I grew up in the country. Actually, I grew up first in a shitty trailer park at the edge of a small town in Indiana, then in the country. The trailer park was mostly full of Jesus people who had attended the nearby Bible college, but we were all still white trash, Jesusy or not. The other kids and I moved in feral packs through the woods, swamps, and rows of trailers that were our entire world. We left the park when I was six, rented a house in town, then a house in Florida, then moved to Ohio when I was eight. From then till I graduated high school we rented rural farm houses. I’ve never run a farm, but I’ve always been surrounded by farming and rural life. My seasons are marked by crops, their planting and their harvesting, and which kind of gargantuan farm implements I’m stuck behind while taking my kid to school (the first combine tells me it’s almost Fall). My dad has always loved the outdoors, and I have more wilderness experience than most people would guess. I’ve canoed the Boundary Waters in Canada, spent three weeks in northern Ontario fishing for food, canoed 150 miles down a river in Michigan, hiked The Narrows in Utah, and hiked more trails with sixty pound packs on my back to sleep in a lumpy sleeping bag than I can count. Most of that I did because it was a way to be with my dad when I was growing up. He thought I loved it.
My life has largely been marked by a tension between nature and civilization. I love cities but I can’t deny the beauty of the wild. I hate the parochial close-mindedness of small towns but I love their simplicity, the ache of rural decay, the competence that comes with country life. I like planting vegetables with enough space to make them grow, even while I often resent the small town that affords me that space. Rural life and I have a love/hate relationship.
Jessie Duke and Adam Gnade of Pioneers Press forsook the opportunities of big city Portland a few years ago to start a sustainable farm in rural Kansas. They raise rescue animals, grow food, learn by trial and error, write, and run their independent press. Living in the country was an intentional choice rather than something they were stuck with, and that certainly alters the experience. For them, the farm is an escape, a refuge. For someone who has grown up in the country, it can be harder to see the possibilities when they’re the only ones you’ve ever had.
The Hard Fifty Farm: Finding Home is a zine by Jessie and Adam that reveals some of the emotional space behind their decision to move. It’s a small zine, and I would have liked to have heard more about their experiences in establishing the farm and making it run, learning the ropes, and what life on the farm is like now, but for what it is the zine is still lovely. Here are friends who moved toward hope together, who did something that seemed crazy and are continuing to fight to make it work. Seeing through these new eyes as they find home in an unlikely place allows me to see the potential beauty in my environment when it is so easy for me to see only its restrictions.
For so long my dream has been escape to the city. Seeing what Adam and Jessie and their friends have done gives me room to clear out some quiet space in front of me and explore what might be possible in a rural setting. I know how to grow things, and how to work with animals, and I’m handier than I give myself credit for. I’m not sure starting something like the Hard Fifty Farm is going to happen any time soon, but it’s an interesting idea. If nothing else, I like that people I can imagine I would be friends with have done it already. If you have a chance, pick up this zine and let me know what you think.