I woke up this morning feeling nostalgic. I had dreams last night of the sun sparkling on the waters of the New River, I could hear snatches of John Denver's song, Poems, Prayers and Promises playing in the background. I could almost smell the fresh, tangy spring air and feel the sun on my face. I was dreaming of a time long past when I was a young bride living in the mountains of Virginia; when my life was spread out before me and everything was possible. I woke with my heart filled with warmth and my head full of memories.
While sipping coffee and watching the birds at the feeder on the deck I savored the fading sensation of my dreams and reflected on how much of my life today is built upon the foundation of that period in my life. It was 1978 and my husband and I were living in Blacksburg, Va., the home of Virginia Tech State University. With the end of the Vietnam war, the "Hippies" who collected around the college town in the late 60's became the "Back to Lander's" of the 70's. The rich, inexpensive land in the areas surrounding Blacksburg became the home to many of these idealistic souls. Due to their influence, some very good vegetarian restaurants and a natural foods co-op thrived in the downtown area.
The local natural food co-op, Grassroots, gave a discount to anyone who volunteered to work hours at the store. The shelves were lined with glass jars that were filled with whole foods of every description. Exotic sounding teas and spices scented the air and were offered for sale by the ounce or by the pound. I was a working member and soon had my very own glass jars full of wonderful smelling "natural" foods, lining the shelves and counter of our tiny kitchen.
The vegetarian restaurant/bakery, Our Daily Bread, had glass cases stuffed with dark crusty loaves of whole wheat bread fresh from their brick oven. The wholesome vegetarian soups and salads they offered were a welcome change from the junk food fare geared to the college students. You could enjoy a steaming bowl of
soup and a sandwich made with fresh baked bread, in the exposed brick dining area or take it to go and sit out in the grass on the hill across the street and watch the world go by. It was those earthy loaves from the bakery and the Tassajara Bread Book that inspired me to learn to grow a sour dough starter and make my own whole wheat breads.
During the mid to late 70's many good books and publications came out on the subject of self sufficient living, organic gardening, natural foods and vegetarianism. Some excellent vegetarian cook books were authored by vegetarian and natural food proponents like Molly Katzen and Laurel Robertson. Rodale Press was publishing, Organic Gardening magazine, a digest size magazine that was full of sage advice and instruction on natural ways to grow food and contend with garden pests. Mother Earth News magazine published many articles on homesteading, organic gardening and thought inspiring things like how to build a home from old tires and bales of straw. Many of these publications are still in business, although I think an essential spark went out with the tragic passing of Robert Rodale and by the corporate buy out of Mother Earth News and the subsequent move from their facilities in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Both Organic Gardening and Mother Earth News are still useful resources but in my mind lack the vitality and vision of their beginnings.
With all the new life being breathed into age old ways of living and the good resources available through Rodale and other publications, there was real hope for a change to come in the way people looked at commercial food production and petrochemical use, as well as an up swell in desire to return to simple living. The years have seen many changes, there is more awareness of the virtues of organic and sustainable agriculture, but not many have embraced the concept of living a simple life.
For me the idea of self sufficiency and simplicity was life changing. I had grown up moving from place to place as a military brat, but on occasion I would land at my grandmother's house for a season or more while my parents dealt with technical difficulties. During this time I would stand at my grandmother's elbow on the porch shelling peas or on a chair next to her in the kitchen while she canned the garden surplus. The memory of those happy days coupled with the inspiration of those I knew in the Back to Land Movement, led me to crave a simple way of life. It would be many years and many, many miles later that I would actually have the ground to grow my dreams in. But the memory of those days in the lush green mountains of Virginia, living among others who dared to dream of going back to basics, kept me inspired to prepare in what ways I could, for my dreams to become reality.
*As a side note:
I still have most of the books and magazines that I leaned on for instruction and inspiration, many of them still get a fair amount of use. My original copy of Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, is still on the shelf for sentimental reasons, but since it is now in two pieces with many loose pages, I have purchased a revised edition for kitchen use. Rodale 's Home Food Systems is a very good read. Some of the appliances that are discussed are no longer available but the basic information is relevant and very useful for anyone who is interested in knowing more about whole foods and how to use them. Laurel's Bread Book and Laurel's Kitchen are both inspirational and functional. John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Gardener is a "must have" for those who are interested in self sufficiency and raised bed gardening. He wrote several books on self sufficient living, The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It, was his last, published a year before his death in 2004. It covers many aspects of self sufficient living from raising animals and raised bed gardening to making your own alcoholic beverages and more. It is definitely worth owning.
** all the links for the books are selected randomly, I do not have any affiliation with Amazon or any of the other websites that I have linked to.**
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