This week I was reading through my old GRIT magazines one last time before passing them on to a friend. An article on the Homestead Act of 1863 caught my eye with some interesting statistics.
According to this author, “most of the 33 million schoolchildren today have never set foot on a farm; only two of every 100 Americans now live on a farm, and less than 1% of the 300 million people in our country claim farming as their occupation.”
“For heaven’s sake,” I thought in response. “Why is it that hundreds of families in this area are buying rural lots and building ranchettes?” I reflected that this and surrounding counties are covered with rural homes. “What, then, are these folks seeking? Privacy? Freedom from regulation? More room? Perceived quiet?”
The reasons are endless, I’m sure. Many I personally know like animals, especially horses, chickens and dogs. Others like to garden. One guy I know likes to drive his tractor and “work.”
Whatever the reason, rural living seems to fit, in some way, each person’s definition of “the good life” – just like our homesteading ancestors.
It seems to me the rural quest revolves around “Work” and what we believe is meaningful work. Our ancestors knew farming occupations, weather it was growing wine grapes or pigs. Another generation combined industrial work with continued rural or small town self-sufficient practices. Even today in France and England, families continue to be largely self-sufficient and in America self-sufficiency has been re-discovered with enthusiasm. Some view it as economic survival.
The statistics given in the article covering the anniversary of the Homestead Act may well represent modern living that swung too far from the earth. None of us want our children clueless about what a cow looks or smells like any more than we would want them clueless about whales or bears. We certainly don’t want our children to think of ducks as animated cartoon or computer characters.
People who are seeking rural lives want meaningful lives, however that is defined. Others do their best to get themselves and families to parks or zoos. The difference is that a rural home affords an opportunity to “grow things,” which is a way to practice daily the care and feeding not only of self, but others, be it a bean or a dog.
I have a great respect for families who have found a way to connect with “growing things” even though they are city bound. Even if it is a bean plant on the patio or a rabbit in the backyard, there is hope that we could feed ourselves if we had to.
There will never be another time when the government gives land to us to homestead (pity), but perhaps there is hope as we swing back toward self-sufficient living practices, I hope that a few more children will have set feet upon a farm, will experience some aspect of life that recalls that food comes from “growing things,” that our land is one of abundance, and that each of us has a place in the process.
Schleicher, Jerry. “Birth of America’s Breadbasket,” GRIT, July/August, 2010.