Alpha Farm, Deadwood

Alpha Farm is a ~20-person community on 280 acres about an hour and a half drive west from Eugene, OR.  It is definitely one of the oldest, most continuous, and smoothest-operating intentional communities we’ve visited thus far.  The founders of the community were Philadelphia and Bay Area activists back in the 1960s and ’70s, and realized that the best way for them to work towards their social and environmental goals would be to create a rural community, people living in harmony with each other and Nature, a peaceful model for greater society.  In 1972 they purchased over 300 acres (some of it has since been sold) in the Deadwood Valley, a spot that used to be called Alpha — the name means “the beginning,” which seemed perfect for the new community.  The two main founders, Caroline and Jim Estes, still live on the land and are now in their 80s.  They are often referred to as “the elders” and are given a great deal of respect by the other community members, but despite this status they have always emphasized consensus decision-making and Nonviolent Communication; Caroline travels professionally giving talks and leading workshops on NVC and has utilized her extensive knowledge and experience in group process as a member of the board for the Fellowship for Intentional Community (community members of their generation refer to this as “the FIC,” those of our generation as “ic.org”).

Alpha Farm’s community, which currently includes babies, teenagers, young parents, people in their middle age, and elders (plus 5 dogs, 20+ cats, a multitude of chickens, and several bee boxes) is a loving family of people from a variety of places and experiences, some of whom have lived at Alpha Farm much of their lives, some who are visiting or interning for short periods, and yet others who visit on and off, a month here and a month there, for years.  Though the community is not explicitly or overtly religious, they embrace Quaker values and try to live with a “no kill” ethic: hunting is not allowed anywhere near the land, most meals are vegetarian, and all forms of life are respected.

Two acres of the land are farmed to provide food for the community; visitors, who do not need to pay for their visit, are asked to help with daily work, either in the flower beds that surround the many houses and other buildings, or in the food garden.  There are two large houses on the land, several smaller buildings made by community members, a yurt, two housebuses, a sauna (apparently very popular here in the PNW!), a greenhouse, a garage space where vehicles are created and repaired, workshops, and storage buildings/sheds.  Everything is extraordinarily well organized; even the recycling shed has a large bin for each type of material (cleaned before being sorted) and is kept quite neat.  Garbage trucks don’t go into the Valley, so Alpha Farmers have to truck out all their waste themselves.

Alpha Farm is an income-sharing community (rare among communities we’ve visited) and long-term residents are required to work at least 40 hours a week at Alpha jobs.  Alpha Farm owns and runs a store/cafe called Alpha Bit in the town of Mapleton (a half-hour drive from Alpha) which sells art by local artists, gifts, cards, fresh-baked bread (delicious!) and other home-made goodies.  According to their website, “Being a part of the larger Mapleton-Deadwood community is important to us. In fact, it’s a natural consequence of the original vision: if indeed we are to change the world, not by proselytizing or politicizing, but rather by allowing a fullness of spirit and openness of heart to be dominant in us, then it follows that an invitation to some exposure is in order. That’s how Alpha-Bit came into being.”  Alpha Farm also makes some income through their contract with the U.S. Postal Service: they deliver Deadwood Valley’s daily mail.

On a personal note (it’s a funny balance writing these posts, trying to give objective summaries of such personal experiences with amazing people and places), our three short days at Alpha Farm were incredibly satisfying and warming.  It’s satisfying, rejuvenating, life-affirming to find yourself in such a naturally beautiful place, surrounded by tall trees, listening to the river and the calls of birds, digging your hands in soil that’s been slowly, lovingly cultivated for almost 40 years by people who want nothing more than to live a life of simple joy and pleasure in delicious, healthy food, comfortable supportive company, and the wild energy of nature.  Our work hours were spent out in the garden, listening to Pink Floyd and Joni Mitchell blaring over the acres from surprisingly tiny speakers, chatting with our fellow gardeners about their youthful years doing Forest Defense actions, biking cross-country, and living in buses (always, “I used to live in a school bus…”).   Before each meal and after each meeting Alpha Farm’s community members form a circle and hold hands, breath in a moment of grateful silence, and then kiss each others’ hands.  In circle we sang the Shaker song Simple Gifts, a song I have always loved and a value system I embrace deeply.  It is an attitude, a world view, that is epitomized at Alpha Farm.

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free
‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

-Rachel

A really interesting Eugene Register Guard article from 1976 about Alpha Farm… I love reading this stuff.

An amusing Willamette Week article from 1978 about Alpha Farm (it’s surprising how much is still true today!)

2 Responses to “Alpha Farm, Deadwood”

  1. Cherri Says:

    Thanks for the awesome review guys! We really did enjoy your presence here at Alpha, and look forward to seeing you again one day. I am sending you the link to our new Facebook page. Please “Like” to follow our posts. We Love You!

  2. chris wilson Says:

    I am looking for a place to get away from all of the government bull and move me and my 2 daughters to live in the wilderness I am a single divorced man that only wants peace and happiness for me and my children. I want to build my own home off grid and use my skills to be completely self sufficient. your place looks like it would be great.i want to know what it takes to meet and speak to you about your commune and or possibly joining.I’m looking for a more Peaceful lifestyle. Please call or write me back .
    1-620-249-0452
    wilsonconstruction2003@yahoo.com

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