And The Winners Are...
The Deliberate Agrarian Haiku Poetry Contest for 2010 ended on November 25th. There were 268 haiku submissions. Choosing the winning entries was a difficult task— very difficult. A complete listing of all 16 prize winners (and several honorable mentions) will be posted to the contest web site tomorrow. I encourage you to go there and see for yourself the many examples of excellent and deliberately agrarian poetry. But, for now, it is my pleasure to announce the top four winners in the adult category right here and now. They are as follows:
Unfold before me
Yards of rich, loamy fabric
I'll sow something fine
(Lisa has won a Planet Whizbang wheel hoe)
(Lisa has won a Planet Whizbang wheel hoe)
Farmhouse kitchen morn
Cookstove fire warms bread and friends
Snow blows cold outside
Cookstove fire warms bread and friends
Snow blows cold outside
(Scott has won a Red Pig half moon hoe)
(Scott has won a Red Pig half moon hoe)
Downy cover white
blankets my garden bed
Sleep till spring awakes
(Cindy has won a gift box of Marlene’s Morning Glory soaps)
Tragedy marked by
Firefly Windshield Splat
Daniel G. MacNeal
(Daniel has won a Piggy Back Massage Roller)
Marlene and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary a few days ago. Back in 2005, I reflected on a quarter century of matrimony and recollected our story in an essay titled The Wife of My Youth.
In a comment to my blog essay last month a reader asked if Marlene and I have always been on the same page when it comes to living a simple agrarian-based lifestyle. The answer to that is yes. But I should point out that a lower-class lifestyle (a.k.a., simplicity) has pretty much been our only option. I have never had a high paying job, or a trust fund, or a big inheritance, or wealthy parents to help me (though my grandmother Kimball was, thank God, there to help when I really hit the financial skids in 1998—99). And I should point out that Marlene has not worked outside the home since our first son was born some 22 years ago.
Until the last three or four years, with the relative success of my Planet Whizbang business, we have never had much in the way of excess money. And now that things are financially easier (at least for the time being) we would never consider not living a frugal, down-to-earth lifestyle.
Reflections On The
New Agrarian Era
Like grass and weeds growing up between cracks in the pavement of an abandoned factory parking lot, a new agrarian era is beginning to emerge. There is a resurgence of interest in frugality, simplicity, gardening, self-reliance, farm markets, off-grid living and decentralized government. These are all contra-industrial trends that dovetail perfectly with the agrarian way of life.
Five and one half years ago when I started this blog I wrote that I expected the industrial edifice to crumble, and the agrarian impulse to grow stronger. A few people told me, in so many words, that I was crazy to suggest that our modern industrialized civilization would decline to the point where we would once again become agrarian. Well, look around... it’s happening. We are in the nascent stages of agrarian revival— a New Agrarian Era is dawning.
There are, of course, still plenty of people out there (probably a vast majority) who would still consider such thinking on my part as crazy. Here and now, in the throes of economic decline—the bellwether of industrial collapse—such people are anxiously looking for a return to former prosperity, or some facsimile of it. Many have a strong hope in the promise of new “green technologies”. Some cling to every possibility of a new source of energy that will keep the gluttonous industrial machine chugging on forever, like some grand perpetual motion machine.
After all, industrial-minded technology and the wisdom of men will save us from collapse, or so the thinking goes. Never mind that industrial-minded thinking is largely responsible for the mess we find ourselves in.
Well then, call me crazy, but the hope and expectation of ever-increasing prosperity and higher-higher-much-much-higher standards of living in a world of finite energy and raw material resources is just plain delusional. Like it or not, the industrial era is waning. Oh, the crisis of industrial decline may level off a bit from time to time, and we may even see a little spike of “bubble prosperity” now and again (or not) but the trend is away from industrialism, into the new agrarian era, especially in the United States where the natural resource wealth of The Great Frontier has been largely tapped.
Now, in order to survive as a civilization, we must transition to a more sustainable paradigm, and the only truly sustainable framework for any civilization is the agrarian one.
