Growing Up as Part of America's Back to the Land Movement, Part 1

Today I write about food and travel around the world, but I grew up in the back to the land movement of the 1980s — a lifestyle similar to living off the grid — in the isolated town of Milbridge on the Maine coast. As the story goes, my parents were living in a barn in Upstate New York when my mom got sick of the snakes. They loaded everything they owned into a 1959 Volkswagen bus and drove east without a specific destination.

When they ran out of bread in Milbridge, a lobstering community of 1000, and saw the Turnstone Bakery advertising "whole wheat" bread, they knew they were in the right place. Mom and dad hit it off with the bakery owners, who introduced them to Rory and Timmi, who my parents lived with in a dome for the winter of 1975 (by chance, I'd randomly meet Timmi and Rory for the first time decades later, 400 feet underground in a Polish salt mine).

The Turnstone Bakery was a meeting place for a larger community of back to the landers in Downeast Maine — many inspired by homesteading legends, Scott and Helen Nearing. For a period, my mom and a friend took over the bakery, with lots of stories of pizza parties and waking up waaaay too early.

My parents getting married at sunrise on the rocks at McClellan Park, Milbridge.

Wanting to be self-sufficient, my parents and another couple, Ted and Mary Claire, purchased 100 acres of land at $100/acre in 1976, and split it among themselves. While Ted and Mary Claire moved into a house already built on the portion of the property they owned, my parents built a tiny two-story house/shack (sorry, dad) on their parcel. They had a well dug and used an outdoor pump for water, and a wood stove was the only heat during the long eight-month winters. They were vegetarian and planted large gardens, which supplied most of their food, as well as kept chickens for eggs. And naturally, since they didn't have running water, they had an outhouse (I'll never forget taking the long, shoveled-out path from the house to the outhouse in the dead of winter — or am I just remembering a terrible thought from childhood?).

Here's a picture of the Milbridge house around 1990, after my dad had built several additions. That first section on the left was what my parents were living in in the '70s.

My parents were pretty self sufficient but still had to work and rely on some modern technology, like a car, etc. I never met anyone, among the dozens of families, ever able to achieve 100 percent self-sufficiency, although I know they were out there. It was sort of like the movie Captain Fantastic, actually. And man, do my parents have crazy stories about trying to find work in rural Downeast Maine...

Keep reading to Part 2----------->


Popular Posts