Welcome to The Deliberate Agrarian

Dear Friends & Visitors,

I am taking a break from blogging so I can focus more on faith, family and livin’ the good life. I’m also trying to write and publish another Whizbang Book. I plan to report back here on March first (2007).

If you are new to this blog, I invite you to check out a selection of my most popular blog essays at this link: Deliberate Agrarian Essays

If you have come here after reading the recent Farmshow magazine article about my garlic powder business, you can find your way to my garlic-related blogs starting with this photo essay: How I Plant my Garlic

If you have stopped by here after searching the internet for information about the Whizbang Chicken Plucker or small-scale poultry processing, you’ll find numerous essays related to those subjects on this blog. I suggest you begin with the photo essay, Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-Year-Old Son

If you would like to learn more about the subject of Christian agrarianism, I recommend my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian

Thank you for stopping by.

Best wishes,

Herrick Kimball
a.k.a., The Deliberate Agrarian

Some Odds and an End

My Son’s New Job
My oldest son, Chaz, has less interest in agrarian things than anyone else in the family. But he has the most agrarian job. After getting laid off at the lumberyard a few weeks after school started, he landed a job at the local rat farm.

That’s right, I said rat farm. There is a man in our town who started raising rats and mice around 10 years ago to sell to labs, pet stores, and zoos. His business has grown considerably. In fact, he will be moving his operation to a much larger facility in a few months.

Chaz works half days and on the weekend while going to vocational school half days. He likes the job better than the lumberyard.

Homeschool College?
Jim Bartlett’s Biblical Concourse of Home Universities web site is well worth checking out. The internet has opened up a world of wonderful possibilities for higher education. The high cost of higher education and the debt incurred is one reason to consider alternatives to traditional higher education. But there is an even more important reason as communicated in this quote on the home page of Jim's site:


It's happening in colleges all across the country. Instead of being educational institutions designed to encourage the free discussion of ideas, universities have become prisons of propaganda, indoctrinating students with politically correct (and often morally repugnant) ideas about American life and culture.
Jim Nelson Black


Christian Agrarian Cookbook
My thanks to Rick Saenz for setting up an online cookbook where the Christian agrarian internet community can share recipes . Check it out at this link: Simple Food


Garden Huckleberries
I see that the Heirloom Acresseed catalog sells seed for growing garden huckleberries. I have never heard of this unusual fruit. I’m curious. Does anyone reading this have firsthand experience with garden huckleberries?

Here’s a link that will tell you a little about Garden Huckleberries


A Nice Book Review
My thanks also go out to Kristina Duckett way up in Alaska for her recent review of my book, “Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian.” Here’s an excerpt from the review:


if you feel God drawing you back to the land and to a simpler
lifestyle, you should go immediately and find a copy of this book. It
may convict you. It may even upset you a bit if you aren't in full
agreement. But above all, it will encourage you.


You can read the whole review at Kristina’s blog, Here is the link: Our Little Slice of Heaven

Canned Venison
After reading my recent blog post about the fun, fast way to skin a deer, 'Granny Miller" wrote to tell me how good canned venison is.

I went to her blog and found it described as “ A Journal of Agrarian Politics, Philosophy and Practice. That sounds like a nice blog, and it is. You can read about canned venison here: Granny Miller’s Canned Venison

While you are there, check out the blog titled: Husband & wife trees

Property Taxes
You’ve heard me complain about New York state’s criminally-high property taxes. Well, just this afternoon I heard on the radio that a national study found nine of the top ten highest taxed counties in the U.S are in upstate N.Y. One of of the ten is Cayuga County. That’s where I live. Perhaps I should move.

Kill Your Television
I think it’s a fine idea.
Kill Your Television

Soapmakers: Have You Seen This?
Handcrafted Rock Soap


Pastor McConnell’s Latest
Thomas McConnell, the mule-logging Missouri pastor, has written another hard-hitting and sobering analysis of where we are at in his recent blog essay. You can read it at this link: The God Behind Pagan America


The Cremation of Sam McGee
I’ve heard a well-known Christian man speak fondly of the poetry of Robert W. Service.. So I looked up one of his more famous poems, The Cremation of Sam Mc Gee, and read it aloud to my son, Robert. He listened intently. When I was finished I said, "What did you think of that?"

After a moment of thought, he replied, "What’s the point?"

I thought about it a moment and said, "Well, I don’t know. I don’t think there is a point."

I was downright impressed with his analysis of the poem.

If I Could Write A Poem
If I could write a poem, I would write something like To Be of Use by Marge Piercy. This poem is beautiful and it has a point. It begins…



The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.


You can read the rest of the poem (and see the fitting picture attached to it) here: To Be Of Use

Now For The End
I’ve given you some Odds, now for the end.

It is time for me to jump into work head first and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. I have been cramming a lot of blog posts into the past few days because I have a self-imposed deadline to stop blogging and focus my efforts on other things.

Focus is the key word.

I’ve told you of my agrarian vision, I’ve told you of my non-agrarian day job, I’ve told you that’s all about Faith, Family, & Livin’ The Good Life. With those things in mind I am taking a deliberate leave of absence from this blog.

I want to write and publish another agrarian how-to book in the next couple of months. Besides that, I am convicted that I must refocus time in God’s word with my children. If scripture reading and family devotions fall by the wayside, the Christian agrarian life is nothing more than a hollow shell of what it can and should be.

Perhaps we will read and memorize a portion of the Psalms as a family. Now there is poetry that, most assuredly,has a point!

I do not know when I will return for good, but I will only be, as that poem says, "just out of sight." I will report back here on March 1st.

God bless you.

Herrick Kimball

Go Listen to The New John Mesko Interview

In my book, “Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian,” I have a chapter titled, “Returning to the Family Economy.” In the final paragraph of that chapter I wrote:


“There are some brave and innovative pioneers who are establishing wonderful examples of family economies. Joel Salatin comes to mind immediately. There are many others testing the waters and paving the way. If the task were easy, more people would be doing it. Nevertheless, the goal of bringing fathers home and reuniting families in life and work is noble and necessary. The difficulty of attaining an ideal is no excuse for not pursuing it.”


Another brave and innovative person who is helping to pave the way is John Mesko. Last year, "good farmer John" left his career in the industrial ag system to return to the small farm in Minnesota where he grew up. He and his family are working to establish a viable family economy by farming in a way that is contrary to the more common industrial approach.

John is an advocate of small, diversified, sustainable, family farming. He is also a qualified and capable spokesman for this Chriatian agrarian way of life that he and his family are pursuing.

Jim Bartlett at the web site, Biblical Concourse of Home Universities has recently interviewed John. The interview is titled "Agriculture and Economics: Yime is Not Money." You can download and hear the entire interview at this link: Biblical Concourse of Home Universities. Look over on the top, right hand side of the page for the interview.

The Mesko family’s Lighthouse Farm web site can be found at this link: Lighthouse Farm

Yeoman Furniture
Part 2
(Waste Not, Want Not)

Dateline: 14 January 2007

I wrote a blog awhile back explaining what Yeoman Furniture is and I showed you the shaker-style wood box I made. Well here’s a story about my most recent piece of yeoman furniture….

