Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pathways to Family Wellness Presents:

"Ina May and Steven Gaskin on Midwives, The Farm and Being "Technicolor Amish"" — Ina May Gaskin, the godmother of modern midwifery, and her husband, Stephen Gaskin talked to Lisa Reagan in Wasjington, D.C., July 2011,

An Impressive 4,744-Word Recognition in the New York York Times Sunday Magazine

May 23, 2012, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Mommy Wars: The Prequel; Ina May Gaskin and the Battle for at-Home Births, by Samantha M. Shapiro,

Elinor Carucci/Redux, for The New York Times
Gaskin assisting a woman at the Farm, Jane Montanaro, during a delivery.


One Monday morning last spring, Ina May Gaskin got into her golf cart and drove it down the dirt road away from her home on the Farm, a community of 175 residents on a former commune in rural Tennessee that her husband started in the 1970s. She pulled up to the community center, where she would be teaching a class on delivering breech babies. The class was part of a weeklong seminar Gaskin and her fellow midwives were offering to an eclectic group: nurse-midwifery students attending for college credit; a Boston-area family-practice doctor; midwives from around the country; and one, from Australia, who went by the one-word moniker Macca. They had traveled to this corner of southern Tennessee to learn from the founding mother of the natural-birth movement.

Gaskin began her presentation. She told the students that “at first, we brought breech pregnancies to the hospital, but we found after a while that we could deliver them here just fine. Footling breeches, which are thought to be the most difficult, in our experience, they often just slid right out.” Gaskin, who is 72, has the spry, almost Seussian presence of someone much younger. Her gray hair, trimmed since the days when she wore it in thigh-length braids, was loose and a bit wild, and she wore jeans, gardening shoes and a homemade jacket.

Gaskin, a longtime critic of American maternity care, is perhaps the most prominent figure in the crusade to expand access to, and to legalize, midwife-assisted homebirth. Although she practices without a medical license, she is invited to speak at major teaching hospitals and conferences around the world and has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Thames Valley University in England. She is the only midwife to have an obstetric procedure named for her. The Gaskin Maneuver is used for shoulder dystocia, when a baby’s head is born but her shoulders are stuck in the birth canal.

Gaskin cued up a video of a birth that took place in the 1980s. The couple, Judy and Brad, had traveled to the Farm from another state because their midwife couldn’t deliver their breech baby vaginally.

Most American doctors and midwives won’t. In 2001 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended C-sections as the best route of delivery for breech babies. Although ACOG modified that view in 2006, more than 90 percent of breech babies are now born by Caesarean, and the Farm is one of a dwindling number of places in the United States where practitioners still know how to perform vaginal breech delivery.

On the video, after five hours of pushing, Judy’s son emerged buttocks first, his tiny scrotum swollen from the pressure. Judy made increasingly urgent sounds — something between a Tuvan throat singer and a squawking chicken — as the buttocks inched out.

Gaskin paused the video. “The main danger with breech babies is that the head, the largest part of baby, is last to come out, so it may get stuck,” she told the students. “If the baby has been delivered to the umbilicus, you have five or six minutes before hypoxia sets in, but you don’t want to pull on the head if you can’t see the neck for fear of injuring the baby,” Gaskin said.

She restarted the video to show how that situation could unfold. Judy’s baby had been born up to his chest but his arms were caught alongside his head inside his mother’s body. On the DVD, a younger Gaskin, wearing a sleeveless dress, moved without a hint of nervousness. She rotated the baby’s torso vigorously to loosen it from Judy’s body; one arm emerged, but Gaskin was unable to reach in and grab a shoulder. The Tuvan throat sounds escalated.

Gaskin let the baby, half-born, hang out of his mother and dangle off the side of the bed. Using the weight of his body to traction his head into a better position, she pulled him out with a rush of bloody fluid. The boy looked a little limp, but after a vigorous rubdown and some gulps from an oxygen tank, he gave a cry. Minutes later Judy called out joyfully to another Farm midwife “Pamela, we have a baby!”

I first learned about Gaskin when I became pregnant last year. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, her books on birth are a standard part of the pregnancy canon, and I was given “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and two copies of “Spiritual Midwifery” by three different friends. Now in its fourth edition, “Spiritual Midwifery” is a heady dispatch from the Farm’s midwifery practice around 1975. It tells of how Gaskin and other women discovered that birth could be a euphoric experience, a way of accessing a uniquely female power. In first-person anecdotes of births — “I began to rush and everything got psychedelic” is a typical description — the book shows vaginal, unmedicated birth to be an unparalleled opportunity for transcendence and communion. It has been translated into six languages and sold well over half a million copies.

I viewed the book with equal parts fascination and trepidation. Gaskin’s insistence that birth is a normal life experience, not a medical event to be feared, was a welcome balm to the care I was receiving at a traditional OB/GYN practice at a major New York City teaching hospital, where my healthy pregnancy seemed to nonetheless present a set of potential problems to bang down like Whac-a-Moles. But it was hard to imagine not only getting through birth without pain medication or whining, as Gaskin prescribes, but also laughing joyously, as a hippie woman in “Spiritual Midwifery” is pictured doing as her baby crowns. The very idea of natural childbirth contained within it the possibility of an “unnatural” birth, a way to fail.

The (Home) Birther Movement

Since the 1970s, Gaskin and the other midwives at the Farm have attended an estimated 3,000 births of women who live on the property, are from the local Amish community or have come to the Farm to give birth because they have read Gaskin’s books. Approximately 2 percent of them have ended up with C-sections, and none have labored under epidural anesthesia save for one “princess,” Gaskin told me, who rented white leather furniture for her birthing cabin and ultimately had to be taken to the hospital for pain relief.

Unmedicated home birth is being chosen by a growing minority of women. Between 2004 and 2009, giving birth at home increased 29 percent. Most of this rise is among white women. Recent pregnancy documentaries like “Pregnant in America,” “Orgasmic Birth” and “The Business of Being Born” — all of which feature Gaskin — present hospital birth as profoundly disempowering to women.

Currently about one-third of all American babies are delivered surgically. Most U.S. hospitals require labor to be artificially induced if a woman goes one to two weeks past her due date. There are also often deadlines for the length of time a woman may be in labor before surgery is required, and many doctors will not perform a vaginal delivery after a previous Caesarean.

Gaskin says the American approach to birth is not serving women and babies. The United States spends more on healthcare than any other country and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care but is ranked 50th in maternal mortality and 41st in neonatal mortality. To draw attention to America’s poor maternal outcomes, Gaskin travels with a quilt; each square represents an American woman who died in childbirth.

