New Sherwood

Getting started

Commenting on The Rural Solution, Daniel wrote:

“I really like this post, and it was your posts before that made me start thinking about rural life as more than just an interesting idea and in fact as a real possibility. However, I am wondering what kind of advice you would give to someone with no real experience living ‘full time’ outside of the city. Self-sufficiency would not be my goal, I would merely wish to set up a real home for my (future) family, not merely a house which will be quickly sold to move into a bigger and better one. I have heard a lot about how difficult it is to live in the country, and I was wondering what you think it would be like for someone fairly new to it all.”

A note on “self-sufficiency”. Much of the literature seems to emphasize “self-sufficiency” and economic independence – especially “food independence” – to an extent that is, in my opinion, entirely unrealistic. Even if it were possible for a homestead to be self-sufficient, I don’t regard this as a good thing at all. Catholic social doctrine is essentially communitarian: economic independence is not on the radar screen. What we are dealing with, I suspect, is the infiltration of American/Protestant individualism into Catholic agrarian thought.

I agree with what Al wrote in the same comment thread. The goal of self-sufficiency should be seen as applying to communities or regions, not individuals or households. It is true that modern man is too dependent upon far-away factories and farms. This is an extreme situation brought about by an extreme economic ideology. As is often the case, the danger is that an extreme situation will bring forth an extreme reaction that will also miss the mark. The answer to collectivism is not individualism, and the answer to the “global village” is not isolated self-sufficient homesteads. Catholics should work toward building local, regional economies with minimal dependence upon outside corporations. Northern California, for instance, could be almost perfectly “self-sufficient” if the residents here so desired. We have lots of fertile ground, plenty of local water, and a long growing season. We have a large enough population to maintain economies of scale where required. Regional self-sufficiency is within our grasp. There’s just one little problem with this: sacrifice. My neighbors and I would have to sacrifice our illusions of material prosperity. Jetskis, laptop computers, and “fast food” restaurants might disappear entirely. In order for regional self-sufficiency to become a reality, you need to settle someplace where sufficient numbers of people think regionally. Big cities are therefore out of the question.

Back to your original question. If you can, find a place to settle in the country that allows you keep a decent job. That could mean settling near a larger city where employment is available. I would recommend keeping your commute under 45 minutes each way. Here in Glenn County many people work across the river in Chico, a metropolitan area of almost 100,000. I think the average commute to Chico is probably around 30 minutes: not bad at all. The point is that the earlier you move to the country, the better. It gets harder the longer you put it off. I wish we had done this fifteen years ago.

You are young and can afford to start slowly, one project at a time. I would recommend renting a small house or mobile home on a couple of acres and starting with chickens and a little garden. Take your time. Read all the books in The Yeoman Farmer’s sidebar. And don’t be afraid of renting or living in humble lodgings. We have a mobile home on our place that we rent out to another family, for $650 per month, along with about an acre of land. They could easily have a large garden, some fruit trees, chickens for eggs, rabbits for meat, and a couple of goats for milk. It’s enough for a wholesome, quiet, and hard-working country life.

Although the goal may not be “self-sufficiency”, the less dependent you are upon the industrial food providers, the better. Eggs and milk are probably the easiest and most rewarding things a homestead can produce. A garden can supply a large percentage of the food you consume, especially if you freeze your vegetables and eat them year round. Five or ten fruit trees will give you all the fruit your family can eat with plenty to spare. Apart from a couple of chickens and one goat, we haven’t supplied much of our own meat – but we’ve got one steer in the pasture that is almost ready for the butcher. He’ll provide us with a year’s worth of beef. They tell me, also, that rabbits are a very economical way to raise meat for your family. You should ask Mr. Curley about that.

There is another thing to consider. We are blessed to have two good Catholic families who live nearby, both of whom have years of expertise in rural living and various aspects of farming and ranching. We’ve relied on them tremendously – for advice, material help, and also for emergency labor. I can’t begin to tell you how important their assistance has been. Of course we have also relied on kind neighbors and local merchants, but without these good friends things would have been much more difficult for us. So, if possible, choose a place that has this kind of advantage for your family.

