The Deliberate Agrarian Update:
30 April 2010

Ahhhh.... April!

Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. The birds are singing. It’s a beautiful thing.

Clive Pettibone once remarked to his daughter, Izzy, “The muse is at my elbow.” Well, mine too; I was struck with the urge to write a poem this last month. Mind you, I don’t really know anything about writing poetry, but I didn’t let that stop me....


My Reality
By: Herrick Kimball

I was having a bad-hair day.
A comb would have helped.
A haircut would have been better.
And I had two days of beard stubble
On my face.

My wife looked at me
From across the room.
She said,
“Your head
Looks like a scrub brush.”


Simplify. Simplify....
...So said Thoreau, and I think it’s good advice. After all, stuff and things need to be taken care of, which keeps us from more important matters of life. In time, all that stuff accumulates and becomes a burden; it needs to be cleaned and sorted and packed away. Then you come to realize that so much of your life is dominated by the continual process of managing your stuff.

Most people who accumulate eventually come to the conclusion that they need to purge the clutter in order to free themselves from the bondage. With that in mind, Marlene and I are finally making a serious attempt to clear out a lot of our unnecessary and burdensome possessions. 


I started listing things on Ebay this last month, like that object in the picture above. It was a small (6” high) working model of a White Mountain hand-crank ice cream maker. Marlene bought it several years ago at a yard sale. She paid $6 for it because “it was cute.” It has been stored on a shelf in my shop ever since.

To our amazement, that little bit of clutter sold for $285.00

No kidding. I wish all the other junk we have to get rid of would sell for that much money!

It’s easy to sell a little ice cream maker like that, but harder to get rid of an old sweatshirt like this...


I wore that when I was a cute little feller (see last month’s Update). My father was a student at Bowdoin College when I was born in 1958. Had things worked out, I suppose I would have graduated in the Bowdoin class of 1980. But I didn’t. All I got from Bowdoin was the little sweatshirt.

My mother saved it, and then I saved it, all these years. Why? Someone else can analyze that. Will my children have an interest in the thing? No. Not at all.

So I’ll list it soon on Ebay. Who would buy a little 50-year-old Bowdoin sweatshirt with holes in it? You never know.

Then there are the books. I have way too many books (though not as many as some people). I figure at least 3/4 of my books can and should go. If I think they are worth more than $3 each, they will get listed on Ebay. If they don’t sell, I’ll donate them to the local library book sale.

Some of the books I’m parting with were my grandfather’s. He had lots of history books. I inherited the “history gene” from him. It’s not easy letting go of such volumes. But they are packed in boxes in my shop (not enough room in the house for them) and mice have invaded the boxes. I’ve not read most of my grandfather’s books anyway. And, sadly, my children have little to no interest in history books. Thus it is that many (but not all) of the books will be purged.

This simplifying of one’s life by eliminating excess clutter is often complicated by marriage. Marlene and I do not always see eye to eye on the subject of what is no longer needed.

Take, for example, the sealed 5-gallon bucket in my shop attic. It is full of letters we wrote to each other some 30 years ago. I was away at the Sterling School in Vermont, and she was going to community college back here in N.Y.  We wrote each other almost every day of that school year. There was no e-mail and nobody had a cell phone back in those days.  Pay phones were complicated and expensive to use for long distance calls. So we wrote each other, and all those letters are sealed in the bucket.

I say the bucket needs to go (No, I don’t want to sell it on Ebay). Marlene says we must keep it...for now. Will our children want these? Surely not. But I’m sure they might find them interesting to read. Such letters would be something of a curiosity. Perhaps our children would be amused—or even shocked—by what they read in the personal letters of their parents when we were so young and in love (maybe I would be shocked if I read them now). And that’s exactly why I think they need to go. But the bucket will survive this purging.


Homemade Vinegar Update
It has been six months since I made apple cider (using my Whizbang cider equipment), filled three one-gallon jars, tied a layer of porous cloth over the tops, and put them up on a shelf to ferment into vinegar. I wrote about it  in my October 2009 Monthly Update and posted this picture:

One month later, in the November 2009 Update I posted the following picture, showing that natural fermentation had begun.


