MENF Wrap-up: A Homesteader’s Hindsight

The second session I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair on Saturday was “A Homesteader’s Hindsight: 20 great ideas and 20 not-so-great ideas” presented by Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of the book Up Tunket Road and professor of Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College. The idea of learning from someone else’s mistakes is perfect; who better to tell you what to do and what not to do then someone who has done it all already?

The session started off when he told the audience to first pick a realist for a partner – check! –  and to be very clear in your wedding vows (buy me a farm in the mountains) – I missed this one. He said the burnout potential for homesteaders is very high, and many relationships don’t survive it. Some of his advice was pretty common sense, but would be easy to overlook in your desire for property:

  • If you have a spot that wants to be a pond, make a pond
  • If you have a road that wants to be a river, don’t buy the property or you will be walking in and out of your homestead
  • Build a house on a firm foundation with a shaped basement (square) – heat rises
  • If you are building in the north, don’t build a house on sono-tubes like they do in the south – what works in one place may not work in another
  • Build a garage or tool shed first (it gives you a place to store tools so you don’t have sharp objects hanging around your living space
  • Build an outhouse with a view
  • Build it right the first time
  • Search out your neighbors – the will be a great source of information
  • Right of way – it is best not to share a driveway because you may not always agree on what needs to be done
  • Always remember to check township rules and local ordinances before you buy!
  • Take a chain saw safety class
  • You may not need a sawmill (but try sawmillexchange.com if you do)
  • Live on the site for a year or more before you build
  • If you can, live in a state with good health insurance
  • Don’t get kicked by a cow (whether you have good health insurance or not)
  • Your community can save you/ homesteading is all about interdependence despite the “doing it on your own” hype
  • Live the questions – put your values to work
  • Don’t assume new always means good or old always means sustainable
  • Animals and gardens will become the center of your day
  • The homestead can become a constraint
  • Visit other homesteads to get ideas and if you can, ask about finances – it’s the topic no one talks about that everyone needs to! – see below
  • When you visit a homestead, remember you are seeing it at only one point in time. How long did it take to get there? 5 years, 20 years?
  • Be clear in what type of homesteader you are
  • Look for these books: New Pioneers: The Back-to-the-Land Movement and the Search for a Sustainable Future by Jeffrey Jacob and At Home in Nature: Modern Homesteading and Spiritual Practice in America by Rebecca Kneale Gould
  • Don’t set yourself up to be a superhero
  • Begin as a homestead and then segue into a farm if that is the direction you would like to go.
  • Farming might take away from the homestead; for instance the home garden may not get as much care as your focus shifts
  • Farming takes you from producing to marketing
  • Thrift stores are a great way to get what you need for cheap
  • BUT… you don’t want to buy someone else’s problem
  • Homeschooling -> comes out of teaching to the test
  • It might be a good idea if, for instance, your kids would have to spend 1.5 hours or more just getting to and from the bus stop
  • Homeschooling also:
    • makes you tighter as a family unit
    • kids get more exercise (school has very few outside activities)
    • you get “stolen lessons” – those things kids learn just by being there
  • A lot of homesteaders have an off-the-homestead job to provide income that is re-invested in the farm
  • The trade-off is the person who works off-homestead becomes more distant from the family
  • If you feel good about what you are doing, share it!
  • “You can judge a person by the integrity of their compromises”

Answers to audience questions:

  • Solar panels on his farm – 800w system
  • Grid tie in is better than stand-alone
  • Solar Water pays off quicker than a solar electric system, so that is usually the best investment
  • His house has a 24×36 basement + 2 levels and an open attic and a separate entrance for bedrooms so they can be rented
  • Finances:
    • $50k / year from job
    • house was $140k to build
    • they bought more land with an inheritance
    • to prepare for college, it is better to have $ invested in land than in the bank
    • pay off mortgage ASAP

The above tips were what I gleaned from the presentation, which was peppered with stories about life on his homestead. It was a wonderful, entertaining session and while the information he gave is above (to the best of my abilities), actually being there was fun! He also answered questions from the audience, and you can see the answers above.

I’m Famous!

When I was at the Mother Earth News Fair two weeks ago, I stopped by the Storey publishing booth to check out a book called Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life. I checked it out not only because I’m very interested in the topic or that I have been to two presentations by the author Deborah Niemann, but because she had asked for suggestions for her book on Facebook and I had happily shared (for those who know me in real life, you know I’m always sharing my ideas)!

So I picked up the only copy of the book left because it had already sold out and I paged through it and saw this:

on page 155.  I’m famous!

I also got to talk to Deborah in person, which was awesome because she is so agreeable and we have the similar interest in living both green and thrifty – she wrote the book I was going to write… someday 😀 and we had a great conversation!

Now the book is on my Amazon list and seeing as my family loves books as much as I do I’m pretty sure it will show up around Christmas or my birthday, which is good as I have about 7 books on my bedside table to read and only one is fiction (I love those non-fiction books, but I can take weeks to read them instead of days).

So, if you’ve ever wanted to see me “in print” you can, plus you’ll get a helpful book out of the deal! Win-win!

MENF Wrap-up: When Technology Fails

The first session I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair was “When Technology Fails: Self-reliance and surviving the long emergency” presented by Matthew Stein. I arrived 10 minutes early and was surprised to find a crowd outside the door; inside it was standing room only! Since I was alone I was able to slip in and find a spot in the isle, but there were people sitting everywhere. Many people even found seats behind the screen/speaker, so they missed the graphics!

