Forty Acres and a Fool: How to Live in the Country and Still Keep Your Sanity is a story of one man’s evolution and his personal revolution. Roger Welsch tells his story of moving his life from urban to rural while trying to give readers an honest and objective picture of what country and small-town living is really all about. He writes about his first-hand experiences in buying his land, cultivating it, living on it, and fitting into small-town America, if somewhat clumsily at times. He does it all with amazing humor and his common-sense advice shines through it all. This one-time college professor turned sodbuster will make you wish you had the guts to pull up stakes and move to America’s heartland to chisel out a life of sustainability. And if you are of the mind to do just that, Forty Acres and a Fool is your blueprint.
Forty Acres and a Fool: Life Beyond the Sidewalks
“Transplanting oneself from an urban setting to the rural countryside or small town is not just a matter of moving from one place to another, an apartment to a house, a tenth of an acre plot to fifty acres, a street to a gravel road, a zip code shared by thousands to one that is exclusive to your driveway. Believe me, when you go rural you are entering another world.”
If you’re one of the ones that have already pulled up stakes and made your move, Forty Acres and a Fool can still answer some questions you may have lingering and be a very enjoyable read. You’ll travel down the bumpy roads of small-town life as Roger Welsch learns how to settle in and carve out his own very unique niche and approach to living beyond the sidewalks.
Roger Welsch walks you through how he found his home in the country, and how he followed his heart to get there. His decision to move to a very different sort of place than he had ever known was one seconded by his wife, Linda. Roger was becoming increasingly unhappy with his life as a college professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He didn’t like the way college life was developing, and they didn’t like the way he chose to run his classes; Roger Welsch was a free spirit then and now. His way of thinking didn’t have to change in order for him to accommodate the small town life he chose, but maybe yours will need to changes. If you move to the country with the wrong mindset, you’ll miss out on a lot of the pleasantness of the life around you.
Moment of Truth
One day he had a moment of truth with himself: he had to admit that the life he was living wasn’t making him happy, and that he felt unfulfilled. He and his wife Linda thought about it long and hard, weighing the pros and cons of uprooting themselves and their young daughter to move to No Man’s Land and live a life remote. Could they do it? Should they do it?
They decided they had to answer the call of his souls; that’s when they bought 60 acres of land in Dannebrog, Nebraska (when it was under four feet of snow.) You’ve heard the story of moving from city to country many times, but never has a book covered the basics of what it takes to actually make that move in such an entertaining way. Roger Welsch approaches it from every view point of view, and takes you through the process step by step, almost holding your hand. You’ll laugh to hear how he discovered things that every city boy who moves to the country finds out the hard way.
It was a tough decision for he and his wife to make and one that many of us who have come to the point in our lives of reevaluation, have had to make. To leave behind the old and take up the new is never as easy as it looks; to throw down the gauntlet to Mother Nature, and face down our doubts takes courage. Roger and Linda Welsch decided the move was something they had to do; they decided it was worth the struggle and all the inconvenience and upheaval it would bring.
Forty Acres and a Fool is a book that strives to bring to the readers’ attention the pros and cons, the ups and downs, the expected and the unexpected of dismantling your entire life and rebuilding it in a totally different setting and possibly changing your perspective on life and living itself. According to Roger, “You’re going to have to adjust to another world; if you think that world is going to adjust to you, you have another think coming.”
The Act, or Process, of Adjusting
Roger Welsch asks are you ready for that adjustment? The rural world isn’t going to adjust to you; at the same time you don’t have to completely change who you are, but you will need to make an honest effort to fit in. Remember, you’re the outsider; how far you’ll go to fit in is up to you. Are you going to go out of your way to meet the neighbors, attend local events, hang out at the little cafe in town? As an outsider, you’ll have a unique perspective on small-town America, thus you’ll be able to hone in on the goodness of your new neighbors, as well as the unpleasant. They’ll have as unique a perspective on you as you do on them. Expect that you’ll come under at least some scrutiny from the folks that have lived in your new home all or most of their lives.
Consider your move from all angles; are you willing to quit your job if you need to? Is your spouse ready to do the same? How will this move affect your children? How about extended family members? Will you be ok with being possibly much farther away from them? Are you prepared for the quiet, because the silence in the country can be very loud indeed. You won’t hear traffic or people as much as you might be used to, and while silence can be nice, it can also be a bit unsettling, Are you prepared to scale down your life, to live more simply, yet work harder at it? Or do you want to bring the city into the country? Because if you do, be prepared for some resistance from folks that want to keep the country, the country.
