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Living with one another: homesteaders and community.

To some people, self-reliance and community appear to be opposites: two ideals in conflict.

But by an overwhelming majority, Countrysiders who participated in our discussion of community have not only managed to blend the two, but contend that both are necessary to a well-balanced life.

The essays that follow are divided into three categories.

The first consists of somewhat general observations on interdependence; the second is in reply to specific comments from a reader; and the third deals with intentional communities.

We begin with two letters that apparently take quite different views.

Other people's problems become our problems

Robert E. Thompson 39002 212th S.E. Enumclaw, WA 98022

I am very interested in the home-steading movement. We live in an area that is supposed to be a farmland preserve in King County, Washington. This is the county Seattle is in and the land is being used for half-million dollar (or more) houses and a couple of horses. So some really great farmland is being lost and taxes are going up, up, up!

Our closest town has doubled in size in six years, so it is getting to be time to move on.

I firmly believe we need to rebuild our small towns and use them as an example of how communities can be rebuilt. We need to care for and help each other. In both cities and the country trust has been lost and a growing everyone for themselves' mentality is taking over. We aren't concerned about other people's problems. But other people's problems become our problems if we don't work on them.

We can't escape to the country because unless we work together to rebuild our towns and begin to trust again we have only chaos to look forward to.

So let's work together to build self-sustaining towns, with local stores that employ local people and keep the money we spend supporting the local economy.

There will be hard times ahead until we can turn things around and rebuild the whole country. It can be done, but it will take love, trust, and a sense of belonging to the community around us, not by an everyone for themselves me-first attitude.

How many "neighbors" can we carry?

Daryl Keech 10647 Peoria Rd. Browns Valley, California 95918

January was certainly a wet one for California: 25 days of measurable rain. It averaged an inch a day at our place. That's more than twice the normal for this time of the year.

I'm sure glad we "built upon the rock" here on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. We lost a few trees to strong winds, and our road swallowed all the gravel, but we made out just fine.

Some of our fellow citizens didn't fare so well. Not only did they build upon the sand: they also built on the floodplain. When a series of warm, wet storms hit, the waterways couldn't hold the runoff. The floodplains accepted the overflow and a "disaster" resulted. Water in some areas was 10 feet deep.

One question: What's my responsibility in all this? When a person decides to live on a floodplain, or on an earthquake fault, on the Hurricane Coast or Tornado Alley, that's a conscious decision.

That decision led us to a foothill home in a rural area. Our drinking water comes from our well, our heat from our woodlot. When the power fails, our own generator provides what is necessary. We stay prepared, but find ourselves carrying more and more of the burden of those who aren't. We help our neighbors, but how many "neighbors" can we carry on our back?

For those who live near the cities, enjoying public works, a multitude of entertainments, and higher wages, we say go for it. But if we may--one suggestion: Be prepared as individuals. Don't expect the rest of us to shoulder the load of your mistakes.

If this sounds cruel, consider this: The gardener who refuses to weed, prune, and thin, can expect a poor crop, or failure.

Some people have become wary from past experiences

Mrs. Bonnie Evans Box 494 Bragg Creek, Alberta Canada T0L 0K0

The way I perceive homesteading and practice might be viewed by some as self-centered, because I try to do as much as I can on my land to supply my self and family with our needs.

It is also self-oriented because in many cases it is my "self" who is responsible for the many and varied jobs a homestead lifestyle involves.

One chooses this way of life to fulfill beliefs within oneself as to how life should be lived and to the standards you have set for yourself.

My only connection to considering myself and my lifestyle as "selfcentered" is from the aspect that the systems of society don't own me and I can exist very comfortably as removed from them as I choose to be.

This in no way means I wouldn't share my knowledge, ideas, or whatever someone in need might ask for. It means I do not cut myself off from those around me but will not adjust my values and beliefs simply to be a part of the majority. I doubt any reasonable being would not be willing to help in a cooperative, fair exchange with other people, but lots of folks (including myself) have become wary from past experiences.

This leads us to community.

I long for community, in the sense of having a few people in the area who choose the homestead lifestyle. To know someone I can trust is nearby if needed. To have someone to consult regarding a problem or situation, even if it is only an ear that listens. To have the opportunity to learn from those who have been doing it longer than I have been, and in turn sharing wisdom life has given me. This is best put in a saying I love: "A wise man learns from the mistakes of others; a fool from his own."

