In the mid 1970s I was a young mom enjoying homemaking and doing a lot of things the old fashioned way. My parents and grandparents had modeled and taught me a life that included things homegrown and handmade. I was really in touch with that part of my gene pool. One day my mom saw an interesting guest on a TV talk show. This young woman had put together a publication about living a lifestyle close to the land. Her publication couldn’t really be called a book, as it was an unbound bundle of mimeographed pages.
She was offering copies of it for sale, and she promised to mail succeeding additions to the material to subscribers. Mom told me about the interview and the publication for sale. But she went a step further and ordered a set for me. I can’t remember if it was Christmas or my birthday, but I received the most wonderful bunch of information in a 3-ring binder. Little by little, the new chapters were added.
The title of that publication? An Old Fashioned Recipe Book by Carla Emery. You may recognize Carla’s name. As she added more material, the growing bundle of pages became much more than a recipe book. Eventually she bound it all into a book with a new name: The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
I referred to my notebook often as I tried out new techniques in my home and garden. Carla’s granola became a staple in our pantry. I learned to make yogurt, peanut butter, mayonnaise, and many other concoctions. Jim and I also read her sections on livestock while deciding what to raise on our first acreage.
My tattered, foodstained, and fingerprinted original copies of Carla’s Encyclopedia are long gone, probably misplaced during one of our moves or accidentally discarded during a purging of clutter. But I have gifted two of my kids with the nice recently published version of the book. Carla passed away several years ago, but her legacy lives on in our family and many others!
Learning the Rural Lifestyle Return to Our Roots
Tell us about your prior city life—family, home, jobs? We’ve both lived in a city neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20+ years, together for the 8 ½ yrs since we were married. We had some extended family nearby, and our two late teen/20s kids lived with us some of the time.
What drew you to move to a rural area? Both of us had grown up in more rural settings. In Minnesota, lived on 5 acres, surrounded by homes on larger properties, off a dead end dirt road with a pond and lots of trees. Lived outside a small town in Ohio with space to garden and do other projects. We desired to get back to a life such as this for quite a while. But with a calling to work, church and relationships where we lived, we waited for the leading and open door from God who is our chosen decision maker. We are more than ready for the rural living
What brought you to this particular area? Five years previously we had driven through this area and environs just to explore on our way home from another city. We remember saying something to the tune of “wouldn’t it be nice to live here”–and then forgetting about it. Over the few several years we actually contemplated what it would be like to move over there, especially as allergies were getting worse.
But after talking to family in other areas, we decided the water rights, dryness and snakes were more than we wanted to commit to. We figured perhaps we should look at moving a bit north instead…Many things led to our reevaluation of this place we’d visited, but it all came down to hints and nudges from that same Source that had kept us in the city as long had plans for us there. We were always looking at land online, putting in specifics like elevation, amount of trees, etc. He found himself looking at one particular piece of land for sale. He liked the lay of the land and even the name of the road. It happened to be located in that area we liked. The first of our clues was in place.
How did you prepare for your move? We looked at the property, put an offer on it, and purchased the land we knew we were led to. We got the hint that God was serious about us moving, and we put everything into high gear. We had already planned to sell our city house if we knew we were to go somewhere and when we knew where it was we were to go next. We had been in a long process of renovating the house, and put school aside to finish it. Meanwhile she resigned from her job to pack and clear the house for eventual sale.
This all began in March, and we made the first stage of our move the first of October. We applied for a job and started the foundation for a Quonset storage building on the land. Shortly after we secured a job, our house sold for full price within one month from listing—do you think there was a bigger plan than our own here? So beginning of November found us moving our final stuff over, renting a place in town for the winter, and saying goodbye to our life in the city and friends who lived there.
What kind of research or preparing did you do? I guess you could call our research prayer. We began with listening to what we thought we heard God saying, and followed up on gentle clues that He dropped along the way for the how, when and why. Work was a consideration–we knew that we had to have a source of income and health insurance from employment. Here again, God was faithful to provide.
