The Countryside Tale
100 Years Of Countryside Publications
Around 1969, JD Belanger, the founder of this magazine, combined Rabbit World, which was 32 pages long, with Dairy Goat Guide, which was 12 pages, and Countryside, which was 20 pages, into a single, 64-page magazine called “Countryside and Small Stock Journal.” Customers who had been paying $11 for all three magazines suddenly found themselves paying $5 for a bigger magazine. As Belanger wrote in 1975, “Many people commented, ‘I’m going to renew quick before you come to your senses.’”
Two years later, the price increased to $9 and the magazine added a few issues per year. Forty-four years later, and 100 years since the very beginning of our publications, we are still alive, charge a little bit more, publish twice as many pages, distribute a little less frequently, but still, we’re alive. We published through multiple recessions, and are now in a one-unthinkable era where people tell us, “print is dead,” leaving those of us with ink on our fingers two decisions: give up, or tread harder.
We’re not giving up. Because neither did he. As Jd had to make changes to the magazine through the years, he too risked alienating his audience, so he wrote about them often, trying to explain. He raised prices, trimmed pages, added pages and went to color. And he did so with a grace, style and honesty, in a way that built a shadow under which any future editor will humbly operate. This ability—to adapt and thrive—is at the root of all things we write about in the magazine, was at the roots of his vision for this magazine, and was instilled in us by the words he used in every issue in his column, Beyond the Sidewalks.
In it, Belanger would address changes—in life, the publication, in politics—with a paternal voice, which comforted, consoled and uplifted. He nurtured and grew a movement that, four decades later, is now booming again. Local food, good values and self-sustainability have never been more a part of the national conversation. And no longer are homesteaders these long-lost enigmas. We are alive, and even on reality television shows, for better, or more likely, worse. Either way, the public consciousness is shifting again, and this time, it’s toward reality. Living better, cleaner, more humbly, is not just in style. It’s a necessity.
We will leave you with samples of the best writing the editors through the years have published at Countryside, many of which are from Jd’s column, many of which are from the pens of readers. These writers and thinkers carefully measure how drastically our lives and culture have changed. But in contrast, like most history, you’ll notice a contradiction: how very much our lives, problems and solutions, have also very much stayed the same.
— Ryan Slabaugh and the team at Countryside
THE BEST OF COUNTRYSIDE
These pieces were selected after editors sorted through nearly 45 years’ worth of issues of Countryside and Small Stock Journal, which came about nearly 55 years of other iterations of smaller publications. We would be lying if we said we read every word of every issue, but we came close. What lies ahead are the passages that caused us to pause and think, to wonder about the world, to laugh, to cry, and maybe even to shake our heads. Most of all, with the words they chose, the subjects they addressed and the voices they used, these passages embodied the spirit of the magazine. Anyway, we felt they were worth remembering again as we celebrate 100 years of publishing, and we hope you do too.
Eve wonder what this time of the year was like for the real, old-time pioneers? Our apples are shriveled to prunes, the potatoes are starting to get soft, the winter squash is in the last stages of edibility, the hens wouldn’t be laying at all without the electric lights, most of the goats are dry in preparation for kidding, we lost way too many baby rabbits in the cold, and in general, the larder that was filled with good things to eat just a short time ago looks more like a warehouse for empty glass jars. Well, for one thing, the pioneers ate vinegar pie.
Jd Belanger, Beyond the Sidewalks
If wasting anything is against your nature, consider Mother Nature herself. The forest is full of seedlings that will never become trees; the trees are full of seeds that will never become seedlings. If Nature prepares for emergencies…and “wastes” a lot in the process…maybe it shouldn’t bother us mortals too much. We aren’t dealing with machines that can be turned on and off at will. Do we need a new definition of “waste”? There’s always the mulch pile, where nothing is wasted.
Unbylined, What is Waste?
There is no such thing as a pig fence. Just a line you draw and by mutual agreement the pig stays inside. Pigs are very strong and intelligent, natural fence breakers, so heavy construction will save a lot of trouble.
Richard Ethan Ettelson, Pig Power
By the time the judge gets his hands on it, your pride and joy has had the third degree and is so tensed up that it’s expecting the worst. Then have Mr. Judge light up an El Ropeo De Stinko and Mr. Rabbit isn’t accustomed to fire and smoke.
W.H. Smith, Help!
