RADICAL ROOTS: HARVESTING LEGACIES FROM VERMONT'S BACK-TO-THE-LAND MOVEMENT.

Author:Cook, Christopher D.
 
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It's a blazing humid summer in 1974, and I am a wild-haired, dirt-flecked six-year-old hippie kid, dancing and meandering in weeds and forests. The hill is Heifer Hill, a 100-acre camel's hump of pasture and woodlands west of Brattleboro, in southern Vermont.

On a rock-gnarled incline above the main house--a converted barn housing several back-to-the-landers--the chickens and goats await in their chaotic pen. It's a motley arrangement, producing as much entertainment as eggs and milk. Livestock is a side dish at this communal farm; the main course is a sprawling field of beans and a rotating variety of greens and other veggies.

While the Vietnam War and Watergate burn and churn toward their ignoble endings, my mother and I have settled for a few months on the southern slope, in a tent on a cow pasture. Our "front yard," overlooking loping hills that blur into a purple distance, is a jumble of knotted grass, ancient granite fieldstones, and fresh cow pies.

As the bombs and gavels drop, I explore Heifer Hill's undulating milkweed, purple clover, goldenrod, and Queen Anne's lace, its mysterious deep-thicketed woodlands erupting with huge earth-laden mushrooms and rare, magical Jack-in-the-pulpits. Mornings are spent gathering big freckled brown eggs and feeding crazy-eyed goats, and sun-blistering afternoons harvesting baskets full of beans.

Hippies, back-to-the-landers, counterculture folks, escapees from cities and war, converged on Vermont and other havens throughout the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, seeking peace and space, and digging roots deep in the rocky mineral-laden soil.

Between 1965 and 1975, roughly 100,000 "young people with counterculture ideas" ventured into the Green Mountain State to start or join communal farming endeavors like Heifer Hill, author Yvonne Daley recounts in her fascinating and copiously researched 2018 book, Going Up the Country.

Daley, herself a part of this movement, chronicles the impact these "hippies, dreamers, freaks, and radicals" had on the state's politics. "Because of their sheer numbers, there's no question that the hippie invaders changed Vermont into a more radical place, one recognized by the outside world as socially quirky and politically liberal," she writes. In turn, "Vermont's environment and economic challenges changed the newcomers as well, imprinting them with traditional values."

On a baking hot afternoon in late June 2018, Joey greets me at the front door of his farmhouse at the end of a dirt road a mile outside Plainfield, a tiny village near the Vermont capital of Montpelier. His hair is shorter and his svelte frame even more slender than it was in 1974. A tender grin broadens as he welcomes me into his home, built in the early 1800s.

The yellow house and its huge accompanying barn reside on Littlewood Farm, where Joey and his wife, Betsy Ziegler (they married at Heifer Hill in 1980), have produced "small fruits and vegetables," as a sign near the entrance modestly boasts, since 1987.

Betsy welcomes me to a hefty, round, wooden kitchen table. Nearly everything in the house is made of old wood. Cabinets abound with mason jars of whole grains, beans, teas, and spices. "It wasn't until about ten years ago that we could say, 'Everything in this meal, we grew it,'" Betsy says.

Over the past thirty years, the couple has managed to put their two kids...

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