Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Message: From the Grunts in the Fields

     The elephant in the room that no one talks about in the collapse/transition movement is the physical condition of most Americans.  Americans are overweight (highest obesity rate), most overmedicated, most entertained and out of shape people on the planet.  There are a number of people in the collapse/transition movement that write and speak eloquently of having group music/dance and the spiritual aspect of mourning the loss of all life, which is very important.  However, at the end of the day, we still need to do the hard, physical work that will be required to grow food to feed ourselves as well as to barter with.
     Americans are use to working with their fingers, sitting on their butts, staring at a computer screen all day then coming home from work and plopping down in front of a television set, watching mindless programs we call entertainment.  So I don’t think sitting around all day holding hands and chanting will be at the top of the list of things to do moving forward.  At the end of a hard day’s work in the fields, it is more likely that we will need the skills of a highly skilled masseuse.
     I will turn 55 this fall and since the age of 12 or 13 I have worked out at least five days a week and done physical work my whole life.  I began by playing sports that required running and/or cardio work as well as lifting weights.  I have eaten healthfully most of my life even more so over the past nine years since “growing and preserving more of our own food.”
     I’m 5’8” and weigh 148lbs (eight pounds less than when I got married 34 years ago).  I still fit into some of my high school clothes which are back in style, for whatever reason.  About seven years ago I started doing yoga that has allowed me more flexibility.
     When we moved onto the property ten years ago, we purchased a small 20 H.P diesel tractor that I used to start our hobby garden.  As I started to read more about peak oil, resource depletion, soil degradation, and collapse, I realized that we would not be able to grow our food this way in the future, so I implemented a system based on Eliot Coleman’s books, Four- Season Harvest, and The New Organic Gardener.  I realize now how much more physical work it will take and many more hands in the mix to accomplish this.  The DVD Power of Community also gave me a better understanding of how sustaining ourselves during collapse will be much different than what we’re use to.
     Our property is gently sloped north to south and our 50+ raised beds are 4’ x 26’ in the same direction.  I did this knowing that water is a precious commodity and in the future we could use gravity fed drip irrigation.  There is approximately 20” between each bed, which I seeded with perennial clover that keeps out the weeds, attracts bees, and keeps the integrity of the beds intact.  It is also beautiful to look at as well and is easy to walk on. 
     I have not tilled in the garden for the past five years and instead use extensive cover cropping and composting methods.  All weeding is done by hand and I started using an old 9-iron golf club that a friend of ours picked up from a second hand store.  With the sharp edge he put on it, I can use it to cut down the clover in between the beds.
     We now have 25 blueberry bushes, 10 apple and pear trees, hops, grapes and 280’ of assorted berries that we maintain.  Totally there is about one acre that is cared for by hand, for food.  Below is a list of food that we stored for 2009.  We keep adding to this each year and last year we grew drying beans that after harvest gave us 25 lbs.

Cool Storage
50 qts tomatioes
9 pts pickled veggies
20 - 4 packs of corn on the cob
155 lbs potatoes
1 gal apple mint
22 qts zucchini
12 qts butternut squash
20 - 8 packs of stuffed cabbage
200 lbs onions
1 pt spearmint
5 gal red onions
7 qts sweet meat squash
16 - 1.5 qts spagetti squash
600 heads of garlic
1 pt orange mint
8 qts strawberries
7 qts pumpkin
5 gal blueberries
30 spaghetti squash
2 qts peppermint
8 qts anaheim peppers
25 qts grape juice
5 gal marionberries
12 butternut squash
1 gal mugwort
3 qts celery
25 pts strawberry jam
3 gal boysenberries
8 sweet meat squash
1.5 gal motherwort
4 gal celery leaves
12 qts blackberry jam
3 gal strawberries
4 pumpkins
1 gal yarrow flowers
1.5 qts Eur. Soldier Beans
12 pints boysenberry jam
20 - 10 packs anaheim peppers
.5 gal lavender
2 qts Swed. brown beans
22 qts sauerkraut
8 pts pesto
1 qt lemon balm
1 qt scarlett runner beans
48 qts tomato sauce
50 lbs walnuts (bought/shelled on farm)
4 qts lemon verbena
8 ristras (50-100 peppers)
14 qts salsa
3 qts pineapple sage
16 qts pickles
4 qts basil
58 qts green beans
1 qt clarey
1 qt rosemary
3 qts calendula flowers
2 qts skullcap
1 pt dill seed
1 pt lemongrass

