Audrey Lewis

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since Jan 01, 2019
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food preservation forest garden kids
Transitioning from a suburban, office job lifestyle to a more self-reliant, nature-based lifestyle.
Lexington, KY
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Recent posts by Audrey Lewis

I have a theoretical question about a garden location for you guys!

I was just given a large amount of spoiled, unsprayed hay. I plan to lay it on the ground very thick, dig some holes in it, throw some soil/amendments in the holes, and plant my sprawling vines like squash and pumpkin in it. It’s a small, half-hearted, temporary garden. If it flops that’s fine. I just don’t have anywhere else to plant sprawling vines, so I’ll take my chances.

I have two choices of location for this single-summer garden. I have a flat field where half is covered in grass that is regularly mowed like a lawn, and half is a meadow covered in grass, oats, peas, clovers, wildflowers, and who knows what else.

Here’s my question: Do you think the squash and pumpkins have a better chance of surviving bugs and deer if the garden is exposed out on the mowed lawn, or hidden in the meadow?
Peter, "The Hand Sculpted House" lit a fire in me too. That is one of my favorite books, along with "One Straw Revolution."

To answer your question, having a college degree lets you work for other people. It buys you stability. If you did not have a clear passion (natural building, homesteading), then I would say it might be a good path for you. I've worked with many directionless people who were perfectly happy to come sit in their office all day and go home to watch TV while raking in that steady paycheck. It strikes me as odd, but it works for them.

You, on the other hand, have a fire burning in you to learn natural building and start a homestead. I can tell you from experience that if you run away from that passion and follow a more traditional path (college, salary job working for somebody else), that passion will continue to gnaw away at you until you finally cave in and do something about it. Either that, or it will slowly die, which is even worse.

But your question is about practicality, balancing what you're interested in with the very real need to earn money. By the way, that's wonderful that you have no debt and are good at living frugally. You're already doing great.

If you are interested in any state or federal government jobs, then I think the BA may be worthwhile. Unlike private companies, where you can weasel your way into a high ranking position based on (gasp) your knowledge and skills, of which it sounds like you have plenty, government jobs are highly prescriptive in their requirements and do not make exceptions. Most require a college degree. They will also determine your pay based on your years of experience calculated, once again, following a strict formula. My experience working in state government years ago was generally positive. It's very stable and predictable, you get decent benefits, and you're (in theory) serving the greater good. You could get a fun job in an environmental or fish & wildlife department. It would likely have to be full-time. On the downside, the inefficiency and apathy in government can drive you nuts.

If you're not considering a government job, then I don't think the college degree is worth it unless you're confident it will lead to a lucrative, well-paying job. No doubt, if you pursued a BA you would learn new things and gain some skills - a college degree is not as worthless as people make it out to be. However, a college degree is often not worth the investment of time and money as a learning experience. A college degree can be worth the time and money as a hoop to jump through if it lands you in a career you want (not likely based on your interests) or a high-paying job. With a high-paying job, if you continued to live frugally, you could potentially build your homestead up slowly over time, tinker with natural building on the weekends, then retire early and live your dream life (still frugally) maybe starting in your 40's. Delayed gratification sucks, but with that plan you're getting the best of both worlds, especially if you get your food-producing plants in the ground early and have years for them mature while you're still slaving away for a paycheck.

You may want to do some math. Suppose you can find a job now or cobble together enough side gigs that you earn $30,000 a year. Could you live on $20,000 and stash away $10,000 each year? Awesome. Over the next 15 years you will save $150,000 plus interest. Suppose you go to college for 3 years and net $0 during that time - no debt and no savings. Then you get a job that pays $50,000. For the next 12 years you live on $20,000 and save $30,000 each year. In the end you have saved $360,000 by the same age living at the same level of spending. Just crunching the numbers for this entirely hypothetical scenario, going to college makes more sense. You may want to do some research and look at various realistic scenarios in the same way so that you can weigh the cold, hard numbers against the enjoyment and satisfaction you would experience in each scenario.

