Our First North Idaho Winter

Our First North Idaho Winter

Our first North Idaho winter has been a lot of things, some easier than others, but it’s been beautiful throughout. Here are just some of the photos I’ve taken over the last few months.

North Idaho Sunset

You Must Always Put Yourself First

Winslow and I have a bad habit of being too helpful, of wanting to help too much. This happens with animals and people.

We go out of our way for people who have no intention of ever being there for us. Each time we come to this realization, typically when we find ourselves scrambling and the person in question is nowhere to be found, we tell ourselves we’re going to put ourselves first from then on.

It’s hard. You want to be helpful, kind, and generous. You want to do the right thing for people. But you also don’t want to become a martyr because you’re always helping others out of their troubles and your own situation is a mess. Most of all, you want to live your life—your happy and fulfilled dream life. You can’t do this if other people and other people’s problems take first place to you and your needs.

You can’t actually help others if you don’t help yourself first. Start by putting on your own oxygen mask, right? But it’s hard with some people—they seem to know you’re someone who would give up your oxygen mask and their intentions are not nearly as good as yours. And it’s hard with animals—because who is ever speaking up for them and how are they to understand how all this works? Your heart breaks for them because they need a caretaker, and this is hard for people with caretaker’s hearts.

We’re very pleased with our little homestead so far and the motley crew we’ve amassed. Our free goats, our Labrador rescued from a city life of neglect, a smattering of forgotten chickens added to our pure-bred ones, a half-dozen hungry rabbits now plump and fed. So far, the animals we’ve brought in have settled in with each other—and us—just right.

But this week we learned it’s one thing to rescue a couple goats or even a chocolate Lab, but it’s another to let your heart guide you into taking on three hounds.

The Pull of the Hounds

Recently, we adopted three beautiful Plott hounds—Rosie, Hunter, and Lucy, aged three, one, and one respectively. And before I go further, let me say that I have no issue with working dogs being strictly working dogs. We fully intended to keep the hounds outdoors 100% of the time, to keep them separated from each other in fenced and covered runs, and to treat them as animals with a job—not pets. We wanted, and still want, a pack of hunting dogs.

But even given all that, there were still red flags when we went to the owner’s house to first see the hounds. The dogs’ toenails were all far too long, meaning they hadn’t been run in some time, which can lead to anxiety and worse in hounds. The owner hinted that his neighbors were all annoyed with him regarding the dogs and we should have asked a lot more about why—if they were baying all night due to stress or boredom. The dogs also didn’t obey his basic commands when he tried to demonstrate them to us (and yes, I know, hounds aren’t into house manners, but they should still listen to their “hunter” when he tells them to get in the hunting rig, of all things).

We did see all these things, but we saw them with our hearts, not our brains. It made us want to take the dogs in, not to think about how they might not fit into our homestead.

I don’t think their owner is a bad guy, and I know he is actively looking to find them the right home—but I do hope the hounds find a new hunter soon so they can get out in the woods and do their thing, so they can sleep soundly at night and not be anxious in the day, so they can be the hounds that hounds are meant to be.

And I am sorry we won’t get to do all that with them, but it became frighteningly apparent we were not going to be able to train them when I had an incident with one of them—and I absolutely won’t tolerate an animal that’s aggressive toward people on this property, no matter how talented or sweet they might be in any other moment. Thankfully, both Frankie (our Labrador) and I both came away unscathed, but it was a close call.

Note: Before anyone posts a comment along the lines of, “You just don’t know hounds,” I have been around dogs my whole life. I know the difference between a working dog and a dangerous dog, between a head-strong dog and a liability.

The Breath of the Trees

I think hounds are awesome and we still want a pack, but we’re going to remember to put ourselves first when we make our second attempt. We’ll be shopping and researching breeders this winter, with the plan to purchase puppies in the spring and spend next summer training them ourselves from scratch.

By creating a scenario that is ideal for us as humans, we’ll create a scenario that is ideal for our hounds as well. We want our home to be a special place for every life that lives here or visits here—and we have to start with us.