The climate of hotility and ridicule that has surrounded natural or organic agriculture has softened somewhat in recent months, only to be replaced by a certain amount of confusion. What exactly is natural agriculture? A few years ago, whenever the topic came up, it usually centered on insecticides…and most people I talked with, at least, were convinced we’d all starve to death without poisons. Now, even the federal government is “going organic”…half-heartedly, perhaps, but when you consider this is a 180-degree turnabout affecting a multi-million dollar industry, that’s something!
Jd Belanger, What is Organic Gardening?
Actually, a fantastic amount of potential food is going to waste on this planet. If you can’t harvest it with a $20,000 machine and package it in plastic, nobody recognizes it as food. Virtually every home in America could raise a couple of rabbits, and most of them a goat, without even touching land now under cultivation. The time hasn’t been right. It won’t be until an hour of time spent caring for the homestead in a labor-intensive situation will be worth as much as an hour spent making money to buy food in a capital-intensive situation. That hour is coming. Keep readin’ those headlines, folks.
Jd Belanger, Beyond the Sidewalks
Our goslings were only a few days old when a sudden, cold shower caught one a puddle away from mother hen. When it was brought in to me it was completely chilled (cold to the touch all over), wet, not breathing enough to be perceived, and completely limp. Only an occasional spasmodic twitch indicated that life remained. I grabbed the nearest mixing bowl, filled it with hot water, and immersed the little gosling until only his head and beak were above water. Then, I began artificial respiration—gently but firmly squeezing his rib cage in and out. As the water cooled, it was changed for hot. After about 20 minutes of this the twitching became more regular, his eyes opened, and he began breathing on his own again. When these signs of life grew stronger, I rubbed him with a towel, which had been warming on the back of a woodstove, wrapped him securely in another warm, dry towel, and placed him in a box in the back of the stove. In less than two hours, he was on his feet exploring the box. I kept him in overnight, and the next day, returned him to mother hen. He lived to healthy adulthood.
Donna Nelson, Surprise! Laying Mash Induces Laying!
Yet, I say things are looking up! Things are looking up because we are learning, and that means there’s hope.
Jd Belanger, Beyond the Sidewalks
Spring is the season of hope, because a young man’s fancy turns to love…and because an old man stoops to plant tiny seeds in the moist and fertile soil without even bothering to wonder whether he’ll be the one to reap the harvest. In spring, it doesn’t really matter.
Jd Belanger, Beyond the Sidewalks
There before my eyes were coop doors ripped from their hinges, the wind slamming them against the hutches. Feed dishes, sawdust and straw were strewn about. Rabbits were all over the place. Some could move, some could not—dead where they stood. When the shock wore off, I set about gathering up the loose rabbits and finding them temporary housing. Several rabbits were missing, and to this day, I don’t know their fate. … Over a cup of coffee I tried to figure out what in blazes had attacked my coops with such ferocity. I concluded it had to be dogs. But where I live, and the people I know, wouldn’t house an animal that vicious in their homes. I discovered several days later that the attack was initiated by two German Shepherds who had been wandering around for over a week. Most of my neighbors had seen them rummaging through garbage cans and roaming in and out of back yards in the district. No one seemed to know whom they belonged to or where they came from, or for that matter, where they disappeared to at night.
S. Cable Spence, Marauding Dogs Invade Rabbitry
Have you been taken over by Mother Earth News or have you just lost your way in the beginning of the battle? It’s so sad to see you wasting precious time and energy on plastic sex-appeal instead of lowering your price, or better still, improving your magazine.
Jon Johansson, New Look Creates A Stir
The road pigtails through the mountains with their oak opens and coastal pine groves, past vast ranches etched with cattle trails and occasional jeep tracks, past national forest campgrounds and lookout towers, and spills onto the plain, which is richly aureoled in gold, bronze and copper dotted here and there with alkali white against the electric blue sky and the brown and black mountains. Each cluster of ranch or farm houses and outbuildings, often miles apart, is startling for its seemingly lavish setting of leaf and grass green. Lea Landmann, Dry Farming Works
The vacant gazes and fixed smiles tell it all. Those people haven’t the slightest idea of what farmers do, or how or why, or where their food comes from. And that, I fear, is at the very heart of most of our major problems today.
Jd Belanger, Why Buy The Cow If the Milk Is Free?
