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The Farm, Summertown, Tennessee

A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".

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  • A work made of chromogenic print, from the series "sweet earth: experimental utopias in america".


March 2003


Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

About this artwork


Currently Off View


Photography and Media


Joel Sternfeld


The Farm, Summertown, Tennessee


United States


Made 2003


Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"


No markings recto or verso When Stephen Gaskin, a charismatic philosopher from San Francisco, went on a speaking tour in 1970, his adherents followed him in buses and vans. After each engagement, a few more vehicles would follow along, until hundreds of people were in the caravan. Eventually, they bought two thousand acres of land in Tennessee and began living communally as the Farm. They lived according to “Agreements,” including a personal and collective dedication to “harmlessness, right livelihood, right thinking, etc., while maintaining a sense of humor.” All members agreed to a vegan diet, nonviolence, a shared purse and voluntary poverty. Housing for the first several years consisted of used Army tents and the buses and vans in which they had traveled. As the population steadily grew to fourteen hundred, the Farm gained self-sufficiency in food production and took on the aspect of an at-once primitive and technically advanced small town, dedicated to humane enterprise. Soybean farming and research led to commercial sales of soy products such as tofu, tempeh, soy yogurt and Ice Bean, an ice cream equivalent. When an earthquake devastated Guatemala, the Farm sent its charitable arm, Plenty, with carpenters and workers to aid in rebuilding; an ongoing relationship with communities in Central America resulted. When municipal ambulance service in New York City’s South Bronx became unconscionably inadequate, the Farm began its own voluntary ambulance corps there. As the Farm grew, Plenty expanded, and satellite farms in twenty states and foreign countries were founded. To stay in touch, a group of ham radio operators living at the Farm developed innovative space-based communications and an electronics manufacturing center, which helped serve the Farm’s broader environmental aims. The Farm has developed solar hybrid vehicles, the doppler fetoscope (for amplifying the heartbeat of a young fetus), portable concentrating solar arrays and numerous other inventions, but the one device that has remained constantly in production and a financial success is the Nukebuster, a pocket-sized Geiger counter with a built-in alert system. After the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, sales of Nukebusters boomed. The resulting profits played a critical role in saving the Farm during a crisis in 1983, when crushing debt and a national recession nearly brought to an end to one of the most important alternative communities of the modern era. From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005


26.5 × 33.2 cm (image); 27.9 × 35.5 cm (paper)

Credit Line

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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