The Household Economy: A Return to Normal   19 comments

An introduction to The Household Economy

As I write this, the smell of fresh, baking bread is wafting from the wood stove here in the farm’s main, communal house. The bread is one step in my attempt to come up with an easy and tasty recipe for sandwich bread. I’m doing this not because I can’t get good bread at the store—there are, as a matter of fact, multiple local bakeries that produce delicious sandwich bread, using good ingredients. No, I’m doing this because I want to take that small bit of dependence and bring it back into the home, to root that dependence not in a complicated and industrialized supply chain, but in my own work and care, my own flour-dusted hands.

Of course, looking at the title of this blog, that might not be a surprise. This originally started as a blog that would be focused primarily on farming and homesteading, and I imagined the possibility of perhaps teaching the occasional homesteading class out here on the Oregon coast, with this site functioning partly as a way for me to advertise such a business. As that idea faded into the background and my life took a different turn, the blog slowly morphed into what it is now: a cataloguing of my thoughts and experiences, certainly featuring farming and homesteading but also dealing quite a bit with peak oil and other energy issues. Yet, all of those subjects are interrelated and I likely wouldn’t be attempting to refine my own bread-making skills if I thought the store would be there forever and I could always afford the five or so bucks for a good loaf of bread. Why, after all, should I bother, given such considerations?

Well, there are many good reasons, including ones that hold up even while the stores remain open and five bucks always resides in my pocket. One is the satisfaction of creating my own living, even if it’s in a very small way. In a society that seems every year to tilt more toward the abstract, engaging in some good, old fashioned physical creation (not just the late night kind) is quite a satisfying experience. Much as in building a wooden gate, I find baking a loaf of bread, cooking up a pot of stew or making some ginger ale to be very elemental, and very good for the soul. There’s a real sense of pride and comfort in being able to make something for myself rather than buying it at the store. Furthermore, the more I create things, the less mystifying the process of creation becomes. As I build these skills, I feel more secure in my ability to figure out other necessary tasks and more willing to take on new projects. Before, when I was beholden to others for most all things rooted in the physical world, I found much of that world mystifying. I didn’t know how things work. Now I better understand.

There is, however, a bigger picture here. As is clear for anyone who’s spent time reading this blog, I think we’re all going to be poorer in the future due to energy and resource constraints, and I further think that beginning the process of preparing for that reality now makes far more sense than putting our heads in the sand and pretending that the powers that be or technology is going to pull our ass out of the fire at the last moment—especially since there’s no good or compelling reason to believe in that as a likely scenario.

One of the ways in which we’re most vulnerable to such a future is rooted in the reality that most of us in industrialized nations have outsourced a very significant percentage of our living. While human history has largely consisted of people making their own living via the combined labors and support of their community, we’ve come to mostly replace that community and its labors with various businesses, corporations, and other entities providing our needs via industrialized production methods. Since those methods are necessarily dependent upon fossil fuels—the exact fuel we already are running short of, and will run yet shorter of as time progresses—we find ourselves very vulnerable to a future of energy and resource shortage. If the grocery stores were to disappear tomorrow, a good number of us would be in serious trouble.

Luckily, the grocery stores don’t appear set to disappear tomorrow. However, anyone who thinks they and the industrial, globalized food system that backs them is fated to live forever is quite mistaken. That system is going to fail, and before it fails it’s going to provide us some serious dysfunction. Of course, it already is providing plenty of that. Look at rising food prices, huge food-borne illness outbreaks tied to industrial supply chains, the massive losses of arable land and topsoil across the world, depleted aquifers, poisoned water supplies, and a host of other destabilizing ills. This system is breaking apart before our very eyes, but many of us refuse to see it, or—upon seeing it—refuse to recognize the full breadth of its implications.

Seeing the precariousness of the industrial food system—and other industrial elements of the economy—with clear eyes would lead us to the conclusion that it’s in our best interest to minimize our dependence on it. This is where the household economy comes in. There are a few ways, working within the household, that we can lessen our dependence on the dominant, industrial economy. One of the main ways is by growing and raising as much of our own food as possible. This can be done via gardening, permaculture, planting fruit and nut trees, raising livestock, foraging for wild foods, hunting, and so on. All these activities begin the process of us making our own living and increase our resilience and self-sufficiency—the increasing of which will come to be quite the boon in an age of scarcity and contraction. Even if we aren’t able to or don’t produce any of our own food, though, we can still lower our dependence on the industrial economy by turning to local farmers and ranchers whenever possible and then utilizing another feature of the household economy: the in-house processing of our foods. The aforementioned bread-baking is one of these. Making jam is another, as is canning produce, lacto-fermenting veggies, making condiments, brewing our own beer and sodas, making kombucha and yogurt and cheese, sour cream and kefir and butter. There are all kinds of activities—many of them not that challenging, after a bit of experience—that we’ve unnecessarily outsourced to corporations.

