Apron Strings Review
I just finished this one. Took me something like two months to read, which I consider a good thing! More bang for my buck. It was a great read, and I was sad to finish it.
Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader by Phillip Ackerman-Leist is a personal account of building ‘the good life’ in rural Vermont, mixed in with a more philosophical look at the history, current expression and future of homesteading.
But that’s not what makes it good. It’s never about content is it? It’s the style of delivery for me, and I really enjoyed Phillip’s voice. For one thing, his otherwise fairly scholarly work (he is a professor) is peppered with grandpa jokes. Goofy puns like starting the book off with “Prologue, But Not Clearcut” (it took me a minute too). While I don’t generally go for the grandpa humor myself, this made him seem extremely human. Like a sort of annoying but endearing friend. ‘Oh no, not the prologue joke again. Phillip.’
I also really enjoyed his humility. So often these kind of books go on and on about how they did this and that amazing thing and how you should too. Phillip kept it very real. You can tell that both he and his wife are two of Those People, who can run from dawn to dusk, survive on a perpetual 5 or 6 hours of sleep, and love it. And they do accomplish lots of great stuff on all that energy. But he spent a large portion of the book describing in detail all the local people who had taken them under their wing, shared knowledge, tools and time.
In fact, a central and overriding theme to this book is the importance of community and interdependence as opposed to the classic homesteaders independence. I am so happy to see the concept of interdependence rising in the DIY world lately.
Another thing I loved about this book is that he has a wife, and you can tell he adores her and thinks she kicks ass. You can really tell that they are honest and equal partners in their adventures. This is another thorn in the side of many homesteading classics. (I love the Nearings’ books, but you can imagine how their relationship went. He talked. She listened. Not that Helen Nearing wasn’t totally kick ass too, but I wonder how much Scott knew that…)
I would love to read the same story from his wife, Erin’s point of view, who stayed home to take care of the homestead and raise their 3 kids. But until she takes up the pen, or computer herself, I’ll be quite happy with her man’s version.
Read the original review.
Sierra Club Green Life - March 9, 2011
Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader (by Philip Ackerman-Leist, $18, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010): Following in the proud tradition of Scott and Helen Nearing, Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife spent seven years as modern homesteaders in the hills of Vermont. In this memoir, he chronicles the trials and successes of an off-the-grid lifestyle and explores the philosophical underpinnings for such a choice, creating a thoughtful, literary reflection on the purpose of self-sufficient living.
Read the original review.
The Morning News
By Robert Birnbaum
August 26, 2010
My first impulse was to declare my surprise that there has not been an upswing in books dealing with the rural idyll/utopian return-to-nature theme, but then I realized I have no idea how many such books are published or circulated given I may not be the target audience (which is actually a meaningless notion when it comes to books and readers).
Or there is probably no money in the nature game or else I would have been apprised of such, via a publicity initiative.
Nonetheless, books such as The Bucolic Plague, which relates the deurbanization of two hardcore Manhattanites, do raise my consciousness of notions and trends related to decamping to something akin to the wide open spaces. Philip Ackerman-Leist’s Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader (Chelsea Green) recalls the eight years he and his wife Erin (whose wonderful stippled illustrations illuminate this book) spent living in an old cabin in remote western Vermont. Its a kind of subtly annotated how-to guide as well as a reorientation regarding lifestyles. Here’s the author’s take:
This book is as much a story about the evolution of a homesteader’s assumptions as it is about creating a back-to-the-land homestead. It is a story about living nearly eight years without electricity or running water in small cabin before designing, building, and moving into a comfortable off-grid home built for a growing family and an expanding farm. But at its core it is a book about the education of a homesteader…who happens to be an educator
Along these lines there is William Powers’s (not the William Powers of Hamlet’s Blackberry) Twelve by Twelve: A One Room Cabin Off the Grid & Beyond the American Dream (New World Library)—the title tells as much as the book’s epigram, compliments of Franz Kafka:
You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait just learn to become quiet and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
What more do you need to know?
Read the whole review here...
The Boston Globe
August 15, 2010
Going off the grid
Homesteader Philip Ackerman-Leist has a sense of humor — apparent when he gets locked in the henhouse by an ox — and an open mind, two qualities not always associated with back-to-the-land types. For seven years he and his wife, Erin, lived without electricity or running water in an old cabin in Pawlet, Vt., before they built a bigger home with more amenities for their growing family.
Ackerman-Leist’s new book, “Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader’’ (Chelsea Green), is a chronicle of the couple’s adventures in sustainability and a meditation on the future of homesteading.
Director of the Farm & Food Project at Green Mountain College, Ackerman-Leist doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. He acknowledges that there may not be enough land to go around for every potential homesteader. From one of his students he learns about a young man living on a boat in Manhattan, burning driftwood and scrap lumber in his woodstove and generating electricity with a wind turbine. Is this the future? Ackerman-Leist wonders.
Meanwhile, he and his wife are consumed with a big question concerning the present: Is Internet access at home a pleasure or a plague?
Read the whole article here.
Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader Review
Mother Nature Network
August 5, 2010
Lately there's been a rash of books published on sustainability and self-reliance for people seeking refuge from the economic crisis. A kitchen garden, low overhead and a few chickens pecking in the yard seem like common sense during nervous times.
Readers in need of guidance can snuggle up to "Up Tunket Road", a memoir on homesteading in rural Vermont.
Author Philip Ackerman-Leist is well suited for the task as a professor at Green Mountain College, a crunchy liberal arts school where he's the director of the Farm and Food Project.
Earning a bachelor degree in philosophy, it seems, was excellent preparation for the carpenter-turned-homesteader. He’s as adroit framing a life as he is building a barn.
In 1996 he and his wife, Erin, embarked on the ultimate DIY project, in what became a 14-year experiment of living off the grid: purchasing a 25-acre farm on the edge of ruin for $39,000.
As a city guy, back-to-the-land types from middle-class backgrounds perplex me, opting into a lifestyle that our great-grandparents abandoned long ago, even as farm communities continue to struggle. Living on the land was precarious then and continues to be difficult.
My first impression of the couple’s early years of homesteading was that these people are nuts, and particularly hardy ones at that, starting with the decision to occupy a 12-by-24 ramshackle cabin set deep in the woods and braving sub-zero temperatures without the benefit of electricity or running water.
The author, however, proves to be no dilettante, taking on challenges that would send most flatlanders packing. Testy cows, boot-sucking mud and vertiginous terrain are just part of the daily routine on the homestead.
Subtitled "The Education of a Modern Homesteader," Ackerman-Leist's book offers a compelling account of what it means to be homesteader in the age of the Internet. It turns out that leading the simple life isn’t so simple after all. There’s a mortgage to pay, animals to tend and fields to restore amid the ongoing struggle to balance the obligations of work, home and family life.
He emphasizes the value of manual labor and sweat equity in building his home. None of it would have been possible without the help of his like-minded spouse, and years of hands-on experience dedicated to understanding the economics of rural life, tending to his to grandfather’s orchard as well as managing a traditional farm in the Tyrolean Alps.
"Up Tunket Road" lacks the lyricism of "Goat Song", or the humor of "Farm City". As a narrator Ackerman-Leist is too earnest to be truly funny, and too matter-of-fact for poetics. Instead he offers less a how-to on homesteading than a why.
He provides a cogent argument for a lifestyle that our great-grandparents would likely understand: Food is culture, cultivate good friends, and borrow money when you have to, not because you can.
New England is perhaps the most beloved and certainly the most storied landscape in the United States. The compactness and diversity of the terrain attracts all types, from moneyed bankers to the odd recluse. There’s something powerfully evocative about the region’s towering trees, verdant mountains and patchwork of towns that continues to lure many would-be lifestyle refugees to the region. Ackerman-Leist is no exception.
That leads to soaring passages that even armchair naturalists can appreciate:
"The big white pines surrounding the cabin served as sentinels for the forest edge. The first tree species to begin filling the open gaps in the landscape, these pines seemed like greedy hovering family members bearing witness to the dying pasture's last-minute will and testament — uttered in a surrendering tone, fearful of the forest's stealthy advance."
The book turns out to be Outward Bound for the soul, a meditation on hard-won luxuries rather than depravations to be suffered and endured. It’s much like drawing that first sip of beer after a long, hot summer hike — preferably microbrewed.
Read the whole article here.
A Professor Travels a Rocky Road to Find a Sustainable Life
The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Scott Carlson
July 20, 2010
Tinmouth, Vt.—During my recent travels in the Northeast, I stopped at Solarfest, a festival where environmentally oriented people could attend seminars on sustainable farming and alternative energy, hear some famous speakers, buy hippie clothes and confrontational bumper stickers, and eat bean burgers.
I was here to meet Philip Ackerman-Leist, a professor at Green Mountain College who was giving a talk based on the subject of his new book, Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader (Chelsea Green Publishing). The book, which recently got a glowing review in the Los Angeles Times, documents Mr. Ackerman-Leist's views on the homesteading movement, along with stories about his own sometimes-difficult journey back to the land. (He and his wife lived in an old Vermont cabin without electricity or running water for seven years before he built a small, off-grid house on their acreage.)
I haven't read the whole book, but I have read chunks of it, and they are outstanding—well-written and contemplative, with dashes of humor. In telling his story, Mr. Ackerman-Leist, who has a background both in sustainable farming and in philosophy, not only gives people a guide to homesteading but also grapples with some very big questions: What are the promises and perils of seeking a sustainable life? What is the true meaning of efficiency? What is the role of higher education in teaching sustainability and practical skills?
Read the whole article here.
