How do the back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the contemporary homesteading movement compare? Lana and I will shed light on the current movement, while I will leave the day-dreaming about what took place in the 60s to you, which included a LOT of drugs, rock & roll and free-love.
The ‘back to the land’ movement of the 60s and 70s was a movement of dissatisfied folks pulling stakes from their respective urban areas and moving to the country to grow food and live on communes. That’s a simplified assessment, but hopefully fair. Some were responding to a call to return to rural areas after unsuccessfully moving to cities. Others were moving away from urban areas; unaware of what lay ahead. Individual reasons for moving to the country were varied, including the US government entering the Vietnam war, a dysfunctional society with increasing consumerism, and the deterioration of air and soil quality. I have included a more in-depth look at some of the events that lead to the movement, which is at the bottom of the post.
The movement included people who did not want to live by their “dad’s rules” that came from the 50s. I’ve heard that many of those involved in the movement had a tough time ditching their middle-class values, which contributed to disillusion. They were essentially cultural tourists.
I should mention at this point that the idea of pursuing a simple life is nothing new. For instance there’s this guy called Gandhi who was a huge advocate in the 40s. Jesus and John the Baptist practiced and preached a pretty humble lifestyle. For those seculars out there: Epicureanism preaches minimalism and was founded around 307 BC!
That leads us to today where some young people are feeling disillusioned and departing urban areas in favour of living on the land. Which begs the question: why the resurgence?
Without answering for everyone else, I can share some ideas that Lana and I are chewing on:
- We need more young farmers! Farmers are currently retiring faster than they are being replaced (linked article from 2012) with average age of farmers in the states approaching 60. Here are some charts (everyone’s favourite!) from StatsCan outlining the aging demographic of farmers. Not only that, but the earth needs more organic farmers. Soil erosion and degradation is a real issue. Allan Savory discusses soil degradation and desertification (not the same as DESSERTification, unfortunately) in this amazing TED talk. With more people demanding healthy farm-fresh food, we are going to need more producers.
- Food security. Did you hear that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced findings that ingredients within Monsanto’s Roundup is ‘probably carcinogenic‘? Not sure about you, but I wouldn’t want a family member consuming something that has been in contact with a pesticide that is ‘probably’ cancerous. And this is just one of the recent reports that what we are eating is not good for us. Rates of autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, IBD, IBS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, interstitial cystitis, multiple sclerosis are rapidly increasing. It is my opinion that our health is strongly correlated to what enters our bodies (amongst other things such as genetics and environment, to name a few), but we need to make nutrition a priority.
- Health. Humans have evolved to move around. Farming provides TONS of opportunities (sometimes wanted, sometimes not) to break a sweat.
- Cost. Food seems to be continuously getting more expensive. Growing your own food is not always easy, but neither is ponying up $200 + at the grocery store every 2 weeks.
I think what it comes down to is the back to the land movement of the 60/70s was one of opportunity whereas the current homesteading movement is out of necessity. Those involved in the original back-to-land movement had options and seemingly nothing better to do than head to the country because they were pissed at “the man” whereas today we are rapidly approaching a point where we NEED to do something about whatever problems bother you about the current system. The solutions to so many of these societal ailments we perceive can be solved by farming and growing our own food! I hope the current movement is able to generate enough momentum and longevity to make an impact.
Historic Events leading to the “back to the land” movement
- Following WWII, there was increased awareness of human influences on the environment. Most of the attention seems to have been directed at air quality. In November 1953, 170 to 260 people died in NYC due to asthma and lung conditions due to heavy smog. More people in New York would go on to die in ’62 and ’66 resultant of more “smog episodes”. In 1955, the president-at-the-time Eisenhower stated in the State of the Union address that he would like to “strengthen programs to combat the increasingly serious pollution of our rivers and streams and the growing problem of air pollution.”
The smog in NYC:
Eisenhower being a goof:
- In 1956, the Sierra Club successfully lobbied congress into halting a dam project slated for Echo Park in Colorado, which propelled them into the national spotlight. I think this event held a strong influence on the movement because it was one of the first times a major government proposal was halted on the basis of environmental concerns. Let’s just ignore the fact that the proposed dam in Echo Park was scraped because the government was able to find support for and build a dam in Glen Canyon, which was revealed to have greater scenic and wilderness value than Echo Park… Dam, eh?
- The influence of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 cannot be overstated. It was the catalyst for the environmental movement we see today. Carson brought attention to the use of DDT pesticide showing that between 1950-1962 levels of the pesticide had tripled in human tissues.
- In the fall of 1968, Stewart Brand published The Whole Earth Catalog, which focused on self-sufficiency and product reviews. Stewart Brand helps lead the back-to-the-land movement focusing on organic living. According to his wikipedia, Brand owns the table that one of my favourites, Otis Redding, is said to have written ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of The Bay”. Amazing!
- Following the Summer of Love in San Fransisco, untold numbers head to farms and homesteads in Northern California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and other states to form egalitarian farms; often communes.