The Boston Globe-
Homesteader Philip Ackerman-Leist has a sense of humor - apparent when he gets locked in the henhouse by an ox - and an open mind, two qualities not always associated with back-to-the-land types. For seven years he and his wife, Erin, lived without electricity or running water in an old cabin in Pawlet, Vt., before they built a bigger home with more amenities for their growing family.
Ackerman-Leist's new book, "Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader", is a chronicle of the couple's adventures in sustainability and a meditation on the future of homesteading.
Director of the Farm & Food Project at Green Mountain College, Ackerman-Leist doesn't pretend to have all the answers. He acknowledges that there may not be enough land to go around for every potential homesteader. From one of his students he learns about a young man living on a boat in Manhattan, burning driftwood and scrap lumber in his woodstove and generating electricity with a wind turbine. Is this the future? Ackerman-Leist wonders.
Meanwhile, he and his wife are consumed with a big question concerning the present: Is Internet access at home a pleasure or a plague?
Perhaps my favorite book in this crop is "Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader," in which Philip Ackerman-Leist writes about homesteading, using his experience in Vermont as an example. Ackerman-Leist challenges conventional notions of homesteading (owning one's own land, self-reliance, independence). Those days are gone, he writes. Today, you can homestead anywhere (a student of his has founded the "back to the yard" movement), not only in rural settings, and the key to successful homesteading is interdependence, not independence. It is no longer possible to fully retreat from society. "Homesteading is an act of defiance and of reliance: defiance of cultural norms and habits and reliance on self and local community." It is, he writes, "much less about location than it is about intent." "Up Tunket Road" raises the issue of mentors, literary and practical. Ackerman-Leist cites Thoreau, Helen and Scott Nearing and others who have written about the experience. (Thoreauvians try not to disturb the land; followers of the Nearings bring "shelter, order, and a whir of activity to a place.") He writes with great reverence about a local farmer-gardener who gave Ackerman-Leist time, tips and help. "Up Tunket Road" takes us through the choices the author and his wife made about their lifestyle: how to create light, how to bathe, how to eat. Homesteading brings you "face to face with ecological choices," forcing the homesteader to confront, to realize the effect we have on our environment. The book also contains an excellent reading list for people dreaming of a different American Dream.
Ackerman-Leist (Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader, 2010) explores how to take food production and distribution away from the mega-corporations and place it in the hands of local communities and small farms. He analyzes energy consumption from the field to the refrigerator; the environment, with 'the idea that a sustainable food system is one that begins and ends with the careful management of the foundation of it all: the soil'; and food security—i.e., how to ensure that everyone in the country has enough food to ward off hunger and malnutrition. The author also thoroughly investigates biodiversity of crops and conducts a study of 'food systems that embrace a diversity of cultural and economic perspectives.' Ackerman-Leist culminates his studies by exploring the latest techniques used to improve food production, such as high tunnels and greenhouses that extend growing seasons or the numerous microbreweries and cider houses that provide delicious products without high energy costs. The author’s image of 'local food' has morphed over time, just as the whole industry has changed: 'The image that comes to mind these days is of dynamic, interlocking systems—a vast network of differently sized pulsing centerpoints connected to one other by means of surging flows that create exchanges of resources, ideas, and of course foods.' Dense with information and studded with numerous graphs and charts, this book provides a deeper understanding of what principles need to change in order to create local food environments.
"There's something to learn on every page of this fertile and powerful book. One will find not simply good information, but also a fine and well-honed wisdom. In a voice that manages to be both teacher and student, Ackerman-Leist joins the literary tradition of Thoreau, the Nearings, and Harlan Hubbard. This is an honest and uplifting look at modern homesteading. What a delight to read this hopeful and iconic account of a sensible, accountable, and richly lived life. Now more than ever, we desperately need what this book offers."--Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"Philip Ackerman-Leist's book, Up Tunket Road, combines highly literary writing with hard-nosed, down-home practicality about his homesteading ventures, all delivered with gentle good humor and an unerring eye for important details often left out of books like this. In the process, the author lays the groundwork for a definitive new approach to the classic back-to-the-land philosophy. A great book for thinkers and doers alike."--Gene Logsdon, author of Small-Scale Grain Raising and Living at Nature's Pace
"Having walked up the real Tunket Road many times over the past ten years to visit Philip and Erin, I have seen firsthand how they have transformed not only the landscape, but themselves and their lives. It is a model for us all to follow, rural or urban."--Shepherd Ogden, editor of GreenRFD.com
"Up Tunket Road makes a delightful addition to the literature of homesteading. As persuasive and current as this book is about such subjects as grass-farming, composting toilets, and on-site generation of power, its strongest appeal to me is as the story of one intrepid family putting down roots in Vermont with the help of a generous, if highly eccentric, cast of mentors. Ackerman-Leist's deft use of dialogue, and his inclination to view even disasters humorously, also let him escape completely from the self-righteous tone that has sometimes marred America's literature of self-sufficiency. As a memoir, a piece of social history, and a reflection on farming and food at the cusp of the twenty-first century, this is a timely and valuable work."--John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home and The Frog Run
"Up Tunket Road captures the heart of homesteading by exploring its many tensions: romanticism versus pragmatism, humility versus bold determination, interdependence versus self-reliance, and vulnerability versus fortitude. Any thoughtful homesteader will find their perspective challenged and broadened by the anecdotes and reflections in these pages."--Abigail R. Gehring, editor of Back to Basics and Homesteading
"Anyone seeking a life characterized by noble intent will find this elegantly portrayed journey up Tunket Road both challenging and heartwarming. Philip Ackerman-Leist masterfully wrestles with homesteading tensions like independence versus community and ecological economy versus efficiency. I couldn't put it down." --Joel Salatin, founder of Polyface Farm and author of Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal
"Anyone who has heard Philip speak, seen his garden and home, or watched him teach about heritage breeds and heirloom seeds, knows that there is magic in this man. Now we are blessed with a story of his homestead that not only honors the past, but builds toward a healthier, richer future. Join in the magic!" --Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Where Our Food Comes From and Coming Home to Eat, and editor of Renewing America's Food Traditions
"Philip Ackerman-Leist passionately describes homesteading not so much as a back-to-the-land form of self-reliance, but rather as a Zen-like practice of conscious decision making and being in right relationship. With this new understanding, creating a homestead is something any reflective practitioner can accomplish."--Tom Wessels, author of The Myth of Progress and Reading the Forested Landscape