Archive for June 23rd, 2009

Some Place Where I Can Lay My Head: Seeking Farmmate(s)

Sharon June 23rd, 2009

For the last year or so, I’ve made a couple of mild stabs at finding someone to share our property with.  We’ve had inquiries, even taken some basic steps, but I’ve not pushed the situation hard, on the assumption that sooner or later the right arrangement might fall into my lap like a ripe fruit.  No such thing has happened, to it is time to get out the apple picker and try harder ;-) .

My family is seeking other people to share our home and land with.  We always have potential takers “if things get terrible” - but that’s not really what we’re looking for - we’re looking live with people who simply want community, family, friendship, company, shared work, and who want it whether the zombies come or not.  For us, this place has always been about community - from the first it was to be shared with Eric’s grandparents, and we feel their loss more acutely, not less, as time passes on - both the loss of them as beloved family members, but also the loss of companionship and the sense that our home was richer with more people in it. 

Our very large house has plenty of room for more people. Eric’s grandparents built a 1000 square foot, well insulated apartment that consists of one large bedroom, a bizarrely enormous bathroom, a large open living room/dining room and a small galley kitchen.  There are several very large closets and a porch, as well as shared laundry facilities.  The area has radiant floor heating, and is completely separate from the rest of the house, for privacy.

Down the hall, there are two medium-sized bedrooms, with a full bath in between them that could go along with the arrangement, or not.  We can comfortably move entirely upstairs for sleeping quarters, since there are three bedrooms there at present.  This part of the house is technically in what would be “our” section, so there would be less personal privacy, but the rooms can be shut off, and you don’t have to come out to pee ;-) .

Besides the in-house space, the property includes a fenced front yard (8 foot board fencing) with an enormous playset, plenty of garden space, a woodlot to cut heating wood from (and I have an older Baker’s choice wood cookstove that could be installed in the apartment), and about 6 acres of pasture and hayfield for livestock.  We are most interested in people interested in sharing the farm and making it more productive and sustainable, and are happy to enable your projects.

The housemates include me (I’m 36, mouthy and occasionally short tempered, but mostly good natured), Eric (39, incredibly easy to get along with and very funny), and four boys Eli, 9, Simon 7, Isaiah, 5 and Asher 3.  Eli is autistic, and all the kids are loud, so any serious candidates should be tolerant of young kids and noise, and also some tolerance for kids who aren’t developmentally typical (we have those things, if you have loudness, kids or special needs issues ;-) ).  We are early risers, just fyi, so expect the noise to begin early ;-) .  We are homeschoolers, so the younger three kids (Eli goes to school) are around most of the time, and we’re Jewish, so any shared meals must be kosher or vegetarian. 

We are slobs, so don’t expect a super-tidy house, although we try to keep it minimally under control.  If we add more people to the house, the chaos level will probably rise, so we’d probably try harder on that front, and it wouldn’t hurt for you to be tidier than me (which isn’t that hard ;-) ).

We live in the town of Knox, NY, on a rural street with 8 houses.  The local school district is pretty good, the culture is rural/exurban, with lots of small farms and lots of people who commute to Albany or Schenectady for employment. Both towns are between 1/2 hour and 45 minutes drive away, depending on which end of them you need to go to.  The economy here is better than many places, but still not perfect.  You do need a car to get most places, there is very minimal public transportation, although some carpooling and ride sharing. My husband commutes 3 days a week  There are lots of great local food options around here, but nothing walkable.  However, if you were somewhat flexible on diet, you could definitely eat really well entirely locally here - it is a great area, IMHO.  Winters, btw, just in case the words “upstate NY” don’t mean anything to you, are cold and snowy, and wintery ;-) .

We are seeking housemates who are truly interested in community - we don’t demand that you swear to move in forever, but we’re not really interested in people just passing through.  We would welcome people with kids - the place is pretty much a child’s paradise, with lots of animals, a creek, woods to roam in and the aforementioned giant playset.  We also welcome people without kids, but be sure you are accustomed to the sound of childish voices - and the pitter-patter (er…thunderous boom) of little feet. 

