Two-Lane Livin'

RURAL FREE DELIVERY: Living Off The Land, Almost

12 May, 2011, 18:32

Republished from July 2008

We hear and read all of the time that people are moving back to the land, or are going to live off the land. Really?

I witnessed the struggles on many of the folks who poured into the Appalachians during the late 1960′s and early 70′s and tried it. They got it partly right, but they missed one critical ingredient for truly living off the land. That ingredient was livestock. Most of the new “back to the landers” thought it was all about raising a vegetable garden.

Many of them did that with much success, albeit the majority of them lacked the food preservation skills once they harvested their crops. But none of them that I observed bought a milk cow, chickens, pigs, or a workhorse. The reality of living off the land, if you don’t have an outside source of income, is that you simply cannot do it without those four essentials.

The cow not only provides milk for the kids, but also buttermilk, butter, and cottage cheese. The most important thing about the cow is that she can produce a calf to sell in the spring. That sale provides something that is really quite necessary if you are living off the land for real, and that is cash money for flour, coffee, and salt. You won’t really need any sugar if you have a couple of stands of honey bees.

Chickens not only provide an abundant supply of eggs to eat, but also a commodity to barter for goods at local stores. Bartering was a common custom among the old hill country folks who worked only at home. In addition, chickens were generally the centerpiece for Sunday dinner among the folks who lived off the land for real.

What about hogs? Hog meat was the staple among the early Appalachians who lived entirely off the land. The hogs not only provided meat, but they were also the source of lard, a basic cooking ingredient. The old 18th and 19th century homesteaders always killed a couple of hogs in the fall. They canned it, smoked it, and salted some of it down. They then had a reliable source of protein.

It is important to remember that the older generations who lived off the land had no motorized vehicles. The work horse was the center of farm activity. If you are truly going to live off the land today without the benefit of an outside income, you still have to have one. The price of gasoline makes the workhorse attractive, even for those of us who are just partly living off the land.

Finally, the most important ingredient that most of the neo-back-to-the-landers forgot was the necessity for endless hard work. Living off the land, really, requires daylight-till-dark brutal work, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. There are no holidays. There are no vacations. There is never “dinner out.”

For more from author Mack Samples, visit www.macksamples.com.

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