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the evolution of our homestead

live with my wife, Penny, and sons, Finlay, 12, and Rye, 9, in the
northern Vermont dairy-farming community of Cabot. You may
have heard of my hometown, but if so, its probably only because of
the eponymous creamery that has won numerous awards for its butter and
cheese. Cabot is a working-class town of about 1,200, and it is currently
home to a dozen family-scale dairy farms that milk anywhere from about
30 to perhaps 100 cows. Ironically, the overwhelming majority of the
milk produced in the town of Cabot doesnt find its way into the products
that bear the towns name; the dysfunction inherent to the dairy industry
compels most of our neighbors to sell their milk to organic distributors.

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My family and I operate a highly diversified homestead on 40 southwesterly facing acres about a mile north of the village proper. Or maybe
its not a homestead; maybe its a farm. Or is it a farmstead? The definitions of each seem so personal and malleable that Im never really sure
what to call our place. Nor am I certain it matters. Of our 40 acres, about
10 are in pasture, vegetable, and fruit production; the remaining 30
comprise a woodlot of typical northeastern species, plus a handful of
interlopers, riding the tide of wetter, warmer winters and the expanding
growing season. There is spruce and balsam fir, maple hard and soft.
White birch and yellow birch, elm and white ash. We have a few small
stands of red oak, something our forester assures us is quite rare for the
region, but is nonetheless real nice to see.
Penny and I came to this property in 1997, at the end of an exasperating quest to find a piece of land that was suitable for growing at least a
portionand hopefully, a rather significant portionof our food, and
which we could afford. In isolation from each other, these were fairly
attainable goals, but when combined in the context of our modest budget of $30,000, they seemed for a time downright unattainable. We
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trudged through one 5-acre swamp after another, our boots squelching
and slurping in the muck, before picking and tripping our way across the
wounded landscapes of recent clear-cuts on the handful of parcels that
fell in our price range. Our sense of futility grew in direct proportion to
the number of unsuitable properties we were shown.
Unlike many would-be homesteaders, we werent fleeing stressful
careers, nor had we soured on the hurly-burly of city life. Our desire to
live in connection with the land and the natural world was merely an
extension of our lives thus far. I was born and raised in rural northern
Vermont, and although Pennys early years were passed in the New Jersey suburbs, shed spent all of her adult years working on vegetable
farms, earning the dubious distinction of becoming the first in her family
to leave college in order to farm. We met on the island of Marthas Vineyard, where Id gone for the winter to make a quick buck working
construction, and where she was alternately farming and digging ditches.
I mean this literally: We actually met on a construction site after shed
been hired to dig a ditch for the sprinkler system, and from the moment
she pedaled up the job-site driveway, with a shovel and pickax strapped
to the frame of her bicycle, on a rainy January morning, I was a goner.
Wed visited a local bank and, owing to our good credit, had been
pre-approved for a low six-figure mortgage, but that would have necessitated buying property with a house, since banks dont like to lend unless
there is a physical structure they can reclaim. Besides which, neither of
us made more than $8 per hour at the time, although our penchant for
thriftwhich among other trials included living in a tent on a friends
land until the first snows of early Decemberhad enabled us to save
$15,000. According to the banks spreadsheets, based on calculations
that eluded our sense of logic, we could afford the monthly payment on
a $100,000-plus mortgage. Maybe the bank was right. But even if the
bank was right, it seemed wrong.
Anyway, we didnt want to buy a house; we wanted to build one. It
felt to us like an essential part of the process, as if to properly inhabit a
home, it should be imbued with a certain amount of sweat and struggle
that could only arise from the physical act of actually putting it together,
stud by stud, nail by nail. In hindsight, I see just how fortunate and naive
we were. Fortunate because we were able to purchase land before the
real estate boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s priced it beyond our
reach, and naive because we never really considered that it might not
work out. Certainly, if we were to do it all over again today, wed almost
certainly need to settle for less (or lesser) land, and we may not have the
luxury of eschewing debt to the extent we did.
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Our desire to avoid debt has always been a motivating factor and has
often defined how our work unfolds. Id like to say this desire originates
from some evolved consciousness regarding the mechanics of money or
how interest-bearing debt is at the core of humanitys exploitation of the
