Rural reality

It's late June and I'm still behind on planting! That bandage on my arm is holding it together, since I blew out some upper arm muscles a few weeks ago chopping weeds.

It's late June and I'm still behind on planting! That bandage on my arm is holding it together, since I blew out some lower arm muscles a few weeks ago chopping weeds.

By Tom Read

For anyone considering moving from city to country, the better to build and tend gardens, split and stack firewood, care daily for animals and keep up with the many tasks required to maintain a comfortable and sound country homestead, be forewarned: it’s harder on one’s body than you might expect. When we moved to Texada Island nine years ago, I had spent much of the previous 30 years working in office jobs and living a relatively sedentary life. During those urban years I dreamed of living on a rural property, particularly of having space for a really large garden.

Sound familiar? Do you want to grow more of your own food in a fairly large garden, such as wouldn’t fit into an urban lot? Then consider: first you’ll need to clear land, remove weeds, roots and rocks, loosen the soil to a suitable depth, make and add compost and fertilizer, and design and install an irrigation system. Only THEN do you get to plant the garden you could only dream about in the city. Even if you use machines to help with this work your body will feel the strain. This is especially true if your body happens to be north of a half-century in age.

Yes, physical labour helps me stay fit, but over the years I’ve discovered a couple of crucial differences between rural work and urban exercise routines.

First, rural work can be demanding and at times tedious, but it always feels good to see the tangible results. The urbanite’s make-work exercise routine may feel satisfying physically, but it doesn’t produce anything of actual value (aside from maintaining one’s health, which is certainly valuable). Example: Creating a well-made garden bed is a labour that both gives a good all-around workout and sets the stage for producing food, whereas peddling a stationary bike for an hour just gets you an aerobic workout.

Second, rural work has to be done when it’s needed, regardless of whether you’re tired or your arm muscles are in pain from too much weed-wacking the previous day. Thus, if you put off the garden bed digging too long while waiting for your arm to feel normal again, you’ll miss your planting window for the season.  There’s pressure to “get it done” with work around the homestead because ‘tis the nature of seasons to slip away before you’ve quite got your garden planted or your wood split or the micro-hydro system repaired. In contrast, if you miss a few sessions at the gym in the city, so what?

Not to sound too self-righteous about it, but I’d rather do physical work around our rural property than an exercise routine, any day. So I’ll keep at it as long as I can, regardless of my growing list of aches and pains as I get older. Rural work is part of my reason for living, which is not something I could say about mere “exercise.”

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2 Responses to “Rural reality”


  1. 1 David Parkinson June 28, 2009 at 07:48

    Take care of yourself, Tom! Funny how so many of the people keenest to get back to the land are getting on in years. (I include myself in that number, sort of.) What will it take to enlist the help of the younger folks? The older ones are losing their physical abilities; the younger ones can’t afford land, and are also still immersed in a culture which denigrates physical labour. Something’s gotta give.

  2. 2 Margy June 28, 2009 at 18:50

    Our float cabin “property” is small but still requires tending. The moist environment takes quite a toll. Even my little garden needs tending to keep ahead of the bugs and bolting lettuce. But it’s all worth it. I know what you mean about the age thing. We discovered Powell River when we both were over 50. We knew we wanted to enjoy the outdoors life so we decided to retire early so that our bodies would be more capable to start with. — Margy


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