As a journalist, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with people from all walks of life: a tarot card reader in a college town, a Republican party chairman in the Midwest who refuses to fly, and a small town tour guide with a fascination in Greek mythology and ancient architecture.
I’m very privileged to have an occupation that not only allows me the opportunity to expand my worldview, but also encourages me to explore how different people’s values manifest themselves in the homes they build, the jobs they do, the groups they belong to, and the ways they interact with others—especially me, an outsider with more questions than answers and a member of the media, which is always one of the least trustworthy institutions.
This month, I sat down with Steve and Wanda Turner whom I’m coining as the “hosts of Hickman County.” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my nearly 30 years on earth, but never have I had an interview end in an exchange of peach cobbler for an azalea until this one.
Wanda told me, “it’s just how we do things around here.”
After spending the better part of an afternoon with Wanda and her husband, Steve, I can tell you that her quote just about sums up the couple’s life mission and legacy—to expose everyone they come into contact with to everything good in life including a connection with nature, a caring and kindly teacher, and the gift of hearing song performed passionately.
I’m so excited to be able to share a sneak peek of their story with you today (the next issue doesn’t release until May 1st!).
In the following audio clip, you’ll hear about Steve’s many run-ins with the beloved Minnie Pearl. You’ll discover how Steve’s uncle discovered Minnie even though he had no ties to the music industry; he was vice president of a local branch of a national bank.
Photos submitted by Glen Miracle of Laughing Frog Farm.
Permaculture is a land design philosophy that emphasizes incorporating natural surroundings and processes as well as growing an abundance for both individuals and groups.
The objectives of any permaculture project are to make something out of what looks, to most people, like nothing. Through permaculture, rural tourism providers are able to use the natural resources at their fingertips to build a business that will support them and their community for decades to come.
Any rural tourism effort with a permaculture bend will continue providing for the community even after a business shuts down. It will be like food insurance for your community, creating a spot designed for hands-off growing and public consumption.
In rural areas it will always be difficult to get investment from large companies or the state—let alone federal—government. When rural communities do get funding for projects, there are rules attached that inevitably change the nature of the community and slowly kill the unique aspects of it that made it a tourism destination in the first place.
By combining rural tourism with permaculture projects, communities can take back control of their financial health from distant interest groups, and place success within reach of those who make a rural community what it is.
This type of tourism also encourages the health and well-being of area residents who take on these self-sufficient projects and pass on good food, unique experiences, and economic prosperity to their peers.
Nationwide Examples of Permaculture Tourism
Rural areas across the country are benefiting from a reorientation of their economics from agriculture and manufacturing to tourism. The Finding Country team talked with three permaculture tourism businesses in various regions of the country: Tennessee, Texas, and California.
We wanted to get an idea of how this hybrid of rural tourism and permaculture - what we conclude is “permatourism” - plays out in different parts of the country where knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices and the acceptance of tourism as an economic factor varies.
Overnight stays range from a weekend to a couple of months at a time. A construction worker drove from Summertown to Spring Hill, Tennessee every day for two months because he enjoyed the ambience of Kathleen’s facility so much.
The main “product” Kathleen is selling isn’t necessarily commercial. Many companies say they're selling peace of mind; Kathleen is actually creating it and inviting others to experience it.
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Bucksnort Fire & Rescue President Jamie Denson takes the steering wheel of one of the volunteer department's vehicles. | Photo by Gabrielle Reed
I put the finishing touches on my hair - a dash of hairspray to add volume - and shut the door to our A frame home.
Twenty steps across the street and I was at the Denson house. Jamie Denson was my neighbor I’d known for more than a year.
When I moved into the A frame, he and his sons helped me squeeze the nicest piece of furniture I own - a faux leather couch - through our narrow doorway.
As I approached his backyard, Jamie slid out from underneath his truck. The engine blew out on it the week before, and his hands were covered in grease from performing a diagnostic assessment.