It all started with an old wooden desk that had been kicking around our house for a long time. It was maybe 50 years old and nothing particularly special. Some of the drawers were broken as were many of the glue joints in the framework that contained the drawers. If the desk was a genuine antique, it would have been worth repairing. Or if it was something really well-made to start with, it probably would have justified fixing. But it was neither of those things. It looked like a lot of worn-out old desks that end up in pieces out by the curb to be hauled away during “spring cleanup days” in Moravia (the nearest small town to me).

I had my boys carry the worn out desk to my workshop so we could knock it apart and throw it in the woodstove. If nothing else it would help keep my shop warm. But as I looked at the desk it occurred to me that maybe I could recycle the wood into some sort of project. What a great lesson it would be for my sons to see the old desk be put to better use than firewood.

I decided that I would build two hanging shelves with small drawers underneath the shelf. There were two sections of wall in the house that I would size the shelves to fit on. I would make the longer shelf, with four drawers and, at the same time, my son Robert would make a shorter version, with three drawers.

Here’s a picture of Robert in my workshop with all the pieces of the desk piled on the workbench.

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The wood in the desk was primarily poplar, with some other lower grade wood that I could not identify. The desktop had a mahogany veneer over a solid wood core of poplar. Here’s a picture of Robert routing an edge detail around the shelf board. This was the first time he has used a router to make a decorative edge.

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Robert and I plugged away at the project off and on over the course of three or four weeks. There was a lot of table saw cutting in the drawers. I did that part because I don’t want Robert to use the table saw yet. But I do let him use the radial arm saw and he used that to cut many parts to size.

Every single piece of wood in the shelves came from the old desk, even the knobs on the little drawers. We carved them out of a piece of ¾”wood. I carved my four pulls and Robert carved his three. The challenge was to make them as alike as possible. We carved then using a little, tabletop bandsaw and a mini sanding wheel in a Dremel tool. They came out remarkably well.

Then we went to the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company on the internet and picked out colors for our shelves. Robert chose Barn Red and I decided to try black. Here is a picture of Robert painting his shelf with milk paint at the kitchen table.

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After the milk paint dried, we brushed boiled linseed oil over the paint and rubbed it in with some 320 grit wet-dry sandpaper. This rendered a very smooth finish. The sanding also rubbed away the paint in some places, which gave the finish a comfortable, worn, older look—just what you want with yeoman furniture. Then we painted on a few more coats of linseed oil. Each coat was left on for maybe 15 minutes before wiping excess oil off and letting it dry. Here’s what Robert’s finished shelf looks like…

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Robert took a real interest in this creative project and was very pleased with the finished result. He decided to use the woodburner he got for Christmas to put his initials and date on the back of the shelf. Then he burned his name into the back on one of the little drawers. He felt like he messed up his name in the drawer but I think he did just fine…

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Robert asked if he would be able to put the shelf in his own house someday. I told him yes, of course, and we can make other furniture for his future home too.

Then there is my shelf, which we put in the kitchen. Marlene was concerned that the black milk paint would not look very good, but she likes the shelf just fine now. A black, hand-rubbed finish with worn spots looks “authentically old.”

The pottery pieces on the shelf (seen below) are from Sturbridge Village. We went there for vacation a couple years ago and James came into possession of the handcrafted pottery as a result of winning a turnip toss contest. I wrote about it here.

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My Young And Short "Poetic Phase"

I was 18 years old when I developed an interest in poetry. It started with a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow name Excelsior. I was so inspired by this poem and its message that I took it upon myself to memorize it. I adopted it as my favorite non-biblical poem. I still like it very much.

Excelsior tells the story of a boy on a journey. He bears a banner with the word "Excelsior." He encounters dire warnings and temptations and such along his journey but he does not give in. He does not falter as he marches on. It is a poem of youthful idealism and determination. Here is the first stanza of the poem:


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
Excelsior!

You can read all of Excelsior here

I liked memorizing that poem so much that I determined to find another that I liked and memorize it too. So I searched through poetry books at the library,, looking for just the right poem. I found it in Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar. It is a Scottish tale and I am of Scottish descent, so maybe there was a genetic appeal. Then again, I’m sure it was the brashness and romantic bravery of young Lochinvar. Such things appeal to idealistic 18-year-old boys. Actually, such things appeal to idealistic 48-year-old men too. The poem begins:



O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm'd, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar


Now, doesn’t that just fire up something in you? I love the part, later in the poem, where it says:


The bride kiss'd the goblet: the knight took it up,
He quaff'd off the wine, and he threw down the cup.


Just reading that makes me want to quaff off some wine and thrown down the cup (and I don’t even like wine). Then, of course, there is the "fair Ellen." This is a thrilling tale and you can read all of Lochinvar here.


While in this very short "poetry phase" of my young life, I decided to write a poem of my own, and I did. It was not a great poem but I was satisfied with it at the time. It was a poem that summed up my feelings as I was about to graduate from high school. My poem has one thing in common with the two above poems—it speaks of initiative and action.


Few Act

People’s lives are filled with dreams.
Some dream of the past.
Some dream of the future.
Some dream of life,
and love, and happiness.
Some dream of wealth,
and power and recognition.
Some dream of new shoes,
a car, or a new house,
Yes, everyone dreams.

Few act.

The world is full of unhappy dreamers.


I never ever anticipated that I would one day publish that poem. But thirty years later, along comes this remarkable thing called the internet where anyone can publish their poetry. And a lot of people do. They put me to shame. But, just for the record, I once wrote a poem.

What is Agrarianism?
What is Christian Agrarianism?

[Dateline: January 2007]

It is incumbent upon Christians to understand what agrarianism and Christian agrarianism is all about. I say that because the Bible is an agrarian book. It doesn’t speak specifically about agrarianism because it was inherent in the culture from which the book came.

Modern, industrialized life is a relatively new phenomenon in history. For thousands of years, even up to the early days of America’s founding, most people in the world lived within some form of agrarian culture. The closest thing to modern industrialism in biblical times was found in the ungodly cities and city-based cultures of the heathen peoples.

God Himself planted the first garden, showing Adam how it was done. Gardening and caring for creation was man’s original calling. Did God ever tell us to leave this calling? I may be wrong, but I do not think that He did. God calls His people to do many different things in His word, but every one of those things can (and, I believe, should) be done within the original agrarian mandate.

Jesus Christ was born in an agrarian setting (a manger is an animal feedbox or trough). His parables were almost all agrarian based and best understood by an agrarian culture. For example, references to sheep and the shepherd are understood by modern Christians, but a greater depth of understanding comes to those who have actually owned sheep and know their character.

I believe God is working in the hearts of many of His people in this time of history to bring them face to face with the reality of the ungodly industrialized culture in which we live. These people are realizing that the church of Christ has, in so many ways, taken on attributes of heathen industrialized culture. God is leading many of His fold, into a better understanding of what Christian-agrarian culture is.

Understanding is the first step to repentance, which is to say it is the first step to changing one’s worldview. Then comes a life change.

Am I saying you should change your lifestyle from what it is to a more agrarian-centered one? No I am not. I would never tell someone that. But if you seriously, earnestly, endeavor to understand what agrarianism is and, in particular, what Christian agrarianism is, I have a strong feeling that the Lord will convict you. And if you heed the conviction, your life will change. It may change gradually, in little ways. It may change faster and more radically. But it will change.

That said, the question in so many people’s minds is: “Well, what is agrarianism anyway?” Or, “What exactly is Christian agrarianism?”

