In The Farm Then and Now (New Society Publishers, 2014), author Douglas Stevenson presents the story of a group that has defied the odds, blending idealism with a practical approach to intentional community and creating a model for sustainable living. In the following excerpt, communal living is explored as members learn to operate collectively for the good of the community.
You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store:The Farm Then and Now.
A Village Should be Human Scale
A village should be relatively small, a size that lets everyone know
each other and interact on a daily basis. The network of connections
becomes like an ecosystem in itself, sustaining the community.
For over 40 years, The Farm has placed a high priority on the importance
of family relationships. Its population size allows members
to develop multiple circles of friends and connections on many different
levels. Residents live, work, play and explore unlimited ways to
cooperate with each other.
The Farm is a Full-featured Settlement
The Farm has many of the aspects of a small town, numerous neighborhoods,
a town center, a clinic, its own water system, over five miles
of roads, a dozen public buildings, a swimming hole and sandy beach,
a community center, kid parks, multiple businesses and much, much
Farm Midwives deliver the community’s newest residents. The
Farm’s cemetery has over 80 former (or one could say permanent)
residents. Life on The Farm goes full circle.
With its own store supplying staples and a wide assortment of
items, a good number of people may stay inside the community for
days, even weeks on end, with no reason to make a trip into town or
The Farm School has always been an important institution in the
community. Its survival past the economic change has allowed it to
continue as a focal point for community relations, bringing together
young and old from across the community. People pay for student
tuitions, participate as teachers, pull off fundraisers and help organize
celebrations and other activities. The School also serves as a way to attract
like-minded families with young children, new members bringing
fresh energy to the community. Frequently families will also move
into the local area specifically so their child or children can attend The
School. In that way, The School extends the sense of community well
beyond The Farm’s borders.
One of the most important ways The Farm Community benefits
its members and residents is as the hub for social activities and events.
The combination of a rural lifestyle and an active social environment
can fulfill the need for personal interaction, something that can be
missing for those living on isolated rural homesteads. Even someone committed to city life may find The Farm offers greater opportunities
for personal connection, builds deeper friendships and has a wider
range of networking opportunities, while avoiding the downsides like
endless traffic, a higher cost of living and other demands that eat away
at personal time.
If anything, The Farm’s bountiful social calendar can be almost
overwhelming, with seemingly endless choices ranging from the
practical, through participation on committees and governing bodies,
to the ever-frequent parties, potlucks and festivities. Of course, the
social dynamic can be also limited, especially for young single people
who want the action of a city, and the chance to meet new people.
Ideally, an ecovillage is energy-independent, generating its own
clean renewable energy. Several very large and small photovoltaic
arrays produce electricity throughout The Farm, but they generate
only a percentage of the power consumed by the entire community.
Virtually all homes and businesses on The Farm are connected to the
grid and standard electrical power. Equipment and installation costs
for solar electric systems remain prohibitively high, and cannot be
economically justified by the majority of families and businesses who
face the same financial struggles as people do anywhere.
The solar arrays on The Farm utilize what is known as a grid tie
system, in which the power they produce is fed directly back into the
grid. This eliminates the need for batteries that require maintenance,
have a limited life span and usually contain lead or lithium. There are
tradeoffs even in green energy production that must be factored in.
The Farm still holds clean and independent energy production as a
goal and ideal, something that will be achieved when it becomes truly
Local food production is typically considered a fundamental aspect
of ecovillages. The Farm has a large concentration of home gardens,
but they supply only a portion of the food consumed by the
community’s residents. However, it is located in the midst of a strong
agricultural area with a large population of Amish and Mennonite
farmers who generate an abundant supply of local produce. Again,
people on The Farm must maintain the balance between idealism and
practical application. They are not separate from the realities of life in
the modern world, facing the same cost of living as their neighbors
in Tennessee and all Americans. Having a job or developing a career
can leave little opportunity for the extensive amount of time and
commitment required to come close to growing all the food needed
for a complete and healthy diet. It can be far more practical for some
members to purchase homegrown produce from Amish neighbors
at a fraction of the cost required to grow it. They are still supporting
local community agriculture, just not within the borders of the Farm
Gardeners on The Farm find what works best for them, whether it
is fresh organic lettuce for salads, tomatoes for canning or greens for
winter. The beauty of The Farm’s climate is that a dedicated gardener
can indeed grow nearly all of their food, a wide variety of fruits, vegetables,
even grains and beans. A garden and a greenhouse can produce
food all year-round. For most members, the art of gardening on
The Farm is undertaken as much for the spiritual connection to the
earth and the seasons, a quiet time of mediation, as the songs of birds
fill the air. Gardening brings a sense of pleasure, a benefit of rural
living with fruitful and delicious rewards.
At the same time, members of The Farm see farming and food
production, the development of the community’s orchards and management
of the land as critical components of preparing for the future.
Organic treatments to the fields, solar irrigation to fenced-in
plots producing food and expansions to gardens are all underway. Experiments
in growing protein and grains on a small scale have proven
that, should the necessity arise, sustainable food production can be
achieved. Beans and corn were staples in the South for generations,
including for the original Native Americans, and that day could come
again. So much will change over the next several decades, with many
unknowns surrounding the economy, food costs and availability and
climate change. The Farm’s maintained fields are an investment in its
future, land that can pump out a lot of food.
The Farm’s internal economy also demonstrates the combined effect
of collectivity and working together. Imagine the following series
of events: A person hired a Farm carpenter to do repairs. The carpenter
got a massage from a body worker. The massage therapist paid a
friend to clean his home. The housecleaner also taught at The Farm
School, but was unable to make one of her classes, so she hired yet
another friend to substitute. That substitute wasn’t relying on the income
from her day as a teacher at The School, so she took the money
and purchased art supplies for the kids. It is a win-win-win situation
and a classic example of circulating money within The Farm economy
before sending it out the door.
Reprinted with permission from The Farm Then and Now: A Model for Sustainable Living by Douglas Stevenson and published by New Society Publishers, 2014. Buy this book from our store:The Farm: Then and Now.