Back to the Land: Tales of Rural Life
Books for those who want to live off the land, for those who've always lived in the country or the woods, for those who just want to read about someone else doing it! This list includes novels as well as memoirs and other non-fiction titles.
Compiled in November and December 2001 with help from members of the FICTION-L and MELIBS discussion lists; thanks to everyone for their suggestions and comments! Updated as relevant books surface.
A Box of Matches (2003): Likely set in Maine (author lives in South Berwick). Thinly veiled non-fiction. During one January in rural New England, the 44-year old narrator Emmett rises early, lights a fire, and writes what comes to mind, generally about the minutiae of life. When he finishes the box of matches, the book is done. Meditative.
As the Earth Turns (1933/1961/1995): Portrayal of Southern Maine rural life in the 1920s.
Mrs. Fytton's Country Life (2001) Angela Fytton's move to the country is actually part of her plan to sabotage her husband's second marriage and win him back. Wry, outrageous, literately told.
Tales of Cedar River (1960) and More Tales of Cedar River (1961): Fictional works in which Maine events are chronicled with great wit and affection.
- Here I Stay: A Maine Novel (1938)
- The Dog From Nowhere (1958): Children's book. Getting settled in a home in the country after an apartment takes getting used to for three children.
The Country Life (1997): Stella, in Sussex as an au pair to a difficult son in an eccentric family, seems to have no aptitude for country life.
The Quality of Life Report (2003): Burned-out New York TV reporter Lucinda Trout leaves Manhattan for midwestern Prairie City, an old farmhouse, and 'simplicity.' Humourous.
The Old Ashburn Place (1936): Novel of bucolic Maine life. Also other novels of hers.
Cold Comfort Farm (1932): Comic novel, a successful parody of regional and rural fiction. When Flora Poste visits her relatives in Sussex, she encounters a collection of rustic eccentrics enmeshed in a web of violent emotions, despair, and scheming.
Lois Phillips Hudson
The Bones of Plenty (1984): "Hudson eloquently portrays George Custer, a determined and angry man who must battle both the land and the landlord; his hard-working wife Rachel; and their young and vulnerable daughter Lucy. Through their compelling story looms a sense of a whole nation's tragedy during the Great Depression. ... Hudson does a superb job of revealing the physical texture of farm life on the prairie -- its sounds, smells, colors, sensations. Then she goes further, examining the spiritual texture as well. Her characters are bound to each other and to their land in a kind of harsh intimacy from which there is no relief. Weather, poverty, anger, and pride are the forces that drive them and ultimately wear them down."
- The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896): Set in the post-Civil War small coastal town of Dunner's Landing in Maine, this is the story of a gentle and generous people on a rugged and unforgiving coast.
- The Country Doctor (1884): The story of a young woman who follows in the footsteps of her father to become a doctor.
- A White Heron -- A Story of Maine (1963): Children's story book about Sarah, who lives on a lonely farm in Maine and befriends a white heron.
The Prodigal Summer (2000): Features three intertwined stories of a zoologist living an isolated life in the woods, a young widow trying to keep a farm going, and an elderly farm woman defending her organic orchard from a crotchety neighbor. Set in southern Appalachia.
Vital Ties (1992): In her rural Wisconsin community in the 1950s, 20-year-old Clare Lewis's determination to own her own farm is ridiculed as beyond a woman's abilities. Lesbian coming-of-age novel.
Cold Times (1992): Fiction. Follows the fates of two poor rural Maine families whose lives are intertwined, from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Laurie Bogart Morrow
The Hardscrabble Chronicles (2002): The foundation for this pseudobiographical fiction is a monthly Field & Stream column Corey Ford wrote in the 1950s and '60s about life in the pseudonymous town of Hardscrabble (somewhere in New England). Morrow, a resident of the same town, picks up Ford's idea where he left off. The result is a warm, sentimental portrait of a pastoral New England village and its eccentric citizens. Founded in 1630, the hamlet of Hardscrabble is home to 623 law-abiding, church-going folk. Morrow recounts her and husband Kip's move from Long Island to Hardscrabble after Kip inherits a centuries-old house complete with drafty windows, a leaky ceiling and nosy (but helpful) neighbors. Readers looking for an exhilarating plot should look elsewhere.
- One Crow, Two Crow (1971): Novel set on Maine's lonely barrens, where the land itself, fertile only for scrub and wild blueberries, breeds into those who live there something of its strength, its storms, and its silences. A story of goodness, of struggle and courage, and ultimately of joy.
- American House (1944): Humorous story of family-run hotel in early 1900s Maine.
A Thousand Acres (1991): When the aging patriarch of a rich, thriving farm in Iowa decides to retire, he offers his land to his 3 daughters.
Elizabeth George Speare
Sign of the Beaver (1983): Children's book. Story of a boy who is rescued by an Indian Chief and his grandson in the 1700s.
Remembering Laughter (1937/1996): Novella that relates how the loneliness and beauty of a remote Iowa farm affect a young woman who has come to live with her older married sister. She becomes attracted to her sister's husband, who drinks too much, but treats her very kindly, and the story grows out of these circumstances.
- Grandfather's Broadaxe and Other Stories of a Maine Farm Family (1967): A farm in Norway, Maine, and raising grandchildren, around the time of the Civil War.
- Sailing on the Ice: And Other Stories from the Old Squire's Farm (1996): 28 action-packed stories about six children, orphaned by the Civil War, who go to live with their grandparents in Maine.