That bread I mentioned earlier? Well, I’ve now eaten three slices of it, slathered with butter, and accompanying a lamb stew I also made. The stew used a package of lamb riblets from one of the farms I work for and was thus acquired in work-trade—and I helped raise the lamb. I slow cooked it for hours in our wood stove, making broth while simultaneously cooking the meat. To that, I added potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic for a simple and delicious stew. The veggies, aside from the potatoes, came from the farm I live on. (The potatoes would have, except we ran a bit short this winter.) So, all in all, I ate a meal tonight borne largely of the household economy, with minimal inputs from the industrial economy. It was delicious, and nourishing, and satisfying in both its preparation and eating, resilient in its minimal dependence on outside systems, and far more sustainable than a meal eaten at a restaurant would have been, or prepared out of a box, or bought from the store.

Which brings me to another benefit of the household economy. Aside from the unsustainable amount of energy and resources we use in industrialized nations, our outsourcing of our living to corporations gives them an incredible power over our lives, our culture, our society, our economy and our political system.

Let’s say, as a mental exercise, that you find yourself on the street, enjoying a lovely day, taking a walk around the neighborhood. A stranger comes up to you and begins to berate you, spewing profanity, agitated and angry. What would you do? I suspect most of us would take our leave of this person, or tell him to leave us alone—possibly in unfriendly terms—or in some other way extricate ourselves from the situation. Imagine, now, that it isn’t a stranger but your boss. At that point, it becomes quite a bit trickier, doesn’t it? Our boss holds a certain power over our lives, being able to interfere with our means of making a living. You may still tell your boss to knock it off or walk away, but by doing so you risk retribution, perhaps a firing. Even if that’s unfair—even if you could take your case to a court and win—you still face the potential of a disruption of your life. It’s a much more complicated situation.

By relying on corporations and other businesses to provide us our living, we make them our boss. We become beholden to and dependent upon them and that limits our ability to push back against them when they behave in an improper manner. There’s quite a lot of concern that corporations have gained too much power in recent times and use that power with impunity, polluting the earth, exploiting land, people, and communities, extracting wealth, corrupting our economic and political systems and running roughshod over much of the population. These are legitimate concerns, to say the least. But if we want to reign in these corporations and work to strip them of some of their power, we’re going to be seriously hampered in our ability to act if we’re also dependent upon those same corporations to provide us the means of our living.

There are reasons, for instance, that oil companies have vast political power. One of those reasons is that we need oil, desperately, to power the society we’ve become used to. If we didn’t need that oil to power our society—if we had the option to opt out of its use—than their power would be greatly reduced. If they had for sale a simple product rather than a necessity, their power wouldn’t be so great. We would have more ability to push back against them.

This is relevant on a somewhat more abstract level, as well. Right now, our lives are dependent on fossil fuels and all the destruction and inequity their use has come to entail. Most of us in industrialized nations would be at a complete loss without fossil fuels, our way of life pulled out from under us, extremely vulnerable and subject to significant impoverishment at best, death at worst. Due to that reality, we’re going to ultimately support the use of fossil fuels no matter what. We may talk a good game against them, agitating for change and reduced use, but our dependence on them necessitates that we continue to use them and to subject ourselves to the systems created around them. I do exactly that as I write this on a computer and ready the posting of it on the internet. Every time we make use of the industrial infrastructure, we support all it entails. If we don’t want to support that, we’re going to have to make much less use of that industrial infrastructure.

This is the crux of the argument for individual change, in my mind. We can’t get away from these systems at a societal level until we get away from them at an individual level. We can’t alter our economic and political systems until we alter the individual actions that support them. Yes, those individual actions are influenced by those systems, but it’s through individual change that we’re going to create any will to alter those systems. Without that element, we’ll be left dependent and beholden, with little to no power to change what we see wrong with those systems. And if we stay beholden to these systems, politicians will continue to support and uphold them, knowing that any imposition on those systems will be passed down to the public and that the public, whatever they might claim, will for the most part punish the politicians in turn.

There’s another, deeper layer to this argument, though, and that’s rooted in the predicament we face that I’ve written about before. If there was a broad, large scale system capable of supporting our current way of living in a sustainable manner, then it might make sense to attempt a switch over to that system rather than focusing on individual behavior. However, even if that could be done, we would need for a different system to be available to transition to without having to change individual action. We would need, in other words, the system that so many people in our society like to advocate: our current lives, largely unchanged but powered by renewable energy.