His whole face had an ashy tinge too, which was unrelated to the truck.
The day before, he spent six hours helping fight a brush fire. A Bobcat exploded engulfing 20 acres of wooded land into flames.
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I sat down with Brenda to learn more about what an economic developer does and why her job is more difficult because she’s doing it in a rural area. The following is an excerpt from our interview with Brenda.
What is the job of an economic development director?
I’m a Jackie of all trades. We are a small office. I’m it. On any given day, I don’t know what’s going to come in. I could be responding to a request for information on one of our industrial sites. I could be talking to somebody who wants to start a small business. Couple that with writing all of the grants in the county. I wrote nine grants last year and we got eight of the nine. And I generally administer all of those grants so there’s time spent reporting and documenting things and turning all of that information in.
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“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
As millennials, we were conditioned to believe everything exciting, everything worth doing, and everything that would bring us success happened in the city.
It didn’t matter which city; any city would do, depending on your interests and climate preferences.
For those who didn’t mind the biting cold, there was Chicago for the politicians and New York City for the reporters who covered them, Wall Street stock traders, and professional salespeople.
For artists and actors, techies and developers who wanted to live in sandals and shorts, Los Angeles and San Francisco would do just fine.
Shows that shaped our perception of the world and how it worked like Friends and Seinfeld normalized people in their late 20s and early 30s living in cramped downtown apartments that they didn’t own, toughing it out in dead-end jobs they didn’t enjoy.
We left our small rural towns and decided that sacrificing space, family, and peace would pay off after a few years. We would have enlightening experiences thanks to our fulfilling career, eventually meet “the one,” and settle into a modest, yet affordable two-story home on the outskirts of the city we were told was abundant in a resource called opportunity.
Some piled on massive amounts of debt and captured this modern-day American dream. Others are left wondering what they’ve spent their entire adult lives sacrificing happiness for.
Even with the problems dragging us down and the solutions staring us in the face (i.e. hitting the road Jack and never coming back to the city, no mo’, no mo’), we stay put because we are unwilling to accept that the narrative we were told was never our dream in the first place.
The Lies We Tell Ourselves:
What I’ve learned from my transition from city life to country life is that there’s more to gain when we humble ourselves and begin searching for our truth instead of the one that was dictated to us.
6 Hurdles to Leaving the City
1. “My commute will be longer.”
Doesn’t your drive to the office make you want to get in a time machine and lay a bludgeon square into Henry Ford’s temple?
Before his “grand” invention, a majority of the nation barely left their house and tended to their farms, children, and animals to pass their time away.
Commute time is one of the biggest killers of country living.
And for good reason. The average American spends nine days every year driving to work.
At that rate, at the end of a 45 year career, you would have spent more than a year (405 days) hands positioned 10 and 2 just so you could make a buck.
The way I see it, however, you have three options if you truly want to leave the city:
1. Embrace the commute time and use it to educate yourself through podcasts, YouTube videos, and online learning resources.
2. Find a job closer to the area you would prefer to live or an online gig you can do from the comfort of your home.
3. Convince your current employer that you can accomplish all necessary tasks from wherever you are located.
If you go with the third option, here’s a simple email or script you can use to approach the subject with your boss:
“First, I want to thank you for hiring me and giving me the support I need to excel in my role. As the workplace changes and as my priorities shift, I have given a lot of thought to the idea of remote work and would like to ask for your blessing and support in transitioning my position from in-office to virtual. I believe I have demonstrated in the past that I am able to manage my responsibilities, connect with my co-workers, and carry out the tasks associated with this job no matter the circumstances. [insert two to three examples of your work ethic and creativity here] I desire to show up for this company as my best self each and every day, and this leap away from the city is what I need in this stage of my life. I appreciate your consideration of my proposal, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have about my plans.”
Your commute doesn’t have to hold you back from a country way of life. With some problem-solving, you can make your commute work in your favor or even eliminate it altogether.
2. “All of the networking opportunities are in the city.”
