A Plowboy Interview with Carla Emery who raised a family, farmed and wrote about it all in her now named book, The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
Carla Emery, author of the Old Fashioned Recipe Book
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
It may not be everyone's dream . . . but it's probably safe to say that a large number of MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers share more or less the same fantasy of what an idealized version of the Good Life is all about. Something like: Living way out somewhere in what's left of the really big and unpolluted back country. Using your own hands to raise and produce most of what you eat and otherwise consume. Exchanging down-home ideas and information with knowledgeable, salt-of-the-earth neighbors. Maybe making your mark in the world by compiling that information into a relevant, useful form that you could sell by mail... thereby spreading a worthwhile back-to-the-land philosophy to the cities where it's needed while earning enough folding money to tide you over the rough years when the dogs get into the chickens and the pastures all wilt from lack of rain. And then, perhaps, taking that little mail-order business and using it to build something even bigger . . . something that could somehow do even more good for the planet and the people who live on it.
Well, that's exactly the life that a mountain farm girl from Montana — Carla Emery — now leads. And, since no single living soul can tell her story as well as Carla can, this introduction will be mercifully short. Suffice it to say that Ms. Emery passed through North Carolina (in a Dodge Minihome loaded with children and copies of her Old Fashioned Recipe Book) last February and stopped in MOTHER's offices only long enough to grant the following interview to Julie Needham and Wayne Martin.
And that's all the warning you're going to get before you meet Ms. Emery for yourself. Except for two things:  Carla is certifiably one of the craziest, warmest, (sometimes unintentionally) funniest, wisest, most lovable, and idealistic zanies now walking the face of the earth and  we think this old world would be a lot better off if we had a few more people like her.
Carla, during the past few months you've taken the United States by storm. Every day or so, it seems, you — or your book or something about your School of Country Living — pops up in a magazine or a newspaper or on the radio or TV. You've become an overnight legend . . . an almost mythical Doer of Great Deeds!
Your fame has spread so far and so fast, in fact, that I still don't know much about you as a person. So please, before we go any further, tell me something about the real Carla Emery.
I was born in 1939, which makes me 36. I find that quite interesting, by the way, because I'm very close to exactly the same age as John Shuttleworth, publisher of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® . . . and Jerry Belanger, who runs Countryside magazine. We're all three late Depression babies and we're all involved in this effort to bring about more environmentally sound lifestyles by finding ways for people to be more self-sufficient. Maybe that means something . . . maybe there's a reason that what we're doing isn't done by people in their mid-20's or their mid-50's. Once in a while I speculate about that.
Were you born and raised in Idaho?
Oh no, I'm a Montana girl . . . but I was born in Los Angeles, which is curious. What happened is my mother married my daddy, who was a farmer, and promptly nine months later she was pregnant with me and he went broke. He was farming with a team of horses and, almost overnight, everything went wrong. The potato bugs got the potatoes, something else got all the other crops and all they had left were the horses and some tools and the chickens. So my folks had an auction and loaded up an old jalopy and went to California . . . just like something out of Grapes of Wrath.
So I was born in California while my daddy was going from door. to door looking for a job . . . and afterwards they had a woman keep me while daddy and mother worked as butler and cook for Dorothy Lamour. Eventually my parents saved a little money and we all started back north.
Once we got to Oregon, daddy worked in the woods until a tree fell on him and broke his ribs. Well, he couldn't work anymore that winter . . . so the other fellows in the logging camp took up a collection of about twenty dollars to buy milk for the baby — that was me — and my parents lived on venison that daddy shot in the woods. That was all they had — milk for the baby and venison for themselves — and it was a time of terror for them.
After a while, when defense work began to pick up, we moved on to Seattle and daddy got a job in the shipyards. My folks were country people, though, and as soon as they could they got a stake together and we went back to Montana. Daddy bought another ranch, with a tractor this time instead of horses, and he really made that farm go. And that's where I grew up.
So you still think of yourself as a farmer's daughter from Montana.
Yes. I'm a farmer's daughter from Montana. I was raised on a cattle ranch — cattle and sheep — high up in the mountains. I rode two miles every day on horseback to a little country school . . . eight grades and eight kids. My childhood memories are of what you call "deep country", and I have a love to this day for that kind of rural life.
A love, I might add, that shines through every page of the Old Fashioned Recipe Book.
Oh, there's a lot of me in that book. A lot of me and the people I come from. My relatives on my father's side, you know, are Pennsylvania Dutch. My maiden name was Carlotta Louise Harshbarger and my daddy's people were Brethren . . . Quakers. They were good farmers because they loved the land and they farmed with their hearts. There's a lot of that in me and some of it spilled over into the book.
The stories that my mother and daddy told me about their Depression days helped make the book possible too. They made me value self-sufficiency and contributed, I think, to my ethics.
