The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Should a homesteader strive to fit in?

Donkeys"Speak the right language? Fit in? Sounds like bs to me. Of course you don't, like the tourist, go about lecturing people on the "right way" to do things. But if a subject is at hand, you don't hide your point of view for the sake of conforming or being kewel, either."

--- Jackie (in response to my post about Get Your Pitchfork On!)

Should a homesteader try to fit in when moving to a rural area?  My gut reaction is to agree with Jackie, but reality has proven that it's actually worth the effort Displaying turkeyto keep an open mind and resist alienating our neighbors.

On average, the guy down the street from your new homestead is more religious, less liberal politically, and less inclined to treat a dog or a cat like a pet.  Chances are he makes a living running a piece of heavy machinery at a strip mine while his wife may be a nurse at the nearest city's hospital.

On the other hand, he may agree with you that hunting is an all-American pursuit, and can probably give you some pointers to make your first animal-processing endeavor much less fraught.  If you're a home canner, his wife may have a recipe to share for her grandmother's award-winning pickles, and either one can probably tell you more about vegetable varieties that suit your region than any book.

Farm animals

Yes, they probably think nothing of fertilizing with 10-10-10 and drenching their crops with herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides.  But most country people are also willing to let quite a bit of zany originality slide, so while they may roll their eyes at your forest garden, they'll still offer you a stool at the hardware store...once you've put in your four or five years of local shopping to earn the opportunity.

I've noticed that longer-lived back-to-the-land dreams seem to be built around a small enclave of like-minded people, but that these homesteaders also tend to meet their more mainstream neighbors in the middle and find common ground.  And it seems like if you bend a little bit to fit in, you have more of a chance of winning your neighbors over to your point of view as well.  For example, sharing nutrient-dense strawberries fertilized with horse manure is a sure way to get questions about how to grow such flavorful food.

Barbados Blackbelly sheepOver the years we've spent on the farm, I've realized that fitting in isn't all bs --- sometimes it's just opening that door of communication so you don't turn into an expat who only socializes at the American embassy.  After all, we moved to the country because we love country skills.  Why not learn from the experts?

(By the way, the photos are completely unrelated to the post --- I thought Mark didn't share enough visuals from our very photogenic visit to Copper Creek Ranch this Saturday.  But if you want, you can imagine your own subtitles, telling you not to follow blindly like a sheep, but also not to be stubborn as a mule.)

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free solution to a messy chicken coop.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Breathing the same air, driving the same roads, putting up with the same mis-representations, sharing the same chill-factors--country people can be diverse, but over-all also face encroaching from metro areas. I agree in the essence of your blog today, Anna, and also realize that the good solutions in country life can be used to help cure some of the sicknesses in city life.
Comment by adrianne Mon Oct 29 08:15:32 2012
We moved to our place in Tennessee from California assuming that local folks would treat us like the outsiders that we are. Word travels quickly when you're out in the sticks, and we were told that everyone around knew that "the Californians are here" whenever we visited our land before moving on to it -- this wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just an observation by people. We are spiritual but don't attend church, we don't have kids and no plans for them, we have tattoos that are hard to hide, and there are stickers on our vehicles that might raise an eyebrow. But I found that all these things are irrelevant to most locals (what they say behind closed doors might be different, but there's nothing I can do about that so I don't worry about it) because they mostly are excited to be talking to someone new and interesting. While our approach to gardening and raising animals differs vastly from what nearly every neighbor is doing, I try to be extra gracious when locals offer advice or want to chat or try to sell us an animal or bring us a gift from their own endeavors that I normally would never consider doing myself (and I really try hard to not say, "Well, back in California..."). I have no doubt that we're viewed as strange to begin with, so I just roll with that, smile and wave to everyone I see, and try my best to be a conscious neighbor. There are some parts of Southern culture (that are aligned with homesteading) that I have embraced enthusiastically, and that seems to really help with breaking the ice with the locals. However, I don't think we're necessarily trying to "fit in" but instead just trying to respect the local dynamic and listen more than talk (at least for now) because people have lots to say around these parts! ;)
Comment by mitsy Mon Oct 29 09:41:28 2012

I don't think you risk alienating reasonable people by making a few comments that lack a knowledge of local culture. In most cases, the biggest risk is that you'll embarrass yourself by not understanding how things are done in your new community. Anyone with a good attitude can probably work it out over time as they get to know their neighbors better and maybe even apologize for the missteps.

People tend to grow closer as they work through misunderstandings, in my experience, so I think it's actually better in some ways to come in naked-- so to speak-- with your lack of knowledge exposed. That makes the environment ripe for the learning and teaching exchange that you hope is going to happen. Also, it's usually expected that newcomers may be kind of clueless. You don't have to pretend to be entirely clueless if you're not, but you don't have to pretend to know the community when you obviously don't, either. There's no reason to assume that all of your neighbors have very rigid ideas about things and that you have to falsely behave as if you share any of these views in order to be accepted. (I know this is not what you are advocating either, but I'm taking it to the extreme to make the point).

