Self-Sufficiency Series

Showing posts with label country living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label country living. Show all posts

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The power of willpower

A few months ago I received an email from a woman named Laura who had a question, and we fell into an email conversation. She told me a bit about her and her husband's story. They were living near Philadelphia and longed to move to north Idaho and start a homestead. As we chatted, I found myself deeply impressed -- not only by their attitudes and hard work in starting a home business, but by Laura's impeccable English (she immigrated from Romania when she was 18). They were working hard toward their goals -- learning, saving money, paying off debt, living frugally... in short, doing everything right.

A couple days ago, Laura dropped me an update: she and her husband are now the proud owners of a piece of property in the area! As you can imagine, they're thrilled to make the move and get started turning their new place into a small farm.

Laura gave me permission to post the following. I think you'll agree that these folks are taking the right approach toward moving rural.

As she says in her email, their story should be encouraging for all those who want to make such a leap. I wish them every happiness in their new home!
__________________________________

This has been our dream for the past two years... in preparation for it we have learned to can and "garden" on our tiny balcony, started cooking everything from scratch and stopped eating out, we have gone out to yard sales every weekend for an entire summer in order to gather cheap tools and watched many eBay auctions to get what we needed to start our homestead at a price we could afford. We saved every extra penny we earned from our jobs and worked very hard to build our businesses so we could afford to work from home when we would start our homestead.

We are now at the point where we will be able to sustain ourselves between our businesses and our savings and are confident that we can make it work. It'll still be a stretch but we now have confidence in our ability to be frugal. It is incredible to see all of our hard work finally paying off. We are beyond excited to begin this new stage in our lives.

If you'd like to share these last paragraphs with your readers, you are more than welcome to. If you do, I hope this will act as an encouragement to anyone who has a big dream of homesteading or living differently from the mainstream. We have gotten plenty of strange looks when people hear of our dream but we pushed through no matter what and now we are so glad we did. There were moments when we weren't sure if we were ever going to make it happen but it was all worth it in the end.

Thank you, also, for your wonderful advice and for conversing with me over e-mail for so long. It helped us narrow down where we would like to rent, and it also convinced us of just how nice and friendly North Idahoans are. I am very excited to be meeting more people there and making new like-minded friends in the area.

__________________________________

Congratulations to Laura and her husband!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life's little mysteries

On my "daily constitutional," I pass a tree by the side of the road, one of thousands. But last fall I noticed a pile of branches at the base of this tree, as if someone had trimmed and piled them there haphazardly.


Branches come down all the time in the forest, but not in such quantities -- or such order. These were piled only on one side of the tree, not scattered all around the base.

The big mystery? The branches were clearly snapped off from way up high.


They were definitely broken, not cut.



This is not a small tree. I'm guessing -- 70 feet tall?


The snapped-off branches are just on one side, from about 40 feet up. No other branches were damaged except this one spot.


It's like something very, very heavy was flung against the tree and snapped branches as it slid down. It wasn't lightning (thunderstorms are pretty rare around here) and to the best of my knowledge northern Idaho has no native roc populations (a mythical bird of prey capable of carrying off elephants).


We get fierce winds here, but this particular tree is locate in a dip where the wind isn't as bad.

So... I'm clueless. I have no idea how those branches were snapped off one particular spot on the tree and fell in a pile at the base. Just one of life's little mysteries, I guess.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Midnight cattle roundup

It’s 9 pm on Thursday night. Bedtime for me. I’m an early riser – I have some early morning commitments – so 9 pm bedtime is pretty routine. Except tonight we have some cows mooing.

We currently have sixteen head of cattle. The usual state of affairs here in the evening is to put Matilda and her calf Amy into the barn at night (this evening I put Amy into a separate pen since I plan to milk Matilda in the morning). We have three animals in the bullpen – Samson, Jet, and Tarter. That leaves eleven mixed cows and calves loose in the feedlot. We don’t close off the feedlot at night, so this means the animals also have access to the corral (where the water tank is located) and the woods.

When cattle holler, it usually means something is agitating them. Just like you know the difference between your dog’s let’s-play bark and someone-is-at-the-door bark, you can sort of tell what’s wrong with cattle by the tenor of their vocalization. Tonight it was I’ve-lost-my-calf.

I took a flashlight and took a quick glance around the feedlot and corral and saw nothing alarming, so I went to bed.

And tossed. And turned. And listened. And tossed some more. And turned some more. The cattle kept bellowing. I lay tense in the bed, trying to track critters from the sounds of their moos. I dozed off once or twice to the serenade of cows yelling and kept having short little vignette dreams of cattle escaping.

Finally at 11:45 pm I’d had enough. I got up, got dressed, and went downstairs where Don was just finishing a shower and getting ready to come to bed. We both took flashlights and started counting heads. The ground was frozen, the sky was clear, and a full moon made the flashlights almost unnecessary.

Everyone was making noise. Everyone was saying "I’ve lost my calf." But here’s the thing: most of the cows had their calves with them. We found three strays on the edge of the woods and we herded them into the feedlot. Then Ruby escaped and went trotting into the corral, bellowing, apparently looking for her calf... despite the fact that her calf was under the awning in the feedlot. Arrgghh. What was WRONG with everyone tonight?

We counted and counted and counted again. Everyone was present and accounted for, so we locked the whole stinkin’ herd into the feedlot (except Matilda and Amy, who were safely in the barn) and went back inside. And everyone is STILL out there, yelling.

It’s 12:35 am as I write this and I’m much too wired to sleep. In fact, I’m completely stinkin’ pissed and ready to turn the whole herd into hamburger. Anyone wanna buy some meat? Cheap?

Country living. Not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Now SHADDUP ALREADY.  You're gonna wake the neighbors.
____________________________

UPDATE: Well, it's 5:30 am and I've been up since 4:45 am. But at least the cattle mystery is solved.

You see, it WASN'T Matilda's calf Amy that we had separated last night. It was Ruby's calf Alice. Let's face it, dark calves all look pretty much the same by moonlight and flashlight, and this mix-up explains a number of things (not least the reason why Ruby and Matilda and their respective calves kept bellowing all night long).

Cows are creatures of habit, and when Matilda went into the barn and a calf went with her, I assumed it was her calf. But no, Amy was having an adolescent moment and on a lark decided to stay in the feedlot. Meanwhile Alice was also have an adolescent moment and decided to follow the patient Matilda into the barn to see what the attraction was. But at late dusk, Alice was skittish when I tried to close the barn door and so I had to enlist the help of both Don and Older Daughter to help shoo her in.

When I plan to milk Matilda, usually I'll give Matilda and Amy a couple hours together in the barn before putting Amy into a separate pen (a task done after dark by flashlight). Amy is used to this routine and normally just trots into the pen when I open the gate. But last night, "Amy" ricocheted around the barn in panic when I went in to put her away for the night. "Sheesh, what's gotten into you?" I remember muttering, but didn't give it much thought once I got her into the pen and the gate was shut.

Thus commenced our night of cow bellowing. No wonder Ruby and Matilda were both so agitated and noisy. No wonder we kept hearing calves yelling.

I finally got to sleep around 2 am, but then at 4:45 the dogs -- triggered by an unusually vigorous session of outside noise -- started barking. I gave up trying to sleep and got dressed. The noise from the barn and feedlot hadn't ceased, and I wondered why on earth Matilda (normally a placid, patient gal) was just as agitated as the outside cattle. Unless...

