Book Review: Wilder’s “Farmer Boy”

We think of Laura Ingalls Wilder as a children’s author, an historical autobiographer, a story-teller. We don’t think of her as a leader in the self-sufficiency movement. And yet, wasn’t she? Consider the advice Father gives Almanzo in the closing pages of Farmer Boy.

[Being a wheelwright], you’d have an easy life, in some ways. You wouldn’t be out in all kinds of weather. Cold winter nights, you could lie snug, in bed and not worry about young stock freezing. Rain or shine, wind or snow, you’d be under shelter. You’d be shut up, inside walls. Likely you’d always have plenty to eat and wear and money in the bank. […] But there’s the other side, too, Almanzo. You’d have to depend on other folks, son, in town. Everything you got, you’d get from other folks. A farmer depends on himself and the land and the weather. If you’re a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with the wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm.

As a culture we have spent the last hundred years leaving the farm, trading our freedom for security. There is no going back to Wilder’s world. And yet, as the likes of Wendell Berry and John Seymour promise, small corners of freedom still exist in the world for those brave enough to take the risk.

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