Alpha Farm was founded by a group of people who believed that the country was on a path that "wasn't sustainable," Estes said. The inspiration for the social structure of the community came from the Quakers, with their values of nonviolence and the need for consensus in decision-making and a simple way of life.
Like The Farm, Alpha Farm has also reached out into the community around it, opening a bookstore and cafe in Mapleton, the closest town to the farm.
"We're very active in the community," Estes said. "One of the reasons we have a store is to have an open face to the community."
Among the accomplishments of the farm members' activism, she said, were stopping the spraying of pesticides along roadsides in the county, closing parts of the surrounding forest to logging for eight years to protect the spotted owl, and starting a food co-op that offered lower-priced fresh produce.
For many of the communities today, the goal is to be more than a role model. Instead, they want to take an active role in the community around them.
The desire to create a community outside of mainstream American life doesn't send everybody running for the woods, though. For some, the problems in American cities are all the more reason to stay there.
In Los Angeles, for example, a group of people was planning an eco-village in 1992 when the riots — sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King — broke out in the neighborhood. That forced them to rethink their focus.
"We had already been planning to build a sexy new solar-powered, state-of-the-art eco-neighborhood when the fires came," said the Los Angeles Eco-Village's Arkin. "We took a deep breath and said, 'What should our priorities be?' Our goal was to transform a really unhealthy neighborhood into a healthy community."
So along with trying to minimize their impact on the environment in terms of energy use, waste and pollutants, they tried to maximize their impact on their neighbors, by sharing the produce from their gardens and trying to encourage the people who lived around them to get to know one another and take back the neighborhood from drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members.
They tried to reach out beyond the neighborhood by periodically opening their bicycle repair shop for classes to teach people how to fix their own bikes, as part of their effort to get people to be less dependent on cars.
"We have a very strong public interest purpose, and that is to reinvent the way we live in our cities," Arkin said.