Unless it wasn't her calf in the pen beside her.

Crud. I can only ascribe this night's sleeplessness to "operator error." It wasn't the cows' fault that I got their calves mixed up. So at 4:55 am this morning by the light of the westerly moon, I opened the gate to the feedlot, opened the barn door, released Alice from the pen, and voilà -- the noise miraculously ceased. Haven't heard a peep since.

So I'm posting this on about 2.5 hours of sleep. We have some friends visiting today, and I can only hope Jessica will forgive my mental dullness and the dark circles under my eyes.

No fresh milk today. I'll try again tomorrow and hope I get the right calf in the pen.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Country alarm clock

We haven't seen a lot of the cattle since we put them down on the pond property a few days ago. But they like to come up every couple of days just to say hi and hang around the house for awhile, making a lot of noise and leaving plops everywhere. It's a "cow" thing.

Invariably they do this early in the morning. I always like it when they come up because I can brush or scratch or greet them and generally check up on everybody. But this morning Older Daughter came stumbling out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6:47 am, looking grumpy.


"You're up early," I said, with uncanny powers of observation.

"That's because there's a whole herd of cows right outside my bedroom window," she groused.


Forget the roosters. If you really want to get jerked awake from a sound sleep, listen to cows bellow.

Still, it wasn't as if the kids could lie in bed today. They're doubly booked -- an early session of pulling weeds for an elderly neighbor who's been having dizzy spells, and several hours of cleaning rooms for another neighbor who owns a small motel.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Who's gonna grow the food?

I just came across a disturbing article entitled Rural US Shrinks as Young Flee for the Cities. The original article, frustratingly, now requires registration to view it; but I found the text here.

Now it's not uncommon for young people to leave the family farm and seek their fortunes in the big city. Our own daughters will likely follow that course. What remains to be seen is what our girls -- and millions of other young people who grew up rural -- will do when they mature. Once they're married and have families, the lure of the countryside may overcome the lure of the city. Or maybe I should say, the disadvantages of urban living may overshadow the disadvantages of rural living.

Or it may not. We'll see.

The biggest reason for this migration from rural areas is the identical reason young people have fled for urban lights since the Industrial Revolution: JOBS.

Farming is darn hard work. It's also insecure. We get a taste of it, and we're not even farmers (we're "homesteaders"). But when your entire living comes from the soil, you're vulnerable to drought, floods, and other monkey wrenches from Mother Nature. Frankly a lot of young people no longer see the need (or want to experience) the hard physical labor involved in putting food on America's tables. They'd rather become CPAs or electricians which, while highly necessary jobs, means that someone else is responsible for providing food for the table.

The article states, "Losing people in their 20s and 30s, the prime childbearing years, meant many rural regions were seeing their birth rates decline significantly. Those people who did move to rural areas tended to be older adults past their childbearing years."

When Don and I up and left Sacramento in 1992 shortly after we were married, we were part of that demographic of people in their "prime childbearing years." In fact, that was one of our primary motivators. We didn't want to raise our then-future children in the city. We wanted them to grow up in the country. We wanted them to know where their food originates, and not to develop the cloak of cynicism that is often so necessary to survive in an urban environment. But in order to do that, we had to risk financial uncertainty and create our own employment (those of you who have read Bear Poop and Applesauce understand how we did it).


I can think of no better definition of Don's and my attitude toward rural life than the "Philosophy" on the Countryside Magazine webpage: "It’s not a single idea, but many ideas and attitudes, including a reverence for nature and a preference for country life; a desire for maximum personal self-reliance and creative leisure; a concern for family nurture and community cohesion; a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money; a certain nostalgia for the supposed simplicities of the past and an anxiety about the technological and bureaucratic complexities of the present and the future; and a taste for the plain and functional. Countryside reflects and supports the simple life, and calls its practitioners 'homesteaders.'"

What's interesting is how living rural, which used to be the norm, is now considered shocking or even subversive. Don and I faced incredulity and strong discouragement from our friends and families when we left our well-paying jobs in the city in order to face poverty in the country. They thought we were foolish and irresponsible. Folks were literally incapable of understanding WHY we made that choice. Why would we give up well-paying jobs in order to submit to financial uncertainty? It was, in part, because of "a belief that the primary reward of work should be well-being rather than money."

Granted we were young and naive about the hardships we would face, but the lure of well-paying city jobs couldn't overcome our desire for the freedom and independence rural life offered. We liked the thought of not having neighbors breathing down our necks all around us. We still do. The cheek-by-jowl lifestyle which urban living necessitates just has no appeal to us, no matter how many cultural or income-earning opportunities were possible in the city.

But personal issues aside, here's the statistic in the article which absolutely floored me. Did you know that 15% of the US population is spread across 72% of its land area? Which means its corollary -- that 85% of the US population is crammed into 28% of its land area -- is also true.

And even those numbers are wildly skewed. Anyone who's flown over the dry and arid western half of America has seen vast, vast swathes of land without a single person inhabiting. It all has to do with water availability, of course.


All this makes me wonder something very important. If young people are leaving rural areas, who's gonna grow the food?


Somehow all those millions upon millions upon millions of urban dwellers must eat, but sadly there is a strong disconnect between people who eat and people who grow or raise. Far too many urban people think food just magically appears on grocery store shelves without consider all the channels that food must take to get there. Someone has to cultivate, plant, harvest, process, transport, package, and otherwise get food into a form that is both recognizable and available. Alternately someone has to raise, care for, butcher, transport, and package food from animal form into a form that is both recognizable and available. These things don't just "happen." Many people work tirelessly and thanklessly behind the scenes to make sure this nation is fed.

And if young people don't do it, what will happen after the older generation retires?

The laws of this land unfairly punish the small farmer. These laws range from the insane death taxes that often force adult children to sell their family's farm, to government goons sending SWAT teams to arrest raw milk farmers. And this is in addition to the every day challenges farmers face from Mother Nature.

The net result? At some point, the only people left to feed the majority of America will be the massive corporate agri-farmers, with people who don't have the heritage and love of the land that small farmers have.

Anyway, just some thoughts for a busy Monday morning as we work to get two large woodcraft orders complete, clean the barn, milk the cow, halter-break a calf, dehorn, weed, water, plant, and cultivate. All before noon.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sometimes I forget

Thor, our two-year-old steer, has been jumping the fence lately (we patched it this morning). During our potluck dinner last week, for example, someone looked out the window and said, "A cow is out." Without any ado, Don and the girls and I donned our mud boots, grabbed our push poles, and herded him back where he was supposed to be.

"Do you need any help?" asked one of our neighbors as we set out.

"Nah, we have this down to a science," I replied. In less than five minutes, we were seated at the table again.


Sometimes I forget that herding recalcitrant cattle isn't an everyday occurrence for everyone.

Younger Daughter and I were walking to the mailboxes the other day (a three-mile round-trip). Spring has been hitting north Idaho, and the sun was shining, the temperatures were mild, and the meadowlarks and robins were singing. "My English penpal never believes me when I tell her I have to log off to go herd cows," Younger Daughter commented.

"Aren't there farms in England?" I asked.

"Yes, but not in London, where she lives," Younger Daughter replies. "That's why I'm never sure if she believes me, or just thinks I'm making a weird excuse to get offline."