We’ve been calling our homestead “Ravensloft” lately. We are at 3200 feet, along a ridge, and the ravens circle right above our property every single day. When the wind blows strong enough, which is almost always, they simply hover with their wings open, not even having to flap. They float there in their essence with hardly an effort because they are simply being them, in each moment, in each cell, in each inhalation. This is what I strive to be up here on our mountainside with our beloved animals, the breath of the trees, and near light of the moon. A little bit of my heart left with the hounds, but much more of it remains.

Free on Craigslist: 2 Ridiculous (and Awesome) Goats

Some people spend way too much time on social media. We spend way too much time “window shopping” on Craigslist. But the farm and garden section on any North Idaho Craigslist is a gem, let me tell you. We have found all sorts of things, like rabbits, chickens, vehicles, barrel stoves, free wood, free pallets, a half-ton of timothy hay, a 300lb pig we bought and processed, you name it.

Oh, and free goats.

Yep, that’s right, we recently acquired our two goats for free off Craigslist.

The Day We Got Our Goats

Winslow found the listing first. He gets a daily digest of anything posted for free in our area. We were especially excited because the goats, one male and one female, were just one town up the highway from us, and that never happens. Normally we have to drive hours for everything and anything.

I immediately called the number and spoke to “Bob.” Bob was somewhere in Spokane on business, had a bad cell connection, and spoke with a thick accent. So really I have no idea what Bob said for 99% of that first conversation.

When I asked Bob what breed the goats were, he replied, “Well, they’re black and white, so they must be some sort of breed.”

Yeah. Okay.

But I wasn’t going to turn down free goats no matter what sort of black-and-white breed they might be. We’ve been wanting some to help us clear brush and eat weeds, plus, you know…goats. Just…goats.

We’ve also entertained the idea of having goats for dairy and/or meat production, but I’m not ready to commit to twice a day milking and a good dairy goat is not inexpensive. So getting our goat-farmer feet wet with these two seemed like a perfect idea.

We went the next morning to Bob’s to pick them up. Thankfully, he was far more understandable in person and, in fact, a super nice guy. He had inherited the goats from a tenant who moved out and left them, which is why he was selling a pair of goats, yet knew nothing about goats. We decided the male must be a wether since no one could recall him ever getting stinky or the female goat getting pregnant. And that’s about the grand sum of what we figured out.

Say Hi to Totes and Little Billy

We brought the goats home and promptly named them Totes and Little Billy. I think Little Billy must be a dwarf or pygmy goat of some sort, and I have no clue what Totes is. They are most incredibly sweet and affectionate, and Little Billy doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. Totes has incredible uphill power (she seriously kicks into 4-low hardcore whenever there’s even a small grade) so I want to teach her how to pack things up our hill or haul a wagon.

In the meantime, they eat some brush, eat some timothy hay, chew on my pockets, and generally stare at us and the dogs all day. They barely ever make any sounds at all. Although they burp…a lot. We like to go for walks and I hang out with them. Totes loves carrots. Little Billy hates them, and pretty much everything else except the minerals I give them.

Winslow says, “They’re like dogs except maybe a little smarter.” Which means they’re pretty fun. Even when Little Billy decides to hide in the generator house and then get stuck behind the generator ’cause he can’t figure out how his own horns work. And even when Billy head-butts the goat house into an entirely new location. And even when we let him wander around the yard and he stands on the front steps like he’s submitted Mt. Everest.

I’m still working on getting a pic of those moments, but here’s some others in the meantime:


Totes and Billy enjoying their first morning with us.


It’s very important that Billy has something to stand on at all times…even a stick will do.


Totes Magoats

The goat house.

The goat house.

The mud is slightly higher than over there, right?

This mud is slightly higher than the mud over there, right?

Billy posing at the threshold, right after we built the house.

Billy posing at the threshold, right after we built the house.

Totes needs treat RIGHT NOW.

Totes needs treat RIGHT NOW.

Totes LOVES the carrots.

Totes LOVES to eat carrots.

Billy LOVES to eat pockets.

Billy LOVES to eat pockets.

Let's please not eat the house, though.

Let’s please not eat the house, though.

