Gardening is something that can unite almost every culture around the world; I mean, we all need to eat. It can bring our world food and beauty so long as you are willing to work.
Before I get into my personal story of how gardening has helped shape me as a person, it’s important to understand the context in which I grew up. I can’t say that I have too much in comment with my fellow Millennials on meany levels; however, there is a small subset of us that grew up with like minded parents like I did and we tend to find each other and stick together. Really, unless you have experienced it firsthand, it is important you have the backdrop of the Back to the Land culture of Appalachia that I grew up in during the 1990s and 2000s.
What Were the Hippies and What did They Believe?
The Back to the Land movement was part of the Hippie movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The Hippies are known for their free spirited, free love counter culture that drove popular music, movies and television for the next 30 years.
The Hippie movement in the United States took many forms and most of them only shared a few things in common. They wanted to create, learn and love in a free society without “the Man” pressing down on them. I can’t say I disagree too much with this basic notion because the same struggle continues even today. The Hippies were broken up into several subcategories, each having their own qualities and beliefs, but we are going to focus on the one that I have the most firsthand knowledge and experience of, the Back to the Land movement of the Appalachian region of the U.S.
What was the Back to the Land Movement?
The back to the land movement took place primarily during the 1970’s in the mountains of Appalachia. It was a mix of the Hippie counter culture and the Hillbilly crafting and self-reliance mentality.
When the Hippie culture started to fall out of fad in the mainstream, the more hardcore people and groups who really believed in living a sustainable lifestyle and working with Mother Nature, instead of in contrast to her, moved to the mountain region of the United States known as Appalachia. Their communal lifestyle, think the Hog Farm from the 1960’s, merged with the Hillbilly self-reliance mentality that was already strongly established in the region creating the Back to the Land Movement, of which my dad and several of his friends claim as their way of life even to this day in 2019.
If you go to the hills of West Virginia or the Blue Hills of North Carolina, you can still find thriving communities of people that fit the description of Back to the Land, weather that’s what they choose to call themselves or not. You will find everyone from those old Hippie burnouts you expect to the strong hands of people like my dad to people like Josh and I just trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Most people who live in what would qualify as a commune are just people like Josh and I who were unable to afford land of their own, so they went in with a few friend and purchased a large plot of land; usually around 20 acres in this region. Most modern commune communities are set up as just that, a community of people who happen to share land and production. Most sport several smaller homes and a larger gathering house where community business is held.
No, the Back to the Land movement didn’t have communal living spaces where they shared everything…you know what I mean. Bye and large, they were regular people just trying to live within nature and raise their families to value mother earth and all the bounty she has to offer.
If you are looking for more information on how to live closer to nature and be self-sustaining, my dad highly suggests the book by Maurice G. Kains called Five Acres and Independence.
My Back to the Land Flower Childhood
Growing up with Back to the Land Parents
I was raised by what I like to call “back to the earth hippies”. This means that they are contributing members of society that were not high my entire childhood, but they believe in homeschooling their kids and raising their own food too ensure only the best for their family and the environment.
Their journey began well before my brother and I came along. Because of this, they were able to pass the knowledge that they had gained through trial and error to us and we are able to now pass it to our next generations.
Because of my parent’s belief that kids should be kids while still being taught the skills they will need when they are adults, I am able to say that they provided me with quite a unique upbringing for someone of my age.
One of my very first memories is running through my parent’s side yard, about 1/2 acre of retired pasture, picking dandelions in my bare feet and sundress with my hair blowing wild in the summer breeze. This is still something I do on when I can here on the homestead.
If you ask my dad, he will tell you that I spent most of my early Springs and Summers helping him as much as I could in the garden, running up and down the rows of freshly tilled soil without shoes, letting the ground cool my feet as we sowed the seeds for that year’s harvest. We used to keep drinks cold by putting them in the creek (small stream) that runs along the front of their property. It was shaded and always provided a great way to get ice cold water on your feet to help cool down during a long day of gardening in the hot sun.
When the work was done, I would pick flowers, dandelions, buttercups, field clover…whatever I could get, and take them to my mom so she could make me a crown. I used to watch in amazement as she would weave the stems together. When she finished, she would place it on my flowing blonde locks and say, “There you go my little flower girl.” I’m still not as good at making them as she is, so I still ask her to make them when I want one.
After the flower crown of the day was made, Mom would get out some school books and we would work on reading, writing and etiquette lessons. After we finished our lessons, we would eat dinner and go back outside either to play or finish our work.
In the evenings, I would spend my time catching fire flies and chasing our dog, Spunky, through the yard. We would practice fire making when I was old enough and roast marshmallows to make s’mores as our hard earned reward. I learned how to cook over an open flame and was able to feed an entire Boy Scout troop by the time I was 9 #realgirlpower!
In the Fall, it was time to harvest. We would bring all of the vegetables in from the garden and prepare them to either be frozen, canned or dried. Once they were cut, separated, blanched and measured, it was time to process them. This process was something that we used as part of our schooling since there was, and still is, so much math involved. After the processing was finished, my mom and I would gather the production from that day and organize it onto the shelves and into the freezer for long term storage.
The Fall was filled with long days of harvesting and prepping food, and even longer nights of processing it to ensure we had enough to eat over the winter months. Both of my parents worked when I was growing up, but there were a few years that were very hard for our family monetarily due both to layoffs and health issues, and if my parents hadn’t had the knowledge of how to grow, prep and preserve food, we would have been in real trouble.
During the Winter months my brother and I helped Dad get the firewood ready. We drug brush, flipped logs, got tools and fluids for the saws, helped rehandle the splitting tools when needed and carried and stacked I can’t even tell you how many cords of wood. It was hard work, but at the end of it, we would come in and enjoy hot coco and a snack to help warm us back up.
(For more musings on winter growing up, check out my article Snow Much to Love *HERE*)
When Spring came back around, it all started again. Our lives were in sync with the season and we lived by the bounty Mother Nature provided us. We worked hard but had fun with each other and made memories most people in today’s American society only dream of making.
For the most part it was an amazing childhood that was filled with color, vibrancy, lessons and love.
Thank you for joining me on this journey so far. I hope that you’ll stay tuned for the next installment of A Gardening Tale: From Back to the Land Flower Child to Modern Homesteader.