A Very Small Farm


In the tradition of Thoreau’s Walden, William Paul Winchester offers a chronicle of everyday life on Southwind, his farm of twenty acres. As a subsistence farmer, he builds his own house and barn, puts in a garden and an orchard, acquires a milk cow, and takes up beekeeping. In these pages, we hear his thoughts on such subjects as the weather, seasonal changes, machinery repair, the flora and fauna of the region, and vegetarian cooking. His philosophy, like his lifestyle, is ...

See more details below
BN.com price
(Save 9%)$16.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (13) from $2.50   
  • New (5) from $11.47   
  • Used (8) from $2.50   
Sending request ...


In the tradition of Thoreau’s Walden, William Paul Winchester offers a chronicle of everyday life on Southwind, his farm of twenty acres. As a subsistence farmer, he builds his own house and barn, puts in a garden and an orchard, acquires a milk cow, and takes up beekeeping. In these pages, we hear his thoughts on such subjects as the weather, seasonal changes, machinery repair, the flora and fauna of the region, and vegetarian cooking. His philosophy, like his lifestyle, is simple, yet profoundly wise.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Grand Rapids Press
"Draws the reader along a curious walk full of small, but startling pleasures."
Library Journal
After graduating from college with a botany degree, Winchester wondered what to do for a living. So he bought 20 acres of land in Oklahoma, built himself a house and barn, started a garden, and acquired a few animals. This memoir of his past 13 years as a homesteader focuses on the various activities that occupy his days. He describes the satisfaction of growing his own food, the delight in building things for his own use, and his enjoyment of the outdoors, whether watching clouds passing overhead or breathing in the evening air, "fragrant with sun-dried cow manure." Winchester's principal source of income is the honey from his beehives, and while the short chapter on beekeeping is fascinating, the rest of the book is rather bland. However, its themes of relying on oneself, experiencing simple pleasures, and practicing frugality will appeal to some readers. A marginal purchase.-Ilse Heidmann, Kyle Comm. Lib., San Marcos, Tex.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806137780
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 2/8/2006
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,395,574
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William Paul Winchester graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in botany. His essays have appeared in Country Journal, Buying America Back, Oklahoma Today, and elsewhere. He continues to live on his small farm in Collinsville, Oklahoma.�

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


There is an air of permanence and stability about Southwind Farm. The house and barn, of stucco with hip roofs, have a solid look about them, vaguely Cape Dutch, or maybe Provencial, now that the poplars have grown taller and I've painted the house and outbuildings terra-cotta with white trim and blue shutters.

To the right of the gravel drive winding up to my house is a stand of beehives, a small greenhouse (made from someone's discarded storm windows), root cellar, vineyard, and winter garden. To the left is my orchard (the tree nearest an Arkansas Black, its branches heavy with apples) and beyond that a quarter acre of garden. Behind the house is the poultry yard, a peach orchard, a small wood I've planted, and pasture for Sophia and her calf.

Already bred, will freshen this fall to become my milking cow, Sophia staying on for sentimental reasons. I've persuaded myself the manure she produces for the garden will earn her keep. Isabel's milk and the registered calf she bears each year will more than earn hers.

The brown eggs from my Buff Orpingtons are also much in demand, and the cost of a household flock is chicken feed. But what really makes it economical are those eggs for my table and the dozen hens I put up for winter meat, after they have enjoyed their perfect summer. The sound of their clucking under my window and the rooster crowing at daybreak I count as clear profit.

The produce from my garden is so abundant it's been five months since I was last at the grocery store, and then for so few items I can still list them from memory: tea, salt, vanilla, cocoa, yeast, spices, spaghetti, and olive oil ... my tastes inclining to the Mediterranean.

I could have got by with less. By the end of harvest my pantry is stocked for the winter with jars of canned asparagus, peas, carrots, zucchini, green beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, peaches, grapes, pears, plums, applesauce, cider ... with sacks and canisters of dried corn, grain amaranth, sesame seeds, peas, okra, beans (colorful as jewels), fruit leather, figs, peaches, and plums. In the freezer are mulberries and blackberries both gathered wild), green Peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon juice, eggs (first frozen in ice cube trays), hens, pecans, milk, and butter ... and in the refrigerator are beets, garlic, radishes, and Swiss cheeses in red wax. In the root cellar (some in trays of moist sand) are potatoes, onions, winter squash, turnips, apples, and pears. All this abundance produces a sense of infinite well-being, but none of it, except for a little from the sale of milk and eggs, is in the form of cash.

For that I look to my bees. Southwind Farm is an apiary, producing from fifty-odd hives something over a ton of honey and honeycomb. This I sell from my house. "Pure Wildflower Honey," the sign reads ... and well before the next season, "Honey Sold Out, More In July." If the immediate area would support more hives, or if I cared to truck my bees farther afield, I might have been entirely self-sufficient from my farming.

As it is I could manage, at least through hard times. Even if that is an illusion, it is not an abstract one; the bees have laid up ample stores for themselves, the pantry and cellar are filled, the winter wood is stacked, the hens laying, the cow fresh, and the fallow garden ready for spring planting. The basic economy of my peasant farm works so well I sometimes think of it as a little universe in which everything is fixed in orbit as if for an eternity.