I wish all kids liked to eat their daily minerals like Billy does.

I wish all kids liked to eat their daily minerals like Billy does.

Little Billy would like to wish you a great day! Also, he'd like to know what's in your pockets. Okay, thanks, bye.

Little Billy would like to wish you a great day! Also, he’d like to know what’s in your pockets. Okay, thanks, bye.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Since we’re heading into winter soon, it’s of course time to think about gardening. If you’ve gardened, you know what I’m talking about — the joy of sitting in front of the fire and sipping a cup of hot cocoa while you peruse the seed catalog.

Please tell me I’m not alone. You’ve done this, right?

We don’t have a fireplace, really. But I am already drinking hot cocoa and have been cruising around online trying to plot out our garden for the spring. It will be a straw bale garden, this much we know for sure — and that’s about it.

But while in the past we’ve fantasized about generating all our vegetables from our garden. This time we plan to be pickier and garden with frugality as our rule.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

Why We’re Planting a Frugal Garden

Yes, it’s nice to think things like, “The green beans from my garden just somehow taste better than the ones from the store!” But is it really true? And how much more are you willing to pay for that taste? Don’t forget, you’re not just paying with money — you’re paying with the time it takes to plant, water, fertilize, weed, harvest, and process those beans, too.

Meanwhile, a can of organic green beans at the grocery store will run you just a couple bucks and take almost zero time commitment — and recently we purchased regular canned green beans for 59 cents per can.

Can your homegrown beans really compete with that? (Don’t forget, growing them in your yard doesn’t automatically make them “organic,” and there are time and money expenses to committing to an organic garden different than those of a “regular” garden. Not to mention, there’s no guarantee your garden will thrive or that the deer and wildlife won’t feast on it before you do. Oh yeah, and those mason jars, lids, and canning equipment cost money, too.)

For some people, the answer to the question — “Can your homegrown beans compete with store-bought beans?” — is yes. For us, the answer is no. Here’s why.

Our homestead and the HPMDU are our retirement plan. In order for our retirement plan to work, frugality is key. (We do not see frugality as a bad word or a limiting lifestyle in any way — if you do, you might want to follow J.D. Roth’s blog for a perspective shift on that.) That means when it comes to deciding which vegetables make it into our garden, they must be vegetables that are cheaper to grow than they are to buy.

Note for the prepper- and survivalist-minded people out there: Being able to garden some basic vegetables will help you acquire and practice the skills for gardening on a larger scale. So if your idea is to survive off your garden…but the world hasn’t actually ended yet…you might try planting a frugal garden as as simple and cost-effective entry point.

At present I am thinking we’ll grow the following:

  • Bell Peppers — I love having them on hand and they are stupid expensive to buy
  • Tomatoes — Easy to grow, prolific, the base for so many things
  • Lettuce — We’ll plant leaf lettuce, not head lettuce, so we can pinch off food as needed, way cheaper to grow than buy
  • Garlic — Can be grown in summer and winter, easy to grow, prolific, long storage
  • Melons — We love melons and rarely eat them due to the expense, but they’re easy to grow
  • Winter Squash — Easy to grow, prolific, can store for a long time

What do you think? If you were planting a frugal garden, what would make the most sense for you? Which foods do you eat most often, pay too much for, or find to be a no-brainer when it comes to producing? I really want to know!

We’ve got some time left before we order our seeds and map out our straw bales. So with your input, we’ll keep pondering what the best vegetables are — and we’re also drawing up plans for our greenhouse so we can get our starts…started. More on our final veggie decisions and the construction of the greenhouse later this winter.

Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

In the meantime, I’m stocking us up for the coming vampire apocalypse. (That’s a joke for all of you who’ve ever mocked me by accusing me of preparing for the “zombie apocalypse.” I know trying to be respectful of the planet and make your energy footprint smaller is kooky. It’s easier to joke about zombies.)

By that I mean, I’ve started our garden by planting garlic! We picked out two varieties in part because they are both cold-hardy, long-storing, tasty hardneck types — and in part because we’ve been so busy that by the time I ordered these there weren’t many options still available! But we’re excited about what we’ve planted: Music and Chesnok Red.