What does country life really mean to you? When you think about actually living the country life, what comes to mind? A little log cabin tucked away in the woods, with a pond and lots of privacy? Do you see yourself on a tractor bringing in a harvest? Are you walking in the woods that surround your home collecting herbs and wildflowers? How big is the nearest town, and how close do you want to be to it? Do you want mountains, pastures or cattle grazing ground? Spend as much time as you can visualizing and then go out and actually look around, ask questions, explore every avenue. Leave no stone unturned. After you find your land and get down to the hard work of the simple life, consider where you’ll get the help you will definitely need to get things done in a timely manner.
Look for help everywhere you can. The AG Extension Service, state and federal roads and highways departments, water services, Wildlife Federation to name a few. Community colleges and state universities have extension services too and you should go to all the exhibits, fairs and workshops in your new area.
What kind of tools will you need to be a self-reliant homesteader? Start with a toolbox that has the basic household tools. What kind of work will you be doing around your place? Carpentry, painting, gardening and roofing are a few of the tasks you might have on your list. If you’ve never done any of that sort of thing before, it’s a good idea to start with a book on the subject. Read all you can and then get started.
You’ll have fun learning how things get done in the country; please don’t underestimate word of mouth. If you need to sell something, or buy something, just put the word out. You’ll make a lot of good deals this way, and you’ll probably become a shrewd deal-maker yourself. You should know that country folk have their own brand of street-smarts. It’s a street smarts and cunning born of thinking on their feet and years of depending on themselves. It’s a fierce brand of self-reliance.
Small Town Protocol is Real
Can you make a living in your chosen small town? I’m sure you know that that’s asking a lot of any small town, unless you are one of its business owners. Working in a small town means making a living from your friends and neighbors, and that can easily backfire on you if something happens that upsets the village applecart. So be on your guard if you plan to work in your small town and you’re not a native of that town, or related to anyone who is.
Small towns have pecking orders, and woe be to you if you are seen as not respecting that order. Roger Welsch states that, “Frankly, I think the only way you can make a living with a business in a small town is if your business does not cater to trade from that town.”
The Big Myth
I believe there is a big myth circulating out there; it says that country living is cheaper than city living. Don’t believe that until you consider the costs you’re going to run into living outside the city limits. Land can be expensive; houses can be, too. And if you want land with a good house on it, you may suffer a form of sticker shock when you see the price. I believe developers are onto people that want the country life, and they, the developers, are busily gobbling up land… so the myth of cheap country living is simply a myth and becoming more so every day. Gasoline is often more expensive in a small town; if you have to drive to work this can really add up. Groceries can be more expensive in a small town too, so you might want to put in a garden. You do know how to plant, maintain and cultivate a vegetable garden don’t you? And if you own land, don’t forget about the high property taxes. Because there is so much less industry in the country, property taxes are necessarily higher. You may end up paying dearly for that land you just had to have.
Things You Might Not Have Thought About
Shorter commutes, slower pace of life, less traffic, lower crime, nicer neighbors. All of those things can be true and maybe they are true in the community you chose, but at the rate that people are moving to the country, these factors are quickly changing. There seem to be lots of folks who want to move to the country and drag the city along with them. They want all the city conveniences in the country, and get upset when they have to drive 30 miles to the nearest grocery store.
If you’re an artist, many small towns are known for being meccas for artists and artisans; while this is certainly the case for many a small burg, don’t count on it. If you’re an artist that’s great, and a small town might be the perfect place to showcase your talents, but it might not be. It could be that the town you choose is known only as a farming or ranching community and you may be the only artist in town. On the other hand, you might find yourself in a thriving artist community where your talents will blossom.
Wherever you decide to move to in small-town America, don’t leave common sense out of your decision. In the end, where you end up might have to do with where you end up getting a job and/or how far you are from friends and family, or where you can find the best schools for your children. You’ll never be able to anticipate every problem or every joy that will come along with your country living experience, but if the longing to live the country life is in your heart and it just won’t quit, then in the spirit of Roger Welch, “Just do it!”