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Melissa Gilbert is returning to her roots.
The actress, who famously starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie,” found herself wanting to live a simpler life after her husband, actor/director Timothy Busfield, introduced her to the wilds of his native rural Michigan.
As their work brought them to New York City, they yearned to escape up north. The couple eventually encountered a rustic cottage on 14 acres in the Catskills mountains that needed plenty of work to be livable. The 58-year-old was determined to make the space, lovingly referred to as “The Cabbage,” as her home. And she did just that.
Melissa Gilbert has written a new book titled ‘Back to the Prairie’. (Gallery Books)
Today, Gilbert has proudly embraced her country home where she grows her own food and raises chickens. In living a more natural lifestyle, Gilbert has ditched plastic surgery — along with the societal expectations of Hollywood — and feels free in her skin. She’s now sharing her journey in a new book titled “Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered.”
The star spoke to Fox News Digital about creating her dream life, her favorite memory of late co-star Michael Landon and why she’s finally at peace with aging.
Fox News: What inspired you to write “Back to the Prairie” now?
Melissa Gilbert: I would love to say that everything was my idea *laughs*. But it was a series of inspirations from people around me. We were all going through that initial lockdown during those first months [of the pandemic]. Everybody was isolated and in their homes. The best and only way to feel connected was through social media. Like everyone else, as we were going through that, eating all the comfort food and making all the sourdough bread, I was posting pictures of the meals we were eating, which were very comforting and wildly unhealthy, but lots of fun!
Melissa Gilbert hanging out with her chickens. (Courtesy of Melissa Gilbert)
I got a call from “CBS This Morning” saying they wanted to come up and do a story about it, a socially distanced story about me going back to the prairie. That was the first time I heard it. I thought, “Oh, that’s cute — back to the prairie.” And then my literary agent called me after he saw [the segment] and said, “This is a book you know, going back to the prairie lifestyle.” And it sprung from that.
The idea was to celebrate this life we’ve created up in the Catskills with our chickens. But also, I wanted to remind people to be loving, kind, compassionate and tolerant. We need to learn to be together again. I was inspired by the idea of what we want and what we need. We learned so clearly during the whole beginning of lockdown, when you suddenly can’t buy toilet paper, that other things suddenly become very unimportant.
Fox News: You grew up as a child in Los Angeles. When did you realize that you wanted to live on a farm?
Gilbert: I mean, I grew up on a set that was a farm *laughs*. I got to play it out quite a bit and then go to our nice home in Encino at the end of the cul-de-sac with all of our modern conveniences. But I’ve always loved being in the outdoors. I’ve always loved being around animals. I think this was who I always was at my core. I just happened to grow up in urban cities.
Melissa Gilbert starred as Laura Ingalls Wilder in ‘Little House on the Prairie’. (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Once we got up here, once we got our land and started to look at all the things we could do with it, and then when lockdown happened, it unleashed all of this stuff inside me. There was a person who was dying to have this [new life]. I still can’t believe this is what my life is like now. It’s heaven. I’m just so blessed.
Fox News: There’s no doubt that “Little House on the Prairie” certainly influenced you at a very young age.
Gilbert: Oh yes — 100%. We’re launching a website to continue this prairie lifestyle. I wanted to create a space where women 45 and older, as well as others, can gather and share ideas and information… I just think that forced return to the sweet, simple things in life stuck with me. It’s really who I’ve been at my core all my life. And now I just want to share that with people.
Fox News: What’s one memory of Michael Landon that makes you smile whenever you think about it? Perhaps a memory that came to mind while you were bringing this house to life?
Gilbert: I have so many incredible memories of him that make me smile. Right now, just hearing his name, the first thing that came to mind was him sending me to catch a little frog by the creek so he could pop it in his mouth. He would go over and say hi to a group of fans that would stand on the side of the set and let the frog jump out of his mouth at them. That was Michael Landon.
Michael Landon passed away in 1991 at age 54 from pancreatic cancer. (Photo by Ted Shepherd/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Fox News: In 2018, you and your husband purchased a cottage. Could you recall that moment when you realized, “This is home?”
Gilbert: We bought this place in the winter of 2018. We began cleaning it and making it livable shortly thereafter. We were taking it apart and wiping it down. I think at that time I knew it could be a home once we got it together. It had no heat, and the plumbing was kind of wonky. We had to empty all the stuff that was in the house because it was fully furnished, I mean, to the point where there was cereal in the cabinets and soap in the shower. It was like the people had just wrapped up out of the house and it sat there for decades like that.
Once we cleaned all of that stuff out, we put the wood-burning stove to warm it before we put in an actual heating system. There was so much cleaning. I remember my husband with a bucket just cleaning the ceilings with hydrogen peroxide and Clorox. We scrubbed that place within an inch of its life.
We spent our first night there, once it was all clean, on a mattress on the floor in the living room. We were waiting for the delivery of the fridge, the washing machine, the dishwasher and stove. I just remember thinking at that moment, “This is home. This is going to be our home.” I think it was that night, that first night that we slept there, is when I realized, “Oh gosh, this is really it. And we’re going to be doing this ourselves. And it’s going to be incredible.”