     All of this takes an extraordinary amount of physical labor approximately 60 hrs a week during the growing and harvesting season.  After doing this amount of physical labor for nine years, it has taken a toll on my body.  I struggle during the season to keep my weight up.  Every year it gets harder to work at this level and takes much more time during the winter for my body to heal and recover. 
     I try to look down the road and I have a hard time envisioning me being able to work at this level in 5-10 years and yet I have always taken care of myself.  Taking a hard look at Americans doesn’t inspire much hope in me knowing the amount of labor that will be required to feed ourselves. This doesn’t take into consideration all of the problems, challenges, that we face with climate change that effects what and when we can grow.    This in itself is a subject for another day.    
    Many potential partners and visitors come to our homestead and comment on how beautiful it is but they don’t see the need to go without gas powered farming equipment and think the way we farm is too labor intensive.  I think about the enormous amounts of resources used in producing fertilizers and I question them about peak oil and how they think we can continue using these methods and their reply is, “there will always be fuel and the costs will be passed on to the consumers.”
     People my age that I’ve read about and spoken to like the idea of living in the country and doing their own thing, but I don’t think they realize the amount of work they’re getting into and these are people that are not in the best physical condition.
     My honest advice to anyone wanting to live a healthy, rewarding, fun, and spiritual life, living out of the system as much as possible, is to find hardworking people that are physically fit with skills and resources who are honest, trustworthy, collapse aware and preparing, to partner up with.
     There is much to learn such as, greenhouse starts/seed germinating, orchard maintenance, animal husbandry, natural pest management, processing and storing of food to mention a few.  
     I know from my nine years of experience if you had four people working together each having their own expertise, you could overlap and help each other and together everyone would only have to work 15 hrs a week, whether it was in the garden or in the kitchen.
     You would also have someone available on the property to take care of your investment if you wanted to go away during the growing season.  With the “go it alone” approach, there is little time to do this.
     I wish I could say it’s been easy to find collapse partners, but I can’t.  We have been unsuccessful thus far and it is has not been from lack of trying.  We know what we are trying to do is difficult because humans have been programmed by empire to “go it alone”.  Seems like it’s a good idea to keep us from working together which suits empire just fine.  We believe if you can find partners, the rewards will be worth the effort.


  1. Great post...my wife and I have plenty to learn. We have always been in shape but this will take it to a new and exciting level...the "workout" will have a payoff...food we helped produce.

    1. How are things going for you guys? Sure you have learned much in your endeavor since posting this comment. It's the busy time of the year for us and we hope to have a good harvest.

  2. Thank you for your very real description. We have plenty of idealistic presentations of post-collapse reality to choose from. Almost all of them are missing the physical aspect you've revealed; we often don't hear how demanding such life will be. Quite removed from being plopped on a sofa in an air-conditioned, carpeted living room eating a pre-packaged meal while watching a wide-screen movie. Instead, life will be real and rewarding.

    1. Indeed it will be and is for us. We were meant to work, our body, mind and soul needs the physical aspect of life.

      It is such a good feeling to get up and do something, take life by the wings instead of it taking you by the seat of your pants!

      If only we could convince people that if we work together, we could all work part time and have more time to enjoy. Instead many work 8-12 hours plus each day for empire.

  3. I like the tenacity you show and the ability to face down detractors. You will find the partners you are seeking..and you will face the future together. My heart is with you in your journey!

    1. Tenacity is such a great word. Thanks Zoe for your confidence is us, though I think the partner finding is over as many don't want to do the hard work necessary to secure one's food.

  4. As a life-long gardener I understand the hard work involved. I wish you luck in your search for partners. It's a pity those of us who understand collapse are so few and far between - although that is likely to change!

    I came to understand peak oil and resource and climate change along with the entire unsustainable economic system in a rather odd way - I noticed trees are dying and wondered why. Trying to figure it out led to rather painful enlightenment.

    Do you notice any impacts of pollution in your gardens? That would be foliage that is bronzed or stippled from damaged stomates, leading to broader lesions, singing, chlorosis (lack of pigment from interference with photosynthesis), necrosis (dead leaves)??

    I'm keeping track at www.witsendnj.blogspot.com where I post links to research and articles about ozone and vegetation. I'm especially curious as to how organic famers are faring, since "conventional" farming techniques allow for chemicals that offset stunted yields from ozone as well as a higher incidence of insects, disease and fungus.

    You can write to me if you want at witsendnj at yahoo dot com, I would be interested in your observations.

    1. Hi Gail,

      Been a long time but have followed your comments on NBL. We are noticing more and more the changes in our trees and surroundings. The Big Leaf Maples whose canopies once touched the ground are now upright and the leaves are small. They show little color in the Fall, they just turn brown and drop off.

      Our gardens seem to be fine except the weather is definitely dictating what we grow anymore. Temps here have been 15-20 degrees over normal for the last few weeks, and now seem to be 12-15 degrees below normal which the plants do not like at all.

      Let us know if you hear of anything else with trees in our area. I have been on your website looking and noticed Corvallis was on there regarding the Douglas Fir. Seems like nature is displaying her ability to show us who is in charge.