Are you ready for the country life?

How are you going to keep them down on the farm? Smaller acreages require additional planning and better skills to utilize the resources at hand.

A view from a garden. Photo courtesy of Mark Thomas
A view from a garden. Photo courtesy of Mark Thomas

The popularity of back-to-the-land movements has been a consistent pendulum swinging back and forth.  This ebb and flow of urban to rural and back again, was generally driven by changing economic conditions.  This internal migration began shortly after the Revolutionary War of Independence. 

Back then, 97 percent of the population was rural, while today the percentages are reversed.  This number declined slowly and by the Civil War the population was split about 50-50.  The industrial revolution of the late 19th century further reduced rural populations and by 1930 only one-third of the population was considered rural.  Due to job possibilities becoming reduced in The Great Depression it was necessary for folks to leave the cities and return to their roots in the country or find a new place to call home.

This ability to provide for one’s family is only made possible if the home economy includes understanding both the capabilities of self and nature.  Noted rural life author Wendell Berry noted, “(the) point of view of the land is not something separate from ourselves.”  

But it is important to remember that voluntary simplicity is, first, not so simple and, second, as time passes it is not so voluntary.   The classic 1973 back-to-the-land movement book, “Five Acres and Independence” by Maurice Grenville Kains offers advice on topics such as animal husbandry, crop rotation, machinery, and home economy. 

But if the book were written today the title would be more accurately changed to “Fifteen Acres and a Market” as the need to generate additional cash flow by utilizing the local foods market trend is vital to any sustainable operation. 

Gaining these necessary skills requires both knowledge and practice. the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm offers a nine-month intensive course in all aspects of organic food production and marketing.

The average age of the American organic farmer is 53 years old and a plurality of them has been in operation for more than 10 years.  Who will take over these farms is both a valid question and an opportunity that should not be overlooked.  Knowing the landscape of local growers means being born into or marrying into a farm ownership is less of a necessity.  As Berry lamented, “How to keep them (new farm help) at it … past inevitable disillusionment and the weariness in the hot Sun, or, (being) too good for this type of (farm) work.”

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute noted that, 10,000 years ago the first extracting ecological capital of the soil was barley & wheat planting.  He further commented, “If the land does not prosper nothing else will for very long.”

Knowing how to care and nourish the soil will enrich not only the land, but also the farmer.  Proper utilization and maintaining of tools and equipment will lead to longer useful life.  Planning of crop rotations to enrich the soil and supply markets accordingly only adds to the value of and to the farming operation. Also necessary is better information to preserve the connections of community.  Sharing work, equipment, chores and entertainment will lead to a better sense of community.

Home economy helps by providing not purchasing- food, energy, transportation and entertainment.  Just as the farm works with environment by becoming part of the environment always remembering that any farmer is only as rich as their soil – and moreover, only as productive.

Mchigan Staite University Extension educators work with many new and beginning farmers providing information in both a formal settings such as workshops classroom and informal settings, including answering questions online via articles such as this and via email.

MSU Product Center assists new enterprises by guiding clients in the development process of business plans.

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