I like to define Christian agrarianism as “Christianity lived within the agrarian paradigm.” A paradigm is an example, a pattern, or a framework. The only problem with my definition is that it does not explain what agrarian means. Well, I’ve come to believe that pure, undefiled agrarianism is, essentially, Christianity. How’s that for a circular definition?

The fact is, agrarianism and Christian agrarianism is, on one hand, simple, but on the other hand, it’s a very large concept to grasp. I think it is so large because we as a culture have strayed so far. Understanding the definition will require some reading, some thinking, and, of course, some prayerful searching.

Several men have written on the matter of agrarianism and Christian agrarianism. I think one of the better introductions to this subject comes from David Rockett. I suggest you read and consider the following articles by Mr. Rockett:

What is Agrarianism?  

Questions and Answers About Agrarianism 

The Prima Facie Credibility of Covenantal Agrarianism 

Creation & Community 

Howard Douglas King has written extensively and well on the subject of Christian agrarianism. His complete writings were once easily found on one website but that is no longer the case. You can, however read the following article which I think is very good.

The Biblical Basis of Christian Agrarianism

For a more “hardcore” discussion on the subject of agrarianism and Christian agrarianism, I recommend the next two essays by Michael Bunker. Keep in mind that I’m not endorsing everything that all the men I recommend in this blog have written. I’ve noticed that Mr. Bunker upsets some people with some of his writings. But, on the subject of Christian agrarianism, Mr. Bunker has written some thought provoking things that I believe are scriptural.

Agrarianism vs Urbanism

Towards a Biblical Agrarian Culture

Allan C. Carlson of The Howard Center is another Christian man who has written well of agrarian themes.

Then there is the little-known Christian-agrarian book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. Rather than explain Christian agrarianism in great depth, the book presents a series of short, personal stories that serve to show the practical outworking of a Christian agrarian worldview in the life of one very common Christian man and his family. I am that Christian man.

I am a small fish in a big ocean, espousing something so incredibly simple, so biblically fundamental, and so contrary to the established norm that it comes across as newfangled and strange to the average modern churchgoer. Christian agrarianism is looked upon by many with great suspicion.

Is Christian agrarianism a cult? Is it a way to make money? Is it retreatist theology? Is it contrary to the great commission? No. No. No. And no. It is none of those things.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the above writings and judge for yourself what the “motivation” behind this movement is. If you do that with sincerity, I believe you will come away, not only with a clearer understanding, but, more than that, with a godly vision for personal, family, and cultural renewal.

The Fun, Fast Way to Skin a Deer

Dateline: 12 January 2007


Some people live to hunt. Some people hunt to live. I don’t really hunt at all. I just didn’t grow up in a hunting family. My stepfather never even owned a gun. But, I’ve got guns and I think hunting animals is a fine thing to do. That being the case, I have encouraged my sons in their hunting desires.

Next year Robert will be old enough to gun hunt. It’s difficult to find a place to hunt deer if you don’t have land of your own. But we’ll find a place for Robert to hunt. Maybe we’ll set him up in a tree stand. Or maybe I’ll go with him. Or maybe Marlene will hunt deer with him.

Believe it or not, Marlene bought a license and went deer hunting a couple times this year with a friend of hers. It was pretty much the talk of the neighborhood. “Did you hear Marlene Kimball went deer hunting?” She didn’t bring home the venison but we still got two deer. That’s because when you live in whitetail country, you don’t have to hunt to get a nice deer. All you have to do is let your deer hunting neighbors know that you’ll take a deer if they get an extra one. That’s one nice thing about rural community.

For the past six years we have gotten at least one deer a year from Marlene’s brother or nephew or our neighbor, Brian Kehoe. This year Brian’s mother called just before sundown and said Brian was on his way with a deer.

We hauled the beast (a big doe) out of the back of Brian’s pickup and laid it on a plastic tarp in the back yard under the illumination of an outside flood light. We watched as he gutted the animal. We’ve watched him gut two deer for us now. I reckon I could do it myself. But not as easily and quickly as he does it. Afterwards, I hauled the animal’s innards, wrapped in the tarp, way out to the other side of the field across from our house (which Brian’s parents own). I remember there was a bright, full moon and the light reflected off the dusting of snow in the field so that it sparkled. I thought of the contrast: warm deer guts and twinkling ice crystals.

We hung the deerl from a ceiling hook in my workshop. Three days later, we skinned it, cut the meat off and froze it in plastic bags. We’re far from experts when it comes to cutting up a deer. We just slice the meat off the animal and package most of it for stir fry and stew meat. We grind the small pieces up like hamburger. Marlene made some sausage out of the ground meat.

The best meat on the deer is the backstrap--a strip down either side of the spine. Last year, Brian showed us how to cut it into “butterfly” pieces. Those will be cooked on the grill and enjoyed next summer.

A week or so later, another neighbor shot a smaller doe and called to see if we wanted it. Marlene had just been saying how nice it would be to have another deer in the freezer before the season ended. He delivered it a short while later and I was glad to see it was already gutted. We hung the animal from a tree limb on the edge of the woods behind our house.

The next day, a guy I work with told me how to skin a deer real easy, in one minute, using a golf ball. The idea made sense to me and the following pictures show how it is done…..

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To start with, you have to cut the skin around the deer’s neck and pull it down a bit. Then put the golf ball underneath and tie a rope around it, as shown in the above photo. Since I don’t golf, I used an appropriately sized rock that I found on the ground.

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I cut the lower legs off the deer with a hacksaw. Then I sliced the skin up the legs to the underside of the animal, and made sure the skin on the underside was cut all the way up to the neck. You could say I “unzipped” the animal’s hide so it would pull off freely. Then I tied the other end of the rope to the ball hitch on my 4WD Explorer. My son Robert drove ahead slowly while I took the picture above.

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It takes a lot of power to pull the hide off a deer. The first rope I had on the critter snapped when the skin was half off. It was cheap sisal rope. We used a length of cheap nylon rope next and it held.. I don’t know if my $600 “rice burner” car would have been able to do the job. A tractor would surely have the power. The skin came off clean as the proverbial whistle.

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This final picture shows James and Robert with the just-shucked hide and the deer carcass, ready for cutting up. “Golf ball skinning” was so easy and clean and downright fun that I reckon we’ll use the method to skin all our deer from now on.

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Besides meat for us to eat,a deer also provides bones for our dog, Annie, to chew on. We'll give her a hunk of bone with some meat still on it and she's in heaven.

Deer meat is real lean but there is fat on the animal's rump and a hunk of that gets hung out on the bird feeder for the woodpeckers.

I tied off the head, neck and rib cage out behind the chicken house for a few days. Annie chewed on it and our 21 chickens swarmed over it, pecking off meaty morsels for themselves. Many people do not realize that chickens are meat eaters.

The skin could have been taken to a hide buyer that is a couple miles away, but James wanted to keep it. One of these days, we will seriously pursue learning how to tan a deer hide.

Then we disposed of the head and remaining carcass by burning it in the backyard with some household papers and sticks gleaned from the woods.

No mess, no fuss.

====================

If you like hunting, trapping, guns, and stuff like that, I invite you to read some more of my essays...

How Not to Shoot The Bull

Trapping Class

The Charging Woodchuck

Going to The Trapper's Convention

Boys Will Be....Warriors (Part 1)

Boys Will Be...Warriors (Part 2)

Rabbit Hunting Boy

Life Lessons From an Old Maine Woodsman

Shootin' Dad's Handgun

Needed: More Americans With Guns

How to Butcher a Chicken

Molasses Crumb Cake Recipe

All this talk of community cookbooks makes me want to post a favorite recipe. This recipe for Molasses Crumb Cake comes from Mary Edmonds, who I mentioned in the blog before last.

