This blog story involves a shrinking Kansas farm town populated by 1,931 souls, an iconic British pop music group, a once-obscure yogi, the meteoric growth of organic produce, and the forthcoming World Capital of Peace.
Founded in 1872 in memory of Civil War hero Major Nathan Smith, Smith Center is in north central Kansas near the Nebraska border. The community claims a notable native as its own: Fatty Arbuckle, one of the most famous and scandalized vaudeville and silent film comedians ever. Other than this superficial brush with fame (Arbuckle was born there, but his parents moved away when he was a year old), Smith Center has changed little in the last 50 years as a rural farm community and county seat. That is, until March 2006.
On one portentous spring day, representatives of a mysterious and elusive yogi announced their purchase of 480 acres of verdant farmland. Their seer and leader is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the transcendental meditation movement. TM, as it’s more commonly called, involves silently focusing on a sound or mantra to achieve a state of pure consciousness. TM, some believe, has the power to overcome stress, end poverty, and achieve world peace.
To understand the significance of this curious news from a generational perspective, we need to take a trip back to the sixties. The counter-culture was in full bloom, and cultural celebrities began experimenting with inner-space travel. Clint Eastwood was doing it. So was fellow director David Lynch. And pop musician Donovan. And actress Mia Farrow.
At the height of their fame and drug indulgences, The Beatles decided to retreat to India and submit to the ministrations of the then-unknown maharishi; suddenly hip and well-financed college students were learning these mysterious meditative techniques.
And this is where Smith Center and the famous yogi intersect. The 480-acre site is located in the Brahmasthan (geographical center) of America. The World Capital of Peace complex will include 12 to 15 buildings, each about 12,000 square feet, with living quarters and meeting space.
People living in the community will focus on practicing transcendental meditation and organic farming, but the site will also be open to tourists, especially those lured for Vedic massage and spa treatments. Smith Center is to be the centerpiece of 3,000 “Peace Palaces” the group intends to build worldwide, with many Palaces being located near government capitol buildings.
When they’re not meditating about world peace and sending “waves of coherence” across the nation, devotees will be undertaking massive organic gardening projects. And their timing couldn’t be better.
Also in March, venerable retailer Wal-Mart announced that its stores would start offering products from organic and sustainable sources, a keystone event signaling that organic has fully gone mainstream. And, according to the Organic Trade Association, Boomers are fueling the organic buying trend.
What does Smith Center have to do with Boomers? Well, two links.
First, Boomers were the earliest devotees of the maharishi, and many of his most committed followers today were teenagers during the sixties. Second, Boomers represent the largest cohort in the Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability (LOHAS) market segment identified by my colleagues at the Natural Marketing Institute.
I believe that Boomers will unveil their retirement years in counter-intuitive ways, which includes creating burgeoning rural communities presently untouched by their condos and gourmet coffee shops. Many will be lured away from traditional retirement centers (a.k.a Florida and Arizona) because formerly low-cost traditional retirement developments have been undergoing spurious local inflation during the last decade.
Smith Center does not even have a McDonald’s, and that means something to millions who are now searching for the answer to their own inner aspirations: to find an affordable, halcyon retirement place with a powerful sense of community.