Dubbed a “modern-day Walden,” Twelve by Twelve (2010) recounts William Powers’ time spent living in a twelve-foot by twelve-foot home with no electricity or running water in rural North Carolina. Powers does include stories of his daily activities, but Twelve by Twelve is predominately filled with reflections on philosophy, environmental degradation and globalization.
After years working on environmental initiatives in the Global South, Powers returns to the United States and experiences massive culture shock. He is especially taken aback by the tremendous amount of resources consumed by Americans. At one point he reflects on his conservation work and wonders, “Have I merely been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?” (10). Luckily, Powers finds solace in a 12 x 12 cabin where he is able to escape the cars, malls, subdivisions and fast-food restaurants that define modern American culture and contemplate the purpose and meaning of life.
Powers’ reflects on two main concepts during his time in the 12 x 12. The first is the idea of a flat world, or the rise of a global economy and all that comes with it. He then introduced the concept of wildcrafting. Wildcrafters, he explains, are “people shaping their inner and outer worlds to the flow of nature, rather than trying to mold the natural world into a shape that is usable in the industrial world”(93). Even if you aren’t familiar with the term wildcrafters, you’re likely one of them. Wildcrafters work to minimize their carbon footprint; they support local, artisan initiatives; they garden and grow their own food; and they recognize their role in a larger ecosystem.
Although the entirety of Twelve by Twelve doesn’t directly relate to food and farming, every thought connects to the overarching belief that a simpler life lived in tune with nature leads to greater happiness. “Grab tools and press seeds into this soft world,” Powers tells us (260).
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