Gaskin and many of her fellow midwives have no formal medical training, and the fact that they have good outcomes even with births that obstetricians consider high-risk — breeches, big babies and vaginal births after C-section or VBACs — is evidence, she says, that for most women less interventionist care is better.

In Gaskin’s experience, many women do not follow the labor curve that hospitals generally require of dilating approximately one centimeter per hour, and some women’s pregnancies go to 43 weeks without consequence. “Some women are stuck at two or five or seven centimeters for hours, then quickly they move several centimeters,” she said. She has found that upright positions, dim lights, eating and drinking and fewer vaginal exams speed women’s labor — none of which tend to be encouraged in a hospital.

Of course, comparing the Farm to hospitals is of limited value. Many hospitals deliver at least as many babies in a year as the Farm midwives have delivered in three decades. Women who give birth at the Farm are self-selected, and midwives screen them further, eliminating, for instance, women with complicated medical histories. Hospitals would undoubtedly have better outcomes if all pregnant women arrived in excellent health.

Nonetheless, Gaskin’s outcomes are compelling. Is it actually safer for a low-risk woman to give birth outside of the medical establishment, as Gaskin claims? In 2011, ACOG acknowledged that “the absolute risk of planned home births is low” but cited a meta-analysis of 12 home- and hospital-birth studies, called the Wax Paper, which reported a two-to-three-times-higher risk of neonatal death in home births than in hospital births. But critics have raised questions about the Wax Paper’s methodology; the study included unplanned accidental home births, for instance. Natural-birth advocates point to studies in countries where home birth and midwifery are part of mainstream medical care — in the Netherlands, 30 percent of births take place at home — which show home birth to be equally safe for the baby.

I went to Tennessee to meet Gaskin when I was five months pregnant. The Farm has the sleepy feel of a utopian community post-fervor, a slightly ruined idyll on 1,750 acres of forest. One paved road connects a network of dirt roads where trailers, solar-powered permaculture huts, a geodesic dome and regular suburban houses coexist.

Gaskin hadn’t planned to become a midwife. In 1968, having returned from the Peace Corps, she was living in San Francisco with her husband and young daughter and teaching English. She and her husband were spiritual seekers and tried LSD a few times, in hopes of “opening the doors of perception,” she told me.

"Many home birth advocates are putting women and babies at serious risk by being too dogmatically anti-medicine."

Daniel Israel, Santa Fe, NM
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Ina May and her husband went to hear Stephen Gaskin, a professor at San Francisco State College who held a weekly session called Monday Night Class, where young people processed their acid trips. “He was a little older, very charismatic and extremely sure of himself, and he could kind of speak to what was on people’s minds,” Ina May recalled.

Reed thin and over six feet tall, with long stringy brown hair and a beard, Stephen Gaskin opened class with a lecture, delivered cross-legged, drawing on geometry, Taoism or the New Testament, and then took questions. Gaskin was also married with a young daughter, and soon the two couples became involved in what was called a “four-marriage.” The relationship settled down to just Ina May and Stephen in the early 1980s.

Eventually, Stephen Gaskin’s audience grew to thousands and in 1970 he announced he was taking Monday Night Class on the road. Around 250 of his followers decided to join him in a bus caravan. Ina May, then 29, and nine other women on the trip were pregnant. The birth of Ina May’s first child had been traumatic. She was strapped down and given an episiotomy and a forceps delivery, standard hospital protocol at the time. Other women also had bad birth experiences and wanted to avoid hospitals. They passed around a Mexican midwifery manual and agreed to support one another in labor. Gaskin attended her first birth in a bus parked at Northwestern University, where Stephen Gaskin was speaking. Her main method initially was to “just be nice to the women.” After a couple of months, an obstetrician outfitted Gaskin with syringes and clamps and taught her basic emergency techniques. During the five-month trip, there was one death: Ina May’s son, born prematurely.

The participants in the caravan settled in Summertown, Tenn., in 1971. They took a vow of poverty and veganism and lived communally. Birth was a revered “sacrament.” Ina May and five other women ran a midwifery practice delivering babies of the community’s 1,200 members and nearby residents. Members built latrines, acquired horses and tractors and plowed meadows. They opened a soy “dairy” and a sorghum mill and started a book-publishing company. (Although the land is still communally owned, the Farm largely embraced capitalism in the 1980s, a traumatic event known as “the changeover.”)

The progenitor of the modern natural birth movement was a British obstetrician named Grantly Dick-Read. In his book “Childbirth Without Fear,” published in 1942, he argued that the pain of birth was primarily a result of social attitudes. Dick-Read was in part hoping to persuade working women to come back to the home and have more babies. He said that non-Western women, free from negative ideas about labor, gave birth more easily, and he recommended using fewer medical interventions.

The ideas in “Childbirth Without Fear” overlapped with the Farm’s back-to-the-land ethos and with Stephen Gaskin’s brand of spirituality, which focused on the importance of group energy and being “unafraid.” Ina May and the midwives believed that a woman’s body would open more easily when the energy in the room was relaxed and she had sorted out her fears. The midwives saw themselves as putting birth back in women’s hands and showing them their true power.

But for much of history many feminists have come out on the side of fleeing from nature, not embracing it. In the early 1900s, feminists played a significant role in moving birth out of the domain of midwives and the home and into the hospital. In 1915, a group of suffragists, professionals and housewives formed the National Twilight Sleep Association to lobby for access to scopolamine, an amnesiac that when paired with morphine allowed women to go into labor and forget the experience afterward. In retrospect, twilight sleep looks barbaric; women on the drugs thrashed violently and were often hooded or placed in cage-beds while they labored. But many women demanded it, staging meetings where they testified about the benefits of twilight-sleep birth: shorter, less painful labors, better breast feeding, fewer forceps deliveries and an easier recovery.

In the 1970s when Gaskin began advocating for natural-birth options, she found herself at odds with feminists who were focused on getting women into the workplace and out from under the constraints of family. She was even booed off the stage in 1975 by a Yale feminist group. Some feminists, like the theorist Shulamith Firestone, hoped ardently for the day when human reproduction would be handled completely by machines.

“Simone de Beauvoir said that the act of creating a baby is not volitional, so it’s basically not worth anything,” Gaskin told me. “The woman is just a passive instrument of biology. The idea then was that biology was not destiny, and we should transcend it.” But, Gaskin said, “having a female body — the ability to bring forth life — is something you could be grateful about, not repulsed by.”