 
Those three jars have been up on that shelf ever since, and a week ago (approximately six months after I filled them) we took the jars down to siphon off the vinegar. Here is what the six-month-old vinegar looked like: 



I suspect the vinegar has been done for some time, but we haven’t been in any hurry to check it. Only when it became noticeable that the liquid was evaporating off did we think we better tend to getting it out and into sealed jars. Here is a look down into the jars:
 

The material floating on the top of the vinegar was not very appealing to look at. We set the jars, one at a time, up on a couple plastic pails and used a hose to siphon the vinegar into a canning jar, as this next picture shows.


We filtered the vinegar through a coffee filter. But I don’t really think there was any need for this. It didn’t appear that the filter filtered anything out.


The bottom of the jars had a fine, reddish sediment which we tried not to siphon up. The gelatinous layer that was on the top of the vinegar stayed together. It is best described as "slimy" and “placenta-like”


We ended up with almost two gallons of golden cider vinegar. It is POTENT vinegar—a product far more virile and good-for-you than the grocery store stuff. Marlene will use it primarily to make oil&vinegar salad dressings, three-bean salads, and in chicken barbecue sauce. Sometimes Marlene will put a teaspoon of the vinegar in a glass of cold water and drink it. It’s supposed to be good for what ails you. (I've written in years past here of the amazing curative powers of "real" cider vinegar. Read it here.)



Whizbang Progress, And Not
After years of thinking I should get a domain name and web site for my Whizbang chicken plucker, I finally got it done this last month. You can see it here: www.WhizbangPlucker.com

In last month's blog update here I had only a concept drawing of my new Whizbang T-Post Trellis Fitting. This month I have an actual picture (shown above). But the fitting is still not available to sell, as I had hoped it would be by now. I’ll have much more to say about this new product in the future.

The Whizbang Cider plan book has not been reprinted, as I had hoped it would be by now. But it is on track to be printed very soon. Remaining first-printing copies of the book are still on sale AT THIS LINK.

I was supposed to have 10” wide stirrup blade attachments ready this month for the Planet Whizbang wheel hoe, but they aren’t ready quite yet. I’ll be posting details at www.Planet Whizbang.com early next month (May 2010).

My Whizbang Books business is ten years old this year. It started with the plucker plan book and has grown considerably since then. Nevertheless, it’s remains a relatively small business that I operate out of my small home workshop, while still working a “regular” job.

I dream of having a larger place to house the enterprise and of coming home to work it full time, but I am very cautious. The economy is not good, my financial pockets are not deep, and I've tasted of business failure in the past. So I am letting the Whizbang business grow naturally and slowly. 


Can You Hear Me Now?
I don’t like talking on phones, and I especially do not like cell phones. But my wife and kids have the blasted things. I fully understand they are really handy and it is easy to justify owning one. But there is also ample justification for not owning one, or, at least, for using them very little if you do have one.

If you are a cell phone user, addicted to the incredible convenience of the device, you won’t want to “hear” what  Christopher Ketcham had to say in an article he wrote for the recent issue of GQ magazine. But you really should. Here is the link: Warning: Your Cell Phone May be Hazardous to your Health

 

How Farmers Became Slaves
To The Industrial Masters
If you have read much of my writings here recently, you have read about the Texas historian, Walter Prescott Webb and his remarkable 1952 book titled, The Great Frontier (I wrote about Webb and The Great Frontier AT THIS LINK).  This last month I found out that Mr. Webb self published a book back in 1937 titled Divided We Stand: The Crisis of a Frontierless Democracy. I tracked down a copy of the book. It is somewhat outdated but still a worthwhile read.

I’ve written about Divided We Stand and posted a particularly good excerpt from it on a separate page of this blog. The excerpt tells the story of how the American farmer, once free and independent, was enslaved by the corporations, which is pretty much where most farmers find themselves today.

This story is no secret, but it may not be fully understood, and I feel strongly compelled to post it here on my blog.  Here is the link: How Farmers Became Slaves To The Industrial Masters


 Of Populism & The Tea Party Movement

Thomas Watson of Georgia was the People’s Party Candidate for President back in the late 1800s. The People’s Party was also known as the Populist Party.

I am currently slogging my way through a 1953 book titled, The Decline of Agrarian Democracy, by Grant McConnell. It's a compelling title for any deliberate agrarian, but I don’t recommend the book unless you have a keen interest in the minutia of early 20th century agricultural politics (which I have discovered that I don't). But the first chapter of the book is particularly insightful as it speaks about the Populist movement of the late 1800s.