- Haps and Mishaps at the Old Farm (1925)
- When Life was Young: At the Old Farm in Maine (1912)
Save Every Lamb: Rich and Memorable Tales of a Lifetime with the Animals of the Hills and Farms of Kentucky (1964): A wonderful set of stories about animals; great taste of rural Kentucky life. And others by this author (many for children).
Stillmeadow Seasons (1950) and others in the Stillmeadow series of novels: The author muses on that she experiences her Stillmeadow Farm in Connecticut, both in her 1690 pre-Revolutionary house and on the forty acres: The delight in everyday tasks; the companionship with dogs and cats; the pleasure of nature; the appreciation of books and music; the friendship of people. Her writing is serene, reflective.
Robert Traver (aka John Donaldson Voelker)
Danny and the Boys; Being Some Legends of Hungry Hollow (1951): The main activities of Danny and his cronies center on fishing and hunting, tale spinning, and moonshining on Michigan's Upper Peninsula during the Depression; the author has caught the genuine flavor of a backwoods life.
Fireweed (1934): Portrays the coming of age of a young woman in a small lumbering town in the woods of northern Michigan.
Year of the Cornflake (1999): Brian and Faith Addis finance their move from London to the farmlands of Devon by taking in children for 'unescorted holidays' during summer and winter and spring school breaks, at the same time as they renovate the house and add farm animals (pigs, sheep, horses, etc.)
Man Bites Log: The Unlikely Adventures of a City Guy in the Woods (2004): Fast-track editor Alexander downshifts to the back-road life of a Maine farmer (in a town near Union), though he keeps his journalist's pen busy. Originally published as a series of essays in the Portland Phoenix alternative weekly newspaper.
The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost his Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden (2006): Problems ensue when Bill Alexander, his wife, and kids buy a place in the Hudson Valley of New York and grow a large vegetable garden and a small orchard. The sources of these problems, humourously told, include landscaping contractors, herds of deer, a groundhog, beetles, worms, maggots, and grubs.
Richard T. Antony
- Mountain of My Dreams: The Early Years (2003): First in a four-part series about his family's move from urban to rural America (Rappahannock County, VA) in 1985 to grow azaleas for a living.
- Mountain of My Dreams: The Middle Years (2004)
Ridge-Runner: The Story of a Maine Woodsman (1948): Account of Averill who spent his life in the backwoods of Maine. Working in lumber camps and later as a game warden, author has written wonderful account of the woods, lakes, streams, wildlife of Maine, filled with Maine vernacular.
Lawrence and Marion Averill
Pie for Breakfast (1953): About a couple who retire to their ancestral home in Maine.
Margaret Anne Barnes
A Buzzard Is My Best Friend (1981): A hilariously funny recounting of a city-gentlewoman's family's attempt to 'live the simple life' by managing a 112-acre Virginia farm. Or as one reviewer put it, 'This is a marvelous account of how a working farm tried to destroy Margaret Anne Barnes and her nice suburban family.'
A Countryman's Journal: Views of Life and Nature from a Maine Coastal Farm (1981): Barrette and his wife moved to their bucolic farm in a small Maine town to rediscover some of the virtues of a more stable, simpler society. Their new world was a world of clamming, jam-making, coon-hunting, well-drilling, cows and sheep with personalities, fierce winter snowstorms, peaceful fields and forests, assorted wild animals, and neighbors who really do care.
A Maine Hamlet (1957/2000): Describes rural life in the village of Marshfield, near Machias, Maine, at the turn of the century. Memoir of old time Maine.
Northern Farm: A Chronicle of Maine (1948): About life at Chimney Farm, near Damariscotta Pond.
Green Wood and Chloroform: How A Young English Doctor Settled in Rural Maine (1998): Humorous reminiscences of rural medicine.
- Hill Country Harvest (1967): Nature essays. This book invites the reader to spend a year in New England (Connecticut, at the foot of the Berkshires) with an observer who makes the countryside stimulate the senses.
- This Hill, This Valley (1957): A modern Thoreau in a year of country living in a Connecticut valley observing nature through the seasons.
A Separate Place: A Family, a Cabin in the Woods, and a Journey of Love and Spirit (2000): Confronted with a disintegrating marriage and a deep well of unhappiness, Brill decided to make go back to the land, buying some woodland in the Tennessee hills and building a 3-room cabin on the edge of the wild. This book recounts his adventures and occasional misadventures in self-transformation.
Malabar Farm series (1940s): In the spirit of Thoreau, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist wrote on agriculture and environment from his Ohio farm.
Pages from a Journal (1976): Begins with Butler's experiences in rehabilitating an old house in Maine, and continues with her life in a small town with a family, a culture, a garden and all of the things that are looked upon as the American tradition.
Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (2009): Memior. "Urban and rural collide in this wry, inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm. Novella Carpenter loves cities -- the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can't shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables." Maybe it's possible to combine a homegrown vegetable plot with cultural amenities like museums, bars, concerts, and a twenty-four-hour convenience mart. When Carpenter moves to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland, California, she finds a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door, which she transforms into her own backyard garden complete with bees, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and pigs.
From the Orange Mailbox: Notes from A Few Country Acres (1985): Collected essays, covering topics ranging from the history of her 170-year-old farm on Sennebec Pond to the use of narcissus bulbs in ancient Rome to the proper care of an asparagus bed.
- Maine Ways (1947): The author seeks to capture the spirit of her life on Chimney Farm in Maine, along with her husband, Henry Beston.