Many a morning I sat at the Edmonds' kitchen table, looking out over their fields, with Skaneateles lake in the far distance, and had a piece of this Molasses Crumb Cake before Clancy and I headed out to whatever construction or remodeling project we were working on.

This cake tastes just fine right out of the oven, but it gets heavier and tastes better after it sets a day. A spoonfull of whipped cream is real good with molasses cake, but not a necessity.

Molasses Crumb Cake

4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 sticks margarine

Mix ingredients into crumb mixture. Take out one cup and set aside.

2 cups boiling water
1 cup dark molasses
1 tbsp baking soda

In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add molasses and baking soda. Remove from heat and add to crumb mixture. Pour into a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes.

Note: we eschew margarine in our family so Marlene uses butter. She also cuts back on the sugar and it still tastes just fine.

A Christian-Agrarian Community Cookbook?

I've been blogging about community and my previous blog entry was about a community cookbook. The thought occurred to me that someone should put together a Christian-Agrarian Community Cookbook.

I don't cook much and Marlene doesn't have time to put together such a cookbook, so I'm tossing the ball up in the air hoping someone else will catch it and run with it.

I think it would be neat if agrarian bloggers and interested agrarian readers out there all contributed some of their favorite recipes. A little bio of each contributor could be included in the book. There are all sorts of other interesting and useful things that could be included in such a cookbook.

It would be a community project.

Well, how about it?

Thinking About Community in a Cookbook

It was one of Marlene’s cookbooks that got me to thinking about the subject of community in my last blog entry. The cookbook is a 238 page, plastic-comb-bound, community cookbook that was put together and sold to raise money for the New Hope Fire Department woman’s auxilliary. I think I have that correct based on my memory. I can’t be sure because the cover and first few pages are missing, which gives you an idea of how much use the book has gotten since the early 1980’s when it was published.

(By the way, New Hope is the rural crossroads town that my family moved to from a suburban housing project outside Syracuse in 1973, when I was in ninth grade)

Such cookbooks, containing recipes from people living in a given community, are common in rural areas of America. They are nothing new. I have a Depression-era community cookbook published by the "Fidelis Class" of the Congregational Sunday School in Moravia, N.Y.

I think community cookbooks are wonderful expressions of community and, as I leafed through Marlene’s cookbook, looking at the names of the contributors, I found myself thinking about some of those people...

Janet Badman (strawberry rhubarb crisp)
When my family moved to New Hope, we attended a little Baptist church that was in a refurbished one room school house. Kenneth and Janet Badman and their four children (all close to me in age) attended that church. They had a small dairy (milking maybe 70 cows) and crop farm on Glen Haven Road. Before long, I was helping them unload hay wagons in the summer. After high school I worked a full year on their farm and saved enough to buy my first car. Janet died about a year ago. Her husband and two sons still run the family farm. They are the hardest working farm folk I’ve ever known.

Hazel Badman (fruit salad)
Hazel was Kenneth Badman’s mom. She and her husband operated the farm before her son took it over. Hazel lived in a house by the main barn while Kenneth and Janet lived a couple stone throws down the road. Every day at milking time, Hazel would give "Nutty Buddy" ice cream cones to her son and grandsons and me, the hired hand. It was like a little family tradition, and quite a treat.

Joann Head (rye bread dip)
The head family has a nice dairy farm on the state road at the north end of town. Three sons operate the farm. Joann is married to the youngest son, Leonard. I got to know Leonard one summer when I helped to build a big addition on the back of their cow barn. They gave me an old telephone pole that was lying around and I used it to hook up a temporary electric service when I built my house.

Jane Jayne (Grandfather Walter’s cheese pastry)
Wally and Jane Jayne have a dairy farm on Old Salt Road. The farm was cited in 1946 by the governor of New York as a Century farm which means it had been in the same family for over 100 years. Wally is the sixth generation Jayne to farm the land. Fact is, Wally’s ancestor bought the farmland from William Tuttle who was deeded one square mile of land in payment for his three years of service in the Revolutionary War. The Jane’s even have William Tuttle’s military discharge signed by General Washington himself. I first met Wally the summer I got a job helping a local guy spray paint barns and silos. We painted Wally’s barn roof. None of the Jayne children were interested in the dairy so Wally sold off his herd a couple years ago. Their farm is around the corner and just down the road from where I now live.

Kay Nast (zucchini ham casserole)
Jerome and Kay Nast had a small dairy farm on White Road (around the corner and just up the road from me). Jerome also drove school bus. Both Jerome and Kay have passed away but their son still runs the farm and has a firewood business. I buy my firewood from him every year.

Anna Buckler (Vermont pork chops)
Anna’s father, Les Ready, had a place on the state road south of town. In his later years he kept his hand in farming by growing a couple acres of potatoes. One year, I spent two days helping to pick the potato crop. At lunch time, we all sat down to a great home-cooked meal that Anna and her mom had prepared.

Olive Adams (cider cake)
Gerry and Olive Adams lived in a tidy little house at the bottom of New Hope Road. I remember Olive teaching Sunday school to the Badman boys and me at the little Baptist church. She was a wonderful artist and gave me painting lessons (but I was a hopeless case). She and my mother became best friends. Both Olive and Gerry have passed away.

Mary Murphy (Swiss chard and spinach pie)
Mary Murphy was my mother. The swiss chard and spinach pie was her only recipe contribution to the community cookbook. It was a pretty good dish that I had forgotten about. Maybe I can get Marlene to make it for me someday.

Thelma Stayton (oatmeal crispies)
Thelma’s husband, Don, had his own excavation business. When I built my house, I hired Don to dig me a well with his backhoe (it was only 10 feet deep). He and his son, Gary, put my septic system in. He lived close enough that he just drove the backhoe from his house.

Lois Weed (four way cake roll)
Leland and Lois Weed and their children also attended the little Baptist church. Leland owned New Hope Mills. I worked for him at the mill bagging pancake mix after school, on Saturdays, and during vacations for awhile when I was in high school. It was a great little job just a short walk up the road from my home. Leland passed away a few years ago. Lois attends the Baptist church my family now goes to. It is in a big, remodeled, farm pole barn. Her youngest son, Dale, is the Pastor.

Mrs. John Nemec, Sr. (European cheese pie)
The Nemec family has a farm that backs up against the banks of Bear Swamp creek, which ran across from my house, and I spent a lot of time as a teenager exploring down the creek. I’ve never really known the Nemecs that well. But I’ll never forget that when my dad broke his leg, and was out of work for months (he is a diabetic and doesn’t heal well), and money was tight, I came home from school one day to find a load of firewood in the driveway. I was told that John Nemec’s son, Steve and his brother in law, Bill Carmon (Jane Carmon-hot fudge sauce), cut it and gave it to us. That was a real neighborly thing to do.

Mary Edmonds (molasses crumb cake)
After getting a year of building trades school under my belt, I came home to try and find a carpentry job. I wasn’t very confident in myself, but The Badman’s, who I had once worked for, told me to go see their neighbor, Clancy Edmonds, about a job. They had already spoken well of me to Clancy. I got the job and worked with him for five years jacking up camps, repairing barns and remodeling houses, mostly right in the New Hope area. Clancy and Mary came from New Jersey and bought the old Freeman farm. During the summers, I spent a lot of afternoons helping Clancy get his hay in the barn. When I built my house, Clancy donated a set of stairs he once salvaged from a camp on Skaneateles Lake, and an old Andersen window he salvaged out of the Freeman house when he remodeled it. The stairs and the window are still part of my house.