Every so often you’ll hear a media talking head use the word “populist” to describe something or somebody in the news. The current "Tea Party" movement is often labeled as Populist. What many people may not realize is that Populism was originally an agrarian response to the freedom-destroying advance of corporate-industrial capitalism. Here is a quote from The Decline of Agrarian Democracy.

Populism was a movement before it became a political party. It was a popular movement and, more importantly, an agrarian movement. I t came near the end of the period in which the belief could still prevail, with some justification, that the common man was typically a farmer. According to the census of 1790 the nation’s population was 95 per cent rural; by the census of 1890 it was 64 per cent rural. During the hundred years that intervened, the assumption held that Everyman tilled the soil. The cause of the majority in nearly every instance was an agrarian cause. If the nation was a democracy, it was an agrarian democracy.

From the nation’s beginning to the end of the nineteenth century the character of the farmer’s active participation in political affairs was on the pattern of Populism, sporadic and explosive. For long periods of time he was quiescent, almost passive. The industrial advance and the steady commercialism of all phases of life went on relentlessly in these periods. Then, at regular intervals, when the industrial machine faltered and economic disaster came, the farmer rose and asserted his right to political consideration. His movements were always touched with passion and seemed temporarily to sweep all before them. To some, these interludes of agrarian fury were no more than febrile attempts to bilk the nation’s industrial destiny.

 
The following excerpt, from the same book, speaking of the Populist movement of over 100 years ago, seems apropos to the current “Tea Party” movement.

...[T]he atmosphere of Populism... combined a deep sense of outrage with a righteousness that could only come from long-standing religious certainty. Bitterness and hate were there too, and all the frustrations of undeserved and unexpected failure, which had descended, many felt, because of the greed of a few and the disastrous course of the business cycle. To some of the Populists, it was evident that the rapacity of corporations was the sole and adequate cause for the ills that beset men. Money and monopoly had usurped power throughout the land, and the common people were becoming slaves.


John Taylor of Caroline 
And The Agrarian Course
As I’ve pointed out here in the past, Thomas Jefferson believed that the American democratic republic he helped to create would be best preserved and strengthened by a population of independent farmers; that the sure foundation of continued liberty was found within the agrarian ideal.

Less well known is another agrarian-minded founder—John Taylor of Caroline (that's him pictured above). Here are a couple excerpts about Taylor from the first chapter of The Decline of American Democracy:

The best exponent of agrarian democracy in our history was Jefferson’s friend and political associate, John Taylor of Caroline. Taylor, like Jefferson a prosperous Virginia planter, was convinced of some inner moral light shining forth from the farmer’s way of life... He was far more clearly an agrarian.

Taylor, however, represented a great deal more than his own simple class interests. His great concern was rather with the “publick interest,” which he saw threatened by a small group of “aristocracies of interest.” The latter consisted of capitalists (a word used by Taylor) who were exploiting the rest of the nation through inflated public paper, bank stocks, and a protective tariff. By conquest and use of government power, the capitalists had fastened a new tyranny upon the common people, that is, upon farmers. The interests of a rising and powerful faction of a few rich men thus stood in direct opposition to the common interest; it was a class struggle between capitalists and agrarians.

The central problem was the power exercised by the newly risen class of exploiters. Its source was economic. No one had ever laid stronger emphasis on the economic base of political power in America than Taylor. His conception has remained basic in agrarian thought. This power, as Taylor saw it building in his own time, was rooted in the inequality that resulted from the capitalists’ rapid accumulation of wealth.

Taylor’s solution lay in restoring the nation to an agrarian course. With its apparently limitless expanses of unoccupied land, America could look forward to a unity of interest, and that an agrarian interest. With a nation of free and equal farmers, there need be no clash of factions, for there would be no diversity of economic interests. Such a society would have no great agglomeration of power, either public or private, to threaten tyranny. There would be no gross inequality. To ensure such a pattern, Taylor demanded expropriation of the exploiters and a thorough division of power, both aspects of the same thing.


