Hippie Communes Live On

Instead, the founders of The Farm always had it in mind to be an example for others, and that ideal is shared by many of the thousands of newer eco-villages and intentional communities across the country and around the world.

"The founding principle was creating something that people could emulate," said Douglas Stevenson, who was one of those hundreds who left California more than three decades ago to start The Farm.

The idea was to create a community based on nonviolence and sustainability, and to provide an example of how it can be done, he said. Some 30 years later, he said, that's still what The Farm and other similar communities are doing.

"You want to get far enough away so you can do your own thing without being influenced by society at large, but you don't want to isolate yourself," Stevenson said.

At its peak, The Farm's 1,700 acres were home to some 1,500 people. Stevenson said the population is much smaller now, but it spans the generations, with about a quarter under 30, many of whom are children of the original members.

"Most of the people who live here have lived here at least 20 years," he said. "The majority of the population has been through it all."

For some, The Farm has been almost their whole life.

Julia Skinner, 20, was born and raised there, and she says she plans to stay.

"I grew up here, so I'm pretty much a country girl," she said. "I like how relaxed everybody is. I like it because of the community aspect of it."

While the population may have declined from its peak, in more important ways The Farm has grown from its agrarian beginnings, Stevenson said. Now it is home to more than 20 businesses, including a publishing company, food stores, doctors and construction companies that specialize in environmentally friendly technologies.

More than a half-dozen nonprofit groups also operate out of The Farm, including The Farm Midwives, a retirement village and Peace Roots Alliance, which is working to register new voters.

Another misconception about the communes, according to Stevenson and others, is that the groups of young people who founded them weren't accepted by their neighbors when they moved into rural communities to get back to the earth.

"Once they kind of got over the initial shock of us living there, some of them became our staunchest allies," Stevenson said. "We always had a strong work ethic, so they admired that. It was also a time when a lot of young people were leaving the area, so to see a group of young people coming to the area wanting to learn farming, that made them happy."

Some of the children Skinner met in elementary and middle school reacted with "a little bit of prejudice" that she came from The Farm, but she said that has changed.

"Now when I go back and see kids from the same school now they say, 'You're from The Farm? That's so cool,' " she said.

Caroline Estes of Alpha Farm near Mapleton, Ore., recalls a reaction similar to the one Stevenson said he and the others at The Farm received, when she and the other founders of the community moved there from Philadelphia more than 30 years ago.

"We were told we could do most anything we wanted to as long as we worked hard and paid our taxes. That's kind of an Oregon thing. That's what we did," she said.

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