“If you’re like me you grew up in the suburbs of a large city in the final third of the twentieth century,” Kristy Athens writes in the introduction of her new book Get Your Pitchfork On, “You spent your twenties living in that or another large city. You now own a house there and fantasize about living in the country.” If this is all starting to sound very familiar, keep reading.
In 2003, Athens and her husband Mike gave up their lives as urban professionals in Portland, Oregon, to move to a seven-acre farm in the Columbia River Gorge of Washington State. For a while, all was well. But then it wasn’t. The couple hadn’t counted on the 70-mile commute to the city being such a burden. They hadn’t given enough thought to what it takes to fit into a rural community. They didn’t have the time or the resources to do everything that needed to be done on their farm.
Six years later, they realized they were in over their heads. “As time wore on,” she writes, “the number of things we hadn’t considered started to pile up.” In 2009, they sold their farm and moved back to the city, with a vow to try rural life again at a later date.
Get Your Pitchfork On, presents itself as a resource for readers to benefit from Athens’ experience and mistakes. Over more than 300 pages, she guides a newbie farmer through the pleasures and pitfalls of buying and maintaining land and buildings, raising livestock and coping with wild animals. She devotes ample time to growing, harvesting and storing food – something that is evidently close to her heart. A final section on community, family and culture, discusses the distinct characters of small towns and the etiquette required to successfully live in, entertain oneself, and find gainful employment in one.
Athens does a commendable job of bringing forth the issues that need to be considered before setting off in search of the good life. It would be an impossible task, and one she has not tried to achieve, to go into detail on each of the main points. Rather, she raises the issue enough to note its importance, leaving the interested reader to find more information elsewhere. In that way, the book is a valuable index that can be used as a starting point for more in-depth research.
While some of what she says should be taken with a grain of salt, what truly sets this book apart from other ‘back-to-the-land’ manuals is the author’s modern and often snarky tone of voice. Pitchfork reads like a Lonely Planet guide to life in the country, and it may well help those who aren’t suited to rural living from making the same mistakes.
Get Your Pitchfork On! The Real Dirt on Country Living
By Kristy Athens (Process Media, 341 pages, $19.95)
VERDICT: An entertaining and practical handbook that should be mandatory reading for urban dwellers considering a move to the country.