Farm Life in Rural Nebraska

Learn about one young family's experiences as they trade big careers in the city for life on a Nebraska farm.
By Lee Waggoner
January/February 1982
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The Waggoner family loves life on the farm named Genesis 1:29. 
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS


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I truly appreciate the songs of the seashore, the majesty of the mountains and the meditative peace of the deep forests. But, no matter where I've traveled, my soul has always longed for my birthplace in the heartland of the Great Plains: Nebraska, home of the good life.

I grew up in a village of fewer than 100 people, cats and dogs. Many good memories sprang from my childhood in that country community. At the age of 18, however, I was only too glad to trade rural life for anything that might offer more excitement than racing the roosters to the roost. So, away I went to the bright city lights.

A Country Boy Living in the City

For a while it seemed that the urban environment fit me like a Brooks Brothers' suit. At age 20, I married the prettiest city lady a man could want. We settled down in a fancy five-room, bath-and-a-half apartment and proceeded to aim our careers upward!

Deanie was involved in banking. I turned my talents to advertising and we were both into fast foods, fast crowds, fast spending and constant changes. The situation might have gone from bad to worse, too, if it hadn't been for the inevitable question that comes up frequently between a man and a woman who love each other: When are we going to have a baby?

Well, I had responded to that urge on previous occasions by bringing home a kitten, a puppy, a parakeet, some tropical fish and two gerbils. The trouble was that, once out of their infancy, none of the critters needed much parenting. But, they did require space, a rapidly dwindling commodity in our apartment (not to mention the fact that our menagerie inspired landlords to stick us with damage deposits resembling the national debt).

Fortunately, Deanie and I agreed that our city lifestyle was not ideal for rearing a family, so we began searching for a better way (and room for a bigger zoo). As fate would have it, that very Christmas we received a gift subscription to MOTHER EARTH NEWS — and you'd better believe that the message was loud and clear. In fact, visions of a self-sufficient farm soon began to dance in my head.

The Trade-Offs of Country Life

If my wife had lacked either great courage or true naivete, I'd never have been able to capture her with my dream. As it turned out, though, it took only 162 choruses of "If I Were a Carpenter and You Were a Lady" to bring her around to my way of thinking.

As I said, I've always been drawn to the Great Plains. Every time we traveled there to see the folks, Deanie and I noticed that the Nebraska midlands were generously sprinkled with abandoned farms (a result of the "bigger is better — keep growing or start dying" concept of modern agronomics). We'd often wondered whether we could afford to purchase one of these old places, along with five to 10 acres of land. Well, to our pleasant surprise, we discovered that many of the dilapidated homesteads were being used as rental properties. Because landlords just wanted the places occupied so they wouldn't become more run-down or be vandalized — most were leased at break-even figures.

It followed, then, that — after six years in the rat rut — Deanie swapped her banking career (where they pass out titles instead of raises) for motherhood and farm wifery and I traded 125 active, pushy, demanding advertising accounts for fatherhood and one small, tired parcel of rented ground.

We knew in advance, however, that self-sufficiency is built by hard work, not bought simply by popping in on the country side of life. So, I had a solid, 40-plus-hour-a-week job nailed down before we made our move. It's a good thing, too, because — five years and three children later — we still need the regular income.

We've seen trials and triumphs, and gained a wealth of experience here at the place we've come to call Genesis 1:29 (because it seems that we have indeed been given "every herb bearing seed . . . and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed"). Suffice it to say that we bought the house and seven acres, remodeled the dwelling, installed and expanded our domestic zoo, built up the soil, planted an orchard, established lawns, gardens and windbreaks and even birthed our own garden helpers.

Was it worth all the time, labor, and expense? You bet! After all, what kind of price can you put on an opportunity to make a dream come true?


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