Thoughts on homesteading: cost-effectiveness

We’re in the midst of canning season right now. During our first two years on the homestead we did some amount of canning, trying to keep in mind that the transition from store-bought to home-grown involved much more than just putting the food we like into jars for later eating. Some things are much easier to can than others, and our diet needed to shift so as to emphasize those foods. Some of those foods were things we weren’t yet growing, so putting them up required that we buy the produce. And canning is hot, tedious work that can easily become discouraging if you don’t have a clear understanding of its value for the family economy. So we took it slow, putting up things we thought we’d enjoy the most, and learning to appreciate the fruits of those efforts over the winter.

This year Debbie decided that we were ready to can as if we meant it, so beginning with two posts that Granny Miller made describing her 2007 and 2008 plans for stocking her pantry, she began to develop her own goals for the year’s canning, taking into account our larger family, depending heavily on the two-week menu plans we write out and then save after using. The first result of that was a list of the number and types of canning jars we would need to buy in order to hold it all; several hundred, which required multiple trips to the Wal-Mart to obtain (and, for what it’s worth, the Wal-Mart canning aisle is much, much bigger and better stocked these days than in years past).

Here’s roughly what has been put up for the year, as it happened:

  • We don’t have any cherry trees, but our neighbors do. In June one gave us enough to make two cherry pies with, which we ate right away. Another invited the kids to come and pick as many cherries as they wanted once he had enough for himself; they spend a couple of mornings and brought home enough for eight pie fillings (which we froze), 2 pints of cherry amaretto jam, and a pie that we sent back to him as a thank you.

  • When it came time to snap scapes off the garlic in late June, we saved some to make five pints of pesto, which we froze.

  • A pint jar of dried oregano.

  • We bought a fancy fermenting crock, designed so that no scum forms during the process, and used it to make six quarts of sauerkraut, which we refrigerated. Boy, is it good. One quart went into the freezer as an experiment.

  • Two gallon bags of broccoli from the garden, in the freezer.

  • 1 quart dried yellow squash chips, 2 quarts canned.

  • 2 pints tomatillo-serrano salsa.

  • 12 quarts pickles.

  • 5 quarts kale.

  • 17 pints of basil pesto, frozen.

  • We have a field full of wild blackberry bushes. The kids don’t look forward to picking them because of the chiggers, but they picked enough for us to make 51 half-pints of preserves. We use Dutch Gel lite to make them, using a bare amount of sugar. The result is a wonderfully fresh taste, and we spread it thick on bread and biscuits with no regrets.

  • Two pints of herbal vinegars, using tarragon and marjoram from the garden.

  • We don’t have bearing peach trees yet, but in season out-of-state peaches are plentiful and cheap. Ours usually come from South Carolina, and this year they were excellent. We bought two bushels, about $50 worth, and canned 50 quarts of peach halves.

  • Our green bean of choice right now is Fortex, stringless but with a very green-beany flavor. We also grew some half-runners, the bean of choice in Kentucky but with a string, thinking that we might sell some (we didn’t). We had a lot of green beans left from last year, so we didn’t put up too many, 10 quarts canned and 10 pounds frozen. As far as Peter is concerned they make great finger food for babies, so a lot of them get served to him cold, straight from the jar.

  • Our pastor Roger Murrell introduced us to purple-hulled peas, which taste to us just like black-eyed peas (which we love) but don’t attract wasps in the garden like black-eyed peas. It takes time to shell a decent amount of them, but we managed to get three quart bags in the freezer, plus a bunch that we dried on the vine that will either be seed or more food for us. Next year we want to plant maybe five times as many.

  • A neighbor had a bountiful plum harvest, and brought us enough to make six pints of jam.

  • When we harvested potatoes, we canned eight quarts of the smallest ones. The rest are in the basement, maybe 300lbs or so.

  • Chicken broth, 21 pints.

  • When the onions came in, we chopped and froze 15 quart bags.

  • Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. One hundred eighty quarts in various forms.

  • Okra, one quart of dried slices.

  • One gallon bag of tomatillos, frozen.

  • Fourteen quart bags of bell peppers, frozen.

  • As far as meat goes, in the freezer we have 1.5 pigs (about 225lbs), 1.5 cows (about 500lbs), and fifty chickens about 3.5lbs apiece.

