The Farm is a secluded, 1750 acre intentional community in Tennessee that was founded in the 1960s. Created to be a totally self sufficient and environmentally friendly socialist haven, founder Stephen Gaskin earned a following of almost 1,500 young adults ready to forgo modern amenities. In order to live in the community, there were rules citizens had to abide by, one of which was giving up your possessions upon arrival. On The Farm, everything was everyone’s, but personally nobody was allowed much. For Erika Anderson, who’s parents were among those to follow Gaskin but departed form The Farm when she was two, it became clear that these communities can take just as much as they give.
In a commune, all work is done for the benefit of the community and not for one’s self. Anderson’s father justifies this when he says, “by spreading the risk and spreading the reward, all lives could be improved in innumerable ways” (Anderson). This lifestyle puts all wealth in a collective account, and draws all community and individual expenses from it, though nobody can lay claim to ‘their portion’. Any profit is given to the community, so as Anderson states, both her parents worked for The Farm, “my dad was an experienced mason, and he brought in much needed revenue by running a masonry crew that worked off The Farm. My mom worked in the clinic, hoping to be a midwife” (Anderson). Working in this manner means that they will be entitled to what they need on The Farm, in terms of food and other essentials, but that they are essentially living on credit. So, when it came time for the family to move on due to disagreements in how the commune was managed, the Andersons left with very little to their name. This makes it hard to assimilate back into society. Anderson gives an example: “even though my dad had handed over every paycheck, The Farm forwarded our medical bills” (Anderson). This is an inherent flaw with the community’s non-monetary system, often there’s no way to cash out.
Income isn’t the only opportunity cost of removing yourself from modern society. Many of these workers left with little workplace knowledge, making it hard to find non entry-level employment even though they were already supporting families. Anderson’s father might have been able to contribute enough to earn his families spot in the commune, but she makes it clear that her parents struggled upon departure when she says, “they started over at 30 with three children, 10 dollars, scant professional experience, and no college degrees” (Anderson). Today this would be a nightmare, and while they might have been slightly less disadvantaged decades ago, it would still prove a challenge to make a living in this situation.
Anderson highlights what her parents loved and hated about the community they were a part of when she was a child. They, like so many others, saw it fit to give up their livelihoods in exchange for a simpler way of life. For some, this lifestyle worked well, but those who wanted to leave suffered upon reentry to society. Anderson sums it up when she says, “when you join a commune, everything is yours. When you leave, nothing is” (Anderson).
Anderson, Erika. “What Life Is Like When You’re Born on a Commune.” Vanity Fair. Condé Nast, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.