The Carre operation is very much a family operation. Father and son (Michel) are in charge of the commercial production; mother and (married) sister take care of the home food production. One remarkably jovial hired hand is employed as well. A centuries old agricultural tradition is reflected in the architectural and horticultural design of the Carre farm. Located just outside the barnyard are the compost piles and a supply of straw, which is mixed with horse manure, guano and biodynamic preparations for composting. The horse manure is provided by the three-and-one-half-year-old Breton horse, which earns its keep plowing, planting and cultivating. “I did use a tractor for a while after the horse died,” Michel Carre laughed, “but the machines compacted the earth. The horse can tiptoe!” Healther Tischbein, It’s A Tradition
LATER ON, when I went away to school and roamed around a bit, and joined the Marines and roamed some more, I found out that reliance on milk and dairy products as a staple food wasn’t a universal trait, that we Wisconsinites were something of a strange breed when it came to malts and cheese and butter. I even met people who had never even tasted good cheese — who wouldn’t recognize it if they did — and I began to realize that a taste for good dairy products is a learned trait.
Jd Belanger, Has Milk Lost its Magic?
Usually a new homesteader’s way of doing things evolves by combining the wisdom of the past with the scientific and technological possibilities of the present.
Pat Katz, Butter Making Basics
My daddy works hard, but he is fun too. He takes me out to get the eggs, and he holds me up high so I can pet the goats. He doesn’t even yell at me when I’m a little careless and hurt the goats’ noses. He just looks at me gently and says, “Be careful, honey.”
Amanda Smith, My Daddy, A Father’s Day Tribute
There is no practical way of making a well-balanced cat or dog food at home. Those years when homesteading was a necessity, dogs and cats were fed a wide assortment of foods: table scraps, guts and bones from animals killed for food (remember in the “good old days” there was more of this type of food than found today, even on most homesteads), surplus milk, whey from making cheese, unused buttermilk, and more. Animals also hunted for themselves. Today the dog that kills a deer is usually shot by a conservation officer or a farmer (dogs don’t always distinguish goats and sheep from deer). Also, in the early 1900s, an old dog was seven or eight, not 16 or 17.
C.E. Spaulding, Take a good look at your dog’s food
Last week, Tammy, the typesetter, and Anne-marie, the art director, were running the tying machines, and Steve was putting the bundles into the proper mail sacks, labeling the sacks, and hauling them to the post office. If one person slows down, the whole operation falters. Seems to be a lesson there. Jd Belanger, What colored stickers on your magazines mean
“The main thing I’d do is quit working outside the home,” said Emily Oguss of Surrey, British Columbia. “I consider myself to be a feminist, and as a scientist I can’t complain that my career has been boring. But the raising of small children and the maintenance of a complicated household (including livestock and garden) are not jobs that are easy to delegate. My income has been essential, especially in the last two years when my husband has not had regular work. But lately I have begun to feel like ‘the totaled woman.’ I’ve got it all: all the financial responsibility, all the parenting responsibility, all the coping.”
Linda Reedy, You’ve just won a $100,000 lottery!
I have one mouse named Miracle. He got loose and my cat Frosty caught him and brought him to me as if to say, “Put him back.” So I did and now he is a grandfather of many mice, caged or marketed. I’ve lost none to the cats yet.
Marshall Malcomb, Hobby Mice Make Money
For those prospectors, we climbed steep mountainsides, our backs loaded with picks and shovels and heavy gear. We strode across deserts and trotted through rapids, often carrying our masters on our backs along with their pans and ponchos. But when gold ran out, so did the prospectors. They turned our forebears into the wild. Our grandparents became known as “feral animals,” those which reverted to the wilds from domesticity. It takes a few of us to begin an Ass family, then form a herd, and finally amass a population. That’s just what we did!
Jack 3523 and Jenny 3518, official Asses Certified by the U.S. Department of the Interior, as told to Rene Gnam, How Jack and Jenny Found A New Home
It was only later, while driving around the countryside, that he noticed other farmers’ pigs smelled and his didn’t. He suspected the yeast had something to do with it. His suspicion was confirmed several times, when he ran out of grist and resorted to feeding ear corn. The pigs started smelling like pigs again.
Jd Belanger, He Raises Pigs That Don’t Smell Like Pigs
Scrounging is an art that is commendable. So much good stuff is actually thrown away, especially in this country, that it makes me sick not to be able to use more than I do. Didn’t have the cash for new materials, anyway.