I long to be able to go away for a couple of days and trust that my critters will be cared for and not have to spend those few days worried sick about what's happening back at home--a dream, for me!

If we move again, "community" will definitely be in the top five criteria for my new home.

Hermits? Self-centered? Not at all!

Cheryl Devoto Old Grove Farm Rt. 2 Box 92 Cumby, TX 75433

Hermit or homebody? Recluse or relaxed? Self-centered or selfless? I guess it all depends on the eye of the beholder.

In our homesteading infancy year we have found the glass to be way more than half full. With financial blunders abundant (like excessive debt and useless possessions) and fearful concerns (like gangs and neighborhood kidnapping attempts), we packed our bags, our seven kids, and headed for the simple life in a tiny rural community. Even the name, Miller Grove, evoked a peaceful breath of relief.

The absence of self-centeredness first became evident when we hit the county roads, even before pulling in to our run-down haven. The shock of a friendly handwave as we passed new neighbors on the road was a first indication of times to come. When was the last time you were greeted by a kindly gesture from a city dweller on the way to work?

The day we moved in, our full-sized moving van got deeply stuck in the mud driveway. A quick walk down the lane to a stranger's home was all it took to initiate a series of phone calls to so-and-so's brother to get a tractor over to pull us out. We eventually did have to hire a big-rig tow truck to wrench the monstrosity free, but that was only after literal strangers disguised as neighborly angels insisted on risking life and limb trying to save us the cost.

When our pipes froze up the first month we lived here, Mr. Woodward, our next-farm neighbor, was over in an instant, crawling under our home unabashedly helping us locate the spot that was unwrapped. His wife filled buckets of water for our family and animals. I never got a bill and was well-received with the angel-food cake I took over. This was again a surprising contrast to me, recounting memories of suburban neighbors who got hot and bothered because our children crossed their lawn to get a stray ball, supposedly somehow destroying delicate grass blades with their 5-year-old feet. It's not unlikely to wake and find a neighbor's holstein on your front lawn here, but the phone call only results in the hubby coming over to get it while the wives steal a moment to trade cornbread recipes.

The community handyman came over to install an electrical outlet for our stove. I almost fainted when the bill was presented: $10, including parts! Another local appliance repairman installed our dishwasher and refused payment, saying he may need our help someday feeding his animals or something. Our dog prematurely went into labor and was bleeding to death. We took her to the country vet, on a Sunday, no less. He treated her, gave her medicine, sent us home with vitamins, and called to check on her later. My heart was filled with fear over what this would tally up to. He said $10 would be fine!

My nine-year-old even hoodwinked him out of $5 of that before we left, selling him 4-H raffle tickets for a pig.

Now you tell me who's selfish... the citified repair people who won't grace the door of your home without $50 minimum trip charge before the clock starts, or the old-fashioned folks who remember what bartering is?

Most Saturdays when weather permits our town gets together and plays softball until all hours of the night... young and old together, having a blast, thanks to the lights donated by the tiny little gas station's owner down the highway. Another local. family experienced a terrible accident on the highway resulting in one death and long-term incapacitation of another. Immediately, old farmers and hay-balers held an auction, buying back items they'd donated themselves, paying exorbitant dollars for cakes their own wives had made.

I'd never met 90% of these hermits, never even seen them off their farms... but it was heroes I saw that day.

We may not see our rural friends as frequently, but I know if we need them, they'll be here en masse. No, it's not self-centeredness that we've experienced from the homesteaders we've encountered. I'd choose words like heartfelt, handwaving, quiet-spirited homebodies who share and share alike.

We have to start from where we are

Al Silverio Virginia Illinois 62691

I've heard a lot of talk about living an "independent" life, and Mr. Holgerson's comments strike to the core: independence as often spoken of is not possible. We must have a community to support and be supported by or we'll perish.

The life Mr. Holgerson describes as his own is one to envy, in my opinion. I'd certainly want to work towards it. And therein lies a basic problem in Mr. Holgerson's comments.

Having achieved Paradise on Earth, he seems to disdain the efforts of others to move in that direction. I do agree that growing in his direction is a good idea, but all of us have to start from where we are.

As I've grown older, I've come to realize there are fundamental questions we each must answer if we're to manage a good life for ourselves, and that one of them is this: How much is enough?