I got a pound of each, which when you break up the bulbs into individual cloves comes out to approximately one million Music cloves and a half million Chesnok cloves. The Chesnok cloves are HUGE. (I ordered through Urban Farmer, by the way, and the service was great.)

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

I, of course, did a bunch of reading online before planting the garlic. There was some discrepancy on when you should break apart the garlic bulbs, as well as how close and how deep to plant the cloves. Farmer’s Almanac said one thing and Mother Earth News another. I read a bunch more articles and ended up aiming for somewhere in between their recommendations — breaking the bulbs apart shortly before planting, putting them three inches deep, and spacing them six inches apart.

I dug little trenches, and I added peat moss and straw to the dirt. Our soil is very dense and has a lot of clay in it. It holds water, which garlic doesn’t like so much.

Planting garlic in frugal gardenPlanting garlic in frugal garden

Once the dirt was broken up and the cloves were planted, I added a layer of magic pellets! Oh yes, magic pellets. Also known as rabbit poop.

Rabbit Pellets

Our rabbits poop magic.

Yep, rabbit poop. It’s the favorite fertilizer of gardeners everywhere and, wouldn’t you know, we raise rabbits. You can learn more than you ever wanted to about animal poop at this link, but the short story is rabbit poop is considered “cold” and that means the chemical make-up of it doesn’t “burn” things you toss it on. This makes it safe to directly apply to plants and gardens, unlike a lot of other manures that need to be aged. It’s rich in nitrogen, which is great for getting new plants going.

Our rabbit magic is also mixed with alfalfa bits since it falls through the rabbit cages when they eat. Alfalfa has a lot of wonderful qualities when it comes to its mineral make-up and its ability to stimulate compost.

Our rabbits poop magic.

A layer of rabbit magic and alfalfa slobber.

Then I added a nice layer of straw to put the garlic to bed for the winter and keep it nice and warm.

Our Frugal Garden Plan, as Well as Our Anti-Vampire Strategy

A fluffy blanket of straw.

Hopefully this works. We’ll see. This is my first attempt to grow anything in our soil, so wish me luck!

Every Snail Is a Blessing, Every Coyote Call a Wonder

Getting here to Idaho and beginning to tame this land was one of the hardest transitions we’ve ever gone through. Mind you, we’ve been through a lot of transitions, both as individuals and as a couple. We’ve lived all over North America between the two of us, and we each have enough career “lives” behind us to put a nine-lived cat to shame. And let’s not even get into family, friends, and relationships. Let’s just say, we’ve got this transition thing down. We get the power of it in fact, and typically we bear down and “cowboy up” as they might say here in cattle country.

But this time felt different.

I’ve never had so many things go wrong, day after day, and even at times, hour upon hour. Everything that could have gone wrong from the moment we decided to purchase land in Idaho until well after we arrived here went wrong. And I mean everything, from a land deal that fell through, to blown tires, to an excavator who cheated us, to torrential rains that threatened to ruin our half-built utility building, to unexpected bills, to broken vehicles, to paychecks not getting sent, to even our beloved best little fur friend in the world unexpectedly passing away.

We made it. We’re here. But oh man, it was uphill for months.

There were times when we had no choice but to physically act to keep moving forward, but I won’t lie, I was crying the whole time during those moments. And sometimes I got really mad. And more than one morning we both woke up thinking, “Please, let it be easier today.”

And it never was. It just never was. And though we never quit and we spent each day searching for a new way forward, endlessly brainstorming on the strategy to take next, looking back I’m not sure how we did it.

Except I do know how we did it — we had faith that it had to end. Everything couldn’t keep going wrong. I told Winslow at one point, “It has to get better. Everything we own has already broken.”

What kept us going was knowing that no matter what, we had each other each step of the way. And we had (and have) a shared vision of our little paradise on this remote mountain ridge. We didn’t want to visit nature anymore. We wanted to be in it, be part of it, be surrounded by it.

