Some time ago a reader sent the following email:
I thank you for your columns on WND. They provide refreshing common sense in a very crazy America right now.
I have also noticed that people that live where you are generally more freedom loving and self reliant that the people on each of the coasts, Atlantic and Pacific with the exception of Alaska...
I myself am looking at a strategic location out to perhaps Wyoming or even Idaho. I am also looking to go to solar panels on my house so I can get off the power grid. Moreover, I want to if possible to get my water off a well and other ways of getting off the grid.
I was curious if you have a guide or where I can check out on your website ideas of how I can leave the city and go into a self reliant mode in out west as I feel that I would be safer and happier being self reliant.
I am pretty good mechanically and would like to learn blacksmithing as a hobby if not as a job to bring in some money.
If you have ideas that you could point me in the right direction or if you have suggestions for books that I could read I would be most appreciative.
With warmest regards and God bless,
I’ve given Scott’s questions a great deal of thought, and together my husband and I bandied around a number of ideas on what advice we would offer people who want to become more rural and self-sufficient. Some, possibly most, of these ideas may seem harsh, but by now you all should know I’m not one to mince words. The harshness is there because too many people fail in their attempts to go rural because their expectations are unrealistic, or they’re simply unprepared for the reality of life outside an urban area.
I am NOT saying Scott is guilty of any of the transgressions mentioned below. Rather, this is simply general advice I would offer to anyone longing for a rural lifestyle. With this in mind, here are some thoughts about how to increase your chances of success when moving to the country:
• Self-sufficiency requires money. If you’re saddled with debt and barely have two dimes to rub together (I relate!!), it will be devilishly hard to find the funds to build a barn, drill a well, buy solar panels, or any other dreams you may have. So before you move to the country, do all the usual stuff people always advise: Get out of debt. Live below your means. Save money. Believe me, you don't want to move your debt load with you to a rural location, because you'll have a much harder time paying the bills as it is.
• Broaden your skills. Rural life means you can’t always call an expert when something goes wrong. Do you know the basics of plumbing, electrical wiring, building, butchering, canning, welding, gardening, etc? I’m not saying you necessarily need all those skills in advance of moving to the country (though it couldn’t hurt). I’m saying those are all skills you’ll need to learn sooner or later when you move onto your farm.
• Change your mindset. When we left urban California in 1992 and bought our modest four-acre place in southwest Oregon, we knew we couldn’t go back. Or wouldn't go back. Whatever the distinction, failure was not an option because we wanted to live in the country more than just about anything else, no matter what it took. Because of that mindset and attitude, we busted fanny and lived in poverty for a long, long time. Those were sacrifices we made to stay rural and raise our children in the country.
• Develop a country attitude. Don’t be a city snob. Don’t presume you know more about rural ways than the rural folks do. A surprising number of urban transplants think they know more than their neighbors about what it takes to live in the country. That’s kind of like someone being an expert at parenting, but not having any kids. Anyone claiming to be an expert before they do something is just blowing smoke.
• Find an income. Unfortunately you can’t get a “job” homesteading. No one pays you for your efforts to become more self-sufficient, so you’re going to have to find ways to earn money. Ideally you’ll do this by working at home, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Find whatever outside employment you can (those skills mentioned above might be a good place to start) and don’t be afraid to work several small jobs. In fact, be prepared to do this no matter what your primary income source is. Most country folks have multiple jobs. It goes with being self-sufficient.
• Don’t be ashamed to start small or humbly. Five acres and a single-wide can be pretty cheap. You can always move “up” to what you want, but you need to start somewhere and having shelter, no matter how humble, is a bonus. Another bonus is that, once you’re already located in the country, you can find your dream home much more easily. Most of the really good deals never make it to the real estate listings. You’ll hear about them in the coffee shop or post office or grocery store bulletin board.
• Book learning is different than real life. No one can learn to become Grizzly Adams from a book. Nobody. There is no such thing as a correspondence course to become a mountain man (unfortunately). However, don’t neglect your reading. Study without practice is never as good as study with practice. Book learning gives you a starting point and teaches you the right questions to ask those who already have the knowledge and experience.
• Be a self-starter, but be willing to learn. Do you chafe at people telling you what to do? Are you the type to tackle a problem and figure out how to solve it? A rural lifestyle requires both: the ability to tackle problems head on, as well as the ability to take advice from those who have already trod that path and have experience to offer. (There are lots of those in the country.)
• Take reconnaissance trips before you decide on a location. Talk to the locals about weather patterns and conditions to learn what will and will not suit you. Personally I could never handle the heat of Florida or Arizona; others couldn’t handle the cold we get here in the Idaho panhandle. Know your preferences. Learn what areas are suitable for growing crops, and learn what kinds of crops will grow. Above all, ask about water. Where is it? How deep is it? How much is there? Are there usage restrictions? Who owns the water rights? Water is a paramount consideration. If you haven’t got enough and can’t afford to get more, your chances of having a success farm or homestead are nil.
• Learn the politics. Whatever you do, you do not want to end up in a part of the country where the locals will disagree with your particular suasion. If you’re liberal, don’t move to a conservative area. If you’re conservative, don’t move to a liberal area. Trust me, this will save you a lot of grief in the end.
• Do not bite off more than you can chew. Too many newbies think they can “do it all” their first year on the farm. They try to build a house and barn, get chickens, cows, goats, and pigs, plant a garden, drill a well, fence forty acres of pasture, cut and split eight cords of firewood, in addition to homeschooling four young children and trying to make some money from a home craft business. Then they wonder why they’re stressed, exhausted, and broke. Where’s the “simple life” they longed for? I would suggest no more than one, perhaps two major projects per year. That way you can devote more time and energy to doing it right, and maybe have a spare minute or two to go fishing or enjoy the sunset. After all, why else did you make all those sacrifices to get here?
• Stuff happens. To paraphrase Murphy, if something can go wrong, it will. Your cow will get mastitis. Your fences will get knocked down by trees or wind. Your young fruit trees will die from cold or rodent damage. Your garden will never grow, or if it does, it will get eaten by deer or grasshoppers. You will have one neighbor who doesn’t like you and spreads nasty lies about you. Your tractor will spend more time at the shop than on the farm. Your solar panels won’t work correctly or will get knocked over by the wind because you didn’t brace them properly. You name it, and it will go wrong. (Trust me on this.) Prepare to handle it with patience and a tremendous sense of humor.
• Don’t expect the same level of goods and services in the country as you had in the city. We don’t have Starbucks and we don’t want it. However you might be pleasantly surprised at what kinds of good and services you DO find in the country – goods like fresh produce, and service like grocery store employees who actually know you.
• Your issues may not be our issues. Whatever particular cause or agenda you’re passionate about, don’t try to badger your new community into caring about it as much as you do. Your particular cause might be good and worthy, but that doesn’t mean you should barge into your new town and try to “educate” the yokels about it. Even if we find your agenda to be just as worthy as you do, we’re not going to appreciate an outsider trying to tell us what to think or how to act. (A situation like that just arose here, which is why I’m cautioning against it.)
After all these warnings and advice, I hope I’m not discouraging too many people from exploring their dream. I just want you to make sure your dream is realistic, not rosy. In the end, there’s a lot to be said for the Nike slogan: “Just do it.” But I don’t suggest you “do it” without adequate preparations in advance and a huge dose of patience afterward.
I encourage everyone reading this to chime in with their $0.02. Whether you’re coming from an urban or a rural perspective, what else would you add to this list? Or what other questions do you have? We’re from the country, and we’re here to help. Really we are.