natural world and even one another. But when it came time to buy property, truth was much simpler: We just couldnt imagine signing up for 30
years of monthly mortgage payments. One hundred thousand dollars
was an almost unfathomable sum to us, one that we feared would crush
us under the burden of its repayment. To us, it felt like signing away a
piece of our freedom, and although there was a brief period during which
this almost came to seem like a tenable option, if only because there
seemed to be no other tenable options, we ultimately couldnt carry
through with it.
What did we want in a piece of land? I can do no better than this
passage from Elliot Merricks fine book Green Mountain Farm (1999,
Countryman Press). In his book, Merrick chronicles the years during which
he and his wife, Kay, purchased and lived on a 50-acre farm in Craftsbury,
Vermont, just a few miles up the road from our place. In this passage,
Elliot and Kay are discussing what they want from their some-day farm.
We used to laugh about the things we wanted, and Kay
had it all doped out. What we really need, she said, is
a place high up on a mountaintop, deep in a fertile valley, right beside a sandy beach on the seacoast, with rich
loam soil beginning right behind the beachsomething
on the order of Iowa. We should be miles away from
everybody, completely isolated, although marvelous
friends are dropping in and out all of the time and the
New York Public Library is right next door. We have
scads of skiing, interspersed with long periods of hot
sun bathing, and although the place doesnt cost anything, its worth about a million dollars.
Just a simple little house, I added, with a fine big
cellar, slate roof, two bathrooms and a shop. Also a good
barn, fences just right, and enough timber in the woods
to pay off the mortgage immediately.
Our debt phobia ensured that the house Elliot Merrick describedor
any house at all, reallywas out of reach. But as to Kays musings regarding the land, well, we were right on board. Mere perfection. That was all
we wanted.
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Thats not what we got, of course. Not even close. Our property has
many demerits, which will be discussed in some detail later. But its also
true that the very same day we walked this piece of land, we made an offer.
There was no agonizing, no debate or hesitation. Wed squelched and
slurped through cedar swamps; wed stood in the center of 3-acre parcels
from which four neighboring
houses could be viewed simultaneously. Wed seen what the
alternatives were, and therefore we knew wed found our
home. Its embarrassing to
admit now, but we did no soil
tests. We did not check water
quality. We did not meet
neighbors or otherwise make
inquiries into the community
in which we were about to
make our home. And not just
our home, but our lives.
Indeed, we spent no more than
The author plotting out a house site
two hours on the land before
deciding it would be ours.
Penny and I did not have a specific vision of what we wanted to do
on this land. Oh, sure, we had a sense of the basics: a self-built home, a
garden, some laying hens, maybe a pig or two. Like many would-be
homesteaders, we had a hazy notion of self-sufficiency, and when we
thought about the life we would make for ourselves on our land, we felt
warm and comforted. We knew wed work hard, but we also knew our
work would be in service to ourselves and those closest to us. We knew
we wouldnt have much money, but we also knew wed be wealthy in
things money cannot procure. We were determined to eat like kings,
even if we dressed like peasants. But exactly how all this would happen,
what our practices and infrastructure would be, and how our homestead
would evolve were not things we gave much thought to.
Certainly, we understood the value of organic methods; at the time,
Penny was managing the field crew at Cate Farm, one of Vermonts bestknown organic vegetable producers. But our understanding of the
farm-as-ecosystem, the notion that a homestead or farm could nourish
much more than the body, and the concept of nutrient-dense food had
not yet evolved for us. In general, we had a fairly linear and physical
grasp of food production: Inputs in, products out. We thought of soil
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health in terms of organic matter and the big three macronutrients of
nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the NPK you see on commercial
fertilizer bags). As still-practicing-but-teetering vegetarians, we did not
yet grasp the essential role of animals to a healthy homestead, for their
meat and milk, yes, but equally for their fat and fertility.
In short, although we understood that the dominant methodology
for producing food in this country is almost entirely bereft of both ethics
and nourishment, we did not yet grasp how radically different true nourishment looks, and we still viewed food production as existing in
something of a vacuum from the rest of what happens on a farm or in
ones life. In this regard, our early efforts at homestead food production
essentially mirrored the very systems and assumptions we were trying to
escape. We tilled the soil for gardens, added purchased organic fertility,
and planted long, straight rows of our favorite crops.

