NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Stephen Gaskin, a counterculture visionary who led a caravan of hippies from California to establish one of the country's longest lasting communes in rural Middle Tennessee and later sought the Green Party nomination for president, has died. He was 79.
Gaskin died of natural causes at his home in Summertown on Tuesday, according to Gretchen Bates, who grew up on The Farm and is close to Gaskin's family.
Bates told The Associated Press that Gaskin had been ill for a while. She described him as a visionary and spiritual guide who advocated being responsible and giving back to the community.
"He made us think about taking responsibility for your life and trying to give back as much as you possibly could," Bates said.
A message on The Farm's website reads: "We mourn the passing of Stephen Gaskin, our founder and friend. Our community would not exist, were it not for his bravery and free spirit."
Gaskin, a Korean War veteran, was a writing instructor at San Francisco State College when his "Monday Night Class" on love, sex, politics, drugs and other non-traditional college topics became popular with hippie students.
In 1970, he led a caravan of about 320 hippies to 1,750 acres of rough ridge country where they founded the back-to-basics collective on about three square miles. It was meant to be an "experiment in sustainable, developmentally progressive human habitat," according to the website.
By 1980, The Farm's population had grown to more than 1,200 in Lewis County near Summertown. But a financial crisis a few years later led to a reorganization in which members began paying monthly dues.
Leigh Kahan, one of The Farm's founding members, said the reorganization "changed everything" because The Farm went from being a "true collective to being a true cooperative."