True stories of the famous Farm Commune in Tennessee, where 1,400 people
enjoyed universal healthcare, zero unemployment, and everyone was
covered for food housing and all necessities on $100/person a month!
We lived simply; ate vegan; had a soy dairy, school, clinic, midwives, bakery, motor pool, radio station and hippie Peace Corps. We worked hard and were happy—friends sharing life and a vision of how the world can be.
Imagine never thinking about money; living in the country with friends, growing your own food; building a life in which your work and play are seamless—in harmony with your beliefs and sensibilities. In the words of John Lennon—“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Climax of the 60s, genesis of a bold, social/spiritual experiment—The Farm—dedicated people working together to save the world—living simply; pooling resources. Told by a founder/builder of the extraordinary, collective village—a 24/7 peace demonstration on land twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
In 1967, I was a journalist, the young guy UPI sent to cover the Grateful Dead and Vietnam War demonstrations in NYC. I worked a stint as a Madison Avenue publicist and found myself in the throes of a gut-wrenching, spiritual/identity crisis and subsequent soul search and rescue mission—for my own soul.
I followed clues, energy and vibes to Woodstock and San Francisco; dropped LSD; tasted enlightenment; got telepathic; went over the edge and found gurus—Hippie Pope, Stephen Gaskin, High Times calls “the Ghandi of the American Counterculture” and Women’s Hall of Fame midwife, Ina May Gaskin, featured recently on CBS Sunday Morning. We also examine pros and cons of having spiritual gurus and some pitfalls of “Group Think.”
Come trip with me aboard an outrageous,100-bus,12,000-mile road adventure—community-on-wheels, round-the-country, save-the-world, school bus caravan, that snowballed like a psychedelic Pied Piper—picking up people along the way.
The Caravan landed in Tennessee boondocks—300 wide-eyed, hippie pioneers hot to build a model village and lifestyle and make a difference in the world—right dab, smack in the middle of moonshine country, with the FBI, KKK, vigilantes with shotguns all watching pot-smoking, city greenhorns attempt to farm and survive.
Over 13 collective years, 4,000 people lived at The Farm; learned skills and trades, went through changes, fell in love, married, had babies, and worked green and humanitarian projects around the world at a dozen satellite farms and aid projects. Working with Guatemalan Mayans for over a year, I did volunteer, earthquake reconstruction; built schools, houses and a clinic for Mother Teresa. Part 1 gets us to the land.
Part 2, Year One: A Brave New World, coming soon. Pre-electric, pioneer days, learning to work together to build a good life. At times—The Farm was like living through the Great Depression, but we loved it. From the experience, we learned to be resourceful, sharing, neighborly and grateful for what we have. This friendly, sharing, spirit—coupled with desire to help the world—was the heart, soul, and life blood of the community. At times. We ran on a shoestring, and sometimes, farm life was tough, but every day on America's hotest commune was far-out adventure of body, mind and spirit.
“Full of energy. I highly recommend this book.”
“Beautifully written...transports me to the sixties.”
“Fascinating, fun adventures.”
“A very satisfying book.”
Part One Audiobook Now Available at Amazon, iTunes and Audible.com
New Beat Books Coming Soon
Voluntary Peasants Part Two—A Brave New World
Voluntary Peasants Part Three—Paradise, USA
Voluntary Peasants Part Four—Golden Age
Voluntary Peasants Prequel, Enlightenment—What’s It Good For
Voluntary Peasants Companion Reader
Melvyn's Book of Jobs
About the Author: Founder of New Beat Books, Melvyn is an entertaining storyteller and colorful oral historian. In the sixties, Melvyn worked as a UPI journalist and Madison Avenue publicist. He has also worked as a carpenter, mason, painter, farmer, miller, baker, vegan chef, movie extra, set and prop builder, stagehand, taxi driver, detective (one day), and a great variety of adventurous jobs. He now enjoys writing, publishing, and speaking to colleges and diverse groups about his experiences, memoir writing, self-publishing, producing audiobooks and his remarkable journey out of the box, building community.
Contact Melvyn to Speak to your group firstname.lastname@example.org
"After living years in a quasi-cloistered society, returning to civilization feels like being that character in the James Hilton novel and movie, Lost Horizon, as he attempts to describe life in Shangri-La—a fictional, telepathic paradise hidden in the Himalayas. Our Shangri-La was real—in the backwoods of Tennessee. Was it paradise? At times. Thousands concur. We ran on a shoestring, and sometimes, farm life was tough, but every day on America's biggest commune was far-out adventure of body, mind and spirit."