If this were possible, then it might make sense to advocate for it. It might not make sense, either, as it would not address the core issues of industrialism that lead to exploitation and destruction. It wouldn’t address resource issues or all the other natural cycles of renewal that we’re going to have to learn to live within, such as the renewal cycles for top soil and fresh water. It wouldn’t address ecosystem stability and biodiversity. But all those concerns aside, the problem here is that such a switch isn’t possible. There’s no way to power our way of life without fossil fuels. There’s no way to build the sort of centralized, industrialized renewable energy system that’s so often advocated without an industrial base powered by fossil fuels. The solar PV panels and wind turbines are made with fossil fuels, made from fossil fuels, and dependent on a vast industrial infrastructure powered by fossil fuels. We’re already facing the beginnings of constriction. We’re not going to be able to divert massive amounts of fossil fuels to these alternative uses, and even if we were able to do that on such a scale, it wouldn’t be supportable in the long term. Eventually, the fossil fuels run out and then so do the alternative energy technologies built on top of them.

Furthermore, even if such a system were possible, that still wouldn’t address the fact that we use our energy to power an industrial economy that is tearing apart the earth and its ecosystems. If we were to find some magic bullet solution to the energy problem, we would still be faced with the necessity of drastically scaling back our lives so as to avoid the sort of crash that always happens when a population overshoots its carrying capacity—or, more realistically, to limit the damage of that crash. We are already far past carrying capacity, even if we were magically able to switch over to an economy powered entirely by wind and solar tomorrow. We still would be consuming the earth and industrialized nations would still find their populations facing a necessary scaling back to a life more akin to non-industrialized nations.

Therefore, we find ourselves back to the necessity for individual change. Our scaling back begins in the household. It was not so long ago that a good deal of America’s economic activity happened in the household economy. To this day, many non-industrialized nations have thriving household and subsistence economies—it’s how they survive. Thus, it likely won’t be that long before we’re back to a similar reality. As we all become poorer, resources become tighter, and money becomes harder to come by (or less able to purchase goods and services) we’re going to find ourselves having to make use of our own labor and good work to keep up a decent standard of living whenever possible. Rather than spend five dollars on a nice loaf of bread, we’ll more likely bake it at home for a fraction of that cost. Rather than buy expensive organic jam, we’ll make it from the fruit or berries supplied by a nearby farmer, or picked out of our own back yard. Rather than purchase a variety of dairy-based products, we may just find a local source of fresh milk and make our own butter, yogurt, sour cream, and so on. Rather than eat out, we’ll make our own meals. Rather than buy a tiny, three dollar package of basil, we’ll snip it off our own basil plant.

We’ll recycle, and reuse, and wear things out. We’ll darn our socks and patch our clothes, mend our shoes, and learn the fine art of attrition as we simplify our lives, whether we want to or not. We’ll make blankets out of leftover scraps of cloth. We’ll cook our food in hayboxes or on rocket stoves. We’ll brew our own beer, make our own hard cider. And we’ll learn to rely on the other members of our community to help us make our living rather than on faceless, dominant corporations and on the continued functioning of assembly lines populated by robots.

This is the reality that I think will be asserting itself. It’s a reality, as well, that offers us the hope for a better future than the one we might otherwise have. If we begin to grow the household economy, we’ll begin to provide more of our own living, gain a greater control over our own lives, insulate ourselves against economic shocks, free ourselves from dependence on entities that would as soon harm us as help us, begin the process of building relationships, strengthen our community, and provide more space to work for a better society. It may not all turn out well—it probably won’t. But we’ll give ourselves a much better chance than if we just wait for someone else to fix our problems, then wonder what the hell we’re going to do when the industrial infrastructure that keeps us alive begins to crumble beneath us. We also will gain a satisfaction from our own labors, will likely find ourselves much healthier, and will refocus our attention from useless and unhealthy distraction toward good work done in support of ourselves, our family and friends, our community.

This series of posts, then, will focus mainly on my trials and tribulations with getting my own household economy going. It’s already up and running to a degree, but it could stand to be enlarged, to encompass more of my living. And it’s going to find some changes this year with my shifting circumstances. I’ll be writing, therefore, about my adventures in gardening, my various homesteading activities, possibly some building projects using reclaimed and recycled materials, and whatever other paths my particular household economy takes. This will be something of a companion to my How To Be Poor series of posts, in that it will focus more on the actual activities with which I reduce my costs of living and usage of energy and resources, while How To Be Poor focuses more on the theory and philosophy of voluntary poverty—though I reserve the right to occasionally veer into the theoretical, as I may very well do in the next entry.

Throughout most of history, we’ve made much of our living at home and in our community. Over the last few centuries, we’ve slowly outsourced that living. In the last few decades, we’ve mostly abandoned it to the province of corporations and governments. It’s time to bring back the household economy, both as a necessity and as a moral good. It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with our own living. It’s time to get off this misguided path and return to normal.