The transition from industrialism to this new agrarian era is sure to be very difficult. Go to a busy mall (or a WalMart) and look upon all those people around you and ask yourself how many of them look capable of transitioning away from dependence on the industrial providers, back to a much more self-reliant lifestyle. How many would be able to provide for their basic necessities if the government was unable to subsidize them and/or the electricity went off for a long period of time, and/or the paper-money economy crashed? You might want to ask those questions of yourself too. I ask them of myself often.
I hazard to guess that at least half of Americans will be in dire straits as the decline of the industrial era intensifies. The unsustainability of their situation will prove deadly, especially if the interconnected grid of industrial support systems fails quickly, as has happened to highly refined civilizations of the past.
It would be much more merciful for us all if the industrial era continued to sputter and cough and progressively weaken over time, as has happened thus far. Then more people will be able to better adapt and accept their future; better able to transition to the new agrarian era. The smart and brave among them will embrace the agrarian zeitgeist of the new era before it arrives. They will roll up their sleeves, prepare and adjust. This is already happening with many people.
Perhaps we could make an analogy between the Israelites of the Old Testament who left Egypt for the Promised Land of Cannan. Israel as a nation had grown (prospered) in Egypt. But it was time to enter a new land—a new era in their appointed history.
This transition from one land (era) to the next did not happen without hardship and difficulty. The story goes that they were in the wilderness, heading for this new land, but when they got to the border, they balked. They feared the new era. Though they had been slaves in Egypt, they were well fed and knew what to expect there. So they longed for the former condition of slavery. Nevertheless, it was their destiny as a nation to move on. Even still, almost all of them refused to accept it.
Only Joshua and Caleb were eager to enter. Only Joshua and Caleb were willing to embrace the new era. Only Joshua and Caleb saw it a something better. And thus it was that only Joshua and Caleb, among that generation of transition, survived to enter in.
Okay, maybe it’s a stretch but I like the analogy. And to take it a step further, when the nation of Israel finally did enter their new era, they found the land was, indeed, good.
Will this transition from the industrial era to the new agrarian era be a step backwards? No. I don’t think so. It all depends, I suppose, on what your idea of a good and proper civilization really is. I happen to believe that the New Agrarian Era will be a step ahead for mankind.
Now, right here in such a discussion as this is where the devout Moderns among us will bring up the old, pre-industrial agrarian era and point out that people back then lived miserable lives, working long hours to grub out a bare existence. Life expectancies were half what they are today, and people died wretched deaths. And... and... and dentistry was brutal in those days!
Well, it is true that life was harder back then. Industrialism has, at least near the end of its run, raised the comfort and leisure level of most people—those who live in the industrial nations. And many people do have longer life spans. And, truly, dentistry is much improved.
But the industrial era apologist fails to understand that the harder work required within an agrarian culture can be very gratifying work. Our bodies were made to work and most people would be healthier if they did a little more physical work, preferably in the soil (as opposed to some dehumanizing factory).
As for the misery factor, people who lived in the previous agrarian era were not all miserable people. Historical evidence does not bear that out. Of course there were some miserable people back then, but there are also miserable people today (lots of ‘em). In the final analysis, misery is more often a result of moral decadence and a condition of the heart than it is a condition of agrarianism vs industrialism.
As for the claim of extended industrial era life expectancies, that doesn’t impress me. Modern man seems to worship the idea of personal longevity. We should all be attentive to our health by living a healthy lifestyle (like, for example, an agrarian lifestyle) but this striving for longevity is a vain pursuit. We must all die one day. No technology will change that reality. I think our great challenge as created beings is not to live a long as we can but to live as well as we can in the relatively short span we are allotted.
As a Christian, I define a well-lived life as one that honors God by humbly acknowledging His sovereignty, loving His law, and embracing the grace and mercy He freely gives. The outward manifestation of this kind of life is profound gratefulness, personal responsibility, forgiveness, and a love for others. This kind of life can be lived within the agrarian era as well as, if not better than, any other.