Gaskin says that because midwife-assisted home birth is illegal in many states and hospital birth comes with restrictions, many women are de facto coerced into surgery or other interventions they don’t need. For Gaskin, choice in birth remains a realm of reproductive freedom that mainstream feminism, until recently, has foolishly ignored. She thinks that women should seek not just the freedom to decide whether or not to have a baby, but how to have it.

At the end of the breech-birth presentation, Gaskin got a call from another Farm midwife, Pamela Hunt, who had just delivered the baby of a woman who was staying at the Farm.

Gaskin headed to her birthing cabin. Inside, she found Hagino Hargis, who was 28, naked on a wicker bed with her tiny daughter at her breast under a heating blanket. The baby’s skin, still bluish, had a fine covering of down and was streaked with her first bowel movement. Tiny veins were visible through translucent aquatic eyelids. Her cord, twisted like a fiber-optic cable, was still attached to the placenta, which bubbled lightly in a bloodied salad bowl next to Hargis. Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” played.

Hargis had driven from Kentucky with her husband, 3-year-old son and mother the previous week as she neared term. Her primary midwife was Hunt, and Gaskin planned on attending the birth. But after a week of going for walks, baking cakes and painting a labyrinth to meditate on during labor, Hargis had given birth very quickly. Hunt barely had time to get her gloves on when she arrived and found Hargis on her hands and knees, about to deliver.

“I was going to call you,” Hargis said apologetically when Gaskin came in, “but I just wasn’t sure it was the real thing because the contractions stayed far apart.”

“That’s O.K., you did everything perfect,” Hunt said reassuringly.

“Mommy going to eat it,” Kanase, the 3-year-old, volunteered, pointing at the quivering placenta.

“Did you decide about the antibiotics?” Hunt asked Hargis and her husband.

Hargis looked uncertain. In hospitals, babies’ eyes are routinely covered with antibiotic ointment to prevent infection that can be passed through the birth canal. In most states, the procedure is required by law. Farm midwives also recommend using the ointment — they know that some infections can be asymptomatic and they think the ointment is harmless. Some women don’t want to use it, however, because they have concerns about antibiotics and because the ointment temporarily blurs the baby’s vision and they think it interfers with bonding. The midwives then advise of the risks and let the woman decide. Hargis had tested positive for bacterial vaginosis. “What do most people do?” she asked Hunt. “Usually, it’s a 50-50 split,” Hunt told her. “But most people don’t test positive for B.V. You don’t want her to get an infection — if it happens, it’s a bad situation.”

Hargis looked to her husband. “She’s getting antibodies from your colostrum,” he said. “I think we’ll skip it.”

OB-GYNs are very vulnerable to lawsuits. According to the Physician Insurers Association of America, they pay the most in damages of any medical specialty. The charge frequently leveled against practitioners is that they did not offer a medical intervention or did not offer it early enough. In a hospital’s risk analysis, it makes sense for many babies to have their vision briefly, sometimes unnecessarily, blurred to prevent a single case of blindness, or for a certain number of women to undergo unnecessary C-sections to prevent a single neonatal death.

Lawsuits aren’t an issue in Gaskin’s world. Her midwifery clinic has never purchased malpractice insurance or been sued. For years, when the commune was a true collective, she did not even accept payment for attending births. Farm midwives give intimate intensive prenatal care and have a high degree of trust with their patients. That’s why, Gaskin said, in 2006 when a breech baby she delivered became temporarily stuck and suffered permanent neurological problems, the parents did not sue. “We thoroughly discussed the issues, and they didn’t see a reason to be punishing,” Gaskin told me.

Midwifery was outlawed in some states as an independent profession at the turn of the century. Soon after, it was reinvented as an extension of a nursing degree, under the management of obstetrics. Today certified nurse midwives largely practice in hospitals and generally rely on obstetricians to grant them privileges. In 1982 Gaskin and other midwives created an organization, called Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). Later, some members helped found the North American Registry of Midwives, which credentials midwives who haven’t necessarily been trained in medical institutions and aren’t beholden to their priorities. The registry, whose accreditation office is in a trailer on the Farm, grants an alternative certification and title — certified professional midwife (C.P.M.) — in the 27 states where the practice is legal.

When I visited the Farm, Gaskin was planning to travel to testify at the trial of a C.P.M., Karen Carr, who delivered a breech baby in a home in Virginia who died. Carr lived and practiced in Maryland, but Virginia requires a license in addition to certification, and because Carr didn’t have one, she was charged with involuntary manslaughter. (She pleaded guilty to lesser charges.) I pressed Gaskin about the case. Wouldn’t that particular baby have been better off in a hospital? She conceded that his life would have been saved but said that hospital birth comes with its own risks. “What bothers me are all the cases of women or babies who die due to unnecessary C-sections or postoperative infections or hospital errors,” she said, pointing to cases in the U.S. and Canada in which women died from complications from elective repeat C-sections. She says that when something goes wrong in a home birth, critics use it as evidence that home birth is dangerous, but when women die from embolism or hemorrhage after surgery, people don’t attack hospitals. “No one ever says those women were selfish for giving birth in a hospital, and no one ever blames the concept of a hospital birth,” she said.

Gaskin’s ideas about a less medicalized environment being conducive to labor made sense to me. But I wasn’t comfortable with any risk, however small, of something going wrong at a home birth, and I thought I might want pain relief. So midway through my pregnancy I switched from my obstetrician to a certified nurse midwife in a well-regarded New York hospital.

When I reached my due date, an ultrasound estimated that my baby weighed 9.4 pounds. I didn’t have gestational diabetes and had gained an average amount of weight, and fetal tests showed my baby was thriving. But the baby’s estimated size, combined with the fact that he hadn’t yet descended into my pelvis, worried my midwife.

She wanted the baby out by 41 weeks, and to my surprise, she suggested I consider going straight to surgery without labor. She sent me to be evaluated by a doctor she worked with. “One way or another, this baby will be a C-section,” he said.

I wanted to avoid induction or surgery, so eight days postdate, I drank castor oil, said to be a homeopathic labor inducer, and it worked. I was admitted to the hospital 12 hours later, four centimeters dilated. At the hospital my water broke, and I dilated another centimeter. But after two more hours without change, I was told I wasn’t progressing. The midwife pressed for a C-section, saying if I continued to labor I risked the chance of infection or shoulder dystocia. Bigger babies are at a greater risk for this complication, which in rare cases results in stillbirth or injury to the baby. It’s impossible to predict which babies will get stuck — average-size babies get caught, too — but when they do, it can be terrifying. Shoulder dystocia is also a major cause of obstetric lawsuits.

