One Acre and Security: What Would You Do?

What would you do with a small piece of land in the country?
What would you do with a small piece of land in the country?

In my formative teen years I was reading books such as Bradford Angier’s One Acre & Security about how to live simply off the land. These books set the direction for my life. I won’t recap what the book is about – follow the link if you’re interested – I mostly wanted to know what readers would do if they had a small piece of land in the country. What type of house would you build? Would you build a barn? A shop? Dig a pond? Grow a garden? Start a home-based business? What would you do?

Image: SouthWoods Homestead and Broadacre Design Permcaculture Stewardship

14 thoughts on “One Acre and Security: What Would You Do?”

  1. Wow! All of these ideas are excellent! Thanks Jay, Owen for the idea of the books. I will check them out. I’m sticking to my Hobbit home with micro hydro, solar and wind. pumice insulation, kitchen wood stove, water from a well, a few fireplaces, above ground greenhouse, below ground greenhouse, forest garden, fruit trees, wood working shop, deal with local restaurants with the fruits and vegetables, and assorted ideas that I’ve learned right here on this blog. Owen, you have no idea just how many people you have inspired to get off the grid and truly feel like a real American. FREE. Thanks my Friend for all the effort you put into this blog. We appreciate it. Thank you too Jay. You’re a keeper too!

  2. Sorry Owen,

    I should have warned you about the slow beginning of the book. I’m glad you persevered.

    However boring that beginning is… I think it’s also important. It gives the reader perspective about why he chose to move to the country and start farming. Many of the problems Edmund Morris encountered living and working in the city are the same ones that bury many urban dwellers in poverty today.

    Another factor to consider. Morris’ time spent in the city wasn’t a complete waste. Note how he discussed how much he and his family looked forward to spring and fruit seasons while they lived in the city. Note how he recognized the price fluctuations and the extreme importance of getting to market first with high quality fruit at the highest prices. Without his experience living in the city and paying those high prices for the first fruit of the season, he might not ever have really understood the customers he was growing fruit for.

    So… as boring as the first part of the book is… it’s critical to help the reader understand his reasoning… and also why he was so successful. HE KNEW AND UNDERSTOOD HIS CUSTOMER BASE WELL.

    Morris took the same kinds of steps that are smart to use even today. He started by growing fruit in his back yard. He worked on a small scale to learn to grow the most expensive fruit and grow the highest quality. He learned a lot of that before he ever moved to the country.

    There is a lot to be learned from his experiences 150 years ago. How many current city dwellers could follow a similar path?

    1. Pay close attention to prices for commodities and products where you are in the city.
    2. Learn to grow, construct, or manufacture those items on a limited scale that you see people around you scrambling to buy at exorbitant prices.
    3. Then move out of the city and flip the equation. Instead of paying those crazy prices, start selling those items and RECEIVE the benefit of the high prices for your products.

    Each step of the way seek out free or very low cost materials that will help grow, construct, or manufacture your products.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that Morris was a trained bookkeeper. That skill allowed him stay on top of his business to avoid the financial pitfalls many (most?) new startup businesses encounter that cause them to fail within a year.

    In fact, I’d say that one of the most important steps anyone planning on starting a small business or enter into a cottage industry… LEARN ACCOUNTING.

    Take a class. Find a mentor. Do whatever you need to do to educate yourself about how to properly keep your books. It’s one of the biggest factors in determining the success or failure of a startup business. If you can’t perform impeccable bookkeeping, you’re probably better off not starting a business.

    • The book really got me thinking. It helped me realize there’s usually a way around current problems such as economic downturns if you’re shrewd and willing to make the necessary changes. He was getting nowhere with his city business. It was only when he changed course and started his farm that he was able to become financially well off. I’m certainly not saying that farming is the path to riches. Just be open to new possibilities and opportunities. Be flexible.

      Another good lesson is learn from others. Morris talked to lots of other farmers and read lets of agricultural journals in the winter. Many farmers barely made a living, and many farmers went broke (and still are). But he figured out a way to make a highly productive, profitable farm using simple techniques. The German farmer who taught him about liquid manure was interesting. We have way more information available nowadays on the Internet and countless books.

