Buying the Farm
Peace and War on a Sixties Commune
The long, winding history of a countercultural commune
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.
"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."—Tom Hayden, author of The Long Sixties
"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."—Bill Morgan, author of I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg and The Typewriter is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation
"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"—Barbara Epstein, author of Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s, and The Minsk Ghetto, 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism
"Tom Fels writes with eloquence, compassion, and ultimately wisdom, about the mythical and magical place known as Montague Farm."—Gary Goldberg, creator of Family Ties and author of Sit, Ubu, Sit
"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."—Anthony Seeger, Distinguished Professor of Ethnomusicology, Emeritus, UCLA
"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."—Bennington Banner
"His newly released book 'Buying the Farm' is an absorbing reflection on communal living."—iBerkshires.com