Nurtured by Nature: Remembering a Back-to-the-Land Childhood

Liz Stuart remembers her back-to-the-land childhood. The vertical-log house had a composting toilet and no hot water or television. Most food was grown and preserved at home. This lifestyle allowed creativity and community to blossom.

| December 2008/January 2009

A young social worker reflects on her back-to-the-land childhood and how it has shaped her worldview.

Remembering a Back-to-the-Land Childhood

My usual response when asked where I grew up is “You’ve probably never heard of it.” Newport, Washington, population 2,000, is in the mountains of eastern Washington, about 70 miles from the Canadian border. Fifteen miles west of Newport and two miles off the pavement, the homestead where I was raised is even further off the map.

My older brother Tighe and I grew up in a continually evolving log house that was started in 1975 by three college friends: John Stuart and Carol Mack (my parents) and Cheryl Long (now editor in chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS). The house is on 40 acres of wild land where my parents choose to live a sustainable and low-impact existence. For our family, this lifestyle meant extensive gardening, using an outhouse and constant exploration of the outdoors.

Now I’m a resident of Portland, Oregon, with a degree in social work, and I’m thankful my first 18 years were spent in the country developing a keen awareness of my natural surroundings and learning to value a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Homegrown Harvests

One of the greatest advantages of growing up in our rural setting was eating homegrown organic produce. The crops from our half-acre garden were supplemented with some items from town, but fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs were the norm each summer. Until I left home, I did not realize what a luxury it was to simply walk into the garden to harvest dinner or the occasional snack. My parents claim the strawberry yield increased dramatically after I left for college.

Even in winter, we ate homegrown fruit and veggies. Carrots and potatoes were packed in sand and stored, along with bags of apples, in underground barrels insulated with dried leaves. Squash was a staple all winter long, as were garlic and dried Indian corn, which we ground into purple cornmeal. We blanched and froze green beans, Swiss chard, corn, broccoli and cauliflower. We canned salsa and dilly beans and froze blueberries, raspberries and wild huckleberries to be served on pancakes and waffles throughout the winter.

1/8/2009 7:13:21 AM

Wow, Liz, what a beautiful article! I loved it, and I can relate in some ways to how you grew up, as it was similar to how I grew up. I hope your dreams for a happy future are all fulfilled, and I thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Very best, kevin

Boomer Harry
12/14/2008 1:28:36 PM

Thank you Mother Earth News and Liz Stuart Truly familiar visions and great memories from this reading.

Joe Anderson
12/5/2008 11:51:17 PM

Great article by from all appearances an awesome young lady, just wish there were more people my own age out there that were interested in this type of thing! I'm 25 and living simply!

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard