Posts Tagged ‘community’

Before we settled down on the acreage with the chickens and goats, Hubby and I traveled.  We backpacked, separately before we met, then together, and tried out an all-inclusive once, too.   Between us, we’ve been to over a dozen countries on four continents.   We both love checking out other climates and cultures, preferably for at least a few weeks at a stretch.


Egyptian monument


About a year after settling the goats and chickens in, it hit us:  we were stuck.  My sister was planning a wedding, and we had no idea if we were going to be able to go.  We couldn’t just leave the critters for a two weeks while we traveled to her destination wedding, but we didn’t feel we could ask any of our neighbors to watch them, as the average age around here is approximately 75, and we haul water from the house to the barn twice a day.  Uh-oh.


We eventually found a paid farm sitter who was willing to come out to our place…for a price.  A high price.  A very high price.  In fact, our farm sitting cost almost as much as the rest of that trip put together, and the sitter was not as reliable as we would have liked…up to and including ignoring some of our instructions!   It was not at all a viable option over the long term.   So we have been limited to day trips or, at most, overnighters for quite a while – a couple of years, now – which really sucks for a couple of wannabe globe trotters.


Camels in Wadi Rum


I would guess that is why the majority of people who get into hobby goats get out again –  in about three years, if the stats are to be believed.


Not us, though.  We’ve found a stellar farm sitter (two of them, actually), who live relatively close, are physically able to take care of the critters, and who are trustworthy and reliable.  We’ve had them watch the place for a couple of days here and there, but we recently went away on a vacation for a couple of weeks, and left them in charge.  They dealt with unexpected inclement weather and a mass goat escape, and kept their good humour through it all…and the place was in great shape when we got home.  What a relief to know that we can schedule a holiday, or even go to a wedding or a funeral in another province, without having to worry about how to get the goats fed and watered while we’re away!


We have our freedom back now.  I’ve signed us up for a couple of last-minute travel discount websites, since we all have our passports, and our super-fab farm sitters are willing to come by on short notice.  Yay for us!  I just can’t emphasize enough how much freedom we suddenly have, or what a relief it is.  If you (like us) love to travel, make sure you have a realistic plan for how you’re going to take care of your critters when emergencies come up, or when the travel bug bites – it’ll save you a lot of money and heartache, and help you keep your sanity while you work on your homesteading dreams.


Sea Turtles in Hawaii

(We went to Hawaii.  Took the kids and Hubby’s parents.  Had a great time.  Would love to share some pictures, but WordPress is having a bad day, so perhaps in another post…)








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Social Capital

Every so often, Hubby reminds me that the eggs are building up in the cold room. Especially now that I’m back to work, and we don’t have eggs for breakfast every day, we do sometimes end up with way more than we need. Last summer, we were selling our extras, and that worked out well, but after the fox got a bunch of our hens, we didn’t have enough to fulfill orders anymore, and we got too sporadic for most of our buyers.


Not long ago, I got ‘reminded’ that we had six dozen extra eggs downstairs. That’s seventy-two eggs, in case you were counting, which is actually quite a lot! It is not, however, enough to really sell to regular buyers, and not enough to be worth making a special trip into town to sell.


Now, we owe a bunch of thanks to a bunch of people around here. The folks up the road who plowed our garden for a cut rate, for instance, and the neighbors who gifted us a hundred and fifty bushels of bin sweepings (waste grain, which makes great chicken feed). People I don’t think we could really adequately thank, or repay.


So we took our six dozen eggs and shared the wealth around. Everybody was very happy with them, and wanted to pay us, but you know, I’d much rather have happy neighbors than the money anyhow. Twenty or thirty dollars worth of farm eggs go a long way to strong community relations, and you just can’t put a price tag on that!


farm eggs

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I got a treat with my morning coffee today – a facebook conversation with two very thoughtful ladies whose opinions I value.  One is a small homesteader who has fostered dozens of children, teaches about preparedness, and has written books on both topics; the other, a social rights activist and academic.  They were conversing about violence in television, as it relates to violence in society (and school shootings), and what to do about it.  One friend is planning a letter-writing campaign to advertisers; the other pointed out that there are wider socio-economic issues that also need to be addressed.


