For The Collective Quarterly.
Inside an anarchist utopia of paradise horticulture
As a young man, he spent three years working for the Peace Corps in a tribal society in Borneo. The experience challenged his value system. “People lived so simply in contrast to how we live, and they weren’t necessarily less happy or healthy,” he explains. “It was interesting to see a society where they just did everything: they didn’t go to a guy for repairs. They built their houses; they grew their food; they did the whole shot.”
Afterward, he completed a brief stint at an academic bookstore in Detroit before abandoning the city entirely and following friends to the Pisgah region. In 1972, he took several hundred dollars and zero experience and invested it all in a few acres of woodland on a mountainside northeast of Asheville, where he aimed to grow native and exotic plants for food, medicine, and craft.
He describes Mountain Gardens as an “anarchist garden community,” where there are numerous responsibilities, from constructing shelter to beekeeping—and from cultivating fruits, herbs, and vegetables to food preservation. A rotating cast of a dozen adults might be present at a given time, and as Hollis writes on his website, “whatever they need is provided, including help (apprentices), guidance (elders), tools, materials, and texts.”
In 1992, Hollis published a 2,500-word manifesto on Paradise Gardening, outlining his effort to build an ecosystem both human and botanical. He concludes the essay with a stanza from a poem—Robert Frost’s “Build Soil”:
You see the beauty of my proposal is / It needn’t wait on general revolution / I bid you to a one-man revolution / The only revolution that is coming.
Excerpt from Seth Putnam's story