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Voluntary Peasants will be available in print this December.
Voluntary Peasants presents a juicy slice of living history—a mind-expanding trip—a portal into magical times. An adventure packed quirky odyssey rich in exciting 60s energy, vision, humor and warmth. Far-out stories of hundreds of dedicated, good-hearted, high-minded people uniting to create a cool, affordable way to live—a model lifestyle the whole world can afford; a grand social experiment that deeply explores the begging question: Can back-to-the-land collective living really help save the world?
Enter the inner realms of those heady, revolutionary times. Leave the ordinary behind. Let your head soar free and take a trip—a 60s trip over the edge and back. Melvyn Stiriss invites readers to share his extraordinary journey as a young wire service reporter who followed the mystery and energy of the 60s over the edge in search of enlightenment, truth and meaning.
Get on the bus, a colorful hippie bus and ride around the country aboard an audacious, outrageous, 100 bus and van convoy—a caravan that landed in the boondocks of Tennessee, where 300 spiritual hippies agreed to buy land, learn to farm and live collectively. In time, the numbers grew to 1,500 people living as “voluntary peasants” in America’s flagship commune—The Farm on land twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
The grand group experiment was a bold attempt to live out of the box; to work together to create a better way of life—building a spiritual, Earth-friendly, people-friendly, eclectic, agrarian, vegan, collective community and cannabis church—a commune with a heart awarded the Swedish Right Livelihood Award—“For caring, sharing and acting with and on behalf of those in need at home and abroad.”
Stiriss—“We dedicated our work and our lives to make the world better for all life on the planet, and to grow as human beings and have fun in the process. 1971, we founded The Farm, where I lived twelve years; worked, married, had children and grew as a person. Pooling resources, talents and skills, working together, we built our own town—complete with a soy dairy, bakery, clinic, lab, doctors, midwives, motor pool, cottage industries, solar-heated school, and an FM radio station. The Farm had people living and doing good work in a dozen satellite communities and humanitarian aid projects around the world. At its peak—1,450 people enjoyed Universal Healthcare, virtually Zero Unemployment and had basic necessities on $100/person a month! The Farm was a far-out, rockin’, 24/7 peace demonstration. Not perfect, but a noble attempt.”
“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”—John Lennon
That was us! We had it going. Over the course of the collective years, 1971-1983, nearly 5,000 people lived and worked together at different times at The Farm as “voluntary peasants”—sharing labor, life and friendship; living a path with heart; working without pay—to create and enjoy a globally-affordable, gracious lifestyle.
Voluntary Peasants honestly conveys the good, the bad and the ugly; the comedy and the tragedy—the community’s beautiful innocent pioneer days and golden age as well as revealing stories of the cult and the author’s deeply personal guru relationship with Stephen Gaskin and his wife, midwife/author, Ina May Gaskin. We examine the pot-smoking, Zen-style guru up close; observe the effects of cult group think, the whole guru trip and include updates and conclusions.
About the Author
Journalist, story teller, humorist, poet, musician, artist, back porch philosopher and an authority on sixties spirituality and hippie communes—Melvyn was born in New York City in 1942, raised in Edgewater, New Jersey and attended the University of Richmond. He worked as a radio announcer, newspaper reporter and wire service editor, reporter and announcer for United Press International in Chicago and New York, where he covered Vietnam War demonstrations and a Grateful Dead concert.
In 1967, Melvyn worked a stint as a Madison Avenue publicist, a “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, ubiquitous spirit and energy of the time” right into the heart of the cultural revolution—San Francisco, where the young seeker of enlightenment found a pot-smoking “psychedelic Zen guru,” Stephen Gaskin and joined his far-out universal cannabis church—The Farm.
Melvyn lived nearly thirteen years in the vegan, collective community; married, became a father, learned trades and acquired skills as he worked, at different times, as a farmer, house framer, mason, flour miller, baker, chef, community gate man and newspaper editor.
Following a devastating earthquake in Guatemala in 1976, Melvyn and a crew of hippie carpenters from the community served more than a year as volunteer carpenters in remote Mayan villages—building schools, clinics and houses and a clinic for Mother Teresa.
Leaving the commune in 1984, Melvyn reentered the mainstream in Austin, Texas; worked as a carpenter, stagehand, roadie; worked in a dozen movies as a carpenter, set dresser, prop maker and extra. He also worked as a peace and justice activist and began writing his history of The Farm, Voluntary Peasants. Now 74, Melvyn lives in Upstate New York enjoying his latest career, his “senior career,” as an author, publisher, storyteller, and aspiring movie maker. He loves reading, playing keyboard, hiking, photography and travel.
Voluntary Peasants is also available in parts.
Prologue: 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 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
—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.