Although it was a beautiful day here, weatherwise, it was a rather discouraging day for me personally. I'm not sure why - it was a fairly ordinary day. Some friends came by in the morning unexpectedly, and I had to scramble to find a meal to cook for them (Mexicans - if a family of Mexicans ever comes to visit you, know that you should provide a fairly substantial meal no matter what the time of day, and also that you will have to coax them to eat it. They will refuse, but just load up the plates and push. That's what's expected.).
Sunday, February 28, 2010
I had about twenty minutes notice, so after I checked the fridge and ascertained there was basically nothing in it, I ran out to the chest freezer. There was also basically nothing in it. I'm down to three gallons of blueberries, three or four large beef roasts, one half-ham, and some dog bones. I picked the last package of small steaks - tenderloins, and cut them up frozen and fried them with jalapenos and garlic (I didn't have an onion in the house, can you imagine?) and served them with last night's reheated white rice and some canned refried beans. Pretty embarrassing.
I've been following a lot of "sustainability" blogs, and there are apparently a lot of people out there who take producing their own food a lot more seriously than I do. I have nothing but admiration for these people - I desire to emulate them. But surely I am not there yet. If my family had to depend on what I have been able to produce and preserve over the last year, we'd be in serious starvation mode right about now. Much less would I be able to entertain - as evidenced by today's adventure.
Of course, when I moved out of the city three years ago, starvation was the very last thing on my mind. I simply wanted to provide my young children with the opportunity to grow up with space to run and experience nature, the way I did. I wanted them to have the chance to interact with the plant and the animal kingdom in an immediate and emotional way, to ENJOY nature in the simplest, most visceral way - by playing in it. I wanted to recreate the best aspects of my own childhood while (hopefully) avoiding the worst. And in terms of that goal, I have been extremely successful. My kids have a grand old time digging for worms, catching frogs and snakes, gathering eggs, milking goats, picking flowers, and generally running wild.
But over a relatively short period of time, my goals changed. I became aware of crucial and short-term problems such as peak oil, climate change, and the disappearance of the honeybee. I started to worry, in a serious and sustained way, about how I was going to provide for the well-being of my progeny, to the second and third generation. The most common way parents try to do this is by paying for their children's college education, or maybe even giving them the funds for a down payment on a house. Thanks to my generous ancestors, my kid's college education is assured. I hope they will each take full advantage of that benefit. However, in the past few generations, Americans seem to have collectively decided that preparing our children for the future means preparing them to make money. I no longer believe that is a very practical goal. I have begun to wonder if money in the bank is going to be worth anything at all by the time my children are adults starting their own families.
I don't pretend to know what the world will be like in twenty or thirty years. But I will say I am not very optimistic. I believe there is a better than even chance that life is going to be very much more difficult - Americans will be poorer, with less access to healthcare and credit, and in general people will have to depend much more on localized economies - barter with their neighbors -and the sweat of their own brows. If that is the case, then the most important thing I can leave my children is fertile land and the knowhow to make it productive. When I think about what I can do to help my children be successful, I think about preparing them to be able to grow, store, and prepare their own food; to build and maintain their own systems of energy generation; to care for livestock and the fertility of the soil, and to doctor themselves and their children.
Well.... for the last three years, I've been working pretty hard to try and educate myself about all those subjects. I've made it my business to learn about small scale subsistence farming. I've laid out a plan for a self-sustaining homestead that includes food production, energy production, water security, and a full-scale library on a wide variety of topics, from beekeeping to home midwifery. I've laid in a supply of hand tools and a multi-year supply of seeds.
But while I have thoroughly enjoyed the planning and the reading, I would be a liar if I said that the practical results have been wholly satisfactory. Here is a small list of the things that are currently plaguing my homestead:
1) the chickens are not laying. They apparently don't like their home. Some of them seem to have diarrhea - most likely coccidia from living in a damp environment. They were happier and healthier when let to range freely, but we could never find the eggs and they would destroy our seedlings in the spring garden. Which is the better path? Don't know..... don't know. Everything I read says chickens are the easiest livestock on earth, which only makes me me feel like the biggest idiot on earth.
2) Pasture rotation - it turns out that a couple of ponies and four to six goats can strip five acres of land right down to the bone in three years. When we first came here, there were blackberry bushes galore - so many that I thought our goats would never be able to control them. Boy was I wrong. Now I wish the whole damn property was covered in blackberry bushes.
3) Noxious Weeds - there are some things the goats won't eat. Turns out these things are: various species of thistles, poison hemlock, creeping buttercup, milkweed, shotweed, and pretty much every noxious or invasive weed you've ever heard of. What this means is that year after year, my pastures have a tendency to become more and more thickly covered with poisonous and/or invasive/illegal weeds. Good plants die off as the goats eat them, and whatever is too evil to be eaten wins the evolutionary rat race and becomes dominant. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling the deep taproot of poison hemlock out of the ground, and yet it is kicking my ass. Sooner or later I assume my entire property will be covered with venomous strangling vines and stinging nettle.
4) Mud. Hooves are the enemy of grass. I have seven or eight hoofed animals, and every one of them is doing it's level best to trample every bit of fertile soil I own into a quagmire. I have spent hundreds of dollars on hog fuel and injured my back trying to spread it over the most vulnerable areas, but nonetheless, greater and greater areas of my property are inexorably being converted into deep, sucking mud. The pig is especially destructive, rooting up turf and creating muddy wallows all over the main pasture. We have tried to confine him to his 12 x 20 foot pen, but he is an escape artist worthy of Houdini.
5) Parasites. Goats are particularly prone to worms, and without careful and aggressive management will become progressively overloaded with intestinal parasites. Resistance to common medications is a major problem. So far, my goats have not had serious parasite problems, but it's entirely likely that they will, and without access to high powered drugs, I don't know how I can continue to protect them.
6) Ignorance. I'm sure if I kept thinking about it, there are several things I could remunerate.
But I am a late-twentieth-century American and that means I am lazy, tired, overweight, and apathetic. God damn. I can't help but feel but that my best efforts are rather pathetic, judged by historical standards.
I know my brother will understand this - I swing between wildly opposed poles of feeling kind of absurdly proud of my accomlishments and feeling abjectly ashamed of how little I have managed to get done. It is actually very difficult to arrive at an objective judgement, and also probably irrelevant. How'd I do? I dunno, how many live grandchildren do you have?
Well, time marches on and I have to put my progeny to bed, because one thing I know for sure is that the little buggers need sleep if they are going to grow satisfactorily.
Some sage said that when in doubt, we should "do that duty that lies nearest." Right now I have to go feed my kids and put them to bed.