Harlan Hubbard – Painter, Writer, Agrarian Homesteader

From Gene Logsdon

I found Harland Hubbard in an article in the National Geographic in the early 1960s. He and his wife, Anna, were what was called at that time modern homesteaders who had first become well-known for building their own shantyboat and floating down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to bayou country, a trip that lasted over a year. Now they lived on the banks of the Ohio in a house they had built themselves, mostly out of lumber cut from their own woodland or snagged as it floated by on the river. They did not have electricity. They cut their own wood for fuel. They raised all their food, or caught it from the river, or traded for it with neighbors. The only steady income they had was rent from a house Harlan had built in town in younger years. Their life was both rigorous and elegant. Harlan made some money from his paintings and his books. The couple provided their own entertainment: nature watching, reading, and music.

For a while, I talked about living the same way, causing Carol’s parents some consternation.In their first years of marriage, they had lived much like the Hubbards but viewed with alarm the idea that their daughter and grandchildren might have to do likewise. I was reminded, more than once, that, unlike the Hubbards, I had children to raise. So I went to Philadelphia, accepted the manacles of financial security, and forgot about the Hubbards.

Fourteen years later, Wendell Berry introduced me to the Hubbards. They lived only a few miles from his farm. Wendell and I were both writing for the Rodale Press, whose publications were seeing a dramatic rise in circulation. This was the golden age of Organic Gardening magazine. Literally millions of people were subscribing to it because they had gotten the audacious notion that they wanted more control over their lives. The magazine was suggesting ways to gain that control. Like the Hubbards, these readers thought that they wanted to go where they could own a little land free and clear, live more healthfully, more at nature’s pace than the nine-to-five regime, produce their own food, do for themselves what they had been paying others to do for them, and make enough money at some small business or craft to get by. In other words, they were motivated by the same kind of idealism that had influenced the early pioneers. They were agrarians. They found in the publications of the Rodale Press the kind of information they were looking for.

It was in this heady atmosphere of hope that, at Wendell’s suggestion, I was assigned to write an article about Harlan and Anna Hubbard. I remembered them from the National Geographic article and accepted the assignment eagerly.

Keep reading Harlan Hubbard at OrganicToBe


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