Original cabin from the height of land

Nothing we did during the first years on our homestead was so terribly wrong; we grew tremendous quantities of quality food for years
using methods we now consider suboptimal. Rather, the point is that we
were not yet applying an ecosystem sensibility to our land and our relationship to it. We still saw things as existing in separation: Heres the
house, theres the garden, thats the forest, those are the animals, this is
us. We did not yet grasp the porous nature of all these elements, how one
bleeds into another. How one becomes another.
Nor did we understand what our plants and animals needed to truly
thrive. We assumed that our organic methods, which encompassed all
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the right techniquescrop rotations, green manure, organic fertility,
antibiotic-free grain, and so onwould provide us with the pinnacle of
food quality. And just as we did not yet understand what our plants and
animals needed to truly thrive, we did not yet understand what we
needed to truly thrive: fruits and vegetables grown in vibrant, biologically active soils and food produced by animals eating forage from
equally vibrant, biologically active soils.
So much of what has gone wrong with the way we grow, process, and
distribute food in this country is a direct result of our inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge our connectedness to one another and to the
natural world. And as our culture has become increasingly fragmented
and disconnected, so too has our awareness regarding what constitutes
true nourishment. We have exchanged the knowledge and skills that
root us to the land and allow us to thrive for the conveniences and comfort of modern life.
This has not been an even swap; indeed, the price of this exchange is
high. We pay for it with the illness and disease that come of consuming
the products offered by the dominant food industry. We pay for it with
our dependence on corporations and commerce for the bare essentials of
human survival. We pay for it by working 50 hours each week at jobs we
dislike or even hate just so we can afford to purchase these essentials. We
pay for it by the feeling that our lives hardly belong to us anymore, and
that the simple freedom to express ourselves in the manner of our choosing is one we cannot afford.
Of course, I cannot know your exact reasons for picking up this book
in the first place. Maybe you want to grow your own food, or to simplify
your life and live closer to your values, or to begin acquiring skills that have
nearly been lost from our culture. But no matter what those reasons are,
I wonder if underlying them is an inherent understanding that the price
we pay for the ease and convenience of the modern world is far too high.

Everything in this book is rooted in Pennys and my personal experience.


Including the years Penny spent working on organic vegetable farms, it
is based on more than two decades of experimentation, triumphs, failures, simple curiosity, and, perhaps most important, passion. It is
embedded in the excitement we feel each winter as we plan for spring. It
is full of blisters, splinters, sore muscles, numbing stupidity, and even
occasional flashes of brilliance. It is the result of learning as we go, born
of practice, patience, and pigheadedness rather than academic learning.
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making a life apart from the captive economy


We have lived on this land now for more than 15 years. The summer after
we took title, we built a humble 16-by-32-foot cabin and moved in. At
the time, we had no insulation, no running water, and no power. Until it
finally got cold enough to force our hand, there was not even a front
door. Sitting a quarter mile back from the main road and its accompanying latticework of electrical transmission lines, our home was entirely
off-grid until last year, relying on solar photovoltaic panels, a wind turbine, and, in the scant, dark days of winter, a gasoline generator to
provide our electricity.
Our home was built with our own four hands and those of many
friends, and like many owner-built homes, it has its share of deficits.
Some of these deficits, like the living room window I installed slightly
out-of-square, are due to our relative inexperience, some are due to the
lack of financial resources that often pushed us toward inferior materials
or design shortcuts, and some are due to the simple fact that we built the
house around us, as we lived in it. From observing this same phenomenon
in many friends homes, I know this is an arrangement that encourages
done enough thinking. As in, its an enormous hassle to live in the home
youre building, so when something is finished to the point that it is
weather-tight and not overtly hazardous, it is frequently proclaimed
done enough. For evidence, I need only lift my eyes to the ceiling of my
office, which is in part unfinished Sheetrock that was hung, oh, about a
dozen years ago. I guess I could paint it. But really, its done enough. And
besides, do I really want to risk provoking whichever god prevails over
the ancient Asian proverb Man finish house, man die? I think not.
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Morning chores

