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Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader

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Ever since Thoreau's Walden, the image of the American homesteader has been of someone getting away from civilization, of forging an independent life in the country. Yet if this were ever true, what is the nature and reality of homesteading in the media-saturated, hyper-connected 21st century? For seven years Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife, Erin, lived without electrici Ever since Thoreau's Walden, the image of the American homesteader has been of someone getting away from civilization, of forging an independent life in the country. Yet if this were ever true, what is the nature and reality of homesteading in the media-saturated, hyper-connected 21st century? For seven years Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife, Erin, lived without electricity or running water in an old cabin in the beautiful but remote hills of western New England. Slowly forging their own farm and homestead, they took inspiration from their experiences among the mountain farmers of the Tirolean Alps and were guided by their Vermont neighbors, who taught them about what it truly means to live sustainably in the postmodern homestead--not only to survive, but to thrive in a fragmented landscape and a fractured economy. Up Tunket Road is the inspiring true story of a young couple who embraced the joys of simple living while also acknowledging its frustrations and complexities. Ackerman-Leist writes with humor about the inevitable foibles of setting up life off the grid--from hauling frozen laundry uphill to getting locked in the henhouse by their ox. But he also weaves an instructive narrative that contemplates the future of simple living. His is not a how-to guide, but something much richer and more important--a tale of discovery that will resonate with readers who yearn for a better, more meaningful life, whether they live in the city, country, or somewhere in between.


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Ever since Thoreau's Walden, the image of the American homesteader has been of someone getting away from civilization, of forging an independent life in the country. Yet if this were ever true, what is the nature and reality of homesteading in the media-saturated, hyper-connected 21st century? For seven years Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife, Erin, lived without electrici Ever since Thoreau's Walden, the image of the American homesteader has been of someone getting away from civilization, of forging an independent life in the country. Yet if this were ever true, what is the nature and reality of homesteading in the media-saturated, hyper-connected 21st century? For seven years Philip Ackerman-Leist and his wife, Erin, lived without electricity or running water in an old cabin in the beautiful but remote hills of western New England. Slowly forging their own farm and homestead, they took inspiration from their experiences among the mountain farmers of the Tirolean Alps and were guided by their Vermont neighbors, who taught them about what it truly means to live sustainably in the postmodern homestead--not only to survive, but to thrive in a fragmented landscape and a fractured economy. Up Tunket Road is the inspiring true story of a young couple who embraced the joys of simple living while also acknowledging its frustrations and complexities. Ackerman-Leist writes with humor about the inevitable foibles of setting up life off the grid--from hauling frozen laundry uphill to getting locked in the henhouse by their ox. But he also weaves an instructive narrative that contemplates the future of simple living. His is not a how-to guide, but something much richer and more important--a tale of discovery that will resonate with readers who yearn for a better, more meaningful life, whether they live in the city, country, or somewhere in between.

