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.

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…

MENF Wrap-up: Overview

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA. This is my second year attending and I am hooked! If you haven’t heard of it, the fair is sponsored by Mother Earth News Magazine, my FAVORITE magazine hand’s down.  Please head over to visit because they have a huge number of online articles as resources. It is the first place I look for information! I discovered the magazine a few years ago when I picked up a few back issues from Freecycle.

Mother Earth News Fair logo

The fair has a wealth of information; hour-long sessions with experts and authors in that field and exhibitors for just about anything you would need to live sustainably. Here is the “about” for the fair from the website:

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS are fun-filled, family-oriented sustainable lifestyle events. FAIRS feature practical, hands-on demos and workshops:

  • Renewable energy
  • Small-scale agriculture
  • Livestock
  • Gardening
  • Green building
  • Green transportation
  • Natural health and more

We hand-select local and national exhibitors to bring you the best in:

  • Organic food and drink
  • Books and magazines
  • Tools and seeds
  • Green contractors
  • Handmade soaps
  • Animal fiber
  • Clothing and more

This year the fair was organized in 1.5 block increments; each block included one-hour session and a half-hour to travel and find a seat in the next session. This seems like it was a response to the problems last year where each session was 50 minutes and you only had ten minutes to travel. Both years the fair had more visitors than expected. I believe they were totally caught off-guard last year with the crowds. This year the fair was a bit more relaxed; neither the guests nor the speakers seemed to be as rushed. There was more time to visit the exhibitors. The only down side was that this year when I skipped a session for lunch with my family I felt like I really missed a lot and even though I only skipped two sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday I managed to visit all of the exhibitors at least once and many several times. This is good for the exhibitors but not so good for me! There were not too many things I could or needed to purchase and I felt like I had a lot of downtime.

Why do I love the fair? It is one of the few places I feel like I belong! I walked around eating my red pepper whole, like an apple, and I actually didn’t get too many “looks”. I don’t usually do this in public because it seems so odd to people that they stare and while I am pretty comfortable with myself, I eat them that way because they taste good not because I want attention! I can also go to most workshops and LEARN. At the basic workshops available around me I feel like I am advanced in a sea of beginners (not that I am all-knowing, but most workshops are for beginners and once you have read a lot and tried a lot you just need more than an overview and introduction). Finally, it reminds me of my goal of living sustainability. It is only too easy to get off-track and caught up in life at home and school once September begins. The MENF starts that sustainable fire burning again!

Here was my schedule for the weekend:

Saturday:

Beechnut Turkey and Oaknut Hogs(Cancelled) When Technology Fails: Self-reliance and surviving the long emergency

A Homesteader’s Hindsight: 20 great ideas and 20 not-so-great ideas

Lunch

Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Break

The Need Fire: How kindling community ignites a farm

Sunday:

The Traditional Home Dairy

Retooling for Tomorrow: Tools and technologies for the modern homestead

Lunch

Beginning Deer Hunting for Food

Food as Medicine: Healing chronic diseases

 

I will write up a summary of what I learned at each for those of you who didn’t get to go to the Fair. Perhaps I will see you there next year!

 

 

Are You Flushing Your Money Away?

flush money

Have you heard the toilet consumes more water than any other appliance in the home? The average person flushes away almost twenty gallons of fresh drinking water everyday. Prior to 1982, toilets used 5-7 gallons per flush (gpf). Through 1990, that number decreased to 3.5 gpf. Around 1994, the 1.6 gpf toilets became standard most of us are familiar with today. Although we have made great strides in toilet water usage, there is still room for improvement. Recently, some new toilets have become available which use even less water. High Efficiency Toilets, or HETs, use 1.28 gpf or less and feature a new design. Long gone are the days of having to flush the 1.6 version multiple times to clear the bowl. Continue reading “Are You Flushing Your Money Away?”

Did You Know?

In sixty seconds, the Earth absorbs enough sunlight to fulfill the planet’s energy needs for a year! The Solar Energy Technologies Program (SETP) seeks to find and develop solar technologies that  are cost-competitive in the market by 2015. The program currently focuses on the research and development of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) as well as system integration and market transformation. Photovoltaics convert sunlight into energy while concentrating solar power uses mirrors to send the solar energy to receivers which convert it into heat which is changed into electricity with steam turbines or other methods.