Pluses include people who are handy (we’re not, especially), friendly, easy going, Jewish (this is absolutely not at all necessary - and just fyi, you cannot walk to any shul from here, unfortunately- just pleasant, who play mah-jongg or scrabble, talk politics or like to make music, like dirt and like to share meals, gossip and time in the garden.  Must have some measure of commitment to keeping your ecological footprint low and to preparing for tougher times - you don’t have to share all our priorities, but some would be nice.  We are NOT interested in freeloaders - you know what I mean, the kind of people who don’t participate and are just looking for cheap accomodations or someone to do the preparing for them.  That does not mean that you have to be young, strong and able to pull the plow when the mule falls down - remember, our last housemates were 80 and 94, and we felt they were excellent contributors.  Sure, strong young farmers are great, but so are other folks - it is the compatibility and friendship that matters most.

Eric and I both have experience living in housemate situations and enjoy it - we would love people interested in sharing the work and pleasures of this piece of land and this place.  In the longer term, it may be possible to either renovate the house to create more privacy or to optimize space, or even to have some kind of shared ownership, but that would be after considerable time together.  Ideally, we’d have some communal meals and some private time for each family, as well as share some responsibilities, to be negotiated individually.

Rental cost - for the apartment alone $400 monthly, plus a share of the utilities and any shared food.  For the apartment plus two extra bedrooms and extra bath - $650 plus a fair share of utilities.  We could also negotiate for one bedroom.  We would be open to barter for some percentage (or possibly all, depending on what was offered and the quality of the match) of the rent in labor doing childcare, farmwork, home repairs or building or whatever else needs doing.  If we hit TEOTWAWKI, all bets are off, and we’ll probably happily take the rent in barter ;-) .

If you are interested, please send an inquiry, with details about yourself and your family (if any) to [email protected].  All inquiries will be answered, although bear with me.  If they are successful, a period of “dating” involving correspondence and phone discussions with all involved parties and at least one visit will be required.   Rather like dating, if it doesn’t work out, it probably isn’t you, so please don’t be offended ;-) .



All I Want: Another Good Reason to Store Food, Preserve Food, Grow Your Own

Sharon June 23rd, 2009

I don’t want your millions, Mister,
I don’t want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live, Mister,
Give me back my job again.

Now, I don’t want your Rolls-Royce, Mister,
I don’t want your pleasure yacht.
All I want’s just food for my babies,
Give to me my old job back. 

We worked to build this country, Mister,
While you enjoyed a life of ease.
You’ve stolen all that we built, Mister,
Now our children starve and freeze.

So, I don’t want your millions, Mister,
I don’t want your diamond ring.
All I want is the right to live, Mister,
Give me back my job again.

Think me dumb if you wish, Mister,
Call me green, or blue, or red.
This one thing I sure know, Mister,
My hungry babies must be fed. -
Jim Garland “All I Want”

Yesterday the UN announced that there are now more than 1 billion chronically hungry people in the world.  Think about that - one out of every 6 people in the world isn’t just poor, but chronically, constantly hungry, with all that implies about health, welfare and future.  One out of every six people goes hungry *ALL THE TIME.*  The increase last year was the single biggest on record, and those numbers are expected to rise by another 11% over just 2009.  11% means another 110 million people will be starving by the end of this year.

Already, one out of every 5 people in the world will not live to be 40.  In the poor world, one out of every five children born will die before they turn five years old.  Imagine that - life in a world where death is that ubiquitous, where childhood is so very short.  Those numbers are going up fast - hungry people die.

Today, we get from Agricultural Industry Forecast Don Coxe predicting widespread world starvation the next time we get a major crop failure.  I agree with his prediction - world consumption is banging hard against supply and prices are still extremely high - one major crisis will send that number skyrocketing even further.  Coxe says,

‘”When we have the first serious crop failure, which will happen, we will then have a full-blown food crisis, which we will not be able to get out of because we will still be struggling to catch up (as a result of diminished crop yields),” he told the publication.

He suggested that even could happen this year.”

