The Rural Diaries - Hilarie Burton


“What kind of farm did you grow up on?” Folks always throw that question at me any time they find out about Mischief Farm. Oh you know, the lower-middle-class kind, which grows swing sets and grubby children and is surrounded by a chain-link fence. My childhood was fantastically suburban. Before Mischief Farm, the only farming I had done had been through literary adventuring. Green Gables. Little House on the Prairie. I longed for the landscape of Wuthering Heights. Hell, even Animal Farm held a certain appeal.

Both of my parents had agricultural experience, though. Their stories were fables in our family. My father didn’t wax poetic about his childhood of manual labor. His tales were more cautionary. We never ate lamb, because his family had kept sheep for a while. It scarred him. Then there were the years they dealt in chickens. Equally scarring. Eggs must be scrambled to ultimate tightness, and any meat is to be cooked about four levels past well done. Hell or high water, we were gonna be spared from any barnyard diseases. It was clear that farming was not a pleasurable career path for my father’s family. Just a way to scrape by and keep seven hungry kids fed.

My mother, on the other hand, comes from real-deal farmers in Iowa. Multigenerational corn and soybean and pig farmers with huge tracts of land. The first time I visited my great aunt’s house on the farm in Iowa, I found it exotic. They had a hammock at the edge of a cornfield, and a dozen barn cats skittered around. My three brothers chased the cats against the backdrop of sunset, and I grabbed one of the kittens and settled into the hammock. Looking out on the cornfield, I marveled that this is what they woke up to every day. Even when I was a kid dreaming of being a showbiz dame like Doris Day or Debbie Reynolds or Katharine Hepburn, I held on to this vision of farm life.

I grew up in the little town of Sterling Park, Virginia, population nine thousand. I kept the pace of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I could hear cows lowing from my high school. It was a pastoral community. And then Amazon opened a huge headquarters in Northern Virginia, right in my little town, and suddenly an influx of two hundred thousand people completely erased the childhood that I had grown up with.

Jeffrey grew up in Kirkland, Washington. Once upon a time it was a tiny waterfront suburb of Seattle. He camped with the Boy Scouts, rode a mean old pony named Brownie at his grandma’s pig farm, and played in the woods and water of the Pacific Northwest. Then, Boeing visited, saw lots of space and a good quality of life, moved in, and erased those things. So with both of our childhood communities swallowed up by big business, he and I never had the luxury of that fairy tale of raising kids in our hometowns.

Randomly, we found a new hometown: Rhinebeck, New York. A place that felt like we’d known it all along. We marveled that a village like this still existed. So we were aware that when you find a community that nurtures you and your family, it isn’t enough to just live in it; you must also nurture and protect that place and all the people who give you respite, solace, joy, and just enough hell to keep life interesting.

So, folks, this is a love letter. To a town. To a farm. To a man.

Part One



Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that