No Escape From Radiation and Chemical Pollution

Learn about one reader's experiences with chemical pollution and radioactive leaks, which affected her family on their farm in rural New Jersey.

| May/June 1982

In 1976 my friend Joseph and I happened upon an abandoned 15-room farmhouse near our hometown in New Jersey. It was obvious that no maintenance had been done on the place for years. The yards, outbuildings, and orchards — as well as the stone walls of the home itself — were covered with thick-stemmed poison ivy and Canadian thistle. However, despite the fact that thousands of beer bottles — from decades of adolescent rites of passage — crunched under our boots as we waded through the weeds, an air of suspended time hung about the old place.

The carriage house still contained stores of wooden wheels and parts, as well as the harnesses, bridles, saddles, and brushes necessary to maintain work and leisure horses. A pair of tool sheds — surrounded by discarded antique farm machinery — still held slowly rusting implements. The milk house was filled with yellowing dairy records, telling the stories of lean and prosperous years in orderly columns. Birds nested in the lids of milk cans and in ivy branches, while the silo had become a six-story high-rise, alive with winged inhabitants. Rabbits, snakes, opossums and frogs had been at home in the kitchen, and a feral cat watched us from a yellow fieldstone step.


Renting an Old Farmhouse

We learned that — over a period of 20 years — a large family-run operation had absorbed the homestead while acquiring a spread of four 200-acre farms. The patriarch of the business looked at us with great skepticism when we inquired about renting the old place that he'd planned to bulldoze — and firmly said no. Apparently he had a change of heart, however, because several days later he called to offer us the house and six surrounding acres for $90 a month with the understanding that maintenance and repairs would be our responsibility.


Joseph and I had not, at that time, made a formal commitment to get married. We'd talked about doing so — sometimes casually, sometimes more seriously — but the farm seemed to make the decision for us. We moved here, as husband and wife, in the changeable month of October and hastily set about making the absolutely essential repairs, while getting rid of years of accumulated trash. As we worked, hundreds of geese flew south over our heads, seeming to urge us on with our winter preparations. My two daughters, overwhelmed by the — to them — vast amount of space available to roam in, stayed close to the house for weeks.

It was soon easy for us, though, to accept the old-fashioned (but new to us) lifestyle. We had only to search the decaying outbuildings to find the necessary tools: pitchforks, shovels, rasps, and what have you. There were even stacks of handmade windowpanes stored in the carriage-house attic, which we used to replace those that had been broken during the years of neglect. We changed jobs, changed roles and our lives took on the peace of quiet simplicity. When our beautiful daughter Jericho was born, we even delivered her at home.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

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!