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Finding Peace and Purpose in the Countryside: An Interview with Hillarie Maddox of Black Girl Country Living
Hillarie Maddox is the founder of Black Girl Country Living, a community dedicated to sharing stories of BIPOC women living a sustainable and intentional lifestyle in the countryside. Hillarie is a writer, creator, and homesteader who made the move from the city to the countryside during the pandemic. In this interview, Hillarie shares her journey and the importance of rewilding and intentional living for BIPOC communities.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I am a writer, creator, and founder of Black Girl Country Living community on IG and substack. I grew up in the rural midwest and always aspired to leave for a life in the city. After getting a degree in Social Work I had an enormous amount of student debt, so I ended up pursuing a corporate career. I worked in the corporate learning industry for 12 years, building executive learning programs for some of the biggest companies in the world. After moving to the country during the pandemic and having my second kiddo, I knew I was ready to make some changes in how I prioritise my time and my life.
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What inspired you to start Black Girl Country Living and move from the city to the countryside?
Part of me always knew that I would return to a slower pace of life, I just didn’t know how or when it would happen. When the pandemic hit and jobs went remote, my husband and I saw an opportunity to leave the city and buy a home. We found a house on an acre of land in a small farming town. I was learning to appreciate being surrounded by nature, so I started sharing photos and stories on IG and my newsletter. It was a place for me to process and share my awe and wonder about this world that was so foreign to me. I was getting acquainted with nature and it was reminding me about what was important in life.
Can you talk about your experiences as a BIPOC woman in the homesteading and sustainability communities?
When I began sharing my stories, I started to look for other Black women who were doing what I was doing. I wanted people who I could look to as examples to aspire to and commiserate with. At first, they were hard to find and it felt really lonely. But the longer I stuck with it, the more people I found. I soon realised that I was far from alone and that Black women have a long legacy of activism in this space. It has been inspiring to learn about other BIPOC women doing this work and find ways to amplify those stories.
What challenges have you faced while building your homestead, and how have you overcome them?
Homesteading is often depicted as a simple or self-sustaining life, which seems like a nice escape from the hectic world we live in. However, it takes a lot of work to transition into this way of living. It requires giving up a lot of modern comforts, being willing to do physical labor, and learning to trust yourself. It requires developing a level of self-discipline and an ongoing commitment to learning. I have had many moments where I wanted to give up or realized I was in over my head. But I continue to push forward because I know that I am capable of reclaiming the knowledge and skills required to live this way. It is not easy, but it is deeply rewarding.
Can you talk about the importance of rewilding and intentional living for BIPOC communities?
When I first started to lean into this lifestyle, I noticed changes starting to take paces within me–mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I wanted to understand what was going on and the idea of rewilding kept coming up. It is an ecological term used to describe returning to a natural balance and I felt like that is what was happening within me. I embraced it because it embodied this idea of returning to what is essential. It felt even more urgent and necessary to apply it to the BIPOC community because we are often left out of conversations regarding the natural environment and sustainability. I wanted those ideas to be entwined because we are all a part of the natural environment and need to see ourselves reflected in the stories we tell about the environment.
How has moving to the countryside and starting a homestead impacted your mental and physical health?
The ability to be present with nature and myself has had a profound effect on me. I struggled with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders for many years. I believe they stemmed from an inability to regulate my nervous system. I was always ruminating on something from the past, anticipating something in the future, and never fully present with myself. In addition to prescribed medications, I numbed myself with food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, TV, social media, etc. Being in nature helped me learn to listen to and regulate my nervous system. The more I learned to do that, the less I relied on other substances and the more balanced I felt. Eventually, I went off my medication and now am very aware of how different substances affect my body and mood.
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Can you share some of your favorite homesteading practices and techniques?
One of my favorite practices has been gardening because it is so rewarding, especially with kids. It was one of the first things I started and there is always a new level to layer on–whether it is preserving foods, growing new varieties, or extending the growing season. One of the best things I did to help me grow as a gardener and homesteader was finding a few mentors who were at different stages of their journey. I have one who is just a few years ahead of me and a few that have been doing this for a while. They help me troubleshoot, remind me of what I should be doing each month, and offer perspective when I feel frustrated. I think that is especially important now that climate change is making growing so unpredictable from season to season.
How do you balance your commitment to sustainability with the practicalities of homesteading and living in the countryside?
In the world today, we tend to want everything done fast and perfectly, just like in the magazines. However, that is just not possible when transitioning to a slow lifestyle. We are on a journey to living more sustainably while disentangling ourselves from a life of dependence—that cannot happen overnight. It is a slow process of building the knowledge and skills required to replace the dependence. For example, the more we understand about growing and preserving food the less we have to rely on food shipped across the world. Or the better we get at composting, the less soil we have to haul across town to fill our garden. Each day is an opportunity to learn something new and give ourselves grace.
Can you talk about the role of Black creators and influencers in shaping the conversation around homesteading, sustainability, and rewilding?
In our modern world, many people look to creators and influencers to imagine different ways of living. Black folks in this space play an important role in showing the kinds of possibilities we have around sustainable living and sharing the rich history of our relationship with nature. BIPOC sustainability / homesteading / rewilding influencers help people see themselves in our shared ecological future and inspire new paths forward for more people.
What advice do you have for Black people who are interested in starting their own homesteads and living more sustainably?
Living sustainability and self-sufficiently requires us to untangle our lives from a complex webs of dependence on many systems. Whether you want to live a fully self-sufficient life or simply eat more seasonally, it starts with small steps that lead to bigger change. Try a weekly visit to the local farmers market to learn about seasonal produce. Or start buying your food staples in bulk instead of individual packages. Once you have one thing down, add a new layer. Celebrate your successes and give yourself grace when you make a mistake—it is not easy. If you keep layering on small habits, it is just a matter of time before you are living your desired sustainable life.
What are your future plans and goals for Black Girl Country Living?
My ultimate goal is to create a BIPOC rewilding learning platform and community. I just launched the BGCL magazine featuring diverse stories and perspectives on how we connect with nature. In addition, I am participating in the REI Co-op Path Ahead Ventures program, and with that I hope to launch live rewilding experiences in the coming months.
How can our readers support and engage with your work?
We hope that Hillarie’s story and insights have given you a new perspective on the benefits of rewilding and intentional living, and the importance of supporting BIPOC-led homesteading and sustainability initiatives. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out Hillarie’s community on Instagram and her newsletter