Sometimes I forget that not everyone lives on a farm.

Older Daughter and I were talking about New York City recently. I visited there once, just an overnight trip, back in 1987 or so, and that's it. "I wish I could spend an entire month in New York City just to see the sights," I commented. "I wonder what it would be like to live in a place like that?"

"Yet people in New York City probably wonder what it's like to live on the prairie with the nearest neighbor a quarter-mile away," Older Daughter replied.


Sometimes I forget that not everyone doesn't live in an area of twenty people per square mile.

With spring upon us, I've been bitten by the gardening bug. It's far too early to plant anything -- harsh experience has taught me that putting anything in the ground prior to June 1 is a mistake -- but I've been trundling wheelbarrows full of compost onto the garden in order to refresh the raised beds. The compost area is a pen about twenty by thirty feet in size, adjacent to the barn. On the other side of the fence is where we feed the cows. Though it was past noon, several cows lingered over their breakfast. Chickens rooted around the barn until the moment I started forking compost into the wheelbarrow, when the entire flock comically rushed from the barn toward me in order to scratch around for worms.


And then it hit me. For some reason, it just hit me that this scene was unusual. Cows at my back, chickens at my feet, a spot the footprint of a small house for compost. Sometimes I forget that not everyone lives like we do.

To us, feeding cattle or forking compost or cleaning stalls is ordinary and everyday. To someone in, say, New York City, this kind of pastoral life is probably as remote and exotic as life in NYC is to us.


Rural life used to be the rule, not the exception. Everyone understood the cycles on a farm, even if they didn't live on one, because everyone was (of necessity) far more connected to the earth.


There's nothing wrong with either location -- urban or rural -- they're just different. But now it's possible to live one's entire life without ever getting one's hands dirty or boots soiled. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Snapshot of a country kitchen

I did some canning yesterday, and at one point I noticed what looked like a typical snapshot of a country kitchen: a bowl of drying basil leaves from the garden, fresh-baked bread, some newly-canned tomatoes, and apples in the process of being canned.


I didn't even have to rearrange anything to make it more "photogenic." This is just how it looked.

Until I trashed the kitchen with dirty dishes, of course. Then it looked a whole lot different. That's why I took this snapshot while I could.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Getting out of the cities when the time comes...

There is a fascinating article up today on SurvivalBlog called A Husband and Wife's Thoughts on The Crunch. It's written by a couple who lives on an historic farm and who frequently have guests and visitors anxious to learn about rural life.

"Lately," they write, "the two of us have been talking about world events and the need for folks to organize in like-minded communities or to acquire 'survival' retreats. But there is something that has puzzled us. As long time readers of SB, we have of course taken notice of the many letters and articles about bug-out-bags and getting out of the cities 'when the time comes'."

"Many people seem to think they need to get the just right gear and vehicle in order to leave the cities and go someplace else in the collapse because the cities won't be livable. It seems to us that kind of thinking is a bit backwards. If someone who has spent a life in the city suddenly tries to move to the country in the time of turmoil and confusion, it's the country that will be unlivable. 'Country liv'n' is just so vastly different from city life, that few city folks are likely to be able to make it."


See the whole cartoon HERE:

What this couple articulated so well in their article is that just getting to a rural place in a "bleep" situation isn't enough. In fact, it's nothing. Sure, you might be safe from roving gangs of marauders, but then you're faced with the immediate and pressing need for food, water, and shelter. Camping in the woods offers none of that, at least for any length of time.

It always cracks me up to hear the Rambo types announce that they'll just camp in the woods and bag a deer to feed their families. To which I want to reply, have you ever hunted? Can you field-dress a deer? What do your wife and kids think of the bloody mess you're creating? How will you fend off predators (two and four-legged) while dressing the deer? And most important of all, how will you preserve the meat?

And this assumes, of course, that you're even able to shoot a deer to begin with. Because believe me, if you're out in the woods hunting because you're desperate for food, there are likely to be thousands of others out there with the same idea. There won't be a deer around.


In short, this comes down to what I've been urging for a long time: if you feel the need to learn about sustainability, start now. I'm not talking about the urban definition of "sustainability" where you take a bus instead of owning a car and recycle your aluminums; I'm talking about going as rural and low-tech as possible, starting now.

Yeah yeah, I can hear your litany of excuses now, about why you can't leave the city and move rural... and I don't want to hear them. I'm not saying your excuses aren't totally valid and entirely truthful; I'm just saying I've heard them all already. But those excuses, however valid, won't hold water if your city is crumbling around your ears, there's no food to be had, and you need to escape.

That's why this couple who wrote in to SurvivalBlog are urging you to walk the walk NOW. "If you are already living your TEOTWAWKI existence as you believe it will be," they write, "you won't much need trade goods for getting what you may need. You'll have already gathered the tools of self-sufficiency... The problem is, if you haven't already been living in 'the country' and acquiring the knowledge, skills and goods you'll need, you will be just like [a] fish out of water... You'll have a very hard time functioning in a strange environment. You won't know what you need (except by reading someone else's barter list. Viagra! Really?) Simply put, you won't know how to live if you only know a pre-crunch 'walking on cement' life."


In other words, the knowledge and skills and equipment (and community!) necessary for a successful post-bleep life don't happen with a three-day bug-out bag on your shoulders and a rifle in your hands. It comes from years of trial and error. It comes from experience. It comes from failure. Because the worse -- the very worse -- attitude you can have about country living is, how hard can it be?


I suppose I identify so strongly with this letter because of the constant struggle Don and I have even after so many years of rural life. Since we knew virtually nothing when we first embarked on our rural adventure, everything we do here has been a strong uphill battle, an incredibly steep learning curve. Everything is more expensive than we anticipated (and/or is correlated with a lower income than most people are comfortable with). Building up a self-sufficient farm from scratch is virtually impossible from bare land, not without lots of money and (more importantly) lots of time and dedication. And if you're living in the city (and this assumes you have a piece of land to begin with...!), you simply don't have the time and dedication to build a homestead.

In our case, we had the advantage that the biggest infrastructures on our farm were already in place when we bought this land, namely a house and outbuilding, and rudimentary fencing. Imagine how much more time and money it would have taken had we needed to build a house, buy the fencing materials (did you know T-posts are now going for about four bucks each?), build outbuildings (believe me, building the new barn last year was expensive enough!)... and this doesn't even begin to address the complications of gardening with our short seasons and hard clay soil, the intricacies of caring for livestock, and the challenge of growing wheat.


I guess my point to this rant is, don't have a Rambo mentality. Don't depend so much on your bug-out bags that you believe once you escape an urban environment, everything will be ducky. Don't think you can acquire knowledge post-bleep.

Here's a guest post I wrote for The Survival Mom on bugging out to the country.

This couple concludes their article with these prescient words:

"I will close by saying, forget the bugging out bags. There's a world waiting for you to discover. You can live in it now. You can learn it now. If you don't, well, it may soon be too late. ...[I]t's a whole different world when crunch time comes. And you better have learned what those differences are while you still have time."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Going Country: Moving Rural for Self-Reliance

When I was asked to be involved in the panel discussion The Women of Prepping at the Self-Reliance Expo, I was offered an additional opportunity to give another talk, subject of my choice. I decided to give a talk entitled "Going Country: Moving Rural for Self-Reliance."