There will be much more detail about our home and farm/homestead/whatever-you-want-to-call-it throughout this book, but for the time
being, I merely want to give you just enough context to have a sense of
where Im coming from. With that in place, this is perhaps an appropriate
moment to briefly explain what this book is not about. It is not about making money from farming or food production. This is not to say that much
of what you will read in the following pages could not be applied toward
the pursuit of money, if that is your desire. But in short, this book is not
about making merely a living. It is about making a life. That is a bold
pronouncement, perhaps even teetering on presumptuous. And of course,
it is open to interpretation: What does making a life mean, anyway?
To us, making a life means living in a way that feels connected. Connected to the land, to animals both wild and domestic, to community, to
seasons and celebrations, and to the food we eat. It means living in a way
that affords us the time to follow our passions and to feel as if the work we
do nurtures our bodies, minds, and spirits, rather than depleting them.
It means waking up every morning looking forward to what the day will
bring and going to bed every night satisfied with what was delivered. It
means living in a way that enables us to act from a place of kindness and
generosity, in part because we have seen that when we act from a place of
kindness and generosity, these things are returned to us tenfold and in
part because kindness and generosity feel a heck of a lot better than meanness and stinginess. To us, a meaningful life is one that includes vigorous
physical labor in the pursuit of food, shelter, and heat, because we understand that this labor is not an inconvenience but a gift. It is a life in which
all of the aforementioned aspects come together in a way that does not
merely inform the way we live, but also actually becomes the way we live.
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A Day in Our Life


In a sense, our days dont vary much from
one to another: There are always morning and evening chores, and these chores
must be completed every single day,
including weekends, sick days, and I-justdont-feel-like-going-outside-becauseits-33-degrees-and-pouring-rain days.
Occasionally, one of us will spell the
other for a round of chores, but by and
large, we both participate in morning
and evening chores every single day of
every single year.
But in another sense, each day is
markedly different from all others. Thats
because so many of the tasks essential to
keeping our homestead humming are
highly dependent on season and weather.
For instance, we make hay only a handful
of days each year. But on those days, we
make hay. We only make kimchi one day
each fall, but its a big day. Firewood,
butchering pigs, planting the garden,
harvesting winter squash, making maple
syrup: All are seasonal tasks with their
own unique window of opportunity,
necessitating a drop-everything-and-giter-dun approach.
Still, some generalities can be made.
For instance, heres what our regular
chores look like.
A note about the seasons: For the purpose of chores, our work divides roughly

into two seasons. There is the season


during which the animals are on pasture;
this begins approximately May 15 and
runs until late October. Im calling this
summer. Then there is winter, which
comprises all the months our animals are
not on pasture.

summer morning and evening


Penny: Walks down field to collect Apple
for morning milking. Milks. Feeds
Web, our pet Muscovy duck.
Ben: Feeds pigs, checks layers and meat
bird feed and water and refreshes as
necessary. Collects eggs in evening.
Moves birds if necessary. Checks sheep
and cow water, refills as necessary.
Moves cows to 12-hour paddock.
Dispenses minerals to cows and sheep.
Fin and Rye: Get water and minerals for
goats and milk in the morning.
Total chore time in summer is approximately 40 minutes, twice per day.

winter morning and evening


Penny or Ben (during winter, we milk only
once per day, taking turns): Brings
Apple into barn. Milks. Feeds Web.
Penny or Ben (whoevers not milking):
Feeds hay to cows and sheep. Breaks
ice out of water bowls and refills with

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fresh water. Puts down fresh bedding.


