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Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune

Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune

by Tom Fels, Daniel Aaron (Foreword by)

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This book tells the story of Montague Farm, an early back-to-the land communal experiment in western Massachusetts, from its beginning in 1968 through the following thirty-five years of its surprisingly long life. Drawing on his own experience as a resident of the farm from 1969 to 1973 and decades of contact with the farm's extended family, Tom Fels provides an


This book tells the story of Montague Farm, an early back-to-the land communal experiment in western Massachusetts, from its beginning in 1968 through the following thirty-five years of its surprisingly long life. Drawing on his own experience as a resident of the farm from 1969 to 1973 and decades of contact with the farm's extended family, Tom Fels provides an insightful account of the history of this iconic alternative community. He follows its trajectory from its heady early days as a pioneering outpost of the counterculture through many years of change, including a period of renewed political activism and, later, increasing episodes of conflict between opposing factions to determine what the farm represented and who would control its destiny.

With deft individual portraits, Fels reveals the social dynamics of the group and explores the ongoing difficulties faced by a commune that was founded in idealism and sought to operate on the model of a leaderless democracy. He draws on a large body of farm-family and 1960s-related writing and the notes of community members to present a variety of points of view. The result is an absorbing narrative that chronicles the positive aspects of Montague Farm while documenting the many challenges and disruptions that marked its history.

University of Massachusetts Press

Editorial Reviews

Bennington Banner

Fels the writer has a keen ear for tone and cadence as he goes from one subject to another, imitating the effects of a fine iambic pentameter. This nearly lyrical prose works in Buying the Farm for two reasons. First, Fels is well schooled in writers whose stories move along easily, such as Ovid, Lytton Strachey, and Henry James. More importantly, however, Fels returns to his successful technique from Farm Friends by giving much weight to his dramatis personae.


His newly released book 'Buying the Farm' is an absorbing reflection on communal living.


Fels, a resident during the farm's early years, traces protracted disputes that challenged assumptions of what the farm stood for, and who ultimately owned it.... Real-world problems undermine ideals.... Recommended.

Walloomsack Review

Buying the Farm is a deeply personal account, but Fels adds to his personal memories the careful attention to accuracy and details that marks a disinterested historian. It is a delicate balancing act.... Yet there is an important advantage to combining the roles of insider and outsider in this way.

The Sixties

With Tom Fels's new book it can safely be said that Montague Farm has the best published record of any of the communes.... Montague Farm was a great embodiment of the ethos, the ideals, of the 1960s. Its story is by turns delightful, thought-provoking, and disturbing. The story is quite human, leaving one to wonder why persons devoted to peace and love and brother/ sisterhood can end up being real asses when it is time to move on. We are richer for having the birth, life, and torturous death of Montague Farm fairly recorded.

Product Details

University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

Ray Mungo

Born in conflict, Montague Farm continued through decades of tortuous discordance, but left its mark in books, films, and music directly derived from it.... The scholarship in Buying the Farm could not be more sound and up to date. Tom Fels is well known for his meticulous care with such research, and this book makes a significant contribution to the study of this counterculture and its people.

Bill Morgan

Using his insider's knowledge Tom Fels has skillfully painted a fascinating picture of how a group of activists brought their own individual idealism and idiosyncrasies from the city to experiment with anti-materialism in the country. For nearly four decades they tried to make their own lives more meaningful while acting as good stewards of the land.... Although their 'back to the land' project succeeded on an individual basis, it failed to discover a new way in which a larger society could work together in harmony. Did our generation of the Sixties come to realize that communal living and the rights of the individual could not coexist for long? The land itself remained the living witness to their struggles and the dreams of their youth. Fels has captured that paradox perfectly.

Anthony Seeger

Buying the Farm reads like an ancient Greek tragedy, written in gripping prose by a master storyteller. The story of Montague Farm is filled with important lessons for those establishing new ways of living and organizing in the twenty-first century. Raking through the ashes of this 1960s commune, Fels does us an immense service by revealing the glowing coals, bitter embers, and enduring lessons of the final years of the last century, and the beginning of this one.

Barbara Epstein

The Montague Farm brought together an extraordinary group of young people who created a community that promoted environmental activism, fused with a visionary cultural radicalism, and who struggled with the tensions between an ethos of mutuality and a commitment to individual freedom. Most eventually left the farm to move on to other phases of their lives, leading, ultimately, to a series of questions: What to do with the farm? Who had the right to make the decision? What values should govern the solution? Tom Fels tells this story with sensitivity and insight, and with a keen eye for the way in which high principle and genuine nobility were often intertwined with grandiosity and self-delusion. This book sheds light on the radical culture of the late sixties and seventies, and also on the painful process of its unraveling in subsequent decades

Gary Goldberg

Tom Fels writes with eloquence, compassion, and ultimately wisdom, about the mythical and magical place known as Montague Farm.

Tom Hayden

For today's young, the economic future is far more bleak, and global warming an unprecedented threat. Out of necessity, many will be searching for meaningful forms of communal self-sufficiency, healthful food, and renewable energy. Tom Fels' captivating and profound reflection on one earlier commune, Montague Farm, founded in the 1960s, offers hard-learned reflections, some practical, some eternal, from a time when communes were the chosen path of many. Elegantly written. An informative and worthwhile read.

Meet the Author

Tom Fels, a museum curator and writer, has for many years researched, written, and lectured on the history of the 1960s. His Farm Friends: From the Late Sixties to the West Seventies and Beyond (2008) received honorable mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award in independent publishing. For an interview of Fels please see http://wamc.org/post/buying-farm-tom-fels

Daniel Aaron, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of English and American Literature Emeritus at Harvard University, is the author of Writers on the Left and numerous other works on American history and culture.

For more information, please see the Famous Long Ago Archives at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Books of related interest from UMass Press include Raymond Mungo's Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Service, Roberta Price's Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture, and Robert Surbrug Jr.'s Beyond Vietnam: The Politics of Protest in Massachusetts, 1974-1990.

For a study guide on Buying the Farm, please email UMass Press at info@umpress.umass.edu.

University of Massachusetts Press

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