Two steps forward, four back.


D, my friend with the five acre farm, has had a very bad year.  She too has had a crappy garden; what the pesticide residues in the manure didn’t get the hailstorms did.  She has lost two Jersey cows this year as well as a merino sheep, and several baby goats, along with an entire crop of chicks, and her layers as well (these were picked off a few at a time from a predator, species unknown).  She has had several thousand dollars worth of vet bills, spent 4 months laid up with pneumonia and its extended recovery period, and her dad, who lives on the adjacent property, has had two open heart surgeries.  Their truck, which they depend on for hauling hay and livestock, is presently broken, for the third time; their Sidekick lost the engine while they were driving it.  Their well dried up and they were forced to haul water for several months in the hottest part of the year.

Now this would be tragic and frustrating if it had happened to me.  It would not however mean potential loss of home and hearth as I have a full time job to fall back on.  For her and her family however, this is a bad year of epic proportions.  They depend on the farm for their livelihood.  They eat what they put up; they eat the meat they raise; they sell extra goats that are necessarily produced in order to have milk and make cheese; they sell eggs and extra milk.  It has been a sobering lesson for me.  I grew up living on and near farms for most of my life; even when we lived in town we had an enormous garden outside of town that we tended, at least until my mom’s arthritis made it impossible for her to keep it up.  My dad and his wife still have a several acre garden that they keep as does my sister.  My uncle’s farm is long gone, tragically, since none of the children wanted it after he died.  So I’m familiar with the whole lifestyle of what D and her family live, in an indirect way.  With the exception of my uncle, who ran a dairy business in the days when the truck still drove to each small farm to pick up the milk in 5 gallon cans (and the cows were milked by hand), what none of my family have ever tried to do is to live solely on that farming lifestyle.  Now, D’s DH Mr. D runs his own business, but with the economy in the toilet business is slower than ever and with their truck out of commission, it’s impossible for him to drive to town for a job (and doesn’t really pay for itself in fuel costs anyway).  What if we had no fall back income?  This has been a really bad year for us in the garden, with about 40% of what I had hoped to get.  What if we depended on the garden truly, exclusively, for our food for the year?

We have been close to losing our house, back in the days when the economy was booming for seemingly everyone but us.  Thankfully we were able to work out a deal with the bank, caught up our arrears over a period of a few years, and are still here.  Now that the economy is in the toilet, we are (for the moment anyway) doing Ok, able to make our bills on one income with the second devoted to paying down debt and making our home more sustainable as a homestead in the long term.  Our own plans have taken a serious blow as Mr. TF’s own job was a recent casualty in the current cut-throat climate.  I cannot imagine having the economic problems topped by the farm problems, and the stress that must cause them.  And yet, this was reality for people in this nation during the Great Depression as well.  What happened to all those people who lost their farms?  How much lower can one go from subsistence farming and scraping by?  How many just died?  Who got all that acreage fallen fallow?

Is the lesson there to simply be stewards of someone else’s land then?  So that you can walk away without losing everything you own?  Or is the lesson to own your property outright, and always have money buried in the back yard, untouchable except for paying taxes in the bad years so you don’t lose your legacy to the children?  And how many bad years does it take to use up that buried cash?

Or maybe the problem is in the concept of money to begin with?  What if we were simply a barter based society?  Ok, now I’m getting into fantasy land here, but I think the question has some validity.  If money has a value that goes back to a commodity produced from the land (as all things do, if you trace them back far enough), then why have it as the intermediary at all?  After all, there were barter and trade routes all over the US for thousands of years before the concept of money arose; the trade routes extended from the tip of South America to the Arctic and most places in between.  But then, the public services would truly have to be public — meaning if you want the road repaired for example, you get out there with some of your neighbors and fix it yourselves, as do your further neighbors up the road, and so on.  That is after all how it was done for a very long time in many parts of the world.

Or maybe, it is the dissociation from true value that the concept of money causes.  I have always taught my children that money represents time.  It is time you spent out of you lifetime allotment, that you can never get back.  So spend your time wisely. I often have this same sort of conversation at work with my coworkers.  As little as I do toward canning, gardening, small livestock keeping, etc. they are amazed that I do it at all, and say they never could.  I always explain to them that they ARE.  They are using their time by buying their food at the grocery store.  I am using my time by doing it myself with the result that I get to spend more time AT HOME.  Not working overtime to pay for things.  It really seems to be a hard concept for most people to grasp.  The separation from what money represents, and how our daily bread is gotten to the table, and the fact that we take shortcuts by paying taxes for someone else to fix the roads (usually badly) rather than taking responsibility, doing it to the best of our abilities with our neighbors, is a nearly insurmountable problem.  It is the dissociation from HOW things work, in both the small and the large.  The loss of what money represents, in both commodity and in time, is a serious problem with no easy fixes.  It makes it easy for the costs of things to keep going up while the value of what we get keep going down.

We are really in trouble as a race.  And I, being unable to do anything to change that, am going to go out on my front deck and listen to the wind in the trees, enjoy the sunshine, and knit a baby bootee.

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2 responses

  1. >They are using their time

    All the more so because they had to go earn the money they are spending at the store. Thoreau made this point in Walden:

    One says to me, “I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.” But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day’s wages. I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road. Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together. You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.

    • Reading Walden was responsible for the crystallization of many ideas I had muddling around my head for many years without a clear way to articulate them. Having grown up in Amish country, and being very poor and doing many of the things the Amish did as part of our lifestyle, allowed me to grow up with the knowledge that it’s not how much you have, but how much time you have to enjoy what you do have.

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