Kay Scavone (noodles and cabbage)
Mrs. Scavone was an elderly lady who lived in a run-down old trailer. She attended the little Baptist church. I remember sitting next to her at a Jack Van Impe crusade in Binghamtom and when it came time for the alter call, she leaned over to me and asked me if I wanted her to go up with me.

Anna Hobart (saucy surprise cake)
Stan and Anna Hobart and their four children lived next door to my family. Stan is retired Navy. Anna sold Avon. Their oldest son, Rob, was my age. One day he and I took a canoe from the pond in New Hope way up into Bear Swamp. We had to get out and pull it up over beaver dams. After awhile we were in a vast expanse of open swampland that was so secluded and wild that we felt like we were the first humans to ever go there.

Esther Stoyell (chili sauce)
I think the first white man to walk into these parts may have been a Stoyell. The family name goes way back, and there are still several Stoyells in the New Hope area. Harold and Esther once ran the little country store that was on the corner in New Hope. I remember going on a nighttime church hay ride through the dirt roads of Bear Swamp State Forest and out to Bentley’s Knob. We had a big campfire there and Harold played his harmonica.

Georgie DeWitt (chicken casserole)
There’s also lots of DeWitts hereabouts. My parents bought their home from Georgie’s son, George (Sharon DeWitt-pumpkin bread). When we bought the house, we also got George’s dad’s old F-20 tractor. He gave my dad and me a lesson about how to hand crank a tractor to get it started. Another son, Don, is crop farmer. Don used to help Clancy Edmonds and I with the carpentry work when there wasn’t much farming to do. He once let me tear a granary out of his barn and keep the lumber. I used it to build a shed on my land, before we built our house.

I could go on but I’m probably boring you. There are so many more names and memories associated with just that one little cookbook and this little community of families. Many of the names are of people who have died. That is inevitable after 20+ years. But an updated edition of the New Hope community cookbook would contain the names of many children and even grandchildren of the above people, as well as new people who have moved into the community.

Keep in mind that this book came out of a relatively small community. You could go five miles down the road to the next crossroads community with a fire department and put together a completely different community cookbook, though you would undoubtedly see many of the same last names.

I believe God created us for community, and wherever people congregate for any length of time, some sort of community develops. Some community experiences are deeper, richer, and more fulfilling than others. When, as a boy, I lived in a suburban housing project, I experienced good community, but it was nothing compared to the rural community my family moved to, and which I still live in.

In the suburban setting, there was a close concentration of people, a prevalence of ungodly influences, lack of wide open spaces and natural settings, and higher turnover of people as families moved on to something better (the elusive American Dream). None of those things contribute to the best example of community.

My point with all this is that it is a beautiful thing to live in a rural area and become involved in the life of the community over the course of years. To raise your children, live your days, grow old, and die within such a setting, surrounded by neighbors you’ve known and trust and care for, is a blessing. I can’t help but think it is the way life should be.

City Living &
Some Thoughts on
Christian Agrarian Community

Dateline: 9 January 2007

Abraham allows his nephew, Lot, to choose the land he wants.

At two o’clock this morning, awake with a sinus headache, my head over a steaming-hot pot of herb-infused water, shrouded with a heavy canvas barn coat (to keep the steam in), I started thinking about the subject of community. It wasn’t the headache or the steam or even the peppermint that brought this subject to mind. It was one of Marlene’s cookbooks that I idly leafed through while sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the water kettle to boil. I’ll tell you more about the cookbook in my next blog essay. For now, I’d like to tell you some of the things that went through my steam saturated brain....

It seems to me that good community can happen anywhere. It used to be very common in close-knit ethnic urban areas. Jews, Irish, Germans, Poles, and so forth lived in distinct communities with a culture all their own (often these people had large gardens and were, for all practical purposes, agrarians). I’m sure that is still the case in some urban areas. Good community can and should also happen within churches. Indeed, within the ethnic urban neighborhoods I mentioned, there was almost always a nearby church that was central to the life of the community. Good community also happens within fraternal organizations, and other kinds of groups where like-minded people regularly gather.

Those examples are, to my way of thinking, examples of good community. But they are not examples of the very best to be found in the realms of community.

Those of us who are seeking to more closely embrace the ideals of Christian agrarianism, understand from God’s Word that the fellowship of Christian community is essential to the Christian life. And, beyond that, we know that we are called to be a witness for Christ with the life we live in the more-worldly community outside our church community.

But we Christian agrarians are also inclined to think that community lived within the agrarian paradigm (as opposed to an urban or metropolitan setting) is also more Biblical and more preferrable. Cities and urban areas are, and have, throughout history, almost without exception, been centers of human pride and rebellion against God. Such places are suited to be mission fields but I seriously question if such places are best suited to raise Christian families (and families are the backbone of a thriving Christian-agrarian community).

I know that statement will not meet with approval from millions of modern-day Christians who raise families in cities or suburbs. Please understand that I didn’t say it to be contentious, nor to condem. I said it simply because I believe it is true. I grew up in an urban setting and moved to a rural setting when I was a teenager. That gives me some personal perspective. And here’s some biblical/historical insight into why I think the way I do on this subject....

In Genesis 9, after the flood, God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. So "Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard." Noah was a pretty smart fellow. He knew better than to go start a city. Agrarian life fit what Noah understood God wanted of him and his descendants. (Of course, he shouldn’t have gotten drunk on his own homemade wine, but that’s a different thing altogether.)

Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, the wisdom of godly fathers is not accepted by the children. It wasn’t long before some of Noah’s descendants left the agrarian life and assembled in cities. Most notable among these descendants was Noah’s great, great grandson, Nimrod. He formed the first great empire after the flood. It was centered around several cities in the land of Shinar, which was in the “fertile crescent” of Mesopotamia. The head of Nimrod’s empire was the city of Babylon. It was not a godly city.

In Genesis 11 we find some interesting happenings in the land of Shinar. The descendants of Noah said, "Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."

Well, God was not happy with these people and their city. Spreading out abroad upon the face of the earth was exactly what He wanted them to be doing. In other words, He wanted them to live a decentralized, rural existence. But they were determined to do just the opposite.

Whenever and wherever rebellious mankind congregates, they want to build monuments to their own greatness. So they worked together to "build a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven." We all know the rest of the story. God "confounded their language." They could not communicate and were forced to give up their plan. Foolish creatures!

But wait a minute.... Is the industrialized culture we now live in much different from Babylon? I think not. In fact, I dare say the ungodly corporate-industrial civilization we live in, working out of the major cities and urban centers of the world, taking upon itself the attributes of God, is exalting itself above God more than Nimrod and his tower of Babel ever did. Curiously, this prideful expansion and exhibition of man’s sovereignty has been facilitated largely by the inexorable and amazing expansion of communication technology. It is through various forms of attention-grabbing modern communication that the worst of city culture is now communicated to the masses, even into the rural heartland of America. That’s something to think about, but I digress.