And there's more, of course. I was an only child except for an older half-brother — seven years older — who grew up mostly with his relatives. So I had a very isolated childhood. There was nobody for me to play with so I grew very close to my animals and I had a deep hunger for people. I wanted to reach out . . . to make friends . . . to give so I could be given unto . . . to love so I could be loved. The book has made that all possible. I've reached out through my writing and many beautiful people have responded.
But how did the Old Fashioned Recipe Book come to be, Carla? I read somewhere — in one of the clippings about you that someone sent me — that you ran an ad saying the book was available before it had even been started. Then you cashed the checks as they came in. And, finally, when you couldn't send the money back to the would-be purchasers . . . you had no choice but to sit down and write a book and make good on your original promise.
No, I'm not that bad. Well, yes . . . I'm almost that bad. But it's a long story like all my long stories. See, here's what really happened:
My mother-in-law gave me a subscription to Organic Gardening back in 1970. And I got to reading the magazine and I saw all the letters it contained from people who wanted to raise their own food but didn't know where to begin. People who wanted to know how to make sauerkraut and sausage, or butcher a cow and tan its hide or grind grain.
Well five years ago — when MOTHER EARTH NEWS was just getting started and I hadn't even heard of it yet anyway — there weren't any magazines that carried this information. So I said to myself that what these people needed was a book. A great, large book like an encyclopedia that tells everything you need to know to raise your own food and process it and raise food for animals and so on. A big, dependable guide to self-sufficiency that's written simply and clearly.
A collection of good, down-home advice.
Right. Just like your country neighbor up the road would give you if you needed it.
And I thought, "Hey! I could write that book because I was raised in the country and I've been to school and I've done term papers. I can tell people how to make sauerkraut and sausage."
Well we were living on three and a half acres then and we had goats and chickens that were coming out the sides of our property and I thought, "Oh. I'll help Mike. I'll write this book and I'll sell it and we'll earn money and get our bigger piece of land."
So I got this copy of Organic Gardening and I looked in the back and I saw that I could place a little classified ad and that it would take two full months for the ad to appear after I sent it in. So I asked myself how long it would take me to write my book and I figured I could do it in two months, easy. I figured I could send in my ad and then work really hard writing about how to make sauerkraut and sausage and then in two months — when the ad came out — I'd have the book done.
And then I asked myself, "Well, how much should I charge for this guide to country living?" . . . and $3.50 sounded about right. So I wrote my ad about this book I was going to sell on canning and making sauerkraut and sausages and candles and all this other stuff . . . and I submitted it to the magazine with my money. It was much cheaper to advertise in Organic Gardening , you know, five years ago than it is now.
And you told the readers to send you $3.50 and you'd send them a book.
Right, right. I said to send in $3.50 and I'd mail out a book. But, two months later when the ad was published and 200 people mailed me checks for $3.50, all I had to send back was a title and table of contents!
Well my husband, who's a very practical and conservative man, said to return everyone's money. But we were desperate for cash so I said, "Oh Mike, we need the money. I'll write the book. Just give me two months more. I can finish it, and in the meantime I'll write everyone a letter and tell them I'm not done yet."
So that was the beginning of the newsletter. I knew nothing about reproducing such things then so I wrote out two hundred copies of the same letter: "Dear Friend, I don't have the book ready yet, but it's coming. Give me two more months, and if you want a refund I'll send it."
Two months later, of course, I still wasn't finished and I had to write another newsletter. I did that one by hand too and I said, "It's still not done but it's coming, it's coming." And I gave a little progress report. I told people what part of the book I was working on and how they'd be able to use that section when the guide was done.
After a year of this I began to get a few letters that were kind of angry. And a few really pushy letters that said, "Carla, we need this book now."
So I said, "OK. I'll send everybody as much as I can. I've completed three chapters out of the 12 on my table of contents . . . and here they are." And since the book wasn't finished and I had to have some way to hold the chapters together, I just punched three holes in every sheet of paper and bound the pages with covers and rings . . . metal rings. And I said, "OK. I'll send you more when I get it."
So from then on, every year, I sent each of my "subscribers" a newsletter that told what I'd been up to and I included the chapters I'd gotten done that year and that's the way the book came out. The last section was mailed in February of 1974 and the first complete book was shipped during March of 1974. And that's how it happened. The Old Fashioned Recipe Book was finally finished four years after I'd gotten the idea for it.
How many orders did you take before the book was completed?
About 800. Because what I did, you see, was I spent the money on postage and paper for the newsletter and other supplies as it came in so that every time I thought I was about ready to print the book I had to run another ad in Organic Gardening to get up the money to publish the next batch of chapters. So I finally wound up with 800 orders before the book was even done. And in all that time — four years — only six people asked for their money back. They got so interested in the newsletter and in waiting to see how the next chapters came out that all but six of those first 800 customers stuck with me until the book was completed.