This talk was a shortened distilled version of my ebooklet Moving to the Country offered on Selfsufficiencyseries.com for $2, but tweaked a little to be specifically geared toward Preppers.

I promised a number of listeners I would post the text of the talk, so here it is.
___________________________________

Going Country: Moving Rural for Self-Reliance

Good afternoon. My name is Patrice Lewis, and I homestead twenty acres in north Idaho with my family, trying to live a self-sufficient lifestyle.

I’ll be talking about moving to the country in order to become as self-reliant as possible. The focus of my talk is not about the feasibility of you leaving your urban environment – whether you can afford it, whether it’s better to stick it out in the suburbs, or all the reasons why you can’t leave your job or your friends. Instead, this talk is directed at those who have already made the decision to move rural in order to become better prepared for an uncertain future.

May I see a show of hands for those who already live a homesteading lifestyle?

Now may I see a show of hands for those who live urban or suburban, but who want to live a homesteading lifestyle?

It’s for folks like YOU that this talk is directed. I’m working on the assumption you’re interested in moving to the country in order to become as self-sufficient as possible through homesteading, rather than moving to the country just for the pretty views.

There have been endless discussions about how to bug out to a rural retreat. I’ve read stuff on the best routes out of the city when the bleep hits the fan, the types of transportation, what you should put in your bug-out bags, and how you should stock your rural retreat.

I've read much, much less on what the heck you do once you GET to your rural retreat. Not much is written about the long-term sustainability of your bug-out. In short, for long-term societal interruptions, you don’t just need a rural bug-out; you need a homestead.

A homestead is not just a place in the country, it’s a place where you can potentially grow a huge garden, raise fruit trees, acquire livestock, defend against two- and four-legged marauders, and otherwise survive indefinitely.

A Brief History
As a brief history, my husband and I left urban Sacramento back in 1992, shortly after we were married. We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, but we did know that the city wasn’t where we wanted to be. We didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives listening to traffic and sirens and fighting neighbors, getting tied up on highways and buying all our food from grocery stores.

Above all, we didn’t want to be the type of couple who would be married for fifty years, only to look at each other on our golden anniversary and say, “If only.” If only we’d moved to the country. If only we’d raised our future kids on a farm.

At the time, we were both working professionals and between us we made about $70,000/year – a very respectable sum for a young childless couple in the early 90’s. We were able to pay off our student loans and car payments without much effort, as well as save up a nest egg of about $5000. In short, we were sitting pretty financially.

What I had no way of knowing was it was the prettiest we were to sit, financially, ever again.

At that time, we had the rare insight to realize we were at a critical juncture in our lives. With no kids and no debts, when would we ever have a more opportune time to jump ship and move rural?

We considered staying in California, but land prices were too high. And even back then, we could see the regulatory nightmare on the horizon for the Golden State. So on the excuse of sending me to graduate school, we found an inexpensive fixer-upper on four acres in rural southwest Oregon. I’m not exaggerating when I say we bought the land and they threw the house in for free. The house could only be charitably described as a shack. Built in 1874, it encompassed every interior decorating disaster spanning five decades. When I told friends how to find our place, I would tell them to look for the house from The Beverly Hillbillies, before Beverly Hills. But the property was enchanting and we fell in love with it.

We knew we were giving up lot when we left California and moved to Oregon. We were giving up our jobs. Our friends. Proximity to our families. Our careers. Our regular paycheck.

Even more interesting, we surrendered to a surprising extent the respect of our families. Our parents wondered what on earth were we doing, giving up dependable careers and a nice income? Those of you whose parents started life poor and climbed their way into the middle class know what I’m talking about. To watch their children deliberately reverse course and voluntarily opt for a life without financial security seemed to them stark raving insane.

But that was okay. We were young, in love, naïve, and entirely dedicated to the idea that we knew what we were doing.

In retrospect, it’s a good thing we didn't know what we were doing, because had we known what was in front of us, we might never have left the city.

Bottom line, we went from a great income to nothing. Zilch, zero, zero, nada, nothing. For five months we had no job, no money, no prospects. The employment opportunities my husband optimistically thought would drop into his lap never materialized. I was in graduate school full time and accruing student loan debt. Our savings account quickly disappeared. We often lived on our credit cards. Any hopeful plans we had for fixing up our little slice of rural paradise were shelved. Rather than replacing the roof which leaked like a sieve during wet Oregon winters, we put bowls on the floor to catch the drips.

Desperate for income, my husband took his hobby – woodworking – and turned it into a highly specialized niche business making hardwood drinking mugs. We hit the road and peddled them at Renaissance Faires and Oktoberbests. We worked seventy and eighty hour weeks, trying to keep our heads above water. Livestock was out of the question – we couldn’t afford to fix up the infrastructure we needed, such as barns and fences, plus we were away from home too much selling our wares to be able to care for livestock, which we couldn’t afford anyway.

It was a brutally hard time of our lives. It would have been so easy to give it up and move back to the city… so easy. But we didn’t. We had the teeth-clenching determination to succeed because more than anything in the world, we wanted to live in the country.

For ten years we lived in poverty.  No health insurance, even through the hospital births of both our daughters and the partial amputation of my husband’s thumb on the bandsaw. Ten years of never buying new clothes or eating in a restaurant.

When our girls were born, we were already accomplished students of thrift, but raising babies added a whole new element to living cheap. We had hospital bills to pay off as well as the emergency room for patching up my husband’s hand, so spending money on things like disposable diapers and lots of toys was out of the question. Daycare was impossible (and we didn’t want it anyway), so when I graduated with my master’s degree, I worked nights as a field biologist and my husband worked days in the shop. It’s amazing, really, how little money it takes to raise children when you simply don’t have money to waste.

But gradually things got better. We transitioned our business from retail to wholesale and got off the road. A few years after our daughters were born, I came home for good and split the hours in the shop with my husband, and our business truly became a family affair.

After ten years in Oregon, we moved to Idaho in 2003, where we found a twenty-acre homestead with a house and outbuilding for $115,000. We’ve been there ever since, and can’t imagine being anywhere else.

But rural living doesn’t have to be as hairy and difficult as we made it. You simply need to strip away your rose-colored glasses and approach the subject with far more maturity and realism than we did.

In other words, do what I say, not what we did.
* * *
There are a number of things to do before, during, and after purchasing rural property. Let’s look at these in order.

Before Buying Rural Property
Okay, you’ve decided you’re going to take the leap and get out of the city. But such drastic measures require mature planning and intelligent forethought, rather than impulse and rosy dreams. What should you do first?

Get out of debt. I can hear the groans of dismay right now, but let me tell you, you don’t want to be dragging the leg shackles of credit card bills, student loans, and car payments along with you to the country. Your income is likely to take a tremendous drop, but bills don’t go away. Contrary to popular belief, country living is not necessarily cheap, especially in the beginning. So buckle down, live on beans and rice, cut up your credit cards, and work like mad to get rid of the debt. Believe me, you’ll probably build up more debt when you move anyway – don’t handicap your efforts even further by bringing along several maxed-out credit cards.

A corollary to that is to leave as cheaply as possible, starting NOW. Frugal living is fun and creative, but you won’t be able to embrace it if you look at it as a constant string of deprivation.

Find ways to make money from home. One of the first things we realized about country living was the importance of working from home. It might sound oh-so romantic and fun to set your own hours and theoretically stay in your pajamas all day, but it goes much further than that.