And right now it’s apples. Lots of apples. We have planted apple trees along the driveway, but it will be years if ever before they bear. I had been stalling on buying apples, since we wanted large quantities but I wasn’t excited about paying for them. And then one day Matthew decided to check on some old apple trees on the far side of the property, the remnants of a thirty-tree orchard that was mostly bulldozed by a previous owner. The remaining few trees were covered with apples. Not only that, they were delicious, crisp and sweet.

The kids spend most of the day picking the two trees that were easily accessible, and brought home twelve bushels. I haven’t checked local prices, but I figure that much would cost us between one and two hundred dollars. We’ve given some to friends, but most of it we plan to can. We’re getting about twenty quarts of applesauce to the bushel; the goal was one hundred quarts, but we may decide to do much more (especially remembering last year’s late freeze which destroyed all the local apples). Some of it we will experiment with, with our new steamer juicer or with making into cider.

It’s a joy to review all that, and to think of how bountifully God had provided for us this year, and how pleased and grateful we will be this winter as we diligently reduce our stores. But I also watched all the work that went into producing it, the long days of canning done mostly by Debbie and Maggie, and I ask myself the question that will occur to anyone looking at that list: was it worth it?

If by that question I mean, “Was it cost effective?”, then the answer is No. Just no. I can buy one hundred eighty quarts of canned tomatoes at Sam’s for about one hundred and eighty dollars, and it would have been much easier and quicker to earn one hundred and eighty dollars than to can those tomatoes. Same goes for everything else on the list. It is possible to fuzz that question up by scrambling to include intangibles like the healthiness of the food, or the joy of having done it yourself. But I am not a snob about industrial food—it feeds you at a price, and if you can’t justify paying a higher price or can’t afford to pay one, then by all means buy and eat it with a clean conscience. I would never ask anyone in my family to work as hard as they have been working merely to save the money we’ve been saving.

Which should tell you that it isn’t how we mean the question at all. True, for the longest time it was the only way I knew to understand the question, but I think now that not only was I wrong, it was such an understanding that kept me solidly trapped in a modern industrial mindset. Some of my fellow moderns dabbled in homegrown as a hobby or for health reasons, but not many; the rest of us had learned to think of time as money, and even the most gingerly experimenting would confirm that the money saved by homegrown a
nd homemade was far outweighed by the time, effort, and money that such a project cost.

And approached in a modern, industrial context I don’t think it can be otherwise. There is no denying that mass produced goods are cheaper, and in many tangible ways the quality is as good or even better. Which I think is why the conquest of agrarian America by modern industrial culture was so quick, decisive, and even effortless. When the tradeoff is portrayed as the choice between spending long hours doing the hot, tedious work of canning tomatoes, versus spending fewer hours doing the lighter work of manning a cash register or working behind a desk, the choice is a no-brainer.

But for this to be a true choice for the agrarian, there is a prerequisite: you must join the cash economy, so that your labor is transformed from an integral (and priceless) part of your life into just one more commodity that can be traded at market prices. The choice is actually an invitation to begin a journey away from the agrarian life.

It wasn’t so long ago that most of the world was not part of the cash economy. In his book Captains of Consciousness Stuart Ewen quotes a nineteenth century New England farmer who briefly describes how it was for about 90 percent of the American populace prior to 1830:

Ewen offers this great excerpt from the diary of a nineteenth century New England farmer:

My farm gave me and my whole family a good living on the produce of it and left me, one year with another, one hundred and fifty silver dollars, for I never spent more than ten dollars a year, which was for salt, nails, and the like. Nothing to eat, drink, or wear was bought, as my farm produced it all.

I’ve written before about the difference between a cash-centered family economy and one that is subsistence-centered, mostly quoting people that are wiser than me; you’ll find examples here and here. I don’t think that the two approaches to a family economy can be freely mixed, in the sense that we might favor a cash approach for some things and a subsistence approach for others, each family settling on the mixture of cash and subsistence that suits its personal preference best. Rather, the two approaches represent different mindsets, different ways of looking at the job of meeting our needs.

Worse, whether or not a cash outlook has its own integrity, it appears to have a highly corrosive effect on a subsistence outlook; that is, even when introduced in small quantities into a subsistent life, it seems to quickly exert irresitable pressure towards living a cash-based life, a downward slide well-described in the little book Henry and the Great Society. At the same time, even the smallest efforts to introduce subsistence into a cash-centered life are way more difficult to sustain than one might expect, and are usually crushed when confronted with that simple question: is this cost-effective?