ACOG’s report about shoulder dystocia acknowledges that once a baby is thought to be big, practitioners are more likely to diagnose “failure to progress” or recommend surgery.

My son’s heart rate was strong, and I wanted to keep laboring. It was hard to make my case, though; I had been up all night and was hungry — in most hospitals women are prohibited from eating while in labor in the rare event that they might need general anesthesia. The midwife told us, “You don’t want to wait until the baby shows signs of distress — at that point it’s too late.” I negotiated for two more hours, made no further progress and then, under pressure, agreed to surgery. It was the kind of coercion by dint of not offering any other options that Gaskin talks about.

I was laid down with my arms on planks, a sheet dividing my head from my lower body. I was given a shot of spinal anesthesia, which caused me to shake — a common side-effect, although I didn’t know it at the time — so hard that my jaw would be sore for weeks. I felt a raw ache as my belly was cut. My husband was brought into the operating room; he saw blood on the floor and my shaking, and he felt terrified. He tried to reassure me. Soon, we heard the cry of our son, and he was handed, wrapped in a blanket, to my stunned husband. I couldn’t see the baby clearly because I couldn’t hold my head still. My husband couldn’t focus on the baby because he was worried about me. Then the anesthesiologist gave me a shot — “it will put you out just for a bit,” she said, and it did.

About 20 minutes after I woke from surgery, still shaking and out of it, I got to hold my son. He was alert and impossibly beautiful, with a single dimple and eyes open wide as satellite dishes, receiving everything.

Later, when I sat him up on my lap, his head dropped somnolently forward and he curled into a ball. It was the position he held inside my body and, still narcotized and sluiced with postpartum hormones, I cried in recognition and sorrow. We had grown together over 10 months, continuously shifting shape in response to each other, sharing every flight of stairs, dance party, bad mood. Having him cut out of my body felt like a rupture, and now I was too physically wrecked to even lift him from his bassinet.

My diagnosis — arrested dilation or “failure to progress” — is estimated to account for approximately 60 percent of American C-sections. In Gaskin’s practice, the failure-to-progress diagnosis doesn’t exist. When we discussed my birth story, months later on the phone, she told me she thought a bath, a nap, a snack, some encouraging words — or just a chance to labor without the threat of various catastrophes hanging over my head — might have kick-started my labor. Who knows if any of that would have worked, but I wish alternatives had been offered to me before surgery, because neither my son nor I were in any immediate danger. The most important thing to me is that my son emerged healthy. Still, I would like to have been more present for his arrival and in better shape during his first weeks, when just rolling over or sitting up hurt, and I worry about the risk for serious complications — uterine rupture, hysterectomy, endometriosis — I now face in any future pregnancies.

Yet I would still not choose to go to rural Tennessee — more than an hour from a top-level N.I.C.U. ward in Nashville — to be able to have more of a say in how I give birth. I wouldn’t even choose to have a do-over in my apartment, 10 minutes from a hospital. And although I like aspects of the home-birth experience, I’m put off by some of the dogma that can accompany the movement. In their rush to defend unmedicated births, natural-birth advocates sometimes fetishize them, saying for instance that the first moments after birth present a unique opportunity to bond that is forever lost when the mother’s and baby’s systems are flooded by anesthesia or other drugs. “The Business of Being Born” shows an image of a baby screaming alone in a hospital bassinet as a narrator intones: “When chimpanzees give birth by C-section, they don’t take care of their babies. It’s that simple.”

It’s not that simple, of course, and it is unfortunate that the choices and the rhetoric around birth — like many of the choices and rhetoric around motherhood in general — are so polarized. It should be possible both to have a baby in a place that doesn’t have financial and legal incentives to medicalize a low-risk pregnancy and to still have immediate access to top-level care if it’s needed. It shouldn’t be necessary to leave the medical establishment entirely to give birth vaginally to a breech baby or after a previous Caesarean. It should be possible both to acknowledge that something real was lost in the way my baby was born and to know that this loss is finite; there is not one pure route to authentic motherhood. Eight months with my son have offered ample evidence that there is not only one opportunity for joy.

Samantha M. Shapiro is a contributing writer for the magazine.

Editor: Ilena Silverman

A version of this article appeared in print on May 27, 2012, on page MM18 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Mommy Wars: The Prequel.

Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin


Credit: Elinor Carucci/Redux, for The New York Times
Gene (left) and Jane Montanaro with their son, Odin Montanaro, just born. The Farm aims to offer a less medicalized, more relaxed environment during childbirth, with dim lighting, soft music and encouraging words meant to reduce anxiety and, therefore, pain.

Credit: David Frohman
Gaskin and many of her fellow midwives have no formal medical training, and the fact that they have good outcomes even with births that obstetricians consider high-risk — breeches, big babies and vaginal births after C-section or VBACs — is evidence, she says, that for most women less interventionist care is better.
Here, Gaskin, right, with two other midwives and a pregnant patient in 1976.

Credit: David Frohman
Since the 1970s, Gaskin and the other midwives at the Farm have attended an estimated 3,000 births of women who live on the property, are from the local Amish community or have come to the Farm to give birth because they have read Gaskin’s books.
Here, Gaskin and other midwives at the Farm in 1975, with many of the children they had delivered.

Credit: David Frohman
In the May 27 issue of the magazine, Samantha M. Shapiro writes about Ina May Gaskin, the original home-birth evangelist. A longtime critic of American maternity care, Gaskin is perhaps the most prominent figure in the crusade to expand access to, and to legalize, midwife-assisted homebirth.

Here, Gaskin in 1974.

Credit: Elinor Carucci/Redux, for The New York Times
Gaskin, now 72, lives on the Farm, a community of 175 residents on a former commune in Tennessee. She has operated a midwifery practice there since her husband’s founding of the original commune in 1971.

Here, Gene and Jane Montanaro with their newborn son, Odin.

Credit: Elinor Carucci/Redux, for The New York Times
Odin Luc Montanaro, born at 1:11 a.m. on March 27, 7 pounds.


What Was It Like To Grow Up On 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 Tennessee. It 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 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. I'm Going to Do My Best to Share What It Was Like From the Viewpoint of My Child Self Who Knew No Different Starting From the Beginning…

The Farm Hippy Commune, Summerville, Tennessee

Images of life on The Farm appropriated with great gratitude from an anonymous blog:

What Was It Like To Grow Up On 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 Tennessee. It 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 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. I'm Going to Do My Best to Share What It Was Like From the Viewpoint of My Child Self Who Knew No Different Starting From the Beginning…

Hundreds of Children

What Farming Looks Like in the Real World.

