Video: Americans seek green acres

By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/31/2005 8:41:44 PM ET 2005-04-01T01:41:44

You'll have to forgive Steve and Rhonda Linehan if they look a little out of place. Until six months ago the Linehans and their children were city dwellers in Orlando, Fla.

"We had a strip of grass and that was it," says Rhonda.

Today, home is a 35-acre farm in Rockwall County, Texas, half an hour from Dallas.

"It's really hard to trick or treat out here," jokes Steve.

Their nearest neighbors are 12 horses, four donkeys, a goat, some longhorn cattle and three very happy pigs.

"The big appeal was the open space; No. 1 for the kids to play, and No. 2 it’s nice for the adults to have the open space surrounding you as well," says Steve.

They're not the first people to chuck big city life for farm living. Remember "Green Acres?"

Population researchers say families like the Linehans are part of a "rural rebound" that added more than 5 million residents to non-metropolitan areas during the 1990s. Today, rural areas within commuting distance of cities are booming.

"There is a very strong trend of people moving beyond the edge of the suburbs of very large cities into nearby rural areas," says John Cromartie, a population specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many are baby boomers looking for greener retirement pastures. Others, like Jim Purcell, want their children to experience a simple life. He commutes from his five-acre farm outside of Atlanta to his job as a deputy sheriff in the city.

"I think the quality of life is much better," he says. "You appreciate things better, you notice sunsets more. That's what really counts."

But population growth in rural areas comes at a steep price to farmers who say they are being squeezed out.

Rockwall is the fourth-fastest growing county in America. A new subdivision of homes on five-acre lots sits on 1,000 acres that farmer J.D. Jacobs used to lease to grow corn.

"My son wants to farm," says Jacobs. "But if he does, he'll have to move out of this area."

As for the Linehans, Rhonda says she "wouldn't trade it for anything. I wouldn't go back."

She won't have to. Because the suburbs — Starbucks and all — are moving to the country.

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