A little farther ahead in history we find Abraham and his nephew, Lot, looking over the plain of Jordan. Abraham tells Lot to choose the right hand or the left hand to dwell in. Whatever is left, Abraham would be content to dwell in. What part does Lot take? He takes the part with the best water and the richest soil. It also has cities. Then Abraham goes and lives his agrarian life while Lot goes and pitches his tent toward the city of Sodom.

Before long, Lot is seated in the gates of Sodom, which I understand to mean he was one of the leaders of the city. It appears that it was not so much the good land of the plain that appealed to Lot as much as the cities that were in the plain. Wicked cities. What is the final outcome? The cities of Sodom and Gomorra are justly destroyed. Lot, along with his wife and daughters, are rescued by angels. Mrs.Lot, so in love with her urban life, looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lot’s two daughters don’t turn to salt, but it appears from their actions afterwards that they were heavily influenced by the ungodly city culture. Lot, a godly man by every account, made a foolish decision to leave the simple life of an agrarian herdsman and brought his family into the more "exciting" city. I suspect there were more "opportunities" there, more things to do, better entertainment. One can easily justify urban life on such grounds. But it was flat out wrong for Lot’s family to get involved in the culture of the city. That’s the way I read it. And I don’t think much has changed since then.

I like the way Howard King sums it up in "A Christian-Agrarian Critique of Technological Society"...


"The ancient walled city of the Bible had the most in common with the modern city. It was most often a center of apostasy, a base for imperialism, a treasure trove for plundering tyrants, a monument to human pride, vainglory and rebellion against God... The city provides no ideal for culture since it is opposed to biblical culture. Like Babel, the prototype, it has been erected in defiance of God’s design for a decentralized agrarian civilization."

The point is, good community can be found in a lot of places but the very best in community experiences, the kind of community experiences that are best for raising a family for the glory of God are, I believe, found within agrarian settings. Having said that, I’d like to give you five primary ingredients that are found in the best community experiences. They are: Time, Place, Proximity, Mutual Concerns, and Mutual Kindness.

By time, I mean years. The more the better. Generations are best.

By place, I mean a home where a family lives, on a section of land that the family has, over time (maybe even generations) cared for and grown to love.

Proximity is the state or quality of being near. A new kind of community has emerged in recent years with the advent of the internet. Such a community can be good. But it can never be a best form of community because there is little proximity. Virtual proximity just isn’t the same as physical proximity and never will be.

Mutual concerns arise out of a mutual worldview. Worldview boils down to fundamental ideas about what is right and wrong, good and bad. Worldview is at the root of religious belief. Generally speaking, rural folks share similar belief systems. They may not all agree on religious doctrines but they think alike on many core issues. One example of this becomes clear during a national election when the rural areas of the nation typically vote the same (i.e., the “red states”).

Mutual kindness is when people in the community interact by speaking, visiting, working, caring, sharing, and giving to each other in some way, to some degree, preferably on a daily basis.

This kind of best community was once the norm in most rural areas of America. It was also found in small rural towns and villages. But as agrarian culture has given way to modern, industrialized culture, the social fabric of rural communities has become more and more threadbare.

That being the case, those of us who call ourselves Christian agrarians are looking to find and help reweave the beautiful fabric of rural community. We want to raise our families, put down generational roots, be good neighbors, be salt and light. Instead of living “part time” in a community while driving to the city to a job every day, we dream of actually working full time at or nearer our homes, where we can be a more integral part of the comunity.

I believe there are Christian families searching for the ideal community—one in which all those qualities I’ve mentioned work together flawlessly. Of course, such a community doesn’t exist. I’m sure, though, that some areas of rural America experience better community than others. Perhaps among the close-knit Amish and Mennonite sects you will find the best examples of agrarian community.

Whatever the case, each family’s search for Christian-agrarian community will take them on a different journey. For myself, for now, I believe the best community I can find is right where I am. I have lived in this rural area of central New York State since 1973. Unfortunately, this place is no longer as rural as it was 33 years ago. It isn’t so much that more people have moved into the area (there is plenty of room for more people in rural America), it’s that more people with urban ideas have moved in and, sadly, there are far less real farmers. The price of land has climbed (always just out of reach for me) and New York State property taxes are criminally high.

Sometimes I think of moving to another state like Tennessee or Missouri or Kentucky. Maybe someday I will. But I probably will not. This is a beautiful area. And after so many years I’ve come to realize that I have become part of this community. I know so many people. I actually know (and like) my neighbors. We attend a nice country church. The experience of rural community that so many people in America do not know, and so many are searching for, can be found right where I am. I suspect it can be found in most any rural area. It won’t be perfect. But you can make it better.

In closing, I guess I would say to aspiring Christian agrarians, those who are looking for a place to live and put down roots. Find an area of the country that appeals to you and find a small, rural, Bible-believing community church to attend and get involved with. Probably the church where the old local farmers go would be a good place. You’ll find “salt of the earth” people there. You’ll find community there.

A Personal Story of God's Faithfulness Unto The Generations

In 2 Timothy 1:5 the apostle Paul writes to Timothy and tells him that the faith that is in him (Timothy)“dewlt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice.”

There is, within that short statement, a glimpse of spiritual dynamic that I find fascinating.

Does one Christian life and the earnest prayers of even one faithful mother (or father) affect and effect the lives of children and generations to follow?

Those of us who are Christians and truly believe God’s word know this to be true. The prayers of God’s people are powerfully effective. And even more so that we probably know.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to share with you something that has recently happened in my life, something the Lord has brought to my attention and which I am truly blessed by. It is something that I think will surprise and bless you too.

Back on December 5 of last year (about a month ago) I posted a blog essay titled A Reflective Ramble About Salvation & Prayer. In that essay I asked the question, “Who prayed for me?” I felt strongly that the prayers of others have blessed me greatly. I speculated that my mother and my grandmothers had prayed for me. I wondered about previous generations of my family.

A week or so after I posted that essay my stepfather dropped off a box of my mother’s family papers. In the box was my great, great grandmother, Josephine Jordan’s personal diaries from 1892 to 1889. In the diaries I discovered that grandmother Josephine was a woman of faith who wrote of her great desire and continual prayer for the salvation of her children. I have written about Josephine and the diaries, and posted the year of 1892, at a blog titled, Diary of an 1892 Farmer’s Wife.

The discovery of the diaries and the Christian faithfulness of this formerly unknown ancestor was blessing enough but then something else happened.

A woman named Sheila whose hobby is genealogy responded. She told me that Josephine’s husband’s name was Cyrus (I did not know his name) and that a pastor she knew was also a great, great grandson of Josephine Jordan. That was kind of amazing. But there is more.

My newfound distant cousin sent me an e-mail. Since I have not asked his permission to post it here, I will not mention his name. But I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me sharing the following excerpt, which is a testimony to the faithfulness of God. It is also evidence of His incredible timing and amazing providence:


“My name is Ken ______ and my friend Sheila from Easton, Maine sent me this link to your blog about Josephine Jordan. Interestingly, she is also my great, great Grandma through my grandparents on my mother’s side. [My grandfather] was the grandson of Josephine and Cyrus, and their faith in Christ has been passed on down to me, my children, and my grandchildren.

The opening remarks of Josephine’s diary were brought to my attention by an e-mail from Sheila the day before the dedication of my seventh grandchild. As a pastor and grandfather, I overflow with gratitude and joy for the prayers of this precious woman and the timing of their being brought to my attention.

