Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Hippies Were Right!

The ritual of giving thanks, whether annual, daily, or just whenever you hear a bird sing is always, at its essence, personal. This essay is a personal thank you from me to all those who helped me out this year.

It has been my custom to compose these posts in the first person plural, the "royal we," but this time I am dismounting the royal carriage and going barefoot in the street.

For forty years now, me and a bunch of my best friends have been tinkering with the design of global civilization from a small village in Tennessee. Called simply, “The Farm,” we pioneers have been looking for a way forward that will not involve fossil fuels or climate change, and where everyone is fed and cared for, people are healthy and happy, and violence, crime and wars are just distant memories.

Our sense of community is a place where any child can reach up for the comforting security of an adult's hand and not care particularly which adult it is.

Our years of experiments at the edge of utopianism have given us tempeh and soy ice cream, solar-powered cars, pocket-sized Geiger counters, Doppler fetoscopes, biochar stoves and ecovillages. This work has been profiled in books and documentary films and each year hundreds of people visit or take workshops at The Farm to learn more.

A few years ago I embarked on a project that was larger than myself, and larger than anything I had tried before (apart from that time back in 1978 when I tried to shut down the entire nuclear fuel cycle with a string of Extraordinary Writs).

Last year about this time we designed a crowdfunding campaign to ask others to help us out, because by then we had realized we were in way deeper than maybe we should be. It worked, amazingly, and the money our Indiegogo Campaign brought in allowed us to haul in loads of sand, clay, straw, and other building materials, enough to keep our natural building apprentices, WWOOFers and volunteers busy these past 8 months.

Now I need to go to the well again, and this time we really have a lot to show off. What we are trying to do is build a better mousetrap. Me and my friends already built the ecovillage. Now we'd like people to experience it. We want to transform the global discourse by exposure to a viral idea.

Here's my pitch.

Whether you are studying the origins of personal computers and the internet, are a long-suffering patient grateful for medical marijuana, or a concerned environmentalist thinking about what needs to happen in the next decades if we humans are to survive on a hot, crowded planet, you’d have to admit the hippies were right.

We were right about peace, love, solar energy, civil rights, free speech, meditation, yoga, unashamed sex, homebrew computers, and backyard organic gardens. The hippies did more than make great music; we invented bioregionalism, permaculture and ecovillages. We think we're onto something.

The Farm is one of the better known icons of the 60s hippie culture. We were country before country was hip.  We are now four decades on the land and four generations. The first generation was not the 320 flowerchildren that arrived from San Francisco in painted schoolbuses and VW vans, but their parents who began trickling in 10 years later, when they saw what a good thing their kids had going.

The second generation, the pioneers, gave birth to a third generation in the back of blocked-up buses, homespun yurts, rough-hewn shacks and tar-papered geodesic domes. Those children then gave birth to a fourth generation, children born to the children born to the land and to that philosophy, often with assistance from the same midwives who coached their grandmothers. I am part of one of those four generation families. I came to the Farm from New York City, fell in love and never left. I guess you could say I had tie dye in my blood. (omygosh, is there a test for that?)

The Farm is a living example of what we can all learn from that experiment, and what parts may still be useful to know when charting our common future. If humans are to survive for many more generations, we must begin to live today as if there will be a tomorrow, and many more tomorrows. We must take a path of peaceful co-existence, not only amongst ourselves and our many different neighbors, but with nature ... with the tides, the seasons, and the wild creatures we share our home with.

The Farm is among the oldest ecovillages in North America, but it lacks a place where visitors can stay and experience what the hippies have learned about practical sustainability. The Farm would like to tell its story but it lacks an auditorium that reflects its natural building skills, a hostel for overnight stays that is within the comfort zone of most visitors, classrooms that could show student groups the practical elements of permaculture, edible landscape and appropriate technology, and the exhibit spaces for soaring artistic expressions that celebrate the best work of a generation.


