The climate of Missouri offers an ample growing season.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Winter is the homesteaders' time of trial. Even with our rural community ties here in Missouri—far from the Canadian wilderness and the blizzards of the west—there are times when we feel like shucking it. These are the days when the pipes are frozen, the animals need water, all the dishes are dirty and the light bulbs we're using to thaw the pump keep breaking. If only we had a hand pump instead of instant electric water, we wouldn't get into such a situation! Still, there's nowhere else we'd go and nothing else we want to do. We like it here.
Winter is grim because there's not much to do outside, so we stay inside and read a lot. And, now that the seed catalogs have come, we plan a lot. We plan far more than we'll probably ever accomplish but—after a few harsh winters out where nature isn't scraped away by the street department—a family just naturally has more confidence in themselves and what they can do with their resources. They also have a better idea of what they CAN'T do.
If you like seasonal weather, Missouri has a pretty nice climate. The temperatures here can go below zero in winter and, once in a while, will climb above 100 in the summer. These are the extremes and are not typical; in January we sometimes have days that register 50 or 60 degrees. We have our last spring frost (we plan on it!) between April 15 and May 1 and our first frost of the fall usually occurs in early October . . . so we have an ample growing season. The southwestern section of the state has a warmer climate but the Ozark Plateau that angles across the southeastern corner is comparable to the very northern part of Missouri with, maybe, an even shorter growing season.
The place we've lived that we liked best was near Columbia, a little north and slightly east of the center of the state. There, we were close enough (but not too close) to big towns to have our pick of jobs when we wanted them. The presence of the University creates a more stimulating intellectual climate in that region and the scenery is beautiful. There are limestone bluffs, winding roads through huge oak forests, dogwoods blooming in the woods and lots of little farms with some acres cleared and some rough and wooded.
We used to live on a 148-acre farm 25 miles from Columbia. It was remote, secluded, wooded, beautiful . . . and not ours, so we had to leave. We've lived on farms in two other locations in Missouri and we've looked at a lot of acreage in this state. You can still buy wooded, unimproved land in that area, but if you want a good, cleared, tillable farm you'll have to really hunt to find one with a low down payment.
Acreage gets increasingly rougher and less expensive as you go south into the Ozark hills and big towns get scarce. We looked at 80 acres for $7500 down that way and it was really beautiful. The place was bordered on all sides by the Mark Twain National Forest and had a fieldstone house, a log barn, two springs, deer tracks and pines growing among the oaks. BUT it required $3000 down and it was pretty far from the only good source of jobs (a lead mine) in the area. Besides that, hunting is allowed in the National Forest and our goats look a lot more like deer than some of the things deer hunters have been known to shoot!
We were shown that place by United Farm Agency, which publishes catalogs of farms and land for sale, and they have many listings of such idyllic Ozark beauty spots. You'll have to pay more to settle close to Springfield or Joplin (and the jobs they offer) but—if you have the time to look—I'm sure you can find some great little homesteads in the Ozarks.
We now live in the west-northwest section of Missouri about 45 miles from Kansas City. Generally, land within 20 or 25 miles of the city (unless your signs are great) costs more per acre and decreases in value only as you get farther out and farther away from the super highways. The county we are in has no large towns and no big highways. It is considered (by the Federal Government) to be a poverty county and taxes are fairly low.
Our 24-1/2 acres is half wooded and half cleared and cost us $460 an acre. There were some good fences, but the only buildings on the place were an old falling down house and a shed suitable for goats. The soil is . . . well, it's almost nonexistent. The top soil, anyway, has been allowed to wash away and we have a lot of rebuilding to do.
One of the best things about living in the country—in Missouri, anyway—is the people you have for neighbors. You can always find someone to pull you out of a mud hole or do your milking for you when you're away overnight. We are considered a little weird, but we don't make a point of looking freaky. We get along well with most of the folks in our community. They have a lot to teach us.
The schools around here are no more backward than those in Kansas City and our country schools are more pleasant in some aspects. The local district is almost county-wide, so it's as big as many city school districts. The classrooms our children attend out here "in the sticks" are modern and bright and well equipped with modern teaching aids . . . for whatever that's worth.
Advantages and disadvantages are different things to different people. Some folks don't like cold and snow, others are rubbed the wrong way by the proximity of cities and most want fertile soil...although not all can afford it.
The main reason we're in Missouri is because we grew up here and all our ties are here. Outside of a commune, we don't know if we'd like it in the wilds and we find it kind of scary to think about barging off into bush country somewhere. Here, we have breathable air and we don't have to listen to traffic 24 hours a day. The people—farther, and farther away from the big cities—are slower, calmer and more peaceful.
We recommend Missouri's rural areas, in other words, but we don't recommend the towns and cities. We can't think of ANY advantages to them!