Furthermore, even in the midst of so many advances in medical technology, millions of people in this industrial world still suffer and die wretched deaths from horrible sicknesses (if it isn’t one, it’s another). In many instances, modern medicine merely prolongs agony. And, in the end, the doctors will often prescribe an opiate-derived pain killer to comfort the patient. Opiates are an ancient plant-derived (agrarian) form of medicine.
There is a widespread belief that industrial era technology is good and worthy of veneration because it has saved millions of lives. I reject that premise. Such thinking fails to acknowledge that industrial technology has inflicted sickness, suffering and death on so many millions of people over the last couple of centuries. How many have been harmed or killed as a result of industrial toxins, or industrial accidents, or the ever increasing destruction of creation by the industrial juggernaut? No one keeps track of such a number but we can be sure it is enormous.
It is impossible to know how the New Agrarian Era will shake out. I don’t imagine that it will be exactly like the old agrarianism. The path of history is not circular. Though we may see circular patterns over time, the history of the world moves ahead in a straight line from its appointed beginning to its appointed end. No new era is exactly like a previous era. So what lies before us will probably be a blend of applicable industrial-era knowledge combined with agrarian sensibilities and practices.
In the area of religion, the new agrarian era may be ushered in with a genuine revival of spiritual reality. As earthly treasures and trusted earthly institutions fail, as people are stripped of their materialistic pride, many will repent of their industrial faith and once again acknowledge that, apart from the God who created them, life is always an exercise in vanity and misery—no matter how long or short it is.
Whatever the case, make no mistake about it, we are living in a time of epic sea change as the industrial era recedes and is replaced by a new agrarian era. Maybe we could call it Agrarian Era 2.0
The Agrarian Trend
I don’t read Inc. magazine. But a friend of mine recently gave me an article from that publication. It was actually from his son, a recent college graduate with a business degree who is trying hard to find a job in a world where jobs for college graduates are now very hard to come by. Anyway, this article from the September 2010 issue discusses the “emerging postdownturn economy” and the “New Consumer” it has created. The “expert opinion” in the article comes from a man who “presides over the world’s largest database of information about consumer attitudes.” Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
When you consider layoffs, downsizing, delayed raises, and reduced hours, more than half of all American workers have suffered losses. This very real pain has driven us to reconsider our definition of the good life. People are finding happiness in old-fashioned virtues—thrift, do-it-yourself projects, self-improvement, faith, and community—and in activities and relationships outside the consumer realm.
Self reliance [is] a big thing. More and more consumers are moving from consumption to production. People are raising chickens in their backyards. Home canning was up during the recession. There’s a rise in the barter economy, where people are trading goods and skills instead of spending money. Sixty-four percent of Americans want to do more things and make more things themselves.
The New Agrarian Era
The New Agrarian Era
|They don't make combines like this anymore. Too bad.|
As the new agrarian era is emerging, there is a need for new tools to help individuals and families reestablish home and community-based food production enterprises—tools suited to small-scale farming and market gardening. There was once a time when these kinds of tools were more common.
The Planet Jr. company produced such tools for working the land with horses and manpower. In later years, Planet Jr. introduced motorized walk-behind tractors, precursors of the common garden rototiller.
Along this line of thinking I have recently learned about the Allis Chalmers Model 60 All Crop Harvester (pictured above) that came out in 1935. The beauty of this pull-behind machine was that it was small and relatively inexpensive to purchase, and it was incredibly versatile in that it would harvest 106 different crops.
A Google search on my part turned up one of these remarkable relics being sold in a Crags List posting in the midwest. The combine had been stored under cover for it’s entire life and the seller wanted $1,200. Personally, I’ll never need such a tool and I have no place to store it but things like that really interest me. I hope someone who will actually put it to use gets it!
Tools like the Allis Chalmers Model 60 are for farmers but I’m more inclined to the garden-scale, or subsistence way of life (as discussed in last month’s essay). Thus, I’m enamored with the idea of harvesting grain with a scythe. Fact is, I love scythes, own a nice one, and when I was a teen I actually did harvest a small bit of wheat with a scythe.