I wish someone would have told me this applied to more than cheap candies before I went to a large state college and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, but… quantity does not guarantee quality.
I can’t tell you how many loud restaurants and bars I sat in during half-price cocktail hours chatting it up with moderately successful marketing assistants who memorized their LinkedIn resume and repeated it like a Shakespearean monologue to anyone with two ears and a heartbeat.
Most interactions at these piss poor excuses for networking events were interesting at best and entrapment at worst. When you’re mostly meeting people who look at you as a stepping stone or an application they need to outshine, your chances of running into an adversary over a cheerleader are multiplied by ten.
Add to the mix an introvert’s natural inclination to plant themselves firmly into a corner wall, and you start a cycle that begins and ends with you hitting your head against a wall.
In the country, networking isn’t in the form of forced socialization and sanitized conversation; it’s cultivated far more intentionally and with more directly impactful results.
When I first moved to the small town I live in just under an hour outside of Nashville, I didn’t know anybody, but I did know what my interests were and I had an idea of the value I could provide to the community.
As a journalist, I could offer to write for the weekly newspaper and effectively double its staff through my contributions. Now, I’m a familiar face to vital community leaders including the city and county mayors, police chief, and several influential business owners.
In the country, networking is based on your merit and not on your ability to schmooze, exaggerate, and conflate your accomplishments for the benefit of others.
3. “I can’t achieve ‘the dream’ in the country.”
Whether it’s the stereotype that rural Americans live life at a slow pace or that they’re closed-minded and unappreciative of art, culture, and tasteful forms of entertainment, somewhere along the line, the media, government, or academia persuaded us to believe we couldn’t make anything of ourselves unless we flocked to the cities.
Some of the country’s greatest country musicians weren’t discovered on Broadway. Even Johnny Cash toured in Tupelo, Missouri because he realized some of his most loyal fans could be found there.
If a bout of FOMO (fear of missing out) hits you every time you think about leaving the city, let me reassure you: you can still achieve your dreams if you live in the country, especially now.
For the past several years, population growth in cities has waned, while suburbs and rural areas have seen interest wax. Lower cost of living and a massive amount of investment from states in improving the quality of place in these areas have contributed to their popularity, particularly among millennials who have realized they can get the city experience without the premium.
With the pandemic lessening corporate reliance on large headquarters, big businesses are setting up smaller satellite offices in more affordable places across the country. From software start-ups to entertainment companies and fast-food chains and consumer product sellers, nearly every industry is trending towards decentralization of its operations.
There’s never been a better time to prefer a life in the country.
4. “I’ll have to give up access to amenities.”
Currently, the youngest members of the millennial generation are 24 and the oldest members are 39.
Those on the younger end of the spectrum pledge allegiance to the city for their access to nightlife, convenience stores, and various jobs to try on for size before committing to a particular career path.
Those on the older end believe cities and suburbs have better schools and safer neighborhoods.
But we’ve seen how fast the shimmer of the city can dull; how quickly the sheen of safety can be wiped away. Many cities, including those in the Bay Area, saw a sharp increase in homelessness during the onset of the pandemic.
Most riots occurred in big cities, and supply chain issues were more prominent there than in rural stores.
In uncertain times, the city is verifiably more dangerous.
Schools are transitioning to online formats, putting all students on a near level playing field as they experience all of the disadvantages of virtual learning.
The amenities provided by the city aren’t as valuable when you can get exactly the same thing or a very similar knock off of it in the country.
It’s true that instead of thirty coffee shops, you might have one or two in a small town. Your choices are certainly limited, but if the world continues its current trajectory, those businesses you love in the city won’t be around anyway.
Like anything in life, trading city life for country life involves a little give and take.
5. “My friends and family will think I’m crazy.”
There will be people in your life who won’t understand why you want to leave the city.
Your parents may think you’re giving up a glamorous and successful life. Your friends will snicker behind your back when you choose to spend a sunny Saturday setting up another planter bed over water skiing on the lake.
