The Deliberate Agrarian Blogazine
January 2011

Dateline: 31 January 2011

It's About Food

Here at the end of January, as I am about to post this monthly blogazine essay, the country of Egypt is in turmoil. There are demonstrations in the streets. Protesters are clashing with police. Buildings are being looted and burned. People are dying. Why?

Yes, the people live in a dictatorship and they want freedom. But they have lived under that kind of government for decades. Something tipped them over. As I listen to the mainstream media on my satellite radio, very little is said about the spark that ignited this unrest. But I heard it mentioned in passing with a news media interview of the Israeli ambassador. 

The ambassador was at a world economic summit in Switzerland. In the course of the interview he made the statement that, "These people are hungry. They are facing food shortages." No further comment was made about this subject of food. But there it was. It's not really a secret but it doesn't seem to be something that the mainstream press is talking about.
Back on January 22, I happened upon an online article at Business Insider titled, The 25 Countries Whose Governments Could Get Crushed By Food Price Inflation. I recommend the article to you.

Egypt is on that list. The amount paid for food, as a percentage of household consumption, in the country of Egypt, is 48.1%. The country is a negative net food exporter. In other words, Egypt is not food independent; it is unable to provide for the food needs of its population. And all those people who are clamoring for a change of leadership to bring them some relief are helpless to provide for themselves. 
They are primarily city dwellers, and city dwellers are among the most helpless dependents of any nation when it comes to providing for their most basic food needs. This is a tragedy and it is bound to spread. Look at the countries on the list. Some of them may surprise you.

No, the United States is not on the list. As near as I can determine, the percentage of income spent on food in the US is around 12%. But that was an old statistic—from before the 2008 crash. Such statistics in this country have surely changed in the last two years.

Nevertheless, Americans are facing food price increases, and any unrest in other parts of the world can and will affect our economy, which really isn't all that stable at the moment. The industrialized world we live in is so interconnected, has so many complex systems, with complex dependencies, and control over major markets is so centralized, that we are in a precarious situation.

What lessons can we as a nation and as individuals learn from the chaos in Egypt?

Jeffersonian Democracy
I get a kick out of mainstream news commentators who throw the phrase "Jeffersonian democracy" out when speaking of governments. The inference being that Jeffersonian democracy is a good thing—the ideal form of government—and that other nations would be better off if they could somehow become Jeffersonian democracies.

Well, of course they would. And I  believe that America would have a better from of government if we had a Jeffersonian democracy too!

Thomas Jefferson would be aghast to see what has happened to this country. It isn't what he envisioned. Jefferson warned about the dangers of industrialism and the powerful banking interests that would, if the nation was not careful, destroy the Republic. Jefferson believed American would be strongest if it were an Agrarian Nation. He warned of the great dangers of being a nation of dependents.
“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”
Yes indeed, Jeffersonian democracy is a prudent form of government, but I dare say the talking heads out there don't know what they're talking about when mention Jefferson democracy. (Click Here to read my "Jeffersonian Solution" essay if you have not already done so)

29 Years Old!

The last day of January is my birthday, once again. I am 29 years old, once again. I am feeling wistful, once again. Birthdays are like that for me.

Three years ago (when I turned 50 26) I decided it was high time that I learned to play a musical instrument. Some of you longtime readers may remember this event in my life. You may remember that I settled on the banjo because banjo music agrees with me. I figured that learning to play a banjo couldn’t be that much harder than learning to butcher a chicken, which I like to think I’m pretty good at (Click Here to see).

So I bought myself a real fine banjo, handcrafted by a goat farmer/banjo maker in the hills of Virginia. It’s a beautiful instrument that I really like.

Now, three years later, I can tell you that, without a doubt, I am a failure as a banjo player. An utter failure. Butchering chickens is much easier to learn than playing a banjo is.

I will keep my fine, handcrafted banjo safe in its case and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a grandchild someday that will take an interest in the instrument. That would please me.

Meanwhile, I have given a lot of thought to another instrument that I’d like to play, instead of the banjo.

Bagpipe music agrees with me. How hard can it be to play a bagpipe? I’ve got a good bit of Scot in  me, you know. Seems like that would help.

So I mentioned this desire of mine to learn the bagpipes to my wife, Marlene. She looked at me with a perfectly straight face and suggested that maybe I should consider the tambourine instead.

Then she burst out laughing at her suggestion, like she had told a funny joke.

A real comedian, that Marlene is.

The Franz Family

Speaking of music—I mean really good music—have you seen the Franz family? Mom, dad, and the four kids are remarkably talented (perhaps I could learn to play the dobro).

Some Blogs For You To Visit
Photo of Owen Bridge with his haymaking equipment from The Ruminant web site
It has always been my policy to recommend other agrarian-minded blogs that I come across. I think there are a lot more of these coming online all the time, and that's a good thing. Here are three links that you may like...
Stone Cottage Diaries— I'm not sure how I found my way to this down-to-earth blog, but the first thing I read there was Nickel & Dimin' it in 2011 in which the young woman who writes the blog tells of how she and her husband are focusing on paying off their mortgage early. But, beyond that, Bo (her husband) has done something this year that most men only dream of... and his wife is totally supportive of it.... and it is really nice to see.