- Country Neighborhood (1944): Autobiographical book about her farm. Anecdotes, tales, impressions of Maine country life.
- Maine Memories (1968): Tells of snowbound days in a remote farmhouse, of wildlife in woods and lake, of local Indians and legends, of neighbors who plow with oxen, of gallant and tough-minded seafarers.
- Lost Paradise: A Boyhood on a Maine Coast Farm (1934): Memoir of childhood spent on Pond Island.
- One-Horse Farm (1949): Poems. 37 poems with pen-and-ink drawings depicting intimate aspects of life through the seasons on a small seashore farm in Maine.
Hard Times in Paradise: An American Family's Struggle to Carve Out a Homestead in California's Redwood Mountains (1992): 'When antiwar activism impeded David Colfax's university teaching career in the early 1970s, he, his wife, Micki, and their young sons moved from the midwest to Boonville, Calif., to start a new life. On 47 uncleared acres of a roadless mountaintop, without running water, phone service or electricity, they built a house and learned to live off the land. Their engaging story of modern pioneering is made all the more remarkable by the self-sufficiency and resourcefulness of the children (one raised sheep; another built up a successful dairy goat herd) who were educated at home' (source: Publisher's Weekly)
Crossland, Lloyd, and Gail Parent, Fern Stearns, Joyce Morgan
Once Upon a Farm: Stories about the Farm on Thompson Hill in Mexico, Maine (1993): The Crosslands raised five children on their rocky hillside farm in western Maine. They write about growing up on the farm in the 1930s and 1940s, and about the farm's influence on their adult lives.
Marnie Reed Crowell
Greener Pastures: Life in the North Country (1973): Farm life in upstate, northern New York.
Laura Shaine Cunningham
A Place in the Country (2000): An urban childhood was the germ of the author's dream of having a country home. She acquires one after a ten year search, and begins life there a rural innocent.
Grace Butterfield Dow
Grace Butterfield Dow's Diary of a Week at the Lake (2001): A small treasure about a Depression-era adventure at Wytopitlock Lake in the wilds of northern Maine. Charming engravings by Siri Beckman.
Peace at Heart: An Oregon Country Life (1998): In 1987, Barbara Drake and her husband sold their home in Portland, Oregon, and moved to a farm in western Oregon's Yamhill Valley. Here she reflects on 10 years of country living.
Tales of the Maine Woods: Two Forest and Stream Essays (1891) (published in 1999)
Tom Montgomery Fate
Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father's Search for the Wild (2011): Seasonal nature memoir/essays. "A serious yet irreverent take on living in a cabin in the woods while also living within our high-tech, materialist culture.... Fate lives in a Chicago suburb, where he is a husband, father, professor, and active member of his community. He also lives in a cabin built with the help of friends in the Michigan woods, where he walks by the river, chops wood, and reads Thoreau by candle light. ... Fate's point is not to draw a line between the two but to ask what each has to say about the other. How do we balance nature ... with technology? What is revealed about human boundaries when a coyote wanders into a Quiznos? ... Fate seeks a more attentive, deliberate way of seeing the world and our place in it, not only among the trees and birds but also in the context of our relationships and society. ... [He offers a new] kind of vision: the possibility of enough in a culture of more."
Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn (2006): Two Minneapolis women, Catherine Friend, a children's book author, and her partner, Melissa, set out to fulfill Melissa's dream of operating a small farm -- 53 barren acres with a scraggly creek in southeastern Minnesota. A truthful, funny, and heartfelt story of a couple learning how to farm.
Successful Calamity: A Writer's Follies on a Vermont Farm (1966): In 1948 Edmund Fuller bought himself a farm on Lake Champlain, pretty much sight unseen, in mid-January, when all 264 acres were buried under four feet of snow. He lasted four years, and this is the story of it.
Cream Hill: Discoveries of a Weekend Countryman (1949): The author's tales of life on the weekend farm in Connecticut.
Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea (2006): Goldhammer -- middle-aged, newly separated, with downsized finances -- is forced to make some extreme changes, including moving herself and her 12-year-old daughter from an affluent suburb to a seaside house in a more rustic New England setting, where she purchases six baby chickens. A memoir about starting over.
Franklin F. Gould
A Maine Man in the Making (1950): The story of growing up in Maine with a father who was a farmer and a Civil War veteran.
- Farmer Takes a Wife (1946): A humorous memoir of a man who brings his city-bred Bostonian bride to settle down on his farm in Maine. She takes to it like a duck to water, and learns to appreciate the people and the laid-back life in her new environment.
- Maine's Golden Road: A Memoir (1995): Memoir of two men who've spent one week for 32 consecutive summers deep in the Maine woods.
- Neither Hay Nor Grass (1951): Whimsical essays on the people and culture of rural Maine
- This Trifling Distinction: Reminiscences from Down East (1978).
- Yankee Boyhood: My Adventures on a Maine Farm Seventy Years Ago (1950): Maine life in the 19th century.
- Yankee Drummer (1947): Amusing experiences of life on the road as a salesman in New England during the horse-and-buggy era.
- Yankee Storekeeper (1946): Storekeeper tells of his four decades running a general store in Somerset County, Maine.
Our Way Down East (1943): Two young city people come to Maine determined to make a good home at Flying Point on Casco Bay of the Freeport area. Historical facts and incidents.
- Hardscrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land (1974): Essays about the author's life on a small hill-country farm in Texas.
