A nonfiction novel and portal into magical, mystical times—telepathy, energy, auras, vibrations, marijuana; tripping on LSD, Peyote and Magic Mushrooms, Zen, enlightenment quests, spiritual hippies, gurus and midwives.
A psychedelic odyssey from Greenwich Village beatniks in the 50s to Woodstock, the San Francisco spiritual smorgasbord of 1969; Stephen Gaskin's round-the-country, save-the-world, school bus caravan—landing up Moonshine Alley—FBI, KKK and Tennessee vigilantes all watching to see what we're up to. Our intention was to get back to the land, work together, share, be friends and create
—a lifestyle the whole world can afford.
Voluntary Peasants Labor of Love is a 30-year-in-the-making, literary labor of love about an historic, 13-year, collective labor of love of thousands of people dedicated to create a gracious, sustainable way of living
—good for all life on the planet.
The whole five-part story will be in print and all formats in May.
Voluntary Peasants Labor of Love Part One
Genesis of America's biggest commune.
Includes the psychedelic, San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord of 1969, Stephen Gaskin's teachings on Telepathy, Energy and How to Have a Good Trip, Being Enlightened Here and Now, and the Great, Follow-the-Guru, Round-the-Country, Save-the-World, School Bus Caravan that led the tribe back to the land in Tennessee. The stage is set.
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The Farm Commune, Year One
Landing in the boondocks of Tennessee, up Moonshine Alley, 300 intrepid hippie pioneers attempt to get back to the land, learn how to farm, survive, and build a village and lifestyle the whole world can afford. The challenge is for city people to learn to farm and be self-reliant, while maintaining spiritual hippie practices. We get raided.
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The Farm Commune Early Years, 1972-'76
Community population explodes to 500. We build our own school, clinic, houses, roads, soy dairy, flour mill, bakery and cottage industries. Hippie Guru, Stephen Gaskin and three other men go to jail, and The Farm goes through changes, despite a valiant effort to beat the case, pleading that marijuana is the sacrament of our church.
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Mayan women wearing traditional traje. Photo by Melvyn Stiriss
The pueblo of San Andres Itzapa, Guatemala, reconstructed after the 1976 earthquake with the help of volunteer carpenters from The Farm.
Photo by Melvyn Stiriss
Voluntary hippie peasants meet the real deal. Who knew humanitarian work could be so much fun, such adventure and so rewarding? I always found the Peace Corps appealing—helping people in exotic places—but I did not want to work under government rules. Then, along comes Plenty International—a hippie Peace Corps. No-brainer. Sign me up!
February 4, 1976—3:01 a.m., a powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake shook central Guatemala. For barely one minute, the ground heaved and rolled in waves. 23,000 people died; 80,000 were injured, and many thousands were left homeless.
Fifteen hundred miles north, at The Farm, a large hippie commune in Tennessee—long-haired, ham radio operators picked up calls for help from Guatemala—“Terremoto!” Earthquake! The Farm’s humanitarian outreach program, Plenty International sent a team of three hippie carpenters to help with earthquake reconstruction. I was one of those carpenters.
Voluntary Peasants Labor of Love, The Farm Commune—Part 4, Mayan Adventure—describes my thirteen-month departure from The Farm to do volunteer earthquake reconstruction in Guatemala, working with Mayans—building schools, clinics, houses and a clinic for Mother Teresa—work that earned the community the Swedish Right Livelihood Award—“For caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad.”
Part 5, The Grand Finale
Most revealing. Includes the last years, Big Changeover, Reflections, Conclusion and updates.
“The book is very well written.”
“My interest is certainly piqued.”
“It makes me want to go live there.”
"Entertaining and heartfelt. Full of details that make you feel you are there, at the mindblowing experience of establishing a successful 'hippy commune' in the deep rural south in the 1970s. The author shares a lot of 'inside' information that illustrates to what a great extent the Farm was a groundbreaking, and largely successful, social experiment."
"Love the writing style."
"Great read and leaves you wanting more."
"I really loved reading this book. I heard of the Farm many years ago, and I was always curious how it operated. This book gives a very detailed personal account of how the farm was created and how it operated. The book is very well written. I felt like I was there. It’s not a sugar-coated story. Beside Melvyn, Stephen Gaskin, the spiritual leader of the Farm, was the central figure in the narrative. It’s clear that the author, like everyone else on the farm, revered Stephen. However, some of Stephen’s flaws were very subtly revealed as the narrative progressed. It was interesting to me how a leader with absolute authority exercises his/her powers. I can’t wait to read Melvyn’s continuing account of the Farm in his next book."
