Book Review: Living On An Acre, A Practical Guide to the Self-Reliant Life

By Linsey Knerl on 28 June 2008 5 comments

Ever since I left the city and crept my way back into my childhood farm house, I have been slowly adjusting to a simpler lifestyle. Living On An Acre has been a steady and dependable guide to covering the bases of both the practicalities and the possibilities of living a more sustainable dream.

You don’t have to have an entire acre to implement the plans in this very straight-forward manual to living the rural life. Designed for those individuals looking to start a part-time farm, buying a second home in the country, or just those curious enough to read this 330+ page text, it is an enlightening reading for anyone. DIY’ers and the independent will find enough potential projects for a lifetime of new challenges and productive work.

There are too many topics covered in this book to even begin to list them all. My favorite sections include:

  • How to select a community
  • Planning for a home
  • Landscaping
  • Proper disposal of property

And of course, the fun stuff! Berries, herbs, starting a kennel, beekeeping, Christmas trees, keeping hens, dairy cows, dude ranches, and earthworms in a washtub are ALL covered in brief but adequate detail.

If you want to delve very deeply into any one of the touched-upon topics for a profitable business or a large-scale operation, I would suggest getting additional material. If you are wanting to simply explore the topic to see if it is right for you, however, this book may have everything you need.

This book pulls no punches. This classic US Department of Agriculture handbook won’t coddle you into believing that anyone is cut out for farm life. The pros and cons of switching to a rural mode are weighed heavily at the beginning of the book. Many of the topical chapters begin with a list of equipment and land needs, as well as the expected demands of undergoing a new operation on the farm. Christine Woodside (the editor) lends her expertise to the book, giving it a human side that keeps it from having too much of a “textbook” feel.

If you’re looking for a no-nonsense primer that discusses the dollar and cents of sustainable living, this might be a good read to add to your collection. Living rural is hard work, and this book makes no promises that it will be the dream lifestyle you’ve always imagined. But if your response to impending economic instability and the desire for simple living has you considering an exodus to the country, I’d recommend Living on An Acre to help you with your decision.

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Philip Brewer's picture


I think of myself as a connoisseur of such books, but I wasn't aware of this one, and it sounds like a particularly good one.  Thanks for the review.

(Sheep are of particular interest to me, because my wife is a spinner.)

Linsey Knerl's picture

My dad raised sheep when we were growing up.  It's alot of work, but there is a reward.  Because they aren't the brightest animal, we seemed to always be dealing with them.  :)

I like the book because it really is an honest guide to farm living.  The reviews on amazon (all 2) were negative because they said the book wasn't comprehensive enough.  With all the topics it covers, how could it be?  But it's great if you're looking at different aspects of the lifestyle and want to see which ones you may be compatible with before you invest more time, money, and resource (including the indepth books.)

If you're looking for a step-by-step, this book isnt it.  But when you're read to take on sheep, I have some great resources for you. 

Myscha Theriault's picture

I think I'll put this on my list. Thanks, Linsey.

Guest's picture

Another good resource are the USDA Yearbooks. They are compilations of essays written by agents from different county extension offices. Our library has the USDA Yearbook, "Living on 5 Acres" from the "first" oil crisis of the 1970's and the advice they give is truthful and honest. No touchy-feely "sell" to abandon city life and return to the country, simply the facts laid out so you can make a good decision for your particular circumstances and they outline the financial pros and cons of both "traditional" and "organic" farming methods. We used these yearbook essays to raise poultry and geese and make infertile clay soil produce reliable gardens during the "first oil crisis" and the advice is still good today. Because the advice is honest, we decided to NOT raise a pig (goats are better on a small farm) and NOT to try our hand at certain high-maintenance crops that would have had marginal returns in our climate. Instead of raising goats, which was a possibility on our lot but the book warned would crimp our summer RV/camping lifestyle (you can use automatic feeders to feed and water a small poultry flock for the weekend, but not a larger farm animal), we instead came up with a nice arrangement to buy goats milk and cheese from our neighbor, who used the same book to launch her small business and benefitted from our steady patronage. I strongly suggest you see if you can get any of these yearbooks, even old ones, through interlibrary loan to supplement the Living on an Acre book, which is more of an introductory overview, and contact your local extension office if you need more specific information.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Thanks for mentioning that resource.  We get a lot from our local extension office, and I'm sure my library would have even more to get started.  Specific information will really come in handy if you were to decide to get involved in rural living.