Given the corrosive power of that simple question, I think the only way to move successfully towards a more subsistent lifestyle is to render it irrelevant. Some people may do it by elevating their preferences above the demands of cash, simply deciding that they just like to grow their own food or make their own clothes or supply their needs directly in other ways, and they don’t care how much it costs them to do it. For those who take this route I think it is a fine thing, since they will be blessed by their efforts in many ways that can’t possibly be quantified.

Our path is a different one, because our goal is to extract ourselves as thoroughly as we can from the cash economy, in an attempt to reclaim a pre-industrial way of life for ourselves. Glancing at where we are might not always reveal that, because we are also very cautious about how and when we take particular steps toward the goal. I’ve read plenty of stories about how folks much bolder than us would plunge enthusiastically into homesteading, accomplish things we still only dream of, live life as we think it should be lived, only to abandon the project five or ten years later.

We want our agrarian-ward steps, small as they are, to be permanent ones, and so we are careful not to take them until we can view them as not only a necessary change to our lives but a beneficial one. I used to joke with Debbie that the guy’s approach to simplifying life was to replace the automatic washing machine with a manual one. But I also insisted when we moved here that our washer and dryer be used just as they had before, until we decided we wanted to do things differently. At some point Debbie began hanging some of our clothes to dry on a line that the previous owners had strung on the porch, and then this May we bought a sturdy rotary clothesline where she now hangs most of our clothes when the weather is good. But we still run the dryer when the weather is extremely humid or threatening rain, and without guilt.

One thing that has helped keep us on this path, not surprisingly, is dwindling cash. As our efforts turn ever more towards supplying our needs from the farm, less of our time is spent doing things that earn cash, and so what we do get (and what we have in savings) is increasingly precious to us. So now I’m very aware of what it costs me to drive to the different places I need to go, and how much it costs to pick up fast food on the road rather than arrange to be home or pack a meal to go with me, or to buy a drink with a meal or a cup of coffee in the afternoon; I still do all those things on occasion, but not as casually as I once did. Likewise I am diligent about comparing prices at the grocery store, and think twice about buying a book rather than getting it through the library. In other words, as cash becomes more precious we look for ways not to spend it, which not only conserves the cash we do have but pushes us further down the road to a cash-free life.

So, to return to the initial question about our long, laborious effort to put up food for the year: is it worth it? From a modern viewpoint, no, it isn’t cost-effective no matter how you spin it. But for us, yes, because we’re convinced it is the way out of modernity.

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More on practice

The previous post on practice was in some ways an example of the point it was trying to make. All week long I’ve wanted to write several lengthy posts, but I’ve also been struggling with the symptoms of a head cold. So I decided to tackle the topic that I thought would be easiest to write about, and briefest as well. But as I began to write the topic began to take me places I wasn’t planning to go.

Eventually I found myself needing to write some things that I’ve avoided discussing in the past because giving concrete examples would have me writing uncharitable things about other people—or, at least, I wasn’t a clever enough writer to avoid being uncharitable. I almost abandoned the post, but decided instead that this was an instance of exactly my point, that high standards can actually inhibit us from ever reaching them because we are reluctant to take a shot at something when we know the result will be far from adequate.

Taking my own advice, I finished the piece with words and thoughts which were vague and muddy enough to make me cringe, yet still better than what I’ve been able to say on the topic in the past. I went ahead and published it, and for awhile I’ll be thinking about ways I could have done a better job. I’m sure I’ll think of some.

Practice

I’ve heard it said that “Life is not a dress rehearsal!”, and I guess I agree with it in the sense that it was intended. Too often we can get caught up in the notion that we shouldn’t do something unless we are fully prepared, and then find ourselves paralyzed by the fact that there is always a little bit more you could do to prepare. In Eric Brende’s book Better Off he tells a Minimite farmer that he and his fellow college students would often spend long years and piles of money to be trained in fields other than the ones they found themselves working in. The farmer’s response was to quote a verse:

He who studies, studies, studies
And does not practice what he knows
Is like one who plows, plows, plows
And never sows.

Fair enough. But I think that in another very real sense we ought to view all of life as a dress rehearsal, that is, as we practice what we know we should at the same time be studying, not just for the next time we will need to practice that thing but to benefit from whatever general things an experience can teach us.

Since January Chris and I have been playing music along with Jerome Lange at the Bread of Life Cafe, every Friday night from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. We play for tips, and more often than not the management will make a fairly generous contribution to the tip basket. Even split three ways the bills in the basket are appreciated, but if we were only playing for the money it probably wouldn’t have been enough to keep us coming back for nine months.