I wish I had a clear answer for you, but what I can do is tell you about my own personal experiences having college degrees. Maybe seeing how it played out in real life for someone else could offer you some insight to help you make up your mind. Since the day I graduated, I've worked full-time in jobs that required at least a bachelors: four years in state government, seven years teaching at a public university, and now one year at a private organization. In general, my jobs have been pretty cushy and low stress. I've always had enough money, usually more than I need. I've gotten to interact with tons of wonderful, intelligent coworkers from all different backgrounds. I've learned a wide variety of skills, many of which I never would have learned if I were just doing my own thing and not being forced outside my comfort zone. I've gotten to travel for business trips. In fact, I just returned from Toronto last night, where I stayed in a fancy hotel and went out for drinks every night with very smart, kind people from all over the world, all on the company's dime. There are perks to working at a professional job that requires a college degree beyond just a better salary. Most importantly, though, I've gained an understanding of what makes the world run - board meetings, policy development, office politics, committees, memos, organizational hierarchy charts - mind numbing things that make you want to bang your head against the wall. However, understanding how the business/government world works puts you in a much better position to create change in the world if there's something you're passionate about.

The downside of these jobs is that they were not completely fulfilling. Even worse, I feel like a slave working 8 to 5 every weekday all year long with only two or three weeks of vacation time that gets eaten up by sick kids or dentist appointments. I, personally, have not had much success finding part-time jobs or jobs with flexible schedules that pay well and are intended for people with college degrees, but that could just be me. So I am trapped in the rat race of working a rigid full-time schedule and never having a chance to pause and reflect on the what the heck I'm doing. I look back at the last 12 years and feel like I mostly wasted my talents and extinguished my inner creativity. As long as I've been working, I've felt restless and daydreamed about running my own small farm, which was my dream long before I ever went to college. Yes, having a comfortable lifestyle has been nice, but in my opinion it has not been worth selling my soul.

Soon I will jump ship and start building the life I want, which is made much easier because of my college degrees. The reason is that I will be teaching online (about 10-15 hours a week) to make just enough money to cover the bills. That affords me the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes while I learn how to eke out a living doing the things I actually love. Without my college degrees, I would not have the luxury of being able to make a smoother transition from working for the man to working for me. Having a steady paycheck, even a small one, brings me peace of mind, which is important to me since I have children and a family to think about. It sounds like you may not be as tied to stability and predictability as I am, given your description of your years sailing, rock climbing, backpacking, etc., which is why I lean a little more toward not going back to college in your case. The only exception is - you mentioned looking at Sterling College. If you could get into the next round of the Wendell Berry Farming Program, it looks pretty amazing. I'm sure it's competitive.

Best of luck to you! When trying to make a difficult decision, I have two pieces of advice. First is to remember that no matter which path you take, you can always change your course, and you will always learn something. The second is to flip a coin and say "heads" means you go back to college. If it lands on heads and you feel disappointed, then maybe that's not what you really want to do. If it lands on heads and you feel relieved, then maybe that is what you want to do. I know that's kind of stupid, but it has worked for me before. Good luck to you!
1 month ago
I doubt the stars will align for anyone reading this thread, but I came across a hoosier cabinet in central Kentucky on Craigslist that appears to be in close to original condition, if not original condition. They didn't list a price - just that they need it gone by April 20th.
2 months ago
Hi Anthony. That sounds like a fun experiment! I have a couple questions for clarification:

1) You mentioned plural raised beds, then you talked about subdividing a single bed into 4 equal spaces. Does that mean you plan to make multiple of these subdivided beds for the experiment, or just one?
2) Within a 4-square bed, will the two test squares have the same amendments, or different amendments?

I only have three concerns. First, you need replication if you don't already plan on having it - multiple plants grown under the same conditions, not just a single radish under condition X, due to the variability of plants. I would want to see at least three radishes grown under condition X so that you can attribute their better (or worse) growth to the soil/amendments and not just the possibility that you got a freak radish. Perhaps that's already part of your plan if you're going to have multiple experiment beds or repeat the experiments. Second, I'd be worried that the amendments would affect the nearby control soil. I would suggest physically separating the test and control soil. Third, if you do multiple beds or repeat the experiment multiple times, I'd make sure the control and test plots have a mixture of orientations to the sun, wind, or any other environmental conditions. That is, I wouldn't always put the control plants on the side that gets all the wind or always put the test plants on the side that gets all the sun.