"I can't wait for the next installment. As I was reading, it was the proverbial "couldn't put it down." I read it in a few hours, and will probably re-read it soon.
Melvyn is a gifted storyteller who takes you on a journey into the past to a time and place that never existed before and may never again. Melvyn was able to take me right into his world and make me see it though his eyes. I can't wait for the next installment. I always read each one in one sitting."
"This book is so good. It tells the tale of a generation pushing for change and looking for a path to sanity through spirituality. The author does a great job of telling this tale in a very accessible manner. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I was surprised at his exceptional skills of delivery. And even though this tale describes an entire movement, the author does a great job of giving us a personal story we can relate to. By doing this, he gives us a way in the door to a movement we may have been too young, too old, or too shy to participate in. Kudos for the great job! Looking forward to the next installments."
"What a great window into a world that previously we could only see through shallow attempts by mainstream media. Don't miss it !"
"Great stuff. So honest. It really invokes the acid visions, the whole feeling of what it was like back then at Monday Night Class and Sunday Services. I don't know how it sounds to anyone who wasn't there, but for me you totally capture it."
$6.99 ebook at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MEZ1C8I
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Voluntary Peasants, A Labor of Love is a literary labor of love about a down-to-Earth, real-life, collective labor of love of thousands of people dedicated to create a gracious, sustainable way of living—a lifestyle the whole world can afford.
Enlightenment—What’s it Good For
Voluntary Peasants Prequel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008BWV0US
Enlightenment—What's it Good For
Voluntary Peasants Prequel
The author's backstory from 1942-'69, from beatniks to hippies, featuring A Gypsy Good Time and an encounter wi Beat Zen in Greenwich Village. Melvyn Stiriss was a reporter for United Press International. In 1967, Melvyn was the young guy in the office sent to cover the Grateful Dead and Vietnam War demonstrations in New York. Melvyn was caught up in the energy and followed the story of the times over the edge to live the story himself.
"We sought enlightenment. What is enlightenment. I do not claim to be fully enlightened. I am still working on it, but I have tasted enlightenment and attained some understanding of how it works. For me, enlightenment has come in two stages—One: Realizing our essential oneness and interconnectedness, and Two: Realizing who and what I am and what I should be doing with my life.
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."
Voluntary Peasants Labor of Love 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.
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.
Hippie guru, Stephen Gaskin blowing cow horn to start an OM at Goddard College, 1970 on the Caravan. Photo by Neal Warshaw
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 a remarkable 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.
"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."
Contact Melvyn to Speak to your group email@example.com
Perhaps the most enjoyable way to experience Voluntary Peasants—A Labor Of Love—is to hear the author read the book to you. Feel vibes, energy and subtleties impossible to convey through print alone. Melvyn, an actor and musician as well as a writer, worked as a broadcast journalist in the 60s.
Listening Length: 4 hours and 36 minutes
Part One Audiobook at Amazon, iTunes and Audible.com $14.99
Beforewords and Chapter One, San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord of 1969
Audiobook now at Amazon, iTunes, Audible.com
Listening Length: 4 hours and 34 minutes
(Prices vary slightly)
Hear Stephen Gaskin speak to The Farm 10/2/77
Farm Collective Photos
What a blessing it is 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.
There are many beautiful 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 someone they know lived there, or maybe they picked up a hitchhiker who told amazing tales about a wonderful place.
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.
The Great, Round-the-Country, Save-the-World Hippie School Bus Caravan, 100 buses, 12,000 miles, Columbus Day, 1970-May, 1971.
The author baking bread in The Farm Bakery, 1983
Five days a week, we baked 350 hand-shaped-with-love loaves of bread for the community. We also made bagels, cookies, granola, cake and vegan pizza.
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 in a bar, scribbled on the wall of a men's room—
What is Truth?
A bird sings.
Half a century later, I read in the latest Allen Ginsburg biography, I Celebrate Myself that beatnik literary icons, Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac and Buddhist scholar, D.T. Suzuki used to frequent that bar, the San Remo. Any one of those cats, maybe all three, may have written that drunken koan. Now, I am very happy to preserve and publish their message, and now, my high school buddy, Peter Coyote is a Zen priest.
Fun, informative, thought provoking, entertaining. Author, publisher, audio book producer, actor, oral and print social historian, Melvyn speaks about his remarkable experiences, 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 Newbeatbooks@gmail.com