Real Life Math

Today, Ari’s math didn’t come from a book or a worksheet. Instead she budgeted for a shopping trip and made the purchases for our family! It was a busy afternoon; we planned to go to the library (free!) and then we needed to visit the farmer’s market, BJ’s, Michaels, the grocery store and a local farm store. Before we left we made a list of the items we needed and I estimated what I thought each cost. Then, we built some money into the budget because I inevitably forget a lot on the lists!

It started off well as she noticed a sign for $.05 off gas on Thursdays just as my tank was about to hit “empty”. She calculated it out and we saved $.42 due to her “eagle eyes”.

After our weekly visit to the library, we decided to go to Michael’s first.  This is the place we can spend the most money AND it was the furthest, so I decided to test Ari’s budget skills! She passed with flying colors, though I did insist we buy something on “one-day-only” sale.

BJ’s went just as well (darn, we forgot bananas from the list too), and we carried on to the farmer’s market. Our budgeting was a bit trickier here because some of the needed items were not what I regularly buy and I had to estimate. Ari kept us on track and as we figured out what we could spend to have enough for other items, she made sure we weren’t going overboard. I was not allowed to buy a second dozen eggs “just in case” or any shitake mushrooms that were a surprise (she hates mushrooms) and she reasoned with me that we needed to buy some milk and chicken, which I had forgotten on the list… sigh.

We worked in a bit of math with Abby too, as she was given $1 to spend and we informed her honey sticks (her favorite) were 4/$1 at the farmer’s market or 5/$1 at the farm store. She resisted the immediate temptation and saved her money for later.

Ari reasoned we needed to go to the grocery store next so we knew just how much we had left for the farm store, where we obtain our milk and meat. We ended up with enough left to buy our milk, chicken and some fruit with a tiny bit extra! As a thank you for a great job Ari and Abby were each given $2 to spend (black cherry soda and chocolate milk respectively) and adorably, they switched drinks halfway through the ride home.

Ari was really proud of herself for not only sticking to a budget but also not losing the money(!). I can’t imagine why I didn’t do this before and I’m pretty sure this will become our weekly ritual.

But I just remembered I forgot to get something we need at BJ’s 🙁

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: 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!

 

 

The Right Way to Spend

We all know we should “buy American”, “shop local” and “support environmentally–friendly businesses”, but knowing what to do doesn’t make doing it easy. Easy is going to the local Big Box store and buying what you need at that moment without thinking too much about it. But then if you’re like me, you feel guilty knowing there must have been a better product that supported local American jobs and did not use gallons of oil to transport.

Globe in a shopping cart

Finding the elusive local eco-business that makes the product you need is hard. Often these companies don’t have the budget to advertise all over and they rely on word-of-mouth to let people know their product and service is out there. So how do you find out about them? Continue reading “The Right Way to Spend”