When you move to the country you’re going to need three basic things: a pickup truck, a dog, and a shotgun. The truck is indispensable: you’ll use it more than you ever imagined. The dog will guard your place and alert you to problems with critters. The shotgun … well, I’m not sure why you’ll need it, but everyone has one so you had better get one too. I haven’t used mine much – I shoot some clay pigeons now and then – but it’s good to know it’s there. You’re going to need lots of other things you never thought about before. Tools, for example. Tools you have never heard of. If you’re not already familiar with tools, you might want to take a class, do some reading, or start a small building project. I’m not very mechanically inclined myself, but I’ve had some shop experience and can fumble around with some basic tools. You’re also going to spend a lot of time fighting weeds and pests. You’ll need, at minimum, a sprayer and a weed-eater. But these kinds of things are “learn as you go”, and you really don’t need to worry about them until a problem comes up. Take your time, enjoy the peace and serenity that country life offers, and your “education” will take care of itself.

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May 12, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

9 Comments »

  1. My brother lives in the country with chickens, dogs, cats, rabbits, and a huge vegetable garden. He lives with his wife in her ancestral home. He has the shotgun, but no pickup truck.

    This is probably the simplest way to get into rural living!

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    Comment by Mark Scott Abeln | May 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] practical counterpart to my idealism, has a post today about how to get started on rural living. He begins by addressing the notion of self-sufficiency: A note on “self-sufficiency”. Much of the literature seems to emphasize “self-sufficiency” […]

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    Pingback by Some Words of Advice (and Some Questions) « Uncovering Orthodoxy | May 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. Mr. Abeln: LOL. You mean marry into it? Don’t know how your brother gets by without a truck. I’d sooner give up the shotgun!

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 13, 2007 | Reply

  4. Jim Curley eats bunnies?

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    Comment by William Luse | May 14, 2007 | Reply

  5. Even if it were possible for a homestead to be self-sufficient, I don’t regard this as a good thing at all. Catholic social doctrine is essentially communitarian: economic independence is not on the radar screen.

    Might the principle of subsidiarity be useful to explain this? It requires that tasks be allotted to the smallest responsible unit. There should be no national bed-time for children; the smallest possible responsible unit for that is the family. Conversely, allotting the provision of steel, antibiotics and surgical teams to the smallest responsible unit naturally embraces larger communities.

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    Comment by SecretAgentMan | May 14, 2007 | Reply

  6. Mr. Luse,

    I draw the line at rabbits for meat not because they are cute bunnies but because I read Watership Down many years ago. It would not bother me if others eat them.

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    Comment by L. Culbreath | May 14, 2007 | Reply

  7. Well, would you take a look at that! Nice to see you again, SAM. How’s that beautiful daughter of yours? And yes – subsidiarity solves the problem very nicely.

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    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | May 15, 2007 | Reply

  8. Thank you for the post, it answered a lot of my questions. I am a ways off from actually moving out to the country, but I think reading about it is quite valuable. Before I can do it, of course, I want to be married, have a job, some savings, and just generally be more established.

    I am most interested in idea of a garden and fruit trees. My parents have a couple fruit trees and my mom has a small vegetable garden in the middle of San Jose, and I always find it almost exciting to eat what we produce in our yard. I really think that if my parents can do that, with a bit more land and more time to devote to it I could produce a lot more.

    However, my main reason for wanting to live in the country rather than the city is my future children: I would like for them to have a life that is real, not a plastic, temporary existance where everything changes day to day. Of course there is change in the world…but I would like to create for my family, which has for generations before me moved from country to country and state to state, a home.

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    Comment by Daniel A. | May 15, 2007 | Reply

  9. We WILL eat bunnies… I am no expert. Our experiment raising rabbits has faired worse than the chickens-if that is possible. We had several litters-none survived-our mother rabbits were all poor mothers. Everyone else I have talked to who raised rabbits, couldn’t keep up with the production-not us. Then one day one of the kids fed our only buck a carrot (they are only used to pellets) and it was too big-he choked on it and died. So now we have 3 females. As soon as the current batch of feed is done, they will hit the pot. I hear they are good eating.

    So don’t ask me about rabbits, unless you want lessons on what not to do.

    Cheers.

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    Comment by Jim Curley | May 16, 2007 | Reply


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