As we stepped forward in faith in buying the land, we found that there was a local position open in the very setting that Mary was hoping to transition to. The was also Homesteading Insurance. As for research, obviously, God was our first source of information. The mediums through which we walked out His plan involved connecting with friends whom we discovered were just ahead of us in transitioning to the area, internet sources, and physical visits to the area.
How did your family and friends react? For a number of years in our Christmas letter to friends and relatives we had talked of our plans to renovate our house with hopes to move out to the country when we got the chance. So it wasn’t a surprise to them in a way. But it was disturbing for many when it actually happened, surprise or not, as a 6-7 hour drive is not conducive to Sunday dinner. Some friends were dubious about the decisions we were making and said so, but most were just encouraging of the fulfillment of what we had expressed as our dream.
What challenges did you face with your transition? The usual everything happening at once, changing everything. We sold our three vehicles and got two other more winter/rough ready. We stored most of our stuff, keeping out what we thought we might need but not knowing exactly where we were going to be initially.
We weeded out what was needed in the 35-foot used trailer we bought to start us out in the fall. We thankfully had a few familiar faces in the area we moved to, but other relationships were to start from scratch again.
What changes were easy to make? Being out of the city was easy, as was the change to snow as winter came on. This was due to our first 20+ years of life in a four-season climate and semi-rural areas.
What tips would you give someone thinking about moving to a rural area?
- KNOW that you can do without a Starbucks on every corner, Costco, or whatever else one is used to that would not be local or even close to the rural region.
- Have an openness and curiosity about how the new setting will change YOU and how you live, because you won’t be changing it.
- Whether you are originally from the city or the country, if you’re not from THIS part of the country, you will have some cultural adjusting to do.
You’re Never Too Old for Adventure!
When we bought our first acreage, we were just shy of 30 years old. We both dug in and worked hard to make that land into a small farm for our family. We had all the energy in the world! We was working full time in the city, and on weekends he was building fences, mending fences, planting fruit trees, tilling garden plots. I was a stay-at-home mom with three young kids, making our house a home, growing some of our food, and doing lots of domestic things “the old fashioned way.” After that, life took us here and there for a few decades, and flash forward to today—we are just shy of 60 years old! We are both digging in to make this land a farm for our family. But guess what? We no longer have all the energy in the world!
We have enough, though. We are putterers and we like to stay busy—it seems to be in our genes. Neither of us lacks for ideas for more things to do around here. But we are wise enough to pace ourselves and leave some tasks to our younger family members. We keep an eye on each other and watch for telltale signs that we need a break or need to get help for something. We rarely miss our afternoon coffee date together, whether it’s in the living room, at the kitchen table, on folding chairs in the barn, or somewhere in our beautiful “backyard.”
Of course our life would be different if our kids had not wanted to make this a joint family project. If it were just the two of us, on 10 or 20 acres just outside a small town, not far from family, with a few chickens, a steer or two, a garden, and some fruit trees. But since we are part of this extended family adventure, we are enjoying it to the hilt with projects and wide open spaces galore. Our personal mantra comes from the movie “Far and Away.”
You may know the story: Joseph and Shannon, played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, escape from their unfulfilling lives in Ireland and sail to America. Shannon’s parents, Daniel and Nora, come looking for their runaway daughter. They all end up in the Midwest during the Oklahoma Land Rush. Daniel and Nora, a middle-aged couple, embark on a frantic (and comical) race to claim a piece of land. As they stand victoriously surveying their chosen prize, Daniel says tenderly to Nora:
“Let’s pretend we’re starting out instead of ending up.”
Here’s to starting out…at any age and Getting There
Tell us about your prior city or suburban life—family, home, job?
We both grew up in suburban areas. We raised four kids, living in large and small homes on city lots and acreage of 2 acres and 5 acres, with gardens, beef cows and horses. Career in commercial construction and development was pretty fast-paced and required a lot of travel and commuting.
