Your Reading Guide to Living Off the Land

By Meg Holden

Do you daydream about living in the forest, hunting and gathering to eat? Would you find peace on a farm, raising chickens and corn? Does your imagination thrive in a back yard garden? Live vicariously through these books, or use them as stepping stones to a new life of sustainability. Some of these books are old favorites, and a few are modern classics, but all will entertain and inform.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)

How do you survive with little but a pocketknife and an idea about living off the land? My Side of the Mountain tells the story of 13-year-old Sam Gribley, who leaves his New York City home to live in the Catskill Mountains. Using only the few possessions he brings with him, Sam learns to hunt, fish and forage and even creates a home in a hemlock tree. This book is geared toward children.

Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons (1962)

Starting in his childhood in New Mexico, Euell Gibbons dedicated much of his life to finding food in the wild. While many foods listed as “edible” in guidebooks disappoint the palate, Gibbons shows his readers how to find and prepare delicious wild foods ranging from the wild asparagus of the title to fresh-caught bluegill. Stalking the Wild Asparagus and its sequels are as fresh and relevant today as when they were first published in the 1960s.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (2007)

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle covers one family’s year-long experiment in eating only locally-grown food. Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and oldest daughter, write about such topics as world hunger, genetically modified food and turkey mating processes, with recipes interspersed throughout the book. This account of a year living in Appalachia and eating local food is an inspiration both to mountain readers and to those living outside the region.

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour (2003)

John Seymour is known as the “Father of Self-Sufficiency,” and rightly so. This comprehensive guide to living off the land explains, with full-color illustrations, everything from preparing a “deep bed” for a garden to making cheese to carpentry and basket-weaving. The book inspires Little House on the Prairie-esque fantasies about raising pigs, canning food and harvesting grain, and gives you the information you need to fulfill these dreams.

The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the Future of Sustainable Gardening edited by Thomas Christopher (2011)

With contributions from Rick Darke, Eric Toensmeier, Elaine Ingram and many others, The New American Landscape offers various perspectives on sustainable gardening. The book covers no-mow lawns, green roofs, water conservation and other topics. Whether you are just starting to consider your yard as more than a patch of grass or are a seasoned gardener, the essays collected in The New American Landscape offer plenty of food for thought about the importance of gardens.

American Wasteland: How American Throws Away Nearly Half its Food by Jonathan Bloom (2010)

In Jonathan Bloom’s first book, American Wasteland, the journalist and blogger of chronicles how we waste food from farm to fork, and the impact this waste has on our nation. According to a review by Kirkus, American Wasteland is “an eye-opening account of what used to be considered a sin—the willful waste of perfectly edible food.”

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