Working from home means you bring your work with you. It means you’re not tied by an umbilical cord of employment to a city job. It means you don’t have to commute long distances and/or through adverse weather conditions with high gas prices. It means you can look far enough away from urban hubs that you can buy twenty acres and a house for $115,000.

Most people in rural areas don’t do just one thing to earn money. They have many irons in the fire. Some hold down two or three part-time local jobs. Some have many creative ways to earn money at home. It’s the rare but lucky individual who can take his city wages with him in the country and telecommute. But developing income from different sources has a major advantage: if one income stream dries up, you’re not absolutely destitute.

The topic of working from home is huge and beyond the scope of this talk, so I’ll just touch on it briefly here.

Finding a niche and filling it might sound like a cliché, but it’s true. Look at your skills and interests and see what can be transitioned into multiple streams of income. Be realistic in what you think people might be willing to pay you for. YOU might have a fascination with hand-painting pastel ceramic dragons, but do you realistically think enough OTHER people will like them so much that you can support yourself? Unlikely. But maybe you can teach ceramics, or teach music, or do desktop publishing, or computer data recovery, or other skills you already possess which could possibly bring in money. Start thinking about that now.

Broaden your skills. Before you make your move, start learning to pressure-can green beans, handle a chainsaw, shoot a rifle, learn carpentry, and grow a garden. Read up on plumbing and wiring, on livestock care and fencing. Start developing a library. Start learning skills that will be marketable in a rural environment.

Make a bucket list of what you want in your rural property, and know what’s negotiable and what is not. After talking with sixty or seventy realtors during the course of buying our Idaho property, I learned they don’t necessarily try to find property that suits your needs. Rather, they take the properties they have available and try to convince you it suits your needs. I can’t fault realtors – they can only sell properties that are available, not create ideal properties out of thin air – but it means you have to know what hill you’re willing to die on vs. where you can compromise.

Decide what kind of climate and terrain suits you. Some people love heat, others prefer cold. Some like arid deserts, others like oceans or mountains or forest. There’s nothing wrong with anyone’s preference and there’s plenty of land to suit all our tastes. But keep in mind one critical thing: this is not a vacation home you’re buying. This is, conceivably, the land that may keep you alive if the bleep hits the fan. To that effect, avoid extremes in terrain or climate that make true homesteading impossible. Deep forests or arid deserts are breathtakingly beautiful, but not practical for growing wheat or raising cattle or planting orchards or other self-sustaining ambitions, at least not without immense effort, time, and of course money.

While Buying Rural Property
Okay, you’re ready to jump ship and move rural. You’ve found the part of the country that interests you. You have several pieces of property bookmarked to visit with a realtor. What now?

Research the local, state, and federal laws that might affect you personally. This could include homeschooling laws, wetlands requirements, livestock or building restrictions, CC&R’s, gun laws, eminent domain issues, timber, water, and mineral rights, liens, rights-of-way, and other issues. Remember, just because you’re buying a piece of rural property doesn’t mean you’re exempt from state and local laws.

Consider whether your targeted property is suitable for your long-term goals. If you want to farm, don’t buy desert land or property that’s completely forested or on a steep mountainside. Don’t get swept up with the beauty of a parcel without realistically assessing whether it will be useful. And for God’s sake, NEVER buy land sight-unseen.

I recently heard a radio commercial for forty-acre “ranches” in mid-state Washington. The descriptions sounded glorious. But what they didn’t tell you was this land is nothing but dry scrub unable to support agriculture except with extensive irrigation, and water rights don’t come with the property. The land parcels were cheap because they were useless for much of anything except for someone to brag they own forty acres. Take it from me, you’ll wear yourself out trying to turn unproductive land into a homestead without a huge amount of money and labor. The same applies to a parcel that’s heavily forested. Forests don’t support farms. Remember, you’ve got to think realistically about your targeted property.

Consider buying property with an existing habitable structure, rather than bare land. Bare land is wildly expensive. Oh, not for the initial purchase – that can often be seductively low – but it’s expensive to bring in power or rig up alternative energy, build something to live in, and create the infrastructure you might need for homestead, such as barns and fences.

Also, buying land with an existing and habitable structure means you’re less likely to face bureaucratic nightmares from government officials who can restrict your activities due to wetlands, endangered species, or other red tape if you try to build on bare ground. Don’t be ashamed to start small or humbly – you have to start somewhere. If your new home is a butt-ugly shack – well, you can always build something nicer later on. But in the meantime, it’s good to have a roof over your head.

Adjust your expectations. Too many books, magazines, websites, and blogs emphasize the beauty and simplicity of rural life without considering that country living is not all sunshine and moonbeams and mystic crystal revelations. To paraphrase Murphy, if something CAN go wrong, it will. When newbies are faced with complications, they often become disillusioned and disheartened, and eventually return to their “simpler” life in the city.

Water water water. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough – your land MUST have water. How deep is it? How clean is it? Is there a well? A spring? Is the supply consistent? Are there usage restrictions? Will you face wetlands violations if you plow that field? Who owns the water rights? What about irrigation? If you haven’t got enough water and can’t afford to get more, your chances of having a successful farm or homestead is virtually nil.

Learn the politics. Be careful about moving to where the political climate is the polar opposite of your own. Just saying.

Family members, especially your spouse, must be on board. A bitter and complaining spouse will ruin your experience and, possibly, your marriage. And don’t think that moving rural will necessarily “save” your teenage children who are heading down the wrong path. Yanking three mall-oriented teens out of the mall and into a rural environment can result in rebellion and resentment, not wholesome goodness. Try to move while the kids are young and more adaptable. Or, if you do have older reluctant teens, give them goals: “You can do X once you accomplish Y.” We have neighbors who told their three teenage boys they couldn’t get their driver’s licenses until they’d completed their Eagle Scout.

Consider renting for awhile in your targeted area. I know everyone is impatient and you want to start your homestead as soon as possible; but by renting for anywhere from a few months to a year, you can discover a number of critical things. Perhaps the weather or climate isn’t suitable after all. Perhaps the politics in your region are not to your liking. Perhaps other problems are more widespread than you anticipated. If such is the case, you can leave without having irrevocably committed all your efforts into a piece of property. But renting can also provide additional benefits. You can explore the area at your leisure and target specific locations or properties that interest you. You can begin to get involved in local functions or organizations, and spread the word about the type of land you’d like to buy. You can start making friends.

Do NOT overburden yourself with too high a mortgage, because it’s almost guaranteed that your income will drop when you move to the country. What might be perfectly affordable on your old paycheck may not be affordable on a country income. Better to buy a cheap fixer upper and spend years slowly improving it, than buying something shiny and pretty and too expensive.

Consider the potential for defense for your new property. Ideally you want someplace well off the main roads but with open views – and this does NOT mean perched on a hillside in full view of everyone. If you’re totally surrounded by trees, you don’t have clear lines of fire if you’re being attacked. But bear in mind, total isolation can be almost as deadly as city living. No man is an island, and if you’re too far away from others, no one can hear you scream if you’re under siege. Ideally you can band together with neighbors to help defend your area.

How close is your new homestead to a major city, and how easy is it to get from here to there? Living close to a city has advantages like access to supplies and entertainment, but if the bleep hits the fan, that city can be your worst nightmare. There are many experts on security, far more expert than I am, and some of the best are right here at this Expo (be sure to seek their counsel). But my point is not to forget security when purchasing rural property.