He goes on to observe,

‘ “We’ve got complacency. So for those reasons I believe the next food crisis – when it comes – will be a bigger shock than $150 oil.”

Coxe, a leader of the Coxe Commodity Strategy Fund, said farms operations around the world also have cut back on expansion plans because of the worldwide economic crisis, calling into question whether production could meet demand.

Already, he suggested, demand for staples is moving beyond supply.

“During this decade, the annual increase in hectares of global cultivated farmland has been roughly 1.5 percent, at a time global demand for grains and soybeans has been growing at double that rate,” he told Commodities Online. “We will be dealing with mass starvation with the first serious crop failure. It could happen as early as this fall if for instance we have a killing freeze in Iowa in August.”

He said a reduction of just four weeks in the growing season would “dramatically reduce yields.”

Coxe said one only has to reach back 35 years to review an era when there were shortages because of poor crops. The surpluses that had existed suddenly were gone, he noted.

“In fact, the major inflation of the 1970s was driven more by food than by oil.”’

Whether it happens this year or next, or five years from now, we are on the cusp of a food crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before.  And that crisis is not limited to the poor world - while they are starving, the reverbations of their hunger affect us.  First of all, there’s the political destabilization that is a logical consequence of widespread hunger.  Second, there is the fact that while most poor Americans still have food, real hunger here is on the rise as well.  Finally, there is the fact that all of us will live in this world of people stunted by hunger and want, whose capacities will shape us endlessly. 

We have shifted the poor off our agenda - last year commitments poured in from the rich world to the poor.  Now most rich nations have declined to pay up - and after the rich worlds created dependencies on money and imported grain that can no longer be met in place, as the rich world warmed the world. 

What does this have to do with food storage, with food preservation and gardening?  The truth is this - our actions have helped impoverish others beyond the comprehension of most of us.  We consumed the resources, built with coal and oil and plastic.  We burned the fuel that warmed the world.  We fed our grain to cars and livestock, and drove up food prices.  We wanted avocadoes, shrimp, coffee and bananas, and thus poor farmers stopped growing staple foods and grew for us.  We helped corporations producing things for us drive 2 billion of the world’s poorest people onto marginal land.

I do not ask you to feel guilty - in fact, guilty is a pale and useless emotion, “I shouldn’t be eating this cookie…oops, ate it, but I really shouldn’t have another…”  I have no truck with guilt.  But I do ask you to do what you can to ameliorate the suffering of other people.  That means cutting back your own food budget if you have extra to spare - living more on basic foods, bought in bulk, without waste, as locally as you can.  I do ask you to eschew livestock raised on human foods - supermarket meats and feedlot products if you possibly can.  The extra can go to feed others, to soften this blow as much as each of us possibly can.  I do ask you to minimize food waste - children really are starving in India, and while you can’t possibly mail your extra sandwich to them, you can buy only what food you need, not wasting any, preserving what might otherwise spoil, so that food prices aren’t driven up. I do ask you to grow what food you can, to join in the project of collective self-provisioning, so that more people can go back to growing food for their families, rather than export.  I do ask you to urge your congresscritters (or other national government) to actually make good on the US’s commitments to the increasingly hungry world, and I ask you to do what you can to soften the blow of hunger in your own place.

It isn’t simple, or perfect, and it won’t fix everything.  The tide of hunger may not be fully stoppable. But I ask you to try.  In practice, there is enough food in the world to provide every single human being with 3500 calories a day, more than they could ever need.  It may seem a small thing to eat less and better meat, to preserve your own for winter or the dry season, to buy in bulk - but the actions of thousands, tens of thousands or millions doing just these small things would be vast. 

But more, it isn’t just your ability to give to charity or ask your nation to do so that matters - it is the capacity to create a more equitable world, in which our choices do less harm and more good.  The reality is that any one of us, walking by the side of the road, and seeing the suffering that is occurring now would stop, and give all we could to ameliorate it.  The hungry are in our towns and cities, and by the sides of our roads.  They are in other nations, but places we have tied ourselves to in our world.  When we know they are there, we must stop.