This morning we worked with a Hickman County inmate crew on a breathtaking stretch of country road called Missionary Ridge Road near the small town of Bon Aqua. I could not think of a nicer place to be picking up litter. Again, the inmate crew was excellent and later on we got to meet a local county commissioner, Wayne Thomasson, who has spent a great deal of time working with the inmates over the years. He shared some inspiring stories about the inmates and a beautiful piece of etched glass artwork that one of the inmates gave to him as a gift. It was clear that he had a high regard for them and the service they provide to the community.
Later on, we were treated to a tour of the Hickman County Solid Waste Facility. Its manager, Marty Turbeville, is a constant force in motion who has championed recycling for years in Hickman County. He designed the facility from the ground up and it is a model in efficiency and sustainability. The sorted and bailed recyclables he produces with inmate labor assistance are sold as commodities to manufacturers and cover the costs of maintaining the facility. It would be nice if every county in the state had such a facility but it would also help if they have someone like Marty leading the charge. He is genuinely enthusiastic about what he does and justifiably proud of what he has accomplished. Hats off to Marty!
In the second half of our day, we ventured south to Summertown in adjacent Lewis County to the Farm, a famous outpost of the 1960's San Francisco counter-culture hippie movement. Known more properly these days as an “intentional community,” the Farm was founded in 1971 by a caravan of hippies who crisscrossed the country looking for just the right place to start a utopian farming community based on principles of non-violence and respect for the Earth. By the 1980's, it had become the largest commune in America and had over 1500 members. Today the Farm is a much smaller community of less than 200 residents and curiously, there is no longer any large scale farming. The fields grow hay and that is about it. The farming activities almost bankrupted the community in the 80's and during a major transition period called the “Changeover,” the community shifted from a pure collective where everything was communally owned to more of a co-op, where there is still joint ownership of land and buildings but each family is responsible for their own upkeep. The change forced a departure of many families and subsequent dramatic population decline, but those who remained stay true to the original utopian vision of communal non-violent living that respects the land. Newcomers to the community must prove their commitment to the lifestyle by living there during a probationary period which can last several years.
Under the canopy of the Farm Stage, it was such a delight to meet and spend time with Chuck McCarthy, Todd Elgin, Shawn Byrne and Rick Diamond, as they played the official Pickin' Up TN theme song, Love the Land, Lose the Litter, which is used at the start of all of our videos. By this time, we had heard the recording of the song many times and loved its catchy melody and lyrics. Before we started filming, I asked the guys what the name of their group was. They all looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. Finally, one of them broke the awkward silence and said, “how about the Litter Pickers?” We all busted out laughing and the name was an instant hit. To seal the deal, they spontaneously decided to don bright florescent orange vests that Marge had stuffed in the back of her car for litter pick-ups. When we started filming, I have to admit it was pretty funny when the guys started playing but messed up repeatedly on the lyrics. Somehow, the irreverent personality of the group was a fitting match for the light-hearted lyrics and mood of the song.
After recording the performance, we were treated to a hike on the adjacent Big Swan Headwaters Preserve led by Cynthia Rohrbach. Cynthia moved to the farm with her husband in 1975 and raised four children on the property. In recent years, she helped create the Swan Conservation Trust which successfully purchased sensitive land that the Bowater timber company had decided to liquidate. The Farm had been trying for years to buy the property and now manages the 1425 acre area that includes Tall Falls – the destination of our hike. I am very impressed with the initiative to preserve this land. Land trusts are such a powerful, non-political way to preserve land for future generations. It just takes cash to make it happen though, and I am sure the folks at the Swan Conservation Trust would be grateful for any contributions you can make to their organization. After we filmed the interview with Cynthia, Jane and Harlan enjoyed a spontaneous shower in the falls, not thinking twice about spending the next 30 minutes hiking back to the trailhead soaking wet!
As our afternoon at the Farm drew to a close, I thought about how many good intentions went into the founding of the community and how they were forced to re-define themselves over the decades. The Farm is different than in its heyday to be sure, but it is still here, still enduring and still a hopeful beacon for people in a world with the potential to be a better place than it actually is. During our time on the Farm, we were welcomed with open arms by everyone we met and there was definitely a palpable spirit in the air of positive energy and tranquility. I can definitely appreciate the appeal of living and raising children here. With a warm fuzzy feeling, I said my goodbyes to the Farm and its residents and, fittingly, as we were driving towards the gate, an older resident (in a golf cart) saw our R/V and flashed us a peace sign.