Like most of us, my whole life had been structured for me. First, in school. Then, in work. In 1968, I was twenty-six years old and had a little money saved, so I took a breather. For the first time in my life, I consciously created each day. I quit looking for work in order to just observe life, discover the creative artist in me and be free. There was something happening in the world, something big, wonderful and a little scary. This is the story of the times; my explorations, experiences and discoveries.
Table of Contents
A Gypsy Good Time
Before Cell Phones and Psychedelics
Zen Joy Ride with Peter Coyote
Career in a Nutshell
Soul Search and Rescue
A Glimpse of Paradise
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Our story begins at the dazzling San Francisco, spiritual smorgasbord of 1969—yogis, swamis, communes, self-proclaimed messiahs; people from all over—experimenting; meditating, being here and now—to change their lives—to evolve, mentally and spiritually; to transform magically into free spirits—flower children and hippies. I was one of these—a human drop in that dynamic wave of people who came to California in search of enlightenment and a happier lifestyle.
Melvyn—In 1967, I was the young reporter United Press International sent to cover the Grateful Dead and Vietnam War protests in New York. I worked a stint as a Madison Avenue publicist. Like on the TV show, Mad Men, I worked the Lucky Strike account; had a spiritual/identity crisis and found myself on a soul search and rescue mission for my own soul.
I went to Woodstock and followed the energy to San Francisco, where I found a guru—Stephen Gaskin, billed as a “Zen master who smoked marijuana,” later dubbed by High Times—“Gandhi of the American counterculture.” Stephen's wife, Ina May Gaskin, would become known as the “mother of modern midwifery.” Gaskin’s free Monday Night Class was attended by over 1,000 trippers. Gaskin established himself as a hippie guru—teaching peaceful revolution, “Telepathy & Energy 101,” “marijuana is a sacrament, no hard drugs, and “how to have a good trip.”
Dig the vibes and follow me down a psychedelic rabbit hole. Telepathic group mind becomes group think, as the trip becomes a 12,000-mile, follow-the-guru-round-the-country, road adventure. Wherever we went, through a hundred American towns, cities, and college campuses, we gave the status quo a good shake and spread a contact high. Three hundred hippies, in 100 colorful buses and vans landed in the boondocks of Tennessee—up Moonshine Alley—with the FBI, KKK, and vigilantes with shotguns watching the pot-smoking, city greenhorns attempt to farm and survive.
At its peak—1,400 people enjoyed universal healthcare, zero unemployment; food, housing and all necessities on $100/person a month!
“We farmed; lived simply; ate vegan; had a school, clinic, midwives, soy dairy, bakery, radio station and hippie Peace Corps. We learned to build houses and roads. Everyone worked hard; happy friends sharing life and a vision—pooling resources—creating a lifestyle the world can afford. We enjoyed great satisfaction and warm friendships.”
Over 4,000 people lived at The Farm over 13 collective years; learned skills and trades, and went through changes. Many fell in love, married, had babies; and worked humanitarian projects around the world, including earthquake reconstruction in Guatemala, where Melvyn, a crew from The Farm and local Mayans built schools, houses, and a clinic for Mother Teresa. A far-out, four-part, nonfiction novel. Part Two coming soon.spiritually; to transform magically into free spirits—flower children and hippies. I was one of these—a human drop in that dynamic wave of people who came to California in search of enlightenment and happy lifestyle.
Part 1 gets us to the land.
Part Two—Year One
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John Lennon—“Imagine all the people living life in peace.” That was us! We were living life in peace, sharing and working together for 13 years. From telepathic group mind to blinding group think. Entertaining American cultural, first person history. An out-of-the-box, nonfiction novel. Far-out adventures in search of enlightenment. Bob Dylan was singing, “The times they are a changin’.”
Marijuana, LSD, magic mushrooms; mind-expanding, transforming climax of the sixties and the genesis of a bold, social experiment. Told by a UPI journalist who was a founder, builder and 13-year resident of The Farm—America's biggest commune—a remarkable, collective village, on land twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
Table of Contents
Caravan Landing Party
Life Out of The Box
The Big Bust
Hippie Holy Land
In the King's Court
The Human Tumbler
Life and Death
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Hippie guru, Stephen Gaskin blowing horn to start an OM at Goddard College, 1970
Photo by Neal Warshaw
Voluntary Peasants Part Three—The Farm Commune, 1972-'77
Voluntary Peasants Part Four—Utopia Myopia, 1977-'84 plus update
Voluntary Peasants Companion Reader
Book of Jobs
Marijuana the Play
Often when we hear or read the word commune we think of a lot of people all crowded into one big house. We were that—times 100! At our peak, The Farm had 1,400 people living in 100 houses. I lived two years in a house with 36 people—men, women, children and babies. The word commune, may evoke images of unbathed, lazy hippies, free love, all kinds of drugs, spaciness and anarchy. We believed in marriage and family and worked diligently to be quite the opposite of the lazy hippie stereotype, and we got good results—clean, well-groomed, clear-eyed, on-deck, productive people who gave up all drugs and alcohol, except “the organics,” chiefly—marijuana.
In the sixties, Pandora’s box burst open, and suddenly all things were possible. Music, art literature—Everything was saying—This is a new age, and all things are possible. 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 a woman who would become 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.” 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, more than 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.
About the Author: Entertaining writer, storyteller—Melvyn collected much grist for the mill as he worked an unusual variety of jobs—reporter, radio announcer, publicist, carpenter, mason, farmer, miller, baker, vegan chef, movie extra, set and props builder, roadie and stagehand, and the co-director of a nonprofit. He enjoys writing, publishing, narrating, storytelling about his adventurous journey out of the box. One of 300 founders and original settlers of The Farm Community in Summertown, Tennessee, where Melvyn lived 13 years collectively.
Melvyn created New Beat Books in 2011 to report The Farm social experiment and his experiences. Melvyn is a colorful print and 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 about his experiences, memoir writing, self-publishing, producing audiobooks and his remarkable journey out of the box, building community.
Stiriss writes from his experience as a news reporter, editor, announcer and communard farmer, carpenter, ditch digger, road builder, mason, mechanic, miller, baker, vegan chef, lumber jack, oil rig roustabout, detective, movie carpenter, set dresser, prop maker and extra in a dozen movies, also as a theater stage hand, rock-and-roll roadie, international humanitarian aid worker who built schools, clinics and houses in remote Mayan villages and a clinic for Mother Teresa in Guatemala.
A “Space Age Baby,” Melvyn 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 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, then worked as a newspaper and UPI wire service reporter in NY and Chicago; worked a stint as a Mad Ave. Mad Man, ran into the 60s, smoked marijuana, tried LSD and Zen, went to Woodstock and followed the energy and telepathic clues 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 writes about profound, personal transformation living collectively. After The Farm, in 1984, Melvyn and most other members of the community went through culture shock as they returned to the mainstream. Melvyn now lives in rural upstate New York, enjoying a new career as author, publisher, speaker, and budding movie maker.
Literary Influences: John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Feodor Dostoyevsky, James Joyce, Shakespeare, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemmingway and Maxine Hong Kingston