  3. Strangely enough, this is almost exactly what we’re currently working towards (one acre of a six acre plot will be ours, but we’ll be allowed to garden etc on the rest.) I’m planning on building an earthbag house about 2000 sq ft, not counting a possible garage/workshop to be built in year 3. I’m hoping to gradually shrink our bills by gradually adding capacity (garden/food forest, greenhouse, electrical generation, etc) until we’re only paying for internet, coffee and chocolate. To pay for it, we’ll start with regular jobs until we find some kind of work from home success (if I can shrink the bills enough, a few hundred a month after expenses could be ‘success’.)

  4. Owen:

    If you enjoyed reading “One Acre and Security”

    I’d highly recommend, “Ten Acres Enough” by Edmund Morris (written 1864).

    It’s available for free online at Open Library.

    Some of the ideas from 1864 don’t hold up today, but you’ll be amazed at how many of them do.

    Pay attention to Morris’ process. How he constantly learns and adapts his methods as he learns is the real message of the book.

    • That’s a very good book in many ways. I really enjoyed reading it. The basics are still relevant after 150 or so years. The first page or two almost turned me off but I plowed on. You might want to skip ahead to where they’re actually buying land or starting the farm. He really emphasizes using lots of manure, especially liquid manure. He gives examples of farmers who got rich from heavy manuring. Almost no mention of mulching though. Apparently they put on lots of homemade compost instead of mulch. Just one amazing fact from the book: Their farm started earning enough money in just 3 years to buy another farm every year because of their emphasis on growing profitable fruit crops. And that was before his fruit trees started producing heavily. Very few businesses of any kind can claim profits that high. I’ve never considered farming for profit but this book got me thinking about it.

      Edit: The low prices back then were absolutely incredible. What a laugh. The farm was about $1,000 for 11 acres near Philadelphia. He paid his farmhand $72 for 6 months hard labor.

  5. For me personally, I find myself approaching “retirement.”

    Not that I plan on ever completely retiring. I plan to keep busy for many years to come. However, I also recognize that with each passing year I feel a few more aches and pains. I don’t have the physical energy that I once had. I look forward to slowing down a little, but not completely stopping.

    So… for me, one acre and security means focusing on what my abilities might possibly become in my sunset years. I don’t see this as a bad thing. I see this as fun transition.

    I want to build a nice very small house.

    I’ve witnessed my grandparents age and become overwhelmed trying to keep up with their farm house until they were forced into an old folks home. It was traumatic for everyone involved.

    I’ve watched my mother age. Dad (who passed years ago from cancer) left her in good shape financially with a house that’s paid for, his pension, and a nice savings nest egg. The biggest problem my mother had was that the house was 1500 sqft. It was simply much too huge for her to keep up with it. Each year she was able to do less and less until she essentially just lived in 2 rooms and never opened the doors to the rest of the house and gave up trying to keep them clean. The family would come over and help at every opportunity, but my Mom is a proud woman that would get extremely upset and embarrassed if anyone, even her own children saw a mess in her house. She adamantly refused to allow the family to hire a maid!!

    I want to avoid all of that as much as possible.

    I want to design a tiny retirement castle. No bigger than 300 sqft. Probably smaller. Something that I can keep up with long into the future. Something I never have to worry about painting or replastering (possibly stone veneer over a rainscreen or whatever option is locally available for cheap or free.) A roof that will last at least 50 years.

    I want to build a home that is extremely accessible. I’m very able bodied right now and able to do most anything, but who knows what the future will bring? Might I end up in a wheelchair when I’m 90? I don’t know, but I want to build a home that has thought ahead to that possibility. I want it accessible in the kitchen, bath, bedroom, and everywhere else.

    I don’t want to ever have to worry about the price of oil, electricity, natural gas, propane, gasoline, or any other fuel. I want a home that will heat and cool itself without me ever needing to tap into my retirement savings. That means superinsulating. That means solar thermal systems. Wood fuel for backup, with some coppiced tree hedge that can be cut with a simple pruner instead of heavier equipment. Light and easy to handle.

    I want an accessible garden. Something very simple that will be attractive and productive even if the day comes where I’m not able to do much work tending to it. I’d like one or two small raised garden beds that I can sit on the edge and reach the plants without stooping to the ground on my hands and knees. I’d like a food forest with a nice walking path where I can pick fruit for myself, and let my grandchildren come over and pick what I can’t reach from the path.

    I’d like a shop to putter around in, building whatever I want. Maybe selling a few items. Definitely building toys and furniture for grandchildren and local charities. Building things in a shop has been my passion all my life, and I don’t envision myself ever stopping as long as I can draw breath.

