This Life


I can remember a time when I drove down the somewhat remote potholed road in front of the house where my father grew up, saying, “I don’t know how anyone could live out here. What would they do in the winter?” Potholed it may be, but that road is actually paved. Sort of, in a neglectful fashion. I used to visit the West Virginia backroads where my father was raised, where my great-grandfather once owned 800 acres, where my great-great-grandfather’s house still stands, on ritual family history vacations with my family. We’d stay in an old ramshackle, mouse-ridden cabin on the only piece yet remaining of my great-grandfather’s farm. We shot tin cans, played in the river, swung on grapevines, used the outhouse, and toured the family headstones in the forgotten cemeteries.

Then we went home to our comfortable suburban existence, secure in the knowledge that the grocery store was around the corner and the mall was 10 minutes away.

I continued these ritual family history vacations with my own children, never dreaming one day I’d live on a road worse than the one I thought must be so impassible in the winter. I’m a seemingly unlikely homesteader. I was always attracted to the country in a dreamy-storybook way, but it seemed far too exotic and foreign to actually ever fit into my life. In the 1960s and 1970s, rural movement was somewhat narrowly defined in youth counter-culture. I was just a child then and was completely unaware of the so-called back-to-the-landers. Today, I don’t fall into any of the stereotypical media models of our modern rural revival. I’m not a survivalist, a hippie, a fundamentalist, a homeschooler, or a retiree. I fall into a different category, one that crosses all those lines and more, and one that could only be born of the age of the iPad and was completely unpredicted when our parents imagined our futures in terms of Star Trek.

With the increasing sophistication, digitalization, and conveniences of today’s world, most of us can live our entire lives barely lifting a finger other than to a keyboard. Like an extreme sport, homesteading is an exercise of the human spirit. A testing of our bodies, minds, and wills outside the luxurious twenty-first century box. Just as our grandparents and parents fled the farm, eager to clasp Linoleum, Parkay, and K-Mart to their bosoms, we flee in the other direction. We want to build fences, raise chickens, milk a cow, dig a root cellar, home-can vegetables, bake bread, and grow our own fruit. We don’t have to do it; we want to do it. We do it for the self-sustainability, the fresh food, the satisfaction of a day’s work, and the steely test of our wills. Some of us do it on farms, some of us do it on a few acres. Some of us even do it in one-bedroom urban apartments.

We’re the new back-to-the-landers.

Not everybody understands us, but that’s okay. We don’t understand them either.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on June 14, 2011  

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  1. 6-14

    :snoopy: So true..Isn’t Life Grand!!
    My family thinks I was born in the wrong era..I agree..
    Granny Trace

  2. 6-14

    To me it’s the difference between real food and corporate food. Food that you can understand the ingredient list vs food that is a list of unpronounceable food like substances. Butter from a grass fed cow vs Parkay. Food that tastes good vs food that is bland with a weird chemical aftertaste. Food that sustains life and doesn’t destroy the earth vs food that is shipped thousands of miles. Exercise from real work vs paying to drive to a gym and jog on a treadmill.

    Living mindlessly and following what everyone else is doing (just so gigantic corporations can make money off me) is what I don’t understand.

  3. 6-14

    Simple and to the point. Well said Suzanne!

  4. 6-14

    Yep, last sentence, so true. When I mention things we discuss on here to the people I work with, friends, my city raised kids, they all look at me blankly and say “But why? You can buy it at the store.” But why, when you can make it better, cheaper or easier yourself. And sometimes all three.

    As someone here pointed out in a post, some things are quicker to make compared to “just running to the store”. Pita, hummus and queso blanco come to mind, as long as your pantry is stocked.

    So do you think it skips a generation, my kids won’t be back-to-the-landers but my grandchildren will?

  5. 6-14

    My sisters in the suburbs don’t understand how I can love living in a rural area. Our county has only one stoplight. When I visit them, I see more cars at one stoplight than I would see in an entire month in my county. It is hard work…but the rewards are much sweeter.

  6. 6-14

    Great post! I happily joined the ranks of these folks a few years ago, the new breed that defies pigeon-holing. I like the way you termed it: The New Back-to-the-Landers! Hopefully it’s a movement that is taking hold on a larger scale; our bodies and spirits, and the environment will benefit greatly!

  7. 6-14

    Right now I am one of those suburban dwellers who works in the big city and commutes 45 miles each way in horrible traffic, and dreams of being a Back-to-the-Lander. Maybe someday I can get there too! Your story inspires me!

  8. 6-14

    Well said!!

  9. 6-14

    Thank you, Suzanne, for so eloquently stating why I ditched a 1/2 hour commute for one that runs anywhere from 1.5 – 2 hours each way. As you said, “We don’t have to do it; we want to do it. We do it for the self-sustainability, the fresh food, the satisfaction of a day’s work, and the steely test of our wills.”

    I need my 3 acres in the Quiet Corner of CT to become whole again. Too many years in the corporate rat race steals the life from your soul. And when I quit my day job (SOON!), I’ll be on my way to living the rest of my life the way “I” want to do it. I’m very luck to have a DH that supports and embraces this lifestyle and helps me shrug off the disbelieving looks and comments of those who don’t get it. It’s wonderful to find folks that feel the way I do….