Agrarian America Declines
America once was, but no longer is, an agrarian Republic. Why not? We can point to the rise of industrialism and corporate monopoly control but that is only part of the explanation. There was also the loss of the frontier, which I've discussed here a lot in recent months. This little-understood factor is mentioned in The Decline of American Democracy:

In the 1870’s, half the working population was engaged in agriculture. In the 1920’s the fraction dwindled to a quarter and less....

This shrinkage of the farming sector of the population was dramatic to a nation whose outlook was deeply rooted in agrarian tradition, but even more dramatic was the disappearance of once “inexhaustible” new lands of the continent-wide expanse. It was in 1893 that Frederick Jackson Turner noted the ending of the frontier...

In the twentieth century there was still land to be found, occupied, and cultivated. Yet the era of free or nearly free land was past. The vision of westward movement in quest of independence and a new life was henceforth without substance for more than a few of the nation’s farmers...

The frontier provided much of that connection between democracy and agrarianism which has been so nearly peculiar to America—how much it would be difficult to say. Nevertheless, the time arrived when this presupposition of the historic agrarian democracy—cheap abundant land—became invalid; from this time onward, the problem of agrarian democracy became more difficult.


Agrarian American Renaissance
So it is that the lack of abundant (and free) frontier land, along with the rise of industrialism and the domination of corporate capitalism has radically altered this once-agrarian nation.

The Republic, founded on agrarian ideals of diversified, family-scale agriculture, personal responsibility & economic independence, along with a healthy distrust of big government, is now history (though there is still a healthy distrust of big government).

Can America ever be an agrarian Republic again?  Barring a significant collapse  of the economy, communication, transportation and corporate/government control, America-at-large will never return to agrarianism. It’s the furthest thing from most people’s minds.

As discussed here in past months, I happen to believe such a collapse is possible and probable. That said, I don’t consider myself an alarmist or a survivalist, and I happen to have great hope in the future, regardless of any collapse that may or may not play itself out in my lifetime.

The way I see it, agrarian America is gone, but people who understand the wisdom of this way of life and feel the conviction still have the ability to pursue it.... deliberately.

Agrarian-minded people choose the harder way, the slower way, the simpler way, and content themselves with less. Such a choice and such a life is completely contrary to the sweep and surge and of modern life. Moderns look at agrarian life as quaint and interesting, but not something that anyone in their right mind would take seriously.

Nevertheless, agrarian life is the historical norm. Industrial life is not. And in these days of uncertainty, amidst economic crisis and societal transition, I submit to you that pursuing the agrarian lifestyle is one of the most positive things an individual or family can do. Indeed, it is the stubborn, ideological countercultural convictions of such a dedicated minority, lived and modeled, humbly and sincerely, that can make a profound difference—not on the world stage, but within the small circles of local community, and personal relationships.

Of course, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I see agrarianism like I’ve just described it as meshing perfectly with my biblically-based beliefs.


Understanding The Corporation
I didn’t used to have a thing in the world against the idea of corporations. But that was because I had no historical perspective and no understanding of the monster.

Walter Prescott Webb’s book, Divided We Stand, does not look kindly on corporations. Professor Webb explains that the rise of corporate control has resulted in the decline of personal freedom and independence. He provides some background into how this came to be with the ratification of the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution.
 

Webb asserts (as have other historians) that the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to freed slaves after the War of Northern Aggression, was intentionally and nefariously worded by the drafting committee. Later, corporation lawyers (one of which was on the drafting committee) argued that the wording of the Amendment also guaranteed "personhood" to corporations.

In time, the corporation's lawyers managed to get the Supreme court to agree that corporations were "persons" under the Constitution. In so doing, corporations acquired immunity from taxation and regulation by the individual states. How the corporations finagled this unusual status is, in the words of Webb, "..a revelation of the most amazing transmogrification known to political science."

[transmogrify: verb. to change into different shape or form, esp. one that is fantastic or bizarre.]

I've taken the liberty of posting a lengthy excerpt on a separate blog page from Divided We Stand, in which Professor Webb tells the transmogrifying story. In it, he also teaches a wonderful fundamental lesson about what the Constitution is all about. I recommend this story to all freedom-loving Americans. Here is the link: The Dirty little Secret of How Corporations Became "Persons"


Jax Hamlin's Newest Chicken Art

Ol' Jax Hamlin has been plenty busy this past month. But he still managed to create another work of whimsical chicken art. The limited edition original shown here (limited to only 50 copies) will, however, not be available for sale until next month.