Dorothy T. Moore, I Guess I’ve Always Been A Homesteader
I soon resent the time I spent commuting and my job became a dead end. I found myself having less and less patience, not to mention, the physical and mental fatigue. There always seemed to be a lot of tension at home because there were more chores than time or energy allowed. I even began to have resentful feelings toward my husband, who does not completely share my desire for “the homesteading” life. It seemed if things were to get done, I had to take care of them.
Karen Stevenson, Juggling the Homestead
With the presidential race down to two contenders now, it should be easier to make a choice. But do you really think it makes any difference, so far as small farming is concerned, which one wins? This is not a political problem, and polictics isn’t going to solve it. And no political candidate—or office holder—is going to be in favor of the family farm when the chips are down. Too many people blelong to too many stronger interests.
Chris Orrall, The Government Is Best, Which Governs Least
Our move found us our contentment, but not without a price of rude eye-opening. I had never planned a garden, never touched a live pig before, I’m still not real sure about how to can food, I had never had the glorious pleasure of sitting in a freezing cold barn and catching a newborn goat and I had no idea what difference corn or oats or wheat could possibly make in a grain mix for an animal. We combed libraries and bookstores and read, read, read!
Casey Parson, The Biggest Countryside Misconceptions Have Been My Own
Five years ago, we brought my grandfather to live with us after he broke his hip. He was blind, deaf and never walked right. He just wouldn’t have been able to live with most people and spoil their fine home or lifestyle, whereas we put the hospital bed, commode, etc., in the living room near the wood stove, where he lived comfortably for three years and died where he was allowed to die at age 96. No amount of modern conveniences could make me feel like I did the day he died just as he had asked to.
Jd Belanger, I Love Being A Homesteader, And The Feeling That Goes With It
They used to say how awful it was in the country with no TV or running water. They complained about the chores and refused to ask their friends out. But as they move away, each one says how dull the city is! They get homesick for the sledding, hide-and-seek, and even taking care of the animals. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t get so put out with their complaining. I guess it’s just the nature of teenagers to be discontented. One daughter has a country place and is hoping her husband will put up a fence so she can raise a few calves. Our “city slicker” son wants to come home in June. So I think they kinda like the place.
Kathy and Richard Hendricks, We Do Have A TV
There is no need to stop working after the sun goes down. Just juggle the days and nights and a few thousand human beings and production will be doubled. There is no longer a need for darkness, night or rest. Just keep those stores and factories open 24 hours a day, leaving the timetable of the Earth all but forgotten.
Vickie Jackson, The Seasons of Earth and Humanity
On the bright side, I know that my vision of the 21st century is realistic — because some farsighted individuals are already living in that new society, which they created themselves! … These are the people who produce all of their own food, without becoming primitive peasants. They are innovators who develop and use technology in the ways the Industrial Age Establishment wouldn’t consider. They are thinkers, and they use their imaginations. They are not only dreamers, but doers. It’s too bad there aren’t more of them. If Countryside has its way, there will be.
Jd Belanger, Designing Utopia Takes Imagination
I determined that New Year’s Eve, regardless of the year, is something like turning 13 (or maybe 16, 18 or 21). I remember the year I turned 13. I went to bed the night before my birthday, excited and unable to sleep. I just knew that somehow, in the morning, I’d be transformed from a flat-chested, freckle-faced, red-headed little runt, to a gorgeous, bodacious living Barbie doll with beautiful locks of golden hair. I awoke the next morning rather disappointed. I felt the same, I looked the same, I was the same.
Douglas and Elena Gast, No Magical Transformation, Just An Appreciation
Almost every year, my garden produces enough of the herbs and vegetables that I plant to last us the whole year—fresh in summer, and dried, pickled or frozen the remaining months of the year. Yet, this is not all my garden’s attributes. Even though it produces much of our family’s vegetable needs, it is also to me a springboard of pleasure and enshrines the history of my family.
Habeeb Salloum, My Garden: A Springboard Of Food, Pleasure And History
Living frugally with secondhand items has the power to make dreams come true and can even set you free. You’re not going to find that at the local mall. Rejoice and take pride in your decision to buy secondhand and to make due with what is on hand.
Patricia Seddon, Buying Secondhand: It’s not Shameful, It’s Economical!