After You Buy Your Rural Property
Congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of a piece of rural paradise! Now what?

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. Unless you can devote yourself full-time to developing a homestead, I would suggest no more than one, perhaps two major projects per year. That way you can take the time and energy to do it right without killing yourself.

Concentrate on infrastructure before you get livestock. Animals need protection from weather and predators, and they also need to be kept where you want them to be. Before you buy a cow or baby chicks, have a barn, corral, fences, coop, or whatever ready to go. In other words, at least in this case, don’t put the cart before the horse.

Remember, you might be able to store garden seeds for the long-term, but you can’t store livestock. Chickens or cows are a little reluctant to get vacuum-packed and put in storage. Better to move to your rural place now, get your livestock, plant your garden, and learn the art of self-sufficiency – so you have it when you need it.

Two rules of country living: Leave a gate the way you found it, and never let your dogs roam.

Learn how homesteading is an interconnected circle. Livestock can provide you with milk, eggs, and meat; composted manure enriches your garden, scraps of which can be fed to livestock. The whole thing is a beautiful circle, but it takes awhile to achieve. And in the beginning, that circle can be quite delicate and easily broken.

Preparedness is a three-legged stool: supplies, knowledge, and community. Presumably you’re all doing pretty well in the supplies section; but knowledge of how to sustain yourself indefinitely from the fruits of your labors takes awhile to acquire; so do friendly and supportive relationships with neighbors in your new area. Your emphasis on rural property should be on how to grow or raise your own food, and you need the knowledge and equipment to do that. But no one can go it alone. You don’t want to be so remote that you’re isolated. We all get by with a little help from our friends, so cultivate a friendly relationship with everyone you can in your new community. Become involved, join local organizations, attend a local church, offer yourself to your community. You won’t regret it, but remember: all this takes time.

In short, there’s no time to lose! There comes a time when, after you’ve done all your research, you have to close your eyes, grit your teeth, and take the plunge. Don’t just endlessly talk about it – talk is useless. At some point you have to take the leap. This might mean taking losses in the city and jumping into the unknown.

Self-sufficiency takes time, effort, preparation, money, and experience. Better a year too early, as the saying goes, than a minute too late. Just know what you’re jumping into.

The biggest take-home lesson from this talk is this: your rural property should be productive, capable of potentially supporting you, reasonably defendable, and not so far from neighbors that you’re isolated in case you need help.

Remember, the people who know the most about country living and self-sufficiency are the ones who have never done it. The best way to learn about how little you know, is to jump in with both feet and start experiencing it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Stupid &^#$@*^ country living

It's been the day from hell.

We ran out of hay after this morning's feeding. Remember all that hay we put up last summer? It's gone.


This isn't unexpected, actually. Last year we were buying hay by March, so the fact that we were able to make it through most of April this year isn't bad.

We knew we knew we were running low on hay, but we also faced a Catch-22: the farmer who had the best price for hay wouldn't sell on days when it was sunny, because he was working on sunny days (makes sense, can't blame him), so we had to wait for a rainy day.

This is all we have left in the barn. The bales you see are bales of wind grass (also called cheat grass), an invasive species the cows won't touch. It's nutritionally useless and (apparently) bad-tasting. When the farmer baled our neighbor's land last year, he baled what was there... including some wind grass (it's not like you can pick and choose what to bale, after all). So -- since we can't use this for food, we'll save it for bedding.


Today was rainy. Rainy, cold, and nasty. (So much for our 80F days!) It was a day to get hay.


So Don and I borrowed a trailer from a neighbor and took off...

...and got as far as a turnoff from the highway about twenty minutes from home when the truck overheated. Dangerously so. Crud.

There we sat on the side of the road, listening to the rain pounding down on the truck roof, waiting for the temperature to regulate to we could make it into the nearest town (about ten miles away).

We limped into town, keeping an eagle eye on the engine temperature, and parked in an awkward spot (remember, we had a trailer) while Don added coolant and we waited for the engine to cool. Is it the thermostat or is it the water pump? Hopefully the problem is the former and not the latter, since a water pump costs a fortune to replace (and must be done by a mechanic), whereas a new thermostat costs about $9 and Don can replace that himself.

Anyway, our appointed time to meet the farmer came and went, so we called and explained our situation and said we'd try again later to get hay. When the truck's temperature went down, we turned around and drove home verrrrry carefully, watching the gauge the whole time.

Once we reached home, Don called another neighbor and offered to pay him if he could pick up some hay for us. But this neighbor (who works for the highway department) had been fighting the weather all day, was just getting off work, and was exhausted.

So Don called yet another neighbor and asked to borrow her truck to hitch up to the trailer to go fetch some hay. She freely offered the use of her truck but warned him that it, too, was not in ideal shape, since it was making funny noises...

Meanwhile the rain was pelting down so hard it was making bubbles in the puddles.


So off Don went with the borrowed vehicles. While he was gone, I marshaled the girls to help me straighten up the barn.


We stacked all the dross bales in a corner to be used for bedding...


We raked up all the lose hay in a pile, also to be used for bedding (we could also use this for feeding in a pinch, though it's not the greatest stuff)...


...and gathered the hundreds of lengths of haybale twine that we chucked in piles over the winter...


...into a neat pile.


So while the rain poured and the wind blew, we waited for Don to return with hay. Meanwhile we now had a wide place to put it.


When he got back with two bales on the trailer, we realized we had no way to get the durn things off the trailer and into the barn. (The bales weigh about 700 lbs. each.)


So we had to chain them up one at a time...


...and use a (borrowed) tractor to drag them off the trailer.


Then Don pushed the bale toward the barn...


...then scooted the tractor around so I could chain it up for him to pull in.


We repeated this procedure with the second bale. It was a whole lotta work for two flippin' bales of hay. And the frustrating thing is, we bought another 15 bales we somehow have to get from there to here. Groan.


Borrow borrow borrow. It seems that's all we did all day long. A process that should have taken two hours ended up taking seven hours and necessitated the use of other peoples’ possessions. And a whole day was shot.

With small bales, we can move them around ourselves. But most farmers understandably prefer to bale in large bales, which means using equipment to move them around, equipment we don’t own and can’t afford.

Meanwhile our internet service (which is normally fairly speedy) was running so slow this evening that each photo in this blog post took about ten or fifteen minutes to load. A blog post that should have taken about ten minutes to put up ended up taking ninety.

Sorry to gripe, it's just been one of those days, a day filled with petty annoyances and major inconveniences and lots of hassle. One of those days when we just want to collapse with a glass of wine in the evening and be thankful we have so many lovely and generous friends who entrust us with their vehicles and equipment.


Haven’t we all had days like this? Okay, I’ll feel better tomorrow, honest.

Country living. Not always what it's cracked up to be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"You're doing WHAT?"

Don was out feeding the cattle this evening, just as the full moon was rising through the trees.


When the cattle are hungry, they make no bones about it. "MOOOO!!!!" (That's Ruby.) "HONNNKKKKK!!!" (That's Matilda. She sounds like a foghorn.) "MEEEHHHH" (That's Sparky.) "NEEEIIGGHHH!!!!" (That's Brit. Okay, she's not a cow, but you get the idea.)