The Community Communing.

When It's Time to Build---Build Big.

"Techy guys recording Sunday Services"

"Stephen 'rapping' at Sunday Services"

More appropriated web gleanings:

The Hippie New Age Christ And The Second Coming, by Thomas Ivan Dahlheimer,

Wahkon writes

The hippie counterculture revolution is making a comeback and its leaders will soon usher in a new age and new world order. The spirituality of the New-Age hippies of the 1960s has found its way into many Christian Churches. This is causing a growing number of Christians to radically transform their faith, so that it embraces the hippie New-Age Hindu/Buddhist spiritual philosophy. Many are doing this to prepare themselves and the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The hippies' New-Age spirituality of the 1960s is now being called the New Spirituality. A big part of what is causing the New Spirituality to increase in popularity is the fact that modern-day scientific discovery has revealed that, both, the central foundational dogma of Christianity/Catholicism is a false dogma and Hindu beliefs and scientific truth are compatible.

One of the leaders of the New Spirituality movement is the internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian Rev. Matthew Fox, a former Roman Catholic priest. He will be one of the speakers at "The New Spirituality" session during an up coming Science and Nonduality Conference.

Some of the people who have embraced the New Spirituality say they are of a " new form of Roman Catholicism" and that they now have a " new eschatology." They are beyond the dogmatic boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. However, they believe that eventually the Holy See will "deconstruct" the church and then establish a new church that will have the New Spirituality. I also believe that a new church will be established. And I believe that it will be named the Wahkon Catholic Church.

I became a hippie in the late 1960s. After my conversion to the hippie revolution I left my home town of Anoka, Minnesota and travailed to the San Francisco Bay Area of California where I met and became friends with Richard H. Carter, one of the leaders of hippie counterculture revolution. After spending a few years in the Bay Area I moved back to Anoka. It was not long after I returned to Anoka that I then moved to Wahkon, Minnesota.

After moving to Wahkon I came to believe that I was in the prophetic forefront of the hippie counterculture revolution and that I and my relatives of the Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Rainbow family, my extended maternal kinship family, would eventually come together in kinship tribalism in the town of Wahkon, Minnesota, and that the Rainbow family would then, with help from close associates, usher in a new age and new world order.

During the 1983 Mr. & Mrs. I. C. Rainbow family reunion my uncle Don Rainbow addressed the seventeen families gathered at that Rainbow family reunion and said: "A Rainbow is a sign of God's salvation plan, and I believe that we may be used to glorify God more than any other family in the world."

Don Rainbow made this very grandiose statement after I spoke to him about (1.) my 1983 Tekakwitha Conference meeting with the (mentioned above) world renowned Rev. Matthew Fox, a visionary and author, who was the keynote speaker at the 1983 annual Tekakwitha Conference, a Roman Catholic Native conference representing over one hundred tribes, and (2.) my mission to bring the I.C. Rainbow family together in kinship tribalism to promote the tribal way and my expression of the hippie countercultural revolution.

This article presents an update on my Rainbow family mission. Here's one recent key development: The Mille Lacs Messenger, a Minnesota county newspaper, recently published a letter of mine titled Revolution. The letter is about my Rainbow family mission.

Some more key developments:

On July 25, 2013 - the creator and webmaster of an interactive website with over 225,000 registered members Skip Stone posted my Mille Lacs Messenger letter Revolution on his website. We correspond and he has a special section on his popular Hippyland or website, a section/site named, where he, on the main page, has, for years, exclusively posted articles of mine. Some of my Hippyland articles are about my Rainbow family mission. My letter "Revolution" is posted on with a new title: A Revival Of The 1960s Countercultural Revolution.

On August 6, 2013 - Indian Country Today Media Network, the world's largest Indian news source, posted my letter "Revolution" as a comment to Steven Newcomb's article A Path for Indian Nations to Liberate Themselves From U.S. Colonialism? My comment is one of two selective ICTMN comments posted on this article by Newcomb. In the introduction to the ICTMN post of my letter "Revolution" I state that the letter is about "a plan to liberate Indigenous peoples from colonialism."

Three recently published Mille Lacs Messenger (MLM) letters of mine, American Colonialism, On Neo Conservatives and Agenda 21, were lead-in letters to my letter "Revolution." My lead-in letter titled "On Neo Conservatives," was posted on two special ICTMN articles prior to the posting of my letter "Revolution." One of the articles was written by Winona LaDuke. Its title is When Drones Guard the Pipeline: Militarizing Fossil Fuels in the East. The other article was written by Steven Newcomb. Its title is One Nation, Under Domination, With Liberty and Justice for None. Both LaDuke and Newcomb are world renowned Indigenous/Indian activists. Only a few selective comments were posted on their articles.

Also, prior to the ICTMN posting of my letter "Revolution," my MLM letter American Colonialism was posted on Newcomb's ICTMN article U.S. Colonialism: The Cornerstone of U.S. Indian Policy. Only three comments were posted on the article.

Indigenous Peoples Literature, a very popular news source, or site, that has received over 10,000,000 visitors, posted the same three MLM letters that ICTMN posted: American Colonialism, On Neo Conservatives and Revolution.

Steven Newcomb is an ICTMN columnist and world renowned Indigenous activist who is on the forefront of the global Indigenous decolonization movement and he works closely with the United Nations. We correspond and he has given his assistance with activists initiatives of mine. ICTMN has published or posted several comments and letters of mine. Some of the comments are posted on articles by Newcomb. One ICTMN letter is partially about the assistance I received from Newcomb when I was working on a draft Minnesota Apology Resolution - a draft resolution that was eventually completed, edited by Rep. Dean Urdahl, and then introduced as a house concurrent resolution to the Minnesota legislature.

A submitted facebook post of mine, which included a link to Skip Stone's post of my MLM letter "Revolution", was approved and is now displayed on Daniel Quinn's facebook site. Mr. Quinn is a world renowned visionary. He is on a mission to retribalize the world. His name, plus information about his visionary mission, is presented in my MLM letter "Revolution", a letter that is (on my site) titled My Mission To Retribalize The World.

Richard Carter and Steven Gaskin

In the late 1960s Richard Carter often attended Stephen Gaskin's Monday Night Class at the Family Dog Ballroom in San Francisco, California. Around 1500 hippies participated in the class. At that time Carter met and spoke with Gaskin a few times. Several years ago a letter of mine to Gaskin's hippie community, a community located in a rural area of Tennessee and called "The Farm", was published in the community's newsletter. The letter states that when Gaskin's hippie community was forming in the San Francisco Bay Area...Richard Carter, his wife (Lois) and I were beginning to get a commune together to leave the Bay Area and move to a rural area. And that, at that time, we traveled to the town of Wahkon, located in a rural area of Minnesota, where we, for a while, pursued the goals of our countercultural mission. The letter also states that I believed that, in due time, Richard, Lois and I would be together again in Wahkon pursuing the same countercultural goals, and eventually successful at accomplishing our countercultural goals.