  10. 6-14

    So well said Suzanne. My DSD planted two tomato plants in buckets. I told her she was a farmer now. It’s a start and when she tastes her first fresh tomato, she’ll be hooked.

    Like Granny Trace my children always tell me I was born a century too late. Well they’re really going to think that now. DH and I just bought a house on 12.8 acres. Not quite large enough to be a farm but large enough to have more chickens, a larger garden, fruit, berries and who knows what else. A bit scary but so exciting. I hope to learn even more from everyone here.

  11. 6-14

    Excellent, Suzanne. :happyflower:

    We moved back to the country three years ago, after a 7 year stint in town. Yes, living in town is convenient, but that was it. I truly missed the country, having grown up on a farm and lived on an acreage the first 11 years of our marriage.

    Although, I can’t say that I am a dyed-in-the-wood “back-to-lander”. We live just 5 miles out of town. I don’t have a garden this year since the pigweed takes it over so badly. I do have chickens though! We do have a woodburner. We do what we can or what we choose to do. I love the country….the peace, quiet, seeing the stars, being able to walk outside with my nightgown on if I want! :shimmy:

  12. 6-14

    This post speaks so dear to my heart. It’s the reason I started blogging in the first place. Even though I live in the sticks of South Dakota there are very few people that “get” me. Gardening, canning, sewing, just trying to do as much for yourself is not something people understand. I have plenty of friends and they find me mildly entertaining and call me “earthy”, and “creative”. Any way I’ve felt sort of “different” until I found this site with so many other “earthy” and “creative” people. I love you all. Thanks Suzanne for this post.

  13. 6-14

    52, did you just spill the beans (or did I miss something)? Did Annabelle have her baby? :)

  14. 6-14

    Thank you for stating this so well, Suzanne. Right now we have as much of an urban farm as the city laws allow: 6 hens, 15 meaties, a 900 sq. foot garden we carved out of the back yard then enhance every fall with 50 bags of leaves the neighbors put on the curb and thenmove the chicken coop around on till Springtime. It feeds us and our friends well. I make cheese, can, dehydrate and freeze all this goodness. In four and a half years, we move to the country.

    I value a hand-made life. It takes imagination, creativity, determination and is so rewarding. And I’m blessed to have a partner who values it too. No wonder I feel like I’m right at home here at CITR!

  15. 6-14

    Suzanne, your authentic life is an inspiration! Even those of us who can’t or won’t make the commitment to such a total shift, we are inspired by your blog and your adventures! And we (I do,anyway..) make small changes that make my life more authentic,too.YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!!!!

  16. 6-14

    This post hit home for me. I always feel like I was born in the wrong era! If only I could do all these things and not need the full time job to help pay for the house and land :(

  17. 6-14

    Well said, while I was raised a “country kid” in a farming and ranching family, somewhere along the years the world crept in and took over! Working 8:00-5:00 cuts into the time I would rather be spending at home! But, alas the world keeps me at my day job to provide additional income as well as much needed medical insurance. I remember the days of my mom’s garden and her hours spent in the kitchen canning. Now, even though my kiddos are all grown up, I am on a mission to become as self sustained as possible in this day and age. I love your site and all your insight to living self sustained!!

  18. 6-14

    Thank you for your inspiration! I sometimes feel I can’t embrace this lifestyle that i so dearly want to because I live in the city. I am taking small steps toward this by baking my own bread, cooking my own food instead of restaurants and take out. I dream of having chickens and goats! Maybe one day but for today I am taking one small step at at time. I love reading about all your adventures! Thanks for helping me to realize that I do have choices!

  19. 6-14

    Aptly put!

  20. 6-14

    That last sentence really got me – I’m dying to get out of this city and to the little town of 90 we want to call home. And I just found someone there that is just dying to get to the city! I just don’t understand city folk anymore – nobody here cares about you or would take a minute out of their lives to walk around your body if it were lying on the sidewalk! But some people think that is the way life should be :no:

  21. 6-14

    I grew up in the city, and was too young to be a hippie by about 9 years, but I never quite outgrew the yen. I was always too “country” or “hippie” for the city I grew up in (L.A.) and always too “city” for the hippie town I used to visit (Santa Cruz).

    We live on not-quite an acre with a farm as our back neighbor. This is a suburb of a town wtih approximately 1400 souls. I’d love 3-5 acres and a real barn, etc. but that isn’t what we’ve got.

    My oldest friends cannot imagine what our life is like, living in a log home, heating or supplementing our heat with a wood stove mid-winter. I cannot imagine going back to live in the city or a city suburb….

    I hear you Suzanne!


  22. 6-14

    Absolutely perfect! I do have a day job, that I love, that I keep becUe I truly believe the work I do with children gives back to the community. That said, we just bought a house and I’ll be putting in a huge vegetable garden, canning up a storm, and attempting to raise 2 or so chickens on 4/10 of an acre in the city. I hope it can be done.

