Minimalists in History: Ralph Borsodi

ralph borsodi

“There’s all the evidence in the world that the building of cities is one of the worst mistakes that mankind has ever made: For both physical and mental health we’ve got to be close to Mother Earth.”
– Ralph Borsodi

Agrarian theorist Ralph Borsodi grew up in Manhattan, but became interested in moving back to the land at a young age. When he married Myrtle Mae Simpson, who had grown up on a farm in Kansas, he was able to draw upon her experiences and skills.

They moved to the country in 1919, living on 7 acres in Rockland County. Borsodi continued to commute to and work in the city.

They quickly outgrew their 7 acres, and in 1924, they bought 18 acres, on which they built a house and other buildings from stones they found on the property.

“For quality-minded men and women, the economic independence which such a homestead would furnish would be of revolutionary consequence.”
– Ralph Borsodi

Borsodi wrote about his experiences in homesteading, and in 1929, he published This Ugly Civilization, and followed this up in 1933 with Flight from the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on the Land.

He described his theories of economics and happiness as well as his experiences.

Happiness is dependent not on producing as much as possible but on producing as little as possible. Comfort and understanding are dependent upon producing only so much as is compatible with the enjoyment of the superior life. Producing more than this involves a waste of mankind’s most precious possessions. It involves a waste of the only two things which man should really conserve–the two things which be should use with real intelligence and only for what really conduces to his comfort. When he destroys these two things, he has destroyed what is for all practical purposes irreplaceable. These two things are the natural resources of the earth and the time which he has to spend in the enjoyment of them.

Borsodi believed the factory system plunders the landscape, encourages class conflict and destroys the self-expression of skilled craftsmen. Instead of working in factories, people should try to be self-sufficient on small family farms.

I recommend country life not because it is merely romantic; not merely because it involves a return to nature, but because it is a satisfying life; because I believe the evidence indicates that it is the normal life of man.

“A modern homestead is a small plot of land on which the family lives and works to produce as much as possible of its food, clothing and shelter – the source and scene of creativity, security and freedom.”
– Ralph Borsodi

Borsodi established a School of Living in Rockland County, New York during the winter of 1934-35. About 20 families began coming out regularly from New York City to spend the weekends at this school.

Eventually, the Borsodis and some of these families developed and moved to Bayard Lane, a small experimental cooperative community on forty acres at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains.

They divided the estate into one- and two-acre homesteads occupied by individual families. The utopian community appeared successful and was featured in many national publications.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. WWII meant patriotism began to once again be equated with consumerism. Bayard Lane residents distanced themselves from cooperative living and many of the families moved away.

“The necessaries of life can be procured not only without excessive and unpleasant labor but without fear and uncertainty.”
– Ralph Borsodi

To learn more about Ralph Borsodi, read a transcript of a 1974 interview with him. Also, his book, This Ugly Civilization, is free at Soil and Health Library.


3 thoughts on “Minimalists in History: Ralph Borsodi

  1. Christy, I have added these titles to my reading list. I love what Borsodi had to say. I feel much the same way with my new home. I want to be connected to the land in a way I can’t where I’ve been living and to produce as much as I can myself. His words are very true and important today as we find ourselves with resources running out and our families eating “food-like substances” rather than real food.

I'd love for you to share your ideas and experiences.