But we aren’t playing for the money. Instead, Chris and I sometimes joke about how pleasant it is to be paid to practice. And that’s how we view the time at the Bread of Life. We don’t prepare beforehand, and any new songs we come with were learned for some other reason. Unlike any other place we play, we set up a music stand for our lyric book, which now contains about 400 songs; normally I’m turned off by music stands, since they say to me that the singer was too lazy to learn the words, but at the Bread of Life I want to be able to vary the songlist significantly from week to week without running through them at home, and although we can usually remember the accompaniment I can’t always remember the words cold.

And so our time at the Bread of Life becomes very much a practice session for us. Not a full-blown one, where we might stop a song in the middle to work out a passage, or talk at length about how to do the song. But I will often take a brief moment after a song to talk with Chris about what to do next, or what new things to try on the song coming up. And when we’re trying new things with a song, or resurrecting a song we haven’t played in awhile, the resulting performance can be, well, a bit rough—certainly not as polished as we would want it to be for a paying audience—but we try not to be so adventurous that the quality drops to an embarrassing point.

I think the tradeoffs we make are fair. We don’t present a polished stage performance, but that isn’t what folks at the Bread of Life came for anyway; they came to eat their food and have their conversations and enjoy or ignore the music as they see fit. Our less-than-polished performances are more than adequate for that. Meanwhile, the resulting flexibility is what keeps us coming back; we have the opportunity to try new things before a live audience, to try to catch the attention of folks who are only half-listening to us, to practice recovering from mistakes, to think as much about how we sound as about how the listeners are responding. If that flexibility weren’t there, if we had to give a polished performance every time, I think the grind would have led us to give up that gig long ago. Instead we have found ways to redeem the time, and it keeps us willing and sometimes even eager to go back for another Friday.

Perhaps that’s the point I’m hoping to make in this piece: in any situation, but especially in less than ideal ones, it’s good to redeem the time by finding opportunities to practice useful things, things that quite often will be secondary to the situation. Sometimes we’ve played in venues with extremely bad sound systems, where we knew that the final result will be poor no matter what we do; so we took the chance to experiment with the microphones, we looked for ways to keep in time and on pitch when we couldn’t hear one another very well, and—especially!—we practiced smiling and carrying ourselves so that our misery wasn’t communicated to the audience. Sometimes we’ve been thrown together with musicians whose styles and skills don’t mesh well with ours, and we knew the music would be hash no matter what we did; so we looked for ways to mesh with them, to encourage them, to increase their enjoyment, to put our own self-importance on the shelf.

The examples I’ve given are based on our musical experiences, but I think they apply to all of life. When I find myself somewhere that I’d rather not be or doing something I’d rather not do, I scramble to find ways to redeem the time by practicing things I need to practice. Chief among them is choking down any resentment about the situation, usually by forcing myself to see how low on the scale of importance my unhappiness sits. Then I start zeroing in on what is making me unhappy. If it is dealing with unpleasant people, I practice ways to make dealing with them less unpleasant. If it is not having been given the tools to do the job I’ve been asked to do, I practice ways to make that clear while staying kind and loving. If it’s because I’ve failed to prepare properly, I practice ways to make it clear that I accept the blame and will do all I can to make things right, now or later.

And when I say practice, I mean that I don’t let the desire for a clean and certain resolution limit the things I will consider doing. As long as failure won’t lead to calamity, I will take the opportunity to risk a new way of responding to a situation, because there is no better time to learn whether that way is a better one. Sometimes you can’t risk that, but usually you can. And sometimes you will find a new and better way, one you can master and internalize, one that will make you a slightly better person.

Thoughts on homesteading: next year

It’s been a late garden year for us. Most of our market crops were “second plantings,” i.e. first plantings for us but intended to finish a few weeks after everyone else’s first plantings. A number of small growers, particularly the Mennonites, seem not to like doing second plantings. Perhaps it’s that they’re tired of the crops after the intensive first plantings they do. Or perhaps it’s that they don’t want cash crop harvests extending into the early fall, when they have other things they need to be doing. For whatever reason, there is often a shortage of crops like tomatoes in September, even though demand hasn’t flagged a bit.

So some of the lateness was intentional. But some of it was due to inexperience. We thought that to harvest three weeks later, you planted three weeks later, but this fails to take into account the ever-shortening days of summer and early fall, meaning the time to maturity gets ever longer; to harvest three weeks later, we probably need to plant two weeks later. And then there was this year’s unusually dry weather, which made everyone’s crops behave strangely.