The Impact

What we are doing here is preserving an important piece of history for future generations to study and learn from, but perhaps more importantly, we are demonstrating a model for what anyone can build, no matter where they are or what they have to begin with.
  • The Farm is a model intentional community set on 4000 acres of rolling Tennessee hills and dales.
  • It has adopted the three legs of sustainability: social, ecological, and economic.
  • It is net carbon minus — annually sequestering 5 times its own carbon footprint.
  • The Farm Midwives are recognized worldwide for their contributions to the safety of home birth.
  • The Farm School (K-12) is a 40-year pioneer in alternative education.
  • Plenty International and Global Village Institute are award-winning relief and development organizations with amazingly effective projects on six continents.
  • Come and visit us, spend a weekend, enjoy some of our music festivals, workshops, and holiday events. Kick back, breathe clean air, enjoy our pure, limestone well water, have a lovely meal with friends and family...
... at the EcoHostel you helped build!

The Farm's Ecovillage Training Center is affiliated with the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia University, and today offers college degree credit for its longer programs. Students from more than 60 countries have come to study subjects such as Mushroom Cultivation with Paul Stamets, Fermentation with Sandor Katz, Carbon Farming with Darren Doherty, Joel Salatin and Elaine Ingham, Natural Building with Ianto Evans, Joe Kennedy and Howard Switzer, Solar Electric Installation with Ed Eaton and Dave DelVeccio, Bamboo Joinery with Matt English and Josh Doolittle, Permaculture with Peter Bane, Rick Valley, Julio Perez and Dave Jacke, Beekeeping with Fedor Lazutin and Leonid Sharashkin, and Ecovillage Design with Max Lindegger, Declan Kennedy, Diana Leafe Christian and Greg Ramsey.

The problem is one of scale. Our building was never big enough or able to provide passable accommodations for most of the people who would have liked to visit. There were too few bathrooms and showers, a weak internet connection, and a core building that dated from the early 1970s and was falling apart. There were many more people who wanted to visit than could be reasonably accommodated.

What is needed is a giant upgrade. We need a visitors’ reception auditorium that can also serve our eco-hostel. We need space to display the artifacts that tell our history. We want to open up The Farm. Last year we called our project Youre Inn at The Farm. This year we are calling it The Hippies Were Right!

Twenty years ago we broke ground on a “living and learning” facility. With a mere shoestring of funding, mostly small donations and volunteer work, we scratched out the core elements for a useful hippie-lifestyle sampling experience: a rustic dormitory; wooded campsites; examples of strawbale, cob, earthships and geodesic domes; solar showers and organic gardens. That served its purpose, and since the mid-1990s hundreds of students have received permaculture design certificates and learned many other skills with which to grow organically, install renewable energy, construct ecovillages of their own, or just improve their own lives and the lives of others.

Tennessee’s most famous contemporary eco-architect, Howard Switzer, has designed a new building with auditorium, classrooms, dormitories, dining area and industrial kitchen. 

The Prancing Poet is the first LEED Platinum building at The Farm. Innovative features include:

  • passive heating and cooling
  • biomass radiant floor heating
  • solar-and-wind augmented free vortex energy with stand-alone storage
  • high-albedo roofing
  • straw & biochar insulation
  • biochar plasters to passively absorb mold-spores, clean interior air, and shield the interior from electronic pollution, infrared and EMP.
  • native black walnut & bamboo biochar stains
  • 100% recycled building wrap heat transfer barrier
  • bamboo lathe and trim
  • lime/clay plasters and geotech finishes to fireproof exteriors
  • soy-based foam ceiling insulation
  • rooftop rainwater collection
  • 11,000-square-foot constructed lagoon and reedbed system that aids in fire suppression, wastewater treatment and biodiversity. 
This year we would like to begin work on the wraparound covered porches and decks where visitors can sit and gaze out upon our gardens and forests, perhaps sharing a pipe of Old Toby Halfling's Leaf. As Gandalf the Grey said to Saruman the White,"You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway, it gives patience, to listen to error without anger."

Butterflies and dragonflies waft on gentle warm breezes over our constructed wetlands, while composting systems and cradle-to-cradle recycling naturally reclaim all our solid wastes. Under the bright summer sun on our rooftops, thousands of Watts of energy are captured and converted into music and colored light. Off to the side, a small Resourcer's Laboratory conceals our carbon-negative ecofuel and free energy workbenches.

