Gwendolyn Bounds reports on the growing number of urban and suburban dwellers heading for the countryside:

Motivations can vary, but typically there are three groups: young people buying land as an asset or investment, with vague hopes to live on it someday; exurban commuters who have jobs in big towns or cities but want to escape the sprawl; and back-to-the-land types who want to dabble in hobby farming. While the 76 million-strong baby boomers eyeing retirement represent the largest ruralpolitan segment, they're being joined by a growing contingent of 20-to-early-40-somethings freshly imprinted by this recession's pain.

If baby boomers follow typical migration patterns, the rural population age 55-85 will increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. But other factors, such as widespread Internet access, are giving this current ruralpolitan trend new longevity, particularly among younger generations. Enhanced renewable-energy options and associated tax credits mean homes can be more affordably powered by the sun or wind in areas where utility companies won't service cheaply. [...]

Interest in small-scale hobby farming has also bloomed, particularly among the young. When environmental-news Web site Mother Nature Network ran a piece called "40 Farmers Under 40" this year, it garnered nearly 100,000 hits, one of its most popular features since the site's launch. Visitors to the Web site of Living the Country Life magazine increasingly seek info on wood stoves, solar panels and windmills. "It's a little like the pioneer spirit," says Betsy Freese, the magazine's editor.

(Photo: Noah Kalina)