- From A Limestone Ledge (1980): Essays and other ruminations about country life in Texas. A treatise on the pleasures and hardships of doing things for oneself, a nostalgic meditation on country ways. Graves considers every creature and aspect of country life that has lured or forced his attention during two decades of living on, and working, a battered and recalcitrant stock farm in the cedar-covered limestone hills of North Central Texas.
Nine Mile Bridge (1945): Story of a young woman schoolteacher in the remote wilderness of Maine.
We Have All Gone Away (1973): An affectionate look at life on an Iowa farm in the 1930s and 1940s.
Nathaniel J. Hasenfus
We Summer in Maine (1946): From southern Kittery to Eastport, explores local legends and characters from early Colonial Maine through author's vivid recollections and maturity. Wonderful and nostalgic look at Maine. Black-and-white photos.
A Year in the Maine Woods (1996): Naturalist Bernd Heinrich sets out for a year in the wilds of Maine accompanied only by his pet raven, Jack.
The Summer of Ordinary Ways (2005): Memoir of growing up on a Minnesota dairy farm.
Fetched-Up Yankee: A New England Boyhood Remembered (2001): A boy's adventures growing up in the 1930s in Northern New England [Vermont]. By focusing on his neighbors, his family, and the small details of everyday life, Hill shows how the twentieth century came thirty years late to the backwoods of his boyhood. This was a simpler time of square dances and school pageants, when women spent much of their free time listening in on the new-fangled party lines and men drove their first cars as if they were horses, stopping often to let them rest.
Letters from Applehurst (1923): An editor leaves his office to come to a little farm he calls Applehurst, first to build up his nervous system, and second to do his bit toward preventing a food shortage later in the year.
John S. Hooper
Hooper's Pasture from Maine to Vermont (1982): Glimpse of small-town life in Maine and Vermont. Pleasures and excitement of rural life. Trolley cars, New England boiled dinners, old-fashioned remedies, etc.
Helen and Adrian Hoover
- A Place in the Woods (1969): Author's story of living in the woods of Minnesota, before modern intrusions. Also others, including some for children.
- The Years of the Forest (1973/1999): Adrian and Helen Hoover gave up urban comforts for the deeper delights of the wilderness in 1954. This is the story of the Hoovers' education in wilderness housekeeping and of the surprising challenges they faced at each step. Includes priceless hints and how-tos for solving the problems of living close to nature and on good terms with one's neighbors -- bluejays, weasels, field mice, and deer.
Lois Phillips Hudson
The Bones of Plenty (1962): A vivid and absorbing novel of a proud, independent North Dakota wheat-farming family and their struggles against the relentless depression years
Graham R. Irwin and Ken Ashton
A Farm of Our Own: A Spiritual Journey Running a Smallholding (1998): An honest and intimate account of the attempts of a city-boy and his partner at running a small farm as a hobby. As its subtitle suggests, it also describes some of the lessons learned during that ten-year once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is a journey that takes the author through some of the most harrowing experiences of his life -- such as when his pet house cow is diagnosed as having mad cow disease; some of the most amusing -- like the antics of a sex-mad drake and ram; some of the most frustrating -- such as having to burn two acres of soggy grass that should have been hay; and some of the most satisfying and rewarding. In its own way, the book aims to build bridges and promote understanding between city dwellers and country folk. North Bedfordshire, England.
A Bucket of Nuts and a Herring Net (1979): The author's account of his family's move from London to Kent, and how they coped with country and farm life.
James Ralph Johnson
Anyone Can Live Off the Land (1961): Suggestions for survival in the wilds, including hints on fire-building and wet weather wood, fishing without equipment, how to keep from getting lost, wild plant foods and wilderness cooking, poisons, and first aid. Somewhat rare book.
Sylvia's Farm: The Journal of an Improbable Shepherd (2004): When Sylvia Jorrin first moved to the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, in upstate New York, 'she had no intention of becoming a farmer. Raised to fear animals of all shapes and sizes, she only wanted to create a life for herself and her friends and family in her 25-room shingle-style house. After a neighboring dairy farmer suggested they use her 85-acres of hay fields and woodland to start a farm together, she contacted the South Central New York Resource and Development Center, and they applied for and received a grant of nine free sheep. They soon bought ten more. Then her partner quit....' (from book description).
M. G. Kains
We Wanted a Farm: A Back-to-the-Land Adventure (1941/2008), a 'revived edition of a class. In this book, "Kain shows how he and his family moved from New York City apartments to a full-fledged farm in easy stages: first to a rented suburban house where they grew a large vegetable garden, then in a purchased suburban house where they concentrated on fruits and berries, and finally on a full-blown farm where they went into fruits and berries in a big way."
Stanley Joseph and Lynn Karlin
Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life (1991): The authors record the rhythms of their work and days on their mid-coast saltwater farm (part of the Nearings' parcel), along the way providing advice and instruction on dozens of traditional country arts and crafts. With photos.
- The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An Adventure With Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys, and Me (2004): A 50-something suburbanite and his wife buy a farm in West Hebron (upstate) New York, stocking it with three border collies and a small herd of sheep. His new home is an aging farmhouse, several decrepit barns, forty-two acres of pasture and woods, the sheep, two donkeys, and a town full of people curious about the flatlander in their midst.
- Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm (2007): Memoir about the adventures of farm life from the host of the Northeast Public Radio show 'Dog Talk.'