I hope you learn a lot from your experiment. I had considered doing a similar experiment in my own backyard this year, but I got overzealous and applied my amendments everywhere. Be sure to take pictures and make notes along the way!
2 months ago
Jeremy, I think this is a very interesting question to ask. I would also be curious to hear others' responses. I realize this is the large farm forum, but I will respond anyway despite not having a large farm. I have a small home vegetable garden in my backyard in an urban area. I grow food because I enjoy it and want my family to have more healthy fresh vegetables, not really to save money or make a profit. Here are the priorities that influenced my seed selections a couple weeks ago when I placed my seed order:

1. Familiarity - I've always grown tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, summer squash, and kale without many problems, so I just keep growing them.
2. Adapted to my growing region - I don't have time to fuss over plants, so I only grow things that thrive where I live.
3. Family preferences - I grow what my family likes to eat.
4. Space - With limited space, I can't grow the winter squash and other sprawling vegetables that I'd like to. I squeeze a few vines in on trellises.
5. Flavor - I usually prioritize flavor over productivity or resistance to an unlikely pest/disease.
6. Productivity - I want to maximize what I reap from my small space.
7. Variety - I squeeze in as many varieties as I can to keep things interesting.
8. Story - Whenever possible, I like to plant heirloom varieties that I know the history of, like "Aunt Betsy developed this bean in Madison County in the 1930s."

It's funny to think about all the priorities that battle it out in our brains when we choose what to grow, and we sometimes aren't even aware of it.
3 months ago
Blake, I love your website for Peaceful Heritage Nursery. I'm also located in Kentucky and currently planning a half-acre orchard / food forest in Lexington. Your website is the primary source I visit to get a quick summary of the pros and cons of each cultivar and learn about what conditions they need to thrive. Your plant descriptions give just the right amount of information, and I appreciate how you highlight what makes each variety special. I will likely be placing an order with you this coming fall as I start planting my first trees. Strangely, out of all the amazing trees and shrubs you sell, the product I'm most excited to try is the Chadwick tomato seeds. Its description sounds exactly like the tomato I've been dreaming of.

I watched your video last week. I must have found it on your fruit blog. I have never pruned apple trees before, so I found it helpful to see you describe the apple tree pruning process rather than having to read about it in a static book. I learned other things from the video, too, but the apple tree pruning is what stood out for me personally since that's something I need to learn about right now. Thanks for putting the information out there!
4 months ago
Victor, I appreciate you emphasizing that liberal arts are important, and that the point of education is not necessarily to get a job. There is nothing wrong with learning as much as you can for the sake of learning! I taught math and statistics, but my thinking was very much shaped by the courses I had to take in college that were not related to my major, like anthropology and architecture history. I think you and I would both agree that every field of study has intrinsic value. The friction comes from figuring out what the connection should be between higher education and the job market.

You also talked about showing others the good things that can be done within your community as a way of creating change, in addition to being active in changing policy. This is something I've been thinking about lately. I don't see a lot of people who straddle both of those worlds well. I see a big disconnect between the bearded guy in overalls who grows amazing beets but never leaves his farm and the person in local government who sits through endless board meetings with other people wearing suits and has good intentions, but lacks practical knowledge of what the beet-growing farmer needs to thrive.

My impetus for thinking about all this is that I'm currently transitioning from the business world to not quite homesteading, but something along those lines. I am realizing that by leaving the business world, I am cutting off some avenues of influence. Currently I work in an office with about 80 college-educated professional folks who lead pretty typical suburban lifestyles. These 80 coworkers are involved in churches and sports and neighborhood associations. Their influence extends far throughout our community if you think about it. Suppose I left some of my amazing produce in the break room and chit chatted with my coworkers about it. When they tasted the difference in produce that's grown in healthy soil, that could spark some eye-opening, attitude-changing conversations. But that's not what I'm going to do, because if I sit under those fluorescent lights for 40 hours a week, I'm not in my backyard growing the amazing vegetables. It's a Catch-22.

