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Homestead Year: Back to the Land in Suburbia


Publishers Weekly (March 13, 1995)

Poet, novelist and teacher Moffett wanted to devote a year to living on the land. With her husband, Ted, she moved to a house on a one-acre plot in a Philadelphia suburb and started a garden. Homestead Year began in February with maple sugaring (one tree) and inspecting bees. Then there were gardens to be laid out, planted and tended; next followed battles with thistles, mice and slugs. The Moffetts (sic) built a pond and stocked it with fish and plants; then they were ready for ducklings. The author gives an engaging account of on-the-job training as a beekeeper and raiser. Her frustrations, failures and victories will strike a familiar chord in gardeners. At the end, Moffett concedes there is a fundamental absurdity to subsistence living and economic independence in a posh suburban setting. But for her it was all worthwhile, as it will be for interested readers.

New York Times Book Review (June 11, 1995)

Judith Moffett's HOMESTEAD YEAR: Back to the Land in Suburbia (Lyons & Burford, $22.95) . . . is gentle in tone and modest in aim. [I]t is an account of the events within a single year, but the garden is a suburban backyard near Philadelphia. Influenced by the idea of "homesteading," Ms. Moffett, a part-time college teacher and science-fiction writer, limited her teaching in the spring of 1992 and took a sabbatical for the fall with the intention of doing what she could to make the household self-sufficient. She and her husband cleared out the one-acre backyard and built raised vegetable beds. They enlarged the patch, kept hives of bees and raised ducks to eat.

It was a year's experiment only; indeed, Ms. Moffett and her husband now live in Salt Lake City. There is no elaborate dream here, and certainly no grand theory, but there is an appealing, plain honesty and some food for thought. The students I teach seem to think I increasingly that food comes from the gro-cery store and that meat is born in polyfoam trays covered in transparent plastic film. Our poultry comes to us courtesy of Mr. Purdue or Mr. Tyson, and if I have any students who have ever killed, plucked and drawn a chicken they have kept quiet in class.

We need modest books that suggest what might happen if we turned our backs on the supermarket and tried as far as possible, for a time at least, to raise our own food with our own hands. "Homestead Year" does a nice job with these homespun realities.

Gilbert Taylor, Booklist (4/1/95)

Convalescing from breast cancer and burned out from teaching college English, Moffett only had to step into her backyard to get away from civilization. This is her journal of cultivating plants, fattening (and slaughtering) ducks, and tending an apiary for one year on one acre in suburban Philadelphia. Relaxing as gardening tends to be, her experience develops its own quietly dramatic tensions, as sowing changes to reaping. Primarily, vigilance against threats to her projects, in the form of inclement weather or the predators of suburbia such as woodchucks or slugs, instigates much of Moffett's immediate activity and most of her prose. She protects the tomato plants with chicken wire, inspects the cabbages for interloping consumers, fends off a late season attack from beetles, and picks up the pieces of an unknown critter's assault on the ducks. Without any idealistic, bucolic pretensions, this down-to-earth chronicle fertilizes the gardening genre by showing the hobby's hard work and subtle rewards.

Cheryl Childress, Library Journal (April 1, 1995)

Moffett, an English professor and science fiction author, took a year-long sabbatical to become as self-sufficient as possible on her one-acre yard in suburban Philadelphia. Using a journal format, she chronicles the work involved in establishing her garden, fish pond, beehives, and duck pen. As in a miniature Gaia, all the components, from algae to humans, are interrelated. Moffett frankly acknowledges the forerunners whose homesteading accounts inspired her own experiment (e.g., Helen and Scott Nearing's Living the Good Life, LJ 11/15,70, and Harlan Hubbard's Payne Hollow, LJ 11/1/74) and points out some philosophical differences. While her meticulous recording of varieties of seeds started makes for slow reading at the beginning of the book, the pace soon picks up, and Moffett's account culminates at year’s end with more successes than failures. This is an excellent picture of the tasks and problems facing anyone considering a similar project, told in a very readable manner. A good addition where gardening and homesteading titles are popular.

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