My 50-Year Back-to-the-Land Journey with the Pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Reader Contribution by RenÉE Benoit
article image


The author takes her dogs wading on a recent trip to the Nez Perce River.

“Somebody get the shotgun! The dogs are chasing the goats!” I yelled from the back door of the church to my housemates working in the garden. It was 1970 and the first issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS had just been published. At that time, I was a 19-year old student at the University of Iowa going for my art degree and a dyed-in-the-wool hippie and devoted back-to-the lander. I was living with my friends in a vintage Alice’s Restaurant-style converted church south of Iowa City on a back road in the corn fields. Life was good then and we lived life in the moment.

Most of us worked part-time in the newly established New Pioneer’s Food Co-op and got food in barter. In the winter, the church was too cavernous to heat in its entirety, so we laid mattresses on the floor and squeezed into the front vestibule that was our kitchen. There we enjoyed the heat from the woodstove while a blizzard raged all night long.

We got a bunch of goats, including a stinky billy goat and some nanny goats for milk. The neighbor’s dogs were always loose and constantly threatening our goats. One day they injured the big billy and we had to put him down. After that, with guidance from MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we built a bonfire and cremated him.

Renée and her housemates found inspiration in the early issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, including Issue 10, which reported on forecasting weather, natural pest control and much more.

We grew our own food and ground our own flour for bread with guidance from the magazine. My worst bread recipe was the sun-baked bread that was as hard as an adobe brick. We also made our own clothes and tried every vegetarian recipe with soybeans from the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. My friend Christine put a warning sign on the front door, “Beware! This is borborygmi country.” She thought that was the term for flatulence.

In those days, we did not know much about anything, but we were willing to learn and we did. A lot of what we learned came from articles in MOTHER EARTH NEWS and since then, we have kept on learning and so have I.

Now that I am older, I look back on those days with sadness but also with peace. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has survived just like I have and we’ve both evolved into new and better versions of our old selves. That is the point of this short life, isn’t it?

Renée Benoitis a writer, artist, ranch caretaker and dedicated do-it-yourselfer who currently lives in a 26-foot travel trailer with her husband, a cat, and two dogs while they travel the Western United States in search of beautiful, peaceful vistas and hijinks and shenanigans. Connect with Renée atRL Benoit, andread all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.