Salmon Creek Farm was established as a commune in 1971 by a group of young people disenchanted with mainstream society and searching for something else. Along with many other communes in Albion, California, SCF grew out of the student protest culture of the late 60’s, resisting the Vietnam war and general mindless consumer conformity, while promoting issues like civil rights, gay liberation, and environmental consciousness. Turning their back on systems they no longer believed in, they learned how to build their own homes, make their own clothes, grow their own food while living communally, exploring Native American rituals, and practicing consensus decision-making.
One by one the original communards moved away – three of whom settled on three sides of the property – until an official closing ceremony was held in 2012. With its purchase by artist Fritz Haeg in November 2014, Salmon Creek Farm continues as a place to take a step back from contemporary urban society and starts a new chapter as a long-term art project formed by many hands, a new sort of commune-farm-homestead-sanctuary-school hybrid. An extended community of regularly returning comrades contribute to it’s revival and daily operations, propose projects, host gatherings, lead workshops, and shape it’s future during stays of a week up to a few months. Each person on the land asks how their skills/interests/curiosities meet the needs/potentials/resources of the place.
Salmon Creek Farm is located two miles from California’s Mendocino coast on 35 acres of mostly second-growth redwoods. From gardens, meadows and fruit orchard on a ridge-top, the property slopes down to Big Salmon Creek in the valley. A cottage in the orchard is followed by eight hand-built cabins secluded on footpaths throughout the property, a few small abandoned cabins hidden in the wilds across a tributary that bisects the land, a recently restored octagonal sauna and various out-houses & out-buildings.
Salmon Creek Farm is not open to the public. Trial visits by students and recent grads (21 years and up), experienced carpenters/builders, and farmer/gardeners are occasionally offered. Send a brief letter of interest describing what you would want to learn/do and what you could offer/share, including complete contact information and any links to your work: Salmon Creek Farm, P.O. Box 909, Albion, CA 95410.
The annual calendar is anchored by seasonal projects and activities in the cabins, woods, gardens, orchard, coast and local landscapes; apples in the fall, mushrooms in the winter, seaweed in the spring, and vegetables in the summer; visits to the neighboring swimming hole when warm and local hot springs when cool. We build, chop, cultivate, plant, sow, tend, and weed through the spring and summer. We forage, harvest, knit, preserve, prune, and trail-blaze though the fall and winter. And there is always cooking, cleaning, dancing/moving, exploring, publishing, repairing, resource/waste managing (water, power, compost, humane), retreating, communing…
“…out of the smoke and turmoil of the 1960’s – something strange, something beyond the rules and expectations and programs seemed to emerge. A huge vision of new ways of being and living began to take shape in many of our lives – sometimes warped into anger, sometimes lost in the abyss between value structures, sometimes wallowing in indulgence or infantile excess – a lurching, often faltering Movement: the desire for a sense of personal autonomy and integrity, the desire that culture, whatever it could mean, should be ours, that it should stem from our real lives, our best natural impulses, rather than our being enslaved to something which seems increasingly foreign to us. It is as if we began refusing to submit to cultural forms that obviously have nothing to do with our lives, or with life, and everything to do with profit for a few.”
“We can be really together only to the degree that we allow ourselves to be fully alone.”
– by Robert Greenway, co-founder of Salmon Creek Farm, from “Dwelling” by River (1974)
“I find myself now part of a community of people trying to come to terms with the need to create more wholesome ways of living. We have spent some time trying to “go back” to life styles of the past which seem saner that what we have known in our lives. And we have learned much about simplification and some primitive paths to contentment. We have also become painfully aware that however much cheese we make and wood we chop and however many plants we grow, there’s no getting away from our connections with a culture from which we come. Our escapist Utopian fantasies have faded before the growing consciousness that we must all become active participants in the creation of a new life, if any of us are to survive. We want to take part in the creation of a life-style that is as good for our earth (and thus for everyone) as it is for ourselves. We don’t know how.”
“We go to the wilderness to rediscover the basic, primal trust that dwells within the natural. We go to the city to rekindle our creative spirits in the exciting thrust of the cultural. We come home to our thirty acres of forest and meadow land wondering how to grow into the balance we seek – how to stretch ourselves between the poles of the paradox – how to live out the vision of wholeness that beckons.”
“I am amazed and grateful that we came to live here; I celebrate our escape. Seconds later, I wince at the recognition of our privilege, for with the privilege comes responsibility – and as we take control of our lives we wish to help our brothers and sisters do the same.”
– by River, co-founder of Salmon Creek Farm, from “Dwelling” (1974)
“The ’60s communards came to Albion Ridge as settlers looking for land. In 1968, the commune at Table Mountain Ranch became the first of many on Albion Ridge. In the decade following, hundreds of young people would join them on the Ridge, sometimes permanently, more often not; thousands would pass through. This is the story of the Albion “nation”—a community of communards and back-to-the-landers, as well as a miscellany of antinomians who made their homes here. It begins a little known but important chapter in the history of utopia in Northern California, one that focuses neither on media stars, nor on the most bizarre and outlandish but on the experience of groups of ordinary young people who came to the Mendocino coast in the ’60s and ’70s, many of whom continue to reside here.
In 1971, Robert Greenway, a Sonoma State professor and Sally Shook, formerly a suburban Washington, D.C., housewife, and their collective seven children settled at nearby Salmon Creek Farm on Middle Ridge and invited others to join them. Closer to Albion, Carmen Goodyear and her partner Jeannie Tetrault established Thai Farm, a “women’s land” and a small collective/commune. Trillium, also a women’s commune, was settled just down the road. It was not so intentional. “We were just trying to get to more of a country scene. I didn’t move up here to be a commune. I didn’t move up here because of the women. I just saw the beauty, the Mendocino coast” (Weed). One estimate is that by the mid-’70s, the communards/back-to-the-landers, that is, “‘permanent’ settlers on Albion Ridge may have numbered 500 or more” (Moonlight)
The house at Table Mountain had to be rebuilt, sleeping quarters constructed—they were scattered around the house in woods connected by paths. Gardens were begun, animals—goats, sheep, geese, a pony, and chickens—gathered and tended in a process that became the norm and was followed at Salmon Creek Farm and at the women’s communes down the ridge. The sleeping houses were built sometimes from the rag-tag outbuildings that abounded on such homesteads, sometimes from scratch by hand. The “big” house was communal, with a kitchen and a place for important gatherings; the sleeping houses were more or less private. Times Change Press at Salmon Creek Farm published accounts of communal life…”
– excerpt from West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California