Mat Stein’s session was based on his books When Technology Fails (Revised & Expanded): A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency and When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival. He started by talking about why technology might fail; 400 Chernobyls: Solar Flares, EMP, and Nuclear Armageddon. Rather than try to get it down here I will send you to his website to read more – see the link above. I couldn’t take notes fast enough because I didn’t have the prior knowledge to just get the important stuff down (NOTE for kids: this is why teachers take the time to build your prior knowledge before we read an article! YES, we teachers do it too).

In the beginning, he introduced us to the Six Trends threatening civilization as we know it. As he puts it in a 2010 Huffington Post article:

There are dark clouds gathering on the horizon. They are the clouds of six hugely troubling global trends, climate change being just one of the six. Individually, each of these trends is a potential civilization buster. Collectively, they are converging to form the perfect storm–a storm of such magnitude that it will dwarf anything that mankind has ever seen. If we are unsuccessful in our attempts to calm this storm, without a doubt it will destroy life as we know it on Planet Earth!

The Six Trends are Climate Change/Global “weirding”, Peak Oil, Collapse of Oceans, Deforestation, Food Crisis (soils/water/climate), and population/overshooting our planet’s capacity. He went into each of these in detail, explaining the problems we face. More details are available at the above link, but the basics are:

  • Climate Change – barely discussed because generally people have made up their minds
  • Peak Oil – this will be hitting us hard in the next few years. He had some great graphs demonstrating the problem.
  • Collapse of Oceans – 11/15 of the world’s biggest ocean fisheries are in severe decline or collapse. Global acidification of the ocean’s is global warming’s “evil twin”.
  • Deforestation – trees are critical to the water cycle. When it rains the water is soaked up by tree roots and is evaporated through evapotranspiration, where a  “typical tree breathes out 250 to 400 or more gallons of water per day through the amazingly large surface area of its leaves” (I found this out from this website).
  • Food Crisis – where the problems we have with soils, climate and water all come together to create a food problem
  • Population – Every 12 years we add the same number of people as we had in total in 1800. We passed the Earth’s bio-capacity in 1980 and now we are in overshoot mode.

Next, we moved on to answer the question “How do we cope?

First, here is a list of things to have on hand just in case. You can find specifics about all of these items in this article on the WhenTechFails Website. Your 72-hour grabn’go kit should have food, water, first aid, and emergency supplies. For the food, make sure you rotate it out so you have useful food in your kit! You need 1 gallon of water per person per day. Remember water is heavy, so having a water purifier and filter system will help, especially if you can’t take a car! Links to kits and supplies can be found at the bottom of the page on the link I posted above in this paragraph.

Another thing you can do to plan to acquire skills to use or to trade for supplies. Learning gardening, wilderness skills, foraging skills, “old timer” skills, learn to build/repair small motors, and to build machines. A hint was to go camping. By doing this now, you know exactly what you need to be in the woods for several days! Build both your first aid kit and your herbal kid – remember that the herbs may be replaced. You can also build your community. You could start or participate in a local energy co-op or find locals who grow food or meat and make friends! Trading is a possibility, especially if you develop some of the above skills and can trade. Working on creating a transition town where you live can help your whole community be better prepared. Transition communities work on re-localizing as much as they can. Think about food or energy.  When both are local you are less likely to have interruptions based on some other part of the country/world. Local currency is another great aspect of a transition town.

 

Finally, Mat Stein talked about backcasting, or looking back in time to find the problems and the decision(s) that were made that caused it. He also gave a great example of a smaller version of what we may face. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost its lifeline to supplies and had nothing available, especially those who were not in government. Those who survived were the ones with knowledge of foraging. As he closed, he mentioned that using 1/6 of the world’s military budget could essentially fix most of our problems, or start us in a positive direction. He left us to think about that…

Confession Time

I love reading and am always happy when I find a new “green” book to read. Such is the case with the book I just finished only moments ago, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. I found the book fascinating. Science journalist Fred Pearce traveled all over the world to see where his possessions came from, and where they went once they were thrown away or recycled.

The author not only looks into where his goods come from, but also what journey they take to travel to him (or his local market). He discovers the environmental and social impact of many common foods including his fair-trade coffee, green beans, prawns (shrimp), palm oil, and spices. He also followed the probable journey of the gold used to make his wedding ring. Other journeys in the first five parts of the book included discovering if his fair-trade socks were really fair, where  his jeans were made and who made them, the route cotton takes from growth to manufacture to store, and where metals are mined, recycled and manufactured into products.

A sixth part of the book looks at waste produced and where it goes to be disposed of or recycled; believe or not this section also involved world travel and the conclusion that third world countries are much better at recycling then the Western world. Finally, the last section investigates common concerns such as the desertification of Africa, climate change and reducing carbon emission, and finally overpopulation.

One of the things I loved best about this book was that it found answers (or at least information) that I wanted to know, but had neither the time nor means to investigate. I have always wondered how clothes really were made and why they are usually made overseas (beyond the lower cost of labor). I found out about cities and towns over the world that specialize in the manufacture and recycling of certain products. This book gave me more information about why recycling is important, why we should “close the loop” and what the environmental reprocussions of obtaining virgin materials are to the surrounding country and the world.

At first I was afraid that this book would be very depressing and full of doom and gloom. However, there were many uplifting stories as well, full of innovation and hope. I would recommend this book to anyone who cares about the impact of their buying decisions on not only the environment but also on people around the world.

A Green Office?!?

Book Review of true green @ work

You’ve greened your home, now it is time to move on to another area of your life – work. Most Americans spend over a third of their week days at work and often it is harder to feel comfortable making changes outside of your home. This book focuses on how to green your “home away from home.” Don’t laugh; remember how much time you spend there!

TrueGreenatWork

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