I grew up on a hippy commune

What was it like to grow up on a commune?  That’s a question I heard a lot after emerging into society from America’s largest commune.

In the late 60′s, 320 San Francisco hippies took a caravan of 60 buses across the country and founded “The Farm” in 1971 on 1,750 acres in the backwoods of TN.


caravan busescaravan buses on martin farmIt reached a peak of 1500 people, all who took a vow of poverty to live communally, self sufficient off the grid. During the 70′s and early 80′s, hundreds of children grew up knowing only this reality. Living in army tents and school buses, knowing nothing of TV, packaged food, meat, make-up, pavement or electricity, secluded in another world of farming, horse wagons, outhouses, home birth, rock and roll,  pot smoking, meditating and OMing.



In 1983, “The Change-over” happened, when the commune’s hospital and land debts were suddenly called in with drastically raised interest rates. A mass exodus of people left – to Nashville, Flordia, back to California… About 300 people stayed and struggled to pay off the near million dollar debt. I lived the pre- change over times in tents and buses trough the change over when most people left, to getting electricity, paying off the debt, integrating into society but still on the community… until I left as a teen, unable to cope with fitting in with the country locals in public high school who hated “dirty hippies” more than anyone… I went on Grateful Dead tour exploring ashram’s and Krishna temples and festivals and 90′s raves as my bridge into the world…

With this blog, I’m going to do my best to share what it was like, along with pictures I’ve collected, from the view point of my child self who knew no different starting from the beginning of my memories…

And I guess I should disclose, this wasn’t how it was for everyone, this is just how it was for me – I had a somewhat unique experience within the unique experience – was kind of a freak of the freaks as my mother was so hardcore – she didn’t let me have sugar even though everyone else was eating sugar, she brought me to Sunday Services to sit through meditation when other kids would stay home or run around and play, some kids kept their birthday card money but I had to give mine to the commune bank, she talked to me in big words since I was little and was strict about proper English when other parents weren’t, things like that… Even after “The Changeover”, when all the other kids were getting real lunchboxes with sliced bread and packaged twinkies, I was still getting chunks of dry homemade bread with hard globs of natural peanut butter and the thinnest layer of jelly possible, if any at all, and raisin cookies sweetened with molasses sent in old, used, worn out plastic bags that had been washed and re-used 50 times. When everyone else got cars, she still rode a horse and drove a horse buggy. While other families bought real cereal in boxes, we still ate oatmeal and homemade granola. While other people shopped at grocery stores in town, we still grew a garden.  When other people got refrigerators, we still used the shadowy “north side of the house”…

So here we go…

Credit for many of the photos goes to: Daniel Luna, Gerald Wheeler.

36 thoughts on “I grew up on a hippy commune

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to reading your blog. I have always admired Stephen, Ina Mae and The Farm community. They were an inspiration for me as a young woman.

  2. wow that amazing im a 16 year old student studying hippies in nz and i really enjoyed hearing your story 🙂 i have questions for you if you could please answer them?
    1> what did people think of hippys back then ?

  3. After reading your blog (very interesting and well written), I saw a cartoon in the March 18, 2013 issue of The New Yorker (p. 31). Two kids are standing in front of a candy store. The caption says, “My parents won’t allow sugar in the house, so I’ve had to learn about it on the street.”

  4. Hi Celeste,
    What a discovery to find and read your stories! I really enjoyed them and am amazed both by your memory and ability to write it down so clearly and vividly. I lived at the Sun House and remember you well when you lived at Dogwood Blossom. Kim Maley and I did a neighborhood nursery school for a while with 4 year-olds (my daughter Irma and Lilly and you and a few more kids.) Your stories show how perceptive, intense and dramatic young children’s feelings are!
    I hope you keep writing many more.
    Much love,
    Leslie Jordan

    • Hi Leslie! Thanks so much!
      I remember your family returning from Guatemala and I remember playing with Irma at the Sun House! 🙂
      More stories coming! 🙂

      • Hi Celeste, I’m sure we crossed paths on the Farm. You are a great writer. Your presceptive is one that I can only understand conceptually. Myself, Jo, my twin, Joy and Melanie were “Cinderalla” to Stephen and Ina Moo. I had the best time prior to that just finding a home with Leslie & Pam. much love Jo

  5. This blog is amazing and wonderful! I was raised in a Hindu based veggie hippy household and had several family members build on land but never made it myself. I have land now so better late than never. Reading your entries and especially looking at the great photos reminds me of the good times in my childhood. Too few of those moments sadly but this makes me connect back to those times and I’m grateful to you for it. Namaste

  6. Hi,
    I was born on the Farm. Probably one of the first; (December 1971). I look for my parents in your pictures. What years were you there.

  7. hi 🙂
    i’m from Iran but i love hippies. your life story is wonderful. always i hope that i can living like hippies on commune.

  8. When did your family leave? was the world outside your community hard to adjust to? what about your father? Was he around?

