Bright update on the perennial back-to-the-land movement.
In this engaging, honest, and deeply personal account, Outside correspondent Sundeen (The Man Who Quit Money, 2012, etc.) tells the stories of three American families who have pursued alternative ways of living. Eschewing conveniences, materialism, and “the compromises of contemporary life,” each has joined a movement consisting of “local food and urban farms, bike coops and time banks and tool libraries, permaculture and guerrilla gardening, homebirthing and homeschooling and home cooking.” In researching their adventures in homesteading, Sundeen hoped to learn for himself how to lead a good life. Though his personal reflections meander, sometimes annoyingly, his superb reporting produces revealing portraits of modern hippies: Ethan Hughes and Sarah Wilcox, pursuing off-the-grid lives of secular utopianism and religious activism as farmers in the intentional community of Possibility Alliance in La Plata, Missouri; Olivia Hubert and Greg Willerer, working to create “a new economic model of food distribution” through Brother Nature Produce, an urban farm in violence-wracked Detroit; and Luci Brieger and Steve Elliott, a middle-aged farming couple in Victor, Montana, with three kids and a $40,000 yearly income, who have rejected the internet and popular culture in “uncompromising pursuit of an ethical life” in the local food movement. These unsettlers’ early backgrounds vary from privileged to poor to hippie, but Sundeen shows how all take “true joy in work,” seek constructive ways of living in society, and reap considerable rewards in their simple lives of voluntary poverty. The author is especially good at showing the difficulty of raising children in a connected society while wondering, as one iconoclast says here, “how do we fight the Man if we continue to buy his cheeseburgers?” He places these often inspiring, sometimes self-righteous families firmly in the American utopian tradition and traces the pervasive influences of authors from Tolstoy to Helen and Scott Nearing to Wendell Berry.
Provocative reading for anyone who has ever yearned for a life of radical simplicity.