Ebooks Now Available $3.99
Read PDF on computers and digital devices
Also available at Kindle
Beforewords and Chapter One, San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord Audiobook now at Amazon, iTunes, Audible.com
Listening Length: 4 hours and 34 minutes
(Prices vary slightly)
Part Two, Year One—A Brave New World, ebook
Coming Soon here and at Amazon Kindle
The whole, 4-part, far-out story will be in print and all formats this fall
Marijuana was used as a "sacrament" on The Farm. The way things have been going lately, Marijuana will soon be legal in the United States, and it would be wise to educate newcomers. Among many other things, The Farm was a 24/7, living demonstration that people can, not only keep it together and function, but excel in their work, while “high” on marijuana. (Though, we did observe grass does tend to slow people down at work.) Voluntary Peasants attempts to present a fair and balanced report and fresh insight into this important subject—both the community’s very positive attitude towards marijuana as an aid in—slowing down to smell the roses, watch sunset, people relations, stress management, aches and pains, meditation, creativity, telepathy, music making, love making and just plain, old-fashioned fun and feeling good to be alive. We also present practical cautions and offer alternatives to smoking—to derive medicinal and other benefits of marijuana, without taxing respiratory systems.
A Glimpse of Paradise
Deep in the heart of the rural South, up a long dirt road, long-trafficked by Tennessee moonshiners—first shafts of sunlight glow golden in morning mist. In the distance, a vibration floats through the trees—one long, sustained tone, the blast of a lone conch—like déjà vu—haunting, familiar— Wooooooooooh. From all directions, more horns join in—Ahhhhhhhhhhhh—Woooooooooh—and a deep bass—Uhhhhhhhhhh
Conch, nautilus and triton blasts combine to fill the air with strange, beautiful music. Ancient, universal tones swell, exist brief moments—and melt away into bird song and silence. Everywhere—nature—beauty, lush woods, fields, meadows and streams—life. Country air smells sweet and clean. Another glorious, hallelujah, come-and-get-it day in paradise!
Welcome to The Farm—a grand labor of love and twenty-four-seven, peace demonstration, where voluntary peasants learn as they build a model community and globally affordable lifestyle. The Farm was a commune, a school of change and personal growth and a golden opportunity to make a difference.
After a devastating earthquake hit Guatemala in 1976, the author worked a year with Farm carpenters and Mayans in remote mountain villages. The team built houses, schools, clinics, indigenous meeting hall and radio station, soy and water projects. Melvyn was project manager for the construction of four rural schools, a regional clinic and a clinic for Mother Teresa in Guatemala City. In 1980, The Farm's outreach arm, Plenty International, was awarded the
Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, the Swedish Right Livelihood Award
“...for caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad.”
What a blessing it is to be able to actually love thy neighbor. Living at The Farm felt like being in love, all the time, with everyone—in love with neighbors, fellow workers, life, the land, even the work. There were many magical moments when The Farm seemed like “somewhere over the rainbow,” or the Garden of Eden.
The vast majority of the nearly five thousand people who lived at The Farm through the twelve collective years, were sweet, kind, honest, and decent—happy to give you the shirt off their back. Through the years, we shared history, blood, sweat, tears, love, marriage, birth and death. But, let’s be real. As in any community, we find every kind.
Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” We made mistakes. Some were doozies. Some, hilarious. Truth be told, we screwed up royally on more than one occasion, but we learned and grew. The Farm was a modern, American attempt to create a utopia. The origin of the word utopia comes from Greek and literally means “not a place.” Utopia, the ideal life, is “not a place,” but exists in the hearts and minds of people.
One lovely, Sunday morning in spring, five hundred people gathered in a beautiful meadow for energy communion, meditation and just to see each other. After silent meditation, followed by a grand chorus of OM, Stephen Gaskin stood up to speak. In the beginning, Stephen was the community guru, spiritual teacher, life coach. Through the years, The Farm went through dramatic changes and evolved into “community as teacher.”
Now, as hippie village minister, Stephen addressed the crowd— “You look around The Farm, and you see all this neat stuff—roads, houses, barns, water towers, radio station, meeting hall, school, motor pool, laundry, bakery, soy dairy, clinic and our own ambulance. We see fields under cultivation, orchards, vineyards, tractors, semis and satellite TV dishes. We see all this neat stuff, but, the stuff’s not the thing. All that stuff—that’s just a reflection of the thing. The reflection is very cool and pretty, but the thing, itself, is a gas!” Voluntary Peasants delves deep into the thing, itself.