30 review for Up Tunket Road: The Education of a Modern Homesteader

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    At one point while I was reading this book, I put it down and did not know whether I would pick it up again. The book sat on my bed stand for a couple weeks before I decided to pick it up again. With that being said, I still really liked this book. It was, at some points, a struggle to read. At other times, "Up Tunket Road" was everything I was looking for, and more. The author goes through the process of building his homestead, from buying a dilapidated cabin to building a sustainable homestead At one point while I was reading this book, I put it down and did not know whether I would pick it up again. The book sat on my bed stand for a couple weeks before I decided to pick it up again. With that being said, I still really liked this book. It was, at some points, a struggle to read. At other times, "Up Tunket Road" was everything I was looking for, and more. The author goes through the process of building his homestead, from buying a dilapidated cabin to building a sustainable homestead with an alternative energy system and tons of farm critters to boot. With financial limitations and a growing family, this process is long and slow, but very interesting. Seeing Ackerman-Leist incrementally build his homestead is enjoyable and informative. As a professor, he offers detailed descriptions of every part of the process and he ends up giving many valuable pieces of information for a would be homesteader. All of these great parts of the book are the reasons why I am giving "Up Tunket Road" 4 stars. The difficulty with this book is that the author's great journey toward a fully functioning homestead is only two-thirds of the book. The other third of the book involves lengthy diversions into stories of his past. Although it easy to see that the author is attempting to give his homesteading context and to demonstrate the connection between his current homesteading and his previous learning opportunities, these diversions are often verbose and seem to miss their intended impact. Although these portions of the book can sometimes seem to drone on forever, a little speed reading saves the day. If the sometimes lengthy diversions don't slow you down too much, then the book can be very useful and enjoyable.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    if you were going to get just one book about moving to the land, farming, conservation, environmentalism, permaculture, sustainability, being off the grid while raising a family and having a 'paying' job too, starting a farm from scratch, no electricity, no plumbing (can you imagine the diaper situation doing all this by hand?!), no piped heat, plus raising livestock and writing books and doing art this would be the book to get. set in vermont from late '90's to 2010. this nice review gives a clear if you were going to get just one book about moving to the land, farming, conservation, environmentalism, permaculture, sustainability, being off the grid while raising a family and having a 'paying' job too, starting a farm from scratch, no electricity, no plumbing (can you imagine the diaper situation doing all this by hand?!), no piped heat, plus raising livestock and writing books and doing art this would be the book to get. set in vermont from late '90's to 2010. this nice review gives a clearer picture of the strengths of this book, and the weakness, and why it is not 5 star. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gail Holman

    Appreciated Ackerman-Leist's journey. I am on one of my own so I enjoy reading others similar stories. Trying to live differently can be isolating. We also make mistakes along the way. Good story fortus pioneers. Appreciated Ackerman-Leist's journey. I am on one of my own so I enjoy reading others similar stories. Trying to live differently can be isolating. We also make mistakes along the way. Good story fortus pioneers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    Excellent book and really love Ackerman-Leist's approach of mixing he and Erin's story along with powerful and wise insights into homesteading. One of the most compelling part of the re-telling of their story is Philip's humility, humor, and honesty. I also loved the fact that as an outsider, he and Erin were always learners and desirous of being mentored by those who were native to the place and skillful, knowledgeable, and experienced. Philip presents a fresh vision of what homesteading looks Excellent book and really love Ackerman-Leist's approach of mixing he and Erin's story along with powerful and wise insights into homesteading. One of the most compelling part of the re-telling of their story is Philip's humility, humor, and honesty. I also loved the fact that as an outsider, he and Erin were always learners and desirous of being mentored by those who were native to the place and skillful, knowledgeable, and experienced. Philip presents a fresh vision of what homesteading looks like in the present time. A great read!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Kearns

    I was really delighted to find a book about modern homesteading on the Vine's offered list of books. We are also modern-day homesteaders and I was looking forward to reading about how someone else balances farming with an outside career, decides on organic versus low-chemical farming, deals with zoning rules for livestock, and handles preserving the harvest from their orchard and garden without running water or electricity. What this book contained instead was a long, disjointed tome about the au I was really delighted to find a book about modern homesteading on the Vine's offered list of books. We are also modern-day homesteaders and I was looking forward to reading about how someone else balances farming with an outside career, decides on organic versus low-chemical farming, deals with zoning rules for livestock, and handles preserving the harvest from their orchard and garden without running water or electricity. What this book contained instead was a long, disjointed tome about the author's past experiences in Austria and college, and his childhood memories of this grandparents' farm in North Carolina. He barely touches on his relationship with his wife and children, who lived on his growing homestead with him. He writes at length about his concerns about the environment and about returning the land to it's wild state, but doesn't ever flesh out his personal relationships or explain how he decides what to grow in his garden. I would have loved to have more detail about how they preserve what they grow, and what their meals are like. He was borderline insulting in his description of some of the prickly New Englanders who live near him, and made Carl, the man who taught him the most about greenhouse gardening and cold frames, into a gross caricature of a man. After several hundred pages of the author agonizing over the ecological implications of his every move, he then mentions in the last chapter that he has a satellite dish for his computer Internet, uses cell phones and put in a regular toilet. I don't blame him a bit for those things - I use them too. But it was surprising that his preaching about everyone else's simplifying their life and reducing their dependence on electronics doesn't apply to him. I almost gave up on this book about halfway through, when I realized there was very little in the book about homesteading. I'm glad I finished reading it, because there are some good parts but it's too much like a PhD thesis. It wasn't terrible, just heavy and preachy and without a lot of emotion.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane Kistner

