My Weekend on a Hippie Commune Famous for Midwifery

Here’s a post I never thought I’d write.

Years ago, I watched a very intriguing Netflix documentary, starring Ricki Lake, called The Business of Being Born. The movie explore’s the United State’s birthing system and how midwives have been pushed out of the equation.  The movie was so popular, that a sequel was filmed. In (the creatively titled) More Business of Being Born, (trailer below) Ricki Lake visits the Farm and interviews the world’s most famous midwife, Ina May Gaskin. Being very intrigued by this woman, I Googled her and discovered that she lives less than two hours away from me on a hippie commune that started in the 70’s called, the Farm.

A detailed history of the Farm can be found here. But in a nutshell, in 1970, 60 school buses, full of hippies, traveled across the country from San Francisco, in search of a place to live the lifestyle they wanted and to raise their children in a sheltered, peaceful environment. During their community’s establishment, many of their women were pregnant and without health insurance, so the easiest solution was for them to become midwives. Later, while the nations cesarean section rate grew, theirs diminished. Currently the Farm Midwives have a 94.7% home birth success rate, a 1.7% c- section rate and a 96.8% success rate of VBAC’s. More stats can be found here.

And so the adventure began. Along with two friends from Michigan, I registered for “Farm Experience Weekend”. The weekend promised hikes, workshops on vegan cooking, organic growing, midwifery and a taste of what it’s like to live off the grid. Amy, Kim and I were both excited and scared as we packed the car with enough supplies to live in the woods for a week. We had no idea what to expect. Will there be electricity? Will they have hot water? What will we do for protein? Should we bring toilet paper? And the most important question, will there be cell phone service? I’ll spare you the answers to each of these questions and just show you our accommodations at Phil & Mary’s house.

Phil & Mary's house

Phil & Mary’s house

Amy relaxing in our "rustic" accommodations.

Amy relaxing in our “rustic” accommodations.

Hot tub, anyone?

Hot tub, anyone?

The grand porch overlooking the woods at Phil & Mary's.

The grand porch overlooking the woods at Phil & Mary’s.

Our living room

Our living room

The weekend began with a very yummy meal at Doug, the organizer’s house. Enchiladas with salad. Everything, made and grown by him. Followed by soy ice cream from the Farm’s soy dairy. After dinner he gave us a tour of his garden, where he proudly gave us the secret to large, homegrown, organic onions. Pee. Yes, kids, you read correctly. Human pee. I thought Amy, was going to make a run for it. From that point on, every time a meal was presented, we’d very passively ask, “This looks yummy. What was it made with?”

Saturday was jam-packed with more homegrown meals, a meeting with the principal of the Farm school, a visit to the Eco-Village Training Center, tours of alternatively build homes and a hike on their private land, followed by a community dinner.

The most interesting part of the day was our visit to the Farm school where we spent time talking with the principal/janitor, Peter Kindfield. A former educator in the New York City School system, Peter came to the Farm looking for something completely different. Their school, of 30 kids, is a collaborative. The students dictate the curriculum and the teachers oblige. If they don’t want to do something, they don’t. Now, I know what you’re thinking – the kids aren’t learning jack and probably play video games all day. Surprisingly, it’s quite the opposite. Nearly all of their students make smooth transitions to universities. However, they are encouraged to attend the local community college before hand so they won’t be shocked when they enter the real world. Did I mention that Peter Kindfield has a Ph.D. in math and science from Berkeley? Yeah, he didn’t either.

In the Farm school talking with the Principal and Janitor, Peter Kindfield.

In the Farm school talking with the Principal and Janitor, Peter Kindfield.

However, my favorite part of the day was meeting some of the famous Farm Midwives that I’ve seen in movies. We actually had dinner with two of them, Joanne Santana and Carol Nelson, who were featured in a new documentary about Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives called Birth Story. Also our host, Doug, is married to another star midwife, Debra Flowers. We were seriously star stuck when we met them, but tried to play it cool.

After a full day of activities we were pooped and turned in early. Sunday was spent being a groupie with Debra and begging her for birth war stories. The afternoon plan was to attend a community drum circle, which sounded like their version of church. However, we had all the crunchy we could take and headed back to Nashville for a burger and beer.

Detroiters at the Farm. I wonder if that's a first.

Detroiters at the Farm. I wonder if that’s a first.

Since I know you’re intrigued, here are a few more fun facts and resources:

  • The Farm isn’t a commune anymore. Back in the day, if you wanted to join, you had to drop your processions at the entry. In 1983 the community voted to become a cooperative. Therefore, community members now pay dues, an entry fee and own the land collectively.
  • You can pretty much live the way you want. The only rules are 1) No weapons and 2) You can not raise any animal for slaughter.
  • The Farm currently has a little over 100 residents.
  • If you want one of the Farm Midwives to deliver your baby and are not local, you can rent one of the “birthing cabins” on the property. Details on that are here.
  • The Farm isn’t just midwifery. They have many other businesses and charitable organizations.

The Farm website:
The Farm school website:
The Business of Being Born community website:
The trailer to The Business of Being Born