Dedication I dedicate this book to all the brave, hard-working, good-natured men and women of the Farm Community, who selflessly devoted years of their lives to build a model village and globally-affordable, sustainable lifestyle for the sake of all life—and to all kindred spirits, good souls; unsung heroes everywhere—who work daily to make the world a better place.
Ebooks Now Available $3.99
Read PDF on computers and digital devices
Audiobooks Available at
Amazon, iTunes and Audible.com
Listening Length: 4 hours and 34 minutes
$14.99 (Prices vary slightly)
The whole, 5-part story will be in print and all formats this fall
Part Two, Year One—A Brave New World, ebook Coming Soon
“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” —R. Buckminster Fuller
Excerpt— Chapter One
1969 San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord
ool ocean breezes—
gentle rhythm of rolling waves; breaking surf. Plaintive seagulls squawk. A California state of mind—where it all began.
Far out across San Francisco Bay, at a distant horizon, where the great curve of Planet Earth meets the sky—sunset transforms the blue—shades of purple, gold and tangerine. The sun melts and spreads as it squats lower and morphs into a fiery Buddha—dripping myriad gold Buddhas into a sea of liquid jade. A million micro suns sparkle and dance on rolling waves.
Behind us—The Great Highway, a wide, sand-blown boulevard—across The Great Highway, aglow in the sunset—landmark rock hall, The Family Dog—wildly-popular, hip venue for the Grateful Dead, Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, Steppenwolf, Mothers of Invention, Commander Cody, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Iron Butterfly.
Hundreds of cool, hip-looking people are entering “the Dog.” What in the world is going on? Today is Monday. No rock and roll tonight. What’s the buzz? Curious, feeling drawn, we follow the crowd in through old, movie theater, glass doors—everyone in sharply-slanting shafts of amber sunlight.
Inside the large, high-ceilinged hall—a thousand flower children—hippies, magical-looking, colorful people—aspiring wizards and shamans, a few older Bohemians, and beatniks; sweet, young, sparkle-eyed, rosy-cheeked love children, Hobbit wannabes, and all manner of free spirits. The Family Dog filled up. Folks mingled, chatted, hugged and sat down on the big, wooden dance floor—forming a wall-to-wall, crazy quilt of friendly people, bedrolls, paisley cushions and zafus. The air was scented with an intoxicating blend of patchouli, sandalwood, sage, and a hint of frankincense and myrrh.
A tall, lanky hippie stepped up silently
onto a simple, low stage and sat down cross-legged—facing the crowd. A
thrill of anticipation ran through the hall. Conversations tapered off,
and the hall grew silent. Everyone sat up and began to meditate.
Palpable peace and a fun sense of being in on something cool washed over
After several minutes of silent, informal, group meditation, the man on stage took hold of a cow horn—which hung, bandolier-style, from a cord across his chest. Slowly, with solemnity like a rabbi blowing shofar, the man raised the horn to his lips and blew one, loud, sustained note. A powerful vibration filled the hall and cued the crowd into an instant choir of a thousand voices. Each person sang out one syllable, the ancient Eastern chant, OM (AUM)—
The whole Family Dog erupted, floor to high ceiling vibrated OM. Walls echoed OM. Exquisite, complex melodies-inside-melodies sprang briefly into existence, spontaneously forming constantly-changing, serendipitous combinations. Strange, beautiful, harmonies emerged from chaos—sounding like ancient, sacred song. From bass through soprano—young, old; male, female; soft, strong—all voices merged into a choir of angels—all from OM—a simple, one-word powerful expression of human spirit and universal prayer for peace—
Suddenly, as if by telepathic cue from an invisible conductor—everyone stopped. For several moments, a golden, acoustic, afterglow OM hung suspended in mid-air. The man on stage looked silently around the room, slowly—pausing to look into the eyes of each person, exchanging energy, mind to mind. Finally, he spoke.
‘We are what we think, having become what we thought.’I love Zen. It’s so clean.”
We sat there mesmerized, as the man paused a long while and then continued—“Each one of us is like a valve from which universal energy is metered into the world, and each one of us can point ourselves at whatever we want to. We have free will. When you put your attention on me really solidly and understand what I'm doing and pay attention, then that gives me juice. That makes me able to be sure when I'm talking.”
“I wanted to talk a little about the way we're going to be. We can all be really stoned in here together. There is over a thousand of us. There is gonna’ be a lot of things happening here this evening, because we brought this many heads together. (pause) How many people here have experienced a contact high? Raise your hand.” A thousand hands shoot enthusiastically into the air, and everyone shares a good laugh.