Dorothy Boone Kidney
Wilderness Journey: Life, Living, Contentment in the Allagash Woods of Maine (1980): From her 24 years of living the good life in the wilderness, Kidney spins yards of adventure about rescues on windswept lakes and lost campers, and tales of people and animals that have visited her wilderness cabin.
The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir (2010). Memoir. A gay Manhattan couple buys an old mansion in upstate New York and starts to experiment with a life as gentleman farmers by raising goats and making artisan cheese.
The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (2010): Memoir. "Single, thirtysomething, working as a writer in New York City, Kristin Kimball was living life as an adventure. But she was beginning to feel a sense of longing for a family and for home. When she interviewed a dynamic young farmer, her world changed. Kristin knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him. The Dirty Life is the captivating chronicle of their first year on Essex Farm, from the cold North Country winter through the following harvest season" as they produce enough beef, pork, chicken, milk, eggs, maple syrup, grains, flours, dried beans, herbs, fruits, and forty different vegetables to create 100 farm shares for their community.
Upcountry: Reflections from a Rural Life (1991/2005): Farming and nature in Maine.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007): Author Barbara Kingsolver, and her husband and daughters, move to a family farm in Virginia to homestead, determined to become locavores. They grow their own food, raise chickens, make cheese at home, and generally eat whatever is in season and little else. Also discussed are problems with veganism, switching from vegetarianism to eating meat, the evils of industrial agriculture, etc.
Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving from a Big City to an Old Country Farmhouse (2002): Michael Korda, editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster and bestselling author, and his wife Margaret decided to buy a 200-year-old farmhouse -- with 2 barns, 20 acres, an assortment of farming implements, and a caretaker named Harold Roe -- in Pleasant Valley, two hours north of New York City. Buying pigs is what finally bonded the Kordas with the people in their working community.
Road Song: A Memoir (1991): In 1969, when she was six years old, Natalie Kusz, with her parents and three siblings, left Los Angeles and headed north to Alaska on a classic quest for freedom, a house on the land, and a more wholesome way of living.
Woodswoman (1991): After her divorce and her triumphs trying to make it on her own, LaBastille moves from a condo to a plot of land in the Adirondacks, where she designs, builds, and maintains a log cabin by herself. This is the story of her life in the Adirondack mountains. Followed by Woodswoman II: Beyond Black Bear Lake and Woodswoman III: Book Three of the Woodswoman's Adventures.
Jeanne Marie Laskas
Fifty Acres and a Poodle: A Story of Love, Livestock, and Finding Myself on a Farm (2000): Jeanne Marie Laskas is 37, with a house, garden, dog, cat, flourishing writing career -- all of the perfect ingredients, in fact, of a happy city-person's life -- when a childhood dream resurfaces. It is a farm dream. One summer afternoon, the perfect place appears, and it's very real: fifty acres, a pond, an Amish barn, and a magnificent view out over the rolling hills of Pennsylvania's Washington County. She and her boyfriend buy it and the misadventures begin as they try to adapt to farm living and the rural western Pennsylvania lifestyle.
Margaret F. Leatherbarrow
Gold in the Grass: Rags to Riches Through Soil Reclamation and Sustainable Farming (1954/2008): A 'revived edition' of a classic. "As World War II was ending, Alfred Leatherbarrow, a wounded Canadian veteran, and his nurse, Margaret, fell in love, married, bought their dream farm — and discovered that their crops would not grow. The farm's soil had been exhausted through years of destructive tillage practices. Faced with certain defeat, they used innovative farming techniques — including a prototype forage harvester to gather grass for silage — to restore the fertility of their farm." This "is a love story, a back-to-the-land adventure, and an inspirational example of how conservation tillage can restore the fertility of a used-up farm."
David Loxterkamp, M.D.
A Measure of My Days (1997): From a year's journal kept by Dr. Loxterkamp in Belfast, Maine. He tells of his work, the people and his perspective on life through it all.
Dudley Cammett Lunt
- Thousand Acre Marsh, A Span of Remembrance (1959): The four seasons described as they are in the saltwater marshes of Delaware and the coast of Maine.
- The Woods and the Sea, Wilderness and Seacoast Adventures in the State of Maine (1965): Mid-20th-century childhood in Maine, canoe trips, Maine woodsmen, nature, etc.
- The Egg and I (1945): Screechingly funny and in places very lovely in its descriptions of the isolated coastal mountains of Washington State, and it offers good insights into the impressive challenges and rewards of chicken farming and rural life in general. Recommended by 3 people.
- Onions in the Stew (1955): A woman's experinces of life on a lake island near Seattle.
The Widow Down by the Brook: A Memoir of a Time Gone By (1999): In the early 1950s, MacNeill and her husband, Wilmot, moved to rural Connecticut. After developing cancer, he spent his waning time and strength on remodeling a barn for them to live in. Widowed at age 44, MacNeill learns to live independently.
Farm on Nippersink Creek: A Midwestern Boyhood (1995): Midwest storyteller Jim May has collected some of his best stories of his growing up on a farm, in a devoutly Catholic family, in rural Spring Grove, IL.
Brenda Weisberg Meckler
Papa was a Farmer (1988): Jewish immigrants from Russia settled on a 60-acre farm in southern Ohio in 1904. A bucolic childhood is recalled: one-room schoolhouse, chores, annual fish fry, Sunday school picnics church box suppers, the selling of butter and eggs in the city, etc.