Well there's probably more than that to it. After all, this is an extremely useful and lively, warm and witty, wise and slightly whacky book. It's worth waiting for. After all, where else are you going to find God under Apple Butter?
Yes, I know. I've had comments about that.
See what happened was, right in the middle of doing the book my whole world seemed to come apart. My husband had come to hate the project because I had taken money and not really delivered what I had promised . . . and I felt guilty about that too. Everything seemed wrong somehow and, for one solid year, I didn't touch the book at all. I just wanted to return everyone's money and call it quits . . . but I couldn't!
You see, I didn't have the money to return . . . and I didn't even know how much I owed anybody because I had kept raising the price of the book as I had gone along and made it bigger and bigger than I had originally planned. First the price was $3.50 . . . then $4.00 . . . then $5.00.
I kept intending to write a mimeographed letter to everyone and ask them to individually bill me for the amount I owed them . . . but I couldn't even type and run off and mail out that one simple letter. By then we had four children and I was expecting the fifth and we were poorer than ever and money was such a problem that I didn't even know where we'd get the postage so that I could mail the one letter. My life was just in a shambles and I didn't know which way to turn.
And so I just gave myself to God . . . I had this tremendous personal finding of God and everything started to fall in place. He didn't give me the simple, direct answers I asked for . . . but once I accepted His will, He made a way for me to finish the book under what turned out to be even greater handicaps than we had faced up to that time.
For instance, Dolly — one of our children — came down with either rheumatic fever or rheumatoid arthritis — the doctors didn't know which — and she couldn't walk. She couldn't use her hands, she couldn't feed herself, she just lay on her couch. Then the baby got this mysterious diarrhea that, again, the doctors couldn't figure out. We were poor, desperately poor, and Mike and I were having our differences. You would have thought the Old Man Himself was just sitting on top of my house, trying to make me quit.
Still I had this strong feeling that it was God's will for me to finish this book. So I went back to it . . . and I began to write in a whole new way! The words just started to flow out of me. The book started to move like it had never moved before and people started to come forward to help me run it off on the mimeograph machine and mail it out. Neighbors came in and typed and cranked the mimeograph eight hours a day for months strictly on faith. I had no money to pay them but they said, "Well, this is something that should be done and we're going to help you do it."
And that's how God came to be under Apple Butter. I was just bubbling over as I finished the first draft of the book and I had to tell everyone — right then and there where I picked up the manuscript and went on — what had happened.
That must have been a surprise to some of your original "subscribers". Just as the famous incident with the chickens was a surprise.
Oh yes. Well, you know, we were still living on that little homestead when I started the book and we never had enough space for anything so I was keeping our baby chicks in the same room where I had some of the pages for the book stored. And the chickens just seemed to grow up overnight and they began to fly up to the storage shelves and roost on those pages. And, of course, they messed on them a little.
Well I couldn't afford to print that part of the book all over again so I just sort of scraped off the chicken poop and mailed those pages on out. And I said, "This is your certification of homestead authenticity" . . . and I think that kind of startled a few readers.
Yes, well . . .
For the most part, however, everyone seemed to love it and to take it in stride. They accepted it just as they accepted everything else and they wrote back and said, "We're with you, Carla. Don't give up. We know you can finish the book."
And they'd send me tips and give me suggestions for rewriting some chapters and tell me to be sure to include something that I hadn't listed on the original table of contents. So the Old Fashioned Recipe Book became sort of a cooperative effort, you see . . . between me and my neighbors and the people "out there" who were contributing money and ideas and moral support.
Carla, a lot of people dream about writing a book and publishing it themselves and some of them even finish manuscripts. But very few, it seems, actually get into publishing. How did you do it?
I just got a mimeograph and started cutting stencils on the typewriter and running chapters off in the living room.
Yes, I see that the title page of the Old Fashioned Recipe Book lists the printer as "The Living Room Mimeographer". Are you still cranking the book out the same way you produced it in the beginning?
Oh no. We've outgrown the living room and the hand-cut stencils and the hand-cranked mimeograph machine. We still call our operation The Living Room Mimeographer . . . but we've moved it into an old, defunct restaurant. And we've got an electronic stencilmaker now, which is a really big help, and we have a much better mimeograph machine. We're still using volunteer labor, of course, because we still can't afford to pay wages. But we barter out seven hours of work for a copy of the book. We use 12 volunteers a day and we have a big potluck dinner at noon.
And what about the book itself? Do you consider it finished?