Dispenses minerals to cows and sheep.
Waters and feeds layers and collects
eggs in evening. Waters and feeds pigs.
Fin and Rye: Get water and hay for goats.
In addition to daily chores, there are
other regular tasks, such as picking up
waste milk from Jimmy and Saras farm
(every other day, approximately), making
butter (every other day, June through
October), moving the pigs, and so on.
Generally, Penny spends her days working on whatever task is most urgent, with
urgency generally defined by seasonal
forces. This might include seeding, pruning, transplanting, hoof trimming,
harvesting, moving the sheep, facilitating
one of the boys projects, processing the
harvest, building stone walls, or building
a chicken coop. During the summer
months, I usually hit my desk from about
7 a.m. until noon, then take the afternoon
and evening to work outside, which might
include logging for firewood and sawlogs,
running the sawmill, splitting firewood,
gardening, moving the pigs, facilitating
one of the boys projects, or chipping
away at whatever infrastructure project
were in the midst of.
I realize this all might sound rather
vague, but because our priorities are
ever-shifting in relation to the seasons
and other animal/weather/circumstantial
deadlines, its difficult to be more specific.

I also realize it might seem as if we


work all the time. In fact, we are very
conscious of taking time off each week to
go fishing or kayaking or just hang out.
And of course we take frequent breaks
every day. On hot summer days, were
commonly in the pond three or four
times between daybreak and nightfall.
We regularly take in live music or have
dinner with friends. Lunch is our big
meal of the day; friends often stop by for
the noonday meal, and we sit around
the table chatting long after our plates
are cleaned. Of course, in winter we
spend much less time outdoors, and subsequently more time reading, playing
music and games, doing handwork, and
learning new skills.
Finally, its worth pointing out that we
dont own a television or distracting
mobile devices. On average, Americans
watch 34 hours of TV each week, and
thats in addition to whatever time they
spend on their handheld devices. Since
these technologies are not part of our life,
we do not run the risk of becoming captive to them. In winter, we do watch a
weekly movie on our computer; were
particularly fond of the All Creatures
Great and Small series, which aired on
the BBC in the late 1970s and 80s. If
youre looking for wholesome (with the
exception of copious alcohol consumption), hilarious, and educational family
entertainment, I highly recommend it.