Monday Night Class at the Family Dog Ballroom

Richard Carter recently began corresponding with me and he has given me some assistance with my mission. He has indicated that he now supports my indigenous peoples' rights activist work and related hippie countercultural, Rainbow family mission. He is an environmentalist who was the Governor of Arizona's Environmental Delegate to both the U.S./Mexico Border Governor's and Mayor's Conferences for five consecutive years and Co-Chairman of the Arizona Environmental Technology Industry Cluster.

Richard Carter is the Founding President of the 200+ member Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society. It is based in Tucson, Arizona and named Carter Affiliates, Inc. Resources for the Environment (CARE)

Albert Bates

Albert Bates is a hippie icon. As stated in my MLM letter Revolution "Bates is the spokes person for Stephen Gaskin's world-renowned hippie community." Bates is the author of the book Climate in Crisis, introduced by Al Gore. As an attorney Bates argued environmental and civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and drafted a number of legislative Acts during a 26-year legal career.

On the home page of Skip Stone's Hippyland website there is a list of "Old Articles." My article Creating a new culture based on tribal values is located on the top of the list. When I wrote the article I was of a somewhat hippie New Age expression of Catholicism and moving toward a full convertion to the hippie New Age spiritual philosophy within the "new form of Roman Catholicism." I made that convertion and I am no longer a member of the Roman Catholic Church. My Hippyland/ article presents some information about Bates and his correspondence with me.

An old article of mine titled "A 1960s hippie activist" is displayed on Skip Stone's Hippyland "Activist Spotlight" forum. The article, plus my introduction to it, is displayed on my website. My introduction to the article includes information about Albert Bates and his correspondence with me.

Bates is also an influential figure in the intentional community and ecovillage movements. He served on the steering committee of Plenty International for 18 years, focussing on relief and development work with indigenous peoples, human rights and the environment.

Two more articles about my mission:

Another article about my mission is titled Constance Cumbey, Matthew Fox and the "New Age Christ." It was written in response to Constancy Cumbey's blog post about me. It is titled The Fifth Seal? The Persecution of the Church? Cumbey's best-selling book The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow is credited as "being successful at waking the Christian church up to the New Age movement." Cumbey identified the New Age movement as the movement that will produce the biblical "end-time Antichrist" and then establish a New World Order. In her blog post about me and my "close affiliation" with the world renowned Rev. Matthew Fox, Cumbey indicates that she believes that I could be the "end-time Antichrist" or "New Age Christ."

The rainbow is a sign of the New Age movement. I am of the hippie expression of the New Age movement and working to evangelize my Rainbow family to it. I believe that eventually I and my Rainbow family relatives, along with some close assocoates/friends of the Rainbow family, will usher in a New establish the fullness of Kingdom of God on earth. (Rev. 4:2, "..., and there was a rainbow round about the throne,...")

A webpage of mine titled Science and Religion presents several MLM letters that explain why I left traditional Christianity, but remained a follower of Jesus Christ.

Today, Jesus Christ is my divine New-Age Hindu/Buddhist guru. He is my hippie guru and New Age leader who has the most glorious mission.

I believe in Sri Yukteswar's teaching: "Jesus meant, never that he was the sole Son of God, but that no man can attain the unqualified Absolute, the transcendent Father beyond creation, until he has first manifested the 'Son' or activating Christ Consciousness within creation. Jesus, who had achieved entire onenness with that Christ consciousness, identified himself with it inasmuch as his own ego had long since been dissolved."

I also believe that some of the scriptures were inspired by God and that the other Bible scriptures were written by people who were influenced by a supernatural being who was evil and very deceptive. And I believe that because of what modern day science has discovered about the origin and evolution of life on earth-people who accept the truth [revealed by science] now know that the central foundational dogma of Christianity, a dogma based on the Bible's thesis, is a false dogma and deceptive lie.

When the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote about the scriptures that form the thesis of the Bible, they wrote: "The whole Bible is spanned by the narrative of the first creation (Gn 1:3) and the vision of a restored creation at the end of history" (RV. 21:1-4). The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says: "Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins" (CCC, n. 2336). A Bible scripture states that "the creation itself", will be "delivered from bondage to corruption." (Romans 8:21)

Scientific discovery has revealed that the creation was not originally pure, or without death and corruption, prior to the exsistence of the first human beings on earth. This proves that the creation could not have fallen into "the bondage to corruption", causing the death principle to enter the world, at the time when the first humans ("Adam and Eve") committed "original sin." Therefore the creation can not be "restored to the purity of its origins."

Let us examine the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that describe the supposed original purity of the creation.

St. Symeon explicitly stated that not only Paradise was incorrupt before the Fall: everything, the whole creation, was without death and corruption.

St. John of Damascus wrote: "The creation of all things is due to God, but corruption came in afterwards due to our wickedness. For God did not make death, neither does He take delight in the destruction of living things. But death is the work rather of man, that is, its origin is in Adam's transgression."

St. Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote: "Plants were not subjected either to decay or to diseases; both decay and diseases and the weeds themselves, appeared after the alteration of the earth following the fall of man."

St. Basil the Great wrote: "It is customary for vultures to feed on corpses, but since there were not yet corpses, nor yet their stench, so there was not yet such food for vultures. But all followed the diet of swans and all grazed the meadows, the beasts were not carnivores, such was the first creation, and such will be the restoration after this."

Violent complex carnivorous animals came into existence on earth around 550 million years before the first humans came into existence. Contrary to what Bible scriptures and the Christian religion teach, for hundreds of millions of years before "Adam and Eve" there were a lot of corpses for carnivores animals to eat. The creation was not originally pure. From the origin of life on earth there was a measure of violents and corruption that existed, as well as death. Since the origin of life on earth death and corruption have ruled the world.

I believe that, today, everyone who is not caught up in a religious delusion knows that the above statements by saints are not true and that the creation was not originally "pure" and then fell into "the bondage to corruption" when the first humans ("Adam and Eve") sinned. Therefore, I believe that people who know the truth believe that the scriptures that form the thesis of the Bible are false and very deceptive.