Still, it is not a perfect economy, my farm. No economy ever is, and I have to make allowances. The Jersey cow, for example, is not as cost-effective as the fifty beehives, my chief source of farm income. But there are those Swiss cheeses to consider, and I do enjoy my cow. In this respect she is like my dog, Berenice, or the cats. And things will go wrong, as when a rainy spring reduces the nectar flow and there is less honey to sell. Even in a good year there is never enough cash income

To make up the difference I recently took on the job of doing all the brush mowing for a neighboring ranch, buying the tractor and implements with money I had earned as a substitute teacher and caretaker for a small church. It's closer to home than either of those jobs and — with the swooping barn swallows to keep me company through the afternoon — I enjoy mowing.

Any more than this seasonal work and I would cease to be a farmer, something I very much want to remain — a small farmer, with garden and orchard and vineyard and bees and poultry and cow, getting my living in the pleasantest way imaginable.

Even the supposed hardships — the work, the solitary life, the staying put, the doing for oneself, the frugal existence — are not as they appear.

The work of a small farm is not so much hard labor as it is a matter of keeping up with things. The okra that isn't picked today will be tough and stringy tomorrow, and the cow has to be milked every morning at seven and every afternoon at five.

For company I have friends and neighbors, my animals and the life of the field. Sometimes solitude is the best of company. Other times I have wished for a farm community, but not enough to have spent my life looking.

Travel I prefer to do in my own way, in the books of Conrad and H. M. Tomlinson and 'Shalimar.' The life at sea they describe is so familiar, so like my own that I sometimes think of Southwind Farm as a small ship outfitted and provisioned for a long voyage, which it is. Besides, I can't be away without feeling I've missed something at home.

As for doing for oneself — well, that's the whole point. On a small farm you expect to live by your wits, teaching yourself to do whatever has to be done. From every quarter we are insistently reminded how incapable we are, how ignorant and unskilled, a hundred professions shouldering us aside to do what we are perfectly able to do for ourselves, leaving us with a vague sense of inadequacy. It almost amounts to a conspiracy, this effort to deprive us of the pleasure in accomplishment.

As it is, I couldn't afford the services of that economy. And there isn't much it can do for me, life on a small farm having changed little. Frugal as the existence sometimes is, it is a marvelous economy. No other enterprise is, in a real and tangible way, as productive as a small farm. Some of that okra I'll have for dinner, sliced and rolled in cornmeal and fried in a hot skillet. The rest I'll dry in the sun for gumbo later this winter. And I've a customer stopping by for two gallons of that Jersey milk, the money going mostly for hay and feed, my profit coming in the form of cheeses.

The sparse economy of Southwind Farm is so inextricably linked with my reasons for being here in the first place that I can't decide which is means and which is ends. Am I sleeping on my screened-in porch in summer and reading before my hearth in winter out of necessity or preference? Doing without air conditioning and modern heating is a small price to pay for the companionship of a night-singing chuckwill's-widow and a wood fire.

Having given up nothing without getting more in return, I find that the frugality doesn't really matter. It was for the most self-indulgent reasons I came to the farm — to be happy. Everyone knows that happiness is largely a matter of being content. But content with what? The answer to that requires an act of will, which in my case took the shape of a small farm.

To live in the country in a house I built for myself, with meaningful work and a margin of leisure, free to create a little universe of my own making — this was my idea of happiness.

Even if something should come along to snatch the farm away, I would go on living as the experience has taught me — deliberately, taking things as they come, in control as much as possible of my own destiny, and farming as I could. In a pot, if it came to that, in a south window.

Excerpted from A Very Small Farm by William Paul Winchester. Copyright © 1996 by William Paul Winchester. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 There is an air of permanence and stability 9
2 The life of the farm 19
Twenty Acres 26
Imagining the house 33
Journal: Midwinter 43
3 The Garden Year Begins 49
Journal: Spring 63
4 With all its outbuildings 71
Journal: Early Summer 80
5 A dozen hens clucking sleepily to themselves 87
Journal: High Summer 96
6 There were already persimmons, mulberries, and sand plums 101
Journal: Fall 113
7 The prevailing wind 119
Journal: The Range Fire 129
8 It's the business of a path 133
The Small Farm 147
9 According to the custom 149
The Solitary Life 163
10 As milk cows go 167
Staying Put 180
11 A field of ripening wheat 183
Doing for Oneself 200
12 From my kitchen window 203
Frugality 223
13 That the life of my choice 227
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    Simple Pleasure

    This book is a charming and beautifully written account of one man's very daring experiment. How many of us would attempt to live as simply as possible, dependent almost solely on ourselves, while not sacrificing the things that mean the most to us? Winchester is an example for us all of how to live responsibly on the earth and with each other. Besides which, he happens to be a terrific writer. Who needs the latest blockbuster when you can savor this gentle and intelligent account over and over? Highly recommended as an antidote to the mega-bestseller syndrome. A classic.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2002

    The Simple Life

    When I first picked up this book and read a few lines, I assumed that it was written a long time ago. I was surprised to read that a modern man has chosen to live such a simple and frills-free life. What an accomplishment and what an encouragement to others to be more aware of our surroundings and the glories of creation. I envy his simple life, no boss or stresses of city life. I'm going to start digging my garden now!!! This book may not be action packed, full of suspense or romance, but is full of the simple things, the smells of the earth and the life of creatures around us. A great read!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)