Of late, there seems to be a lot of questions regarding permaculture, and really when the dross is skimmed off the crucible, it boils down to one thing; decision making. It really does not matter if it is the decision to buy land, build a hugel, time having children with homesteading, or buy sheep; a decision has to be made. Making that decision however can be tough, but here is a practical way to navigate through that decision process, and that is to just take the word responsibility and apply it through two hard questions.
Sadly, as much as I love and use the English language, it can sometimes fall short. The word responsibility is like that, and should actually be flipped around. Let me explain and unpack what I mean.
The word is actually a combination of two words; Response and Ability. But Ability should actually come before reponse.
What exactly do I mean? Well let us look at building a hugel? The first question to ask should be, are you able? Do you have the area to dedicate to it? The time to make it? The materials for it? If the answer is yes, and you feel it has benefit on your homestead, the next question is, "what is your response? That kind of puts people on edge I know, and for many it may mean arguing with themselves, or making excuses, but it does put a little fire to the situation. It holds people accountable.
These two answers can be applied to anything. I once read where a woman had 100 acres of land, and one suggestion was to sell 99 of them and make the one acre ideal. To me that is hardly ethical or responsible. The woman had 100 acres entrusted to her, and while difficult, the responsible thing to do was to take what she had, and make the most of it so that someone else did not take the 99 other acres and treat it with disrespect. Now the flip side to this is, if a person has a 1/4 acre suburban homesite, the same ethics apply. It does not matter if a person has a little land or a lot, the ideal homestead or a crappy location, a spouse that is interested in homesteading or not; the question is...do YOU have the ability to make something better, then...what is your response to that?
Today in Maine there is an Opiate Crisis and after losing my best friend, friend and brother-in-law to drug overdoses, Katie and I felt we had to do SOMETHING; people were literally dying! And yet while we are only two lowly sheep farmers, we do have a farm that sits atop a hill and overlooks Mount Washington some 150 miles away. So we worked with a friend and did a benefit concert for Teen Challenge Maine which is a drug addiction recovery group with a 87% success rate and through a benefit concert raised money for them. The point here is, we had an ability, and we responded. Now it is an annual event.
If you are facing a tough decision, whether it be having children on a beginner homestead, continuing to do permiculture without the input from a spouse, or considering buying a new piece of land; the only two questions are: are you able, and what will be your response.
As a full-time farmer, I do my best work with a hoe, but what does that say about my wife Katie?
I like your take on this. I was taught that we have circles of responsibility that we must take of. First you are responsible for yourself so that can support rather than burden your family. You family supports its members so that it doesn't drag down your community. It gets harder and more complicated as the circles expand, but the basic idea stays the same. Don't fail in the little things because they are important to the big picture.
Travis, congratulations! You've accomplished something really great. Yes, there are big responsibilities in your list of things. It sounds like you two were in on it together, supported each other when the going got tough, and it worked out. So it wasn't an independent decision out of a sense of responsibility. It is admirable that you accomplished what you did in raising money. You really saw a major project through to completion. We need more folks like that!
But it does seem as if you could stop doing concerts and it wouldn't affect your job, your income, your life as you have it set up. So I'm not sure taking responsibility extrapolates out into more permanent decisions like buying land, and trying to make money off of farming using Permaculture methods, and making major decisions despite input from a partner. If we make a commitment to another person, marriage or partnership, isn't that the commitment that is a priority? There's no way I would still be married if I didn't take my partner into consideration when it came to lifestyle, career, hobbies, vacations, and compatibility.
I was so gung ho 30 years ago, I would have said, "Heck, yeah, I'll make money farming, just watch me!!" That's youth and inexperience talking. I thought if I took it on, on whatever scale my ego decided would work for me, I could do it. I wanted to be impressive! Not just average!! I wanted to be a Farm Warrior!
Reality was another matter. I probably could do it, but would I be satisfied doing it in the long run? Short term is not too bad. But in the long run would I be exhausted all the time? (yes) Would I be one step away from poverty? (one or two failures away, for sure.) Would one or two or three bad winters destroy everything I had worked for? (Yes, it almost did.) Would I be doing nothing but that? Would I make everyone else miserable in the process? (Yes, I did.)
Eventually I dreaded the direction I took because it had become overwhelming. It was slave labor, not satisfying effort. Maybe it happened because I hadn't found out what really mattered to me. Certainly inexperience was a huge part of it. Energy level often misled me. The scale of what I decided at 30 wasn't the scale that really worked for me 10 years later or 20 years later. The market also changed over those 20 years, food people bought changed, too. Would I be willing to change with the times? Do we really have to learn it the hard way -- the golden chant, Money/Effort/Time -- every time?
One of the questions I ask myself whenever I take on a project is, if I have to do this 24/7 over and over and over again, (because that's what farming is, that's what living rurally is when Mother Nature is your main coworker) would I be able to back off on it in the future if I wanted to, and everyone else wanted me to? Would I still be okay if I did half as much?
Right there is where I back off from 200 feet of greenhouses to 100 feet, from an acre of wine grapes instead of 10 acres, an acre of blackberries instead of 5 acres. I managed to be a Fence Warrior, put one in around 8 acres. I fenced out the deer, and unknowingly fenced in the rabbits. That was the end of my $300 of berry transplants. Not everyone has this kind of scale, but I think it makes the work level, expenditure of money, and time consumption of such projects more obvious.