    "Up Tunket Road" is a memoir of a place and the author's slow development of a deep sense of that place that allowed him to truly live on, and as an integral part of, his homestead. Early in the book, we meet Carl, Philip Ackerman-Leist's "Virgil," the security guard at the college where the author is teaching and hoping to start up a campus garden/farm. The professor has much to learn, and Carl is determined to teach him. Acting as a kind of backwoods Don Juan to Ackerman-Leist's Castaneda, Car "Up Tunket Road" is a memoir of a place and the author's slow development of a deep sense of that place that allowed him to truly live on, and as an integral part of, his homestead. Early in the book, we meet Carl, Philip Ackerman-Leist's "Virgil," the security guard at the college where the author is teaching and hoping to start up a campus garden/farm. The professor has much to learn, and Carl is determined to teach him. Acting as a kind of backwoods Don Juan to Ackerman-Leist's Castaneda, Carl introduces the author to the old-timers in the area, teaches him the importance of learning the history and reading the signs of this place the author has chosen to inhabit, wakes him up to the tales the land tells, and in essence sets him off on the right foot in his great homesteading adventure. Even when Carl is no longer around, for me his spirit still pervades the book: Sometimes it's like the author and we, through the author's eyes, are looking through Carl's eyes. What I found most significant about the book is that it helped me recognize the importance of patient observation with a focus expanded through layers of space and time; this is perhaps the most critical skill for anyone attempting varying degrees of rural or urban homesteading. Actually, the ability to quietly and respectfully observe one's surroundings is one of the most important skills any of us can develop, no matter where we are or what we hope to accomplish. So many of us try to impose our will on a world that is constantly trending toward forest without stopping to see what's going on around us. "Up Tunket Road" reminds us to be mindful of our place and how our decisions impact the world around us.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Aldra

    This is by far my favorite book on homesteading that I have read to date. If you're looking for a simple "how-to" this book is not for you. However, if you're interested in balanced discussions of the *why* of homesteading and a humble, honest look at all the angles, me thinks you'll like this book. Some have complained that the book is too dry and that Ackerman-Leist runs off on too many tangents. I couldn't disagree more. The author weaves his journey beautifully into something that actually m This is by far my favorite book on homesteading that I have read to date. If you're looking for a simple "how-to" this book is not for you. However, if you're interested in balanced discussions of the *why* of homesteading and a humble, honest look at all the angles, me thinks you'll like this book. Some have complained that the book is too dry and that Ackerman-Leist runs off on too many tangents. I couldn't disagree more. The author weaves his journey beautifully into something that actually makes sense--the compromises, the whys, etc.--all with impressive humility. The hypocrisy and lack of honesty that so many other books on homesteading seem to be seeped in are lacking from this tome. It's intelligent without being poorly written (a common ailment of academic authors) and provides balanced analysis without being preachy. Absolutely loved it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tory

    I found this book to be surprisingly interesting, and I enjoyed the opportunity to live vicariously through Ackerman-Leist and his adventures in homesteading in Vermont. I valued the main theme of his book which, in his words, are that homesteading is "...less about location than it is about intent..." and that it is about "...wanting to be accountable for actions; envisioning, creating, assessing individual household ecologies through embracing the menial and mundane and searching for minimum." I found this book to be surprisingly interesting, and I enjoyed the opportunity to live vicariously through Ackerman-Leist and his adventures in homesteading in Vermont. I valued the main theme of his book which, in his words, are that homesteading is "...less about location than it is about intent..." and that it is about "...wanting to be accountable for actions; envisioning, creating, assessing individual household ecologies through embracing the menial and mundane and searching for minimum." He believes that homesteading doesn't require one to remove oneself from society and retreat into the woods. Rather, homesteading can take place in rural, suburban and urban environments and that community and interdependence are crucial for making lasting positive changes to how we live and consume as a culture.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Renee

