Tuesday, February 21, 2017
If you expect the future to resemble the past, then you are very likely to be disappointed. Quite a few people understand this, but don’t know of any alternative to continuing to do what they are accustomed to doing—driving to a job, shopping, paying bills—until they no longer can. They can’t figure out anything better to do than shove their children through an overpriced educational scheme so that upon graduation they can take part in a game of economic musical chairs—until they no longer can either.
A lot of people also find the future too depressing to think about. Yes, it is depressing to think about cities and suburbs with no electricity, running water or functioning sewers, buried in rotting garbage and trash and overrun by feral dogs and armed gangs. It is far more pleasant to escape into a fantasy world where renewable energy saves the day as soon as the fossil fuel industry gets out of its way, or where the fossil fuel industry saves the day as soon as the environmentalists get out of its way, or some other politically motivated nonsense.
One question that doesn’t seem to be asked enough is, What alternative is there that actually works? The answer is surprising: there are hundreds of thousands of people living throughout North America who will be largely unaffected by the dismal scenario outlined above. When the electric grid fails, they won’t even notice. When cities and suburbs became uninhabitable due to filth and crime, they won’t even know about it. When starving vagabonds come trudging by their homestead, they will be fed a good meal and gratefully move on.
I expect that quite a lot of people will respond with a question along these lines: “Not everybody can do this; what about the rest of us?” Allow me to answer. There are hundreds of thousands of prosperous homesteaders in North America. Club Orlov Press sells thousands of books. Supposing that this book—Prosperous Homesteading breaks all previous records, as I hope it will, and sells 10,000 copies, and further supposing that a whopping 10% of those who read it actually take up homesteading as a result, that would boost the number of prosperous homesteaders by less than 1%; sounds doable. As for “the rest of us,” I see two options: 1. go back to thinking about fossil fuel/environmentalist conspiracies; or 2. build yourself a houseboat that sails and take up seasteading. Some day, when there are hundreds of thousands of people seasteading prosperously I hope that somebody will write a book called Prosperous Seasteading. If that happens and I am still around, I hope to be able to edit it and publish it. In the meantime, please read this one.
And here are some videos produced by the author. Please watch them, to get an idea of what prosperous homesteading looks like.
Yep, yep, yep.
The Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers never drank the kool-aide.
I very much enjoyed this Dmitry, thanks.
Absolutely ditto V. Arnold's comments! Much respect for the Amish, Quakers, and Mennonite folk, and much to learn from thrm. Thanks Dmitry for your work, too. I'm just finishing your book, "Shrinking the Technosphere," which I've been savoring these last couple of weeks since your talk in Asheville. I'm telling people that yours is perhaps the most significant and original book I've read in the last decade or more, a must-read. Thank you enormously for this book; it's a life changer. e.b.
Hippies really are infamous for combining the worst kind of smug self-satisfaction with a complete lack of grounding in anything realistic or practical. That's why pretty much all of their "alternative living" experiments back in the sixties and seventies ended in failed disaster, and also why other people don't have very much use for them at all.
Homesteading as a survival strategy often seems to miss the facts of human settlement, and clings to private property as the answer to everything for the individual.
The truth is normal humans require community, as other Orlov Press books discuss, and a homestead without any community to lean on for support probably won't last long in most scenarios. Is this a topic that will be talked about in the book at all? "Homesteading" near or as part of a community?
Also I have another issue with this type of book, which is everyone writing about homesteading that I'm aware of either talks about making income selling products (often information) on the Internet as part of the strategy, or does this to fully fund whatever their project is. While I appreciate people willing to teach me remotely at this time in history, I think people who rely on the income from teaching people how to homestead, in order to homestead themselves, are acting pretty unsustainably. If one has to be an author or internet marketer to be prosperous, I'm not interested.
Sorry, V.Arnold, you're thinking of the Shakers -- now close to extinct because they held that sex was a bad thing -- and ran out of orphans to recruit.
The Quakers initially prospered because of their strict adherence to principles that seemed impractical (not deceiving people, for example) and that has made them, ever since, mostly NPR listeners, with the occasional wild-eyed types on the margins. When there've been wars, generally around half of us have caught patriotism and joined the rest of the country in its madness. (The one exception I can think of was the American Revolution, where most of us were opposed, the effort to be helpful to all getting a few of us hung as rebels by the Brits and slightly more hung as loyalists by the rebels. A dissident branch who called themselves The Free Quakers even fought in that, persisted as a separate organization for about twenty years, eventually rejoined the rest of us or drifted off altogether.)
Two books have attempted to define seasteading but, IMHO, have fallen short. We need the seasteading equivalent of Buehlers Backyard Boatbuilding.... in short, inject some counterculture FUN into the mix. For now therre's Ken Neumeyers " Sailing the Farm: a survival guide to homesteading on the ocean" and the very wry Jerome FitzGeralds "Sea Steading: a life of hope and freedom on the last viable frontier".