Of course, these being my friends, the conversation went from Andrea Dworkin to butchering a pig in under ten posts.  I love my friends!  but I digress…


On guns, violence, and mass shooting, I have many opinions.  Of course, opinions are like certain body parts…everyone has them, and mine is probably no better than any other.  I can’t really comment on violence in television, as I haven’t owned one in over a decade, but I will opine that getting rid of the teevee made me happier and richer, and that no longer having my nose rubbed in how the other half looks (skinny and flawless, with perfectly straight teeth and no wrinkles) and lives (with a gadget for everything, a perfectly clean and uncluttered house, with no money stress and perfect relationships) has had quite a positive impact on my body image, wallet, and general self-love.  In fact, my opinion on television is that a lot of folks would be better off without one at all, but that’s radical crazy talk, and I’ll stop now 🙂


Back to guns, though, I live on an acreage, with pets and livestock, out in the country.  Way out…too far to, say, take a badly injured animal to the vet.  Certainly too far for animal control or police to come deal with a rabid coyote.  Even when a neighbor had a rather large bear hanging out on her deck, it took several days for the Fish and Game folks to come out and even decide on a plan of action.  For these reasons, I consider guns necessary here, even for people who don’t hunt (and many do).  Guns can be very useful tools.


Of course, guns can be badly abused threats to society, too.  I don’t really understand the necessity for civilians to own handguns of any description, nor the need for even semi-automatic weapons.  I don’t think that an average city-dweller (who, I am presuming, likely does not hunt) to have any firearms at all, really.  Certainly not for home defense; I have read statistics (though I unfortunately don’t remember where) that you are more likely to accidentally shoot a family member than you are to on-purpose shoot an intruder.   I would imagine there is a significant chance of having your firearm taken and used on you, as well.  From what I gather (and this may or may not be backed up by actual statistics), a significant portion of the American folks who purchase a gun for home defense have limited training in the use of their firearm, practice with it rarely if at all, and keep their firearm in an unsafe place, like loaded in the bedside table, where a child can find the gun and shoot themselves or a parent or sibling.  A quick google search nets a disturbingly large number of hits for both possibilities.


Of course, I am Canadian, where handguns are tightly controlled, carrying (concealed or not) is not legal, and you need to take a course and get a license in order to legally have a long gun.  Our rules also include that you must lock up a gun that is not in active use, including during transport.  I think that’s a reasonable balance between the utility of a farm and hunting tool and its potential (lethal) human impact.  If anything, I would argue for tighter controls on handguns and possibly periodic re-certification (testing), though really, gun violence here is thankfully relatively rare, and in the areas with the most guns-per-capita, there are few shootings, and the majority of those are suicides or accidents.


I would also point out that on the same day as a mass school shooting in teh US, there was a mass school stabbing in China.  In the US case, there were nearly thirty fatalities.  In the China incident, there were numerous injuries, but nobody died.  While it’s true that guns are just a tool, they are a much more lethal tool than knives, so limiting access to guns really can have an impact on mortality rates when someone goes off the deep end and goes on a rampage.


As for violence in general, there are countless social, economic, and personal factors that can contribute to violent behavior.  I know this from long experience in dealing with violent clients at my day job.  I think that some level of violence is inherent in the human species, but I also believe we can mitigate or control violent impulses to a large extent, given the right conditions.  A positive upbringing, a loving family, enough wealth to have a safe, warm home and sufficient food to eat, no undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses, a belief in personal responsibility, appropriate prevention and treatment for addictions, a sense of social belonging (community), and a lack of bullying would go a long way toward that end.


Television does not address any of those areas, directly, but it does contribute to an overall culture where many of these things are accepted as a norm, or ridiculed as an oddity – TV can normalize bullying or misogyny or racism, or it can model something different.  Program writers write what sells – their goal is to get lots of butts on the couch and eyes on the screen, and leverage those eyes into advertizing dollars.  So, in a way, what you (and all your friends and neighbors) choose to watch (or not) can impact what ultimately gets written, produced, and broadcast, and thereby influences the culture all around you.   Writing advertisers and producers to decry violence on TV won’t have any immediate effect on gun violence, but maybe, over the long term, if enough people participated, it could shift the overall culture a bit to the gentler pole.  Turning the TV off entirely would likely have no social impact at all, but I’ve found that the personal impact is high, and my choice to do so has perhaps led a few others to re-think their watching habits, or even get rid of their own televisions, which, in my opinion, is also a net positive.


Ultimately, unfortunately, tragedies will continue to happen.  Sometimes, people just lose it, with or without a reason.  However, action, be it on an individual, community, or governmental level, is clearly called for.   Maybe you want a society with stronger gun control, or maybe you want a gentler society, or a better social safety net.  Great!  Do something!  That might be letter-writing, marches, lobbying, or just turning off the television for good.   Just do something, anything at all, to contribute to making that reality, and improve your world a little.  That, I think, is everyone’s responsibility, and is the only way that anything will change.

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The gift economy is a situation where people function without money or barter, but rather give away their surpluses to each other, with the reasonable expectation of getting something back eventually, and keeping things roughly even.


Bartering is making an explicit trade for items or services, without money.


