NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Stephen Gaskin, a visionary who established one of the country’s oldest surviving communes, located in rural middle Tennessee, has died. He was 79.

Gretchen Bates, who grew up on The Farm and is close to Gaskin’s family, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Gaskin died of natural causes at his home in Summertown on Tuesday.

Bates said Gaskin had been ill for a while, and that she recently visited him. She described him as a visionary and spiritual guide who advocated being responsible and giving back to the community.

“He made us think about taking responsibility for your life … and trying to give back as much as you possibly could,” said Bates, who describes herself as one of the “baby boomers” of The Farm. “He really was a visionary.”

A message on The Farm’s website reads: “We mourn the passing of Stephen Gaskin, our founder and friend. Our community would not exist, were it not for his bravery and free spirit.”

In 1970, Gaskin and his school bus led a caravan of about 320 hippies to 1,750 acres of rough ridge country where they founded the back-to-basics collective.

By 1980, The Farm’s population had grown to more than 1,200 in Lewis County near Summertown. But a financial crisis a few years later led to a reorganization in which members began paying monthly dues.

Currently, The Farm has about 200 residents. Most of them work in nearby towns, while others work within the community for homegrown industries like a book publishing company and soy dairy.

In 1997, Gaskin wrote in an opinion piece published in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville that his “freethinking” philosophy was generational.

Gaskin said his grandmother, who drove a covered wagon from Tennessee to Texas, was a freethinker and a suffragette who marched in the streets for the right of women to vote.

And he said her brother helped organize the longshoremen’s union on the waterfront in San Francisco in the 1930s and ’40s.

“We have been freethinkers for generations,” Gaskin wrote.

“And … I have passed my philosophical and religious ways on to my children, who are very proud of their heritage and ancestors.”