You Never Seen So Much Hair in Your Life

Common portrayals of the counterculture back-to-the-land movement in the United States suggest it was created by idealistic urban and suburban youth who were unprepared for the rigors of actually living off the land; as a result, according to this view, it was a short-lived effort for most participants. My ethnographic work on back-to-the-landers in the countryside around Berea, Kentucky adds to a growing body of research by scholars such as Dona Brown, Carter Taylor Seaton, and Jinny Turman; this research reveals a complex, large-scale, and important social movement that continues to this day. I will draw on a book manuscript on contemporary homesteading around Berea, tentatively titled Hicks and Hippies, to explore three ways in which reality diverges from stereotype. First, while counterculture back-to-the-landers in that area are indeed progressives and leftists, they are from diverse backgrounds; many of them are from rural Appalachian families. Second, quite a few did begin with limited knowledge of rural subsistence production – but this was often treated as an opportunity rather than a barrier. Finally, even though the quintessential hippie homestead was supposedly a commune, like Morningstar Ranch or The Farm, the majority avoided communes as difficult and prone to failure.