The American Way of Life is now based on the idea that a person can never have enough of anything. But living that way destroys us, our hearts, and the world itself. We need to back off, just as Mr. Holgerson indicates, if we want anything of real value in our lives.

That doesn't mean we each have to live just as Mr. Holgerson does, but we'd better have some things in common.

Where's the beef? We're all the same

Alanna Lefsaker Rt. 2 Box 106 Grangeville ID 83530

I'm surprised that Mr. Holgerson got that impression. It's certainly not the one I get.

I've read Countryside for years and have corresponded with several readers. The impression I get is that we are all basically the same. We live on or want to live on some land where we can grow food and raise animals. We want to raise our children right, get out of debt, and not be totally dependent on grocery stores and the electric company.

This sounds an awful lot like what Mr. Holgerson is doing.

I don't know where he got the idea that we want to be independent of other people. I've never read any articles that indicated that. Is it because most of us don't live in a community where we all believe alike and go to the same church?

Most of us have neighbors whom we care about and interact with. Like him, I simply live each day God has given me and I think that's what most of us do.

(Actually, we're all different.)

Lynn Sloan Maple Creek Farm 2386 Denton Valley Bristol TN 37620

How fortunate for Mr. Holgerson. It seems he was born into a lifestyle that most of us can only dream of. It is a shame he feels he must distance himself from the Countryside family: perhaps we could have learned much from him.

Yet, I believe I learned something from this letter of his: we are all different.

That is why I find reading Countryside so very interesting. We are all striving to achieve our special place, a way of life that gives depth and meaning to our existence, and a heritage to instill in our children. Yet, it is the diversity from each of us in choosing which path to take that makes it so exciting.

In reading this magazine I have learned so much. In each issue there is so much information that I have to read it over and over just so I won't miss anything. (That is why I just renewed for two more years!

I believe Mr. Holgerson has misinterpreted two vital concepts of this publication. One is to achieve the way of life we dream of, we must first learn from others. Not everyone was blessed with being born on a farm.

Second, there is no one way to achieve one's goals.

You are right: change is part of growth. Otherwise we would not be as receptive to the concepts presented in this magazine. Although I may not care for some of the things that are written, I read on anyway, hoping to learn something. A few months later that topic may come up again and at that point I may be more receptive. Then I go back through the issues to find that particular article and re-read it, searching for instruction.

Yes, I hope one day to be "self-sufficient," but to make it all work I will still need my good neighbors and friends to share it with me.

May God continue to bless you and please, keep up that diversity!

The entire magazine is evidence of people sharing

Mrs. Frances Raabe 5162 Howard Ave. Los Alamitos CA 90720

Most homesteaders don't care about their neighbors?

I certainly don't see how he ever arrived at that conclusion when the entire magazine is evidence of people sharing with one another. Nor do I imagine any of the contributors to be people who "want to become isolated homesteaders living isolated lives doing our own thing in our own way."

Jd is exactly right when he says we don't all see community in the same light. Reading articles and first-person stories in Countryside makes me feel less isolated and less alone than I sometimes feel living 20 feet from my neighbors on both sides here in suburbia. I don't mean that our neighbors are cold or unfriendly, for they're not, but for me, "community" is a group of people with common ideas, goals and problems.

That last word is what sets our family apart from our neighbors, and what is partially at the root of my interest in a different life.

My husband and I have four children. Thirteen years ago our third son was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia (too complex a subject to go into here). Now 36, he's unable to work at a "regular" job.

For years, I've dreamed of our own "community," one perhaps a little like what Mr. Holgerson describes, but with electricity. One in which success is not the result of one family's efforts to build a life for their disabled adult children. One in which multiple families plan, share, and give of themselves for the good of all.

I've tried to raise interest in such a project with no success. Many parents say it's a fine idea, and after we've shown it will work, they'll think about it!

My Utopia would, of course, be situated in an area probably much like Mr. Holgerson's home. Each family would have their own homestead and each would develop their own livelihood--preferably one that would enable the ill family member to be reasonably self-sufficient, something that can't be easily accomplished in the city.

So I guess for my son's sake as well as for our own, I'm a real fence straddler. I'd like my son to learn to be an "independent homesteader" within a community of families that share the same beliefs as mine. (Dream on, Frances.) In a world where one person says apples and a listener hears oranges, I guess I'm talking cherimoyas.