No! It's different from other books in that respect. The fifth edition contained 600 pages and the new sixth edition that's just coming out has 700 pages and weighs five pounds. I'm not scared by the notion of a big book. I just want to keep making this one better and better. People write to me, I talk to people and, as fast as I learn something new, I put it in the book. I still keep my free newsletter going too so, as soon as we add a new supplement to the Old Fashioned Recipe Book, all the earlier buyers know about it and they can order it if they want to. So when someone buys the book it's kind of like they're getting a free subscription to an ongoing adventure.
That is unusual. And you're certainly on your way to a very large mimeographed book.
Yes. My understanding is that I'll be in the next edition of the Guinness Book of World Records three different times. First, for publishing the biggest mimeographed book in general circulation. Second, for having sold more copies of a self-published book — 15,000 — than anybody else in history. And, third, for being the first author in history to have three babies while writing a book. I could have had a fourth record if I'd have wanted it — for having more typographical errors in a single book than anyone else — but I just couldn't face the thought.
Let me ask you about those children, Carla, because I know that many of our readers are going to think you've got some nerve to write about self-sufficiency and the wise use of resources on one hand while, on the other, you have five children.
Well, as an only child — and as the daughter of an only child-growing up isolated on a mountain ranch, I'd have given the world for a sister. You see, our family is Rh negative and we've never been able to have more than one living child in past generations. So I don't think I have to feel too ecologically guilty here because I'm living a very special circumstance. And I was so lonely growing up that I didn't want my children to grow up that way too. But we've got a large enough family now and we don't plan to make it any bigger.
All right. Now tell me, if you will, how you managed to sell all those books. Many of the world's biggest publishers, you know, have publicity agents and salesmen and trade reps and full-page ads in newspapers and magazines working for them . . . and still don't manage to sell 15,000 copies of about 90% of all the books they release.
Well I had the little ads in Organic Gardening, of course. And if it hadn't been for the first two hundred people who ordered the book from those ads, I'd never have gotten any farther than that. But the sales of the Old Fashioned Recipe Book didn't really take off until some college kids in Moscow, Idaho invited me up to a street fair they were having.
Well I didn't know what a street fair was and I didn't want to go but they dragged me out and I got some folding tables and set up a little stand . . . and sold 30 books. This was in May 1974 when the book was selling for ten dollars. So I said, "Wow! Three hundred dollars!" And I was really glad to get the money because we were kind of desperate at that time.
So the next week they were having the Locust Blossom Festival in Kendrick and I went over there and set up my folding tables again and I sold 30 more books. I was so excited!
Then I saw a poster advertising another festival in a town 120 miles away so I drove down there and set up the tables and sold 30 more books. By then I was really hooked. I was really getting into this thing. I was turning into a carny bug.
So I asked the hot dog man and the cotton candy man, "Hey, where are you going next week?" And they'd tell me, "Well, there's this going on and that going on," because, you know, that's how they do it. They tell each other. When you're working carnivals and festivals it's just like you belonged to a big happy family.
And I joined that family — I've written extensively about my travels in the sixth edition of the Recipe Book — and I kept meeting a lot of the same people week after week after week as we all traveled around to the same fairs and other gatherings. I did rock festivals and church fairs and went just about anywhere there were people. I'd go and I'd pass out my brochures and I'd sell books.
OK. At first I just went out on Saturdays. Then I heard about the bigger fairs that lasted Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So I began doing them and I was driving home and frantically freezing peas and trying to get the milk cow straightened out because she and my husband could never understand each other. And I did that almost all summer. Three days out and two days driving and the rest of the time at home trying to catch up . . . and I started to get sick. It was really getting to me because I was driving all night going out and all night coming back and I wasn't getting any sleep two nights of the week.
So Mike and I talked it over and we decided that I was just going to have to go out and stay out. Which I hated to do, so I started going out for three weeks at a time and then coming back.
This worked pretty good because I could go to a county fair and set up for five days and do $1,000 worth of business. I was really getting my money's worth out of the driving. And I was learning to use publicity to make the whole thing pay off even more.
See, when I first started to peddle the book I didn't know that radio and TV and newspapers could help me sell it. But, after a while, I found that I could tell the media I was coming and — if I was lucky — I'd get a newspaper interview or maybe a couple of spots on the radio when I got into the town that was having the festival. And that's the way it went until the end of the summer, when I ran out of county fairs.
Did you call it quits then for the season?
No, I thought I'd go south because they have county fairs and arts and crafts shows in California and Arizona and New Mexico in November and December. So I started out with this little trailer loaded with books and brochures and California was nearly a complete disaster.
I drove in to a small arts and crafts fair and tried to get a spot and they told me to go away because my book was mass produced. This was the first time anyone had looked at my mimeographed book held together with colored wires and accused it of being manufactured.
That was a bad one, that day, because the woman managing the fair had already let me set up my tables and people were acting interested and then she came back and told me to leave. Well some of the people from the other stands came up and started to argue about it with her but I said it was OK and I left. I was really desperate, though, because I had all the kids with me and I was down to my last $5.00 and I had counted on that show to give us eating money. I was crying but I said "OK" and I left.
