Voluntary Peasants will be available in print June, 2017.
Melvyn Stiriss is available to speak.
About Voluntary Peasants—A Psychedelic Journey to the Ultimate Hippie Commune/Sharing Life, Land and Love at The Farm in Tennessee
Free Spirits, students and survivors of the 60s, reconstructed, secret, current and wannabe hippies, bohemians and beatniks, eco-minded back-to-the-landers, this book is for you. Lift your spirit. Get out of the box. Shake the fake and get real—back to the land, back to Mother Earth.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”—John Lennon. That was us! We had it going.
Leave the herd. Jump out of the box. Put a flower in your hair. Come to San Francisco. Get aboard a far-out hippie bus for the ride of a lifetime on an outrageous, round-the-country, save-the-world caravan to rural Tennessee. Take a trip, a profound personal transformation 60s trip, a quirky, action-packed journey through wild, culture-shifting, paradigm-changing times, an odyssey of body, mind, and spirit.
The Farm 1,500-member hippie commune was a powerful, inevitable expression of the 60s cultural/consciousness revolution; a far-out, 24/7 peace demonstration; rockin’ low-budget, celebration of life; bold, back-to-the-land, collective attempt to create an ideal society, a modern utopia.
In the 60s, Melvyn Stiriss was a young UPI wire service reporter who followed the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, over the edge. “There was an exciting, all-pervasive feeling, an intriguing, mysterious energy that beckoned me. I followed that ‘vibe’ in search of fun, adventure, and the meaning of life.” His vision quest brought him to San Francisco where he found his weed-smoking, world wisdom spouting, self-proclaimed guru, Stephen Gaskin.“
We purchased 1,764 acres of land, twice the size of New York’s Central Park, to be our live-in social laboratory dedicated to creating a working model of a globally affordable lifestyle. We dedicated our lives and our labor to create a sustainable, meaningful, enjoyable way of life, a safe place where everyone could enjoy peace, community, and right livelihood.
Pooling money, resources, talents, and skills, working together, we built houses, roads, a clinic run by our own doctors and midwives, our own medical lab, a soy dairy, a bakery, a motor pool, cottage industries, a solar-heated school, a touring rock-and-roll band, and an FM radio and closed-circuit TV station. Over the course of twelve collective years, 1971-1983, nearly 5,000 people came and went; lived and worked together as ‘voluntary peasants’—sharing labor, life and friendship. We followed a path with heart, working without pay, for the good of mankind.”
The Farm was an intentional community of pacifist, Earth-friendly, people-friendly, eclectic, agrarian, vegan folks trying to be spiritual. It was also a “weed,” a cannabis church, prohibiting hard drugs and alcohol but honoring marijuana as a sacrament and powerful tool to help people connect with each other and their higher self.
At peak, 1,500 resident members enjoyed zero unemployment and universal health care. Three hundred and fifty children were in our school, and per capita spending was an incredible $100 a month! More than 1,000 babies were delivered free by Farm “spiritual” midwives. The close-knit collective was given the Swedish Right Livelihood Award—“For caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad.”
In 1976, after a devastating earthquake in Guatemala, the author, with a crew of Mayans and volunteers from the Farm community, built schools, clinics, and houses in remote mountain indigenous villages and a clinic for Mother Teresa in Guatemala City.
Voluntary Peasants conveys “the vibe,” the community’s beauty, noble efforts and intentions and never before revealed flaws. Stiriss reports his deeply personal, spiritual student-teacher relationships with Stephen Gaskin and midwife/author Ina May Gaskin. The history also examines “the guru trip” and the insidious phenomena of exceptionalism and groupthink and how they undermined The Farm experiment.
Voluntary Peasants will be available in print and all formats Valentine’s Day, 2017.
