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When Gwynelle Dismukes '73 was at Colby, her mother, back home in Nashville, sent her news stories about a horde of hippies who had descended on tiny Summertown, Tenn. The group, admirers of the charismatic San Francisco college professor Stephen Gaskin, arrived in more than 60 colorfully painted school buses and founded one of the nation's most famous communes. Thirty years later, The Farm, as the commune was known, still exists. Gaskin still lives there. Dismukes does, too.
She moved to the alternative community from Nashville three years ago, joining the 200 residents--including some of the original "Farmies." Over the decades the community has shrunk from its peak population of 1,500 and has shed its pure communal form. But the place, with houses, school, store and businesses on 1,700 mostly wooded, ridge-crossed acres, offers Dismukes a haven far from the hazards of the big city. "Oh, Lord, I just hated the city," she said, showing a visitor from Colby around The Farm recently. "I'm a single mom with this teenage boy. And you know young black men in this society do not have an easy time of it. And I just needed peace of mind. I just hate that city life. I hate the rush. I hate the congestion. I hate the traffic. I hate having to dress a certain way, do the nine-to-five thing."
Not that moving to a commune means putting your feet up. A writer and editor who has worked for nonprofit organizations and public television in Boston, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., Dismukes was publishing an alternative newspaper in Nashville when she came to The Farm to do workshops on Kwanzaa nearly 10 years ago. She continued to visit and finally decided to join up. She now edits the community's newsletter and is an editor at the publishing house run at The Farm. "I have a friend who's a lawyer in Atlanta," Dismukes said. "He said, 'You mean now you're going to work more hours for less money and you're happy about this?' But I really am."
The Farm operates several companies, from a birthing center to a soy-products dairy, and, of course, has a Web site (www.thefarm.org). But it provides Dismukes with much more than a job, she said: "I just have this real feeling of security. My parents are both passed on. I don't have sisters and brothers, so I feel like my kids are kind of out here a little bit. But I feel we're supported here and people are going to help out."
Dismukes and her children live in a mobile home and are in the process of renovating a house. They are the only African-American family at The Farm, which sometimes gives Dismukes pause. But she says the alternative community could serve as a model for raising children now at risk in big cities. Her son, Chaing-tu, is 15. Her daughter, Ami, is 12. They can go out the door in the morning and roam the place into the night with their friends. "And I have nothing to worry about," Dismukes said. "They don't allow guns here."
Nor is there much of the licentiousness of the '60s commune stereotype. Most of the residents are approaching retirement age, their ponytails graying. That week a recent Farm canasta tournament was still a topic for conversation. The issue for the potluck dinner was how aging residents can attract more young people to The Farm. "There's a lot of maintenance here," Dismukes said. "And folks are getting up to where they can't maintain it quite like they used to."
With that she continued the tour: the Ecovillage Training Center, the store, the solar school, the community center. The roads lead past orchards and pastures, through oak woods where some of the original caravan buses can be seen moldering among the trees. She says the fields fill with deer at dusk, and organic gardens sometimes fill with deer, too, much to the annoyance of the vegetarian gardeners. "That," Dismukes said with an easy laugh, "is the only thing that makes people sometimes regret their nonviolent policy."
--Gerry Boyle '78
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