19 responses to “The Household Economy: A Return to Normal

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  1. Bravo!

  2. Sounds good to me, but be aware that what you are describing is an idealization of the life of contented peasants, without the fear or the uncertainty.

    This does not mean for a moment that what you are saying is not a noble and worthy goal. It is actually one that, were I younger, I would take a crack at achieving. But the life’s work you have laid out, when executed properly, will remove you from many of the fall-back positions that people now hold so dear.

    Autarky is tempting, but it will be under ruthless attack in the future. I think that such a system can be crafted in small, out of the way communities, but the greater bulk of society will not tolerate a system that so openly undermines the astonishingly complex web of self-enrichment and mutual back-scratching that we call society.

    I would keep up the attempt, but recognize the thorns. Most people do not want to imagine a different way, and are stunningly vindictive in their displeasure at not believing their beliefs.

    • Oh, absolutely. This is more of a positive post and it certainly deals in idealization. We’re not all going to become happy homesteaders, solving our various problems. But it’s a piece, and a helpful one, and one that brings about it’s own certain joys. That’s been my experience, anyway.

      In terms of fallbacks, one of the internal debates I’ve been having is whether or not to keep a credit card on hand. At the moment, I still have some debt, but I seem on pace to pay it off over the next year or so. I have many credit cards that provide me a good deal of credit. I plan to close them down, but should I close off that last one or keep it around in case of some kind of emergency, particularly a health one? I have no insurance, so that might be my very poor form of insurance. I’m not sure. I don’t really want to have any credit cards anymore, and I suspect I’ll follow through on that ideal. But it’s a tricky question.

      While I expect the establishment will work to limit too much self-reliance, as that’s a threat to entrenched ways, I still think there’s plenty of room to work. One of the reasons for that is that the household economy is necessarily small—at the individual level, that is—so attempting to control or wipe it out is extremely hard. There isn’t a single law you can put in place that really addresses it on a full level and, even if you attempt to outlaw many of these activities, good luck with the enforcement. The raw milk battles are a good indication of this. People want raw milk, people believe in it, and those people tend to get it, no matter how much effort the FDA makes to shut it down. Not that they don’t win their battles, but they continue to lose the war. I’ve obtained raw milk illegally often in my life, as well as legally, but I’ve always found it when I wanted it. It’s been a challenge at times, but it’s there.

      Your last paragraph is spot on, of course. It’s amazing how much it can rile people to see someone living in a way they don’t like. But then, I’ve been one of those riled people before. It’s amazing, too, how easy it is to slip into that mind frame.

    • I took the whole point to be that these so called ‘fall-backs’ will start to look increasingly shaky and propped up. Rather like the friends who ask me if I have a pension and look at me with motherly/fatherly concern when I say I do not. I generally don’t like to start the debate that expecting those pensions to still exist in any meaningful way- in 30 years time is not that far away from gambling with your money. It tends to upset them.

      A story from Britain highlights how the authorities ‘cracking down’ on home economies is perhaps less clear cut than one might think. Recently the Lammas community has won a landmark case for the right to build their own off grid eco-village which will engage in a number of local production enterprises. Previously any attempts to do this have had to build on the land illegally and then fight for permission retrospectively- often for years until the local authorities give up and grant permission (in almost all most cases they do) . The reason for such difficulties in being able to establish these low impact settlements in the UK is not because ‘the authorities’ hate self reliance but because the planning laws are designed to protect the countryside form being covered in housing estates. The law is like a dead weight and slow to adapt – but thanks to landmark cases such as Lammas this is now changing and there is now a legal precedent for low impact developments in the UK. It will be significantly easier for future people to do this. In this case a basis for household economies has been strengthened by engaging with the mainstream authorities (they went up to the government level) not by trying to hide from it ‘our of the way’.

      Lammas encountered huge opposition from local residents who assumed that some kind of rave festival was being established full of hippies taking drugs and dogs on strings. No matter how much Lammas protested many lacked the imagination to envisage anything other than this. When they actually saw the eco-village being built they the vast majority of former protesters became supportive of the project.

      • Thanks for the info on the Lammas community, Simon. That’s pretty fascinating. I think you’re pretty spot on when you note that much governmental or bureaucratic opposition to different forms of living is as often as note about laws not being in place to support these different modes. If there isn’t a law or regulation about something and you want to do it, the answer is probably going to be “no” just to avoid the hassle of figuring out how to approve or regulate it. Or one-size-fits-all regulations that are aimed at solving the abuses of large businesses or organizations get applied to small businesses or individuals and make certain actions infeasible. It’s problematic.