V Arnold and E R Blomgren:
I suggest you do a little more research before lumping Mennonites in with Amish and Quakers as a group that avoids "drinking the coolaide".
I lived in north Idaho (Bonners Ferry) for 10 years during the '70s and '80s and the Mennonites were well immersed in that area as large landowners at that time. They lacked nothing in the way of modern conveniences such as houses with all utilities and modern farm equipment (no horses for them) which included tractors, pesticide and insecticide applicators, pickup trucks and all the trimmings. And unlike the Amish and Quakers, the Mennonites got involved in local politics as well. When I lived there, the mayor of Bonners Ferry was a Mennonite. The Hutterites of South Dakota and other states have lifestyles similar to Mennonites.
Dmitry, thanks for running this. The author and his family are doing good work and should be commended. However, I cringe a bit at the blanket one-size-fits-all formula.
While the author's (and family) work and approach are admirable, it is not the only model with which to approach homesteading. Every successful homestead design and operating system is going to be site specific. Not every site will have an eleven child workforce or flat, easily arable acreage.
As someone who has been homesteading for decades - using permaculture principles for the last 12 years or so - I would hesitate to lump John Seymour in with hippie homesteaders, as depicted in the first video. His books are immensely useful to us. He was, in fact, the real deal practicing what he preached - helpful to many homesteaders across the last 4 decades - and not a poseur at all. It's a shame the author defamed him. I highly recommend John Seymour's books to anyone moving "back to the land."
The Hutterites we we knew in Montana do not practice 'homesteading." They use large farm equipment, motorized transport and massive amounts of herbicide and pesticide. Their operations are as fossil fuel dependent as any large conventional farm or ranch. They have been taken to court for illegal (smuggled from Canada) use of poisons and in one instance a few years ago a couple of "Hoots" were convicted of running a grizzly bear to death by chasing it with their ATVs.
Our own place is a forest-based homestead. This is fairly common in this part of the world. (Inland Northwest USA) We use an ox to skid logs, firewood and building material. The sheep and all the poultry help us manage the woods as well as fulfilling their usual tasks. I use goats to pack my tools around in the forest. We plant hundreds of trees (nuts, fruit, coppice wood, syrup trees, etc) every year within the existing forest, aiming for a very long term sustainable yield. Just one more approach - and there are many. There is still much work to do before we are weaned from the current collapsing system - but we are on our way.
Thanks again, Dmitry. Please keep up the good work.
Greg shouldn't lump John Seymour in with the hippie propagandists. He did actually live both the sea-going and the homesteading life, to a considerable degree, though supplementing it sometimes with other work. But in those days such mixed employment made good sense. Things were not yet as grim as they are now. It was less urgent - seemingly - to become wholly self-sufficient in all basic needs. Also, it was still possible then for urban dreamers to neglect to see clearly the hard, ugly, soul-trying aspects of the self-sufficient life. It was this dreamers' indulgence which actually crashed a whole lot of the balmy-optimist hippie commune experiments; there were, even then, no substitutes for intensely-practical common sense and simple stickability. But playing the rural self-sufficiency game wasn't in those days done for life and death stakes. It was always possible to quit and go back to the still soft and easy, standard urban/suburban life - as many did.
Now, of course, the task has taken on much more urgency, and needs to aim at the practical target of a genuinely self-sufficient lifestyle, that can get literally all of its practitioners' essential needs for a durable, tolerable life by their own efforts, in their own patch of the world. Anything less than such thoroughgoing independence is likely to come to grief through some fatal lack, which collapsing hitech industrial society is no longer able to supply.
Naturally, all this is extremely place-specific, with many particular 'what-actually-works-right-here' lessons to be learned. There is no one-size-fits-all set of mechanical rules. All the practitioners of whom I know who've made it in self-sufficiency work speak of repeated errors and failures on a steep learning curve, over years. By now, there's no time left for delay in getting onto that curve.
Spencer Heaps -
Jeffords' approach to homesteading is commonsensical. It is what works. Other approaches work in theory, but his works in practice. His homestead provides vegetables, meat and dairy (I guess they still buy cooking oil and grains), plus it provides capital in the form of livestock raised on excess milk, pasture and hay produced using draft horses.
As far as community, a prosperous community is a group of prosperous families. It all starts with family. The family must have enough children, bear them at a young enough age to play an important role in their lives throughout their productive years, and bring them up in a way that allows them to play a constructive role within the community instead of making them want to leave it. That's a lot of if's, and it's outside the scope of running a prosperous homestead.
It seems that all of the Anabaptists, whether they eschew modern "conveniences" or embrace them, are very good at growing all the food they eat and keeping their children around. They are all good homesteaders. Homesteading is not about virtue signaling by being "green." If tractors make sense and there is a market for cash crops—fine; if not, draft horses are more cost-effective.