And so now that we’re here, and still alive, and not hungry, and not wet or cold, I am grateful. Every day when we walk and we stop to watch the chickadees or follow the deer tracks or spot fresh elk sign, I am grateful. I am surrounded by life and beauty, and my husband and I connect it all with love. Every snail is a blessing. Every coyote call a wonder.

I am here to see these things. The sunrise and the sunset. The rain and the frost. The mud and stinkbugs. My neighbor’s horses and the falcons in the sky. I am here because they are here. And in the end every hardship was worth these moments of beauty, and somehow we knew it would be that way and held to that all along.

So take a little walk with me through these photos to notice some little things, and then perhaps take a walk through your life, and let’s all notice the beauty and say thank you together. Because when all the big things go “wrong,” it’s the little things that matter. It’s the little things that make up your actual life.

A daisy we spotted on our first visit to the property.

A daisy we spotted on our first visit to the property.

We have the best neighbors. I like when they visit.

We have the best neighbors. I like when they visit.

These are all over our yard after the rain.

These are all over our yard after the rain.

And sometimes we find their trails in the mud, too.

And sometimes we find their trails in the mud, too.

We have some mighty big friends who come to visit, as well.

We have some mighty big friends who come to visit, as well.

They like to dance in the mud.

The moose like to dance in the mud.

And gift us...with scat.

And then the deer gift us…with scat.

And sometimes the elk do, too!

And sometimes the elk do, too!

Integrating Chickens and Rabbits on the Homestead

In our previous “homestead,” which was really a house with a tiny yard in a suburb, we tried very hard to raise our own food—much to the entertainment of one of our neighbors and the ire of the other. In our little yard, we had both chickens and rabbits, and while we wanted to free-range both of them, it didn’t work out.

The chickens demolished all the grass (and my tulips) in about thirty seconds flat and the rabbits broke out of the backyard and escaped the property repeatedly. Eventually, we expanded our chicken run (although it was still smaller than we would have preferred) and kept the birds inside it. And…well…we ate all the rabbits.

The Port Townsend Hens.

The Port Townsend Hens.

In our new homestead, which we are calling “Blackcap” due to the plethora of chickadees everywhere here, we want it to be a more ideal life not just for ourselves, but also for our animals. So, while the chickens are in an fenced-in run at present, it is very large, and when spring comes they will probably free-range (we don’t want to risk them free-ranging in winter when predators are hungrier and braver) or at the very least we will rotate them through different paddocks allowing the grasses to regrow, the dirt to be exposed to different manure, etc.

Rabbits kept in small cages don’t seem very happy to us either. When we keep our rabbits in cages, they are very anxious and afraid of us when we come near. In a free-range scenario, they hop right up to our feet and let us touch them and literally spend their day alternating between frolicking and napping (sounds hard, right?).

Ridiculously cute rabbit is ridiculously cute.

Ridiculously cute rabbit is ridiculously cute.

Plus, keeping animals in a smaller pen inherently calls for more work. They can’t feed themselves, they make a mess that no one can escape, they don’t get exercise, and you end up having to feed and water them twice a day (automatic waterers sound great, but don’t work so well in sub-zero weather). This prohibits us from going on hunting, fishing, and trapping excursions. In other words, it all takes the fun out of things for both the rabbits and us.

As a solution to this, at present we are experimenting with integrating the rabbits and chickens in one big run. Come spring, we plan to do similarly with more rabbits, turkeys, ducks, etc. Our dream is to allow the birds to go broody on their own and sit on their chicks so we don’t have to incubate. And for the rabbits to naturally propagate and raise their kits, as well. While we do light the chickens during the winter, we don’t plan to light the rabbits as it’s just too complicated (and energetically expensive—we are off-grid, after all) in the run compared to the cages.

I did some research online about integrating rabbits and chickens before we released the rabbits, and everyone I found had great results. One rooster even adopted the rabbits into his flock and tried to herd them into the chicken coop each night. Some rabbits even slept right in the coop!

Winslow came up with the great idea of using the space under our chicken coop as the rabbit warren. He mostly blocked it off except for a small “door.” The rabbits took to it immediately. The chickens were dubious about the whole affair at first, while the rabbits remained oblivious. After a day or two, everyone settled in just fine—except for when it came to the chicken food.