Going 'off the grid' - what it means and what it takes and why
Los Angeles Times Book Reviews
By Susan Salter Reynolds
July 18, 2010
Perhaps my favorite book in this crop is "Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader," in which Philip Ackerman-Leist writes about homesteading, using his experience in Vermont as an example. Ackerman-Leist challenges conventional notions of homesteading (owning one's own land, self-reliance, independence). Those days are gone, he writes. Today, you can homestead anywhere (a student of his has founded the "back to the yard" movement), not only in rural settings, and the key to successful homesteading is interdependence, not independence. It is no longer possible to fully retreat from society. "Homesteading is an act of defiance and of reliance: defiance of cultural norms and habits and reliance on self and local community." It is, he writes, "much less about location than it is about intent." "Up Tunket Road" raises the issue of mentors, literary and practical. Ackerman-Leist cites Thoreau, Helen and Scott Nearing and others who have written about the experience. (Thoreauvians try not to disturb the land; followers of the Nearings bring "shelter, order, and a whir of activity to a place.") He writes with great reverence about a local farmer-gardener who gave Ackerman-Leist time, tips and help. "Up Tunket Road" takes us through the choices the author and his wife made about their lifestyle: how to create light, how to bathe, how to eat. Homesteading brings you "face to face with ecological choices," forcing the homesteader to confront, to realize the effect we have on our environment. The book also contains an excellent reading list for people dreaming of a different American Dream.
Read the whole article here.
Vermont News Guide
June 23, 2010
By Mark Via
It is difficult to resist pairing these two new releases, which document lifestyle reinventions by transplanted
Pawlet residents, even though the authors could not be more dissimilar.
“Up Tunket Road,”
by Philip Ackerman-Leist, an ecology professor at Green Mountain College, is a tour of the theory and practice
of homesteading in the modern world, from the vantage point of the author’s own experiment in living off the grid.
In “Hay Fever,” Angela Miller recounts her journey from the New York City publishing world to a Vermont dairy farm, where she now produces award-winning cheeses that can be found in high-end restaurants as well as at local farmers’ markets.
Ackerman-Leist, who came to Vermont about fifteen years ago by way of North Carolina and the South Tirol region of the Alps, has written a book that is part memoir, part scholarly treatise on sustainable living. He and his wife inhabited a tiny cabin without electricity or running water for seven years, until they eventually designed and built a larger but still eco-friendly house. This thoughtful account of his venture captures both his evolving understanding of homesteading and the joys and trials of putting it into practice. He considers the issue of reducing consumption by choice versus necessity, and for personal versus societal motives; striking a balance between his academic and homesteading worlds; the place of technology and of physical labor;
and many other intriguing questions. If the author’s erudition is evident, so is his humility, as he enthusiastically relates the valuable skills and lessons learned from his Vermont neighbors, traditional Tirolean farmers, and even his students. His recognition of the importance of shared knowledge and support keys one of his most persuasive insights, that homesteading does not imply a self-reliant withdrawal from society, but
“is rooted in culture and community.”
"Up Tunket Road” is stuffed with compelling ideas, skillfully interwoven with tales of life on the ground. In prose that is clean, sharp, and witty, Ackerman-Leist avoids the stridency and humorlessness that can infect the genre. This book will most likely be read by readers who share his convictions, but it should be enjoyable even for those who don’t.
Miller’s is a breezier book in which she describes her dual life: three days a week as a literary agent in Manhattan, the other four raising goats and making artisanal cheese on Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlet. The reader may wonder how a comfortably well-off, self-described city slicker, who bought the property in 2001 as a country retreat, transformed herself into a full-fledged farmer. Though she worries about
being dismissed as a dilettante by her farmhands, partly because of her sentimental attachments to her goats, it turns out that she came to the challenge armed with a farmer’s constitution: an appetite for hard work
and willingness to get her hands dirty (she also credits “enabling delusions” for helping see her through). In this entertaining and eye-opening book, Miller clues us in on the ins and outs of goat husbandry, cheese
making, and marketing her products to the sophisticated palates of her customers. Along the way she must contend with crises both animal and cheese related, costly equipment purchases, mechanical breakdowns,
and employee turnover. She can repeat the oft-told joke that the best way for a farmer to make a million dollars is to start with two mililion, as her operation, even with its massive growth over the last decade, has yet to turn a profit. But there’s always next year, and in the meantime, she can still flee the relentless responsibilities of her weekend house for the relative relaxation of her high-powered city job.
Despite their differences, Ackerman-Leist and Miller would surely agree on a few things. They would never have made it without the assistance and wisdom of mentors, friends, and neighbors. And there is nothing simple about “the simple life.”
Review: Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader
By Whitney Scott
June 16, 2010
Is living a simple life a solution for coping with chaotic times? Is it even possible today? In 1997, conservation biologist Ackerman-Leist and and his wife, Erin, moved into an old 12-x-28-foot New England cabin lacking electricity and running water, and found, over seven years, that homesteading is as much about values as about skills, as much about “why to” as “how to.” As readers learn about shedding old notions and making new choices, they’ll enjoy Ackerman-Leist’s relaxed style and self-deprecating humor: “My feathers are getting a little bit ruffled,” the chagrined homesteader admits when he asks Erin to free him from the hen house: their ox locked him in. He describes the ferocity of New England winters, including what it’s like to visit the outhouse at 10 below, and the increasingly dangerous impact of frost on the cabin footings. With “crafting common cause” at its core, Ackerman-Leist’s chronicle of the not-so-simple simple life will intrigue readers curious about what it means to go back to nature.