        And oh, pensions. Yeah. I expect those to become quite rare in my lifetime.

  3. Degringolade, I agree with your premises, the conclusion I draw from them is that this needs to be done in small, out-of-the-way communities. Even then, they need to already be leaning that way; as small communities can be even more vindictive and narrow-minded than larger ones.

    At this point, based on their behavior so far, I think we can count on the Powers-That-Be to keep up Business-As-Usual for absolutely as long as they possibly can. So, when they can no longer keep the system going, it is pretty much guaranteed to collapse rapidly. A smooth transition is highly unlikely.

    The bottom line is that, like you say Joel, the only viable courses of action are individual and local transformations. The wonderful part is that it is very hard to regulate the household economy. As long as we do it relatively quietly, the entrenched power structure should not notice us until it is too late.

    • Yes, John, agreed. I really do put much more faith in the local and individual these days than I do in the overarching systems. They seem unwilling to change and happy to kick the can down the road as long as possible—and to obstruct, when possible, those who are attempting to do things differently. Of course, I also think that our future will necessarily be local, so it only makes since to prepare for it at the local level if there are no major, standardized solutions to our predicament.

      And yes, it’s extremely hard to regulate the household economy, and such regulations are often easy to disregard. Another reason why that’s a great place to put our focus and efforts.

  4. I am new to the blog, wanted to say I appreciate the discussion and thoughts very much, it’s nice to know there are others out there. I absolutely agree with individual action. Now in my twenties I feel pressured to engage society to the max, however I long to do just the opposite. As a composer, artist &ct I feel no allegiance to these ideologies and systems and feel an obligation not only to change, but create something very different. My family has a house mid-Oregon Coast and I have contemplated a lot–perhaps too idealistically–about a potential future there.
    I believe coastal communities in the Northwest have huge potential post-collapse. Growing a variety of foods along with strategic use of native plants, the sea, and local watersheds can provide a tenable string of resilient communities with simple, yet meaningful local culture. The pre-industrial Oregon Coast was very focused on farming, timber, and (of course) the ocean. Climate change is likely to affect the growing season incrementally but is not likely to be as a severe a threat as other regions of the country. The beach is a natural thoroughfare, the various trails including the Oregon Coast trail can easily be expanded into a post-carbon trade rout and the shoreline, though not conducive to long range travel, easily accommodates small craft such as Native dugout canoes and shoal-draft sailing craft (alla Dimitry Orlov) that can travel up rivers, estuaries, and bays in shorter distances. Boat building from local materials is surely to be found among the diverse and practical artisan skills that our coastal communities will attain. The Oregon coast in particular is somewhat protected geographically as well, as it is guarded by the coast range to the east and the rugged mountains of the southwest, detouring whatever lingers in the I-5 corridor from California to Washington.
    Though post-collapse communities will be very different and have fewer people, I believe the a life of real meaning, reciprocation, and values is within reach. Last, but not least, I feel the Oregon Coast is one of the most beautiful and exquisitely spiritual places on Earth making it a place that people will care about, a place (as James Howard Kunstler might say) worth fighting for.

    • Hi Jbird,

      Glad you found the blog and hope you return. I like having local readers who are familiar with the area—which it sounds like you certainly are.

      I used to be a big believer in structural change. Then I tried to help make that change, and watched the political system for a long time, and read quite a bit of work that looked at our problems from different paradigms, then noticed the paradigms used by those in power, as well as most of the population, and came to the conclusion that structural change was fool’s gold. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I don’t really see how we get some honest dealings with our problems if no one’s willing to be honest with themselves about the true nature of our predicament. So now I farm and homestead and write a blog a few people read. A small piece in the scheme of things, but I enjoy it.

      I’ve also found that I couldn’t do what I’m doing now if I lived in Portland. There are too many temptations and I too easily succumb to them. So it’s good to be out here on the coast. It also has opened up farming opportunities for me that are hard to come by in Portland—and which are sought after by far more people.

      Anyway, you’ve obviously thought a lot about coastal communities post-collapse and it seems like you’ve had some good insights. I suspect you’ve considered it more than I have in many ways. I think there’s great potential here and I agree with your feeling that it’s a place worth fighting for, ridiculously beautiful and spiritual. I also figure that a post-collapse life here would require a lot of skills that almost no one has. Indigenous communities obviously lived here in the past, but they were quite small and knew a hell of a lot more about native plants and the local wildlife than all but a very select few do these days. Luckily, I don’t foresee it coming to pass that there’ll be no fossil fuels available in my lifetime, they’ll just be in short supply. That leaves me wondering how the local economies will fare, how many people will abandon the area as tourism collapses and it becomes more secluded, with easy access to urban areas cut off, and whether the farms that do exist will be able to continue operating in some manner when the industrial economic support begins to fail. I also wonder, if they can survive, if we can grow them out to create more of the necessary local food system we’ll need and what that will look like.

