Back in October of 2019, Joshua and I drove to New Brunswick, Canada, to spend a couple days at the off-grid homestead of boatbuilder Harry Bryan and his wife, Martha. We were there to take photos for an article Harry was writing for Issue Eight, but more importantly, we wanted to sit down with the Bryans and learn what motivated them to choose the path they had. Harry’s boat shop is an extraordinary collection of innovations, from his treadle-powered bandsaw to his efficient solar array. They built their home utilizing the slipform masonry methods that back-to-the-landers Scott and Helen Nearing (of The Good Life fame) pioneered, and milled all their lumber on a sawmill that Harry salvaged from a field in Nova Scotia. It seemed that every detail was thoughtfully conceived to maximize usability, joy, and efficiency. We knew that E.F. Schumacher’s book, Small is Beautiful, had been instrumental in shaping Harry’s perspectives on small-scaled, human-centered work, but were amazed to see these principles in action.
Schumacher’s book was first published in 1973 (ironically, just as the oil embargo started) and asked questions that few people were asking at the time. Is all-out economic growth the best and most sustainable model for the world? Is the application of technology the answer to every puzzle of modern production? For a prosperous nation, or an individual, when is “enough,” enough? Harry and Martha took these questions to heart, deciding that they would lead their lives differently than was common. They chose to reduce their dependence on infrastructure, to back away as much as possible from fossil fuels, to use simple technology and tools over complicated ones. The result for them is a beautiful, sustainable life on the land.
This book will strike everyone who reads it in a different way. Schumacher is a thoughtful, easy-to-follow writer, and he provides a framework for thinking about the choices we weigh every day as consumers and makers. While you might not be convinced to unplug from the grid and grow your own food, you will be challenged to think about how this world can be a more humane place for everyone.
The book is available for purchase here.