“Where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good tilled earth. For all Hobbits share a love of all things that grow.” - The Fellowship of the Ring (movie edition)
This newsletter’s mission is to find, highlight, and promote the “shrines” of the world. We define the concept broadly. It encompasses the physical, but also refers to anything that humans have loved and cherished, especially the ones at most risk of neglect.
Sometimes the news we find is downright gloomy and depressing - like the disappearance of tribal languages or the erosion of hilltop towns. Other times, we stumble on trends that have the wind at their back and seem to be poised for a remarkable comeback.
One of the latter is the amazing rise in popularity of gardening, hobby farming, and homesteading.
This movement could not be coming at a better time. Bloomberg News reports that food prices are higher around the world than at any time since the 1970s. So what better time to learn how to grow our own food or patronize local companies that do.
One need look no further than Reddit, where r/homestead has nearly 2 million followers, or YouTube where channel “Epic Gardening” has 1.4 million subscribers, or the sleeper hit documentary “Biggest Little Farm,” to see evidence of the growing popularity of DIY food production.
Instagram is a haven for homesteaders. We highly recommend aggregator accounts like Homestead Mamas, which curates stories from homesteaders around the world.
The website Urban Exodus and its related podcast and social media accounts produce marvelously inspiring stories of young professionals who have left the city to set up small farms or homesteads, as well as practical advice for those considering such a jump.
Urban Exodus founder Alissa Hessler was living in a 500 square foot apartment in Seattle with a roommate when she decided to move to rural Maine. She started her website in order to connect with others who had made a similar move. In below video, Hessler describes her motivations for founding Urban Exodus.
Motivations for this wave of “back-to-the-land” enthusiasts are as varied as the participants, but we’ve noticed four general trends.
Better Quality of Life
In testimony after testimony, participants seem to echo a basic story line of “We were depressed and overworked in the city. We moved to the country, and we’ve been shocked at how much better we feel.”
Urban Exodus asked Franchesca Duval of Alchemist Farm in California, “Do you notice a trend of young people leaving city life behind? If yes, why do you think that is?”
“The pendulum always swings. I notice college aged folks yearning for connection to land that they did not grow up with. I also see them wanting to let go of the modern conveniences that distract them from being able to fully interact with the world around them in a healthy way. In an age filled with screens we find that rates of depression and anxiety are higher than ever. It is the reconnection to the soil and slower paced meaningful rhythms of caring for animals that are our saving grace, young folks are recognizing that and it is a beautiful thing to witness.”
Food Quality Evangelists
A significant motivator both for hobby farmers, self-reliance gurus, as well as civic-minded community organizers is the drive to produce better, cheaper food. This is particularly true among urban and suburban gardeners and farmers, many of whom decry the prevalence of “food deserts” in the United States, meaning the lack of affordable or fresh produce in many cities.)
The August 2021 New York Times article “How to Make a Neighborhood Farm for an Entire Metropolis” profiled the efforts of the Working Farms Fund that leases tracts of farmland to small farmers in order to provide food to urban environments that lack access to fresh produce.
In their pilot effort in Atlanta, “The goal is to buy at least 12,000 acres of farmland near Atlanta, help start 150 farm businesses and support four or five regional clusters of farms in the next 20 years.”
Some people have moved to the country specifically to keep rural traditions alive.
James Rebanks is an Oxford-educated author who returned to a family farm in the Lake District in England to raise Herdwick sheep - an ancient English breed - and restore his farm using traditional methods. See here for a beautiful photo montage of his farm and lifestyle.
Photo from James Rebank’s Twitter account
The movie “Biggest Little Farm” mentioned above chronicles the seven-year effort of two Los Angeles natives to turn a dried out farm into a natural paradise, without insecticides or herbicides. They had to learn to balance out predators with prey, and the results are truly remarkable.
The farmer-led “rewilding” movement “WildEast” in the United Kingdom is encouraging farmers to “farm with straight lines,” in other words, to leave the awkward corners of their fields wild in order to serve as animal and plant habitats.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a small company’s effort in West Virginia to restore surface coal-mined landscapes by planting lavender and raising bees. The company Appalachian Botanical produces essential oils and other products as part of its mission to reclaim coal land and contribute to the diversification of West Virginia’s economy.
It does not take a large plot of land to start growing produce. Our family recently invested in a “Garden Tower,” an ingenious device that enables planting up to 50 plants on one four foot tall tower, with a central worm composting shaft that enriches the soil naturally. We’ll let you know how it goes!
“A sower went out to sow”
While not for everyone, participating in the perennial rhythm of sowing and reaping in some ways ties us to age-old traditions - both religious and secular - in a mysterious but deeply satisfying way.
Rura mihi et rigui placeant in vallibus amnes,
Flumina amem sylvasque inglorius.
“Let my delight be the country, and the running streams amid the valleys —may I love the waters and the woods, though fame be lost.” - Virgil, The Georgics