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Recession has silver linings, for homesteading.

I've always felt that homesteading was a sane and wonderful way to live. That was reason enough to say it should be a more common lifestyle. Despite that conviction, except for occasional observations and comments in my Beyond the Sidewalks column in COUNTRYSIDE, I was content to tend to my own homestead without trying to convert anyone else.

For one thing, it seemed like a lost cause. After all, most people consider homesteading and simple living as quaint, silly, or even repulsive. At the same time, I've had a strong inkling that some day, something would happen that would make sane living more appealing to more people.

With that in mind, consider some recent news items.

An October survey by Sun Life Financial, Inc., indicated that 77 percent of adult Americans have reduced their spending. For years, Americans spent more than they earned. Now some are actually saving. That's a tremendous attitude change and a major step towards saner living. (If you wonder what this has to do with homesteading, revisit the "Our Philosophy" box in the table of contents of any issue of this magazine. Better yet, read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living.)

In November, the official national unemployment rate was pegged at 10.2 percent, and rising. In some areas it was higher. And according to many economists and statisticians, when you factor in all the people who want to work but can't find jobs, the real unemployment rate is more than 20 percent. What better excuse could anyone find to start gardening or following other homestead pursuits than having too much time and not enough money?

Increased interest in self-sufficiency is apparent even among the employed. Sales of vegetable seeds were up in 2009, backyard chickens continue to increase in popularity, and the nation's largest newspaper has run articles on putting up produce and home composting. (Yes, that's The Wall Street Journal! Apparently not all of their readers get million-dollar bonuses.)

People whose retirement savings were devastated by the stock market plunge, and those with underwater mortgages (they owe more on the loan than the house is worth) understandably cast a more jaundiced eye on exotic vacations and other nonessential expenses. "Cocooning" and "staycations" are simply new words for what homesteaders have --and enjoyed--all along. If you have a homestead, why would you want to go anywhere else? More than 50 percent of Americans now say (according to the survey cited earlier) that they expect to be working past the age of 67. More than 25 percent see themselves still working when they're 72--if they can find jobs, that is. Happily, finding a job on a homestead is never a problem.

Is such belt-tightening a deprivation? Not to a homesteader, obviously, but apparently some others are getting the picture too. Consider the book, No Impact Man, by Colin Beavan ( It's billed as "The adventures of a guilty liberal who attempts to save the planet, and the discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process." What was the big deal? Basically, he and his family became urban homesteaders, including unplugging the tv, eating organically, and composting. The perceived sacrifices ended up being nothing of the sort. Of course, some of the nasty comments on the web prove that not everyone is ready to do without waste of energy and resources, or consumerism in general. But then the web is very often a nasty, uncivilized place.

Maybe those nasties should spend more time outdoors, because somebody just "discovered" "looking at nature makes you nicer." The health benefits of being close to nature, including more rapid healing and stress reduction, have been observed in the past. But recent research at the University of Rochester (New York) found that being exposed to nature brings out more social feelings and makes people more caring. Rather sadly, it was mentioned that even a landscape screensaver has an effect. It's hard for me to reconcile such artificiality with a real sunset, or frost on the grass when going to the barn for the morning milking, but hey, even a little progress is welcome.

In a somewhat similar vein, research at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah has shown that "clean smells inspire virtue." One of the researchers said it might be more cost-effective to spend money on lemon-scented air fresheners than on expensive surveillance systems. Here again, I'd take honest country aromas, whether new-mown hay or a well-maintained goat barn, rather than something squirted from a can. In any event, this might be one more explanation of why homesteaders are so virtuous. Most of us, anyway.

There's much more like this, all suggesting that the Great Recession is knocking some sense into some people. If that's what it takes to save the world, bring it on. Homesteaders who have been prepared probably won't even notice much difference. After all, that's how they've always lived, beyond the sidewalks.

Jd Belanger is the founding editor of COUNTRYSIDE. He blogs at His latest book, The Complete Idiot's Guide[R] to Self-Sufficient Living, scheduled for release in December, can be ordered from the Countryside Bookstore.

By Jd Belanger

Editor Emeritus
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Title Annotation:Beyond the sidewalks
Author:Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:Why trappers are loners.
Next Article:Self-Sufficient Living.

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