Stephen Gaskin

1935 - 2014 (Age 79)


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Stephen Gaskin, a counterculture visionary who led a caravan of hippies from California to establish one of the country's longest lasting communes in rural Middle Tennessee and later sought the Green Party nomination for president, has died. He was 79.

Gaskin died of natural causes at his home in Summertown on Tuesday, according to Gretchen Bates, who grew up on The Farm and is close to Gaskin's family.

Bates told The Associated Press that Gaskin had been ill for a while. She described him as a visionary and spiritual guide who advocated being responsible and giving back to the community.

"He made us think about taking responsibility for your life ... and trying to give back as much as you possibly could," Bates said.

A message on The Farm's website reads: "We mourn the passing of Stephen Gaskin, our founder and friend. Our community would not exist, were it not for his bravery and free spirit."

Gaskin, a Korean War veteran, was a writing instructor at San Francisco State College when his "Monday Night Class" on love, sex, politics, drugs and other non-traditional college topics became popular with hippie students.

In 1970, he led a caravan of about 320 hippies to 1,750 acres of rough ridge country where they founded the back-to-basics collective on about three square miles. It was meant to be an "experiment in sustainable, developmentally progressive human habitat," according to the website.

By 1980, The Farm's population had grown to more than 1,200 in Lewis County near Summertown. But a financial crisis a few years later led to a reorganization in which members began paying monthly dues.

Leigh Kahan, one of The Farm's founding members, said the reorganization "changed everything" because The Farm went from being a "true collective to being a true cooperative."

"You went from everybody holding all things in common to you need your own car, you need your own health insurance ... you need to pay the rent, you need to join back into the society at large," said Kahan, who lived in the community for about 15 years before moving to Nashville.

Currently, The Farm has about 200 residents. Most of them work in nearby towns, while others work within the community for homegrown industries like a book publishing company, soy dairy and solar electronics company. There are also midwives who practice outside of the community.

Gaskin went to prison in 1974 for marijuana possession and served one year of a three-year sentence. Under state law, he lost his right to vote because of the conviction. He mounted a successful court challenge to the law and had his voting rights restored.

In 2000, Gaskin sought the Green Party presidential nomination, advocating peace, social consciousness and the legalization of marijuana. He called himself a "hippie priest and freelance rebel rouser."

Gaskin told The Associated Press that year he had no problem answering the question on marijuana, "Did you inhale?"

"I didn't exhale," he said.

He also said, "If you want to throw some seeds in your garden and grow some pot and smoke it yourself, I don't think it's anybody else's business. And I don't think that the Constitution thinks that it's anybody else's business."

In 1997, Gaskin wrote in an opinion piece published in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that his "freethinking" philosophy was generational.

Gaskin said his grandmother, who drove a covered wagon from Tennessee to Texas, was a freethinker and a suffragette who marched in the streets for the right of women to vote. And he said her brother helped organize the longshoremen's union on the waterfront in San Francisco in the 1930s and '40s.

"We have been freethinkers for generations," Gaskin wrote. "And ... I have passed my philosophical and religious ways on to my children, who are very proud of their heritage and ancestors."

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Guest Book

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Though I last visited Stephen in 1993,I always read his blogs and will miss his take on current events.During my years on the Farm I saw Stephen almost every day working at the Book Company.Some of my favorite Farm memories are of my weekly stints as overnite security at the Book Company.Stephen would at times come down and hang out in his upstairs office ,just to take a short quiet break from his large not so quiet household.We never talked about anything profound or spiritual,that was his...

Thank you Stephen for being my spiritual teacher when I needed guidance so much. You're down to earth sunday morning talks kept me emotionally rooted during a personal and historical time of turmoil. Nothing is perfect, but the Farm was exactly what I needed to open my eyes to another way of thinking and being. Rest in Peace.

Stephen, a mentor for myself and many. Peace be with you.

Our condolences to Ina May and family.
There were a lot of gurus to choose from out there back then but Stephen Gaskin was by far the most American of the bunch and that felt real and a little like home. It did feel hopeful to take him on as a teacher especially in light of being horrified by the war and disaffected with America. But what I liked a lot was the reminder of the true goodness in the American tradition that was "living without royalty and respecting other peoples'...

Thanks Steven for the vision in welcoming all to the community. My brother Bob Glass had a wonderful fulfilling life because of the farm. You will be missed but not forgotten.

To Ina May, Paul, Sam and all Stephen's children and family,
I bless the day a friend gave me a copy of the book Monday Night Class in 1972 and set me on a path of trying to live a decent and compassionate life. And when life became confusing I could always turn to Stephen's books for direction and clarity. And the blessed Ina May for Spiritual Midwifery, to give us the courage to home deliver our son. I haven't seen Stephen since 2003 but I cherish my visits to your home and your...

Thank-you, Stephen, for having been my spiritual teacher. I value most highly the teaching you gave me about integrity. It was an honor to have known you, and to have helped produce the first edition of Spiritual Midwifery in the print shop at The Farm. It was great to see you again in Hanover, NH in the 90's during Ina May's visit to Dartmouth Medical School, and at Yasgur Road in Bethel, NY in 2000. Living on The Farm taught me how to make it in this world, and I am grateful for that. A...

Our thoughts and prayers are with you in your time of grief. May your memories bring you comfort.