    Mixed feelings. On one hand, it is certainly well-written. And I enjoyed hearing stories about someone who lives very differently. On the other hand, I found myself frustrated that the whole concept didn't work independently. He still admitted having to borrow money from his family to be able to get the mortgages necessary. It just did not seem sustainable without outside wealth. I found that a bummer, but was most frustrated that he didn't seem to realize the luxury of having people give you mo Mixed feelings. On one hand, it is certainly well-written. And I enjoyed hearing stories about someone who lives very differently. On the other hand, I found myself frustrated that the whole concept didn't work independently. He still admitted having to borrow money from his family to be able to get the mortgages necessary. It just did not seem sustainable without outside wealth. I found that a bummer, but was most frustrated that he didn't seem to realize the luxury of having people give you money that makes ideas like this possible. Milking cows didn't make his lifestyle work, and I felt he tried to imply that it did.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    Amazing! This is the book written by our All Star II conference speaker. It's absorbing by virtue of its content, structure, thought processes, brilliant use of language including puns. While it is indeed about building a homestead, it's so much more. It's full of questions, and some answers, about building a sustainable world. I have been changed by this book because I now feel positive about the viability of the world and I now believe that whatever small part I can do to create the future as Amazing! This is the book written by our All Star II conference speaker. It's absorbing by virtue of its content, structure, thought processes, brilliant use of language including puns. While it is indeed about building a homestead, it's so much more. It's full of questions, and some answers, about building a sustainable world. I have been changed by this book because I now feel positive about the viability of the world and I now believe that whatever small part I can do to create the future as well as live in the present is worthy. when I was only a third of the way through the book, I'd already put it on my mental to re-read this winter list.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bre

    As a want-to-be/future homesteader, I appreciated the presentation of this book. I enjoyed the anecdotes (it read a little like James Herriot), and the lessons imparted, but most of all I appreciated the author's discussion of the "whys" of homesteading. I feel that if you don't know why you are doing one thong or another, than there is little incentive to stick with it, and while this book talked about why the author was homesteading it made me reassess why my goals are what they are. As a want-to-be/future homesteader, I appreciated the presentation of this book. I enjoyed the anecdotes (it read a little like James Herriot), and the lessons imparted, but most of all I appreciated the author's discussion of the "whys" of homesteading. I feel that if you don't know why you are doing one thong or another, than there is little incentive to stick with it, and while this book talked about why the author was homesteading it made me reassess why my goals are what they are.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn't get into it. It was a bit dry and there were a lot of times I was just like "please get on with it." It was very well written and did have good information but it was hard for me to get through. After six months I'm being honest with myself that I will just never finish this book. I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn't get into it. It was a bit dry and there were a lot of times I was just like "please get on with it." It was very well written and did have good information but it was hard for me to get through. After six months I'm being honest with myself that I will just never finish this book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lanette

    This was one of the more well-written homesteading books I've read, probably because writing and communication would come naturally to a college professor. With that being said, I didn't give this book a 4 because a lot of it was just too philisophical for me. This was one of the more well-written homesteading books I've read, probably because writing and communication would come naturally to a college professor. With that being said, I didn't give this book a 4 because a lot of it was just too philisophical for me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Reddy

    Am loving this book. My son applied to Green Mountain College where the author works, so getting a sense of the philosophy of the head gardener. Am appreciative of his perspective of living not on the land but with the land, consciously

  15. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    The book is informative as well as well-written, and would provide excellent discussion material for those interested in homesteading, whether in rural or urban contexts.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lillian

    very little character development, reminded me of a college lecture

  17. 5 out of 5

    Fernleaf

    A thoughtful reflection on the realities and repercussions on homesteading in the modern world.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    makes living without running water or electricity for 8 years seem like not such a big deal

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Great read. Here's a link to my review: http://cityrootstomuddyboots.com/2012... Great read. Here's a link to my review: http://cityrootstomuddyboots.com/2012...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read this book to learn more about this particular part of Vermont.

  21. 4 out of 5

    JP Swift

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eric Kruger

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jonthan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Nelson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meg

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ltbalkits

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annalee

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deanna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lotus

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