Earth-Based Education

Heading back to the land? Try going back to school first

| November / December 2004

The back-to-the-landers of the 1960s tended to be heavy on idealism and light on practical know-how. Armed with little more than coveralls and a few dog-eared guidebooks of the age, they headed to the country with mixed results. Today's practical pioneers may be just as committed to good land stewardship, but they're not likely to be quite so naive. Lucky for them, they don't have to start from scratch.

An earlier era's hard-won knowledge didn't just fade away with flower power and bell-bottom jeans. It's waiting in schools and programs across the country where you can study up on the ABCs of rural life before you make the leap. Whether you're planning a complete off-the-grid farmstead or just hoping to make yourself a little more self-sufficient, there are now seminars, apprenticeships, and even four-year degree programs to help you make your earthy dream a reality. Here's just a taste of what's out there.

Growing (and Finding) Food

Going back to the land doesn't have to mean going hungry. For the pioneer born without a green thumb, there are programs designed to teach you about gardening, farming, and finding food that's waiting to be dug or plucked out of the wild.

Permaculture: Permaculture is a farming method that emulates the diversity and resilience of natural ecosystems. By raising crops and animals that provide the likes of shade and nutrients for each other, growers can reduce the need for the costly artificial inputs that sustain the mainstream farm. Offered across the country, permaculture programs run 10 to 14 days and involve equal parts classroom time and dirty work. Students learn how to balance factors like weather, waste, and water in designing gardens that will eventually maintain themselves. For a look at programs worldwide, look up the International Institute for Ecological Agriculture, ( or check out Permaculture Activist magazine: $23/yr. (4 issues) from Box 1209, Black Mountain, NC 28711.

Foraging: Fresh produce doesn't always grow in rows. Wildcrafters prefer to skip cultivation and hunt for edibles in the wild. Classes like those offered at the School of Self-Reliance in Los Angeles help hungry foragers tell pigweed from poison ivy, then prepare and preserve their harvest. Wild Food Adventures in Portland, Oregon, joins the local Native American population in an effort to 'revitalize traditional foodways' by offering workshops and expeditions. Look for similar programs that can teach you about the wild food and other resources in your local ecosystems.