      I don’t know the answer to any of that. I know that right now I have a pretty great, low-impact life here, but that such a life is still hugely dependent on the economic support of an industrial economy, even when I’m not directly utilizing it. I work for a dairy that sales its milk to Tillamook, for instance. If energy prices drive that co-op under, will they stick around? Will they still exist? And if so, will they be able to keep me on in some kind of capacity? Will I be paid, or just work for trade in food and other goods? What about the farm I’m about to move to? What’s their reality if the economy takes a real tumble, something far beyond 2008? Will there still be enough here to support me, and how will I deal with the social aspect of things if the community necessarily shrinks considerably and I can no longer make semi-regular trips into Portland to see family and friends?

      That’s a mess of questions right there, and I don’t have the answer to any of it. I’ll just have to ride it out as it comes, if it comes.

      I’m not sure you wanted all that personal wondering as a response to your comment, but I’ll give it to you just the same. I guess it’s just my way of saying that I think where I’m at is beautiful, and wonderful, and I love it here, and I hope it survives economic shocks. But I also don’t know if it will. Somebody is going to live here, no matter what happens. There’s too much rain, too much wildlife, too many resources. But the people who end up thriving here—or just scraping by here—may be far more talented, knowledgeable and hardy than I am or may ever be. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hang with them, if I’ll have what it would take.

      But maybe it won’t reach that point until after I’m dead and gone.

      I hope you’re right, that some good communities will be able to make themselves a decent life out here in the future. I’m certainly going to work to make that a reality. But I imagine it will be quite the challenge.

      Now, is there anything happening with CPOP in the near future? It sounds really interesting.

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  6. Hi Joel,

    I hear you, man. Just doing what you do there, you are part of a community. You are building a network of contacts. Plus you are learning amazing skills. How many people know how to make bread, or even cook from scratch, let alone farm?

    I bake my own bread here and I went out to visit some mates and they were eating this bread like product and going, it’s amazing, this stuff stays fresh and soft for a week. Yeah, they were serious, but had no idea of what goes into it to keep it that way. The bread you make generally has no preservatives so it goes stale after a day or so. Oh well.

    Getting back to the people there. Even if the co-op shuts down due to lack of customers, the diary farmers still have the stock and knowledge to produce milk, cream, butter etc. Those are valueable things and someone, somewhere will want them. The cows and bulls are of not much value in themselves as a meat product. Most people don’t even know that there is a difference between diary and meat cattle.

    We ended up getting 140mm (5 1/2 inches) over a couple of days. One place in the state – Mount Buffalo copped 525mm (20.6 inches) in 2 days. There is massive flooding going on up in the North East of the state. Oh well. Had to muck out the deep litter in the chook run today and spread it around the orchard as it had gone anerobic with all of the rain. Poor chooks.

    I have a credit card, but try to ensure that I pay no interest on it. The annual fees are usually small and it is cheap emergency financing. Something to think about.



    • That’s quite a nice rain total there, Chris. After a glorious day of sun and somewhat warm temperatures (one of those first vague tastes of spring) we have been having some heavy rain today. At one point, it was coming down for a few minutes as heavy as I’ve ever seen it here. Quite impressive. But we’re lined up for a few more nice days mid-week, so that’s exciting.

      No doubt the people running the dairy I work for will have a place for their skills. My question, as much as anything, is whether or not it will be here, or whether they’ll find themselves migrating elsewhere. I suppose if it reaches such a point, I’ll likely migrate as well. And I suppose that’s one of the benefits of not having my own land, is it does help to increase my flexibility, even if much of that increase is mental. Not that I would turn down the opportunity to acquire some land out here if it arose.

      But yes, that knowledge will certainly be valued somewhere and you’re right that it’s a bonus. When I worry about my limited skills, I do need to keep in mind that I’m ahead of the curve in comparison to much of the population here in America—at least in what I see as valuable. I suppose many of those people might look at me and suspect I’m so far behind the curve, they can no longer see me. Regardless, a nice benefit is I enjoy the curve-relation I have. I like living a life this way, though it has it’s challenges as well.

      As for the credit card, the ones I have carry no annual fee, though they may be able to change that reality at their whim. I would’ve long closed any account that did have a fee. It boils down, for me, to a philosophical choice as much as anything. I’ll likely keep a credit card for potential emergencies, but without using it, so long as no fees start showing up.