Being an entrepreneur is exciting and rewarding, especially when it is a product to be proud of that adds to the quality of our life and our environment, not depletes the quality and causes harm.
Pat Banttari, Organic Fertilizer Business Is Booming
Reading humorous stories is a good reliever of rural depression. (No, I’m not talking about the gravel pit!) Rural depression is a mental illness that can sneak up on people after years, or sometimes only months of tedious labor and isolation sometimes present in rural areas. Getting up early and working late can take a toll on folks, especially when chores have to be done even when you have the flu. So we need to look at the funny side of our simpler lifestyle to keep on going. If you stop and think about all the opportunities living in the country has for being funny, you will soon be chuckling.
Walter Belsha, The Sunny Side Of Rural Life
We’re on the grid now, but consume lightly. We heat with wood; we compost like crazy. We recycle and reuse as much as we can. Little goes to waste around here. It just makes sense environmentally and financially. We aren’t strictly organic, but darn close; we use minimal chemicals and artificial stuff. Life is good here on our homestead. Sue Grisaitis, Learning As They Go: Dogs, Kids, & Building Bridges
We have designated Thursday evenings (and Friday mornings, I guess) as our “Night Without Lights.” Though it has become so much more than that. On Thursday evening, all lights are to be out before Randy gets home. We have no TV, the radio is to be off, as well as the stereo. No gas is to be used. No electric lights or appliances are to be used. Even the car lies idle. If we have to go somewhere, we walk or take the bicycles. Even the telephone gets taken off of the wall. So don’t try to call us on Thursday evening, not on the phone anyway. But if you want to drop in with a story or song to share, the door is “open.” Watch your step, though, because the porch light won’t be on.
Margie McKenney, Country Neighbors: Don’t Call Us On Thursdays, The Porch Light’s Off And The Telephone Won’t Work
Don’t let your life go by without living simple; life is way too short and a person needs to live in the real world of simplicity. It’s hard to go back to the busy, crazy life once you’ve had the chance to live it. Things do happen for a reason and maybe we will have the chance to be free again and enjoy the simple life. It may be hard work, but it’s happy work and the rewards are great.
R.L. Malinowski, Apartment Life Just Isn’t In Their Blood
Today we see the folly of these policies, for only 1-in-5 waterways are now clean enough to support edible fish. Our storms affect two-thirds of the nation, good people die from fire, flood and wind. It was not like this 50-odd years ago when I started planting my forest. No one may allege that anything is “normal,” only extreme. But man has the capacity to learn, to correct errors. If we choose, we can replant the forests…Who knows, we might even save humans from extinction.
Ken Bynum, Give Thanks for the Trees
Ugh, I said the B-word. Batteries are truly awful to work with and the technology hasn’t changed much since 1915.
Dan Fink, Bring Renewables to Your Homestead
Ever so slowly, Beth and Roland began to understand why they had not been able to escape the dark labyrinth they were living in. They were chained there by government programs. The only way out was to break the chains and make a run for it. They knew this was it. The last chance for them and the family they loved. This was more than a leap of faith. This was blind hope.
Jerri Cook, The Family That Homesteading Saved
A lot of people think our life is very quaint and simple. Some of the people I know from high school tell me that I’m living their dream—having kids and farming. The dream and the reality are probably very different.
Schuyler Gail, Making a Small Farm Work
I paced around, distracting Misery while Rachel snatched each of the babies and put them in the back of the truck. Once again, they shrieked and squealed, urging their mother to come up into the back of the truck with Rachel, but we managed to secure all of the piglets before Misery turned us into chop suey.
Kevin G. Summers, Misery Loves Company
GRIEF IS A PRIVILEGE—a privilege of having loved so much. A lot of grief came to me all at once and I hope I bore it gracefully. Now my heart is healing with the help of family, nicer weather, and a new dog.
Nancy Roberts, The Circle of Life
Like so many boys do, I turned into a man and met a girl. Laura Harper was everything I ever dreamed in a person. She was smart, kind, honest, funny and absolutely beautiful. When I wasn’t pursuing trout on the Neshannock, I was after her. Slowly and unexpectedly, a shift began. The kid who attended classes around fishing in high school and scheduled college courses around angling had suddenly surfaced for air.
Marshall Nych, Casting Our Lot in Life
From all of us at Countryside Publications, we want to say thank you for a century of success.