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We did not begin with all of these intentions. Indeed, our homestead
has evolved considerably over the years, and as our homestead has
evolved, so have the intentions we bring to our work on this land. Or
perhaps its the other way round; perhaps our intentions inform our
homestead. Either way, theres little reason to believe this place will ever
stop changing. What began as a somewhat patchy and perhaps even
haphazard assemblage of animals and gardens has become something
that integrates symbiotic relationships to create a thriving ecosystem of
farm and human health. Supporting and strengthening this ecosystem
in a manner that cultivates soil, skills, and spirit, while developing the
vibrancy of all living creatures within its domain, is the core purpose of
our small farm. At first read, this may seem as lofty and improbable as
Elliot and Kay Merricks list of priorities for their first farm. But the truth
is, when you begin to view and understand the farm or homestead as an
ecosystem, and to act in ways that respect the connections within this
ecosystem, what once seemed improbable becomes inevitable.
Penny and I believe that healthy regenerative community food systems do not evolve out of the moneyed economy, but rather from the
relationships that develop among community members and with the
land itself. This does not mean regenerative food systems are exclusive of
money, but it does mean that money and profit are never the sole or even
primary goals. These relationships take time to develop; not merely
years, but entire generations, and this is particularly so in modern firstworld countries where, much like the very soil that provides for our
physical wellbeing, they have been devastatingly eroded.
We inhabit a culture that does little to honor these relationships.
The dominant forces of the contemporary economy do everything in
their considerable power to covert these relationships to money and
profit. They have been enormously successful, to the point that the commonplace measures of our societies
health are rooted in growth metrics that, much like cancer cells,
slowly suck the life from their
host, even as they are celebrated. I recently heard a news
report about rising sales for a
popular
full-sized
pickup
truck; this increase was trumpeted as evidence of a thriving
economy. In truth, it is evidence only
of a captive economy.
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By necessity, my family and
I live with a foot in this world.
We drive cars and tractors, and
purchase non-renewable fossil
fuels to power these machines.
We own not one, but two computers. We have been fortunate
to have minimal need for emergency medical care, but on
those occasions when we have
needed it, weve been extremely
grateful to have access. In order
to survive with some measure of
security and so that we might
not become entirely isolated, we have no other choice but to live in this
world, at least in part. And we do so unapologetically. But increasingly, it
also feels imperative to us that to the greatest extent possible, we live
with our hearts and minds in the world that honors our relationships
with our land, animals, family, and community.
So much of what we are attempting to do on our homestead is to
simply close the gaps that economic separation has created in our health,
spirit, and skills. This is not always easy; indeed, sometimes it feels as if
we are swimming upstream, against a tide of cultural norms. Moving
against this tide has required us to unlearn much of what we thought we
knew. It has shown us that almost everything the dominant food industry and those who promote its waresincluding many established
medical and so-called nutrition professionalswould have you believe is
false. Proof of these falsehoods can be found all around us, from the
meteoric rise in Type 2 diabetes, which is projected to afflict one-third of
all Americans by 2050,1 to the American Society of Clinical Oncologys
tragic conclusion that by 2030 the number of new cancer cases is
expected to rise by nearly 45 percent.2
Moving against this tide has also convinced us that a meaningful life
is not one in which liberation from labor and inconvenience is sought at
all costs, but one in which the skin of our own hands becomes calloused
and dirtied on a daily basis. It has taught us that the land with all it
contains is not merely a collection of resources for us to extract and
exploit, but a living organism that, when treated with reverence, provides much more than financial gain.
All of this might mistakenly give the impression that I wear
rose-colored glasses, beginning every day sipping morning dew from
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The Freedom of Staying


Not long ago, a friend asked us a simple
question: Dont you guys ever want to
travel? His tone was somewhere between
skeptical and amazed, in part because he
probably knew the answer before he even
asked the question, and in part because
he knew how unusual that answer was.
We dont travel much. And by much,
I mean at all. Or darn close to it: Back in
2007, we did manage to find some poor
saps to farm-sit. You can use 3 kilowatt-hours per day. Unless its cloudy.
Then you cant use any. Dont let the batteries run low. If it snows, sweep the solar
panels before you plow the -mile driveway. If the cows escape, make sure they
dont get to the main road. Theres no
backup heat, so you cant leave for more
than three hours at a time. The plow
truck will probably break down at least
once while were gone; likewise, the tractor. We will be unreachable most of the
time. Have a great time.
Anyway. That year, 2007, was the last
time we left this property for more than a
single night as a family. We had a grand
time, even if the seven weeks we spent
traipsing around Floridas state park system coincided with the coldest winter the
southeastern United States had experienced in something like 12,000 years.
The week we spent in the Everglades, fish
were dying from the cold. We spent most
of our time huddled and shivering on the
bed Id built into the old Dodge van wed
bought off Craigslist expressly for the trip.
When the subject of travel comes up, I
often explain our choices in terms of
exchange. Which is to say, weve exchanged
the freedom for easy and frequent travel

for a different sort of freedom. The different sort of freedom Im talking about is
not quite so easy to explain, particularly
in a society that celebrates the transitory
freedom of easy travel.
The freedom Im talking about comes
from connection to a particular place. It
comes of spending ones days immersed in
that place, in its nooks and crannies, hollows and swells, woods and fields. It comes
of waking every morningor most mornings, at leastwith a sense of anticipation
for what the day holds, for all the small
tasks and moments that await. It comes of
walking down to the cows in the hesitant
light of almost dawn. It comes of knowing
where the chanterelle mushrooms are
emerging from the forest floor, of following
a fresh set of moose tracks with your eightyear-old son until you feel like not following
them, of returning from morning chores
with your hatful of mushrooms and a
quartet of fresh eggs and setting them on
the ground, stripping down to your birthday suit, and cannonballing into the pond.
This freedom comes of ritual and routine, not in service to the contrived
arrangements of the modern economy,
but in accordance with natures cycles and
forces: Buck the wood, split the wood, stack
the wood, burn the wood. Mow the hay, ted
the hay, rake the hay, bale the hay. Plant the
seed, water the seed, tend the seedling,
transplant the seedling, eat the tomato.
This freedom comes from knowing
that while it is true that we cant afford
because our finances and circumstances
dictate otherwiseto travel, there is much
we can afford: To eat three meals together
as a family almost every day. To help a

