Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune

Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune


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Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune by Tom Fels

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781558499713
Publisher: University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date: 11/30/2012
Edition description: 1
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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

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

Table of Contents

Foreword: The Sixties in Perspective Daniel Aaron ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Reunion Snapshot 1

1 Origins (1968) 4

2 Early Days (1968-1969) 15

3 Farm Life (1969-1973) 22

4 Renewed Activism (1974-1982) 33

5 New Directions (1983-1992) 47

6 The Reunion (1993) 76

7 Aftermath (1994-1999) 91

8 Annus Horribilis (2000) 98

9 Annus Luctus (2001) 139

10 Annus Mirabilis (2002) 150

11 The Farm and Its Legacy (2002-2006) 169

Postscript 185

Dramatis Personae 189

Documents 193

Notes 207

Bibliography 213

Acknowledgments 219

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.

Reading Group Guide

Founded in the idealism of the 1960s, and successful over several decades of social, political, and environmental activism, Montague Farm, over the course of its long history, slowly unraveled, and was finally lost to its community.From a farm described by early members as a paradise and a symbol of a better world, it later turned into one that represented to them intractability and resistance to change. Much of the farm's early history presents a very positive picture. As strong and often early advocates for organic gardening, sensible health care, economic self-sufficiency, alternative energy, political change, women's rights, community values, authenticity, and craft the farm and its larger community offer lessons of much use to reformers of today. Its later history, rife with conflict, offers a different set of lessons for both members of communities and their leaders alike.The following questions are meant to highlight some of the many issues surrounding the history of Montague Farm and other altruistic enterprises, and to suggest some helpful and useful ways to approach the book.Questions:Idealism, hope, social change: The farm was founded in the hope of influencing or changing portions of American society. What sort of things did they hope to change? Are missions of hope and change sustainable? What are the alternatives to visions of hope and change? Contributions: What sort of contributions did the farm make to the life of its time? Were they worthwhile? Did they have lasting influence? Would they have happened without independent institutions like the farm? How were individual farm members affected by the novel life there? Flaws: What were some of the problems faced by the farm community in pursuit of its goals? Could these have been foreseen? How might we approach such issues when they arise? Perfectionism: Highly focused endeavors like the farm are often afflicted by the notion of "getting it right:" that nothing but complete devotion to the task at hand will do. What are some other examples of this — sports teams, political parties, armed forces, businesses of various kinds? What are the advantages of such an attitude? The liabilities? Power, influence: We often have to deal with individuals or groups claiming superior importance, reason, or power. What is an appropriate reaction to this? Is there anything to be done about it? What price do we pay for such actions? For the ensuing reactions? The farm: Who could have carried on the values of the farm? Could the future of the farm really be controlled? How would one do this — or any family, nation, large or small organization? Compare the example of Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation, Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or other restrictive gifts.Spirit, place: For some, selling the farm was a viable option, as the group's values and spirit were seen as more important than the particular place where they had been enacted. How important are particular places to the aspirations attached to them? Is there a relation between place and values? Can place be an essential factor? Compare the case of Israel, or a national park such as Yosemite. Community: The farm's future was at times endangered by the self-declared actions of a few. At Montague, one member tore down a fence built by others. Should a community tolerate damaging behaviors? Are there other courses a community can take? Some communal organizations have survived for substantial lengths of time. A few well known examples are the Oneida community, the Shakers, the Bruderhof, Twin Oaks, and The Farm, in Tennessee. Why do such communities survive? How do they accomplish it? Could this be a model for others? People are free to live out their values independently. Why do they join communes and other self-identified groups? Could you live on a commune? Why or why not? What values would your commune have to have? Does a community, small town, borough, or neighborhood share the characteristics of a commune? The book: What other real or fictional characters might be used, like those of the Iliad, to describe the principal characters in the story of Montague Farm? What issues did the author of Buying the Farm not address? What sort of lessons can be gleaned from the farm experience? What sort of price did the farmers pay for their youthful dreams? Related reading: Buying the Farm is one of a number of books and articles on the extended family of Montague Farm. Other relevant farm authors include Steve Diamond, Asa Elliot, Peter Gould, Stephen Davis, Marty Jezer, Ray Mungo, Peter Simon, and Richard Wizansky. The farms have also been included in critical studies by such scholars of contemporary history as Barbara Epstein, Judson Jerome, Rosabeth Kanter, John McMillian, Blake Slonecker, and Robert Surbrug. Additional bibliographical material on the farm group is available in Farm Friends. Recently published or republished books that directly complement Buying the Farm include:Famous Long Ago, Raymond Mungo, University of Massachusetts Press, 2012What the Trees Said, Steve Diamond, Beech River Books, 2006Farm Friends, Tom Fels, RSI / Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008Smoking Typewriters, John McMillian, Oxford University Press, 2011A New Dawn for the New Left, Blake Slonecker, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013A number of books related to this subject and period are available from the University of Massachusetts Press, among them those below. For others see: Famous Long Ago, Raymond MungoHuerfano, Roberta Price Beyond Vietnam, Robert Surbrug Framing the Sixties, Bernard von Bothmer Farm Friends: Tom Fels' earlier book on the extended family of Montague Farm, Farm Friends: From the late sixties to the west seventies and beyond, is currently distributed by the author at: PO Box 816, North Bennington, Vermont 05257. Websites: Further information about the extended farm family and its archive, Famous Long Ago, can be found at these web sites: University of Massachussetts farm archive site: University of Massachusetts Special Collections site: Tom Fels / site:

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