About 70 miles south of Nashville down a narrow road at the edge of Lawrence County, a brown automatic gate opens to a small country house with a white paneled roof and a dark gray fence surrounding a small porch. A tie-dyed peace sign flag hangs out front and a large rectangular sign reading “Welcome Center” sits below it to greet guests.
But on this particularly cold day in March, I was the only guest to be greeted by the colorful flag and inviting sign. The Welcome Center of The Farm Community was closed to visitors, but about a mile farther down the dirt road was a round purple building with “The Farm Store” crafted in black letters next to a small black window.
I entered the store and immediately felt overcome with a rush of warmth and genuine kindness as the men and women in the store welcomed me without hesitation. For the next few hours, I felt like a temporary resident of The Farm.
Home to 150 to 175 people, The Farm is an intentional community spread out among 6 miles in rural Summertown, Tenn. Focused on self-sustainability and simple living, The Farm creates a community of health through organic gardening, vegetarian and vegan cooking and a heightened sense of spirituality.
The purple store is packed wall-to-wall with all organic everything. A variety of nuts lie packaged in plastic bags next to boxes of flax seed, granola, oats and rice. A half of a dozen varieties of teas and fruit drinks fill the refrigerators and spices sit on makeshift shelves.
As I picked up and inspected the health food items, Doug Stevenson, a resident of The Farm since 1973, came in to greet me. Sporting a trilby hat over his graying hair, he smiled at me with the same genuine warmth as the residents who had greeted me before. Sitting down with me at a table in the back, he talked softly over the noise of the cheerful music and laughter filling the background air.
Founded in 1971, The Farm began as a commune for 300 people who arrived in 60 school buses from California. In its first year, the community didn’t have the abundance of houses and buildings that it has now. Instead, only a small white house, a barn, and 300 hippies living in buses and army tents occupied the area.
“It grew from 300 to 400 to 700 to 1,000 over the course of 10 years,” Stevenson said. “We eventually fixed up the army tents to be houses, and then we started building real houses.”
Now, 43 years later, more than a hundred eco-friendly people live in dozens of eco-friendly houses around The Farm.
In order to live on The Farm, residents usually visit, ideally many times, to meet people, make friends and get a real sense of what things are like. After becoming close enough to a current resident and making that friend their sponsor, potential residents will apply to live there.
“Basically this means they’ll live on the property, but they’re not committed and we aren’t either,” said Stevenson. “So they try that out for usually at least two years, then they might last another year or two before running for full membership.”
According to Stevenson, it’s all just “gotta feel right.”
“I was in the California hippie days,” said Donna Hay, a 36-year resident of The Farm who works at The Farm Store. “I was living in a commune. The caravan got started up and I moved here. The land was cheap.”
The land is cheap, and living on The Farm only costs $100 a month, but the benefits of living in the community are excessive. The abundance of resources available provides residents with nearly everything they need to be self-sustainable.
The Farm has its own health clinic and several resident doctors. Stevenson told me about a retired physician’s assistant who now works as a doctor from her house in the community.
“People can go see her at her house,” he said. “She can write prescriptions and that kind of thing. She charges about 25 bucks to come see her.”
There’s also a community of trained midwives, a post office, grocery story, book publishing company, water tower, several solar-powered houses and even an electronics company that manufactures Geiger counters.
Organic gardening is another important aspect of the community.
Many of the residents have their own gardens where they grow organic fruits and vegetables for their families. In a 150-foot garden, Stevenson’s garden is 75 by 75 while several other residents’ gardens occupy the rest of the space.
After leading me out to his silver hybrid car parked in front of The Farm Store, Stevenson took me on a tour of the community, stopping at a simple-looking garden on the side of the road. The gardeners grow everything from beans, corn, garlic and potatoes to blackberries, blueberries, watermelons and cantaloupes. A few years ago, Stevenson experimented with a diet of only organically grown produce.
“You can grow everything you want,” Stevenson said. “Come the apocalypse, we can do it,” he said with a laugh.
According to Stevenson, about 25 percent of the people living on The Farm are vegan, 50 percent are strictly vegetarian, and 100 percent like tofu. Currently, the community has an agreement that they don’t raise animals to kill. First coined a vegan society in 1983 and keeping the non-violent ideals, The Farm remains primarily vegan and vegetarian. For some, choosing this lifestyle is solely for health benefits, but for others, it reflects on their strong spiritual beliefs.
“We’re very committed to non-violence,” Stevenson said. “So the veganism kind of came from that – recognizing that animals have consciousness.”
The spiritual beliefs of the community also play a big part in the wellbeing of the residents. One of the most important aspects of their spirituality is the recognition of a human’s energy – perhaps the energy I felt when walking into the purple store an hour earlier.
“We all have energy inside us,” said Stevenson. “Some people call it God, some people call it the Holy Spirit, but our ability to thrive as human beings is related to our energy levels. So good health is also about having high energy.”
The production of good energy manifests itself in different ways around the community. Although no official church services are held, meditation classes take place every Sunday morning, and the ability to go out and spiritually connect with the earth is always just a few steps away in the beautiful and limitless woods within the community.
“I think one of the strongest spiritual connections that most people share is a connection to nature, and nature being a pure reflection of something larger than all of us. It’s not controlled by man’s ego,” Stevenson explained. “So, if you’re seeking peace of mind or peace of spirit, you can go out and just be with nature and be healed and feel renewed.”
The Farm’s focus on physical and spiritual health shines through the people, fit and healthy with unmatched friendliness and positive attitudes.
Back at The Farm Store, a woman named Leslie Burn introduced herself to me. Burn is not a permanent resident of The Farm, but visits frequently and has a high level of respect for the people of the community.
“It’s a really nice place to come and hang out,” Burn said. “Everyone is friendly and it’s just a really nice community gathering.”
I sat down next to her with a bowl of organic soup prepared by Hay. The soup, a delicious blend of kale, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes, russet, lentils, beans, broccoli, carrots, green beans, onions, garlic and celery, is completely organic. Burn doted on the soup and told me it’s Hay’s specialty.
From the outside, The Farm looks like any other rural Tennessean farm with small houses and few people. But from the inside, it’s a close-knit community with an intensified sense of health and spirituality. It’s a place of love and positivity. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I was a part of it.
“It was once said that we’re like a vitamin. An essential vitamin. The society is not healthy if it doesn’t have people like us around,” said Stevenson. “It’s pretty groovy.”
I felt like I took a little bit with me as I drove away at the end of the day. And I agreed with Stevenson.
It was pretty groovy.