In the hands of an experienced person, the scythe is an amazingly efficient tool. Unlike a Model 60 or any other machine with belts and gears and bearings and pulleys and such, the scythe requires little in the way of maintenance or replacement parts. No gasoline is needed either. With a scythe, the greatest part of the “machine” is the scyther’s body. And properly swung, the scythe is not as tiring as you might think.
That said, there is definitely a resurgence of interest in scything (which goes right along with my new-agrarian-era hypothesis).
|I don't suppose these are American women.|
For harvesting even smaller patches of grain, a sickle, like pictured above will do the job just fine.
Once the grain is cut, it needs to be threshed, which means the seeds are separated from the plant. I see that some inventive person is making foot-powered grain threshers. Here is a picture...
|Foot-Powered Grain "Thrasher"|
That thresher is available from Back To The Land Store and will set you back $780. I predict they will sell a lot of those in the days ahead. Here’s the link if you want to get one: Wheat Thrasher Link
After threshing, grain needs to be cleaned. Fanning mills came out in the mid 1800s and they did a fine job of separating chaff, stones and weed seeds from threshed grain. Here is an old hand-crank fanning mill...
|This is a classic fanning mill|
To a small degree, I have contributed to the need for tools in the new agrarian era. My affordable homemade chicken plucker and chicken scalder plan books have proved popular. Same goes for the Whizbang Apple Grinder & Cider Press. And the Whizbang Garden Cart too.
|Hand washing eggs at the sink is a fine job for the children...as long as you have a small home flock.|
Over the years, people have sent me ideas for homestead-scale tools to invent. I kept a list but have now misplaced it. The number-one item people have requested is a reasonably priced egg washer that does not work by water immersion. Well, the good news is that someone has now come up with such a tool. It’s called the Gibson Ridge Farm Portable Egg Washer. You can use it at the kitchen sink. It “will clean 28 eggs a minute and up to 300 eggs in 11 minutes.” Little online information is available but if that Gibson Ridge egg washer can do what they claim, it’s going to be in big demand.
|Sausage is easy. Sausage is good. We made a lot of it!|
Marlene and I processed our first pig this last month. We didn’t grow the animal. One of our neighbors did, and we bought half of it. A local butcher killed and gutted and sectioned our half. He also kept the bacon slab and is smoking it for us. We cut out the pork chops with a meat saw. All the rest of the meat was ground into sausage.
I don’t know much about how to cut up a pig. I have a lot to learn. So we just made a lot of sausage. Sausage is a versatile meat. It’s also quick and easy to make.
That LEM 3/4 hp electric meat grinder in the picture above is a great machine. We bought it because we figure we will make sausage of one sort or the other for years to come, and our kids will too.
My son Robert —who got himself a nice deer in October (pictured in last month’s blog essay)— has shot two more deer since. After getting the prime cuts out of the deer, the easiest thing to do with all the rest of the meat is to grind it up. Add 10% pork fat to the mix, along with some sausage spices, and you have yourself a decent venison sausage.
So the grinder will prove useful in the years ahead, as long as the electricity stays on. If not, we have a hand-crank grinder for backup.
Granted, it is a whole lot easier to just buy sausage and pork chops at the grocery store. That becomes very clear as you are dealing with big, ugly, raw-meat sections of a hog. But this hog is local and we know exactly what’s in our homemade sausage. That is important to us. Besides, this experience is part of a process. It is the first step in a journey. In time, we hope/expect to raise our own hog and butcher it ourselves. And we will cure our own bacon someday too. One step at a time.
|Anvil After Being Shot|
“Anvil shooting has a long proud history in America.” It was common in pioneer days. I never heard of it until I saw THIS VIDEO. Amazing.