Then I tried to get into Embarcadero Plaza and the other places where they sell handcrafts in San Francisco but they said I'd have to put down a bond for $100 and get a license and visit the police station and that was just impossible. So I tried to get a spot to sell on the street — Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley — and they had a waiting list six months long for that.
Well I'm not one to break anybody's rules. You know . . . I "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" . . . but, in California, it seemed as if it was all Caesar's!
What did you do?
You know, it's funny how everything can look so dark that you just don't know what's going to happen to you . . . but if you'll continue to operate on faith, suddenly something will come through that's far better than you'd ever hoped for.
What happened was I had sent a mailing out to bookstores in California earlier in the summer and I got a letter back from one woman who said she didn't want any mimeographed books in her shop. But I noticed that this gal's stationery — her name was Millicent — said that she owned both the bookstore and a public relations agency.
So I thought, "Public Relations. I've heard of that. Maybe Millicent can help me sell books." And I wrote back and I said, "Hey, could you help me?"
Well she answered on a postcard and said, "I don't think anybody who mimeographs a book in her living room can afford my services. Signed Millicent."
So I wrote back and said, "Dear Millicent. It would be a whole lot more useful if you'd tell me what you're good for and how much you cost. Besides, I'm selling $1,000 worth of my mimeographed books every week just over the tables and the mail-order business is picking up every day from all the brochures I'm passing out."
Well that, got her attention. And — unknown to me while I was down to my last five dollars and trying so desperately to find some way, any way to sell a few books in California — Millicent had called Mike in Idaho and said that, for $1,000, she'd get me on some radio and television programs. And Mike said OK . . . so when I called Mike he said, "Call Millicent. She's going to do something for you."
So I called the agency but, by that time, Millicent was in Israel . . . so I got Julaine Konselman instead and she's a lovely gal. She's a farmer's daughter from Wisconsin and she identifies strongly with me and she's just made up her mind that this book is going to go. She really works on it.
Anyway, she got me on the Ralph Story morning talk show in Los Angeles.
That's the biggest television talk show in L.A., isn't it?
Yeah, I think so. I was on for something like seven minutes and, back home, a whole lot of orders for the book came in. And, while I was still in California, the producer of the Ralph Story Show called up and asked me to be on the program again in two weeks.
Julaine said it was very unusual for the show to have someone back that soon but I went back and I got in the studio with Ralph and I said, "What do you want to talk about?" And he said, "Oh, just about you."
And then we got on camera and he says, "I want you to meet the person who, out of the 5,000 guests we've had since the beginning of this show, has drawn the biggest audience response."
Well I started to cry and everything was very beautiful — like hearts and roses — and that really got a response. Back home, two days later, we received 3,000 letters in one day. Seven thousand dollars' worth of orders . . . and that finally put us over the top. We finally had enough money to hire a bookkeeper who — unfortunately — promptly — announced that we'd been steadily going into debt for the past nine months and the only thing that had kept us afloat had been the loans we'd been getting to finance our expanding business. At last, though, we were on our way.
But this is the spring of 1975 now and you're still on the road.
Oh yes. I still have to promote the book. We need the money, you know, for the School of Country Living.
Yes, I want to know more about that. First, though, please tell me more about how you travel. Do you go out on the road alone?
Oh no. I always take all five of the children with me. I couldn't bear to be without them. And I spend a lot of time on the telephone to Mike back in Idaho.
The children and I have been on the road now, almost constantly, since May of '74. The first six months we slept in the car and it was pretty grim. It was very tight financially. We generally went out with enough money to buy the gas we'd need to get where we were going and we'd eat our first meal after I sold a few books. That really made me work hard to sell those books, you know. And we always got along somehow.
Then, just before the money began to come in from the Ralph Story Show, our poor old car broke down. I guess it was kind of funny now that I think of it, although it didn't seem so at the time.
I had the car burdened down with books and children and the window on the right-hand side wouldn't roll up. So when we traveled in cold weather, we'd shove a blanket in the hole except when I got on a freeway and I had to be able to see. And the door on the driver's side wouldn't shut tight and it kept opening as I went around corners.
The engine was even worse. It had this thing where it wouldn't start by itself and Dolly and I had to kind of hot wire it to get it going. We'd pull into a gas station and, if we turned the engine off, we had about one chance in three that it'd start again. And if it wouldn't, I'd jump out and lift the hood and poke around at the battery terminals with the tire iron while 10-year-old Dolly pumped on the gas pedal to get the car going. And we always did get it running again and we'd drive off down the road, you know, while everyone around kind of stood back and looked at us with an amazed expression on their faces.