Meanwhile, I'll keep reading and enjoying Countryside. I think you're making progress toward that middle road you speak of, and I appreciate the help the magazine gives me to follow my own route.

How it is in Nebraska

Ellen Engel Remier Nehawka, Nebraska 68413

I recall last summer, visiting with a young man from Ohio who refused to believe me when I said that farmers in Nebraska rarely work together as they did when I was a child. But Mr. Holgerson's comments convinced me that rural areas and communities near Amish/Mennonite populations are vastly different from other rural areas.

Even though I have neighbors 1/4 mile from my farm here in Nebraska, we also have lots of square miles with no houses at all. A few years back I took a count in my neighborhood and found that one out of every 8-9 houses was home to a farmer: many of the residents are elderly people, and the remainder are people who hold jobs elsewhere but want to live in the country.

A couple of days ago I was trying to locate a man in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I stopped for directions at three houses before finding someone home--an elderly man.

I grew up in the house where I live today. I attended a one-room country school with lots of cousins and neighbors. There was a strong sense of community and I loved it.

But that world today is gone from my area. My only relatives here now are two elderly aunts and two cousins I rarely see. Most farmers' wives have off-farm jobs and kids ride school buses for an hour one way.

Not all of us "choose" to live an isolated life. But many of us cannot choose where our land lies either, or I'd have moved my farm 20 years ago!

I envy Mr. Holgerson with his lifestyle, close friends and neighbors, etc. I hope he appreciates how fortunate he is to be able to raise a family in such a wonderful atmosphere.

From a totally different angle, I hate to see readers such as the Holgersons leave our vast "community", because these are the people who have so much knowledge that the rest of us would like to draw from!

I personally would like to know how a person can market livestock, grain, or anything else, with neither a truck nor telephone. My nearest sale barn is almost 40 miles away! If we advertise hay or livestock in newspapers we must give a phone number to be contacted.

And what kind of real estate taxes do they have there that you can support a family on 113 acres? I have 240 acres here and my taxes are over $6,100 a year... plus I have to make land payments. I wouldn't have a chance here if I had to support a whole family. But then I don't have the knowledge and support that Mr. Holgerson does, and I suppose that would make the difference.

Personally, I have never been a "small livestock" person even though I know there are many rewards. I read Countryside because I love to hear what other readers have devised. I am not off the grid or a homesteader, but I love this old farm and I'll accept all kinds of ideas to help me stay here.

No! No! No!

Wilma Hinman 101 N. Main St. Mccune, Kansas 66753

When I read Don Holgerson's letter I wanted to shout, "No! No! No!"

Homesteaders, Mr. Holgerson, are not necessarily militant survivalists. In fact, the majority are not. To me, perhaps the best definition of a homesteader is someone who is true to self in whatever circumstances should occur.

The person who lives in a large city and bakes bread or grows a plant in a little pot on the kitchen windowsill may be as much a homesteader at heart as I am... and I consider myself no less a homesteader than one who grows wheat and grinds flour from it, as I do not. I have lived in cities, small towns, and country, and no matter where I lived I knew I was a homesteader.

As for the word "community" -- My geographical community is the tiny town of McCune, Kansas, and the surrounding area. However, other definitions given by Webster's dictionary are "a group with common interests" and "sharing in common." My family is one community, even though my six brothers and sisters as well as other family members are scattered all over the United States. We are close in heart and mind.

This also holds true for homesteaders. It is why I read first the personal experience articles in each issue of Countryside. It is why, when I read the article by Dwayne Derrick (78/6) I felt I was hearing from a friend. Dwayne's wife, Carla, in response to my Countryside Contact (78/3) wrote a wonderful, informative letter. (I hope Carla kept a copy, because the letter itself would make a great article.) From Yvonne D'Angelo's Contact in 79/2, I learned that I am not the only one experiencing difficulty drying gourds. I could go on and on...

I view homesteaders as a network of like-minded friends--in other words, a community--and I don't want to lose you, Mr. Holgerson, as a friend. If homesteaders were really the isolationists you portray us to be, Mr. Holgerson, Countryside in its present format could not survive.

Who is more willing to share knowledge, experience, and friendship than a homesteader? If you doubt my opinion just leaf again through the pages of a Countryside magazine. Do these sound like people who would stand by and let you suffer without doing everything possible to help you? I think not.

Mr. Holgerson, I will refer to you as a stockman-farmer or any title you prefer, but please don't write us all off as undesirables.