  7. Hi Joel, I really enjoyed this post, maybe because I’m a 58 year old woman and have been doing a lot of this for many years. I always baked all our bread, rolls, hamburger and hotdog buns, sewed clothes for my family, spun wool and cotton, wove fabric, bags, rugs, etc., sewed quilts, etc., etc., etc.!! I was VERY influenced as a young woman just starting out (the 70’s) by Wendall Berry, and I’m always surprised that his name never comes up on these blogs, even though he has been saying much of the same things for more years than many of you have been alive! The Archdruid never mentions him. Have you read The Unsettling of America? It was the first book of his that I read and has been MOST influential.
    And, just so you know, I haven’t had a credit card for many years and have been just fine! I HATE the way so many Americans bow down to corporations and banks (figuratively). Had to get that bile out!
    Anyway, I’m so glad younger people are getting involved in all of this. I learned so much from my own mother, who is still going strong at the age of 91!
    Many blessings to you, Joel, and good luck with your future endeavors (of which it sounds there will be many, may God bless the work.)
    Aloha, Heather

    Heather Caparoso
    • Hi Heather,

      Wendell Berry may well be the largest influence on my thinking. I love the man, love his writing, and he’s altered many of my view points—on rural communities, farming, religion, gender, sex, and so on. I’m not always in complete agreement with him, but I always find what he says fascinating, thoughtful and well-reasoned.

      I haven’t specifically mentioned him too often on this blog, though I did post one of his mad farmer poems back on Christmas and referenced him in my long Resilience and Stealth Infrastructure post. But know that his influence runs deep and I don’t know if any of these posts would be quite the same without my having read him. Every time I talking about “learning to live and work well” or reference “good work“—both of which are the writing equivalent of verbal tics for me at this point—I’m echoing Berry.

      I read The Unsettling of America last year, but have been reading Berry for probably six or seven years now. I’ve read a majority of his essay collections, but haven’t read any of his fiction yet, though I plan to. I’ve read a bit of his poetry. The Unsettling of America is obviously one of his best works and I, personally, have found Life is a Miracle to be something of a spiritual text, though it’s not one of his better known works. I read it around the same time I read David Ehrenfield’s The Arrogance of Humanism, which was during my first year of farming, and all of that came together to really provide a serious shift in my way of thinking in regards to scientific, cultural, spiritual and religious forms of knowledge. It seriously altered my outlook on life.

      I actually have a couple upcoming posts that have been stewing in the back of my brain that are owed in good part to Wendell Berry’s writing, and which will likely quote and reference him explicitly. So you’ll see his name here soon enough. Oh, and out of curiosity, I went and did a search of The Archdruid Report, as I’ve wondered the same thing about his familiarity with Berry’s work. I figure, even if he doesn’t reference him regularly, Greer must know some of his writing just because of how well read he is. I found one reference on the blog, dating back to a post he put up right after Obama’s election, that mentioned Berry’s The Hidden Wound, though a bit vaguely and briefly. Still, it came with a recommendation. I read that last year, as well, and I thought it a very good take on the role of racism in America.

      As for credit cards, I’ll probably keep one on hand for emergencies, though without using it otherwise, as I responded to Chris above. But I agree with you—it’s crazy how much we use them and how much wealth and power we transfer to financial institutions in the process. The transaction fees alone suck a good deal of money from local economies. I’ve been focused on using cash this year and mostly have stopped using my credit cards at all. I still use them regularly when buying gas, though I pay it off when the bill comes due. But I’m going to phase out that practice, as well.

      Thanks for all the kind words. I hope to get my level of homesteading up to where you are soon enough!


      P.S. Next in the Berry queue for me is The Gift of Good Land. I finished The Way of Ignorance a few weeks ago. That will probably be referenced in a post soon, as will The Unsettling of America when I acquire another copy. I lent mine out and it never came back.

      • Aloha Joel, how kind of you to give me such a quick, thoughtful response. I’m glad you’ve read so much Berry, I wish more people would. And thanks for the headsup on the Archdruid report. I’ve only been reading him for about 1 1/2 years, so am not as familiar with him as you are. And as far as the homesteading, you have many kind words, but in reality, I just love to cook from scratch and work with fiber! Also, I enjoy making soap, and things like that. I used to make all our soap, as my husband was allergic to the chemical additives in store-bought soap. I have to be honest and tell you, though, when my kids were little, one of them was so embarrassed that I had a big loom very visible in the front window! She thought it made us look as if we lived “in the last century”! Now, of course, they all want me to make them stuff to wear, or sleep under, or whatever. Sigh! But at least my kids, and grandkids, know very well that all things can be “made”, and not just “bought”. I think that is an education in itself.
        Keep up the good work! Many blessings, as always, and peace,

        Heather Caparoso
        • No question, Heather, there’s still stigma attached to many of these activities, as ridiculous as that is. I’m glad your children came around to seeing how fantastic your abilities really are! And understanding how those things can be done is an education, indeed.