My thanks to Christopher Patton over at Reformed Yeoman blog for letting me know about the BBC television program, The Victorian Kitchen Garden. I found some snippets of the program on You Tube and very much enjoyed them. Here is a link to one of them: Victorian Kitchen Garden on YouTube
While I was looking at those YouTube clips I happened upon another BBC television series, Victorian Farm. Wow. Another great program! And the good news is that you can watch the entire series on YouTube. It is in 36 segments. I have watched them all and have enjoyed them immensely.
The Victorian era (late 1800s) in England was a time of significant transition in agriculture. It was becoming industrialized with the introduction of the steam thresher and other machines. Still, those were the old days and fascinating to learn about.
In one episode of Victorian Farm, the characters go rabbit hunting with ferrets. They put nets over the entrances to the rabbit den and put a ferret in one of the holes. If there are rabbits down there, they soon run out and are caught by the net. Amazingly, the program shows a man taking one of the live rabbits and skillfully breaking it’s neck to kill it.
|Ferret Rabbit Hunters|
It turns out that Marlene’s great-grandfather hunted rabbits here in central N.Y. with a ferret. Her mother, now almost 96 years old, remembers the ferrets.
In another episode of Victorian Farm, they cook a pigs head. The woman doing the cooking spoons boiled eyeballs out and puts them on a platter for the May Day celebration. Pig eyeballs were a delicacy she says. Then she informs the viewers that if you think you haven’t eaten pig eyeballs you’re just fooling yourself, meaning that they are in sausage when you buy it.
Do the characters in the show actually eat the pig eyeballs? Well, you will just have to watch for yourself to find out. I can not recommend victorian Farm enough. here is a link to the first episode: Victorian Farm on YouTube
An Amish Population Explosion
|A small horse pulling a small Amish family|
I have subscribed to The Budget, which is a national weekly newspaper for the Amish and Mennonites. I subscribed out of curiosity and to see if it might be an appropriate place to advertise my business.
The paper consists primarily of reports from “scribes” in Amish and Mennonite communities all over America and in some foreign countries. The news centers around things like who is sick, who has died, who is visiting, who got married, children that were born, who is preaching in church, who has been ordained, who has had an accident and so on. In some respects it’s kind of boring because I don’t know any of the people. But, on the other hand, it’s very interesting. In a future installment of this blog, I will post some of the more interesting “news” and you will get an idea of what kind of life these people live.
For this month, I want to tell you about something that fascinates me.... the obituaries. I have read elsewhere that the population of “plain people” is really growing. Well, if you read some of the obituaries in The Budget, you’ll know why....
In the November 17 issue, the obituary for Mr. Ralph Yutzy, a Mennonite man of 86 years, a farmer and a cabinetmaker in his day, tells us that he left behind 13 children, 152 grandchildren, and 438 great-grandchildren. I’ll do the math for you. It’s 603 children from this one man in a relatively short span of years. Not every obituary is like Mr. Yutzy’s but his is not an oddity.
The Virts Family Tradition
|Men of the Virtz Family getting together in November to process their hogs.|
In reading The Budget, I came upon a short report of an 8-year-old boy who had accidentally fallen into a kettle of ponhaus and was not doing well. Ponhaus? What is ponhaus?
I Googled the word and soon found myself at an internet page for a web site about the descendants of Wilhelm Wurtz. The page was titled, “A Virtz Country Butchering.”
I discovered that ponhaus is a combination of lard and other hog parts that is boiled in a large kettle. The finished product is also known as scrapple. I said a prayer for that little boy and read the story...
November was the time for butchering hogs. It has been a fall tradition in the Virts family for well over 100 years. The Raymond E. Virts family on the Long Lane in Lovettsville, Virginia always butchered on Thanksgiving day. You might consider the butchering day as a family reunion held several times each November as this even would bring together siblings, cousins and friends. There was always a friendly competition amongst Raymond's brothers to see who had the largest hog. It was not uncommon to have a hog have a dressed weight of over 400 pounds. Such a hog would produce over 40 pound hams that would be sugar cured. Most local families had a butchering and would usually slaughter form 2 - 14 hogs, depending on the size of the family. Butchering is nearly extinct today. You will only find a hand full of families that still carry on the tradition. Hardly anyone even knows how to do it anymore. I would have to say it is a dying art.There is a resurgence of interest in home hog butchering but the old-timers who know how to do it are mostly gone. So those who wish to resurrect the custom are faced with the obstacles of ignorance, which can only be overcome with deliberate determination. Also needed is a younger generation that shares an interest in the adventure. Can hog butchering compete with the latest video game?
