Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Renaissance Homesteader

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and therefore had almost no relationship to practical skills or where my food came from. This persisted through college and a couple years working as a junior bureaucrat in Washington DC. When I moved to Sandhill at the ripe age of 24, things started to change.

While I still have plenty of the bureaucrat in me (I've been a community network administrator for since 1982), I am now somewhat handier than a person who can merely change a light bulb or boil water, and this competency has been a great source of satisfaction over the years.

What do I mean? Let me walk you through what I've been doing the last 30 hours, just as an example…

A. After checking email over my morning cup of coffee (no emergencies), I drafted a fundraising letter that I'll mail in the next two weeks to the 1000+ communities listed in the FIC's upcoming 6th edition of Communities Directory. I'll ask them to buy copies of the new book and also to help capitalize our Directory Endowment, the interest from which will allow us to pay for the labor needed to keep the data fresh and readily accessible. On average, I write at least one report or draft one proposal every day. The letter I composed in the morning allowed me to meet my quota for Tuesday.

B. After circulating that draft for review, I emailed a number of friends and acquaintances in Massachusetts, inviting them to attend the FIC fall organizational meetings, to be held Nov 12-14 at Mosaic Commons in Berlin (about 30 miles west of Boston). Failing that, I'll try to get together with folks one on one (as someone who is on the road 60% of the time, I spend a hefty portion of my time on logistics, and it's good to have my oar in those waters every day).

C. Finishing my electronic work by 11 am and I had some free time until lunch. Thinking I might do some food processing, I checked the walk-in cooler to see what needed attention. There were three buckets of tomatoes calling out to me, but I didn't want to dive into them until I had a large enough block of time to finish them in one go (it's tacky to leave the food processing kitchen tied up with a project half done). Instead, I tackled a partial bucket of cucumbers.

Emily was the cook that day, but I knew she was in the garden managing a weeding party. So I cleaned up the stray morning dishes (so that her kitchen would be in better shape when she rushed in to slap lunch together) and made a cucumber salad (which she was more than happy to have available to augment the leftovers that normally comprise lunch on the farm). Practical Skill #1: how to prepare a delicious dish quickly, using what you have on hand.

D. After grabbing a bite to eat, I went down to the FIC Office (located in a funky 1970-era house trailer, squatting less than a 100 yards from our main house) and kept a phone date with Daniel Greenberg of Living Routes in Amherst MA. His organization offers accredited college programs for students wanting to experience intentional communities through immersion study in place.

Daniel has been in FIC's outer orbit since 1989 and was interested in attending the fall meetings in Berlin to talk about inter-organizational collaboration. It was fun connecting with an old friend and we cooked up an idea to invite Living Routes alumni living nearby to attend a special evening session: a) to hear from them how FIC might help Living Routes offer more robust programs in the US; and b) to see if we could entice any of these young veterans of community study to get involved in FIC.

E. Next I headed out to the woods with (fellow Sandhillian) Apple to start harvesting black locust trees for a house that Dennis and Sharon are building over at Dancing Rabbit. Our neighboring community has strict environmental covenants that only allow the use of wood that has been recycled, sustainably harvested, or locally cut. Our trees qualify for two out of three, and this marks the fifth time we've cut locusts in support of DR projects.

We worked near our main bee yard and it required some skill to make sure we felled the trees into an open area (to avoid getting the timber hung up in other trees) while also missing the beehives (hitting one would have put a rapid end to the day's cutting). Practical Skill #2: how to use a chainsaw skillfully enough to fell a tree where you want it to fall, as opposed to where gravity might be most inclined to direct it.

After dropping a couple trees and working them up into logs of the length that Dennis had specified, we paused. Our logs looked great, yet were slightly smaller in diameter than what Dennis had asked for. We want him to look them over and confirm that he still wants something bigger before we take down any more trees.

F. Done by 3:15 (even after sharpening my saw, so it will be good to go as soon as Dennis has had a chance to check our work), I now had time to tackle the three buckets of tomatoes. While I might have waited until Thursday, when there would be three additional buckets, Emily (one of the garden managers) was worried that some of the earlier picked fruit might be going bad. So I dove into the three loads of love apples, converting them into nine quarts of juice and seven quarts of pulp. Practical Skill #3: how to can tomatoes quickly and safely.

G. I got done just in time to do yoga before dinner. Every Tuesday night is a joint potluck with DR and Red Earth, and it was our night to host. After dinner I planned to return with folks to DR, to spend the night with my wife, Ma'ikwe. I finished eating and socializing with enough spare time to take the canning rings off the tomatoes and schlep them down to the root cellar for winter storage. Then it was off to DR and an early bed time with my wife (the practical skills applied during this interlude will go undescribed).

H. Waking up this morning at Ma'ikwe's house, we first enjoyed our morning ritual of coffee and a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Then I resumed work on wiring her house. I've been devoting about one morning per week to this task and it's slowly getting done. Today I completed a whole circuit, resulting in five outlets going hot, plus three lights. Ma'ikwe was very happy. Practical Skill #4: how to safely wire a house.

I. Then I walked home, picking up a dozen aluminum cans that had been strewn along the roadside by our less-than-conscious neighbors. [For more on this source of aggravation, see my blog No MO Trash, from April 9, 2009.] It felt good to get those cans out of the ditch and into a recycling bin, and then it was time to come inside and write my blog. I just wish I had learned Practical Skill #5 in school: how to type with ten fingers. Amazingly enough, I make do with two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you should write an entry aimed at people who have the background you described (growing up in the city) about how you learned your skills. It might even make a good book. So many young people are moving to the countryside now, or making a go of it.