Inside the house, the phone rang. Older Daughter answered it, determined the call was for Don, and ran the phone out to him just as he was poised to pitch the first flake of hay into the feedboxes for the hungry animals.

He took the phone. "Hello?"

"Hello Mr. Lewis! This is James with GoDaddy.com, and we want to thank you for renewing your service with us. We were just wondering if there's anything else we might be able to interest you in..."


"Look," said Don. ("MOOOOO!!!! HOONNNNNKKK!!!! MEEEHHH!!!!") "I wish I could talk right now, but I have a whole bunch of cows here who are going to mutiny if I don't get them fed." ("MOOOOO!!!! HOONNNNNKKK!!!! MEEEHHH!!!!") "So thank you very much, we love GoDaddy, thanks for calling, goodbye!"

"Um...uh, goodbye..."

I'm guessing that is an excuse James with GoDaddy.com doesn't hear every day of the week.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How to move to the country (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I received an email from a fellow (I'll call him John) who lives in huge metropolitan area. He longs to leave the city behind and settle roots in a rural location. He asked for my advice on how to get started in a small town or rural location. John has been endlessly patient as we’ve struggled through our busy season, so I want to apologize for how long it’s taken me to address his email.

John’s question echoes the questions of so many other people that I asked permission to post his email and my response, and then open up the subject for discussion. There are lots of other people with more experience than I when it comes to what it takes to leave the city, so now’s the time to give us your two cents’ worth.

This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea.

Here is John’s email:

I came across one of your blogs on country living (something like 'Country Living 101'), and thought I'd get your advice on something:

I am a 26 year-old male; single, healthy and fit. I have a college degree in chemistry and something like a minor in philosophy (I'm a Tolstoy scholar). I have a very good job here in [huge city] as a formulator, working in a lab and coming up with formulas for cosmetics and personal care products. I am also a singer/ songwriter and I even have a manager that helps me get my music out there.

However, I absolutely hate living in the city. I admittedly have never really done much farming and gardening, but the excesses, waste, and over-crowding are really getting to me. I feel disconnected from nature, seasons, and even time, as for instance entire blocks of time are lost sitting in traffic. My friends are city people through and through, and are interested involved only in things I find boring: going to clubs, shows, shopping, movies, TV, bars, etc. When I have a chance, I go back to the factory to work with the guys doing heavy lifting and quite laborious work, and I absolutely love it. I feel stronger, invigorated physically, mentally, and spiritually, and it reminds me that I could be really using my body for some real work instead of writing up formulas and cooking them up in a lab. I desperately want to be more self-sufficient and live more simply, but I've taken it about as far as I can go here in the city. I have no family support on this, no one quite understands, and I also have no connections in the country.

With your experience, are there any first steps you could suggest to a guy like me? I mean, knowing what you know about transitioning from city to rural living, what advice do you have for someone who wants to get the heck out but isn't ready to buy land, start my own farm, etc. I am VERY good with my hands, very hard-working, very practical, and very clever, so I know I have the skills, but I don't know how to make the transition!

Let me know if you have any thoughts! Or maybe you could make a blog post directed towards people like me, there is a growing number of people my age who are realizing the destructive essence of city living.


I’ve written before about moving to the country, most notably here, so I’ll ask everyone to go review that post before reading further. That way I can supplement what I wrote before instead of repeating the same points.


To add to my earlier suggestions, I would urge John to think about the following. These points are presented in no particular order.

• John is smart to know his limitations, i.e. that he has no experience with farming or gardening. Too many people think, “Eh, it’s a snap” and try to become farmers. Oooh boy, are they in for a surprise. It doesn’t sound like John is interested in plunging into a homesteading lifestyle, but instead just wants to escape urban life. I’ll base this reply on that assumption.

John is also eager for, and not afraid of, hard physical labor. That’s a good thing because rural life sometimes seems to be nothing but physical labor. In other words, as cruel as it sounds, I would not urge anyone to relocate to a rural location if they’re in poor health (unless their poor health is caused by a sedentary lifestyle) because of the physical work involved.

Let me amend that: nothing prevents anyone from moving rural even if their health is bad, as long as they don’t bite off more than they can chew. A nice garden and flock of chickens are within most peoples’ physical abilities; a herd of cows and a constant milking schedule might tax them beyond endurance. Know your limitations.


• John mentions he doesn’t have any support from friends or family concerning leaving the city. No surprise there – neither did we. In fact, my parents thought we were absolutely flippin’ nuts to leave two well-paying respectable jobs in the city in order to move into a shack (no exaggeration) on four acres in rural Oregon (that was back in 1992 – we’ve since moved to Idaho). But you know what? That’s half the fun. John is young, single, and healthy. The time for him to do something superficially impulsive but deep-seated is NOW. The time not to uproot and move to the country is when you’re saddled with debt, have three young kids (or three sullen teenagers!), and a wife who loves shopping.

Sometimes it’s hard to “disappoint” key people in our lives, but in the end we must all (to paraphrase Thoreau) follow the beat of our own drum or we’ll end up living lives of quiet desperation. If your “drum” is calling for you to chuck it all and move out of the city, then you and you alone are the one who must answer that call, or be miserable.

Besides, surprising things can happen as a result. Who’da thunk we would one day find ourselves in a position to offer advice for people hungry to leave the city? What a strange twist of fate.


• Be aware that jobs are scarce. John is a chemist. There isn’t a lot of call for chemists in rural areas, so John will likely have to create his own job(s).

In fact, job creation is probably the single biggest problem when it comes to moving out of the city, for everyone. Unless someone is lucky enough to bring a job with them (i.e. telecommuting or something similar), you will need to create opportunities to make money, unless you want to be locked into an awful commute. (We have a neighbor who commutes 1.25 hours each way every day to her job in the city. Unless she’s snowed in, which happens every winter.)

So don’t depend on landing a job in your new location. Aside from the fact that locals often prefer to hire locals whom they already know, the indisputable fact remains that rural jobs are often scarce and often low-paying.

That being said, a hard worker with self-discipline can usually find someone to pay him or her for manual labor at relatively low wages for a limited time. (In other words, there is often seasonal work that needs to be done.) But the wages aren’t likely to be enough to support you, which is why I recommend creating your own employment opportunities.

So before moving to the country, John will need to find ways to begin generating his own income. Since John has experience as a chemist, his first project should be to contact schools and businesses in his targeted location to see if anyone has need of a chemist or a chemistry teacher. If not (and “not” is the most likely scenario), he needs to create his own need.

Chemistry is a tough subject for many people to grasp, so an obvious idea is for John to put out word that he will tutor students, either homeschooled kids or public school kids. He might also begin to develop some on-line courses for students to learn this subject.

Additionally, since John has experience in music, try joining (or forming) a local band that can play at events. In our nearest town, the Elks or the Eagles often hire local bands to play at functions. Bars and restaurants sometimes like live music on weekends. The fees the bands receive must obviously be split between all the band members, so no one can make a living with their band… but hey, income is income.

And don’t forget the possibility of teaching music.

Earning a living in the country requires putting many irons in the fire. Look for multiple ways to bring in money – rototilling peoples’ gardens in the spring, plowing private roads in the winter, etc. Playing in bars or clubs on weekends, tutoring chemistry during the week. Every little bit helps. Make yourself marketable in many different areas.