Life isn't that simplistic

Tony Brown Rt. 3 Box 162B Winona, Minnesota 55987

I've long admired the Amish and Mennonites for their simplicity and community lifestyle. I do have a problem though with the attitude that "We're right and everyone else is wrong" as it pertains to simple living and community.

No matter how self-sufficient, austere, environmentally benign, holy, sustainable, family- or community-oriented people think they are, there's probably someone else who thinks they're too dependent; frivolous, degrading to the environment, unsustainable, without a clue as to how God wants us to live or what family or community really is.

Personally, I don't feel that homesteading is a competition to see who can live the most Spartan Nor do I feel it's a contest to see who has the most acres, goats or zucchini.

I feel there is a lot to simple living, self-reliance, sustainability, ecological farming, appropriate technologies, loving families and community. I know what these mean to me, and I'm trying to live according to my beliefs.

In my 23 years of homesteading I've done a lot... and at times I've done without a lot, also. Am I a homesteader because we have an outhouse, produce a lot of our own food, fuel, electricity, income, etc? Or am I disqualified because I enjoy watching stupid tv sitcoms, line dancing, cars, grocery stores and vacations?

I've met people of all stripes and beliefs. Many had the attitude that "If it's right for me, it must be right for everyone else in the world too. " Sorry: I don't think life is that simplistic.

I enjoy reading most of the articles in Countryside, even though I may never homestead in Alaska or Puerto Rico, own an emu or computer, garden in Cleveland or shepherd in Montana. I find there are things to glean from the most novice wannabe (desire, enthusiasm) to the crustiest old-timer (knowledge, skills, gumption) that help me in my particular lifestyle. Lay it on me! I want to hear from everyone in the community of Countrysiders!

All you need is The Golden Rule

Randy & Marge McKenney 2159 NORTH GORDON RD. Scottville, Michigan 49454

In the seventies "community" was a big issue. Many of us worked hard to help one another and to teach others of a better way than the 9-5 rat race. Back then we had jam sessions on the topic. I remember a for-real hippy commune not far from where we lived where they were always doing something strange and interesting that would give us further food for thought. As time went on some got arrested for drug dealing, some moved on to respectability, and some just got older.

Time moved on, and we found ourselves in a church that emphasized community. We spent a lot of time in discussion groups talking about community and how we should live together and have all things in common. We worked with one another and shared much of what we had, but when all was said and done we didn't feel like we really attained a sense of community.

In the early days we lacked a sense of commitment. Oh, we were committed to our philosophy, but not to the people around us. In the church setting there was a commitment, but it was to the group, and all others were at best second, if not hopeless sinners to be avoided.

I'm eager to see the responses to this Q of M because I know it will trigger still more hours of discussion. I guess there is in each one of us a desire to belong and a need to share.

We've quit chasing rainbows, we like where we are and we are committed to the neighbors or the community around us. We are willing to work for the good of others and feel that with what people like you and I have learned about taking care of ourselves we can do a lot about taking care of others.

We've also learned that none of us are so strong, so smart, or so independent that we can make it through this life without the help of our fellow travellers.

The essence of community is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And then, there's one in every crowd: the dissenter

Rodney Leighton Nova Scotta, Canada

Here's a spin for you. One of the reasons I have decided against renewing my Countryside subscription again is that I see too much "Hail fellow well met; neighbors are valuable and important" crap in the magazine.

Being a confirmed hermit who is seriously considering selling his place and searching for a small place with no neighbors within sight or hearing; where, if a dog is barking it belongs to me; and if there are any bleating, bawling kids about they will have four legs, I'm none too interested in talk of neighbors, community, etc.

I had been debating whether to write or not. Didn't think I would bother, but then came this commentary of the month.

I don't question that you are doing a good job. It's just not for me.

That's only a small sampling of the letters we got on this topic. Sorry we couldn't print them all, but we have other things to cover. Thanks to all who shared their thoughts.

Some readers will no doubt be surprised to learn that intentional communities--including some survivors of the communes of the '60s and '70s--are alive and well, and interest in them is increasing.

In this section we hear from a few of them.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Countryside Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Thompson, Robert E.; Keech, Daryl; Evans, Bonnie; Devoto, Cheryl; Silverio, Al; Lefsaker, Alanna; Sl
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1995
Previous Article:Folk Medicine.
Next Article:Deep Woods Farm.

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