Green Mountain Farm (1948/1978): During the depths of the Great Depression, a city family buys an old, ramshackled farm in Vermont and the fun begins. The people, his neighbors, his family, the snows and mud of Vermont winters and springs, sailing Lake Champlain in summer, skiing in moonlight -- the author beautifully captures the essence of Vermont and how to live and what to live for.
Edwin D. Merry
Neighborly Relations: And Other Stories of Bygone Times on a Saltwater Farm (1980): Chapter titles are Bicycles for the boys, Crane chowder and the fixin's, The fox and the pup, Head Hochum, Soft tires on country roads, Neighborly relations, The way we beat the Yap, Extra help for haying, A date with Emily, Fishing, shacked-up and otherwise, Scowing on the sheepscot, The race Dodge place.
Homestead Year (1995): Documenting a year of dedication to a one-acre plot of land, a writer tells the story of homesteading in the Philadelphia suburbs, maintaining and learning from a bee hive, a full-scale vegetable garden, a fish pond, and ducklings.
Fields of Home (1953): Part of a series of memoirs. This volume covers the period during which 14-year-old Ralph Moody joined his maternal grandfather on his farm in Maine, near the start of the 20th century. Others in series are Little Britches, Man in the Family, and Mary Emma & Company.
Small-Farm Self-Sufficiency Through High-Quality Produce: A Back-to-the-Land Adventure from 1864 (1864/2008) A 'revived edition' of a classic. "Ten years after Henry David Thoreau learned how to be a poor farmer, Edmund Morris learned how to be a good one. Ten Acres Enough is the personal story of how Morris quit the publishing business and achieved happiness and prosperity by farming ten acres of fruits and berries. Rather than glorifying poverty and isolation, this book shows farming as the path to financial security, while still providing all the benefits of country life — provided that the farmer understands that the key lies in producing crops of the highest possible quality, while living within striking distance of a major market."
William S. Morse
A Country Life (1995): Ninety-year-old author reminisces about country life on a North Country farm in the early years of the 20th century. As a boy he was responsible keeping the woodbox stocked, feeding the livestock, milking cows, etc.
It Takes A Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life (2001): An urban humor columnist and his wife buy an upstate New York getaway (in the Catskills), which leads to their reluctant transformation from city slickers to country bumpkins, and their eventual permanent move to the country. Chronicled with stinging wit, hilarious anecdotes, and an amusing fondness for their farming neighbours.
Bean Blossom Dreams: A City Family's Search for a Simple Country Life (1994): Details the accomplishments and day-to-day life of a family that decided to chuck the city life for the simpler, slower pace of the country. Former BBC producer Murphey, her photographer husband, and their small daughter moved to a tumbledown 42-acre farm in Brown County, Ind., in 1990. Also includes a lengthy set of appendices at the back of the book with recipes, garden tips, etc.
Loving and Leaving the Good Life (1992): Memoir of Scott and Helen Nearing's life together. In 1932 they decided it would be better to be poor in the country than in the city and moved from New York City to Vermont, where they established their first homestead and wrote LIVING THE GOOD LIFE. They moved to Maine in 1953, where they continued their writing and their hard physical work as homesteaders.
Letters from Wingfield Farm (1990): Walt Wingfield, chairman of the board of a Toronto brokerage house, yearned for a simpler life. So he bought a hundred-acre farm in southern Ontario. Like Thoreau, he would be a gentleman farmer, rich in barnyard philosophy. He would use only horse-drawn equipment so he could listen to the music of the land. But did Thoreau have to contend with a dour, sour, grouchy farmer next door, whose constant advice was to bulldoze the place? Or a stuttering auctioneer? Or ...
Mary Rose O'Reilley
The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd (2000): A Minnesota college English professor, now Quaker but raised Roman Catholic and wanting to ground her spirituality in reality and deliberate living, seeks out a sheep barn and learns to tend sheep. She also spends time studying Mahayana Buddhism at Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery in France founded by Thich N'hat Hanh.
Sanctuary: A Finding of Life (1940): A woman's notes on removing herself from civilization as most knew it, and taking refuge in very rural Maine.
Alice Beal Parsons
- The Mountain (1944): Stories of neighbors and life in the country in Maine before World War II.
- The World Around the Mountain (1947): companion to The Mountain.
Robert Newton Peck
A Day No Pigs Would Die (1972/1994): Young adult book set on the farm of a Vermont Shaker family in the 1920s. True story of Peck's adolescence.
Will and Minnie Penney
Eighty-Eight Years on a Maine Farm (1973): Recollections and activities of the Penney farm in Belgrade, Maine, and the changes over the last 150 years.
Acres and Pains, a Guide to Country Loafing (1947/1999): Details the adventures of a New Yorker who suddenly finds himself the owner of a farm in Bucks County, PA.
First Person Rural, Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1978): The first of Perrin's four books on country living, each containing essays concerning Vermont country life and ranging from the intensely practical to the mildly literary. Also: Second Person Rural, More Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1980), Third Person Rural, Further Essays of a Sometime Farmer (1983), and Last Person Rural (1992).
Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg aka Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting (2009): Perry's memoir of life (with his wife and daughters) in a ramshackle Wisconsin farmhouse on 37 acres of overgrown fields, with reflections on his unorthodox childhood (his city-bred fundamentalist Christian parents took in sixty or so foster children while running a sheep and dairy farm) and on life with the animals (chickens, pigs) on his farm.
Cheap Gossip (The Letters from Liverpool) (1989): Series of essays on growing up in Hancock, Maine, in the post-war years.