• Your income will drop. Guaranteed. Regardless of what John decides to do to earn money in his new location, the chances are high his income will suffer a precipitous drop. So before leaving the city, John needs to adjust his behavior and spending habits to start living very very frugally. Learn the fun of shopping in thrift stores and yard sales.

This has the added benefit of causing him to live below his means and start saving a nest egg of cash prior to moving. It should go without saying that paying off debt before moving is essential.

• Don’t be afraid or ashamed to start cheap and grungy. Most people cannot afford to buy a dream farm with a beautiful restored farm house and multiple outbuildings. Instead, a lot of people start out with a cruddy mobile home, which at least offers shelter until such time as you can afford to build something better. Deal with it.

• Adjust your expectations. My personal belief is the high failure rate of people who move to the country from the city stems from unrealistically high expectations. (I’m not saying John suffers from this; rather, this is just a general observation.) There are books, magazines, blogs, and websites galore that discuss and illustrate the beauties of rural life. Oh, and the (cough) “simplicity” of rural life – don’t forget that.

But take it from me, rural life can be ugly, and it can be complicated. When newbies are faced with ugliness or complications, they sometimes become disillusioned and disheartened, and long for their “simpler” life in the city.

The fact of the matter is, urban life can be far, far easier than rural life. In the city, you turn a switch and you have heat, you twist a faucet and you have water. The problem is, those utilities depend on other people to provide them. Remove the utilities and services, and life in the city would be miserable.

In the country, those utilities are often up to you to provide. This can be hard, physically and mentally. But at least you are not as dependent on others to provide you with your basic needs.

• A lot of the disillusion that comes with rural life can also be traced to a humongous drop in one’s standard of living. I keep hammering about how scarce and low-paying jobs can be – I cannot emphasize that enough! – so if you want a job that pays comparable to what you were earning before, you’ll have to commute to the city. Or bring your job with you. A lot of people in the country do just that.

That’s why I believe a key component to a successful transition is to create your own employment opportunities through multiple sources. Repeat: MULTIPLE. That way if one source dries up, you are not left destitute.

• Know what you want in terms of rural life. Some people long for a half-acre on the outskirts of town. Others want to be so remote that their only access is by boat or airplane. Most people want something in between. Know what you want.

When we were looking for property in Idaho, we had a bucket list of non-negotiable attributes we wanted. This list included:

- A minimum of fifteen acres, preferably more;
- An older house, preferably a fixer-upper
- Outbuildings
- Partially wooded, partially in pasture (we wanted a wood lot, and we needed pasture for the cattle)
- No near neighbors (in the sense of right next door)
- No likelihood that the area was going to be “built up” soon (our biggest concern was to wake up one morning surrounded by box houses)

We spent three years looking for a piece of property that fit these requirements. During those years, I must have spoken with fifty or sixty different real estate agents. With such a specific list, it never failed to astound me how many real estate agents couldn’t HEAR what I said.

I clearly remember one conversation in which I recited the above list, then the agent assured me he had the perfect home for us: a mobile home on five acres, surrounded on three sides by suburbia. (“Close to shopping!” he enthused.)

So prior to making a move, make that bucket list of exactly what you want. Then – and this is important – decide which aspects of that list are negotiable, and which are not.

Among your bucket list, you should also list your limitations in terms of what you can stand. For example, I cannot tolerate heat. Give me Phoenix, and I would die. I spent too many years living in the dry heat of California’s Bay Area, followed by the dry heat of rural southwest Oregon. Temperatures in these areas will effortlessly reach 115F during the summer. I hated it.  Give me cool temps and a good snow drift any day.


With that in mind, when it came time to leave Oregon, a hotter climate was out of the question. Therefore we spent our time searching in the more northern areas of Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Others would never be able to tolerate the low temperatures and short growing season we have. I know a woman who moved to this area from Tennessee. After experiencing her first Idaho winter, she plunged into a severe depression at the thought of enduring yet another winter. For her mental health, it was essential that she and her family relocate back to a warmer climate.

There is nothing wrong with anyone’s preference, and fortunately there is plenty of climates in this nation to accommodate those preferences.

Another thing to add to your bucket list is what kind of terrain you prefer. Do you like beaches? Forest? Deciduous vs. coniferous trees? Lakes? Prairie? Desert? Again, there’s lots of terrain to choose from. Decide what you prefer vs. what is unacceptable.

• Scout the potential for growth. One of our biggest concerns when we moved to Idaho was finding a place that wasn’t likely to be built up anytime soon. Our nightmare scenario would be wake up one day and find ourselves surrounded by box houses.

When we were looking for Idaho property eight years ago, we eventually narrowed our choices down to two choices. One property was thirty acres of drop-dead gorgeous land, twenty acres in pasture and ten acres in wooded hillside, with a year-round stream running through. Brand new barn, nice house, dirt road…

But in the end we choose our current home. Part of that decision was the price (our place was one-third less expensive than the other place), but the biggest issue we had with the other property was its proximity to a golf course. Sure enough, after moving here we heard scores of radio ads for new condos and tract homes being built around the golf course. In no time flat, those thirty acres of farm located on a quiet dirt road would have seen constant traffic and a plethora of new neighbors.

So be vigilant about the possibility of growth around your prospective piece of land.

• Know your limitations. Endless numbers of people will talk with enthusiasm about building a small log cabin on bare land. This is pretty funny if you don’t have a lick of experience building anything more complicated than a bird house.

A warning about bare land: Improving raw, bare land requires a great deal more time, money, and patience than most people have. The costs of sinking a well, the cost of bringing in electricity (or alternately, the cost of setting up an off-grid system), the costs (which constantly seem to multiply) of building, plumbing, fencing, making barns, etc., will break all but the most generous of bank accounts. It might be better to purchase a piece of land with some sort of habitable dwelling and infrastructure already in place.

• Restrictions. Sadly, local, state, and federal restrictions are limiting more and more what people can do on their own property. A local case that has reached nationwide infamy outlines a couple who purchased a piece of land and then faced a bureaucratic nightmare when they wanted to build a house. (This is, incidentally, another argument for purchasing property with an existing dwelling already on it.)

Bureaucracy is a very real threat, and you cannot depend on real estate agents or even attorneys to research this for you. It’s up to you to find out such things as wetlands protection, endangered species, timber rights, mineral rights, water rights, and even official boundaries.

• Another thing to consider (this doesn’t apply to John, but it’s worth stating anyway): Make sure all family members are on board for the move.  Nothing ruins a good move to the country more than a sulky spouse or reluctant teens. Nothing.

• Practice practice practice. During the time you’re looking for your new home, take the opportunity to practice some off the skills you’ll need in the country. Some of those skills might include carpentry, canning, gardening, welding, using a chainsaw, etc.


• Pretend you can’t go back. When we left urban California in 1993 and moved to semi-rural southwest Oregon, we knew we couldn’t go back to the city. That is, we knew we wouldn't go back. As a result of that mindset, we were willing to live in poverty and scratch for a living because we couldn’t/wouldn’t go back to the city. Never underestimate the power of a mindset.

• Sometimes that grit-your-teeth determination is what it takes. But here’s the thing: you’ll never know unless you DO IT. Unless you just close your eyes and JUMP. Prepare yourself as best you can, and then DO IT.

Okay, that’s all the advice I have at the moment. But let’s hear from all you readers who have successfully transitioned from urban to rural life. What advice would you offer someone like John who wants to leave the city?