While we were away in Alaska, we had the 16 year old daughter of a neighbor watch our livestock for us.  We never did agree on a price before we left; she was reluctant to talk money.


What does this have to do with barter or the gift economy, you ask?   Well, you see, while we were away, Hubby and I talked it over, and decided approximately how much we thought the girl should be paid.  When we were assessing that, we considered the actual work she was doing, our own level of need (desperation) for someone to do the work, the difficulty of finding someone reliable to watch our place for us, and how much we valued our relationships with the girl, her parents, her aunt and uncle, and her grandparents, who all live in our community.


When we got home, and I called the girl to see about paying her, she quoted a price within a few dollars of what Hubby and I had decided to pay her anyways.


I had always felt that a gift economy would not work very well in our current culture, because our culture encourages people to be greedy and selfish, and only look out for themselves.  However, based on a sixteen year old girl coming up with a price that values our relationship as much as her labor, and us coming to a price that values our relationship as much as our money, I think it may be possible, after all.  In our relationship-based transaction, everybody was quite satisfied with the result, and felt the deal was fair.


Thinking about it a bit more, we’ve been gifted bushels of grain from local farmers, too, for our goats and chickens; in return, we’ve gifted back cartons of eggs and pints of jam.  We’ve received vegetables, help moving, and lawn mowing, and given labor and preserves in return.  None of this was really formally bartered; rather, people assumed that they would get something back, eventually, when the time came.  And, so far, they (and we) have.


In a similar vein, my father is in the process of building a house, and is temporarily living in a place where he does not have enough space for his vehicles.   We volunteered to let him park them on our acreage for the winter.  We did not want anything for doing this; we value our relationship with Dad, and wanted to help out.   However, Dad wanted to return the favor, and has hauled away decades worth of accumulated garbage that was sitting around the acreage – old appliances, half-rotten furniture, boxes of empty bottles, worn-out tires…junk that we inherited when we bought the place, and that we have not had any way to remove.   It is a huge relief to not have to figure out how to get rid of all that crap, and we feel like we got the better end of the deal…by a long shot.   Dad maintains that HE is the one who is coming out way ahead.


So I am now revising my opinion on the gift economy.   In situations where there are long-standing relationships, or the expectation of long-standing relationships developing, and where everyone involved values those relationships, a gift economy could work out very well.  Without stable relationships, however, and a certain level of trust, I still think it would fall apart pretty quickly.  So far, I have to say, accomplishing things within a community where relationships are valued, is much more relaxed than trying to hire or accomplish some of these things in the formal economy.   We’re fortunate to live in such a stable, tight-knit community, where bartering and gifting work out so well.


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It Takes A Village

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Even with Baby M being only three months, I can see how this is true.

We’ve been traveling for the last couple of weeks, up to Alaska to go to my sister’s wedding.  Travel with a baby would be challenging enough, but trying to eat at restaurants while working around Baby M’s allergies was pure frustration.  We were not as successful as we hoped we would be, and there were several nights where M was back to inconsolable screaming and general misery.  Surrounded by family, however, there were always willing hands to pass him off to, so that we could take naps or just get a break.  We even got to eat entire meals, while they were still hot, using both hands, without interruption!  It was nice to have so much help.


We have such wonderful families and friends, and lots of support, but now we’re realizing how unfortunate it is that everyone is so spread out.  I wish we could gather everyone in one place nearby, but it’s just not going to happen.  Aah, well, at least we’re lucky enough to have such amazing people in our lives.


I will get back to regular posting once we’ve unpacked and gotten the house and barn back in order…

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There was this lady.  Her name was Ellen.


I’ve never met Ellen, but I have had conversations with her for a long time.  Years, probably.  She was a kind lady, and thoughtful.  We haunted a couple of the same internet forums on homesteading and the like.


Ellen died this week, of a fast-moving cancer.  She had shared that she was ill, and had been updating us on the forum, but we had not heard from her in a couple of weeks.  We had been worried.


I did not know Ellen at all, really; how much can you claim to know of someone whose face you’ve never seen, whose voice you’ve never heard?  And yet, I feel a loss.  She was part of my community.


It’s not a huge community, and I don’t know everyone’s real name, but it is a community nonetheless.  You see, these are people I turn to when I have a half-frozen baby goat who’s been rejected by his mama at 3am.  Or when I don’t know which heirloom tomato is best-suited to the hot, dry bed on the south side of the house.  People who have shared some small parts of their lives with me on line; some sorrows and some joys, as well as some mundane moments that really only another gardener would understand anyhow.   People who have congratulated me on my pregnancy, and commiserated when I whined that I was too fat to be able to plant my own tomatoes this year (Hubby’s doing that for me, as I type).  People who cared enough to send flowers to Ellen when she was ill, and to send a baby gift to me.  People who understand, instantly, why I would choose to live in the middle of nowhere and keep goats and chickens.  Good people.


