Seven Stones – I and my husband Jon – went to Goat School this past weekend. 120 people from all over the country huddled under a tent in midstate Maine at Stony Knolls Farm … to learn about goats – how to buy, sell, breed, feed, hoof trim, milk, market and love a herd of goats. Though some were there as pet owners, many of us there had a similar narrative of being on a path towards self-sustainability, otherwise known as “the dream.”
Within this dream to create a life of (self-) sufficiency through returning to the land, there is another voice, the voice of reason, of practicality, the voice of modern money. In the wise words of Ken the Goat Farmer, “Don’t go into this business for the money.” And in my family’s search to find the right fit for our adventure in reclaiming our food source and sense of connection to that which sustains us, Jon and I discovered you need a lot of money to farm (and not live so far off the beaten path to make a city girl go crazy). To unwind from the disaster that is industrial farming, you need capital. And lots of it.
How we got into this mess of being so removed from the source of our living – water, food, clean air – has a history, of course. In a Harper’s article called “Toward a Second Haitian Revolution,” Historian Professor Steven Stoll unpacks the complexity of how Haiti became the political, economic and environmental crisis that it is. It is a unique set of factors that landed its half of a little island the way it is now (sans the earthquake), but Stoll’s history lesson has a broader context that we can all learn from. Consider:
“In the logic of economic development, land that feeds people is underemployed, freeholder sufficiency is poverty, and independence from wage work is backwardness. People once called isolated and unproductive now starve from being integrated and unemployed [in the cities]. They starve, in other words, from the very dependency that represents their modernity.” (“Toward a Second Haitian Revolution,” Steven Stoll, Harper’s Magazine, April 2010)
We are starving for connection too. An Assistant Manager at a local chain grocer lamented to me that “we all work. My wife, my kids, everyone. We used to have dinner together, the family. Now we can’t. Everyone is working.” Social fabric has shredded under the weight of the wage-job. That same manager had been telling me rather matter-of-factly beforehand how he “used to be able to special order things. Now there is a ‘Planogram’ that tells us the quantity of everything. I never use my brain anymore.” He laughed about this. But he admitted the job has not juice anymore. No reason to make relationships when HQ sends you the Planogram.
If nothing else, this current economic crisis has highlighted our vulnerability, our dependence on a system that does not consider our financial or overall well-being. Rather than “trading down,” (buying smaller, less expensive luxuries) as in past recessions, people are shopping smarter, saving and/or reallocating budgets to make desired purchases. (Source: Fortune, Mina Kimes) But all of this has left me wondering: can we live our lives in sufficiency – not just the mindset – but sufficiency in the material sense – regenerating, healing the land and ourselves – at the same time as we are embedded in the current modern economic system? Is it even possible? While I am not clear on the answer, I know 120 of us withstood chilling rain and finicky wind to learn about how to care for animals that would provide protein, soap, compost and a sense of connection to the living systems that sustain us. And it wasn’t just a bunch of hippies either.