Chickens and Rabbits

Dopey-Bunny is one of the “pardoned” rabbits, although we’ll see if that lasts.

Chickens and Rabbits

Okay, seriously, Dopey. That’s not cool.

Rabbits, more than any other animal we’ve raised (and we’ve raised a few at this point), love to be in the food dish. And, as it turns out, rabbits also love chicken food. And, on top of that, our chickens aren’t very assertive and so they weren’t getting any food to eat because the rabbits were hogging it all even when we threw piles of alfalfa into the run.

So my DIY homestead project this weekend was to bunny-proof the chicken food.

Chickens and Rabbits

My husband showed me how to drill holes in the metal pan and we shaped some extra fencing over the top. If there’s anything we’ve learned in our short time homesteading in the middle-of-nowhere it’s that YOU THROW NOTHING OUT. EVER.

Chickens and Rabbits

It keeps rabbits out, but lets chickens in. P.S. Chickens LOVE back oil sunflower seeds.

Chickens and Rabbits

Alice the Rooster keeps watch while Ms. Cranky and Raven eat uninterrupted. We set the dish on 4×4 wood blocks to make the food unreachable even if the rabbits could squish their faces in.

Note: The initial design was not a total deterrent. We had to also screw the dish to the 4×4 blocks as after a few hours two of the rabbits conspired together and figured out how to drag the dish six feet and flip it over. Whatever!


Idaho Panhandle Panorama

Idaho Panhandle Panoramas: A Simpler Living

Greetings from the Idaho Panhandle. It’s been a little bit. We apologize. We’ve been pretty focused on things like:

  1. Not starving.
  2. Not freezing.
  3. Not getting washed down the mountainside.

Our new homestead life is getting a little simpler now in more than one meaning of the word. First, we have heat, running water, and a roof over our head. So that is generally less complicated than facing a winter of not having those things. And second, life is just simpler. We’re in the middle of nowhere. We’re in charge of our day and our schedules. And nothing that doesn’t matter to us gets in, physically or mentally.

So, as the days get shorter (and colder and snowier), we’ll be hunkering down to tackle our many and copious winter projects, and we’ll be posting a lot more regularly here on the blog again to share our experiences, advice, inventions, and philosophy. (Well, the inventions are all Winslow’s—if I were in charge of building things we’d be living in a hut made of hot-glue and duct tape, but I’ll share my recipe “inventions,” how’s that?)

We’ll also answer questions like, “Where’s Betty?” “Where’s the HPMDU?” and “Do you really eat the rabbits?” (The short answer to the last question is “Yes, and they’re spectacular.”)

Note: If you’re out there thinking, “Wait, how did you get to Idaho?” Then read this. If you’re really confused, this year-long timeline will help.

In the meantime, perhaps you will enjoy the “simple” things with us in this photo sampling of our daily Panhandle panoramas. Some are at sunrise, some at sunset, and some at whenever. They all represent both our physical and metaphysical existence right now.

Idaho Panhandle Panorama deck-view Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama Idaho Panhandle Panorama


How Cheap Enslaves Us — And Our Way Out

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that we cannot eat money.

Native American Saying

Why the Obsession with Cheap?

Becca and I and a couple of friends — let’s say Fred and Wilma — were discussing sustainable living ideas over dinner. Permaculture, animal husbandry, power generation, hunting, gardening, and more all came up. Thinking now about our conversation, it is clear how indoctrinated into the cult of “how cheaply can I do this” we all are.

Should I buy organic? Should I drive a fuel-efficient car or a powerful SUV? Which octane of fuel should I put in my car, and is ethanol in my fuel a good deal? Should I add solar power to my home energy system? Should I keep chickens? The list goes on, almost everything we “need” gets tested based on money first.

In the quest to optimize for enjoyment of life, Becca and I have put much of what we do to a version of this test. Is [thing or activity] at least as valuable to us as the part of our life it took to earn it (often expressed as money)? For example, do we want a big, expensive house? No, we don’t, because the time spent earning that house is more valuable to us than the house itself.