You can imagine my excitement as I read the prayer recorded in 1892 this past December 31, 2006 at the beginning of [my grandson’s] dedication service. Then, to everyone’s surprise, revealed that this was the prayer of [my grandson’s] great, great, great, great grandmother. I believe God is still answering that prayer and have incorporated it into my own prayer life at the beginning of this year.”



When I read that e-mail, I took my hat off, dropped it on the floor, raised my hands in the air, and praised God for His faithfulness through the generations.

Then, just today, the following message was posted at "Diary of an 1892 Farmer's Wife"...



Hi, my grandfather was Earl Jordan of Presque Ise, son of Frank Jordan. You have spoken with my cousin Ken who is the pastor spoken of in previous message. Earl's daughter was my Mom, she passed away 12/17/2006. What a delight to read this. Many of Earl's kids are ministers and missionaries as are their children. What an awesome legacy of faith started by a mother's prayer for her 4 children. Whow!



My dear readers, those of you who know Jesus Christ as Lord, this is a story that we can learn from and be encouraged by. The life we live in the hear and now, no matter how mundane it may seem, the prayers we pray in earnest now, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, most surely can and do make a difference for God’s kingdom in ways we can only see now “as through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

====================

I hope the above testimony has inspired you to pray not only for your children but for the generations to follow. If so, I encourage you to go to a website called, Praying For Descendents.

The web site was put together by a woman named Lois Bravo. You can read her story and be sure to read the section in her free and downloadable little book about “Prayers for the Generations.” Mrs. Bravo has put together a wonderful little resource that all of us who feel a spiritual burden for our children and grandchildren can utilize.

To God be the glory.

==================

Oh, one more thing. Since reading "Diary of an 1892 Farmer's Wife," Sheila has decided to post her grandfather, Milton Flewelling's Farm Journals to the internet. You can see them at Diary of an Aroostook Farmer.

In her grandfather's journal is mention of a Pentecostal revival that occurred in Aroostook county around 1920. The effects of this revival on Josephine's granddaughter, Helen, are mentioned in some of the old family papers that I inherited from my mother. Specifically, there is a poem in which she reminices fondly about going to tent meetings where she accepted Jesus as her Savior.

And it so happens that Sheila and I share a relation. My grandmother's brother, Everett Towle, married a woman named Mavis Ladner. Mavis's mother was a sister to Sheila's grandfather Milton Flewelling. My great aunt Mavis is still alive and lives up in Aroostook county. It's a small world. ;-)

My Non-Agrarian Day Job

Dateline: 5 January 2007

If you go to my Blogger Profile you will see that I’ve described my occupation as “part time agrarian with full time aspirations.” That is accurate but somewhat evasive. Those who have read this blog much know I’ve mentioned that I work in a furniture factory. That is accurate too, but not complete. Today, after nearly two years of blogging, I’m going to tell you the truth about my very non-agrarian day job.

For the past six and a half years I have worked in a furniture factory that is inside a class A, maximum security New York State prison. Each day I drive 20 minutes from my pleasant rural homestead into the city and walk into another world—a world so incredibly contrary to what I have ever known.

After showing my identification to a prison guard inside the front entrance, I make my way past six checkpoints where I pass through ten iron gates or doors that are opened for me by a guard who is watching from inside a heavily secured room. Ten minutes or so later, I have walked to the back of the facility where the three story factory I work in is located. The factory, all prison buildings, all 1,800 inmates, and several hundred employees, are surrounded by a thick, 40-foot concrete wall. Guards with rifles are positioned around the perimeter of the wall. The prison is among the oldest in the country and, to my knowledge, no one has ever escaped, but many have tried.

The factory I work in makes license plates and office furniture of various kinds. The furniture is sold to state agencies and schools. I am a supervisor in a shop that makes desks and bookcases. My employees are convicted felons—murderers, rapists, child molesters, and their ilk. They are men who have done some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, and some of those crimes are beyond imagination. Many of the men will never get out of prison, and it is a good thing that they don’t. Some will do their time and be allowed back into society, which is not always a good thing.

I give my employees tools like hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, and even utility knives. I make sure they are doing their job properly and that we fill the orders we have. My employee workforce is constantly changing as men are moved to other prisons or get into trouble and lose their job. The man who is in charge of placing inmates into my shop assures me that I am getting the “top of the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to workers. My employees work six hours a day and get paid anywhere from sixteen cents to 45 cents an hour.

Prior to doing this work, I spent 20 years in the building trades. Ten of those years I worked for area contractors. Then I worked ten years for myself. I loved the work but it was all-consuming, especially being self employed. I had little time for family.

Then came the “time of humbling.” The Lord took me through a period of significant financial loss and self-doubt. It was the lowest point of my life. I was fighting depression. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I worked some but my drive was gone. It was a bad time. I cried out to the Lord for some sort of job, but I had no idea what. I couldn’t even bring myself to go look for a job. Then the phone rang.

A man I knew, a friend from the past, asked me if I would like to work as an assistant teacher in the building trades program at the local vocational school. The job only paid $12,000 a year. It was not something I could really support my family on, but I felt the Lord had opened a door and that I needed to take the job. So I did. I’ve written about it here.

Around that same time, another friend called to see if I would like to work at the prison. This same friend had asked the same question of me a few times in previous years and I always said no. I couldn’t imagine such a thing. But this time I said, “When do I start?”

He told me to fill out a form (which he got for me) and send it into some state agency with $25. I did that but didn’t really think anything would come of it. As the school year was winding down, I was faced with the task of finding some sort of job. I certainly could not afford to take the summer off. The finances were very, very tight.

Then, two weeks before the end of school, the phone rang again. The prison called to arrange an interview. It was many months after I filed out the paperwork. My friend gave me some advice: “Wear a tie and whatever they ask you, tell them you can do it.” He assured me that I certainly could do the job.

That’s how I got the job, and I realize now that it was something of a miracle because I had no political connections. With a week remaining in the school year, I resigned from the teacher position and went to work at the prison. I didn’t care what I was getting into. All I cared about at the time was that I would be making more money and better supporting my family.

The first few days of my new job, Marlene and the boys wanted to know what it was like.

I told them it was like going to hell.

The analogy is still appropriate. I almost never talk about my job at home. It’s not something I want to discuss. And I don’t ever expect to bring it up on this blog again.

Contrary to what you may have heard, state prison is not a “country club.” It is a place of big muscles, bad scars, and cheap tattoos. It is a Darwinian society where anger, intimidation, and brutality are the norm. It is a place of extreme perversion--a place where the most perverse and obscene things are, in fact, routinely discussed and laughed about. It is a place where no one really cares. If you are sick or hurt or scared, no one really cares. No one really cares if you live or die. The state has lawful responsibilities to care for inmates and endeavors to do so, but no one really cares.

State prison is a place where sicknesses like AIDS and hepatitis are common. Many inmates have mental problems and are medicated. More exotic ailments like flesh eating bacteria have been known to show up. It is a place that is sterile in its starkness, yet filthy.

I have yet to find one single coworker who shares my Christian convictions. I am so out of place that it is amazing. I am the complete oddball. Christianity is routinely mocked and laughed at. Discussions about matters of faith and worldview sometimes happen (I steer them that way when I can) but no one wants to take Jesus Christ or a Biblical worldview seriously. Christians are part of the problem in their eyes. Homeschoolers are akin to terrorists. It is a tough place in so many ways.