You can read and see the story of “A Virts Country Butchering” at THIS LINK.
[Last minute updated information: I sent an e-mail to the Virts Family asking if they still butchered hogs. The reply....”Our last butchering was in 1998. We sold the farm in 2000.”]
Men Teaching Boys
|Click the picture to see an enlarged view of men and boys on the farm in the late 1800's|
When you look at the pictures of the Virts family butchering hogs together you see that they look to be from the 1970s, and a lot of older men are working together. I see no boys in the pictures. That leads me to suspect that the Virts family no longer does this annual activity. And this has me thinking...
How did those older men in the pictures learn the dying art of hog butchering? Did they watch a television program on the subject? Did they read a book about it? Did they attend a seminar? No, they learned it from their fathers and grandfathers, brother-in-laws and uncles, starting when they were just boys.
When America was an agrarian nation, boys learned to do the work of men— and be men— from participating in the hands-on productive work of men. There were plenty of opportunities for this within the world of farming and homesteading. To begin, the younger boys watched and absorbed the ethos of the men doing their work. In time, they would be included in the work, doing small but necessary and important tasks. As they grew older, they boys would be entrusted with more responsibility.
|This farm boy from the past has been entrusted with a lot of responsibility. He is contributing to the important work of getting the crop in. He is working with men, doing a man's job.|
What about today? How do boys learn to be men these days?
Methinks the average modern boy grows up in a home where there is no practical work for him to do beyond clean his room, and take out the garbage. Maybe, just maybe, he mows the lawn. Then what? Watch television? Well, of course. And boys today certainly form ideas about what it means to be a man by watching television...
|A Modern Boy, absorbing the ethos of modern manhood from the television.|
And where are the men?
Fathers and grandfathers and uncles and brother-in-laws are all heading off every day, all day, for their industrial-world jobs, away from their boys (who are shuttled off to government schools for instruction). Men now sit in cubicles staring at computer screens. On the weekends they watch sports on television or go golfing. And their boys are watching, learning what it means to be a man.
|Here we have a modern father teaching his son how to be a cubicle worker just like he probably is.|
Without men teaching boys to be men, as was once the agrarian tradition, we now have untold numbers of grown men who have been effectively emasculated by modern culture. They are increasingly feminized (or, worse yet, confused about their gender). They are self-centered, immature and uncertain about what it means to be a man.
|Do you think an upbringing like these agrarian boys are experiencing, and the modern boy watching television in the picture above will produce two different kinds of men? I sure do.|
|Photo From Subsistence Pattern Web Site|
I have discovered an ambitious, inspiring, down-to-earth blog that is loaded with useful information for people who are interested in the gardening facet of self-reliance. It’s called Subsistence Pattern and I encourage you to check it out.
While there, my eyes latched onto the following quote:
"Maybe a person's time would be as well spent
raising food as raising money to buy food. "
-- Frank A. Clark
You may not know who Frank A. Clark is but I’ll be telling you about him and giving you some more of his quotes in a future “edition” of this monthly blogazine.
Morning Glory Soaps
Last month I mentioned that we are now selling gift packs of Marlene’s handcrafted soaps. Several people have ordered them, and Marlene appreciates the orders. The gift packs are still available as long as the soap supply holds out, and you can learn more at this link: Morning Glory Soap Gift Boxes
That’s it for this month’s installment. Lord willing, I’ll return with another Deliberate Agrarian blogazine post on the last day of next month. Here’s wishing all of you who celebrate Christmas a blessed holiday.