As they simplify their lives in middle age, former hippies find themselves returning to the land
Nov 21 2011
When she first found the place that would one day become her retirement home, Kathy Connors was 16 years old and seven months pregnant. She left the Chicago suburbs and hitched a ride with a trucker she knew to a commune in south-central Tennessee. The commune, called the Farm, had about a dozen midwives who would deliver any woman’s baby for free. Kathy had arranged to have her child there.
In late June of this year, Kathy, now 50, and her 62-year-old husband Bob drove with their 28-year-old daughter Joyce from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Farm. Kathy visits about three times a year, but this was a special visit. It was the Farm’s 40th reunion, but it was also, more importantly, the visit when Kathy would finalize plans to build the home where she and Bob planned to spend the rest of their lives.
On the drive down, Kathy’s phone buzzed with texts and updates from the Farm Facebook group. Friends were posting photos and status updates. It was a big party and Kathy couldn’t wait to get there.
Crossing the Tennessee border, Bob, usually a quiet man, shouted, “Welcome to Tennessee!” The family cheered. Kathy’s stomach fluttered and her heart beat faster. She sent a text to an acquaintance, “the closer I get to my true home, the better I always feel.”
Kathy and Bob Connors are among a handful of former Farm members who are moving back in middle age. This choice reflects that of a growing number of Baby Boomers who are choosing to retire to intentional communities, an umbrella term for living situations organized around a common value structure or vision.
Although hard figures are impossible to determine, Laird Schaub, the executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, estimates that the United States has about 4,000 intentional communities with a combined population of about 100,000. The number and population of intentional communities grew most dramatically between 1965 and 1975. Some were artists’ collectives, religious communes, or self-help oriented communes, says Timothy Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Kansas, in his bookThe 60s Communes: Hippies and Beyond. Others were born out of a broader idealism that aimed to rebuild the world from the ground up.