18 comments:

Cyndi Lewis said...

Don't you dare throw those letters away! Someday your children and grandchildren will appreciate them. They are a written history of you. Get them out of the bucket and stored properly as documents should be.

Carla Hays said...

Save those letters! :) Also, I would like to reserve one "Bowl With Indigo Stripes" please. Thank you. Great post as usual!

C.Hays

Anonymous said...

Do you have a link to your ebay page? I'd be interested in seeing if there's any gems amongst your boxes of books.

Carla Hays said...

I forgot to leave a recipe that your ice cream freezer ($285!!) story reminded me of. My (electric model) ice cream freezer has now also been banished to a shelf in my pantry, also populated by a bread maker (I like more physical contact with my dough)and a George Foreman Grill (don't ask!). Since I learned how to make the most delicious ice cream known to man, I have no use for such a contraption. Simply dump one quart of 1/2 and 1/2 into a bowl with 1/2 Cup of sugar, 3-4 Tbs. good quality vanilla extract, (really you can't get too much vanilla, so be your own guide) and 1/4 tsp. lemon extract. Whisk until all sugar is dissolved. Transfer mixture to a shallow baking dish and place uncovered in your freezer. Every 15 minutes or so, whisk it around until it starts freezing, then continue stirring it up a bit until it's frozen to the consistency you like. At this point it's ready to eat. Doesn't take more than a couple of hours. Put it into a covered tupperware container and Voila! Ice Cream! It won't last long, because it's so delicious, but it can be kept for several days. If we're having company or a cook-out, I simply double or triple it, and use more containers to freeze it in. For those of you lucky enough to raise your own cows for milk, yours would be even better!

Herrick, we all have too much stuff, and this post is a reminder to purge and toss. However, with your woodworking skills couldn't you build some custom bookshelves that are built in somehow, and only deep enough to accommodate your grandfather's books? Books are not considered "clutter" in my opinion, especially old family volumes that are priceless. Now if you would happen to fetch a tidy sum on Ebay for them I could be open to changing my mind! After all, there's land to purchase, and jobs to retire from, right? :)

C.Hays

Herrick Kimball said...

Cyndi-
Wow. I never expected that kind of response. I think they're stored pretty well. Mice can't get in the bucket. I've always thought my writings here (and in my Deliberate Agrarian book) were a better written history of me for my children and grandchildren—not love letters from my youth. :-)

I do appreciate your feedback.

Carla-
Oh, not you too! This must be a "woman thing."

Your Jax Hamlin Limited Edition Original is reserved. Thanks.

Anonymous-
I didn't think I had an Ebay page, but it looks like this link might be it. Otherwise, sometime in the next seven days, you can just go and search "vintage Bowdoin" and it should bring up the sweatshirt, and then you can click on the appropriate link to see other items I'm selling.

It turns out that listing stuff on Ebay takes time (like everything else) so I am only listing a few items at a time on the weekends mostly. But I expect to be doing this for the rest of the year.

Carla-
The most delicious ice cream known to man? Well, when you put it that way, I must have some! We will give it a try.

First the love letters, and now the books. Maybe I'll just forget this whole simplifying-my-life-by-getting-rid-of-stuff idea. ;-)

I don't think my grandfather's books are priceless. They just have sentimental value, mostly. I'm not getting rid of them all. For example, I'm keeping the civil war era volumes, some of which I actually have read.

And, yes, if I happened to own any book that had great monetary value—great enough to buy me some land— I would sell it without hesitation. Bound pieces of paper for land.... that would be quite a trade. It is amazing what some books sell for on Ebay (hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars). but I'm sure none of mine fall into that category.

Thanks for the ice cream recipe, and your encouragement.

Julie-Ann said...

Mr. Kimball, thank you for writing every month. Your posting is so content-rich that it takes me a month to "deep read" it and think about what you've said. I appreciate how you have chosen to walk your faith for all the world to see.

tickmeister said...

The letters will be worth gold someday. I had the good fortune to find abut a hundred letters that my father and uncle wrote to my grandmother while they were in the army during WWII. Mostly, they are mundane, but getting a glimpse into the lives of my long dead family is priceless to me.