We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

We’re totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

When Economic Questions Don’t Come First

What I found interesting, though, was that we set those calculations aside when we care about something. Fred brought up the intrinsic value of homegrown broccoli. Even if it costs more to grow it yourself (even while paying yourself zero dollars for labor), there is no broccoli that can compete with the broccoli you cut from your garden just minutes ago. I like broccoli, and I love homegrown broccoli, but I have not been inspired to put in the effort to grow my own when I can purchase very good organic broccoli for a few dollars a pound or less any day of the year. Fred cares about homegrown broccoli more than I do, for me it’s an economic question and for him it isn’t.

Our positions flip-flop when it comes to electricity. Fred pointed out that his cost for electricity is under 6 cents a kWh. There is no way to economically justify home power generation, with the possible exception of microhydro if you’re lucky enough to have access to that resource. Yet I happily spent $1/rated watt on solar panels, buy expensive batteries and inverters (which can fail and require replacement), and spend hours installing the equipment so I can make tiny amounts of power. It feels like a good deal to me, though any accountant would tell derisive stories about my folly at dinner parties.

Chickens and turkeys, too, fail the purely economic test. When the cost of the chicks (or eggs and incubation equipment), feed, housing, water, other equipment, time to care for them/opportunity cost (do not underestimate it!), losses to predation, disease, and other stupid shit, processing, and so on, you are better off buying the most expensive organic free-range roaster you can find. If you are doing it for egg production, the economics are a bit rosier, but still upside down unless you get lucky and/or don’t value your time. And yet, all four of us agreed — we will all have chickens as often as possible.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Made in USA is a big thing for me. The economics are often not good on this, either. Somehow, even with all the efficiencies gained from not having to ship raw materials and finished products around the world, pay import/export taxes, and so on, US manufacturing is unable to compete price-wise on most goods. Since the majority of companies seem to put profit before product quality or worker’s quality of life here in the US as elsewhere, there is little real reason to seek out USA made unless you just want to spend more. Still, I persist in seeking out products made here, imagining that I’m doing something to support the US economy. Or, at least, trying to.

What’s the Difference?

Why would we raise chickens, collect energy from the sun, grow our own broccoli, buy USA made goods, or make any choices that don’t maximize our buying power? I argue that we all know there is something much more important than money. But what?

Our world is ruled by the “laws” of economics. Small farmers go out of business and lose their land because mega-farms out-compete them. We can’t “afford” to grow our own poultry because organic cooperatives leverage massive buying power to produce chickens so cheaply. Many of us can’t even sell our own time (AKA life) for a living wage any more because industry buys foreign labor in bulk, too.

I sense that most of our readers are in agreement with me up to this point. It is a fairly common perspective that large corporations would rather have a dollar than a save a drowning child, but unless you’re that drowning child, what does it really matter, right?

It matters because the real costs of all this cheapness are anything but cheap. Once you have contracted out every last need — food, water, shelter, and so on — you are left with nothing to leverage. All you’ve got is money, but you have never been in control of what happens to that. The difference is control over your destiny.

Hey – I’m Totally Secure in My Destiny!

Think I’m crazy? Maybe I’m exaggerating. I assure you, I’m not. Maybe you know someone who lived through the Great Depression, like my grandmother did. Ask that person how much fun that was, and how much control they felt over their own destiny. Here’s an excerpt from the article I just linked:

“You wanted to take a bath, you heat up the water in these big cans,” Martinez says. “It was always a challenge to keep warm — we hugged each other on the floor. We had little beds that open and close. When I think about it, it was horrible. It was horrible. And then the sanitation of the community — garbage was just put in the alley — and did that create a condition? Yes it did: TB [tuberculosis]. I know my sister came down with TB. Sometimes I like to block that out and just say, ‘Thank God you’re here.'”

Or read about what happened in Germany, when the value of the nation’s currency, the Reichsmark, collapsed from 8.9 per US$1 in 1918 to 4.2 trillion per US$1 in 1920. Those who didn’t have the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves without money had nothing but desperate need.