This thread is about millennials who are involved in permaculture. I think we've already established that there are some, but not many. We've established that many millennials were sold the lie that they had to go deeply in debt to get a college degree. So where are they now? I think a huge proportion of them are living their lives, mostly unfulfilled, in suburbia, working at meaningless office jobs that they got with their college degrees. They are driving their SUVs to Costco on the weekend to buy crap for their kids' lunch boxes in bulk. They are standing around with other miserable parents at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party making mindless chatter about whether their kids should take piano lessons or do gymnastics. They're buying the crappy overpriced plastic toys that their kids see advertised on YouTube. They think about wanting to eat healthier and live a more balanced lifestyle, but they don't know how to escape the consumerist hamster wheel they're running on. How do I know this? Because I work with these people, my kids go to school with their kids, and I kind of am one of these people (not 100%, but more than I'd like to admit). To me, these unfulfilled suburban millennials are a huge source of untapped potential. We just need permaculture enthusiasts to infiltrate their inner rings and gently show them another way of thinking and living (i.e. - not by preaching, but by sharing some delicious peaches or tomatoes and starting a conversation).

4 months ago
Dillon, I also wonder if there will be an overcompensating swing the other way against higher education. I mentioned it in a post way up near the top of the thread, but I recently left teaching at a university for many reasons, mostly that the university was being run as a business. Students and instructors were seen as commodities and treated as such. Actual learning was not the goal of the administration nor many of the students who just wanted their degree. I see a lot of people in our age group (millennials) and younger harboring feelings of resentment and bitterness toward college, which I completely understand as I share some of those feelings, but it also makes me sad. Higher education has its place in any society. I'm afraid we will throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose many of the good attributes of higher education as people turn away from it.

David up above mentioned that he loves Gen Z and that they have their act together. I have to agree. I started teaching at a university when I was 24, so basically I was teaching my fellow millennials. I stopped teaching at age 36, when I had reached the age of a fossilized dinosaur in my students' eyes. The shift I saw from millennials to Gen Z was the following: Gen Z is much more tolerant of people with differences. If you have blue hair, depression, and three gender categories, it's all good. They have much more realistic expectations of how little money they will earn and how hard it will be to eke out a living. Their low expectations border on pessimistic and self-defeating, but I think it's better to start out with low expectations and surpass them than to do the opposite, which is what many millennials have done. Gen Z does things on their own terms, like showing up late for class or turning in an assignment two weeks late and just expecting to get credit for it. This is absolutely maddening from the teacher's perspective, but I have to admit, they are laid back and lovable. I could go on, but I'll stop there. Obviously, as others have pointed out, there is much variation among individuals within a generation. I'm giving my own personal observations of the generation stereotypes.

I have enjoyed reading everyone's experiences, young and old. They give me hope. I think we will see a cultural shift toward a more sustainable lifestyle for the majority of people over the next generation. It will be painful, and I certainly don't expect folks to flood out of the city and live 100% self-sustainable, off-grid lifestyles, but there will be urban, suburban, and rural versions of positive changes.

Finally, James (the person who started this thread), it sounds like you have a very good head on your shoulders for being 23. I think you will be able to do the great things you wish to do.
4 months ago
Hi Kevin. I'm in central Kentucky (Lexington) and have two gooseberry bushes on the south side of my garden shed that do very well. They also get dappled shade from a nearby tree in the morning. I did not plant them, so I don't know if anything was done to the soil where they were planted over ten years ago, but the rest of our yard has clay in it. I wish I knew the variety. I know nothing about gooseberries, but since our weather and soil are similar, perhaps shade is the only difference.

...It just dawned on me that rabbits live under that shed. There's a good chance my gooseberries are getting a healthy dose of rabbit poop too.
4 months ago
Joel, you bring up a very important point:

My thought — that of someone older than yourselves who has been living the homestead way for many years — is that you’re starting with the advantage of theoretical knowledge of the soil food web. You’re not starting from the concepts, convictions, and habits of “chemical farming”.

The abundance of wise, often ground-breaking information available now is an enormous advantage over toiling away in the soil blindly, or worse, with only knowledge of chemical farming. While it can feel like information overload at times, and it can make you feel like you'll never learn it all, it can also save you from having 80 apple trees die in their first year. It can guide you to create the right infrastructure for your property before you shell out your hard earned money on plants and animals, thus setting you up for success.

Millennials may struggle to scrounge up enough capital to get started, but a penny saved is a penny earned, and using what you learn from others on this website (or elsewhere) about permaculture can save you thousands of dollars and hours in losses. Thanks for the reminder!
4 months ago