That question has turned out to be the saving grace of my adventures into rural living/farming/family/social life and the responsibilities they create. I love the scale of what I do. I do a lot of things we read about in these forums, but they don't take over my life and have me running from one crisis to another. People say to me, "I don't know how you can stand to do all this work!" It doesn't feel like work to me because the scale of it works. It's a real pleasure and a privilege, I enjoy the results. But I've backed waaaaay off from what I thought I'd be doing.
Travis, you hit on something I am deeply passionate about in my moral life. I like to call it the gap between what you can do and what you are doing. Responsiblity is a good word for it.
I grew up poor. Not poor by some people's standards, but definitely getting-our-food-from-a-food-bank poor. Let's call it not rich. Somewhere in my hustle for life, I looked back at my life and realized I was quite rich. It's always interesting to me how fast one can move from having four jobs to not quite pay the bills to having one job to having one job and knowing you could leave it.
Four years ago this though experiment of knowing I could leave my job met reality. My father was diagnosed with a severe and accute parkinsonian disease that fairly wrecked my family. I spent months severely depressed and anxious for what at the time felt unkowable. Looking back (four years later), it's obvious that I was anxious because I knew I was able to help, but I wasn't.. I eventually came to this realization, quit my job, left San Francisco, and became a caregiver for my father.
Things have changed, my time spent toward caregiving has ebbed and flowed, but I can tell you without doubt that doing an important thing you are able to is a remarkably unique feeling. Similar to other ego-altering substances. It is a thing that can change you, even if your effort is not measurable.
Doing things you're able to do seems like such an easy idea. But at least from my experience, it's not. It's thing things you do that you're able to do that make a person.
Cristo; I think one of the problems in the United States today is, people think that being idle and waiting automatically equates to waste, and that is just not the case at all.
On my farm, and often with bigger farms, there are areas that are out of production, and I know mine is certainly the case. Currently I have 70 acres that was cleared of forest and is idle. I know from experience that if I was to try to clear that land into tillable fields now, I would end up with bigger stumps and their root balls, more limbs and tops in piles, and more removed topsoil. It will also cost me more money because bigger equipment will be needed to remove those bigger stumps, the job will take more time, and of course more fuel burned in those bigger machines. Yet if I wait five years, the stumps will be reduced vastly in size, smaller equipment can be used, and of course less fuel burned and soil lost...all by waiting. Yes, as a land clearing contractor for others I have the ability to clear my clear-cuts and put them into tillable fields, but equally I am able to wait for a more opportune time as well. So in reflection, these 70 acres are not being wasted, they are in transition.
But in today's society, waiting is hard. We want a one minute microwave meal to be cooked in 30 seconds, interstates to increase their speed limits to 100 miles per hour, and homesteads to be profitable in a year. We call the latter a waste and inefficient if they are not. Let's all rethink that.
So scaling back is not wrong. These 70 acres will sit idle for awhile, along with other areas of my farm that I do not have time for, and instead will focus my attention on other areas. That is prudent, but selling off those acres just to focus on a few key areas would be irresponsible. Once a person sells land, it is forever out of their control. A person might ensure the buyer is another Permiculturist, but what if they end up selling...to a conventional farmer, to someone prone to theivery, or a hate group who wants the land to practice war games on? No one can predict the future, nor control it, but land ownership give a person rights even if it sits idle.
Personal relationships on a farm are difficult at best, and even I know that. I have been down the aisle three times in marriage, which means I have been to court for divorce twice. I know the heartbreak that someone you love leaving you brings, and yet know too what it is like to farm with someone who does not have the same farm passion and vision.
In my classes on farming I often talk about farm equipment and encourage people to scale their equipment purchases to the size of their farm. Here for instance, we have "Kubota Farmers", people with 3-4 acres of land with 50 hp Kubota's when honestly a BSC 2 wheel tractor would often get the job done while they are scratching their heads trying to figure out how they are going to back their big tractor into a spot. And I feel strongly about that...never overspend on equipment, but I also know...and tell my classes...that sometimes it is best to buy equipment. For some wives, their husbands would have no involvement with the farm if they did not have a farm tractor no matter teh acreage. A 2 wheel tractor is just not going to cut it for them. In that situation, it is best to buy a tractor even though financially other options make more sense. It is always best to show compassion and love. A tractor purchase may not ensure that persons devotion and enagement in the farm, but it is at least an olive branch of peace towards that endeavor.
As a full-time farmer, I do my best work with a hoe, but what does that say about my wife Katie?
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
posted 7 months ago
Travis, yeah, coming to understand what one needs and wants is a real journey. You've got a lot of valuable experience now!
I sure don't think that not using all 70 acres is a problem. If you want that space, you've earned it. I hope no one is pressuring you to do something on every single part of it. There's real satisfaction in just being on the land the ways it's been for centuries. I like having that ancient connection.
The Western culture does seem to emphasize Great Big Accomplishment as the goal. I wish it would swing back to appreciating regular folks, but I don't suppose the media will let that happen. People around us with acreage try to claim that unless you put a giant house on acreage it isn't a good investment. Some say if you don't use your equity in your house/property it's wasted. But that's all about dollars and cents without taking the people's lives into consideration. I'm not going to do either of those two things because what I do on my land works just fine for me. I'm way happier with a low-key situation than I would be maxing out an investment. Way less to worry about.
permaculture is a more symbiotic relationship with nature so I can be even lazier. Read tiny ad: