Sunday, March 6, 2011

Country Living 101: Introduction

There’s been a lot more interest in country living lately, largely springing from an instinctive desire to become more self-sufficient. Where is this interest coming from? Simple: concerns about the future.

But what exactly is country living? And how should a newbie approach this whole self-sufficiency concept? I thought now might be a good time for a “Country Living 101” primer.

First of all, please don’t mistake “country living” with “simple living.” As anyone who has followed this blog long-term can attest, rural life can be anything but simple. You must be prepared to do a lot of stuff yourself, stuff you might otherwise pay people to do under more urban circumstances. This can include plumbing, wiring, building, vetting your own animals, cutting firewood, and endless numbers of other of tasks and necessary skills.

One of the most darkly amusing passages I ever read about jumping into rural life came from the book “Choosing Simplicity” by Linda Breen Pierce. In referring to a couple seeking the simple life, she writes:

“Kevin and Donna’s journey to this state of inner peace and knowledge has taken some interesting twists and turns…For the next phase of their journey, Kevin purchased a few acres in the Ozark mountains in Arkansas, and the two of them took off in a small, used travel trailer to fulfill their dreams. The planned to build a small cabin, purchase food in bulk, and grow vegetables on their land. Much to their dismay and surprise, his experience turned into what they described as ‘a total disaster.’ Because they had no electrical power, they rigged up four extension cords to their neighbor’s home, but this was not a practical permanent solution. They filled pickle barrels with water from a stream and carted the barrels back to their home site in their pickup truck. The cost to drill a well was $3000, a sum of money they did not have. Kevin started to build a 30-foot by 30-foot home, but he had neither the building skills nor the physical conditioning to meet this challenge. Kevin was devastated; he couldn’t believe they had failed. In retrospect he recognizes that, 'We took on more than we realized. We saw how unprepared we really were and eventually had to accept the fact that it was almost impossible for displaced urbanites to go back to the land.'"

This was no 60s-era hippie couple; this incident took place in the 90s. The key phrase, I believe, comes right at the beginning of the passage, where Kevin and Donna are seeking a “state of inner peace.” I’m sorry, but some nebulous New Age state of “inner peace” does NOT result from moving to the country – as this unlucky couple can grimly testify.

Rural living takes practicality and hard-headed common sense, not inner mystic crystal revelations. This is not to say, of course, that there is never a moment’s peace in the country. Heavens, all you have to do is step outside your door on an early summer evening and hear the peepers in the pond and you know you’re close to heaven… until you wake up in the morning and realize all your cattle managed to squeeze through that hole in the fence and are roaming your neighbor’s garden. See my point?

The single biggest reason newbies fail in the country is they bite off more than they can chew. They optimistically think they can accomplish endless numbers of projects in their first year; that they will never experience setbacks due to weather, neighbors, zoning laws, or ignorance; and that they will never run out of money.

Wrong on all counts.

So here’s what I’m going to do over the next few weeks. I’m going to address the following general topics one by one. Probably I’ll be adding to the list as I go, and the order will undoubtedly change, but here’s what I have so far:

• Land
• Housing
• Water
• Off-grid energy
• Livestock
• Fencing
• Livestock feed
• Equipment (large and small)
• Wood heating and cooking
• Gardening and composting
• Government regulations
• Neighbor relations
• Boredom and terror
• Country kids
• Hunting
• Life and death issues
• Redefining family roles
• Income
• Harvest and food preservation
• Conveniences (or lack thereof)
• True and utter self-sufficiency – is it possible?

Of necessity I’ll be discussing these in generic (rather than specific) terms; but I will try to address everything geared toward the beginner. I’ll also look forward to input from you, my dear readers.


  1. Ooooo I'm excited!

    The only other thing I can think of that I'm curious about, although maybe this would fall under your "life and death issues", is life far out from emergency services. Or, how rural folks can best prepare for things that could happen when there is too much snow for an ambulance to quickly reach you... I have fears related to this. I've become so accustomed to urban life where an ambulance is 4 minutes away!

    Looking forward to reading the whole series,

  2. “Kevin and Donna’s journey to this state of inner peace and knowledge" was started without a road map or a realistic concept of what their journey would entail. This illustrates the one BIG flaw in going back to the earth - most urbanites have none of the skills needed to make it work, nor the appreciation of just how much WORK it is to live the Simple Life.

  3. This is gonna be gooood.

    Don and Patrice, have we told you lately that we love you?

    Well, consider yerselves told.


  4. Bravo, well said. Looking forward to you posts.

  5. I'm really looking forward to your comments on the above topics and others! As a current "urbanite" who longs for a more country lifestyle, I'm drinking from the fountain of knowledge every chance I get. I grew up on the edge of suburbia and rural America, so cutting firewood and gardening are not foreign to me. Having been forced to the city, I've realized I really want to go the other direction, and I'm looking forward to practical advice from someone who isn't simply trying to sell a book.
    While I know many of your fans already live in the country, rest assured that there are many of us who are taking notes so that one day we can join you, despite the challenges that the new lifestyle will present.