I am curious, do you pay for food? Because if you are, then you are not homesteading by Jeffords' definition; you are gardening. And, yes, there are all kinds of ways to garden. But if you are actually homesteading, then Jeffords' "one-size-fits-all" solution, which involves cutting recurring expenses to the bone, getting rid of almost all insurance and self-insuring, growing everything that the household uses most of, and generating capital in the form of livestock (which is largely unregulated and, if raised on milk and grass, fetches premium prices), is hard to beat.
Tried the Amazon link, but no luck. Then noticed there was a "/" missing after ".com".
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1543168663 now works OK.
I see the book is also available here in the UK, which is handy for me.
With well under an acre of land available to my wife and I, we can at best only hope to be semi self-sufficient - but every handy tip helps.
Amen to the hippie propaganda. I have plenty of books with pretty pictures of nice gardens that if you planted the birds would thank you for the feast. John Seymour is the worst kind of propaganda, to this day his complete book of self sufficiency remains the one book I have burnt.
John claimed that you could remove the wood from a broken axe head by burning it out, which would be fine if you wanted to remove the temper from the axe head and never have it sharp again.
He also claimed you could feed your livestock on bracken fern, which is fatal. Having sat with hand raised cows that died of bracken fern poisoning, I can say they died in pain over 2 days I can say that I loathe people who make up crap and publish it.
I'll order a copy of Greg's book, sounds interesting.
Quote from the book The Unsettlers by Mark Sundeen:
'How do we fight the Man if we continue to buy his cheeseburgers?'
It does seem to me that one way (but perhaps not the ONLY way) to escape from the clutches of the Man is by reducing purchases to an absolute minimum.
I wonder how Mr Jeffords will cover his hoophouses when petrochemicals become scarce and expensive.
It sounds like an interesting book for the serious back to the lander, but you all don't have to be so snarky about John Seymour. His was one of my first gardening books way back when and taught me much. Now I have never claimed to be a homesteader, and resent it when the term is bandied about by young wannabes with a vegetable patch and some chickens. However, I have always striven for the return of productivity to the household, as a buffer against the slings and arrows of outrageous capitalism. It has worked well. As for collapse preparedness, I doubt desperate hordes will be happily sent on their way with a sandwich and a wave. When things go all to chaos, protective guards may have to become involved and there goes the neighborhood. As for the idea that we need big families, don't get me started. Finite planet, remember?
Homesteader, I hear thatching is making a comeback. Very labour intensive, but once the internet is gone we'll have nothing but time on our hands :)
You can't tell what works if you haven't tried it. Likewise, your doubts about "desperate hordes" bespeak your complete lack of experience with said hordes. I lived in Russia the year (1990) when there was almost nothing to eat. As far as "finite planet" we do have a problem: too many factory-farmed humans and not enough free-range ones. We need to breed more free-range ones, for after most of the factory-farmed ones willingly walk into to the abattoir.
This is excellent, but is only relevant to higher latitudes. In the tropics and sub tropics it's a whole different game. Cellars don't work, food is stored in situ - eg sweet potatoes are dug as needed, meat walks around on two or four legs until it is butchered prior to consumption. Staples can be dry stored, like corn and beans to get through the 'hungry time', but a lot hangs on trees or lives underground - breadfruit, jackfruit, cassava, plantain, taro, moringa (one must have a big investment in underground food in order to be able to eat after a major cyclone). Most greens are perennial and picked as needed. There is just as much work involved but distribution is different.
Some Cambodians taught me a great way of preserving meat - thin cuts beaten out flat and have lemongrass, ginger, salt and garlic rubbed into it and then dried in the sun. The meat is then cooked prior to consumption, it's delicious
One thing I like about lower latitudes is I don't need to cut hay. I hate cutting hay.
Disease can be rampant in an unbalanced system, but it is surprisingly easy to control once balance is attained. Having an unnecessarily high amount of entropy in the form of under utilized nutrients and open ends will cop you some disease proper.
I am so envious when I hear people speak of community and how important it is. Unfortunately I live in a country where community consists of cliques who hate each other and set out to positively undermine each other. When I arrived in this small rural town, I was told I would not be able to grow vegetables, would not be able to make a living doing crafts, would run back to the city in a few months. I simply had no choice but to prove them all wrong and it took a year before they grudgingly acknowledged that perhaps I wasn't completely hopeless. Nearly two years later, I'm eating my own vegetables and giving away the excess, selling my crafts in the local coffee shop and online and doing pretty well. Sometimes you have no choice but to go it alone, and block out the noise from the naysayers.
Just a heads up the Food Safety Modernization Act also puts in a lot of new regulations and preventative controls for animal feed. The push is, of course, away from self sustaining technology and towards "safer" commercial feed and water.
I buy both olive oil and coconut oil because I love them but a homestead shouldn't need to buy cooking oil. You can get plenty from chicken fat, butter and lard.
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