For the past few weeks, TikTok has been oversaturated with posts revolving around a Kentucky commune: brandished Eden, the self-sustaining group has 50 members of varying odors, and they’re actively looking for people to join. With the address of the commune listed in their profile, the account thegardenfrees posts regular TikToks showing day-to-day life. These videos contain an array of barefoot mouth-breathers grinning to the camera, pointing to the wood they are chopping and offering a relatable roll of their eyes, as if to say, “ugh, work, am I right?”
The account is run by a chirpy little redheaded man with an ambiguous but distinctly-not-American accent. Going by the moniker “Ocean,” he exhibits a childlike love of the universe, splashing in puddles, rolling down hills and skinning alive and eating cats.
“Everyone is welcome in the Garden of Eden,” he says to the camera as if sharing a special secret, blueish eyes twinkling, “as long as you have a good work ethic and love to work and be working. Also, we totally curate good vibes here — after you are done working for the day and loved every second of your labor.”
Despite an ongoing pandemic, he internationally travels to other communes. He spent two weeks in Puerto Rico, citing an issue where he has to be out of the country for a week to take care of “business.” Any concerns regarding the possibility of getting COVID-19 are thwarted immediately: “I’ve been manifesting to not, like, get the coronavirus, and I do my daily positive affirmations. I think you’d be surprised with how much you get out of life if you are always equipped with some good vibes.”
Controversy seems to follow the commune’s TikTok. The comments have a generous outpour of cult accusations, which seems to bother the members Ocean interviews on his account. “If we were a cult, would we do this?” asks a female member showing the daily hour of meditation, where all members face a wall and murmur the group’s mantra about “planting the seed.”
Other criticisms have been regarding the ethicality of this group. Some of Ocean’s videos have children running around or asking the TikTok audience to come and bring their kids for them to play with, and he admitted the education of the children on the commune is based off of the Farmers’ Almanac of the 1790s. Meanwhile, there are allegedly members with pasts of being serial abusers and imprisoned, to which Ocean says, “These guys have shown us they can reform, too. They know what it’s like to work backbreaking labor for no reward, and, plus, they offer such enlightening conversations.”
Also, despite having 50 members and apparently existing for 15 years, the commune only has five houses and a bus where they cook. That doesn’t mean living conditions are horrible; in fact, everyone loves to sleep next to each other at night because it “really helps one get connected with the consciousness of nature and its human creations” and they feel their hours of hammering unusable wood actually means something.
As one final response to the cult label, Ocean read the constitution to the commune: “Eden is a self-sustainable, diverse commune. Our goals are to create an expansive network of like-minded communities that help us gain notoriety in sharing our message around the whole world. Also, I know it says online that we are tax-exempt because we filed our community as a 501D, but, like, I think the government’s got hacked or something. We’re actually a 501-C3, and I don’t know how the government got that so wrong, ha. That’s pretty crazy.”
With this statement, worries were assuaged. Eden is simply a group of zany outcasts with a love for nature, productivity and skinning alive and eating cats. Just because they love the outdoors and getting their feet and hands dirty does not mean they are doing something inherently wrong. Their wish to capitalize and gain power as an organization doesn’t make them cultists either.
“What we have here is the peace and love renaissance, baby. And we’ll keep it rolling, ain’t that right, gov’nuh?” Ocean says to his TikTok audience, a charismatic smile painted upon his features and a wink directed to the camera.