I also believe that the scriptures that warn Christians about the "end-time Antichrist" are deceptive. I believe that the "end-time Antichrist" is actually a good guy who will establish the fullness of the Kingdom of God on earth.

In Cumbey's blog post about me she wrote: "Lee Penn and I have both wondered out loud if Mr. Dahlheimer had read our respective books and took everything we warned against as something positive and wonderful for the world. Cumbey later wrote, Lee Penn and I were correct: Dahlheimer has inverted everything! Lee Penn will be on air with me tomorrow night. We will be talking about Thomas Dahlheimer."

Bishop William Swing is the President and Founder of the United Religions Initiative (URI), an international organization affiliated with the United Nations and modeled after the UN. Not long after Bishop Swing accepted Matthew Fox as an Episcopal priest, Lee Penn wrote: "The interfaith movement, including the URI, is being promoted by globalist and New Age reformers who favor erosion of national sovereignty, marginalization of traditional religions, establishment of 'global governance', and creation of a new, Earth-based 'global spirituality' -- in effect, a one-world religion. Therefore, the URI and the interfaith movement are poised to become the spiritual foundation of the New World Order." Cumbey and Penn "warn agianst" this. I believe it is "something positive and wonderful for the world."

Archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, a world-renowned theologian and former president of a Pontifical Council, called the UN led global ethic movement an "eco-religion". He said it manifests itself "as a new spirituality that supplants all religions, because the latter have been unable to preserve the ecosystem."

I believe that hippie New Age reformers will eventually gain recognition as being in the prophetic forefront of the "global governance" and "Earth-based global spirituality" movement and that these hippie New Age reformers, especiallly including myself and other members of my Rainbow family, will then usher in a New Age and New World Order.

Another article about my mission is titled The Latter Rain/New Age Movement. It's also located on the Creation Spirituality Communities website. In this article I first show how two different movements are similar, the New Age movement and the Christian "Manifest Sons of God" movement. I then explain how I incorporated the Manifest Sons of God "dominion theology" into my hippie expression of the New Age movement. A part of the article reads:

"The New Agers believed they were gods. The Manifest Sons of God likewise taught that if one accepted their 'new revelation' that they themselves would actually become Christ at the time of the unveiling or 'manifestation of the Sons of God.'" (Romans 8:19)

"This teaching is part of what is known as 'dominion theology' which teaches that an elite army of 'overcomers' will either destroy or subdue all the enemies of Christ until they eventually gain power and authority throughout the world. The government of the nations will be upon their shoulders and when all the secular authorities, governments, princes and kings have finally submitted to them, Christ will return and they will present the kingdom to him."

"What is about to come upon the earth is not just a revival, or another awakening; it is a veritable revolution."

Steve Gaskin - The Farm, Yogi Bhajan - 3HO, Swami Satchidananda - Integral Yoga
Speaking to the audience at Holy Man Jam, Boulder, CO June 1970 © Lisa Law

Youths exalting at Holy Man Jam, Boulder, CO, June 1970
Photo by Robert Altman


Stephen Gaskin (1935 - ), ca. 1969. Gaskin's commune, The Farm, still exists.

In 1966, Stephen Gaskin began giving his "Monday night talks" in San Francisco, synthesizing a variety of esoteric ideas with a "back-to-the-land" ethic, resulting in the eventual formation of The Farm (TN), an alternative spiritual community. In 1967, at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco, Abraham Maslow, borrowing heavily from eastern ideas, initiated the beginning of Transpersonal Psychology which has continued to draw on and to inform esoteric thought in America and to do scientific testing on advanced practitioners of Eastern esotericism (133). In 1968, Joan Gibson formed the Church of Inner Wisdom, combining the teaching of New Thought with emphasis on psychic abilities, "macro-ontology," and the teachings of various prophets and leaders of world traditions(134). During the 1970s, Counter-cultural movements in American and Europe led many to embrace western esoteric and eastern ideas or practices and to positively engage with other cultures. A single memorable example is the 1971 publication by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) of his Be Here Now, Remember, an extremely popular text outlining his trip to India and giving a poetic rendition of new insights into an east-west synthesis and esotericism.

Council of Elders

This is the message we heard from the Council of Elders at the EarthDance 2006.  The Council was comprised of ambassadors from around the world, representing a wide range of ethnic, religious and social groups.  From a Mongolian shaman to a living Chinese Buddha to Wavy Gravy they spoke with one voice, declaring that now is the time for all good people to unite as one, to share their knowledge, prophecies and experience for the good of all.

Earthdance is symbolic of a new renaissance of awareness that is sweeping around the globe.  Everywhere people are waking up to the idea that we must unite in order to survive what is coming.  Indeed, Earthdance is a Global Festival for Peace, with people in 250 locations in 50 countries from Argentina to Zambia participating in the event.
The highlights of the festival were the Council of Elders and the Prayer for Peace where the Elders gathered onstage to lead the prayer which was simultaneously occurring in those 250 locations and elsewhere around the world.

St. Stephen entralls as always

Off to the right were the people like St. Stephen Gaskin and his wife Ina May Gaskin, as well as Guatemalan and Colombian healers.  Source


If spiritually-based collectivism is a path to actualization, then the award for "The Most Well Worn" would go, hands down, to The Farm,

If an evolved ethos and practice of intentional community and cooperation are integral to saving the world from humanity, then The Farm's history ought to be required study for those who would pursue it.

The Farm is the oldest and biggest intentional community. It's lasted longer than any others (from the sixties, at least). It once had as many as 1,500 members, a dozen locations and numerous service activities across the nation and abroad. It's aspired to foster spiritual growth, world peace and ecological harmony for over four decades.

The spiritual precepts of The Farm are not based upon the scriptures, teachings or dogma of organized western religions. The Farm's spirituality is a product of 1) the societal conditions of the Sixties within which they were formed and 2) the passionate efforts, predominantly of "the young generation," to explore and construct more promising alternatives. The very definition of radical: extreme, non-traditional; favoring drastic change. Even on the spiritual level.

The forces defining the times were toxic: the tragic escalation of the Vietnam War; impending atomic apocalypse; the reprehensible complicity and obedience of media and the monolithic mainstream population to militarism; fascistic demands for rote, unexamined conformity to superficial, repressive religious dogma and social and sexual mores; racism and sexism; the mechanistic, soul-sucking, morally bankrupt processes of corrupt capitalism, fraudulent government and the laws of the establishment upon students and workers; Madison Avenue's devious commercial propaganda, epitomized in subliminal advertising; the gathering environmental storm being fueled by scientific hubris and industrial-strength greed, as revealed in Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring, Murray Bookchin's Our Synthetic Environment and other exposés.