          I definitely want to try my hand at soap making in the future. That’s one of the projects on my to do list.

  8. Just a comment re: the ongoing viability of the Oregon coast communities.

    While it is very true that the Oregon coast is arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet (believe me when I say this) and therefore attracts a lot of tourism, many if not most of these communities existed long before there was such a thing as tourism. Of course I have to note that many if not most of them relied heavily on logging and the production of wood products, as well as commercial fishing for their sustenance. Now that activities such as logging, wood products production and commercial fishing have been greatly diminished or have disappeared altogether, it is a good question how many of these communities will indeed survive in the future since many are already struggling to hang on as it is, tourism notwithstanding.

    Over the years I have watched as areas such as Manzanita-Nehalem, where you live Joel, have expanded into largish towns from the tiny villages they once were as more and more people built second ‘homes’ to be used only on weekends or for the occasional week during the summer months. And I have recently wondered what will become of these communities as fuel becomes more and more expensive and people abandon the use of these second ‘homes’ and thereby eliminate the need for the support services that has followed the ‘blooming’ of these communities.

    Some communities, those that append agricultural valleys and/or have reasonable harbors such as Astoria, Nehalem, Tillamook, Newport, Reedsport, Coos Bay and Bandon, to name a few, may well survive and possibly will do well – even better than they do now, perhaps – but places like Seaside, Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, Yachats, etc., and other places that now survive pretty much only on tourism will likely wither, shrink and even die, sad to say.

    But who really knows? I fondly remember the occasional weekend trips to the ‘coast’ with my parents during the days following the end of WWII. Although gasoline was still in short supply, we would drive from Salem over to what is now Lincoln City – back then it was a string of six or seven small villages aligned more or less evenly along Hwy. 101, which even then relied on vacationers such as ourselves – where we would rent a tiny cabin in Taft on the north shore of Siletz bay and go crabbing, later to enjoy the fruits of our patience around an evening campfire on the beach opposite our temporary digs. Good times….

    • Hi Martin,

      I’m fascinated by the question of what will happen to these communities as energy and economic shocks hit. Obviously, tourism is a huge supporter, but as you mention, there are other economic possibilities here. At the same time, the timber and fish stocks have been seriously depleted and degraded, so even if there was a return to these industries hand in hand with a broader localization of economies, they couldn’t produce as they once did—and certainly not if there was an attempt to manage the resources sustainably. And, of course, there still is a good deal of logging happening out here. Stands of trees are constantly falling around us. It’s just that, so far as I can tell, most of this logging supports the local economy only on a minimal basis. It’s really just resource extraction, a far cry from the sort of robust, localized, craft-based wood products economy you mention.

      But my fascination extends to places like Manzanita where, as you also mention, so many of the houses are simply vacation homes. The population in the winter drops to just a few hundred people and most of the houses stand empty. Ginger, who owns the farm I’m living on now and who lived for a few years in Manzanita proper, has talked about how the town could go literally overnight from being almost entirely empty to suddenly being filled with people, dogs, children, and a crazy amount of activity when Memorial Day or Fourth of July hit. Such a strange way for a community to exist.

      Yes, though, there are some good farming and water resources here in the Nehalem-Manzanita area, and surrounding areas, and it will be interesting to see what kind of local food production can be supported and created in the coming years. How will it function without the backing of an industrial economy? How will it function without the easy transportation that plays a big role in it now? I’ve talked a bit with one of the farmers I work for about how the Miami-Foley valley was a hundred years ago, as his family dates far back to the area. He talked about the local school up on the hillside and how, rather than having the centralized Tillamook dairy that accounted for a good deal of the dairy industry in the area, they had a smattering of smaller cheese-making facilities and such. Over time, as happened in so many cases throughout the economy, they consolidated and combined functions. Perhaps we’ll simply retreat backward a bit, breaking the large dairies into progressively smaller ones? But obviously, it won’t be so neat a process. It’s one thing to consolidate under the pressures of vast energy resources, but seemingly would be quite a different thing to diversify under constricted resources.

      Thanks for the memories of your childhood trips, though. It’s a good reminder that I won’t be seeing a world without fossil fuels, but one with restricted fossil fuels. There may yet be a far reduced tourism industry and I may find, a few decades from now, that I’m able to live a modest life out here much as I do now. Who knows if that will be the case, and it may very well be a long shot that I’ll even remain out here that long, but I’d like to think that the tumult to come might not be as dramatic as I worry it will. And I’d like to think there will still be a flow—though surely much reduced—of families traveling to enjoy the beauty out here, to see the ocean, maybe not to luxuriate in their enormous vacation house on the beach, but simply to sit in the sand around a fire and appreciate their life. I imagine that will take place some way or another.

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