Getting Started & Finding My Way
(Part 2)

This is part 2 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. To go back to the beginning of the series, click here: Back to the beginning.


Before I proceed with my story, I would like to point out that this unfolding autobiography of my early life will not be like reading the autobiography of Ben Franklin, or Thomas Edison, or [insert some admirable and famous personage of your choosing here]. I’m a common man, so it follows that my story is common. It may even come across as dull, especially since I’ve never made a ton of money and I’ve never been in trouble with the law. Nevertheless, it is a genuine, real-life tale and, as such, it will have some redeeming value, just as would your story, were you to put it to words.

I want to tell you about my work and schooling experiences after high school. But first, I think I should briefly explain my work experiences during high school. I did not go out for sports or other activities in my last two years of high school. I worked every day after school and on vacations at the old flour mill just up the road from my house. New Hope Mills was, and still is, famous for its buttermilk and buckwheat pancake mixes. My job at the mill was to help fill paper bags with pancake mix, fold over the tops, and stitch them shut on a type of sewing machine. After awhile, I actually mixed batches of the “secret” pancake recipe. The work was monotonous and boring but I had fun with the people I worked with and it was a good job for me.

In the summers prior to working at the mill, I helped a couple of local farmers with the hay crop. That was good work that I enjoyed and I’ve written fondly of it in my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian.

With my high school graduation on the horizon I needed to “do something” with my life. Decisions needed to be made. Directions needed to be taken. Many of my classmates were going to college. A few were going in the military. The thought of more academic classroom education didn’t appeal to me. The military didn’t appeal to me either. I sure didn’t want to work at the mill because, good as it was at the time, it was a dead-end factory job.

What I really wanted to do was be a homesteader, to work in the outdoors, to work with my hands at manual crafts and productive skills. I was the only kid I knew with such a contrarian desire.

My big problem was how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I didn’t have much self-confidence. I didn’t have any parental direction about what I should do. My family had one car, which my stepfather, an insurance salesman, needed every day. So I had no transportation of my own beyond my bicycle. I had no money to speak of. My parents had no money to help me (they gave me $100 for high school graduation and I knew they couldn’t afford it). I lived out in the country, away from any businesses (except the mill). My options were very limited. It was a difficult time for me. I had a lot of angst. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever find my place in the work world. Who would want me?

My high school guidance counselor came to the rescue. He found an alternative school that was a custom fit for my countercultural inclinations. It was called “The Grassroots Project in Vermont.” The school had its own farm with draft horses and oxen. The emphasis was on farm and outdoor skills. I wanted to go to that school. My Grandmother Kimball offered to pay the $4,000 tuition.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the school accepted me. Things had fallen into place. My immediate problem with what to do after high school was solved. I was really looking forward to “college” in Vermont.

To be continued......


P.S. I have written here in the past about my year at The Grassroots Project. If you are following this series, please take a moment to read the essay at this link: The Grassroots Project in Vermont

One more thing--The school I went to is now an actual four-year college. It’s called Sterling College. I just checked out the web site and see that they have a Sustainable Agriculture Summer Semester for 2008. Wow, does that look great! I would have loved that as a kid (I would love it now!). But $7,000 bucks?

That much money might be better spent going to intern for a sustainable farm operation like Joel Salatin’s place or with Grant Gibbs out in the Pacific Northwest. If those kinds of opportunities were available in 1976, there isn't a doubt in my mind that I would have pursued them.

Click HERE to go to Part 3 of this series


woodsrunner said...

I envy you for your time at Sterling. As a senior in high school, I had a counsellor give me the brochure for The Grass Roots Project. I wanted more than anything to go and couldn't finance it.

Great blog, I'm a regular reader

Herrick Kimball said...

Hey woodsrunner,

It's good to hear from you. Sorry you couldn't make it to The Grassroots Project. The tuition was very steep for those days. I never would have gone if my grandmother hadn't paid it.