But finally that old car gave up the ghost completely and we drove it into a used car lot on its very last rumble and said we wanted to trade it. I didn't have a nickel in my pocket at the time but I told the guy in the lot that I was on my way to L.A. to do a TV show and that I just had to have something that would take the children and me around the country so we could do all the interviews and personal appearances that Julaine had lined up.
Well another miracle happened right then and there because the salesman let me trade the car in on a 1974 Dodge Minihome. But he wanted $1,000 down so I got on the phone to my husband back in Idaho and Mike said that he'd just checked the bank account and we didn't have any thousand dollars. So I said, "Don't tell the salesman that. Just write out a check for $1,000 and put it in the mail. By the time it gets back to the bank, we'll have the money to cover it."
Then I went out and told the guy at the car lot, "OK. They're going to send you a check for $1,000 from Idaho." And he said "OK" and I drove off with this Minihome and, of course, by the time the check cleared the bank we had the cash to make it good.
And that's how we got our fancy camper. It's got a double bed and a bathroom and a propane heater and everything we need and our life has been a lot easier since we bought it. The only trouble is it's two feet longer than a regular car and I can't park it because I'm a lousy driver.
What do you do when you're on a radio program or a TV show? Do you take the children on with you?
Generally they wait in the lobby and drive the receptionist up the wall.
Well on this particular swing around the country you're doing 45 cities in approximately four and a half months. That's a long time for the children to be away from home . . . especially during the winter. What do you do about school?
Oh we do the multiplication tables as we drive down the road. You know. . . "six times one is six, six times two is twelve". And we learn a lot of geography. "OK, what state are we in?" Nobody knows. "What state has four eyes?" "MISSISSIPPI!" "Right. Let's spell it." "M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I." "OK. We'll be in Tennessee soon. We were in Texas yesterday. What's the capital of Texas?" And they all answer. "What's the capital of Colorado . . . where you saw the dome?" And they answer that. I try to teach as we roll down the road and it's fun.
We do all the sights, too, when we have time to play tourist. The children are looking forward so much to Washington, D.C. because we're going to do the Lincoln Monument and the Capitol. And when we get to New York I've promised them a trip to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. You know they have to get something out of this too. If all they could do is just sit in the car, they'd be kind of unhappy kids.
What type of audience do you try to reach when you're doing radio shows and making TV appearances?
Anybody! I just do whatever Julaine has for me to do. I got on a black radio station in Chattanooga and the gentleman there loved the book and said it was obviously written for poor people. He said that some of the black churches in Chattanooga were going to use the Old Fashioned Recipe Book for fundraising and I was just delighted.
Then in Denver I was interviewed on a station that plays classical music — you know, concerts and opera — all day and the cultural people in Denver got very interested in me. And the rock stations took me up in Kansas City. There were actually two rock stations giving away copies of the Recipe Book to contest winners at once in Kansas City and I was very popular on long, late-night talk shows there. So I'll talk to any audience I can reach.
Have you done any of the big national television shows?
Not yet. Julaine is trying but we haven't landed any of them yet. I did do a pre-appearance interview for the Johnny Carson program but that was pretty much a disaster.
Well I only have one good dress, you know, and — just as I was getting ready to put it on out in the parking lot — -Luke, my three-year-old, spilled a bowl of oatmeal right in the middle of it. So I went in in my old clothes and there was this brisk, intelligent, sharp, manicured young man who had been told — since I was a nobody and we had to have an angle to get me that far — that I was a comedienne.
Did you make him laugh?
Only once. When I told him I had caused a traffic jam in Hollywood and he asked why and I said it was because I was beating my head on the steering wheel. I had the most awful times in that L.A. traffic, you know.
Carla, I don't envy you. As a matter of fact, I'm getting exhausted just listening to what you've already done. And we haven't even gotten to your biggest project yet . . . the School of Country Living. Tell us about that.
Well the idea first came to me about three years ago. I was outside hanging up clothes and thinking of all the people who'd been writing to me about the book. You know, they'd write and ask things like, "Could I just come up for a day and follow you around?" or "I've got a daughter that loves horses. Could she spend the summer with you?" or "Can I bring my scout troop to your farm so we can look at the animals and have a picnic?"
So I was thinking about that and thinking about how hard it was to tell someone how to butcher a pig or pull a frame of honey in a book. "Gosh," I thought, "what a beginner really needs the first time he butchers is a pig with dotted lines on it . . . or an old-timer standing right at his elbow. And the only way to explain about honey is to dress someone up in a bee veil and take him right out to a hive and stand there very calmly with a million bees buzzing around — ZZZZZZZ! — and say, "OK, that long one there is the queen. And these are the drones and all the rest are the workers and fighters."'