Freddie Pikovsky and Nicole Caldwell
FARM + LAND'S Back to the Land: A Guide to Modern Outdoor Life (2019): A "collection of stories about slow living, sustainability, and the value of doing things with your own two hands. This gorgeous book features remarkable narratives, essential how-tos, and hundreds of breathtaking photographs from people who have embraced lives of adventure in wild places." Focuses on the back-to-the-land movement; a visually driven celebration of cozy homes and wild landscapes. Not only about farming and gardening but about living more simply and in closer connection with nature. Pikovsky is founder of Farm + Land, an outdoor lifestyle brand and retreat center in upstate New York; Caldwell is a farmer and sustainability educator who runs Better Farm, a 65-acre organic farm in upstate New York.
A Country Wife Farms Families and Other Foolhardy Adventures: Memoir. Pig keeping, cake baking and lamb rearing in the lush Dorset countryside, where Lucy settled as a newlywed 30 years ago.
Trudy Chambers Price
The Cows are Out! Two Decades on a Maine Dairy Farm (2004): Price writes about her twenty-three years at Craneland Farm in Knox, Maine and wonderfully captures the simple pleasures, the never-ending work and the financial uncertainty that go hand-in-hand with the life of a dairy farmer.
Josh Kilmer Purcell
The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers: An Unconventional Memoir (2010) A "riotous, moving, and entirely unique story" of [Purcell's] attempt to tackle life with his partner on a goat farm in upstate New York. From back cover: A happy series of accidents takes Josh Kilmer-Purcell and his partner, Brent Ridge, to the doorstep of the magnificent (and fabulously for sale) Beekman Mansion. And so begins their transformation from uptight urbanites into the two-hundred-year-old-mansion-owning Beekman Boys. Suddenly Josh — a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career — and Brent find themselves weekend farmers, surrounded by nature's bounty and an eclectic cast: roosters who double as a wedding cover band; Bubby, the bionic cat; and a herd of goats, courtesy of their new caretaker, Farmer John.
Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home (2003): When she was 35, Janisse Ray left Montana, heading toward her grandmother's house in the small Georgia town where she was born. Rediscovering the nearly lost pleasures of country life, she wonders if real connections can be built between herself and her neighbors, whether she can build a sustainable life for herself and her son.
- We Took to the Woods (1942): Life in a cabin in the Maine woods
- Happy the Land (1946): An account of an adventurous life in the woods of western Maine, full of wit and wisdom and a high enthusiasm
- Only Parent (1953): Juvenile tale of a single mother living in a cabin in the Maine woods.
- The Peninsula (1958): Observation of natural surroundings from an isolated cabin on the far eastern Maine coast.
Right as Rain (1946): Reminisciences about a grandmother in Maine at the turn of the 20th century; sensitive portrayal of small town life.
And I Shall Have Some Peace There (2011): Roach left her job as Editorial Director of Martha Stewart at the end of 2007 to move to a very small rural town in NY, seeking "solitude, a return to the personal creativity of writing, and a closer connection to nature and my first passion, the garden."
At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life (2009): Memoir. "In this rollicking and hilarious memoir, Wade and his partner, Gary, leave culture, cable, and consumerism behind and strike out for rural Michigan – a place with fewer people than in their former spinning class. There, Wade discovers the simple life isn't so simple. Battling blizzards, bloodthirsty critters, and nosy neighbors equipped with night-vision goggles, Wade and his spirit, sanity, relationship, and Kenneth Cole pointy-toed boots are sorely tested with humorous and humiliating frequency. And though he never does learn where his well water actually comes from or how to survive without Kashi cereal, he does discover some things in the woods outside his knotty-pine cottage in Saugatuck, Michigan, that he always dreamed of but never imagined he'd find – happiness and a home.
Mrs. H.G. Rowe
Re-Told Tales of the Hills and Shores of Maine (1892): Articles on Thanksgiving dinner, sugaring off, other domestic observations. Scarce.
John J. Rowlands
Cache Lake Country (1959/1999): Over half a century ago, John Rowlands set out by canoe into the wilds of Maine to survey land for a timber company. After paddling alone for several days he came upon the lake of his boyhood dreams. He never left. He named the place Cache Lake because there was stored the best that the north had to offer: timber for a cabin; fish, game and berries to live on; and the peace and contentment he felt he could not live without. This book exemplifies the American notion that what is most worth finding lies far from the tracks of civilization, and that what is most worth doing demands resourcefulness and wit. The author explains how to make moccasins, barrel stoves, lean-to-shelters, outdoor bake ovens, sailing canoes, and other useful gadgets. 280 pp.
Kim Schaye and Christopher Losee
Stronger Than Dirt: How One Urban Couple Grew a Business, a Family, and a New Way of Life from the Ground Up (2003: An account, told in alternating "he said, she said" fashion, of a Brooklyn couple's attempt to make a go of it growing things in the Hudson Valley soil, battling mulch, bugs, dirt, snow, and deer, as well as their own inexperience, to eventually launch Silverpetals Farm.
Moose in the Water, Bamboo on the Bench: A Journal and a Journey (2001): Journal of a year living at the edge of the North Maine Woods, integrating nature and the change of the seasons with the handcrafting of a bamboo fly rod.
The Dark Well: Coming of Age on a Maine Farm (1997): Lively account of growing up on an isolated Maine farm during the Great Depression, in which Shaw uses her memoir to uncover the mysteries of her origins. Also provides verbal pictures of horse-haying, hand-milking, and joys and sorrows of the transition from a simpler way of life. Highly literate, humorous.
