2005: John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist’s version of
“the good life” is situated on a five-and-a-half acre
farmstead in southwestern Wisconsin, where they eat organic vegetables
with friendly neighbors, run an environmentally conscious bed-and-breakfast,
and try to live “a life simple in design yet rich in meaning”
(xvii). As Bill McKibben suggests in the foreword, Ivanko and Kivirist
are participants—and leaders—in the latest wave of back-to-the-landers.
While their quest for simple, fulfilling lives follows in the tradition
of Scott and Helen Nearing, the hippie homestead movement and other
migrations into rural America, Ivanko and Kivirist are decidedly
modern in their approach to country life.
Ivanko and Kivirist are from the city. Both had high-paying city
jobs for a number of years, drank countless lattes, commuted hours
to work, and gradually realized that their fast-paced city lives
were leaving them unfulfilled and disconnected from nature. They
resolved to move to the country, open a bed-and-breakfast called
Inn Serendipity, and try to practice self-sufficiency without sacrificing
all modern conveniences. They have an Internet connection and fax
machine, but no television; they are inclined to use “green”
products and appliances, but they are not “green” purists.
In short, Ivanko and Kivirist understand the importance of flexibility
in their attempt to achieve sustainability and simplicity in complex,
Rural Renaissance, though sprinkled with charming anecdotes
from Ivanko and Kivirist’s homesteading experiences, primarily
serves as a practical how-to manual for other urbanites interested
in embarking on their own rural odysseys. A wide range of topics
are covered in the book, from permaculture to green architecture
to making homemade fertilizer and buying sustainably harvested wood.
Because many of the topics in Rural Renaissance are elaborated
in much greater detail in other books, the co-authors follow each
topic with lists of print and electronic resources for further study.
One aspect of Rural Renaissance that a reader isn’t
as likely to find in other how-to sustainable living manuals, however,
is the emphasis on parenting, developing a strong sense of community,
and preparing for the financial challenges of country living. The
co-authors include a pie chart of their diversified, income-producing
work with the aim of helping potential back-to-the-landers understand
new definitions of wealth geared towards quality of life over income.
Short sections also coach readers on how to go vegetarian, how to
start an eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast, and how to travel as an
Though Rural Renaissance may at times seem like a shameless
advertisement for Inn Serendipity, it does serve as a useful, if
slightly overstuffed, compilation of eclectic resources and information.
Sidebars include everything from homemade granola and raspberry
cordial recipes to explanations of biomimicry to lessons on sustainable
One particularly thought-provoking sidebar discusses the importance
of maintaining “lifelines” as ways of coping with the
hardships of country life. “If all else fails,” write
Ivanko and Kivirist, “we can always go back to the cubicle”
(75). Yet the cubicle can only serve as a reliable, last-ditch lifeline
if one began in the cubicle. The new “rural renaissance,”
as these co-authors see it, seems distinctly for those who begin
with plenty of lifelines, a solid chunk of change in the bank, enough
connections to the urban world to continue publishing books and
magazine articles, and the possibility of inheriting small fortunes.
Sure, it’s still tough—and noble—to start a sustainable
life in the country no matter how large your safety net, but that’s
where the modern wave towards rural America distinguishes itself
from many of the previous waves.
Ivanko and Kivirist belong to the generation of “Cultural
Creatives,” those 40 or 50 million Americans who, as Bill
McKibben writes, “are educated and successful, but also out
of tune with George Bush’s America” (xvi). They are
interested in “creating a practical and grounded culture centered
on realigning life with personal values” (44). Though this
movement may seem like just another opportunity for coining a funky,
new-age buzzword, the ultimate aim of many Cultural Creatives is
to move away from materialistic consumerism and embrace “simpler
lives that are rich in meaning, relationships and friendships”
(44). Indeed, such aims are imperative for healing the many problems
found in contemporary society. Whether that means enlightened urbanites
should all move to the country to open bed & breakfasts is another
For those who consider themselves Cultural Creatives and are thinking
of surfing the contemporary wave into rural America, this book will
certainly serve as a helpful guide and motivational model. There
is much to be learned from the Ivanko and Kivirist’s anecdotal
advice, and the resource lists all lead to a wealth of carefully
chosen texts. For those, however, who were born into country living
and don’t have the cubicle to turn back to, there are a number
of other books that teach the same how-tos without tossing around
the self-help terminology of an eco-friendly version of Dr. Phil.
Josh Anchors is a beekeeper, novelist, and outdoor guide from