And I suddenly knew that what all those people needed was a School of Country Living. A place where they could go and milk a cow and dump animal manure into a methane digester and butcher a pig and make some soap and tan a hide and make some jerky and do all the things that are in the Old Fashioned Recipe Book. And I got very excited about that idea and I ran into the house to where Viola — a woman who was helping me research the book — was boiling bones and I said, "Hey. I've got an idea!"
Then, of course, it went through a lot of stages after that. It's not enough, you know, to tell someone how to raise food for himself and for his animals. He's got to know how to use the by-products . . . how to make soap and tan leather. And he's also got to know how to use a tractor and harness a team of horses and ride and make up a pack. And if he wants to raise some cows he's got to know an Ayrshire from a Holstein or a shorthorn . . . and it just goes on and on.
So we figured out all the things that people would need to know and then we refined everything so we wouldn't have two classes on the same subject at the same time. And so that every class period — morning, afternoon, and evening — would offer something for a vegetarian, something for a farmer who already had a great deal of experience in country living but who wanted to learn something new, something for the total amateur, something for a man, something for a woman, something for families who wanted to learn together. And I wanted a special children's program too.
But even that wasn't enough. We had to get the classes in sequence so that people could start with something simple and work up from there. And there were a lot of technical details to iron out. For instance, when you butcher a cow, you have to wait a week for the meat to age before you can cut it up . . . which dictates the way you can arrange your classes. And if you expect to serve that meat in your dining hall — or allow your students to drink the milk from your own cows — the state says you have to put in Grade A processing facilities right on the grounds. Some of these requirements are ridiculous — such as the one that says we have to build a special air-conditioned room for the entrails from the animals we butcher, even though we plan to cook the guts and feed them to the pigs — but we have to obey them.
And then once we had the classes figured out and the facilities we'd need for teaching them, we sat down and added up the housing that would be required for our students and teachers.
This all sounds expensive.
It is! The slaughterhouse alone will cost sixty thousand dollars before it meets all the government requirements. Our idea is a very simple one but it's going to cost a lot of money to make it work.
And where will that money come from?
Well so far a lot of it's coming from us and our book. We've spent some of the income we've received from the Recipe Book on 115 acres for our family. But most of what we've cleared — $25,000 — has gone as a down payment on a tract of more than 400 acres . . . which is ideal for the School.
That's just the seed money, of course. We've estimated that the materials alone for the School — not counting land and labor — will run at least $150,000.
Can you come up with that much?
Well for a while it looked like we wouldn't have to. We had a couple from Denver — both just lovely people — for instance, who were going to loan us $5,000 and come and live here and help build the School for $10.00 a week. But then they came up and a nearby farm lady told them so venomously that the people of Kendrick didn't want strangers in town that the couple said they just didn't have the courage to face such a situation and so they backed out and went back to Colorado. And some of our other people have quit under fire or have been pressured into withdrawing offers of money for the School. That's just really knocked the socks off us financially.
Hold on now. Are you saying that farm people near your proposed School site are against allowing you to teach environmentally sound farming practices?
No, I don't think it's really like that. I believe that the people living up there in Idaho's Nez Perce County are actually pretty decent and upright folks. I must, or I wouldn't be there. What has happened, though, is that there have been some terrible rumors and misunderstandings spread about the School.
For instance, we think we'll have to build facilities to handle a maximum of approximately 200 students because it seems reasonable to suppose that most people are going to want to come to the School of Country Living during the summer when they're on vacation and when the weather is best and when they can work in the gardens and so on. So we anticipate that — maybe one day in five years when the schedules get fouled up and overlap as badly as they possibly can — we'll have to be able to handle 200 people. And that means we'll have to have 50 cabins to put them in and a kitchen big enough to feed that many students and so on. But most of the time there'll be far less outsiders at the school than that. Some days there may not be any. We'll have to take what comes, you know.
Yet, somehow, the story has gotten around that we're building permanent housing or condomimiums for 200 people . . . or something. And it's not true. It's just not true.
And you know we've always used a lot of volunteer labor in getting the book out. We couldn't have done it without that kind of help. So, naturally — since we don't have anyways near the money we need to build the School — we've said that we'll use volunteers to help put it together. "We're looking for people who'll work hard," we've said, "for room, board, $10.00 a week, and the right to be part of a dream."
Well, that's gotten all twisted around too . . . and now some people in Kendrick are saying that we're going to fill the town park with hippies and wine bottles. Most of this has started since I've been out on the road, so I'm not quite sure just how bad the situation really is . . . but when I call back I'm told it's bad. Some of the local people that have been working with us tell me they may have to quit because their children are being picked on so much in school.
Have any of your past or current volunteers done anything to create this "hippies and wine bottles in the park" image?