Around the second half of August things began to ripen, and from then until now Mondays and Thursdays have been mostly devoted to picking, processing, and packaging produce for sale—tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and numerous varieties of squash. What struck me, though, was that while we were occupied with reaping the fruit of this year’s harvest, it wasn’t where our thoughts were. Instead, as the crops come out of the garden we spend most of our time discussing how we plan on doing things next year.

I’ve noticed the same thing when I see Jerome on the days when I’m taking the produce delivery to Lexington. Although there’s some talk about how well this year’s crops did, even that is mostly focused on what went wrong, what could have been done better, what needs to be done next year. In a very real sense, there’s not much to be said about the harvest beyond expressing our gratitude for God’s faithfulness; our creative role in the harvest was finished long ago, and even our nurture (watering, weeding) has diminished in importance over the summer. The diversity and nature and quality of what is coming out of the field hinges on decisions and actions taken—well, last year. And even now, in the heat of late summer, we are taking the first steps towards next year’s harvest.

There’s something comforting about farming’s significant temporal disconnect between actions and results, especially in these uncertain times. Although there can be small emergencies that need a rapid and intense response (such as Almanzo Wilder and family working through the night to save the corn crop from a freak June frost by pouring water on every plant), mostly the maintenance work is predictable and must be done steadily, e.g. if you leave off the weeding, soon enough the weeds will be out of control. Mostly there is no temptation to respond to trouble with “Do something!” because any something that might favorably affect the outcome would need to have been done long ago.

Although farmers live by this disconnect, it is not because only farming has this quality. All life has this quality, but I think only farmers understand that. Most of my corporate life was lived in crisis mode, every day spending long hours trying to somehow ameliorate the effects of mistakes or bad decisions made long ago. Similarly, today’s financial crisis is the result of mistakes and decisions and trends that have accumulated over the years, but rather than adopt a farmer’s resignation to paying for past mistakes and enduring a crop failure, we think that surely there is some technical fix, some radical step yet untaken, which will reverse our circumstances and transform failure into success.

Better to embrace the farmer’s outlook, I think. It teaches faithfulness, as well as contentment. Each year we are diligent in our learning and prudent in our planning, knowing that the results are yet far off. And each year we are satisfied with the harvest, knowing that it is the result of the best that we knew to do last year, that most of the factors that led to success or failure were in God’s hands rather than ours, and that each year presents another opportunity to do a better job preparing the next harvest.

The Man Who Created Paradise, by Gene Logsdon

If you were intrigued by the fact that David Lawson has created his Mountain Rose Vineyard on the remains of a strip mine, you will surely enjoy The Man Who Created Paradise, Gene Logsdon’s fable about reclaiming land that modernity has chewed up and spit out. Be aware that it was originally published as a handsome but fairly pricey coffee table book; putting it online for free, photographs and all, was a generous thing.

Ridgewood Boys on the radio

Friends of ours from Somerset, Joe LaMay and Sherry Reese, contribute a monthly fifteen-minute segment to Bill Knowlton’s Bluegrass Ramble, a New York radio program, featuring local musicians that they have recorded. A couple of weeks ago they came out to the house and recorded us doing a number of songs.

The first of the segments featuring us was broadcast this past Sunday, and you can hear it here (click on “Play Segment” link under the picture). I think it turned out OK, but these days I’m not the person to ask; Chris and I are preparing to record another CD, and so whenever I listen to recordings of us all I hear are the things I don’t like.

The final song in the segment is from a gospel CD that Joe and Sherry are recording; Chris has been adding fiddle and banjo on some of the tracks.

Mountain Rose Vineyard

On Saturday Chris and I drove to Wise, Virginia, to the Mountain Rose Vineyard. We were part of the entertainment at a small festival, Mines to Wines; we joined Ron Short to play a set of coal mining songs. What made it apropos is that the vineyard was created on the remains of a strip mining operation. Folks thought the idea was crazy, but owner David Lawson knew that grapes would love the acid ground and thrive in the relatively dry weather. Five years later, the wines David produces are now winning awards.

We arrived in mid-afternoon because the group that sponsors our Music of Coal shows, the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth, had arranged for a photographer to take some publicity stills. He hiked with us up to a particularly scenic section of the vineyard, picked out a spot for us to stand, and proceeded to do what photographers do. The day was intermittently cloudy, so there were stretches of waiting for the right light punctuated by hurried sessions of picture-taking. The fellow seemed to know his craft, so we’re curious to see the results.