    I also want to build a tiny guest house. A place for my daughter’s family to come visit and have their own place to sleep, but I don’t have to worry about keeping up with it. I’ll just make it a rule, “You’re welcome to stay here, but you have to clean up after yourself!” I’ll never have to feel guilty about a mess.

    I also want a large outdoor space to cook, eat, entertain, visit with guests, and play games. Just as long as the space doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. I’d love to have an outdoor gazebo surrounded with reclaimed glass patio doors to make it usable year round. Fill it with fun games for children ages two to 102. All of the games built in my shop as the years go by.

    99% of the time the gazebo and guest house would not be heated or cooled.

    Most importantly, I want a space that is a destination that welcomes family and friends. The buildings and possessions are all secondary to having fun with those I’m close to.

    Keep it all simple, humble, and easy to maintain. Yet still have some interesting features on the property that others look forward to spending time around. Perhaps a kids’ fort. Perhaps a fish pond. I’ll let the piece of land tell me what it has to offer, and work with that.

    Actually one acre is probably a lot more land than would be required, so I guess the rest of the land gets planted to trees and bushes and has a nice nature path for walking a dog.

    That’s my dream. A retirement castle compound. Basically three “sheds” and a gazebo. Consisting of a small house, a small shop, a small guest house with bunks, and a gazebo. Privacy walls/fencing/plant screens as needed and maybe an actual storage shed or two as needed.

    Keep it small, simple, efficient, extremely low maintenance, and handicap accessible whether I currently need it accessible or not.

    A place the neighbors would probably call…
    “Old Man Jay’s place”

  6. I would build your solar pit house, change up the rooms somewhat to suit, masonry or clay stove (kachelofen) to provide in floor heat/hot water and cooking (circulating pump for floor??). Incorporate concrete kitchen sink counter for thermal mass somewhere around stove. Love the cistern ideas on your site. Pantry/root cellar/cold room for refrigeration. Compost toilet. Earthen floors (concrete under stove), maybe more windows to south. Grow above ground crops in the greenhouse area, all root crops outside. Solar panels for lighting etc.(generator for backup) Property is beyond hydro power.
    Berry bushes outside/apple trees/(grapes??) I live close to the 50th parallel so it does get pretty cold up here. Coop for 15-20 laying hens, possibly a few goats for milk and brush control.
    I want this to be a no/low energy home, my priorities are heat, light and water. I have a huge amount of research left to do, scrounge material where I can (I have access to cheap stainless steel tubing, would that be an alternative to buying copper tubing to coil around stove for hot water, could a person use it for the in floor heat?)
    Haven’t figured out about the grey water. Lots more research to do…….Thanks for this great site, I have been checking it out for several years and love it! I may soon be able to actually build!!
    Thanks for listening, any comments will be appreciated.

    • Thanks. Greywater is super easy. Just run pipes from sinks, showers and washing machine to fruit trees, and don’t tell the code folks. Only use natural soaps. I like raised cisterns for gravity feed. You could use stone under the stove. Read my Instructable for building insulated earthbag houses. (search that phrase)

  7. Actually, all of those things. And the best part is, we started reading those books too – and we’re actually doing it.

    30 laying hens, 100 chicks, geese, ducks, pigs (30 piglets due next month) 13 acres, a stream, timber frame buildings, heating with firewood and loving every minute.


    • Wow, 13 acres. That’s great. Hopefully we’ll get a little more land someday. There isn’t enough space on our little homestead for everything.

  8. Once acre would be tight, but I would build a small house with thick walls, probably cord wood or cog. It would have an outdoor kitchen for summer cooking and canning with rocket stove technology and an outdoor oven. I would build some sort of outbuilding, but probably out of wattle and daub, just because I want to experiment with it. I’d also dig a root cellar, because hopefully part of my acre is somewhat hilly.

    I’d plant a short rotation coppice along the north side of the property of black locust and possibly eucalyptus. I’d have espaliered fruit trees and a garden and keep ducks and rabbits, maybe a couple of geese. I’d have a garden for sure, and possibly grow grains, although outside of corn, I have figured out an easy way to thresh grain. Easy meaning not labor intensive.

    I would have micro-hydro for power if I had the running water and solar and wind if not. I’d have my own water, even if it meant building a cistern and capturing rain water.

    But I don’t think I would settle for only one acre. I’m doing a lot of it already on a quarter acre in the burbs, but I don’t have enough room for growing my own firewood, or having a wind mill. They kind of frown on that in the city.


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