Want to live in the country but don’t know what to do or where to start? Get these two books for a wealth of rural living instruction!
I grew up in a small rural Ozark town. Farm life and country living were never foreign to me. My maternal grandparents were what I would call semi-homesteaders. Not out of principle or shunning of modern living, but out of poverty they provided and produced for themselves at the end of a miles-long “driveway” requiring four-wheel drive to navigate.
I always wanted to live in the country. Homemade butter, fresh eggs, and home-grown home-preserved garden vegetables just taste better. The Hubs and I got married and moved to Wisconsin just in time for real estate prices to make a farm or even a small acreage impossible for young people just starting out. So we lived the suburban life, looked at numerous properties, turned them down as unsuitable for our needs, and waited.
And looked and waited.
Meanwhile, I gardened, produced, and preserved as much as possible in my suburban yard.
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The Rural Living Dream is Fulfilled
By 2010, we’re living in Iowa and after over 20 years still looking for that acreage. After touring multiple overpriced and under-maintained farms and acreages, I resigned to making do in suburbia.
Then the realtor called. She has a property for us to see. I told my husband to go ahead without me because I’m tired of wasting my time on this endeavor. When he and the realtor get to the property, he calls me.
“You have to come see this place! It’s really nice! I think it’ll work!”
I’m still dubious. But the next day I go with him and the realtor for a look. We pull into the driveway and my jaw drops.
The house is nice. It isn’t falling in, it’s well maintained, and the landscaping, while needing care, is very pretty. There’s an orchard with apple, pear, and a cherry tree in the front yard. A big white barn with fenced lots is to the left. The yard is mowed. The fenced 15 acres is great for cattle.
It will work.
Before even getting out of the car, I said, “Buy it.”
And we did.
The Learning Curve
Even though my grandparents raised laying and meat chickens and butchering steers and hogs, I’d never raised livestock myself. The Hubs comes from a family of cattlemen. I have a pretty good idea of what to do but lack confidence.
Rural living is not the same as living in a community be it a small town or large urban area. Weather plays a much larger role in planning. Wild predators, pests, and home security are issues needing addressing. I have so much more room to garden and grow things! What can I grow out here? Can I grow my own chicken feed? Do I want to?
And an orchard! How do I care for a whole orchard? What chicken breed is best for my needs? What breed cattle do we want? I know how to milk a cow, but do I really want all the milk a dairy cow provides? Which breed dairy cow is best and how do I keep her producing milk? How do I bottle feed a calf if the cow dies or can’t produce enough milk for her offspring?
Goats are escape artists. How to make a goat-proof fence? Sometimes an animal is suffering and needs to be put down. How do I do that humanely and responsibly?
The Encylopedia of Country Living
I’m so glad I found Carla Emery’s Encylopedia of Country Living. Carla’s massive tome is about three inches thick and chock full of everything you need to know about rural living and homesteading. I mean everything. I’m not a full-bore live-off-the-land-and-produce-everything homesteader. The Hubs still has his corporate job and full-on homesteading is just too much for one middle-aged gal. I produce as much as I can, and I believe we have one of the most productive acreages in the county. For us, the way we live in this country setting is about right.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living helps me make decisions for this acreage. It’s my go-to resource for just about any question I have about making this little acreage the best it can be. Some of the topics Carla covers in her encyclopedia are understanding soil, calculating a harvest yield, tapping a maple tree for syrup, baking your own bread, raising all manner of livestock, and basic veterinary skills. She demonstrates how to make a mud oven, cut down a tree, make cheese, drive a tractor, mill your own flour, milk goats, and practice first aid for snake and spider bites. From this book I learned how and when to prune the trees in my orchard, deal with weeds and pests, and dehydrate and preserve the herbs I grow.
For home canning, though, I prefer to use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The one drawback to The Encyclopedia of Country Living is that it was written and updated in the 1970s and 1980s. With home canning, you want to use the most up-to-date information. Other than that, the information contained in this resource is timeless.
The Prairie Homestead Cookbook
The next rural living resource arrived in the mail last week. Jill Winger’s The Prairie Homestead Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Heritage Cooking in Any Kitchen is more than a cookbook. Jill and her family homestead in Wyoming producing most of their own food. It’s inspiring! I love how she creates delicious recipes from scratch feeding her family healthy, non-processed dishes. In The Prairie Homestead Cookbook, she teaches not only how to make amazing from-scratch food, but she also teaches how to make ricotta, cottage, goat (chevre) and cream cheese, how to use the whey created in the cheesemaking process, how to make a sourdough starter and bake fresh breads. Her recipes are simple, hearty, nutritious, and can be made by anyone. I love that the person living in the suburbs or an urban apartment can shop the local farmer’s market for the ingredients she uses and make real food.
I can’t wait to try her method for making homemade vanilla extract!
Anyone with laying hens knows the frustration of trying to enjoy boiled eggs. Eggs that are very fresh don’t release the shell when boiled at all. It sticks. Pretty deviled eggs are nearly impossible with farm fresh eggs. You just end up frustrated and making egg salad. But Jill found a solution to this problem and shares it on pages 148-149. She’s my hero. ?
Jill includes gardening tips, tips for raising chickens, help with choosing between dairy goats or a dairy cow for milk, how to stock the larder of a country home, and more.
The Prairie Homestead Cookbook is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to enjoy real, from-scratch meals, grow fruits and vegetables in a garden, or just have a few goats and chickens on a small acreage. It’s also valuable for the homesteader committed to complete self-sufficiency. The hardcover ensures this book will survive years of use. The photographs are just beautiful and her sweet, generous heart comes through in the writing.
If you live in the country, would like to, or just want to live a heritage lifestyle in a town or city, consider these two books for your library. Like me, you’ll turn to them for help time and time again.