The late 1960’s experienced free love in full bloom when Stephen Gaskin and about two hundred fifty followers in their retro-fitted school buses, caravanned from Southern California to Summertown, Tennessee. Settling on a section of pasture land and timber, they set up a thriving commune. In later years it would be reclassified as an Intentional Community.
Combining their resources, the group which had grown to about three hundred and later to over a thousand, purchased the property and in 1971, it became incorporated as The Farm Community. The purchase of additional adjacent land brought the total owned by the Farm and its network to about four thousand acres, which includes The Big Swan Headwaters Preserve and Swan Trust, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of valuable Tennessee wildlife and forestry.
The Farm Community’s lively past history includes stories of these flower children and free-thinkers sitting naked on a hillside, playing flutes to encourage their marijuana plants, and cultivating fields with mules and a hand plow. Along the way these hippies of yester-year grew up. They not only raised families, but raised awareness of the Earth’s demise from pollution, rampant un-checked insecticide use, and harmful chemicals. They set about to remedy calamitous ecological happenings whenever and wherever they could.
Today the Summertown Farm is home to two hundred Earth-saving natural-living, mostly vegetarian residents, some of whom are fourth-generation descendants of the original settlers. They advocate perma-culture, the use of renewable energy, off-the-grid sustainable living, and non-violence with a respect for the Earth and all of her inhabitants.
Among this group is world renowned global climate speaker Albert Bates, innovative midwife instructor Ina Mae Gaskin, environmental attorney Alan Graff, Village Media communications business owner Douglas Stevenson and a host of others – among them, thirty-year old single professional, Haley Joyell Smith.
The sprawling Farm Community houses a shared organic garden, fruit trees, accredited progressive free-spirited school, horse barn with fenced pastures, gift shop, publishing company, natural food store, tofu factory, camp ground, and EcoVillage. Haley, with an undergrad degree from Hanover College in Geology and Philosophy, and a Masters in Earth Science from North Carolina State University, is the EcoVillage Program Director.
Knowing all this, it should then come as no surprise to find Haley’s choice of personal space to be a straw-bale eco-friendly dwelling where she cohabitates with Mother Nature and her friendly dog, Seala. Some affectionately call Haley’s escape place a Hippie-tat or Habitat for hippies.
Though Haley is an out-going people-friendly individual, the dormitory-style living accommodations with community kitchen at the EcoVillage did not offer Haley the quiet personal space her intellect and creative spirit required. It housed students, interns, occasional visitors, and hosted workshops several times a year.
“I knew I needed an escape place where I could be part of the EcoVillage but also have the privilege of some sacred space of my own,” said Haley. “I have a deep appreciation for the spiritual perspective of the Earth and what nature gives to us. I recognize within myself, the connection with a place and our emotional well-being when there, how it can be calming, nurturing, validating, if it feels right, and is in sync with who we are.
“When I started looking around for options that might be available for my personal space, I would see this or that, and the feeling was just not right. Then I came to the abandoned straw bale house and knew right away, this will work. It drew me in, even welcomed me,” said Haley.
At the time, the circular dwelling had a dirt floor, was filled with miscellaneous cast-offs, and surrounded by overgrown weeds.
Environmentally-conscience Haley began with addressing weed control with all-natural substances, and even made home-made paint for the interior.
Continuing to the inside, she cleaned, disinfected and rid the environment of small spiders and bugs who had taken up residence, by once-again using all-natural organic substances.
“I tiled the floor myself and found a woodstove not being used in an outbuilding, that I was able to reclaim,” said Haley.
“But it was when I moved in the antique rocking chair that used to belong to my grandfather, I truly felt the essence of the place. It embraced me like a blanket, and I knew I belonged here, that this place had become sacred space.”