The winery grounds really are lovely, in a polished industrial way. I don’t intend that as an insult, but only to note that much of what made it picturesque had been done exactly for that purpose. Rose bushes were planted at the end of every row of grapes. The rows of grapes were weed free, probably from liberal application of Roundup, and the paths between the rows were wide and well-mowed.

The operation had the manicured look of an agritourist attraction, which in fact it is, a very well-thought out one. Just outside the winery building is a lawn suited for holding outdoor dinners, which is just what they held before our performance, for $20 per head, serving chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and green beans and salad and rolls and cobbler with ice cream for dessert, accompanied by a glass of wine if you liked. Just inside the building was a large room with more tables, a fireplace, and a counter, where wines could be tasted and purchased.

After the show the owner gave us a quick tour behind the scenes, taking us into the rest of the building which was filled with the equipment they use these days to produce wine: a machine to de-stem the grapes, another to crush and squeeze them, maybe twelve 1000-gallon temperature controlled stainless steel vats where the juice is fermented, and a bottling station. David told us that each of the vats cost him around $6000 a couple of years ago; now they sell for over $10,000.

Thinking about our own efforts to farm, I was vaguely uneasy about the whole operation. On the one hand, I had been reacting positively to the place all day long. But as I heard these numbers and added my own silent estimates of what it must have cost to acquire the other equipment, build the building, prepare the grounds, plant and maintain the grapes, market the product, and plan and execute the different events hosted there, I understood that it was a significant business venture that required investors, employees, profit and loss statements—a different universe than the one we operate in, a universe fraught with dangers that had driven us to choose another path.

As we were leaving, Ron was telling David that he thought Mountain Rose Vineyard was a wonderful thing, a blessing to Wise County, and I wondered: is it? After all, I spend a lot of time pointing out the dangers of the modern industrial approach to not only agriculture but life in general, and in some ways this operation exemplifies that.

I think that it is a blessing, and maybe even a wonderful thing. The operation is small, and run by the Lawson family, the folks who were setting up beforehand and serving in the midst of and cleaning up afterwards. There is a house on the property where I think David lives with his family. They are making a fine and wholesome product, with the attention to detail and quality that a small operation can provide. They draw visitors to the county. They have become a local gathering place for the community through the events they stage (music, dinners, grape harvests, and so on). And even though their business is capital intensive beyond what the average family could manage, it is ends up being a home-based family business, and I imagine the Lawson family experiences many of the same blessings that other rural farming families experience.

Which brings me to my point. For awhile now I’ve been reluctant to speak too bluntly about certain aspects of our own journey, because I haven’t known how to do so without seeming to criticize folks who have chosen to pursue simplicity in their lives in ways different than ours. But I think it’s time for all of us to get past this, either by choosing a niche in the matrix or coming to understand that we’ve already chosen one, and then getting comfortable with it. We need to be equally comfortable saying two different things: (a) I think what you’re doing is great, and here’s why; and, (b) I wouldn’t do it that way, and here’s why. Put another way, there are choices that are great in one context and not so great in another. Put yet another way, what works very well for you might not work at all for me, because we have decided to follow different paths to the same (or at least similar) goals, and so my rejection of some specific choices you’ve made is not necessarily a criticism of your overall project.

Let me offer a specific example. My friend Scott Terry has written a number of important posts (here, here, and here are examples) pointing out ways in which a home-based economy is at odds with the cash-centeredness of modern life, and that the form of the good life he advocates is fairly spare when it comes to material blessings (at least as the modern world counts such things). For folks who are on the path we ourselves are following, this is critical wisdom; we need to know that there is no panacea, pastured poultry or anything else, that will result in the sort of life we seek while still yielding comfortable amounts of cash. But we also need to acknowledge that there are other sorts of lives that can center around cash crops and still be dramatically superior to the average modern industrial existence.

I want to get past the abovementioned reluctance for two reasons. First, I think that anyone who reads what I write benefits most when I am clear and detailed about what we do and why we do it. So I want to be able to do just that without giving unnecessary offense and without being called to defend our choices by folks who object to them. And second, I think that folks who are largely in agreement on what constitutes the good life need to do everything possible to help one another in their efforts to live such a life. So I want to get to a place where those who largely share our assumptions about the good life can exchange opinions and information freely, in full confidence that any arguments or questions or objections come from like-minded people of good will who are trying to get at what’s best and are just as open to being persuaded as they are to persuading.