The Cheechakoes: The True Story of the Remarkable Adventures of an American Family Who Moved to Alaska and Lived Like Pioneers (1964): The author, born in the Arizona desert, was moved with the rest of the family to Alaska by his father who was, like his family before him, looking for the last frontier. They were all cheechakoes -- Indian for greenhorns -- but the challenge of the wilderness only served to make their life more exciting, especially for young boys.
A Small Farm in Maine: How One Couple Built a Self-Sustaining Life in the Country (1988): Describes how one couple managed to accomplish making a living off the land.
My Life in the North Woods (1986): Wonderful non-fiction short stories of the author's life, mostly in the early part of the century in the woods of Maine.
It's a Long Road to a Tomato: Tales of an Organic Farmer Who Quit the Big City for the (Not-So) Simple Life (2006): 'Already in his early forties and not entirely content with his lot, Keith Stewart traded life in New York's corporate grind for an upstate farm. Starting as a one-man operation, short on experience and with modest expectations, Stewart soon found that the agrarian life, despite its numerous challenges, suited him well.' The book is comprised of 'interlocking, complementary essays, addressing his mid-life development as a farmer; some of the nuts and bolts and how-tos of organic vegetable growing and selling in an urban market; humorous and philosophical stories about domestic and wild farm animals; and insights into the political, social, and environmental issues surrounding agriculture today and why they matter to all of us' (from publisher's book description).
Enslaved by Ducks: How One Man Went from Head of the Household to Bottom of the Pecking Order (2003): 'Tarte, a city boy at heart, chronicles how his blissful, animal-free life took an unexpectedly raucous turn when his nature-loving wife decided to share their spacious, early 20th-century Michigan farmhouse with a menagerie of furry and feathery friends: a malicious bunny with an appetite for live wires, a homicidal turkey, a horny ring-necked dove, a trash-talking African grey parrot, and more than a dozen other quirky creatures' (from Entertainment Weekly).
Carrying Water as a Way of Life: A Homesteader's History (1997): Describes author's two decades of experience as a homesteader in rural Maine
To School Through the Fields (1992): Charming memoir of a childhood in rural Ireland, detailing the delights of growing up on a farm in a large family. going to school and the strand, haying, dealing with animals, and coping with the death of her brother.
Helen V. Taylor
A Time to Recall: The Delights of a Maine Childhood (1963): Book of childhood memories, of summers on her grandfather's farm in Waterboro Center in York County, Maine.
We Didn't Have Much, But We Sure Had Plenty: Rural Women in Their Own Words (1981): The strong voices of rural women from a variety of perspectives speak about their lives.
Henry David Thoreau
The Maine Woods (1864/1992)
Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land (2011): Memoir. "A bona-fide city dweller, Kurt Timmermeister never intended to run his own dairy farm. When he purchased four acres of land on Vashon Island, Washington, he was looking for an affordable home a ferry ride away from the restaurants he ran in Seattle. But as he continued to serve his customers frozen chicken breasts and packaged pork, he became aware of the connection between what he ate and where it came from.... [This book] details with honesty the initial stumbles and subsequent realities he had to face in his quest to establish a profitable farm for himself. [It includes] the specifics of making cheese, raising cows, and slaughtering pigs, and it will recast entirely the way we think about our relationship to the food we consume."
Eric Toensmeier with Jonathan Bates
Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City (2013): The chronologically told story of two friends developing a flourishing permaculture garden on a tiny barren plot in a run-down part of urban Holyoke, Mass., eventually growing more than two hundred low-maintenance edible plants, including aquatics, mulberry trees for silkworms, bamboo, greenhouse plants, perennial broccoli, paw paws, bananas, and moringa as well as urban chickens. [I've visited; it's amazing how much fertility and functionality they pack into such a small space.]
Nan Turner Waldron
North Woods Walkabout (1998): Loving memoir of one woman's quest for quiet insights from many seasons spent in the woods and bogs of northern Maine.
See You in a Hundred Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America (2007): Manhattan freelance writer Ward and his wife 'faced a steep learning curve when they abandoned harried, technology-driven lives for a year not just in the country but in the country as it was a century ago. Their mantra was, If it didn't exist in 1900, we will do without, and they did: no electricity, no telephone, no computer. This breezy account of their stubbornly quixotic odyssey begins in June 2000, with Logan exhausted pumping water from a well, ineptly milking cantankerous goats and confronting his fear of a 2,000-pound Percheron' (from Publishers Weekly review). Set in Shenandoah County, Virginia.
W. D. Wetherell
North of Now: A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone (1998): Author has lived for many years in mountainous western New Hampshire, in Thoreauvian simplicity, with wood stove and manual typewriter, without television or computer. The book is a collection of little essays on simple things and on low-maintenance pleasures.
One Man's Meat (1982): Essays and observations on daily life at White's Maine saltwater farm.
The Big-Little World of Doc Pritham (1971): Biography of a country doctor, still active at 92 (in 1971), who would go anywhere at any time to be of service in a frontier town in Maine.
William Paul Winchester
A Very Small Farm (1995): 'After graduating from college with a botany degree, Winchester wondered what to do for a living. So he bought 20 acres of land in Oklahoma, built himself a house and barn, started a garden, and acquired a few animals. This memoir of his past 13 years as a homesteader focuses on the various activities that occupy his days' (source: Library Journal)