It's like any practice in diplomacy. Don't show up ready to fight every little issue, but if there is something that really gets under your skin, why not let people know? By speaking up, you get a chance to offer your opinion, but you also give them the opportunity to respond. In the author's example about the dog, it was only after the incident and after the dog owner's response that she learned that locals might take it very personally when chastised about animal care. I don't think it's always the best option to hold back and think "well that's just how those people are." Maybe you'll actually agree with their defense, or at least get to see their perspective, if you give them the chance to offer it. If you don't say anything at all, then you might just sit around and resent the way they do things simply because you don't understand.

Comment by Sara Mon Oct 29 11:07:33 2012

There's a certain parasitic type of person in a small-town population who feeds off the perceived need to conform. These people are entirely externally-driven, slavishly copy their neighbours, constantly look for approval from the group, deal primarily in innuendo, manipulation, and lies, are utterly self-absorbed, and are basically lonely and friendless. (I'm describing my neighbours to the immediate west.)

But people are people wherever you go. I suspect that type of person thrives best in a small town rather than a big ciy. Big fish, small pond.

Most people are decent and getting to know and be known by your new community is a fun evolution. And you earn respect by managing your acreage competently, if unconventionally.

Comment by Jackie Tue Oct 30 00:09:59 2012

I think you're right on this one Anna. Originally I was more the other route, but changed my mind and started doing my best to learn from people around here. And it is like you said, they may do unsustainable things, or be wasteful in certain ways, but that is the way they were taught, and doesn't mean there isn't useful knowledge to be gleaned or imparted and fellowship to be had with them. Something I've learned over the 5 years I've been trying to live the simpler life, experience is worth its weight in gold. Not every bit of advice I've gotten from folks who have done something before is accurate, but I tend to find out in the long run that a whole lot of it was.

And by the way, congrats on the book and getting it distributed around the country; I ran into it in Barnes and Noble the other day in Huntsville, AL. I've been behind and didn't realize it was out on shelves yet.

Comment by Jason Tue Nov 20 00:48:17 2012
Jason --- Thanks so much for your kind words about the book! I haven't actually seen it out in the world yet --- Mark went looking for it last week in town, but couldn't find it. I think it's slowly hitting stores, not everywhere yet.
Comment by anna Tue Nov 20 08:31:30 2012
It wasn't in our Tractor Supply today. A friend called me yesterday thinking I'd have copies for sale and I referred her to TS.
Comment by Errol Tue Nov 20 14:09:44 2012

Daddy --- It seems to be pretty spotty so far. My data has no books sold in the Columbia, SC, region, which I'm pretty sure you're in, so I'll bet it's not in stores there yet. The Greenville/Spartansburg/Asheville area has it somewhere, though. (No data on where --- I just get this map broken up into regional chunks and that region sold four copies as of a week and a half ago.)

She might have better luck trying a book store --- I'll bet the ones with a larger selection are more likely to have it.

Comment by anna Tue Nov 20 17:07:54 2012

Hey Anna, one thing I was wondering is how much of the actual book design you did and how much they did as far as layout and pictures and cover and stuff?

One of the reasons I ask, just a tip from my perspective when I saw the book on the shelf the other day, is that the edge or binding I guess you'd say with the wooden background picture made me almost gloss right over it. For some reason it made my mind think it was a home improvement or contractor/building book. I noticed the name and your name and that was what caused me to pick it up and verify it was yours.

I did notice some cool stuff in there that I hadn't seen on here before, but I might have just missed it, lol.

I'll say from just flipping through it while I was there, it has a unique feel that is different from all the other books I have seen on this subject, which is a good thing. :) All the storey publishing books feel and look the same and many of them have the same content from book to book. It is good to see yours breaking the mold a bit. Keep up the good work.

Comment by Jason Tue Nov 20 21:12:46 2012

Jason --- I didn't do any of the layout, and some of the photos on the cover aren't even mine. I wasn't terribly enamored with it when I first saw it (you can see my reaction here), but I decided that the publisher probably knows their stuff more than I do, so I opted not to be the prima-donna author.

Mostly, I consider the paperback an experiment, but I think the publisher was right about the cover. I was shocked the other day to see I'd already sold 600+ copies through bookstores before the book even launched last week. Presumably, that means they've got a good idea for what it takes to get a person who's never heard my name to pick up a book, and I can tell the rest of you to ignore the cover. :-)

I appreciate your kind words about what's inside. I was hoping to open beginners' eyes to some of the more interesting permaculture techniques, along with the basics.

Comment by anna Wed Nov 21 07:48:36 2012

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