Sustainability in Practice: Going Back to the Land

Learn how George and Monique Fournier made their dreams come true of going back to the land and practice sustainable living on their homestead in Charlton City, Massachusetts.

| May/June 1977

  • Charlton City Homestead
    George and Monique Fournier, bought a run down farm and went back to the land to build their dream homestead farm in Charlton City, Massachusetts. After 10 years of renovation, they now practice sustainable living and have a homestead they can be proud of.

  • Charlton City Homestead

Eleven years ago, my wife — Monique — and I came across the one classified ad we'd been hoping to find for the three years we'd (at that time) known each other. It read: "Four-room country ranch. Needs minor repairs. Well water, about 3 acres of cleared land. Vacant. Must be sold, good terms."

As it turned out, the ad was only partly accurate. The house had four rooms all right ... but it'd been vacant for three or four years, and its roof leaked, most of the building's windows had been broken by vandals, and squirrels had built a nest right over the bed (which was itself a pretty sorry sight, since mice had eaten their way into the mattress). What's more, the crawl space under the building was full of water, the driveway was covered with mud ... and the well was only about 50 feet downhill from the cesspool!

The place did have one redeeming feature, though: it came complete with four acres (not three, as the classified ad said) of good, fertile land. And, despite the fact that it was overgrown with weeds and brush, we really wanted those four acres.

Still, we wondered (as we sat in our old VW in the muddy drive-way), whether we "city types" could ever hope to get such a ramshackle old dwelling and rundown small farm back on its feet. We were tempted, in fact, to leave right then and there. When the real estate agent arrived, however, and told us "It's yours for $2,900," ... Monique and I knew we'd found our "place in the country." Within a week, we were busy tearing down walls, replacing doors and fixtures, scraping off old paint, and preparing to move in.

Monique was carrying our first son (Remi, now aged 10) back then, and we were pretty broke. Come to think of it, we were still "unmoneyed" when our second boy — Dan — was born two years later ... but we got by. We managed — among other things — to clear away the thick brush that'd grown over our lower pasture, build a good strong barn, a stable, and a henhouse, start a garden, and remodel the inside of our old farmhouse. (Now, after eleven years, we're almost happy with the way the remodeling has gone.) Somehow, during this work, I even managed to go to college. (As if I didn't have enough to do already!)

Our garden — which currently measures about 40-by-80 feet — gets bigger every year (despite the fact that it's always just a bit larger than we can easily weed and cultivate), and every spring and fall we turn the soil with our old but reliable walking tractor and a spike harrow. (We used to can about half of everything we grew, but now that we have a large freezer our canning activities are pretty much limited to the "putting by" of jams, jellies, pickles, and tomatoes.)

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