My co-workers have managed to make the phrase “living out in the woods” sound like a slur.
If you decide to leave the city, you must develop mental fortitude because you will be hit from all angles with darts of doubt and your confidence in your decision will be the only armor that can deflect them.
Here a few affirmations I repeat to myself whenever a comment from someone I care about gets to me:
6. “I’m not capable of working the land.”
It’s intimidating to think about growing your own food if you weren’t raised in a family that farmed or gardened.
When I started researching gardening, I poured over Mother Earth News articles and became overwhelmed. These articles were written by master gardeners; people who have been doing this for decades. These articles were also written by people from different parts of the country with different growing seasons and different soil types.
I had to learn to take all gardening and farming advice with a grain of salt in order to take those first steps to growing food. Instead, I look at this part of country life as an experiment and an opportunity to add to the robust repository of knowledge on manipulating nitrogen, carbon, and other chemicals to produce large and nutritious yields of fruits and vegetables.
If you know the characteristics of healthy soil, you know all you need to know to start a garden. This video is a good place to jump start your journey.
Moral of the Story: Just Do It
These hurdles aren’t obstacles; they’re excuses. Making the leap away from the city is scary, and it’s not a conventional lifestyle choice in modern times.
But, it is the prudent choice. It’s the only choice if you desire a life of freedom, health, and connection.
Contact us if you feel like you don’t belong in the city and you’re looking for a new path in rural America.
“When you live in a rural place, "public utilities" are often unstable and the priority of restoring your services is lower than higher density areas,” Nicole said. “Further, if you rely on city water for your livestock and fields, the cost of producing your own food goes up.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one family uses at least 300 gallons of water each day for routine tasks such as showering, washing dishes, and more. In six years, the average family would have used enough water to fill an Olympic size swimming pool. Nicole is also an avid gardener, which means she uses more water than your average American household.
Her vegetable garden is 800 square feet, which means during gardening season, she would need about an extra 13,000 gallons of water to service her plants.
Water costs are typically low, costing less than one cent per gallon, but if you are trying to be more self-sufficient, you’ll likely have a garden. And if you maintain a garden, you’ll use exponentially more water, so those pennies will accrue over time.
That’s why many people turn to rainwater harvesting through water collection systems.
Watch Finding Country's Full Conversation with Jesse Savou
Now, she partners with plastic recyclers, food producers, and other manufacturers across the country to source standard food grade barrels so she can replicate the design she created for the farm for others who are interested in saving water.
“The principle of rainwater harvesting is that you are catching the water that is falling off of your roof,” Jesse said.
With just 1,000 square feet of rooftop surface, you can generate over 600 gallons of water for every inch of rain that falls on it.
In Tennessee, we get an average of 54.7 inches of rain a year, which translates into approximately 32,820 gallons of water we have the potential to collect off the same 1,000 square-foot surface. That means a family of four could get more than 10 gallons per person per day for daily water usage and have enough water leftover for an 800 square-foot garden like Nicole's.
For Jesse, however, rainwater harvesting is a step towards both self-sufficiency and sustainability. She’s from a drought-prone area with long, hot, and dry summers. In developed areas, much of the landscape has been paved over so that water washes off the surface and collects pollutants before getting dumped into waterways.
“What would the water be doing if your house weren’t there?” Jesse asked. “It would be falling on plants and bare soil, infiltrating into the ground, and recharging the groundwater.”
It’s a principle she refers to as “slow it, spread it, sink it,” and it’s a natural process we as humans can encourage through rainwater catchment.
“Without hardscape, that is what water would do,” Jesse said.
Whether the prospect of saving more money or the idea of controlling your water source and quality appeals to you, a water catchment system is a core piece of crafting a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
If you’re in an apartment or on multiple acres of land, you can start saving water and using it more efficiently today.