The inquisitive minds among which future Farm members' thoughts and beliefs were developing found instruction in political philosophy, the history of social justice and revolution, and Eastern religion. They practiced activism and civil disobedience. The contemporary creative community affirmed their judgments and rebellions. Underground, some experimented with anarchism and militant opposition. And most received copious amounts of marijuana and head-spinning psychedelic experiences, which resonated, vibrated actually, with many.
And they were nourished by meditation and the calming, hopeful pursuit of enlightenment, inner peace, global equilibrium, and cosmic union.

The Farm today is far different from that which was founded. There are a few people who have been called or who have called themselves co-founders of The Farm. Certainly the efforts and achievements of The Farm have required and involved massive collective action. And the role of "leadership" has changed substantially. But the farm had a founding leader who was the spiritual guide, and that was Stephen Gaskin.

Because of this, some considered The Farm a cult. The Farm addresses this claim as follows:

Although we had our own jargon and other social eccentricities, in my opinion we did not cross the line to true cult status. Anyone was free to go at any time. We valued and encouraged relationships with your parents and family. All of us had our own psychedelic experiences that formed the foundation for our belief that we are all one, rather than relying on Stephen's experiences or believing a book to be the word of God. - The Farm FAQs

All this is true. As we know about such circumstances, however, the "freedom" to come and go would mean letting go of the pursuit of one's spiritual mission within the context of The Farm, under the guidance of a strong leader, among kindred spirits, relationships with whom had been forged in the fires of rebellion and hardship, ties that would not be so easily severed, even though one was "free" to do so.

One need only glance at a handful of photos of those early days to know that Stephen was the cause of The Farm, which originated as a San Francisco "happening."

Tellingly, there appears to be as much information in the world on Stephen as there is on The Farm, though both are well covered. Accounts on both subjects vary. I can't claim to have completely teased out fact from fiction, anecdote from myth, or an inside scoop from sour grapes, grudges or gossip. But there's a fascinating story and some clear, hard lessons to be had here nevertheless.

Stephen Gaskin (born February 16, 1935) is a counterculture hippie icon best known for his presence in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1960s and for co-founding "The Farm", a famous spiritual intentional community in Summertown, Tennessee. He was a Green Party presidential primary candidate in 2000 on a platform which included campaign finance reform, universal health care, and decriminalization of marijuana. He is the author of over a dozen books, a father, a grandfather, a teacher, a musician (drummer), a semantic rapper, a public speaker, a political activist, a philanthropic organizer, and a self-proclaimed professional hippie.


He went to prison in 1974 for marijuana possession, as members of the community had, against his recommendation, planted several marijuana plants on the property.[2] He served one year of a three-year sentence.[2] While in prison, a class action suit on his behalf returned voting rights to more than a quarter of a million convicts.


Gaskin was recipient of the first Right Livelihood Award in 1980 and an inductee into the Counterculture Hall of Fame in 2004. He was awarded the Golden Bolt Award by The Farm Motor Pool (for helping buy a lemon semi), and won the Guru-Off (without even entering), racking up 77 points to Krishnamurti’s 73. - wikipedia/Steven Gaskin

Note: per the Right Livelihood Award list of laureates, Hassan Fathy of Egypt also received an award in 1980, "for developing 'Architecture for the Poor.'" Stephen and Plenty International (AKA "Plenty"), an organization established and run by Farm members, were acknowledged "for caring, sharing and acting on behalf of those in need at home and abroad."

Beginning in early '67, Stephen -- then an assistant professor of creative writing, semantics and English literature at San Francisco State -- cultivated a following by holding free Monday night "classes" in a series of increasingly larger venues.

By 1969, with regular attendance of about 1,500, class moved to the Family Dog On the Great Highway, a rock hall. The Dog was owned by Chet Helms, who founded Big Brother and the Holding Company and recruited Janis Joplin. He also had an event production and promotion company called "The Family Dog," and he was, by many accounts, father of the Summer of Love (1967).

"The San Francisco Rock and Roll scene was invented by the Family Dog and the Charlatans. All we wanted to do was throw a big dance to raise money to buy land in Arizona to run a mail order pet cemetery." - Travus T Hipp (quote source)

Stephen and his audience sought a paradigm to unify the impulses, understandings and possibilities that the sixties (on acid) had awakened.

For many, the "trip" revealed an immediate, compelling intimation of oneness. Oneness was considered, prima facie, of supreme spiritual import. It made the need for peace and love both obvious and vital. And this oneness extended to the natural world. The trip was seen as a door to spiritual dimensions and new understandings of reality. One such epiphany recognized oneness on the material "plane" as the connection shared by all matter and energy through constant flux and exchanges within the atomic and quantum web.

Pretty sure this is where "far out" and "heavy" came from. :)

In this sense, conflict and violence with "others" is a war with "I," "I" being everything at once: people and nature. Volence and war among people or between man and nature became not merely not good but not good for anything. Ever. A complete dead end.

When people came to a class for the first time, they were usually somewhere on this line of thought. Some were nearer the beginning:

"Stephen's spellbinding tales of telepathy, amazing trips, realizations and apparent quantum leap in spiritual development -- encouraged me to trip," Stiriss writes. "Now, I believed I was tripping not just for myself, but for all Mankind. I was tripping to get enlightened, to save the world from ignorance, poverty and war." - Melvin Stiriss

Others came to him already much farther along.

"We were the kind of people who came out of the drug experience of the Sixties, who acknowledged vibrations and other realms of existence besides the material plane. We'd seen the Vietnam conflict escalate and many of us had been tear-gassed in the streets. We'd had some kind of spiritual realization that we were all

One and that peace and love were the obvious untried answers to the problems facing our society; many of us had given up our material possessions before we even met Stephen. That's the kind of people who started the Farm experiment." -Matthew McClure

The class did more than simply turn these concepts over in its mind.

Stephen would say, "Lets talk about how we're gonna be." Not "how we're gonna stop the war" or "how we're gonna make it fair," but "how we're gonna be." - America's Communal Religions

Having arrived at an understanding of how oneness, love, peace and the environment were related, the class also examined what it would mean to "be" that understanding in the world. Steven had the intellectual background, the spiritual awareness, and the charisma to lead that discussion. And that's why others followed.

As we shall see, the community of the class was not only contemplating "how to be", but preparing for putting those Words In Action. ;^)

Note: Stephen's wikipedia entry does not mention his equally illustrious and influential wife, Ina May Gaskin. I've done the same but will describe her and work on The Farm at a later point.