Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The New Farmer

Despite the fact that there are many unattractive things about farming (you know, like shoveling poop, and manhandling large smelly animals into small smelly spaces) it is still a deeply attractive lifestyle to me.

I was raised on a sort of half-farm (so inevitably I'm biased to some degree), a majority of my parent’s income came from non-farming activities but a majority of the food we ate came from the pasture or the garden.

There is a sort of existential intimacy in farming, there is a more direct and more inviolable relationship between your toil and your well-being. Farming brings a unity to life activities that other vocations cannot boast; your location does not change, your needs are fewer, your needs are nearer, your family is nearer.

The core of farming's attraction to me is the natural involvement of one’s family. It is natural for kids to help their parents on a farm, it is natural for kids to see their parents at work, to see how their parents handle difficulties. There is much more time with the kids and much more opportunity for interaction in general. And on a farm, failure is often not an option, you MUST plant the seeds or food will be scarce, you MUST fix the fence at 2am or the products of your labor will escape into the forest. There is an urgency to farming that cuts through the fog of faddish interests and social posturing that surrounds us, farming focuses our attention back on our basic needs. I think it's healthy for kids to see this, to see that the basics cannot be taken for granted.

Let's pause here while I throw out the requisite caveat, yes obviously a farm is not some utopian patch of earth where joy bursts forth at the crack of dawn and all the men are good looking and all the women are above average ...or whatever Garrison Keillor said ...but the opportunities are real. In my experience kids raised on farms are more likely to have GRIT, to have sticktuitiveness, to be unafraid of hard work and dirt and skinned knuckles.

So, farming is attractive for the above reasons and it was once the case that it was practical for a wide majority of North Americans to be at least half-farmers. It's not anymore. Farming is completely impractical for most people. I live in a residential neighborhood, if I tried my hand at farming the Homeowners Association would come down on me like a ton of bricks.

We need to find new lifestyles, ones that can be lived by electrical engineers and pilots and speech pathologists; lifestyles that are family-centric, that have the positive attributes of farming but not the requirement for land and critters. I suspect that this can be achieved if your work schedule is at all flexible, though sacrifices will have to be made. Speaking of sacrifices, if you want to spend more time at home you'll probably have to spend less time at work, that's a sacrifice of sorts. The time now spent at home should not be without financial value, but your hourly rate will probably be lower, from a purely financial perspective it will be a less efficient way to meet the needs of your family. Let's examine some of those needs to see how you can meet them with that sweet, sweet sensation of sweating in the vicinity of your family.

1. Food: even in the smallest apartment you can grow some food in an indoor garden, if you have a yard, a small greenhouse should get you to significant production even in arid climates. Also just cooking your own food from scratch is something that kids can help with and has some value in showing kids that food (while it might grow on trees) does not magically appear in the fridge.

2. Shelter: this one’s a bit tough but doing all your own maintenance around the house is an opportunity to show your kids that shelter is worked for, it is not to be taken for granted.

3. Electricity: In neighborhoods that allow you to go off-grid a small solar-battery system will allow you to generate all your own power. This is a significant endeavor but if you're willing to solder all the individual panels yourself and rip old batteries out of crashed EVs (no, really) it can be done relatively cheaply, such a system will require regular monitoring and maintenance. There are plenty of online resources for making this sort of thing happen. Google it. Electricity is a pretty urgent need nowadays, kids will understand that the work you do (and they help with) is pretty serious stuff.

4. Water: OK I got nothing, it's coming out of the tap unless you live somewhere with enough rainfall for a roof reclamation system to be viable. In some places drilling your own well is an option.

5. Clothing: You're probably thinking: "Bro, would you seriously make your own clothes??" ...Heck no I wouldn't, I'd get fired; but I'd make my kid’s clothes, they won't get fired. It's really not that hard to do, especially if you're a pro with a sewing machine like my wife.

This is a pretty short list and a first effort, I haven't put much time into it but I'll update this post as I think of new things, feel free to post comments if you have any ideas.