The October Thing #9 – Give Me the Simple Life – September 11, 2011

Give Me the Simple Life

Bright people often get the notion of “moving to the farm”, “leaving the rat race”, and living simply. In the 19th century, Hawthorne, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and other intellectuals formed “Brook Farm,” an idyllic commune. In spite of book royalties flowing into the farm, it failed. They found life on the farm dull and extremely hard work. This has happened to dozens and dozens of very high-minded utopic farms.

Occasionally, it works. Helen and Scott Nearing (Living the Good Life) made it work in Vermont and Maine in the earliest 20th century. But the Nearings weren’t just bright; they were very, very tough. Stephen Gaskin’s “The Farm,” near Summertown, TN, has been in business for over 30 years, fluctuating in population from 1200 to 175, its current population. These are the exceptions.

First, you have to have enough money to buy a farm. Then, you have to somehow earn enough money to keep it going, because you rarely produce enough cash-crop, handicrafts, etc. to keep it going. Currently popular (2009) is Sharon Astyk’s Depletion and Abundance. Sharon’s husband Erik is a professor at SUNY so there is income—and a long commute for Erik. Sharon and Erik together seem to have almost 20 years of higher education. Apparently, their parents and grandparents kicked in to buy the farm. They are an unusual couple with a powerful work ethic. Whether their farm will work remains to be seen.

For the vast majority, back-to-the-farm is simply not an option. The major exception  would be a retired couple who have plenty  of time to work on the garden and orchard, to can, jar, freeze, and cellar their crops—and have some pension checks coming in to keep them subsidized.

However, many of us have totally useless lawns, (the U.S.’s largest agricultural “product”) that can easily be turned into little gardens which can produce plenty of summer and winter (canned) vegetables. We would still get our wheat and soy (or cheese and meat) from large Mid-Western farms, but we could produce our vegetables from lawns and even roofs.

Another alternative may be an option as land values collapse—squatting. Some liberal states are taking a look-the-other-way view of squatters who produce food, as long as there is no objection from the owner and as long as the crop isn’t marijuana or poppies. Some owners encourage squatters who keep the drug-growers away. More and more land is being abandoned. Stay tuned.