  9. I just read your whole blog. Totally brought me back to being a kid… staying with fam every summer in Northern CA, all pretty similar… also weird because my sis who is just a few years younger (82) didn’t have the same memories at all… must have been when it all ended. Thank You.:)

  10. Your blog is amazing. Your story is compelling and I want more…… However, I don’t think it is easy to dredge up old memories and re-live them. While I’m sure you had plenty of good times, your story about eating the cat food broke my heart. You need to be published and at least be compensated for the re-living of those times!

    I’m curious about your current relationship with your mother, too. What became of your “superstar” older sister and beloved younger brother? Why didn’t your sister live with you? What effect did growing up without a father have on you and your sibs? Were you a wild child looking for love in all the wrong places? How long did you live at “The Farm” ? Does your mother still live there? More, more, more!!!! You are an excellent writer and you have quite a story to tell!

    • Thank you, Kathy! If you know any publishers that would like to help me, send them my way! It is a lot of time and work tuning the world out to access old memories and form them into cohesive sentences…plus my space key is broken. lol!

      I’m trying to stay in a timeline from beginning to end, some rocky roads ahead with the answers to your questions…
      It wasn’t all easy, but I’m so glad to have some incredible relativity 😉

  11. Thank you for sharing all of these stories! I learned about the farm when I lived in Louisiana. I knew it was in some ways good and in others bad, but I am most grateful for the contributions midwives there have had on maternal health all over the country.

  12. Hello Celeste! I think we were at The Farm for much of the same time. I have few childhood memories but reading your stories has really helped me remember what life was like on The Farm. I am now 40 and really trying to come to terms with my upbringing. I think we all have somewhat differing experiences but share many of the same challenges. I will continue to look forward to your blog and maybe a book someday soon. I am thinking about writing on myself based on my experiences on The Farm and latter as a midwife for many years. Wondering if you have read the book “Children of the Coutercultue”, very insightful and made me feel like my head was going to explode, haven’t quite gotten over it. Let me know if you’d ever like to chat or share experiences.

    Thanks, Emma

  13. Hi All! I love reading about your experience. Last year, I published a memoir, the Slow Farm, about growing up with hippie parents in British Columbia during the early 70s. A smaller group of folks hanging out in the Canadian wilderness, but many similarities! (I included some very amusing quotes from Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing.) Thanks for the blog and photos!

  14. I rode my bicycle to The Farm from Gainesville in 1983 when I was around 20. I had grown disillusioned with college, was looking for a spiritual adventure and had met a lot of ex-Farm folk in Hogtown (Gainesville) so off I went. After talking my way past the gate I spent three weeks there and even attended one of Stephen’s Sunday morning raps. I just finished Lauren Groff’s book “Arcadia” and was struck by its resemblance to all I remembered about The Farm. Once I saw on the jacket cover she was from Gainesville I would have bet money she was a Farm kid. Only did research there for about a week, apparently. I still suspect she must have some Farm folk friends in Gainesville. Please keep writing … and posting pictures.

  15. Hi,
    Just read the thumb sucking entry…I totally remember feeling just as you have described….great writing. My folks liked bitter Stop and Grow….and my dad made me write pages and pages of lines…special braces with spikes finally. They had to remove them after the punctures in my thumb formed….. I loved my thumb too.
    I quit on my own eventually. Thanks for a great blog

  16. I loved reading your story! I am, researching communes,co-ops, ect ect. I’m 23 married with a two yr old girl and most importantly-the gypsy hearted of my family. I’ve craved to live the stories and gobbled any information I could from my mother and grandmother about her lifestyle raising 13 children wherever her heart took her.
    Anything you can suggest or share I would take greedily.

  17. Thank you for sharing this, my dear. I greatly enjoyed reading this. Though the time of the communes were a little after my ‘growing up’ period, these topics ad anything 60’s and 70’s – related fuels my obsession.

  18. Thank you for your blog. Your writing is so vivid and vibrant – you must have an amazing memory! Please keep writing, I’m pretty sure you could write anything you set your mind to. My favourite post, among many, is Meetings everywhere and the squaredance skirt creature. Can you tell me, what does ‘into the juice’ mean? Being too into the juice? Thanks, Anne

    • Glad you’re enjoying it! “Into the juice” meant you were being too bright, loud, center of attention, etc. Wearing make up or jewelry was “into the juice”. A little kids wanting to do a trick and asking people to watch was “into the juice”. Naming your baby something really cool was “into the juice” (and a lot of kids had to have their name changed if it was deemed too into the juice. No hippy names like Sunflower were allowed, if you showed up and your name was Sunflower, it would get changed to Susan or something).

  19. Thank you for sharing your experiences in this blog. I visited the Farm back in the 70s. After spending a day with the Farm Folk, it appeared (1) they were generally sincere well-intentioned people (2) they were utterly clueless about agriculture. I figured their commune would collapse due to their incredibly naive approach to farming, as happened several years later.
    I’m sorry that you had a deprived childhood. From your focus on food in this blog it seems clear you never had enough to eat. That must have been very tough for a young child.
    I hope you’ll continue to share your story and publish a book eventually.
    Best wishes — or should I say, Peace

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