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.
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.
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
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.
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.
Don't fall for the My-Place-Is-Special, It-Won't-Happen-Here Syndrome.
Thanks Travis for this bit about Ability-Response.
I'm a very deep and passionate thinker that finds myself in a rut more often than not.
Actually most of my life has been a rut, mostly from my own doings and IRRESPONSIBLE behavior.
It's led me down the dark path of blaming others, becoming negative, turning people away from me, etc...
Trying to recover from myself has been a challenge, and it's strange because a permaculture/farming lifestyle has been a big part of the solution - but my wife and kids are not really into it.
We tie up a lot of our money, and my wife has to also work full time for us to maintain our suburb house. Our farm is a little over an hour away and I find myself often going alone, just on the weekends to do basic path mowing, etc...I feel like w/o the help of a dedicated and passionate family/woman that my dreams of a homestead and permaculture orchard are never going to take shape.
I am currently in the decision making part of trying to juggle these two separate lives in a positive way.
Like you mentioned, I have to accept that patience is a big part of this. Glad to see some inspiration here along this journey and I will just have to hunker down and focus on what I CAN DO, instead of getting caught up in and letting the I CANT'S bring me down.
Ty...this is a very difficult situation, and I am never convinced I ever adequately address it; either on here in replies, or in my classes upon sheep farming.
I know the situation all to well. For me it was with my second wife, the one I actually was married to when I took over the family farm. In some ways she did help me. She gave me a $50 a week allowance. We both had full time jobs, but that was what I got for an allowance every week. That was NOT just for the farm though. it was anything I wanted to spend money on, and since I had to spend $25 a week on grain, it did not leave much left over for anything else.
Because of that though, I ended up going after grants, and getting several of them, so I persevered despite a lack of capital to start, but I do know what it is like to have little money, fail at things (in my case dead sheep...lots of dead sheep), and have to do everything alone, and I mean EVERYTHING.
I am not sure what the answer is. In my sheep classes, it has been mostly women, so despite a long list of reasons to try and do things by hand, or buy 2 wheel tractors, and other means to keeping overall farming costs down, we all know us guys like toys, and so I mention, it might be better to buy a tractor and keep their husbands engaged in farming, then save a little money. And I encourage them to find out what they want to do, so they have interest in homesteading, and stay involved. It is a huge problem, and I am not sure I have the answer because it is relationships, and no one knows your wife better than you. If you can find a homestead thing that she likes, maybe you can adapt it, try and make it a pleasant experience for her on your homestead. And then try and implement it as soon as you can so there is no delay for her, And try and do something now regarding it, so even if it may be planting something next spring, she can see something tangable regarding it now. Those three things are powerful motivators.
I can also tell you what NOT to do, and this is extremely difficult for me to admit.
And that is crying on a fellow homesteaders shoulders.
I did that, with a woman whose husband had no interest in her farm. I was doing things, she was doing things, and it was exciting to hear, then exciting to think what our farms would be like if they were combined, and then what it would be like if she left her husband, and I left my wife, and we farmed together! It was never a phsical affair (we never had sex), but it was an affair, and it ended up causing my second divorce. In the end, it was okay, I met Katie...who was NOT the woman I had an emotional affair with...and she is my best friend, and farm mate. But it was wrong to do what I did, and I try and warn people so they do not make the same mistakes I did. Unfortunately it was easy; two likeminded people for farming, who had spouses who had no interest in it.
I have impulse control issues so mostly when I get an idea it's done before much thought goes into it. Drives my hubs bonkers. Then I have situations like last night where I'm facing my two kids, who are demanding my time, after getting off of a stressful day of work. It's pouring rain and I'm thinking about the fact that I only have 2 walls and a roof up over my boar and how the greenhouse isn't totally sided and I'm having another baby. How on Earth am I going to handle all the stuff I took on? I don't know. But the good news is, I installed the two walls in the correct place and in spite of the rain he had a dry house to hang out in. I moved the metal over to finish it off and it will probably take me an hour. The greenhouse will probably take 3 but only if my daughter allows me to work on it. My daughter, "Mom something happened!" I drop what I'm doing and run over. "What? What Happened?" Daughter, "Oh nothing I just didn't like the noise. Look at this rock." I may never accomplish anything ever again.