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neighbor in a bind. To step away from my


desk to go fishing with the kids or spend
an hour in the garden with Penny.
This freedom comes from having time
to invest in honing our current skills and
learning new ones. It is found in innumerable barnyard chats (How many? A
hundred? Hundreds? Probably not a
thousand. Or not yet, at least) Ive had over
the years with our neighbors, 10 or 15 or
20 minutes taken in the middle of the day,
perhaps for no other reason than we can, a
small celebration of the fact that there is
no one to tell us our time should be spent
otherwise. And when theres no one to tell

you your time should be spent otherwise,


theres not much of a need for vacation.
Theres not the same desire to get away.
To return, briefly, to the original question: Dont you ever want to travel? The
only honest answer is yes. There are times
we do want to travel. Absolutely. And
maybe someday, we will.
But for now, we want what we have
even more. Its the freedom of living, as
much as possible, in accordance with our
beliefs. Its the freedom of commitment to
a place, to our family, and to our time.
I guess if I had to sum it up, its the
freedom not of traveling, but of staying.

Recreationan ugly word


(Right up there with retirement and entertainment)
Suggesting a dissatisfaction, boredom,
The need to escape.
What if: we did work that we liked
By choicethat were good at
And could shift to other work
When muscles or neurons tired?
What then happens to vacation, holiday, leisure?
Last week I made a chair for a friend.
Was it work?
It was a vacation from splitting wood
Which was a vacation from writing
Which was a vacation from hauling supplies
Which was a vacation from work on the chair.
If we do not move swiftly to less
retiring

and
recreating
We may wreck creation.
untitled poem by William Coperthwaite from his book
A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity

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the nourishing homestead


the leaves of clover. Lets be clear: We all inhabit a world of tremendous
uncertainty and inequity. We are allmy family includeddependent
on institutions that are both predatory and vulnerable.
All this vulnerability and predation has understandably fomented
an undercurrent of unease and perhaps even fear among large swaths of
the population, some of whom are returning to the land in preparation
for collapse. There is nothing in this book that could not be applied
toward that end; indeed, this book can emphatically help you prepare to
thrive in uncertain times, and there is an undeniable degree of security
that comes of possessing the knowledge, skills, and infrastructure necessary to sustain yourself and your family in the event of a crisis.

shifting perspective
There was a time when I felt it necessary to gird my family against the
collapse I felt certain was coming. I felt this way most profoundly in late
2008 and through most of 2009, when the economy teetered on the brink
of full-blown depression, and I experienced a degree of income-related
vulnerability that was entirely new to me. This was an uncertain time, and
I began to see the world as a cold and stingy place. The sharper this view
came into focus, the more uncertain I became and the more I projected
these qualities myself. Of course, I recognize this only in hindsight.
I did not experience an epiphany that disrupted this trajectory.
Rather, it was a slow accumulation of factors and experiencessome

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the evolution of our homestead


big, some smallthat changed my perceptions of the world around me.
At some point, I realized that I no longer viewed the world as being cold
and stingy, but rather as warm and abundant. I no longer felt it necessary to prepare. I just felt like... living.
Some of you might think me naive; after all, by my own admission,
my family and I live in uncertain times. But whether my perception of
the world is logical or not, I know this: It feels better. In my experience,
fretting over what the future might bring and trying to determine how
best to prepare for that unknown future does not lend itself to appreciating all the small moments of beauty and joy this lifestyle affords. It does
not lend itself to stopping at the side of Apple, our primary milk cow, and
burying my face in her warm flank merely for the pleasure of breathing
a few breaths of her warm, contented bovine essence. It does not lend
itself to holding a handful of cool soil on a warm spring day and pondering the trillions of organisms it contains and how each of those organisms
inhabits a world that I can never fully comprehend.
I believe that the world is an inherently beautiful and abundant
place, and that there is plenty for all. I am fully aware of all the tragedy
humans have visited upon our planet, and like many of you, I fret over
problems that, on my worse days, feel both intractable and insurmountable: climate change, resource depletion, social and economic inequality,
and so on. But on my better daysfortunately, these come much more
frequently than my bad daysI see how clearly these tragedies depend
upon us believing in their inevitability, and I see how powerful we can all
be in our intent and actions.
This is perhaps the most empowering aspect of creating a thriving
homestead: It enables you, on a daily and even hourly basis, to live in
alignment with your beliefs and principles. In my experience, the closer
I am able to align the day-in, day-out particulars of my life with my own
set of beliefs and principles, the more fulfilling my life becomes, and the
more I feel connected to something larger than myself. Perhaps most
profoundly, the more I feel as if I am living the life I was meant to live.
We believe there is a quiet activism inherent to this life. It may not
be as visible as protesting on street corners or occupying Wall Street, but
it is real nonetheless. The difficult truth is that the world will never be
free of strife and injustice, often on scales that defy our well-intentioned
attempts to resolve these issues. While we admire and respect those who
devote their lives to change on a larger scale, we feel as if our personal
activism is most effective when we apply it locally, in ways that quietly
undermine the political and industrial forces that are the root cause of
suffering for both humankind and the natural world.
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What does this activism consist of? It consists of the fact that by simplifying and streamlining our lives, rather than earning the money to purchase
needless superfluities, Penny and I have chosen to labor of our own accord
to provide many of our primary needs. By doing so, we are consciously
choosing to swim against the tide of contemporary cultural and economic
norms. This is not always easy, in no small part because many of these norms
and the industries they support are built on an ideology of convenience. It is
more convenient to swing by Burger King than to pack something from
home. It is simpler to replace an appliance than to fix the old one. It is
easier to sit children in front of televisions or video games than to include
them in meaningful work, play, and conversation; heck, these days, even
cars feature television screens. Socially speaking, it is always easier to simply
do what the majority does, to not risk seeming dogmatic or simply weird.
Clearly, we are not perfect, and we do not strive for perfection.
Instead, we try to remain mindful and aware of the implications of our
thoughts and actions. We try to remember that we can do better than
merely having a low impact; we can have a positive impact, both in
regard to our work with this land and also by doing what we can to support others. Sometimes this means opening our homestead to workshops
and social gatherings. Always, we strive to remain open and transparent
in our thoughts and intentions in the hope it will make others feel less
alone in their own attempts to swim against the tide.
The truth is, whatever struggles we face, the rewards are even
greater. The fundamentals we provide for ourselves meet standards of
quality and value that are practically non-existent in the modern commodity economy. Having freed ourselves of the need to labor long hours
at paying jobs, we have also freed ourselves to help friends and neighbors
in times of need. And we are rewarded by the freedom to spend time
with our children, to watch them grow and mature into self-aware and
critical-thinking young adults who feel empowered to walk the path that
feels right to them, not merely the path they are told to walk. In a strange
way, even turning our backs on many of the presumed conveniences of
modern American life is a reward, because generally speaking, what is
convenient over the short run is never very satisfying over the long haul.
In order to do all this, it has been necessary to greatly simplify our
needs and to learn the fast-diminishing skill of differentiating between
need and want. It has taught us the fundamental truth of Henry
David Thoreaus words: A man is rich in proportion to the number of
things which he can afford to let alone. It has shown us that the more
things we afford ourselves the luxury of letting alone, the more room we
have in our lives to cultivate the things that matter most.
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