I think there are lots of different kinds of communities, and I think it is a mistake to dismiss online communities as having no value.  Though I may never sit and have a cup of tea with these folks, I have turned to them for advice and support, and gotten it.  I value their opinions.  I appreciate the company when I’m up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep.   And, like people who’ve met on a dating site, the friendships can continue beyond and outside of the online world.


I will never meet Ellen, now.  I doubt her family knows anything about me, or most of the online community who has been breathlessly waiting for news.  People who, in their own way, were touched by a near-stranger, and are now mourning her loss.


Goodbye, Ellen.  Maybe we’ll meet someday.

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The dogs ran away yesterday morning.  Probably chasing a deer, or possibly a flock of geese (the geese are starting to come back, now), but regardless, they took off.


Our neighbour to the south, the one who is a little odd, called in the afternoon to tell Hubby that he’d seen them at the end of his driveway that morning.  Given that he’s terrified by the mastiff, Cherry, I’m shocked that he did not immediately call to demand that we do something; as it was, his less-than-timely call meant that we had no idea that the dogs were even missing until enough time had elapsed that they could be anywhere.


When I got home from work, Hubby broke the news – Fox and Cherry were gone.  Poppy the puppy had actually stuck around the yard, which is pretty amazing, but the other two were AWOL.  We got back in the car and drove up and down all the grid roads within several miles of our place, hollering out the rolled-down windows, but to no avail.  We consoled ourselves by saying that they’d probably show up at the house by dark, but they didn’t.


We didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.


This morning, our helpful neighbour called to tell us they’d been spotted a mile south and one east from their place…at suppertime the night before.  Helpful.  However, he did spend an hour giving me the names, phone numbers, and approximate locations of every neighbour within a five mile radius, so that we could start calling around.  Instead, we got in the car and did another little tour of the neighbourhood, starting from where the dogs had last been seen.


Driving up the road, we saw a yellow dog – we sped up to catch it, only to find another neighbour walking her retriever.  We explained our situation, and she was sympathetic, but had not seen our strays.  Back on the road we went, stopping every mile or so to holler both dogs’ names.   We went as far as we thought the dogs were likely to have roamed, but turned around to drive home, empty handed.


Then a truck came barreling out of a laneway, flashing its lights.  We stopped to talk to the driver, who asked us if we were looking for a couple of dogs.  Upon hearing that, indeed, we were, he told us that they’d been spotted just up the road, but we needed to hurry and catch them, as they had been near a herd of cows just about to calve, and the farmer who owned the cattle was as like as not to shoot them if they harassed the cows at all.  He also mentioned that they had gone into at least one yard, and scared the owner enough that they just about got shot then and there.




The fellow told us he’d help us find them, and waved us into his yard.  He turned to Hubby and asked if he’d ever ridden a quad before; Hubby had not.  Buddy kind of laughed and said it was easy.


Well, Hubby learned quick.  He and the kind neighbour were out on the quads for about three hours, driving through muddy fields and snow, looking for tracks, and stopping at all of the neighbours’ houses to see if anyone had seen the wayward mutts.  Lots of folks had seen them…and chased them out of their yards.  Nobody had thought to grab them and check their collars for a phone number; I guess that’s just not done here, or maybe they were just too intimidating.  Quite a way to meet the neighbours – having to apologize for our dogs scaring them or harassing their livestock…not exactly the way to make a good name for yourself!


By suppertime, the dogs still hadn’t turned up, and the guys had to give up.  I followed them up the road in the car, back to the kind neighbour’s house.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement at the top of a hill, maybe a quarter or half a mile off the road.  I pulled over, hoping…


…And sure enough, there was Cherry.  Barking.  But not coming towards me at all, despite my calling, pleading, and offering treats.  Dumb dog made me slog through a quarter mile of slightly-more-than-boot-deep snow, pregnant and puffing, to go collect her.  She sure was happy to see me, though.  I stood and hollered for Fox for a couple of minutes, but did not get any response, so I took Cherry back to the car and headed out to catch up with the boys.   We all went back to where I’d found Cherry, and after a few minutes’ walking and calling, Fox came out of the bushes, too, though she was also pretty wary of approaching us.


Having missed supper, and spent a cold night on the loose, you can imagine how happy they are to have full bellies and a warm mat to sleep on – Cherry hasn’t moved in a few hours, not even a twitch.  We’re pretty relieved, too, but sheesh, what a way to meet the neighbours…

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