Rachel Hopkin

Folklorist and Radio Producer

Flying Frog Farm – a radio doc about a 1970s Kentucky commune

24 December, 2013

For the two years that I was studying for a Masters in Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University, I was also making a series of Folkloristic Radio programs about Kentucky’s traditional culture on the side for WKYU. The last of these has just been broadcast.

It’s about the Flying Frog Farm – a commune started in 1972 in rural Allen County by a group of Baltimore hippies and which remained active for 3 or 4 years. I first heard about the place when I was doing some fieldwork for the Allen County Folklife and Oral History Project last summer. Allen County, as I found, is a very rural area, fairly conservative, very much in the Bible Belt. It’s also completely dry – you can’t even buy a drink with a meal in a restaurant. So I began to get interested in what I imagined must have been quite a clash of cultures between the young urban “freaks” and the native Kentuckians. However, as I got to know some of the Frog Farmers and one or two of their former neighbors, it turned out that that culture clash – while it may have existed – was less of a story than I’d imagined.

Which is not to say there weren’t differences. I especially liked hearing about about how the local people became concerned at the poverty in which the newcomers seemed to be living – as evidenced by their proclivity for wearing old patched clothing – and so arrived with truckloads of home-made outfits to offer as gifts, not realizing that for the hippies wearing patched clothes was quite the badge of honor. However, as I got into making the program, what struck me more was how well everyone had seemed to get on. Some Allen County farmers went out of their way to help the transplants who were intent on getting “back to the land” and raising their own organic food (the concept of organic was pretty novel at the time), despite having absolutely zero prior experience of rural life or of growing anything or of milking a cow and so on.

I also became interested in the extent to which many members of the Baltimore group have maintained their friendships with one another for over forty years on from that formative time, and have also kept ties with the land on which they once lived together. After the commune dissolved, some chose to buy out tracts from the other members, some moved nearby to Bowling Green, and many of the others – even the ones who live in far flung parts of the US – return for the annual hoedowns which take place each September or for the five yearly reunions.

The most recent of these – the 40th reunion – took place on 4th July this year and I was lucky enough to be invited along for a magical evening. I got to eavesdrop on memories and music making, and partake in a delicious potluck. In this way, the former “Frogs” have been sharing food and music with their neighbors for decades.

Places are holders of culture and meaning and the Flying Frog Farm is a very special place.

After the party, Al Levenson, one of the early Frog Farmers and a contributor to the program, sent me this photo which he took at the reunion. I’m in the center, sitting on the ground.

Noted folklorist and ethnomusicologist, Rachel Hopkin, collecting field recordings from a tribal gathering in Southern Ky. July 4, 2012

Al asked me to caption it like this:- “Noted folklorist and ethnomusicologist, Rachel Hopkin, collecting field recordings from a tribal gathering in Southern Ky. July 4, 2012”