The majority of inmates are black. Many are Latino. Quite a few are Muslim. Some profess to be Christians. It is not unusual to see inmates reading a Bible. But I do not see the fruit of the spirit in most professing Christian inmates I’ve met in prison. In some, I have.

I can not, as an employee, be friends with any one inmate. I can not bring them food, or books or anything. I must treat them all the same, and that is what I do. I treat inmates with a measure of respect (unless they give me reason not to) and I am firm, fair, & consistent in my dealings with them. This is more than they get from most other employee. They all know I am a Christian and that I will not harass them. Unfortunately, though, prison is a place where kindness is mistaken for weakness

I am, by nature, not a confrontational person. But I have had to learn to deal with inmates who take advantage of my good nature. If you do not learn this in prison, you will have a very hard time.

I once had an employee who was not doing the work I wanted him to be doing. He was much larger than I and was very intimidating to look at. I walked over to him to confront him and found myself looking up into his scowling face. I could not help but notice that one of his nostrils was way bigger than the other. All I could think at the moment was that it looked like a rat hole I have seen in the ground around the outside of our chicken coop. A rat hole into his head. Writers notice things like that and make such associations. Some of the people I work with know I am a writer and they have told me I should write a book about prison. That will never happen.

But if it did, I’d include inmate ideas about how to make money…

One inmate told me how to make an easy and legal $75,000. He explained that all I had to do was rob a drug dealer or a bookie. Then take the bag of money out on some deserted road and throw it in a muddy ditch. A month or so later, get your girlfriend to “find” it and turn it into the police. If no one claims it (and drug dealers or bookies won’t do that) she gets to keep the money. The IRS will take 25% and the rest is all yours. Perfectly legal. Interestingly, this particular inmate was in jail for life for murdering two drug dealers.

Yes, I sure could write a book about prison. But it will never happen. That’s because prison is full of everything that I don’t like. The place affects your mind and your soul in a very negative way

Every day I go to work I get a dose of spiritual poison. I walk out the door and get into my car and drive home and I do not look at the world the same, I do not look at people the same. Paranoia, suspicion and other self-defensive mechanisms have been working in me all day. I’ve been exposed to the worst language and ideas around. I am in the grip of a general malaise of bad feelings. It is not a good thing.

But, fortunately, I have an antidote for the poison. It is my Christian faith, my family, and the down-to-earth rural life we live. My day-job is centered around the worst things in life, but when I am not at work, my life centers around the best things in life. It is a dichotomy of the most extreme kind.

Once, when speaking to fellow Christian agrarian Franklin Sanders (who has done jail time in the past), he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I worked in a maximum security prison. He got a good laugh out of that. And then he commented that such work probably gives me a passion for writing about the things I write about. I believe he is absolutely correct in that observation.

Some people, after reading this story, will wonder why I work at such a job. Why stay there if it is dangerous and hostile and evil and poisons your soul? Why stay there if I do not like it?

Well, I stay because I feel like that is exactly where God wants me for now. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank Him for the job which provides for my family while also giving me personal time to focus on my family and my writing projects. But at the same time, I ask Him to please take me out of there.

All I can think is that I am there for a reason that has not yet been made clear to me. Perhaps I am there for a time when I will witness something very wrong and will have to testify in an investigation. Fortunatly, that has not happened (I am actually separated from much of the worst of prison culture). But if it does happen, I will tell the truth. People who tell the truth, who break the code of silence and shroud of lies, are not looked upon well. Perhaps I am there to be tortured and die in a riot one day. Perhaps I am being far too dramatic and morbid in my imaginings. Perhaps I’m there to simply support my family until I get enough years in to retire. I don’t know.

What I do know is that when God makes it clear to me that I should leave, I will leave. I will shake the dust of that place off my feet and never look back

The Best Place to Buy Plucker Fingers

Dateline: January 2007

 My 15-year-old son, Robert, told me he wants to make money selling something on the internet. I suggested that he could start by selling rubber plucker fingers to people who want to build their own Whizbang mechanical chicken plucker.

He was receptive to the idea. So we opened a checking account, a PayPal account, bought a pad of invoices, and ordered several thousand brand-spanking-new, Kent C-25 medium-durometer-hardness rubber plucker fingers.

Robert invested a few hundred dollars of his own hard-earned money and I gave him a loan for the balance. I will also be guiding him through the process, making sure he gets his orders properly processed and mailed out quickly. This will be an educational experience as much as a business enterprise.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The above photo shows Robert in my shop with some of his plucker finger inventory. The fingers come from the factory in boxes like shown on the left side of the picture. Robert has a “counting thing” he made. It is a board with 25 holes in it. When the holes are filled, he transfers the fingers to a plastic bag (also seen in the photo). Such a system insures that 25 fingers go in every bag, every time.

You can also see several Priority Mail boxes in the photo. Those boxes are already packed with 125 fingers and ready to ship. 125 fingers are needed to make a Whizbang Plucker.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The above photo is a close-up of the Kent C-25 fingers.

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UPDATE: July 2010
In the last three and a half years since I wrote this post, Robert has sold well over a hundred thousand fingers. The little enterprise really took off and he has done well at it. Robert's plucker finger business has now  merged with Planet Whizbang, our family business. Please go to  THIS LINK to purchase plucker fingers.

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P.S. If you have not yet read the following poultry-related essays, I invite you to do so:

My Whizbang Plucker Story

My Chicken Plucker Parts Business

The Next Best Thing To A Whizbang Chicken Plucker

Frequently Asked Questions About The Whizbang Plucker

Introducing My Deluxe Homemade Chicken Scalder

Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-year-Old Son

How To Butcher A Chicken

Talkin’ Bout My Chicken Tractors

Talkin' Bout My Chicken Tractor (Part 2)

Getting Started With Turkeys

Turkeys in Tractors & Comfrey For Feed

FREE Chicken Feed

Poignant Reflections of an Aged Agrarian


Kept The Faith

This day is, in my life, a day to record. I have signed away to a
younger man most of those acres where for many years I have
spent my time and my strength in the labors of a farmer.

There are not so many of us left anymore who know what the
feeling is like to love that land where you have plowed and
harrowed, sowed and reaped, built fences and put up the hay and
herded the cattle.

Now, as the one-time owner of that land, I bid goodbye as to an old and very dear friend. A man and his acres are, after all, not of different kingdoms. The man, the bird, the tree, the clump of grass all have the same Maker, and take their sustenance from the same prodigious earth.

By being human, I trust I have added something to this landscape of hills and valleys, but I could have done nothing without those other forms of life. Now I feel the loss of ties which are formed through labor and association.

Memories are all the harvest that is left.... memories, plus the faith that other hands will do as well or better than mine have done to keep those acres fair to look upon. In a certain way, this land will always belong to me.



The above was found on a single, yellowed-with-age, hand-typed
page that was among my mother’s old family papers (which have
recently come into my possession). No author is given. It could
have been written by my grandfather Percy Philbrick of Fort
Fairfield, Maine. It could have been written by any number of old
farmers across America who, due to advanced age, poor health, or
insufficient finances had to sell their beloved farms.

I wonder, where were the children of this old farmer and those like
him? I’ll tell you. They left the land for “greener pastures”—for
careers in the cities and suburbs. Millions of them left the farm.
They broke their connection to soil and family tradition to pursue
an industrialized version of “the good life.”

In so doing, they and their children would never know a section of
land, a place, like the old farmer who penned the words
above did.

That is a tragedy.