Back to the Land Movement

The back to the land movement was inspired by people such as Helen and Scott Nearing, Bradford Angier and Henry David Thoreau.
The back to the land movement was inspired by people such as Helen and Scott Nearing, Bradford Angier and Henry David Thoreau.

“The back-to-the-land movement calls for occupants of real property to grow food from the land on a small-scale basis for themselves or for others, and to perhaps live on the land while doing so.

The concept was popularized in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century by activist Bolton Hall, who set up vacant-lot farming in New York City and wrote many books on the subject. The practice, however, was strong in Europe even before that time.

It also referred to distributism, a 1920s and 1930s attempt to find a third way between capitalism and socialism. It was later used to refer to a North American social phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s. This latter back-to-the-land movement was a migration from cities to rural areas that took place in the United States, its greatest vigor being before the mid-1970s.

The American social commentator and poet Gary Snyder has related that there have been back-to-the-land population movements throughout the centuries, and throughout the world, largely due to the occurrence of severe urban problems and people’s felt need to live a better life, often simply to survive.

What made the later phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s especially significant was that the rural-relocation trend was sizable enough that it was identified in the American demographic statistics.

Roots of this movement can perhaps be traced to some of Bradford Angier’s books, such as At Home in the Woods (1951) and We Like it Wild (1963), or perhaps even more compellingly to the 1954 publication of Helen and Scott Nearing’s book, Living the Good Life. This book chronicles the Nearings’ move to an older house in a rural area of Vermont and their self-sufficient and simple lifestyle. In their initial move, the Nearings were driven by the circumstances of the Great Depression and influenced by earlier writers, particularly Henry David Thoreau. Their book was published six years after A Sand County Almanac, by the ecologist and environmental activist Aldo Leopold, was published, in 1948. Influences aside, the Nearings had planned and worked hard, developing their homestead and life according to a twelve-point plan they had drafted.”

Latest trends? Please leave a comment below if you know of specific demographic information.
Image credit: 200 Acre Woods Homestead

11 thoughts on “Back to the Land Movement”

  1. A ”back-to-the-land” homestead could also include a group home or supported independent living complex so that those with disabilities, like intellectual and developmental disabilities, can have a chance to experience living off the land.

  2. My wife and I spent 5 years in the bush in NB Canada, back in the late 70’s early 80’s. No electricity, only oil lamps, wood heat and cook. no running water in the house. We had every type of farm animal of the feathered family plus cats, dogs, goats and horses. Large local group of families living off the land. Not a bad way to live. Low impact on the environment.

  3. Back to the Land movement is GREAT. It makes a lot of sense to grow your own food, be as self sufficient as possible, and enjoy life without a lot of urban problems (pollution, “rat race,” traffic jams, crime, etc.) One can find a good sense of contentment and satisfaction from working for your own survival. And you can get closer to God out in Nature.

  4. Good food, plenty of it in the farm to table or your garden to the patry storage. Pulling from your own food supply just makes sense, is food safety, is nutritious!

  5. I suggest this as a possible subject for a future blog post.

    First there was the “Monsanto Protection Act”:
    I suggest simply googling that phrase and educating oneself about it. Hundreds of excellent articles detailing the issue from all sides. Read from a variety of sources and decide for yourself what you believe.”

    And wouldn’t you know, how convenient that Monsanto got government protection. Word just happened to leak out about this:

    Clearly everyone is a slave to the corporate giants. We will be forced to eat whatever unnatural freaks of nature they create and throw at us, whether we want to or not.

    This form of Genetically Modified wheat was specifically designed to be resistant to Roundup Herbicides. Making it possible for that form of wheat to be able to tolerate ungodly amounts of chemicals to be dumped on that wheat without harming it.

    Not only are we expected to eat Genetically Modified Bread, but bread laced with ever increasing amounts of harsh chemical herbicides and fertilizers dumped on them.

    There is a better way.

    All the more reason to shift our diets away from the wheat, corn, rice, and potato diets.

    I don’t suggest that anger and outrage for the sake of being angry should be the outcry. I suggest that the philosophy of the Eden Foundation discussed previously on this blog is the appropriate reaction.

    Eden’s philosophy: There are 250,000 known plant species in the world, but only 20 of them provide 90% of our food. We believe that the key to prosperity for the poor lie in underexploited, edible trees and bushes – the lost treasures of Eden. Our mission is to find those treasures and bring them to people who really need them.

    That philosophy of diversifying our diets applies to everyone, not just to the poor.

    Check out Esther Garvi’s latest blog post. (and some of the Natural and Earthen architecture in the background of her photos.) Read about the forces Eden is battling to help the rural poor of one of the poorest countries on the planet be able to feed themselves without handouts.

    It that doesn’t provide inspiration that there is hope against the corporate and government takeover of our lives, I don’t know what will.

    If it can be accomplished in that environment, it can be done anywhere.

    • Yes, this whole thing with Monsanto is criminal in my opinion. How can a corporation be above the law where they can’t be sued or regulated by government? It’s all a fraud. But I doubt I’ll do a separate blog post about it. There are too many good, positive stories in the pipeline. I mention these type of stories in passing (often in the Comments section), but keep the focus on solutions. One solution in this case is growing your own garden. Stay tuned for videos and blog posts about our forest garden and homestead…

  6. I find it funny that now people are turning to the earth in order to SURVIVE the policies of the socialists who, in the 1920’s and 30’s, were trying to bring about socialism…thanks to the socialist policies of the present administration, many find themselves financially strapped (many have lost their jobs and many have had their hours cut, thanks to Obamacare) The IRS has predicted that the typical family’s Obamacare policy will cost about $20,000, more than I made working full-time last year. I am going back to the land in order to survive and to not have to become one of the many older citizens, dependent on a controlling, ever-growing, out of control government. Some of us choose to go back to the land in order to try to preserve our freedom, not to support the destruction of our nation.

    • Yeah, I hear you. But it isn’t just this administration. The super rich corporatists or globalists or whatever you want to call the top 1% who own the banks and largest corporations are the ones actually in control. Politicians are their puppets. So yeah, getting set up on a homestead with a garden, etc. is a big step in preserving freedom. I think of it as partially unplugging from the system. When the full costs of Obamacare kicks in, I don’t see how people will be able to afford the things they normally buy. Having a good garden and good gardening skills will put food on the table during times of hardship.

      • It’s the Big Government system as a whole which is like that. The results are basically the same no matter who happens to be President of the United States, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Chinese dictator, etc.

  7. America is just 1 step away from a monetary collapse which will force people to “get back to the land” regardless of if they want to or not. People should be doing it anyway just to get away from eating foods from stores which have been sprayed with chemicals or injected with drugs so they’ll grow faster. America needs to stop and remember when…………..

    • There are many reasons to have a garden and store up basic essentials. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, snow and ice storms — all wreck havoc with our food delivery system, roads, power, etc. You can save money by buying in bulk during sales and reduce trips to the store. You can grow heirloom and wild varieties that are far healthier than modern hybrids. The list goes on and on. Having a good stockpile of tasty, healthy, organic food is well worth the effort.


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