Every time I read a letter in Positions and Situations from someone who wants to move back to the land and lead the simple life, I throw up my hands and scream, "For Pete's sake, go!" Here on the Canadian prairies and probably elsewhere too — there are unlimited possibilities for the use of country land at low cost.
In every farming area I've ever seen there have been dozens — if not hundreds — of vacant houses, shacks, and sheds literally dying for occupants, perfect for homesteaders who want to go back to the land. The owners are often happy to let people live in such dwellings free or in return for fixing the place up a bit. (If it's isolation you're looking for, by the way, many farmers have pieces of land they seldom use and would be overjoyed to have someone there to keep an eye on the cattle during the summer.)
If you need to make money while in the country, your job can work for you by providing you with a place to live. In these parts — Alberta — just open any of the big prairie papers and you'll find quantities of rural "Help Wanted" ads. One day I counted 15 columns of such notices. Most required no experience and offered a house, all food, and a salary of around $400 a month.
If you don't want to be a full-time hired hand, seasonal farm labor is another "live in" employment possibility. Such help is almost impossible to find nowadays, and if you were willing to show up for work daily for four or five months of the year, you could certainly find any number of farmers who'd be happy to let you use five or ten acres of good land year-round.
OK, but what if you want to own your land? Well — if you have the money for a few acres — ask around for someone who has a corner of his farm cut off from the rest by a road or creek and offer to buy the outlying portion. Most farmers need money and have no particular attachment to the odd scraps of their property. If the cost of surveying is too high to make such a deal practical, offer to rent or lease a small piece of bush or field.
It really is just as simple as that. I haven't made any attempt to look for opportunities, yet off hand I can think of the following in my own neighborhood: two quarter-sections of bush with road access and a big lake; 20 similar acres (five in wild blueberries) on a good road with a small lake; 10 acres — also on a lake — with road, power, and phone; 40 acres on still another big lake; a quarter section with house, outbuildings, and power; and a house on three acres. Any of these could be used free of charge or in return for low rent or seasonal labor.
At this point you'll be saying, "There must be a catch!" There is: To make such a deal you have to show up in person, do your own driving and talking, and convince the farmer that you're a reasonable person who won't cause any trouble and might even help a bit. But that's all there is to it. If you really want to get back to the land, go it's waiting for you.