What drew you to move to a rural area?
We’d always liked country life…growing things…open space around us. We wanted to stay active in our senior years. Life in a condo or golf course community just didn’t appeal to us.
What brought you to this particular area?
Our adult kids were searching several states for property for all of us to live on together as neighbors. We found the ad for this property. Though it was much bigger than we were looking for, we loved it and bought it.
How long did you prepare to move?
We made our permanent move three years after buying the property.
What kind of research or preparing did you do?
We got familiar with the land, the community, and local building regulations. We put in infrastructure—roads, utilities, etc. We built a large utility barn with a small home in one side of it. We also did a lot of research on topics related to farming, wildlife, and forestry and took some great courses through our local extension office.
How did you know when it was time to make the move?
Things just kind of fell into place and we were free to make the change. One summer we lived in our travel trailer while we built the utility barn. The following spring we packed up and moved. We spent five months in the trailer again while we finished out our home within the barn.
How did your family and friends react?
Our immediate family was very happy—all eight of our kids and our grandchildren love the place. Some of our friends are living vicariously through us, some aren’t especially interested. And some probably think we’re crazy to make this move at our age.
What challenges did you face with your transition?
Change of climate…living farther from town…missing family and friends. But we’ve adapted.
What changes were easy to make?
We don’t miss the traffic one single bit! We love being outdoors so much of our day. The slower pace and casualness of the life is really appealing. We’ve cut our wardrobes way down and live in jeans and T shirts. We’re sort of pioneering kind of people anyway.
What tips would you give someone thinking about moving to a rural area?
Make sure you really want the life—not just to visit, but to live it day after day. You may have to go cut up a windfall tree when you’d rather be watching a football game. Or you might need to check on a sick animal when you’d really love to stay in bed another couple of hours. You may miss shopping, takeout or restaurant dining, city entertainment, or big league sports events.
How much change can you comfortably make? This goes for yourself, your family and anyone else that will be moving with you.
BUT if you do make that decision, go for it and enjoy it! It’s a bit like the best advice we’ve heard for marriage: go into it with your eyes wide open and after that, keep your eyes half shut. In other words, before you make the move, look at all the pros and cons, challenges and compromises. Know what you’re getting into and what you’re choosing for your future. Then say yes or no. If you decide to go rural, don’t let the negatives and glitches rule your life or hang you up. Keep your eyes on the good and the positive (and the rewards) and when times are tough, remind yourself once again why you chose this new life.
On the farm
We’ve successfully raised six pigs, and several local families now have freezers full of delicious pork. We raised up a batch of replacement laying hens and processed the extra cockerels for the soup pot. We learned to grind our own wholesome feed for pigs and chickens, using local non-GMO ingredients. Our garden was fruitful, despite a shortage of water in the driest months. Some crops did well, while others did…not so great!
Though we managed to harvest just a few puny zucchini, we probably have enough tomatoes and peppers to last the year. (Yes, you read that correctly, and no, that was not a typo. Even our zucchini did not grow well this year!). We planted more fruit trees, grapevines, and berry bushes. Our new hybrid greenhouse/garden shed will be ready for winter seed starts. Fencing was fortified to keep deer out of the orchard; screening was applied to the greenhouse to keep the chickens from snacking on seedlings.
Rural Living Today Plans We have some clear expectations.
But not all plans just happen like clockwork. We have plenty of ideas and plans that may or may not take place or be successful. But we like to keep growing, keep learning, and keep experimenting in this homesteading life of ours!
We hope to:
- make improvements on our home, our outbuildings, our property.
- raise more types of food and greater quantities of it.
- tweak all our seed starting, gardening, food processing and storage systems.
- do more clearing, homesite preparation, and construction of various small and large structures.
- discover new ways to reach out in our community and exchange knowledge, expertise, and products with others.