  23. 6-14

    Thanks Suzanne,I’ve never been able to put to words why I am drawn to this life style.You gave me an “Oh my, that’s how I feel.”
    One of the reasons I like CitR so much is because of the diversity of the members here.
    You can’t begin to know how much I have learned from you and fellow CitR’ers! :)

  24. 6-14

    Boy that’s the truth!

  25. 6-14

    I can’t wait for the day I become a back-to-lander! I do what I can for now…
    Thanks for this blog, so happy to have found it – because now I don’t feel out of place.

  26. 6-14

    Your last line sums it up pretty well, Suzanne!

  27. 6-15

    LisaAJB – it can be done! Convert some of your lawn into veg garden. Get those couple of chickens. You’ll be amazed at what they can do – harvest bugs, till up the compost. Add to the compost. And they’re funny, and you get fresh eggs, which will spoil you forever. You’d be amazed how much you can do on a little urban farm, if it is your will to do it.

  28. 6-15

    I grew up living in the farm house my mother and her siblings were born in. My grandparents built themselves a new house across the cow pasture and the “old house” was given to my mother when I was about 11 years old. I loved that old house mostly because of all the memories that were made with my grandparents. As I became older and felt the need to get up at 5 in the morning to wash, dry, hot roll, and style my hair for high school I became disenchanted with “old house living”. My bedroom was at the front of the house and in the winter that part of the house would be shut-off. I would wake up in the mornings with ice on the insides of the windows and only a very small heater I could turn on in the bathroom while I got ready for school. I couldn’t wait to grow up and get out of the country. At 18 I left home and moved to the city and loved having central heating and cooling and not having to feed animals and bring in firewood. I guess you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. In 1999 at the age of 38 I bought a big old house in rural Tennessee with no central heating and cooling. I jumped right back into the lifestyle and even though I worked full-time as a property manager I still planted a garden and put up vegetables for the winter. I will never forget the first time my then 11 year old daughter picked okra and cucumbers….. she came running into the house and said she just couldn’t pick vegetables because it made her itch. Since she didn’t like chopping in the garden or picking vegetables I decided she could help me can the peppers. Her eye starting itching and she scratched it and spent the next hour or so with her eye on fire!! lol Enola is now 22 years old and has fled the country for the city life of work and college, but, guess where she is every weekend? Yep, in the country with Mama and little Brother!!

    Let me add that my beautiful old home burned in Dec. 05 and we had a total loss. Thankfully, the weenies were saved. I tried moving back to the city but that just wouldn’t work for me. Two months ago I bought my beautiful old 1900 Victorian in a different county in Tennessee. I finally feel happy and at home again after five years of being displaced. I am a Southern Belle and a Country Girl through and through!! :happyflower:

  29. 6-16

    I think it does skip a generation. My mom grew up in the backwoods of Alaska, handmade clothes, wood heat, gardening,fishing, raising and hunting, and now loves living in the city. Cooks from scratch, a few things retained from her upbringing, but a total city and pavement lady.
    I connect with my Grandma (GGMa) canning, preserving, creating, growing and raising. We’re only 6 miles from town, a little speck of Nevada alcali soil right of I-80, but I’ve got my pasture-in-progress, cows, chickens, turkeys. Garden that is currently thigh deep in weeds and grass (what a wet spring we had!!). We love to go out in the hills and pick berries and fish and play in Nature.

    “THEY” don’t get US, but we do! :)

  30. 6-16

    I totally get you Suzanne. You have inspired me in so many ways. I began journal/blogging my experiences last year, but have not shared it with anyone. We have taken our 2 1/2 acres and gotten 5 chickens, a rabbit and a fairly large vegetable garden. I am planning my orchard. Thanks to your blog (my children reading it over my shoulder), my children now want goats-We’ll see. Thanks for showing us it can be done, with hard work, perseverance, and comedy.

  31. 6-16

    Loved the post…thank you.
    The sentence that struck me most was “We don’t have to do it; we want to do it.”
    I say, “AMEN!!” :moo:
    (BTW, I love the picture of your “girls” foraging…lovely!)

  32. 6-18

    Suzanne, another reason I love your blog is that although I live waaay up north now, I lived for years in the Appalachians, in SW Virginia. I love where I live now, but I do miss that southern hill life in many ways.

    In the early ’70s my parents bought a little piece of land near Abingdon, Virginia. They built a cozy little house around the old falling down shack and put in a huge garden. We had no cows, but the neighbors did, and the pasture was right outside our kitchen window. Another neighbor farmed our tobacco allotment.

    The photos of your lane and the surrounding country take me right back. Feels like home.

  33. 6-19

    Amen! It is becoming such a huge movement and still, we are so misunderstood!

  34. 6-19

    This “suburbanite” lives vicariously through you :)…Wishing I was a backlander :D

  35. 6-19

    Oh I wish I could find some countryfolks who wanted to head to the suburbs! I would make a trade!

  36. 6-20

    :snoopy: Very well said! Thanks for taking what’s in our hearts and putting it down on paper (so to speak).You truly inspire me.

  37. 6-21

    Amen Sista! You’re living my dream!

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