Running Water Farm
By Rachel Olsen, 2012
Running Water Farm is a farm in Bakersville, North Carolina on Roan Mountain that was the site of publication of RFD magazine from 1980 to 1989, as well as a gathering space for gay men (especially faeries) twice yearly from 1978 to 1989.
Creating Running Water Farm
The farm, which was then just a small cabin in the woods, was bought by Mikel Wilson in 1973. He was the first to improve the land and the building by creating garden spaces and running a pipeline in from a local spring. The cabin remained his private home until 1978, and he spent most of those years carving out a living in the North Carolina mountains and coming to terms with his own gay identity.
In April of 1978, Wilson attended the Southeast Conference of Lesbians and Gay Men in Atlanta, which was the turning point for Running Water Farm’s purposes. At the conference, there was a major divide between gay men and lesbians because lesbians felt the conference, and the men there, were not addressing their issues. The lesbians decided to establish their own, separate, women-only caucus; and this spurred the men there to realize that they might benefit from a men-only caucus as well. Wilson offered his home at Running Water Farm as a space for such a gathering, and it was this decision that changed the history of the farm completely.
Gatherings at Running Water Farm, 1978-1989
The first Running Water Farm gathering happened in June 1978, at which thirty men discussed issues of “spirituality, [their] place in society, relationships, and personal growth.” Though the gathering was not specifically for faeries, men at this gathering were already self-defining as faeries; this is remarkable because the first official Radical Faerie gathering did not happen until over a year later. At this gathering and the ones that followed, one could expect to find “heart circles, acceptance, gay spirituality, fabulous outrageous drag, unconditional gentle love, vegetarian feasts, childlike playfulness, amazing performances, fey ritual, hot genuine sex, and natural native beauty,” which were all part of a faerie identity and lifestyle.
Men who attended these gatherings spoke of how refreshing and novel they were, especially compared to other conferences happening at the time. Wilson remarked after one gathering that “the most important aspect was that one did not feel compelled to attend any of the structured events” – men could come and go as they pleased, engaging in serious discussions or attending only recreational events. Another man who attended the gatherings remarked, “One of my other real vivid memories of Running Water was just how innocent people were. I think that maybe that was true in general of the early faerie gatherings… there was a way we connected with one another that wasn’t as complicated as it is now.” These quotes capture the essence of being a faerie and attending faerie gatherings at that time: having a free-spirit, a sense of innocence, and a connection to nature and to other gay men.
In 1979, after three successful gatherings, Wilson sold Running Water Farm to four men: Ron Lambe, Peter Kendrick, Rocco Patt, and John Jones. These men continued the twice-yearly gatherings at Running Water Farm until 1989, by which point they had outgrown the small, rustic farm and needed larger and better facilities. The faerie gatherings and culture at Running Water Farm thus gave way to Gay Spirit Visions, a more structured organization based around the same faerie ideals.
RFD at Running Water Farm, 1980-1989
RFD is a reader-written seasonal magazine founded in 1974 with the tagline “A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere.” In reality, it caters to a variety of interests by virtue of it being written by men all over the country, rural and urban based. Prior to 1980, RFD was published in multiple locations throughout America, including Iowa, North Carolina, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon under multiple presses; it has had a long history of mobility due to issues with finding presses that would print it.
Starting in 1980, Running Water Farm and the four men who owned it took over the production of RFD, with Ron Lambe doing the bulk of the work. It was while RFD was published here that it began to take on a more political and spiritual focus, rather than simply looking at rural lifestyles. Running Water Farm was a major gathering space for faeries twice yearly, which may have influenced the direction the magazine was taking; but it is also reflective of the growing Radical Faerie movement in general, and the fact that many RFD readers- and thus writers- identified with the movement. RFD could not print what was not submitted to them, and so RFD moved in a new direction in its time at Running Water Farm.
RFD’s production was moved to Short Mountain Sanctuary in 1989, when Running Water Farm essentially dissolved.
Running Water Farm’s Lasting Impact
After 1989, without the gatherings or RFD, Running Water Farm lay mainly in disuse, until eventually it was sold to a straight couple who had been neighbors and friends of the men living and gathering there. The farm is thus no longer related to the Radical Faeries or gay causes in general.
Despite its dissolution, Running Water Farm had a huge lasting impact on the men who lived and attended gatherings there. In 2009, at a Gay Spirit Visions conference, Ron Lambe said the following about his time at Running Water Farm:
“We kept Running Water going and then we took on RFD. That went on for about eight or nine years, I guess. We were probably living on about $4000 a year, which was pretty back to the land. We grew a lot of our vegetables, we belonged to a food co-op and our main income was producing RFD and having the gatherings. The gatherings paid for the taxes. They were very cheap to host. And a little gas and insurance, we had very little expenses. But they were rich years of great food, great friends, colorful dinners… musical events. It was rich. We had great experiences with that. Many great memories.”
(1) Caulkins, D. B.. Recollections of Running Water Farm. Retrieved fromhttp://www.gayspiritvisions.org/who_we_are/running_water_farm.html
(8) Retrieved from http://www.rfdmag.org/
(9) Wehmann, K. H. (1983). RFD; A look at the turbulent life of “A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere.” Gay Community News, 10(33).
(10) Caulkins, D. B.. Recollections of Running Water Farm. Retrieved fromhttp://www.gayspiritvisions.org/who_we_are/running_water_farm.html
(11) Wehmann, K. H. (1983). RFD; A look at the turbulent life of “A Country Journal for Gay Men Everywhere.” Gay Community News, 10(33).
(12) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFD_(magazine)
(13) Caulkins, D. B.. Recollections of Running Water Farm. Retrieved fromhttp://www.gayspiritvisions.org/who_we_are/running_water_farm.html