A psychedelic, spiritual odyssey from the San Francisco spiritual smorgasbord of 1969 to a round-the-country bus caravan to Moonshine Alley of Tennessee to Mayan villages in Guatemala—true adventures of a journalist who followed the sixties over the edge, now an authority of Sixties Spirituality and Communal Living. A Labor of Love of dedicated, spiritual back-to-the-landers. Far out, entertaining, human, inside stories of a great social experiment—The Farm—by a UPI reporter, who followed the Sixties over the edge; sought Enlightenment and joined 300 spiritual hippies to co-found a remarkable commune in Tennessee 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.”
"Imagine all the people living life in peace." That was us! We had it going.
True tales of a grand experiment in collective community. Universal. Uplifting. Heart-warming, humorous adventures; true tales of real-life gurus, hippies, seekers of Truth.
We had an amazing thing going for 13 years. We lived life in peace, simply, with friends, sharing adventures, working together to help fix the world. Entertaining, never-before-revealed, inside look into iconic American commune—The Farm—A bold, shared vision, social experiment of the 60s—group mind telepathy to blinding group think—told by a UPI reporter, who sought enlightenment and banded with 300 hippies to build the ultimate, globally-affordable lifestyle/model, peaceful, fun village in rural Tennessee. At peak—1,400 people enjoyed zero unemployment, universal healthcare, food, housing and all necessities on $100/person a month!
The Farm was a 24/7 peace demonstration—our own town, complete with solar-heated school, soy dairy, clinic, doctors, midwives, bakery, farming, motor pool, good karma cottage industries, radio station, and humanitarian outreach. I was a founder, builder, and resident member for 13 years. I worked as a farmer, carpenter, mason, flour miller, baker, vegan chef, gateman, editor and earthquake reconstruction volunteer in Guatemala, working with a team from The Farm and Mayans; building rural schools, clinics, houses and a clinic for Mother Teresa.
Originally, The Farm was a spiritual hippie cult built around charismatic teacher, Stephen Gaskin. High Times calls Gaskin—“The Gandhi of the American Counterculture.” Over the years, The Farm evolved into “Community as Teacher,” with Stephen serving as minister and life coach. Stephen's wife, Ina May Gaskin, was the community midwife and became a major force in popularizing home delivery. Ina May is in the Women's Hall of Fame and is known as “the mother of modern midwifery.” We examine the guru-student trip and my 13-year, extraordanary relationship with the Gaskins.
Voluntary Peasants, the whole book, will be published in print and all formats Spring, 2014 and is divided into five parts—each part analogous with a human life. Part 1—Conception; Part 2—Birth & Year One, childhood; Part 3—youth. Part 4—maturity and transfiguration. Parts 1 2 & 3 are now available as Kindle e-books. Coming soon Parts 4 and 5.
$6.99 ebook at Amazon
Voluntary Peasants, 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.
Hippie icon, Stephen Gaskin died at home in Tennessee, July 1 at the age of 79. Gaskin and a tribe of his spiritual revolutionary students created The Farm, America’s most-storied commune and the main subject of Voluntary Peasants. Much of Voluntary Peasants (a term coined by Gaskin) is about Gaskin and the author’s 13-year, student/guru relationship with the man.
Conception of The Farm Cannabis Church Commune
Includes the San Francisco Spiritual Smorgasbord of 1969, Stephen Gaskin's Telepathy & Energy Class and the Great, Follow-the-Guru, Round-the-Country, Save-the-World, School Bus Caravan
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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, all while under surveillance of the FBI, KKK and local vigilantes
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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.
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Voluntary Peasants Series of Far-Out Literature
Kindle e-books at Amazon $2.99
Enlightenment—What’s it Good For
Voluntary Peasants Prequel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008BWV0US
Voluntary Peasants Enlightenment Commune
Part 1: Birth of The Farm Commune http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0057P2ZWO
Voluntary Peasants Enlightenment Commune
Part 2: The Farm—Year One http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H7L6RC
True stories of dramatic, changing times, 1942-'69, beatniks, hippies, and a reporter's search for enlightenment that leads from Greenwich Village to Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury and a remarkable, spiritual hippie commune in Tennessee.
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."
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.
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.
Part 1 gets us to the land.
Part Two—Year One
$2.99 at Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0057P2ZWO
In the words of John Lennon, "Imagine all the people living life in peace." That was us! We had it going. For 13 years, we lived in peace. Entertaining, never-before-revealed, inside look into iconic American commune—The Farm—a commune 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.” A bold, shared vision, social experiment of the 60s—group mind telepathy to blinding group think—told by a UPI reporter, who followed the 60s over the edge; sought enlightenment and banded with 300 hippies to build the ultimate, globally-affordable lifestyle/model village in rural Tennessee. At peak—1,400 people enjoyed zero unemployment, universal healthcare, food, housing and all necessities on an incredible $100/person a month!
The Farm was a 24/7 peace demonstration—our own town, complete with solar-heated school, soy dairy, clinic, doctors, midwives, bakery, farming, motor pool, good karma cottage industries, radio station, and humanitarian outreach. I was a founder, builder, and resident member for 13 years. I was a farmer, carpenter, mason, flour miller, baker, vegan chef, gateman, editor and earthquake reconstruction volunteer in Guatemala, working with a team from The Farm and Mayans; building rural schools, clinics, houses and a clinic for Mother Teresa.
Originally, The Farm was a cult built around charismatic, spiritual teacher, Stephen Gaskin. High Times calls Gaskin—“The Gandhi of the American Counterculture.” Over the years, The Farm evolved into “Community as Teacher,” with Stephen serving as minister and life coach. Stephen's wife, Ina May Gaskin, was the community midwife and became a major force in popularizing home delivery. Ina May is in the Women's Hall of Fame and is known as “the mother of modern midwifery.” We examine the guru-student trip and my 13-year, extraordanary relationship with the Gaskins.
It was a time when adventurous, psychedelic explorers followed LSD High Priest, Dr. Timothy Leary—“Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” And, then found ourselves way out on a limb, beyond the limb, with no clue how to come back down to Earth. That was where Stephen Gaskin came in.
Part 2 picks up with the 1971 landing in rural Tennessee of 300 hippies in an audacious, 100-bus and van caravan. True tales of life off-the-grid, pioneer days, as city greenhorns struggle to be country and survive—all the while being watched by locals, KKK and FBI. What happens is the heart of this story—the heart of people striving to make the world better—whatever it takes, and have fun and get enlightened in the process.
Voluntary Peasants, the whole book, will be published in print and all formats Spring, 2014 and is divided into four parts—each part analogous with a human life. Part One—Birth. Part Two—Infancy. Part Three—Youth. Part Four—Maturity and Transfiguration.
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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Part One Audiobook at Amazon,
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Hippie guru, Stephen Gaskin blowing horn to start an OM at Goddard College, 1970
Photo by Neal Warshaw
Hear Stephen Speak
Voluntary Peasants Part 4—Earthquake Reconstruction with Mayans
Voluntary Peasants Part 5—Utopia Myopia, 1977-'84 plus update
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