A couple of quotes from my uncle in the South Pacific.

"I'm tired today, I spent all night sitting in a hole up to my neck in water. I was damned glad to have it to sit in too. Most of the guys who get shot get it at night."

"I spent all day yesterday squatting behind a tree while some Jap shot the bark off of it. Never could get a shot at him."

It puts a whole new light on the people who raised me. Your kids will fell the same when they get to my age.

Mrs. V said...

Herrick it sounds as if your cider vinigar has actually turned into a SCOBY or Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria & Yeast. You can use this to brew up a batch of Kombucha. It's a supposedly healthy fermented drink that I tried to get into a couple of years ago but ended up not being able to stand no matter what kind of different teas, brewing time or different sugars in various amounts I used. My son loved it though & would drink the whole batch. You might like it if fizzy drinks are your thing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha

Kevin Kossowan said...

De-cluttering feels tremendous, no? And thanks for the reminder that I need to start a batch of cider vinegar with last fall's hard cider. The nasty stuff on top is called [albeit slightly inappropriately] the 'mother'. I've read you're supposed to feed them periodically with more wine/cider to keep them healthy, and have had some successes doing so.

Always enjoy your updates!

James said...

Herrick:
if Thoreau had REALLY meant it, he would have just said, "simplify"

Dreamer said...

Herrick,

You MUST not throw out those letters! Aren't you glad that Josephine kept her diaries? I've read a good deal of my grandmother and grandfather's love letters and while I knew them in real life, I never knew them quite like they were in their letters to each other. They became real people through the letters written in their youth. Listen to Marlene and keep the letters.

Respectfully,
Dreamer

Pat said...

Hey Herrick,

Great blog - enjoy reading it.

How's it going with keeping bees? Very curious to hear how top bar hives work for you!

Pat

mgeorge0090 said...

Herrick,

I borrowed a book from a friend at work, Reader's Digest "Back to Basics". Maybe you've heard of it. While I was browsing through the pages, I noticed something that looked very similar to your apple cider press, which my wife purchased the plans for me. What the press was being used for in the book was to make cheese. I was wondering if you have ever used your cider press to make cheese? I may give it a shot after cider making season is over.

Mike

Jackie said...

Every month when I check back to read the new monthly update, it seems like you are putting the exact thoughts that are in my head! I love this site and I just want to reach out and hug the computer screen! I started reading Walden last month and I just got to the part about "simplify, simplify, simplify" yesterday. I love it!

Clint said...

There is a movie called "The Corporation." Check it out.

Almost every american complains about big government corruption, but do they know it is almost always a corruption that comes from a corporate lobby. Do those same people own stocks in these same corporations that are the persuaders of the problem? Do they continually patronize these corporate businesses with a sense a patriotism for their "good" and "cheap" multinational products? Not I, said the farmer. At least, trying not to.

Herrick Kimball said...

Julie-Ann-
Thank you. I appreciate your comment and having you as a reader.

tickmeister—
Those letters are, indeed, a treasure. Thanks for the excerpts.

Mrs. V—
I've never heard of SCOBY. But I have heard of Kombuacha. I think I have an opportunity to try it a few years back and passed on it. I wasn't feeling brave that day. I'd try it now if offered. I'm more "into" consuming probiotic food.

Kevin—
Thanks for the comment. I've not heard of feeding the "mother." We always start anew when fermenting a batch of cider.

James—
You are right. That's funny.

Dreamer—
Thanks for the input. I've often thought that I knew my grandparents in a much different way than, say, their siblings and childhood friends would have known them.

Pat—
I wish I could say those top bar hives of mine were working out great. But despite my intentions, I didn't get to making them. Too much else on my plate to deal with these days. And I was expecting to have additional land to do things like that on this spring, but that has not materialized.

mgeorge0090—
I have heard of people using their Whizbang cider press as a cheese press. Good idea. It's multi-use homestead tool!

Jackie—
Thanks for the encouraging words. I'm pleased to have you as a reader.

Clint—
I agree. And I don't have any stocks. Thanks for the comment.

Andrew said...

Would you still happen to have the Bowdoin sweatshirt?

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Andrew,

Sorry but it was sold on Ebay shortly after I mentioned it here.