Take a Step Forward: Beginner to Extreme Levels of Water Collection, Storage, and Purification
Pick a number of days as a goal (we recommend 7 days to start) and store one gallon per day per person. Devise a way to catch rainwater, even if it’s as simple as a pan on a deck railing. Use the water to wash ceramic dishes and metal utensils, clean your floors, flush your toilets, do your laundry, and water plants (if you have any). The water you catch will be non-potable, so avoid drinking it at this stage of your learning.
Try only using your stored water for a week for all your non-potable water needs, as listed above in the beginner section. Determine how many gallons are needed per person per week for these purposes based on your experiences from the 7-day experiment. This is your new goal.
For collection, build a rain barrel.
Jesse recommends beginner rainwater collectors focus on infrastructure first. Do you have gutters and downspouts you can pull the water into one place from?
You also need a surface, like a rooftop or even a shed, to collect rainwater off of. Lastly, you need stable and level ground to place your rain barrel on.
If you are renting, contact your landlord and ask for permission before installing a rainwater catchment system.
Store enough water for all of the non-potable uses for one week (washing dishes, cleaning non-food surfaces, laundry, gardening, etc.) and add 7 gallons per square foot of garden space you have or hope to have.
Nicole stores water in half gallon glass jars.
“Four gallons suffice for this purpose and I keep them in the house, but there are as many gallon stores as we have glass containers and this number grows each month,” she said.
Your rain barrels should be able to collect enough during an average month’s rainfall to meet these needs. Figure out how much water you can collect off of your roof with this handy rainwater catchment calculator. Buy a portable water filter.
Lastly, consider storing water for consumption. Trent Nessler, managing director of Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville, recommends as a general guideline that people consume a half ounce to one ounce of water for every pound of body weight. Calculate how many ounces of water you and your family might need based on this guideline and add that amount to your storage goals.
Find out the longest period of drought in your area. This number multiplied by the daily amount of water your family needs for consumption, cleaning, showering, and gardening is your total storage goal.
Unless you have access to running water outside of the municipal supply, make sure you can collect enough from a roof. Create a catchment system to provide enough water to keep pace with your total projected usage. Blue Barrels Rainwater Catchment Systems might work for your needs, or you can find several DIY options through a quick Google search.
Finally, buy or build a large scale purifier that can handle that volume. Since we're adding drinking water to the mix at the extreme level, it's important to ensure that water you consume is safe. Get the water tested, and also use a purification system to ensure bacteria aren't lingering in it.
Nicole had the water in her creek tested before they started drawing water from it. She discovered she was in danger of coming into contact with E. Coli, a common inhabitant of spring water in rural America. Equipped with that knowledge, she bought the Berkey Water Filter so she could collect and purify the amount of water she expected to use from the creek.
“It [the Berkey Water Filter] leaves the trace minerals in our water which is great for health while filtering out the nasties. We are adding an infrared filter this year at the pump house so that people can drink the water from the tap should they wish.”
Join Our Community!
Where are you on your water catchment journey? Share your story with us on Facebook @FindingCountryMusic or in our Facebook Group Self-Sufficiency Challenge.
What would you do if you lost access to electricity and needed to clean your clothes?
The team at Finding Country answers that question by sharing their method for washing and drying clothes without a traditional washer or dryer.
Your washer and dryer are two of the largest suckers of electric consumption and cost in your home. You could save money and prepare for a not-so far-fetched reality where electricity is down for an indeterminate amount of time.
Learn more about what you should consider as you develop your washing and drying system.
We hear a lot about how much food Americans waste.
Recent estimates from Penn State University researchers show 30% of the food we buy ends up uneaten, spoiled, or wasted in one way or another.
But we rarely see studies about how much food Americans store for emergencies. What we do know is that nearly half of Americans don’t have emergency supplies or first-aid kits prepared for unexpected disasters.
The first step you can take right now to prepare yourself for days, weeks, or months without food is to check your inventory.
Most people realize far too late that they don’t have enough food far too late into a crisis. When they do realize that they need to build their stocks, they typically mass buy the cheapest carbohydrates and proteins on the shelf.