That’s all so last-century. That shit can’t happen anymore, right? Okay, how about 2008?

Great Depression

City Life Breeds Dependence

How much do you trust the system you pay to keep you alive? If you live in a city, it must be a whole lot. Essential resources must be imported constantly, and, for economic reasons once again, from farther and farther away.

Unbelievably, it’s cheaper to ship food from California to New York City than to grow it ninety miles away in upstate New York. That supply line is fragile, and the supply of food within the city would last less than three days if resupply stopped. Suddenly, money would be nearly worthless — what would you pay for the last loaf of bread or can of baked beans within twenty miles? Oh, and there’s no gasoline left, either…

In light of those thoughts, what might the true value of that chicken, the eggs it lays, a stalk of broccoli, or a day’s worth of electricity be? How about the knowledge and experience to reproduce them day after day, season after season, without outside help?

How Can We Balance Autonomy and Economy?

Cooperative preparation. We’re not suggesting that you quit your job and move to the country to live as a Neo-Luddite. Our suggestion is to hedge against risk. While we can’t all be farmers with photovoltaic arrays and wood stoves, we can all learn skills which can make us valuable in a world that doesn’t run the way we’re accustomed to.

We can build relationships with others and create cooperatives to pool knowledge and resources. Who knows, we might even enjoy the time spent learning and doing something beside building a financial house of cards for the benefit of others.

Don’t Come Here When Shit Goes Sideways

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “I know where I’m going when the Zombie Apocalypse happens.” Well, guess what? Unless you’ve got skills and/or resources with intrinsic value, you’re not coming to our place. If worthless money is your only bargaining chip, it’s going to be a rough moment for you.

What if, instead, you had skills and experience that could directly help yourself and others? You would be in demand! Moreover, you might be able to take care of yourself and your family until you got somewhere safer. This is not just “Zombie Apocalypse” talk, but straight talk about self-reliance, self-empowerment, and self-respect. It wasn’t people who needed everything handed to them that built this country, and it will not be people who have nothing to offer but money who will pave the way forward. How far would Lewis and Clark have gotten with nothing but a fat wallet?

You Can Come to Our Place Now, Though

All of this is why Becca and I are setting up a teaching/learning/doing center for self-reliance skills. You don’t need to be a full-time survivalist to have a great skill set. You’ll be able to come here and immerse yourself in a demanding, realistic environment requiring self-reliance with almost total safety. Will it cost money? It could, but barter and trade is always better.

Our big announcement is that we’re now the owners of ten acres in the panhandle of Idaho that’s close, but not too close, to civilization (including a medical center) where you can join us for a weekend or longer and get hands-on experience on our renewable-energy powered, working homestead.

You might want to come just for the view.

You might want to come just for the view.

This will be a homestead in the true sense. We’ll be starting from scratch and building up all the elements we need to live — which, at their core, are likely shockingly similar to what you require to live, just in a little different color, size, or shape. So, if you come to visit us, you might:

  • Care for livestock
  • Learn how to process and preserve food
  • Build infrastructure like small buildings, solar power set-ups, and water filtration
  • Work in the garden and learn how to efficiently set up your own
  • Learn to build an emergency shelter
  • Hunt, trap, and fish with us
  • Identify and forage for local edibles
  • Condition your body through hard, physical work
  • Do some “circuits” on an obstacle course found in nature
  • Reduce your dependence on money
  • Increase your confidence in any situation
  • Enjoy the outdoors
  • Stop running in circles

Our long-term goal is to open the homestead free of charge to underprivileged kids, especially ones who’ve grown up in cities, who could use a dose of self-confidence and possibility-enhancement. But starting very soon we’ll be offering seminars, workshops, and other opportunities for you to participate in and contribute to this exciting project.

This isn’t about “prepping,” paranoia, or zombies. This is about taking responsibility for your food and your energy use. It’s about living inside nature instead of looking at pictures of it on somebody-else’s Instagram. It’s about becoming aware of the power you have to create your life exactly as you want it to be and living outside what “they” have been telling you all these years. It’s about those secret dreams you have of making the world a better place.