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Buying the Farm

Peace and War on a Sixties Commune

Tom Fels, foreword by Daniel Aaron foreword by Daniel Aaron

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. a-v


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pp. vii

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Foreword: The Sixties in Perspective

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pp. ix-x

Montague Farm, the subject of Tom Fels’s book, materialized in the late 1960s. It loosely cohered for the next thirty-five years “in different forms,” as he puts it, until under intense internal pressure the community disintegrated in the clash between its personal and collective missions...

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pp. xi-xii

Buying the Farm tells the timely story of Montague Farm, a commune founded in 1968, one of the first of a wave of shared farms and alternative communities that swept the country, garnering national attention and becoming hallmarks of the era. Montague proved exceptional in...

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Introduction: Reunion Snapshot

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pp. 1-3

Leafing through the photos of my former comrades, it all comes back. Here’s Laurie setting up her teepee. She’s traveled from the West Coast to join us. An occasional visitor to Montague Farm, she later bought a farm of her own and founded a commune some two hours away in...

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1. Origins (1968)

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pp. 4-14

“Lazarus! More ink!” It was the spring of 1968 and John, our venerable alternative-media veteran, was working at the press with Lazarus, a promising young recruit from Florida. A mailing deadline was looming and an important...

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2. Early Days (1968–1969)

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pp. 15-21

As recounted by its early members, the first few months of the farm were indeed the time of “chaos” and “disorganization” described by Steve Diamond in his book. Looking back, these months seem a clear expression of the contradictions that had brought the farmers to their new home...

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3. Farm Life (1969–1973)

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pp. 22-32

Over the succeeding four years, the farm’s survival turned to success— at least up to a certain level. As difficulties were addressed and our new environment unfolded around us, themes emerged that would become mainstays of our first few years on the land...

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4. Renewed Activism (1974–1982)

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pp. 33-46

Early on the morning of Washington’s birthday, 1974, farm member Sam Lovejoy, after considerable study and soul-searching, performed the radical act that came to be known in farm mythology as “the tower.” In brief, plans were afoot for two nuclear plants to be built in the area...

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5. New Directions (1983–1992)

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pp. 47-75

By the early 1980s, the farmers had behind them not only their counterculture history of the Liberation News Service, commune, and political organizing but the concerts, the set of record albums, and the feature film that had resulted from their involvement in MUSE. Equally...

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6. The Reunion (1993)

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pp. 76-90

The farm’s celebration of its twenty-fifth year, a milestone unimaginable during its hardscrabble early days, took place in Montague in August of 1993. Those attending included some forty earlier residents, their children, friends, neighbors, the farm’s extended family, and, of course, those...

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7. Aftermath (1994–1999)

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pp. 91-97

The period following the reunion was marked by optimism and a can-do attitude geared toward addressing the goals and actions outlined by the community at its summer meetings. For months, committees continued to convene to develop strategies and refine details for a viable future for...

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8. Annus Horribilis (2000)

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pp. 98-138

As the late 1990s unfolded and the millennium neared, the situation at the farm, as it entered its fourth decade, was composed of several related strands. First, the farm was largely controlled physically by its inhabitants, the team of the young organic farmers—Tim and Lise and their...

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9. Annus Luctus (2001)

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pp. 139-149

With the millennial year closed and a new one begun, all took a deep breath and cast a wary eye on the farm’s new situation midway through its thirty-third year. The trustees were now co-owners of the farm and no longer bound by the directives of the trust. They were, of course, still...

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10. Annus Mirabilis (2002)

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pp. 150-168

The Buddhists? To those not watching the farm situation carefully, this was an unexpected development. Earlier, when Steve Diamond had suggested giving the farm to a group of local Buddhists, the reaction had been surprisingly positive. At the time, almost everyone except those...

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11. The Farm and Its Legacy (2002–2006)

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pp. 169-184

On a recent visit to the farm, I considered the changes that had come to it and reflected on the path both the farm and its inhabitants had traveled. As the new Peacemaker Circle International, the farm that had reluctantly accepted electricity, plumbing, and a telephone now had a...

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pp. 185-188

In the winter of 2010–2011, the farm was once again for sale. Again, concerned citizens of the larger community began meeting to look into its possible future. Unfortunately, the extensive renovations completed by the Zen Peacemakers, which made it unaffordable for them to keep...

Dramatis Personae

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pp. 189-192


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pp. 193-206


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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-218


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pp. 219-220

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About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 221-224

Tom Fels’s four years on a communal farm, from 1969 to 1973, form the background for Buying the Farm. After 1981 he became a full-time curator and writer. Some of his many exhibitions have appeared at the J. Paul Getty...

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762189
E-ISBN-10: 1613762186
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499706
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499709

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 , 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012