“You see that?” he said, smiling broadly. “The fact that we all have witnessed the contact high shows us there is more to us than just the meat part. When we get high, we see energy fields that extend out past the meat. That’s your soul, your aura.”
“See, here's the thing. When we split fields with someone who is high, say on grass, we pick up some of their energy and we get high too—thus, the contact high! (laughter) When we all come together like this, our energy fields all merge together into a group mind, and we have our own unified field, and the whole, the gestalt, is greater than the sum of its parts. You dig that? We are all sharing energy, right here and now. This is energy communion, and all this energy feels so good. It gets us all higher and is healing for all who partake. (pause) The vision in here just got better. How many folks saw that? Put up your hand.”Voluntary Peasants, Part One
San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord
Down the Rabbit Hole
The Great Caravan/SpiritualBootCamp
Search for the Promised Land
Glimpse of Paradise
Part One Audiobook
Now Available at Amazon, iTunes and Audible.com
$14.99 (Prices vary slightly)
The whole story in print and all formats this summer
There are many myths about The Farm, some a shade or two rosier than reality. Reality was mostly very nice, often beautiful, but, of course, The Farm was populated with real people, and real people are neither angels nor superheroes. Bad stuff happened. Power corrupted. People changed. To be fair and balanced, Voluntary Peasants presents “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
To this day, forty years later, The Farm still carries wonderful cachet. Just hearing about The Farm gives people hope; makes people feel good, and I never want to diminish that. Wherever I go, when I mention The Farm, people light up, smile and say—
“WOW! The Farm! I heard about that place.” Or, they saw it on TV, or knew someone who lived there, or picked up a hitchhiker who told amazing tales.
What exactly are voluntary peasants? Voluntary peasants are everyday people from all walks of life, who choose to live simply—close to the earth, growing food and community—for the sake of the planet, their families and their own souls.
About the Author
Melvyn, a “Space Age Baby,” was born the same day the first V2 Rocket was launched, inaugurating the Space Age, October 3, 1942. Melvyn grew up in a blue-collar, Russian-Jewish family in Edgewater, New Jersey, in view of New York City and the Hudson River, his playgrounds.
The author attended the University of Richmond in a segregated South, was an announcer on the air when John F. Kennedy was assassinated; worked as a newspaper and UPI wire service reporter in NY and Chicago; a stint as a Madison Avenue “Mad Man,” ran into the 60s, smoked marijuana, tried LSD and Zen, went to Woodstock and followed the powerful energy of the time to the great, San Francisco spiritual smorgasbord of 1969. Here, Melvyn found a “psychedelic Zen guru,” Stephen Gaskin, and went down the rabbit hole in search of enlightenment.
Melvyn now lives in rural upstate New York, enjoying a new career as author, publisher, speaker, and movie maker. Influenced by Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and Maxine Hong Kingston, Melvyn is a visionary, twenty-first century, renaissance man and generalist.
Melvyn writes—Life is amazing! I went to high school with a cat, Peter Cohon, who would grow up to be Peter Coyote, the actor, narrator, writer, activist. When I was sixteen, Peter introduced me to Greenwich Village, where I found these words scribbled on the wall of a bar men's room—
What is Truth?
A bird sings.
Melvyn Stiriss writes
from a remarkably broad range of life and work experiences as a news
reporter, editor, announcer; community builder, communard, farmer,
carpenter, ditch digger, road builder, mason, mechanic, miller, baker,
vegan chef, lumber jack, oil rig roustabout, detective, movie set carpenter,
set dresser, prop maker and extra in a dozen movies, also as a theater
stage hand, rock-and-roll roadie, and a humanitarian aid worker and co-director of Casa Marianela, a nonprofit.
Read Voluntary Peasants PDF on your computer, and other digital devices.
Audiobook Now Available at Amazon, iTunes, Audible.com
Listening Length: 4 hours and 34 minutes
(Prices vary slightly)
Read on Kindle at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0057P2ZWO
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Talks Oral and Print Social Historian, Melvyn has spoken about The Farm at the Universtiy of Texas, St. Edwards Universtiy, Concordia College, Presbyterian Theological Semminary, Austin Community College, libraries and organizations. Melvyn speaks about change, the lessons of the sixties, personal development, alternative lifestyle, intentional community, world wisdom teachings, spirituality, marijuana, volunteer service, survival in the twenty-first century, gurus, second careers, memoir writing and self-publishing. To have Melvyn read or speak to your group email email@example.com