- help more of you readers with more of your challenges, and produce more great material to help you as you explore the joys of rural living.
We hope to have more successes than failures! But we’ll learn and grow, no matter what.
We’ll talk more about planning in our next post, Winter Planning for Spring and Summer Success. and Springtime Is Peeping on Our Farm
It’s Planning Time Again
This year? Some of the same, and a few new projects Again we’re perusing seed and supply catalogs, looking for new ideas and ways to improve our systems. Some of our favorite educational resources:
U.S. Cooperative Extension (articles/webinars here; enter your zip code for local Extension offices)
We plan to increase both pork and poultry production. Beef is also a possibility but will require a lot more fencing.
In the garden, we’re thinking greenhouses. We finished a small hybrid garden shed/greenhouse last year and are getting it ready for seed starts. We also hope to put in a larger greenhouse to extend our growing season a bit in spring and fall.
For our livestock, garden, and orchard, water is a priority. We need to increase our water supply, which involves bringing water from our secondary well to a cistern on the highest point of our property.
Tools for planning
Everyone seems to have a favorite system or two for planning. Often a combination of methods works well. Here are some ideas:
For handwritten notes and papers
Composition books: For keeping notes, Marie LOVES these little notebooks that always seem to be available for less than a dollar each in office/school supply sections of local stores. They come with all sorts of cover designs so it’s easy to tell them apart at a glance. Right now Marie has several of them going for topics like household, garden, livestock, Rural Living Today, product sales, and finances. Small sticky notes make great section dividers (you could also insert premade adhesive divider tabs).
Three-ring binders: We also have several of these on our reference bookshelf, holding printed material, garden plans, sketches, and other things with long-term value. A binder can be fitted with dividers, pockets, sheet protectors, and even the zipper pencil pouches for small loose scraps.
File folder systems: Some people prefer this method of organization for general planning. We use them in file drawers and boxes for record-keeping. Marie also has some in a vertical rack on her desktop where we can easily drop in receipts, notes, and anything else that will fit.
Computer and online note and record systems
Evernote, OneNote, Notepad, Sticky Notes: What’s available on your computer? We’ve liked every one we’ve tried, but we have favorites. Bethany’s desktop Sticky Notes keep her on top of things. Jim keeps notes and does all his writing on OneNote. Marie’s new favorite is Evernote (free to download) for its ability to clip and pin articles and website pages in addition to keeping notes and lists. Some of the programs can be synced to more than one electronic tool or between user computers.
Word processor and spreadsheet documents: Just start a page and add to it as needed. A word processor is great for text-heavy lists and notes. It will also make some tables and other helpful forms. A spreadsheet will track numbers and make calculations; these are awesome for year-to-year comparisons. Bethany uses lots of spreadsheets for personal, farm, and business tracking.
Published books, software, and other systems
Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger of The Prairie Homestead is a great planning and discovery tool. It features questions that guide the evaluation of your own wishes and goals for your homesteading life. It packs a lot of punch for only $4.99! See our interview with Jill and a description of this wonderful system.
Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner will help you plan your garden layout and access tons of information about individual plants and their growing needs. After a 30-day free trial, you’ll have the option to subscribe for continuing use at $25.00 per year. This can be a real time-saver for those who have limited time for research.
The Seed Keeper is a ready made seed organization kit with plastic box, dividers, and other small tools. At $24.99 it’s an easy way to start, but DIY’ers will find it easy to put together a similar system with items on hand. We’ve used cardboard and plastic shoe boxes with cardboard dividers. In this video, Marjory Wildcraft of Grow Your Own Groceries shares her DIY seed organization system. Cool and dry storage is probably the most important factor for seed saving, but it’s sure easier to find seeds when they’re organized to some degree.
There are lots of other planning and organization systems available online and in local stores. If you’re like us, you’ll try many over the years and keep on tweaking as your needs and availability of products change.