By Brooke Geery
The idea of homesteading — living a simple, off-the-grid life free of many bills modern society requires and taking advantage of the earth’s abundance — may sound enticing in these pandemic times. For many generations, brave and outdoorsy types had chosen to make a go at the lifestyle. So many, in fact, that there’s an entire reality TV show on the Discovery Channel dedicated to helping them.
On “Homestead Rescue,” craftsman and survival expert Marty Raney, his farmer daughter, Misty, and hunter/fisher son, Mark, roll into town with a camera crew, hoping to teach families the essential skills on how to survive, and thrive, in the wilderness. At the end of May, the Raneys arrived in Bridgewater to the 31-acre homestead of Lara and Mark Bowers. The two-house episode premiered Sunday, Oct 24, and can now be watched on demand on Discovery+.
The Bowers threw themselves into homesteading full time in 2019, after Lara, 42, lost her job as a professor due to the closure of College of St. Joseph. They joyfully watched their episode alongside the general public as it aired.
“It was kind of a nice reminiscing, like watching a home movie,” Lara said. “Seeing things like, ‘I remember that’ or ‘I haven’t seen that person since then.’ And every time the goats came on we were excited, and said ‘yay, the goats!’”
The four-legged family members showed up a lot in the episode, which didn’t surprise her one bit.
“They were so fond of the goats, the director loved them. I actually said, ‘Ok, Scott, you gotta level with me, how much of my episode is gonna be goats?’”
Television isn’t a regular part of the Bowers’ lifestyle; Lara said they haven’t had cable in years. But Mark, 43, found out about the opportunity on a natural homesteading forum, where the show posts advertisements looking for participants. Overwhelmed by their own projects, the couple agreed that appearing on show would be worthwhile. They applied, and were accepted in January of 2020; however, the production was pushed back a year due to Covid, and the Raneys finally showed up to help this spring.
“They filmed the last week of May and the first week of June, when everything was nice and green and there were lots of black flies!” Lara laughed.
On the show, the story line is that they only have seven days to complete the build. The projects tackled included an underground greenhouse, adding a roof, walls and otherwise and improving the Bowers’ existing house, getting the water running, and adding a driving bridge and driveway access to the homestead. It seemed like a lot for seven days, but Lara said filming actually took longer.
“That’s a little bit of reality TV jiggering. They were actually here for 12 days. They came on a Monday and they stayed a whole week and through the next Friday. They considered certain days to be work days. They had seven or eight days where they had work being done and the film crew was there. Other days they came and did interviews and walk arounds and they even had another day where we had people here doing work and they didn’t have the film crew come and the Raney’s weren’t there.”
When they previously lived in Texas, the Bowerses — who now have two children of their own: Judah, 10, and Shayna, 7 — were foster parents. The show’s producers took this story line and ran with it, choosing projects with the end goal of getting the family approved to be foster parents in Vermont. The Bowers children were not on set due to liability issues, but Lara confirmed they love having walls now, and currently share one of the three rooms Marty was able to create in the house.
However, not everything filmed made the cut, including a trip to the sawmill in Barnard, where the majority of the lumber used on the homestead is sourced.
“I was a little disappointed that they didn’t put in their trip to the Van Allstyne saw mill because that was a really cool thing and I was part of that trip,” Lara said. “They made a big fuss about going there and filmed a lot. That’s where they got all the wood for the show, and where we’ve gotten all the wood for our house. It’s so cool because it’s this super old sawmill, Floyd Van Allstyne is like 101 years old and still going strong. The producers went up there and fell in love with it, and they were filming them milling the lumber and picking out the wood they used. But then in the show, they didn’t use it. There was one scene where Misty gave an interview with the mill in the background. But they were definitely part of it, and the Van Allstynes were really sweet and helpful.”
Lara said she loved working with everyone involved with the show, from the producers to the cast. But when asked how much easier her life is with a driveway and running water, she hesitated, noting that the happy conclusions in the episode may have been a little bit more TV magic.
“So, we don’t actually have a fully-functioning driveway and running water,” she said. “We do have water that comes out of the tap, but the spring is so messed up that the water is all contaminated. We can’t drink it, but we can use it to do dishes and wash our hands and stuff. We’re still searching for a source of drinkable water and until then I’m still carrying buckets of water.”
But she’s not complaining. In fact, she noted that Marty actually went out of his way to keep working even after production had wrapped.
“Marty came back the day after the filming was done — his flight back to Alaska wasn’t until the afternoon — so he came back and got the excavator going and kept working on the driveway. At the time the filming was done you couldn’t get from the road to the bridge. He spent the whole morning clearing it all out so we would have access from the road. They did the best they possibly could in the amount of time they had.
“The fact that we had never met them, and they had never seen it, it’s amazing how much they got done. We’re still working on finishing up some of those projects though. That’s my understanding of how reality TV shows work. They definitely got us started, and we are saving time by being able to wash dishes and stuff. It gave us time to work on our barn, which has been our big project over the summer. Now we have a dry place to store wood and hay and a dry place for our chickens. I’m excited.”
This will be the Bowers’ third winter on the homestead and Lara said she’s looking forward to it being their easiest yet.
“The first winter was brutal. We had a tiny wood stove and not nearly enough insulation. It was 30 degrees during the day. I was glad the kids could leave and go to school,” she said. “The second winter was much better because we had the rocket mass heater that I was showing to Mark in the episode, so that heated the house much better, but we didn’t have dry wood. This winter we have the heater, dry wood and we’re working on putting in a radiant heated floor that uses water and will help heat the house a lot. I’m really optimistic this will be a cozy winter!”
In addition to homesteading, Lara works part time as an EMT in Woodstock and Mark is on staff at Goodro Lumber in Killington. As evidenced by the show, homesteading in the Green Mountains has its fair share of challenges, but, she said, they are worth the effort.
“Our goal is to try and be debt free, reduce our carbon footprint, and be as natural and healthful as possible,” Lara said. “It’s really nice to not have to pay a mortgage or gas bill or water bill. And especially when a big storm blows through and people are like, ‘we were without power for 24 or 48 hours’ and you look at us and we’re like, ‘we got power, we’re good!’”