Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Dirty Life

Someone lent this book to Jeremy to read a long time ago.  One technique I'm using for de-cluttering my house is returning things from my home that don't belong to me back to their actual owners.  (Obvious, right?) So I finally sat down to read this so we could return it. 

The author tells her story of "city-girl-mets-hippy-farm-boy."  Interviewing him on his sustainable farm, and becoming interested in him and his "manly work", eventually hooking up with him and moving to a new area to start a larger farm, and finally get married. 

Her boyfriend's vision was a whole-diet farm.  So where some local farms will offer the community weekly or bi-weekly baskets of produce for their membership, he wanted to provide everything for the whole diet: milk, meat, eggs, fat, and something sweet like maple syrup, along with a basket of produce.  Along with that goal he wanted to run his farm sustainably through using draft horses and renewable energy sources.  The author does a good job of not glossing over the tough aspects of starting up a farm from scratch--which are plentiful--without sounding too whiny.  And it was interesting to see the progress of how they went about trying to create this farm. 

(On a side note, there were two sentences in the book I had a problem with because of their sexual nature, one sentence describing an intimate moment, and one retelling a dirty joke.  I really had to ask why they were necessary.  Sometimes it really feels like people are trying to prove something through including unnecessary lines like those.)     

In terms of philosophy, although I respect the idea of the whole diet-farm, I wonder if it is actually counter-productive to some of the ideals her husband believes in.  The cost of the yearly membership to Essex Farm is $3700 for an adult (I looked up their website) and $3300 for a second adult. And for children it is $120 per year of their current age.  So for a membership my family would have to pay $8,920 for the year.  And yes, it is meant to supply all our food needs, and they let you take all you want to can and preserve extras for the winter etc, but that is $743 dollars a month to feed my family, and next year with the boys a year older it would be an additional $40 dollars a month, or $783 a month.

Where is that money supposed to come from?  I'm not saying the food is not worth that much, I believe in paying farmers a good wage, but I'm asking where it is supposed to come from.  He detests commercialism, and consumerism, and "the man", and electricity, but for people to afford buying his food they have to go out into the economic world that he claims to be against in order to earn the cash to buy from him.  He requires that by the very nature of being a whole diet farm.  He leaves no way for people to offset the costs of their membership in a natural, sustainable way.  For example, I can't be a dairy farmer, or an orchardist, and earn money from that and just go to his farm for my other produce needs or my meat.  I have to go to him for everything, and he wouldn't even be interested in bartering or trading with me, because he does it all.  So he requires that all the members have the type of job that pays large amounts of cash in order to support his "sustainable farm".

And along with that he is monopolizing the business from any other small farm farmers in the region.  If he offers only one type of membership--a whole diet--and requires such a large fee to do so, then his members will not have money or need, after picking up their food from his farm, to go support any other regional farmers that sell, just eggs and chickens, or similar.  Instead, he employs ten full-time farmers working for him on his farm.  It seems if he were really so against the commercial system (he only buys second-hand clothes, etc.) that he would be more encouraging of similar choices in others.  In which case it would make more sense to perhaps support and be a part of a local network of a number of small farmers in order to provide the whole diet for a membership in the network, rather than just supporting his farm.

Simply, in our family, we raise our own chickens for our egg needs and some of our meat needs, and we keep bees to provide for a major amount of our yearly sweetner-usage.  We also do gardening that supplies small amounts of produce for our family.  We do these things naturally and chemical-free.  We do it because we think it is good for the earth, and it offsets some of our food costs.  However, a membership at Essex Farm would be a discouragement from our doing those things since they would be redundant to our farm membership benefits, and increase our yearly food budget even more.  Ultimately, if multiple people stopped their small-scale home efforts to just use the farm membership benefits, I feel that is a net loss both to the earth, and the type of sustainability and stewardship mentality that farmers like her husband are trying to promote.


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