  6. This series will be so helpful as we start our journey with family on our 40 acres. Even though our combined experiences may have us a little better prepared than the young couple in your blog, we have so much to learn. Our first task is to come up with a realistic time line for our projects and then add additional room for all the variables including health, weather, money, time constraints etc. Firsst step is staying in compliance with zoning laws as we get our infrstructure in. For us, it is getting our space prepared to move our vintage airstream up for temporary living quarters. I look forward to every word of wisdom that you are willing to share. Thank you so mcy for your generosity. Dannie

  7. Awesome, Patrice! This will be a very useful series! (How on earth do you get everything done? I have wondered this before. I have let my blog go for a month at a time without any attention whatsoever, and I don't even farm.)

  8. Most urbanites do not have the correct work ethic to attempt a life changing shift such as moving to the country. It is MUCH different than in the burbs where if you don't feel like cooking, a pizzeria or Mickey Ds is but a quick jaunt away. Today's Wally world generation is just as lost as a hunter in the deep woods without a compass. I feel I am one of the more fortunate ones, as through out my life I was raised in both scenarios, straddling the fence so to speak and realizing just what a culture shock such a move is. Will be interesting to see you develop this thread. Patrice, thanks for an unique and informative blog!

    Had Enuff

  9. Can;t wait to read about all of the above. Can you also talk about composting? My husband and I have been composting for some time. But I would love to hear how you guys of the farm, with all your "muck", incorporate this with compost.
    Kelly in NC

  10. This is a great idea Patrice, and a series I can't wait to read. My husband and I have been looking at land with the idea of being able to survive there as things continue to get worse, but we come home with the realization that we don't know what we would be getting into. Your advice on all the topics you listed will be valuable. Thanks for doing this.

  11. Excellent points being made. We are transitioning from urban to rural and what you say about common sense has probably been our saving grace all along. We actually hacpve that!
    I look forward to reading more on all the topics from your list.

  12. Oh THANK YOU!! :) We are 'urbanites' to a degree (lets face it we have lived in cities and small towns our whole lives), and we are wanting to 'get back to basics', not just simplicity but to raise our children in a better way to remove our dependance on the grid and just plain old be more self sufficient. To think of all those things we've lost from generations past that took years and years of painstaking work and ingenuity to figure out!! We want more than anything to do it and do it right. We know it will be hard, and we fully expect to have some back breaking labor invested, but I am SO looking forward to these articles! We are TRUE beginners but it is something my heart longs for SO deeply. Thank you!! I look so forward to reading these with my husband and hopefully being able to start out on our adventure in the next few years! THANK YOU!! AND GOD BLESS!!

  13. Perfect timing, I just moved my family to our first home in northern Texas. It is rural, but close enough to big cities if we need to go to town. We have lots to do and I am looking forward to reading the rest of your Country Living 101. Thank you for your awesome blog.


  14. Under the Life and Death category: Make annual donations to the local volunteer fire and rescue department. :)

  15. Are health issues and costs going to be a part of this discussion? Patrice, you were very, very ill a couple of weeks ago and were fortunate enough to have your husband to take over your chores. What was your contingency plan if he had gotten the flu at the same time? What if either/both of you had needed hospitalization?

    We had a friend get the flu last year and ended up being life-flighted out of state to the tune of $15,000 just for the flight. His hospital bill ran into the hundred thousand range because of ICU. If that had happened to you, what would your plan have been?

    My sister is an EMT and without fail every single winter they get the calls from people that have cut themselves severely with chainsaws because they are not used to handling them, people that are severely burned because they are not used to using a woodstove, and visiting fishermen that have heart attacks because they are not used to the physical work.

    I'm asking because the whole kit and kaboodle can come crashing down because of an unexpected illness/injury. Self sufficiency is not for the faint hearted!

  16. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)March 7, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    Hi, Patrice!

    Really looking forward to your lessons. We moved from a small town to a farming/ranching community. Boy it sure did take getting used to driving a 10 mile round trip for bread and milk.
    Now it's box milk always on hand and learning to bake! Totally different lifestyle. Keeping chickens is hard work and poopy. (But I love 'em)

    The one point most people need to know is how to manage their money & time and know how to use tools. It's hard not to have all the "stuff" we are used to having. Priorties MUST be made or you are going to hate giving up everything for a simplified life. It can be done, though. We are 66 & 70 years young and I wish we had "done it" 25 years ago!

    We've learned a lot from your family - thanks for sharing!

    Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

  17. Cool. I'm looking forward to this series.

  18. This is a cool idea.....and Had Enuff is a mindreader, LOL......

  19. Hi Patrice I think that your plan will be very popular reading for many and your practical experience will help them a lot. One site that you may like is Keeping a Family Cow. They have great members who are always ready to help answer
    questions about cows, and other livestock. A great help for emergencies like yours last month.
    Thanks for the good ideas. Ree

  20. Granny Tille, the guaranty you wish for is an impossible dream. When the crap hits the fan you can throw all that junk in the trash.

  21. I sent in my $20 and have not received anything yet, nor have I been notified if I will get the library as a pdf or a cd. About ready to charges reversed.

    1. If you paid $20 (as opposed to $24.70 for a CD), then you ordered a downloadable pdf. Please email and Older Daughter will walk you through the steps to download. Thank you for your purchase!

      - Patrice