We hope that by the end of 2015 visitors can arrive at our site and relax in the comfort of our Prancing Poet dining hall, share home brews with friends in the Green Dragon Tavern, or just stroll the grounds and walk the trails of our nature preserve. When the Great Hall is not alive with music and cabaret, it will be the venue for a permanent exhibit on the history of our movement — a Hippie Museum.

What will all this cost, you might ask? To date we have raised and spent approximately $275,000. We anticipate we will spend at least that much again to complete the whole project, including exterior decking, porticos, more bathrooms and an industrial-scale kitchen, but we are taking it one step at a time.

Through the generosity of donors to our 2014 Indiegogo Campaign, our volunteers, WWOOFers and permaculture apprentices were able to infill all the walls in the Great Hall with light clay-straw-slip and cover them with earthen renders they made themselves with bamboo biochar and local red clay. They worked towards completion of the Green Dragon Tavern and began on the bamboo lathe and geotextile renders that will cover the exterior of the EcoHostel.

At each completion of the various stages, the Great Hall of the Prancing Poet hosted cabaret performances by Moonshine Boheme, attended by the whole community. We also hosted our annual Kids to the County summer camp for disadvantaged urban youth, now in its 28th year.

I know from personal experience that a project of this scale can be done. We didn’t have any grants or loans and we could not get any mortgages when we started The Farm, but we are still here, hundreds of us hippies, with our own schools, businesses, roads, water systems, and farmland. We still can’t get mortgages or bank loans because The Farm is a conservation land trust, and none of its land holdings could ever be foreclosed, or pledged as collateral. And yet, we started the Ecovillage Training Center 20 years ago and it has been running programs ever since. We began the Global EcovillageNetwork with just 12 communities and now there are more than 20,000 ecovillages worldwide.

All we need are more like us; people who share a vision of a better world. It is not a world based on avarice and war, but on love and understanding. Please help us share our world.


What You Get

This campaign is just the next small step in our BIG IDEA. We are asking for $10000 this winter, but we could easily use ten times or a hundred times that, and the project would only become even better. So this is an open request, and the beginning of a longer conversation. We want your participation, and we invite you to visit and stay a while, but what we really want is to have a larger effect on the world. Here is what you get:
  • Satisfaction and (if you want) recognition for helping to invent a better future;
  • For $5000, you can stay 2 months in a family suite;
  • For $1000, you'll have unlimited overnights in our dorms or campground, free!
  • For $500, you'll get a 30% discount at the EcoHostel, for life!
  • For $100, you'll get a free 4-day weekend stay, any time in the next 3 years;
  • For $50, 10% off all visits by any member of your family for 3 years PLUS
  • For $50, 10% off all items in our bookstore, including by mail;
  • For $25, you will find 2 tickets on call for the next performance of Moonshine Boheme at the Great Hall of the Prancing Poet
  • For $20, tour the site with Albert Bates for 1 hour, learning about the permacultural and ecological design aspects in detail;
  • With any donation your name goes on our Wall of Honor; and
  • If you cannot donate now, please share the link with your friends!

Other Ways You Can Help

Some people just can’t contribute, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help:
And that’s all there is to it. Over the last 40+ years, The Farm has become well known for many things, from natural childbirth and midwifery to healthy diet and vegetarian cuisine, creative arts, reforestation and alternative technologies to its partnerships and assistance to native cultures. We choose to live in community where we share our lives and fortunes, good times and hard times. We know that we are better people together than we could be separately, but we are not just the young folks who chose to live at this one place anymore. We are a much larger tribe, one that thinks about big issues and constantly strives to make things better, and to provide positive examples from which people learn. From which things change. Will you help?

Direct your friends to this page, Like our Facebook cause page ( and visit our website at We are a registered, tax-deductible charity. We'll be posting more in the near future — a new website, videos, progress reports, so please make a small contribution now to stay updated as we go. Thanks!

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