property in common and share what we have according to need. There ain't nothing devious about it: Right out front, we're trying to build an alternative culture.
- What we're really into is making a living in a clean way. I guess farming is about the cleanest way to make a living there is. It's just you and the dirt and God. You can't make friends with an acre of land and expect it to give you an "A" like some college professor or something. You can't snow that acre of dirt. But if you put the work into it, it'll come back and feed you. It really will.
- There are two things you've gotta realize about The Farm. One is that if there's anything we do that looks like it's neat or together, it's because we're based in Spirit. And the second is that, other than being based in Spirit, we make most of the same dumb mistakes that everybody else makes.
- This is a small, poor county and everybody in Lewis County knows everybody else and some of the 60- and 70-year-old farmers around here are really priceless to us. They know how to build everything and fix everything and grow everything and we've made friends with them and hang around them 'cause we want to learn the things they know. And this really turns them on. They say, "I didn't know anybody wanted to learn this old stuff anymore." And we say, "Yeah, man. How do you do it?"