About the Author
An out-of-the-box journalist, storyteller, humorist, poet, artist, musician, naturalist, back porch philosopher, and an authority on sixties spirituality and hippie communes, Melvyn Stiriss was born in New York City in 1942, raised in Edgewater, New Jersey, and attended the University of Richmond. After college, Melvyn worked as a radio announcer, news reporter, editor, and announcer for United Press International wire service, covering Vietnam War demonstrations and a Grateful Dead concert.
Melvyn worked a stint as a Madison Avenue publicist or “Mad Man,” smoked marijuana, had a spiritual identity crisis, tried LSD and Zen, went to Woodstock, “dropped out” and followed the “vibe”—the zeitgeist, the “powerful, mysterious, exciting spirit and energy of the time—right into the heart of the cultural revolution, San Francisco,” where the young seeker found a weed-smoking “psychedelic Zen guru,” Stephen Gaskin, joined his far-out weed church, and was a founder and long-term resident member of The Farm collective community in Summertown, Tennessee.
Melvyn lived and labored more than twelve years at The Farm; learned trades, acquired skills, married, became a father, and grew as a person. His jobs in the community included: farmer, carpenter, mason, flour miller, baker, vegan chef, gate man, and newspaper editor.
Following a devastating earthquake in Central America in 1976, Melvyn and a crew of carpenters from the community served more than a year in remote Mayan villages in Guatemala, working with Mayans, building schools, clinics, houses, and a clinic for Mother Teresa.
After leaving the commune in 1984, Melvyn reentered the mainstream in Austin, Texas; worked as a carpenter, stagehand, and roadie; and worked in a dozen movies including Courage Under Fire, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and A Perfect World. He also worked as a peace and justice activist, was co-director of Austin’s Casa Marianela and began writing his history of The Farm, Voluntary Peasants.
Now 74, Melvyn lives in upstate New York, enjoying his “senior career” as an author, publisher, storyteller, and aspiring movie maker. He loves hiking, playing keyboard, photography, travel, movies, and great literature.
Voluntary Peasants Crowd Funder
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Voluntary Peasants is also available in six parts at Amazon Kindle.
Enlightenment—What’s it Good For
Author’s back story 1942-69
Part 1 Genesis of The Farm Commune
Includes the great, round-the-country, save-the-world, hippie bus caravan
Part 2 The Farm Commune—Year One
Part 3, THE FARM—America’s Biggest Commune, 1972-76
Part 4, Hippie Peace Corps
Goes to Guatemala
Part 5, Utopia Myopia
Climax and Conclusion
—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 audio book, 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!
—During the 60’s and early 70’s I followed a traditional path. I went to college, studied hard, got married, got my Ph. D., and became a professor. I have always been very curious about an alternative path that some of my friends followed; a freer life of travel, grass, free love, and few traditional responsibilities. I’ve always wondered what it would have been like to experience this alternative lifestyle. I don’t have to wonder any longer. This wonderful read gives me a first-hand account of life during this time period. It’s very well written, full of energy, and provides an exciting and detailed account of life during one of the most interesting periods of our country. I highly recommend this book.
—Melvyn easily kept me engaged with the telling of the rise and fall of living his dream. I love that even as the policies led to the end of the communal way that the love of living and working with your friends, close to nature, still shines through as a glorious way to live. Reading the whole series as one continuous story deepened my understanding of the journey. Magical and honest.
—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. Well written, humorous account of an inspiring time in the counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Stiriss has written a psychedelically evocative, unsparingly honest account of what it was really like. I was there. I know what he says is true. I could not put it down. Melvyn is the real chronicler of the whole trip. I hope he takes it all the way for the whole history of The Farm. It’s a big responsibility, and it turns out to be his.
—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 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. As I was reading, it was the proverbial “couldn’t put it down.”
—I like the look into an unusual American experience. The excitement of a new beginning in the midst of a co-opted US culture comes through. I would love to know more about what individuals other than the author were thinking and doing. My interest is certainly piqued. On balance, the author’s courage in showing himself in process is admirable.
—Entertaining and heartfelt. Full of details that make you feel you are there, at the mind-blowing 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. It makes me want to go live there.