These tend to be dried beans, bread, canned goods, and rice.
Staple foods may vary depending on where you live, but nationally, new stories usually report massive runs on dried beans, bread, canned goods, and rice during times of crisis.
How We Used to Build Our Food Stockpile
Like many people, Matt and I would cling to the core food items outlined earlier in the article when we went to the grocery store.
In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak (before the statewide shutdowns and social distancing measures) Matt and I made several trips to the store a week. We would throw 4 rows of canned beans, a loaf of bread, and some bags of rice into the cart without any regard for how much we actually needed to fuel our bodies in the event that we couldn’t get to a store.
We figured we would just keep stockpiling until we ran out of space or lost easy access.
After approaching our food inventory from this faulty mindset, we developed a system that helps us calculate how many days of staple foods we have and how much more we need to add in order to reach the amount of days we want to be covered for.
Introduction to the Staple Stock Inventory Tracker
Our food inventory system consists of 3 parts:
By the end of this 3-part system, you’ll know how many calories you have among the 4 main meal categories and how many days those calories could last you.
Step 1: Calculating your daily caloric needs.
If you hate math like Matt and I do, then you’ll love this tool, which will help you determine your individual calorie needs in less than 30 seconds.
We use the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) calculator for finding your daily calorie needs based on your height, weight, age, gender, and activity level.
When I put my information into the calculator, it reveals that I will need 2,010 calories per day to maintain my current weight.
Step 2: Assemble your stocks into 4 categories.
After you determine your calorie needs for a single day, open up your cabinets or head over to your pantry.
Look at the items you have and divide them into 4 categories:
Make note of how many cans and bags you have of each of these goods.
Step 3: Add up the total calorie count of your stocks in each category. ‘
Once you know how many cans you have, find the calorie count of each can and tally up the totals.
Pro tip: If you organize your cans by product type (i.e. canned corn versus black beans or garbanzo beans) and find the calorie count of one can, then you can multiply that number by how many of that type of product you have.
For example, if I have 8 cans of black beans and there are 420 calories of food in each can, multiply 8 x 420. That will give me 3,360 calories for that particular product.
After you’ve found the total calorie count of all items in each of your primary stock categories, take that final number and divide it by your individual or your family’s total daily caloric needs.
This number will tell you how many days of food you have in your staple stock.
When I conducted this exercise on my own food staples, I discovered that I only had about 14 days of food prepared in dried beans, bread, canned goods, and rice.
Again, I did not include other more luxury items or comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, trail mix, candies, crackers, and the like, however, you certainly can tally up those numbers to get a very specific and accurate assessment of your entire food stocks.
Don’t Forget About Nutrition
Although we are not nutritional experts, we do recommend considering not just the calories that you are putting into your body, but also the nutritional value of those calories.
Tracking your macros is a great way to guarantee you are getting the protein, fat, and carbohydrates you need to maintain your current weight. Macros is short for macronutrients, and these are nutrients that supply your body with energy. It’s what most of the food you eat consists of.
You may want to calculate the protein, fat, and carbohydrates in each of your staple categories to get an assessment of the nutritional value of your stock as part of your food inventory.
If so, we suggest using If It Fits Your Macros calculator to get a free breakdown of exactly what your needs are.
Once the calculator gives you those numbers, write them down and then follow steps 2 through 3 as indicated above, making sure to divide the total macronutrients and calories in your staple inventory by your total daily calorie count, as well as your daily macronutrient composition.
Have questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
When you know how to identify edible plants, you quickly realize the benefits of gardening without all of the hard work.
According to Plants for a Future, we consume only a fraction of the plant species we could be incorporating into our diets. Although there are more than 20,000 plant species across the globe, we rely on 20 of them to supply 90 percent of our food.
While the edible wild plants available near you are largely dependent on your landscape and climate, there are a few that you can find almost anywhere.