Building the family’s dream kitchen. (Courtesy of Melissa Gilbert.)
Fox News: We suspect that running a cottage isn’t as glamorous as it sounds.
Gilbert: It’s not glamorous at all *laughs*. Mornings usually start around 7:00 a.m. with a cup of tea and some nice, peaceful meditation. Then I go out and do my chicken chores. That means cleaning out the chicken coop, giving the girls their treats and collecting any eggs that are in there.
Then I go to my garden. I look at everything that’s been planted. And there’s usually something that goes wrong or is broken and needs to be fixed. And we’ve all got projects to start. We’re making window boxes for the houses. We’re redoing the deck. Those projects will begin probably around four o’clock. Then we’ll stop working particularly hard, take showers and make dinner. And finally, we collapse on the couch.
Fox News: Is there anything that you’re currently growing in your garden? Or is there something you would like to grow that you haven’t quite mastered yet?
Gilbert: I’m growing strawberries, which I haven’t done before. We just planted them a couple of weeks ago. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this year. I had a couple of little strawberries, but they got overshadowed by some taller plants, and they didn’t grow much. I’m trying again, and I’m hoping to get more strawberries this year, enough for me to be able to can them.
Melissa Gilbert’s goal is grow strawberries this year. (Courtesy of Mellissa Gilbert)
Fox News: The idea of an actress moving to a cottage in the Catskills sounds like the perfect plot for a Hallmark film.
Gilbert: You’re not the first person to say that either, which is fantastic. I love that!
Fox News: You’ve also embraced a more natural lifestyle where you’re not trying to fit into any kind of mold in terms of plastic surgery or fillers. How much of an influence did your lifestyle, living in this house, have on this decision?
Gilbert: Well, our lives got very, very simple. Our lives are simple now, and there’s a sweetness to that simplicity. And with that simplicity comes a real love for stillness and living my life in a peaceful place. That means not fighting a natural process. Fighting a process that is as natural as aging is the opposite of peaceful.
It’s an uphill battle. Eventually, everyone loses. It just does not fit in with who I am and what my life is now. It’s exhausting and it’s unnecessary. I had to find a place within myself where I could stop trying to, or feeling like I needed to be what everybody else wanted me to be and be exactly who I am. This is me now — no hair color, no filler, no implants, no Botox. I just take care of myself. I try to eat as well as I can. I drink a lot of water. And I’m really enjoying the aging process because of that.
Melissa Gilbert with her son. (Courtesy of Melissa Gilbert)
Fox News: You’ve described experiencing a “reawakened loved for the outdoors.” How?
Gilbert: When I was a little girl growing up on the “Little House on the Prairie” set, I had so much fun whenever we would film outside. There were other kids to play with and lots of games we could do. They always had a lot of activities for us on set. And there were animals everywhere. I think everyone on the set had a dog, and they would all bring their dogs to the set. We had cows, chickens, horses and even guest animals. I remember for one episode we had a baby raccoon.
It always felt like a big adventure, to be in the outdoors and play while working. I just loved the feeling it gave me. You know, I’m no Bear Grylls. I’m no great outdoors woman. But there’s something about the outdoors that still calls me. Planting my garden, watching over my chickens and just feeling the dirt and nurturing our food that grows each day from the ground — it’s satisfying. It awakened my soul in a way that I’ve never felt before.
Fox News: Is there anything about Hollywood that you do miss?
Gilbert: I don’t miss Hollywood. I miss my relatives and friends in Los Angeles. I miss them terribly. I wish I could see them more often. I’m hoping that as things gradually open up and we don’t go backward, I’ll continue to have the freedom to go visit them when I need to. I was finally able to go see my mom late last summer. That was really impactful. I saw my kids and I saw my granddaughter in LA. I miss them. I miss my friends there.
Growing lettuce and herbs. (Courtesy of Melissa Gilber)
Fox News: Are you familiar with the term “slow living?” It’s been picking up on social media.
Gilbert: I don’t know if it’s anything like slow food or slow cooking, which is the opposite of fast food. So enjoying life, savoring it all, taking your time, really being mindful and aware of each passing moment. If that’s what we’re talking about, disconnecting and not feeling like everything’s a competition and we’re always kind of trying to keep up with the Joneses. If that’s what slow living is, then that’s what I’m doing. I absolutely subscribe to that. It’s changed my whole life.
Fox News: What’s the secret behind your lasting marriage to Timothy?
Gilbert: At the core, we’re true partners in this marriage. We both respect one another immensely and have great regard for each other. Finally — and this is really important — we make each other laugh all the time. That’s a big deal. He’s my blanket, he’s my comfort place. I feel safest when I’m with him.
Melissa Gilbert and Timothy Busfield on their wedding day, circa 2013. (Courtesy of Melissa Gilbert)
Fox News: What do you hope readers will ultimately get from your book and journey?
Gilbert: I hope it reminds readers of what we’ve been through. We’ve been through something extraordinary and here we all are, those of us who are still here. My heart does, of course, break for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost loved ones to his horrible pandemic. But I hope that maybe people will read this and realize that it really is the sweet, simple things that are the best and most important in life… Maybe it will inspire people to be a little more gentle and loving with each other.