No! Our volunteers are marvelous. Most of them are right from around Kendrick, you know. Or they're people like Herb, who sold his house in L.A. and brought his daughter and came up to work for room, board, and $10.00 a week. He's certainly no hippie. And neither is Bill, a dear and sweet old man who lives on our farm and is afraid to go into town but who won't leave. We even asked him to because we didn't want to drag him into this trouble . . . . but he wouldn't go — he wouldn't even pack his bags — so we're going to let him stay.
Well have you done anything that would lead people to believe that you might be setting up a school for some sort of undesirable elements in society?
I don't see how anyone could get that idea. One of my dearest desires, you know, is to run this School for children. Children who never have the opportunity to gather eggs and wade in the creek and play in haylofts and give milk out of a bottle to a baby goat. Our children take all this for granted and yet there are so many youngsters in this country who never know these joys. So we're setting up a special children's program and I don't know how anyone could object to that.
Nor can I imagine that our program will appeal to anybody who's lazy or just looking for a good time. Our students will have fun. . . but they'll be working every minute. Morning till night. First milking is scheduled for 5:30 a.m., the first class is at 8:00, and it goes on like that all day until 10:30 at night.
And finally, it's important to realize that our School is being set up as much for people in our own area as for outsiders. We've already had farmers from right around Kendrick come into the Living Room Mimeographer, look over the School's schedule and say, "Hey, I'd like to take blacksmithing," or "This methane power looks interesting."
That's what we want! We want the local people to use the School too. Part of my dream is that the area children will come and ride the ponies and enjoy the playgrounds. And that the local families will come in for, say, a Saturday and eat in the restaurant and take some morning classes or attend an afternoon conference or just walk around and look at the way everything works. That's why we've planned especially large classes for evenings and Saturdays . . . so that local people can attend.
I feel like I've thrown a party and then been told that nobody wants to come.
What's going to happen now?
Our opponents have activated the Nez Perce County Planning Commission — which hasn't been active for as long as I can remember — and they're going to hold a hearing. And I think this is just great because I know we've got many friends in the county. So many of those people have worked with us and know what we're trying to do. There are good people in the county who want to see the old homesteading skills preserved and the family farms saved and they know that's what we're trying to do. They know we're attempting to preserve the valley instead of hurt it in any way.
So I welcome this hearing. Because if our plans are approved, the decision will be official and there'll be no doubts about it and we'll be able to go ahead with our dream.
And what if this hearing decides against you?
That'll be good too. Because it'll give us more time to raise the money we need to build the School. It'll take the pressure off us to open the School immediately and give us time to raise more money and look for another piece of land if we have to.
Well I must say you seem remarkably philosophical about the whole situation. No matter whether you win or lose the hearing, you seem to feel you're going to come out ahead.
Oh we will. We're going to build this School no matter what happens. We're going to build it someplace and we're going to make it work. That's all there is to it.
And, you see, I can't get too upset at the people who worry about changing our valley because I worry too. I sympathize with the local families who want to keep condominiums and dope and corporate farms out of our little valley. Those are valid objections and, as a mother of five, I object to the very same things. Our valley is a pretty wholesome place to raise a family and I'd like to see it stay that way.
On the other hand, I know that unless we build this School the valley is going to change. Our down payment on the 400 acres was $25,000 and the yearly payments are $10,000. It's worth it — there's timber, a river, a mountain, pasture, tillable areas, and springs on the property — but that's a lot of money. If we're forced to sell, the only people who'll be able to buy this land are corporate farmers or condominium builders from California.
So I already know that we — the Emery family — are going to, sooner or later, realize our dream no matter what happens at the hearing. It's the valley I'm worried about and I only hope the other people who live there will let us help save it. And I think they will.
OK, let's see now. This is February and the hearing won't take place until mid-April. And if this matter drags out the way such hearings usually do, it may well be this time next year before you know whether or not you'll be allowed to build the School of Country Living on your present site. What are you going to do between now and then?
The children and I are going to keep traveling around the country and appearing on television and talking on the radio and doing interviews like this with newspapers and magazines. And that will make a certain number of orders for the Old Fashioned Recipe Book flow into our office in Idaho. And we're planning to at least go ahead and plant 20 acres of truck garden on the School site this summer no matter what happens. And we're going to plant grain. We're going to go right on as if everyone already knew that the School will be a definite reality by the spring of 1976.
And you don't feel as if your plans are being set back in any way?
Are you kidding? I'm the gal, remember, who took four years to write a book she thought she could do in two months! I'm used to setbacks. I'm famous for them. But I did — with a lot of help from the Lord, my family, and hundreds of good people — get that book written . . . and it was much better when I got it done than anyone had expected.
And that's the way it's going to be with the School of Country Living. We are going to have the School. Somewhere. Sometime. We just aren't sure yet exactly where and when that School will be built. And I'm probably going to be as surprised as everyone else when we all learn the answers to those questions . . . and when we all see how much better the finished School is than we ever expected it to be!
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