The Ruminant— Jordan Marr up in Canada has a nice little blog in which he's trying to spread some good farming and homesteading ideas around. I read his story titled Owen Bridge's Hand-Made Hayrake and liked it very much. 

Stumbling Homestead— The Menard family out in Oregon have a pleasant web site with a variety of podcasts. I found them when they asked me if I would be interested in doing a podcast interview. It is my policy to politely decline all requests for interviews (because I am a shy and not-well-spoken agrarain) but I do like what they are doing.

Update on My Book Project
I'm so  old... 
I did my first typing as a kid on a typewriter very similar to this.

As mentioned last month, I have decided to self-publish another book and I launched myself into it as of January first. I have spent many days this month working on the book. I have sat for hours pounding the keyboard and staring into the cathode rays of my computer screen. My fingers hurt and my optical nerves are frazzled. But I am making very good progress towards my goal of having the book ready for the printer by the last day of February. 

In high school I learned to type on an electric typewriter like this. It was probably the most useful thing I ever learned in high school. I'm a five-finger typer. I use three fingers on my right hand and two on the left. I'm pretty fast.... but I have to look at the  keyboard most of the time. So I guess I didn't really learn to type very well in high school.

I’ve told Marlene that I think this might be my last book. She has never heard that from me before. Well, maybe one more after this. We'll see :-)

My new book will be something of a magnum opus for me. It will be large at 8.5” x 11” and I think it will have 200-plus pages. It will contain a tremendous amount of information.

And right about here, a good ways into the project, with a good ways yet to go, with a surprisingly high price quote from the printer, with the economy in the dumps, I find myself questioning whether I should even be doing this book. 

But this kind of questioning is pretty much par for the course.

Maybe it is the same for other seat-of-the-pants, amateur, self-publishers too. But I wouldn’t know because, frankly, I don’t know anyone else who self publishes books like I do. It’s a lonely obsession.

I bought myself a Personal Word Processor similar to this in the early 1990s to help me with typing job descriptions and price quotes for my remodeling business. I would compose what I wanted on the screen, hit a button, and the typewriter would automatically clack away, typing off a single copy. I started my career as a professional writer (meaning that I got paid for it) by typing articles for Fine Homebuilding magazine on this kind of machine. When I wrote my first book for Fine Homebuilding back in 1995, they told me they needed the manuscript on a computer disc. That's when I bought my first computer.
A Mac, of course.
Regardless of any pangs of doubt midway through the project, and barring any unexpected problems, I will get this book done because it is something I've felt compelled to do for a few years, and I believe a lot of people will find it informative, useful, and inspiring. 

The book will be appreciated by people with an agrarian mindset, and especially people who are have an interest in old agrarian ways and the culture of America when we were once an Agrarian Nation. It will be an informative, thought-provoking book with new-old ideas and inspiration. Did I mention that it would be an inspiring book?  

I will be starting a new educational blog to promote the book and to expand on the ideas and information in it. I will post to the blog a couple times a month (more frequently than here!) and I think it will be a lot of fun.

More details next month..... hopefully

The New Precious Metal
I was speaking with a 12-year-old boy the other day. He told me he collects coins. I asked him what kind of coins he collects and he told me that mostly he looks through the cash register at his parents diner for wheat pennies. That got me to thinking....

I remember very well when I was 11 or 12 years old and started collecting coins. Back then it was possible to find an occasional buffalo nickle, or a mercury dime, or even a standing liberty quarter in circulation. But mostly I looked for pre-1965 dimes and quarters because they had real silver content.

When I had some spending money I would walk to the bank branch in the shopping center outside our housing development and trade cash for rolls of dimes, nickels and quarters. Then I'd eagerly sort through the rolls looking for the silver coins (Jefferson nickles between 1942 and 1945 had a 35% silver content). After a few days I'd turn the rolls back in at the bank for cash. Then after a few more days I'd repeat the process.

Today a roll of pre-1965 silver dimes, with a face value of five dollars, sells for around $100. That's twenty times the face value. So if you had the foresight in 1964 to put aside $100 worth of common pocket change (dimes or quarters), it would be worth $2,000 today.
I never took wheat pennies very seriously when I was a kid. The last year they were made was 1958, the year I was born, and they were plentiful for a lot of years. But, amazingly, a 50-cent roll of wheat pennies is now selling for $3.50 on ebay. They are worth approximately seven times their face value. That's a 700% increase in value.

This got me to thinking about the value of paper money and coins. The intrinsic value of paper dollars is pretty much nothing. But it turns out this is not the case with some coins, even though they no longer contain any silver. 
It so happens that the copper content in  Lincoln pennies minted before 1982 is 95%, and the copper content in any Jefferson nickel now in circulation is 75% copper (and 25% nickel). With the current copper value at around $4.30 a pound, pre-1982 pennies are worth just about three cents each. And the copper/nickle value of every nickel now in circulation is just about seven cents.

Based on that knowledge, it makes a lot of sense to save those pre-1982 pennies and every nickel you can find. Before long, the copper/nickel alloy used in nickels is sure to be cheapened, probably to inexpensive zinc, as has been done with modern pennies.

If I were 12-years-old again, I'd be looking for not just wheat pennies but all Lincoln pennies with the 95% copper content.

It turns out that quite a few people are now "investing" in rolls of nickels. They are getting $100 boxes of rolls at the bank and just squirreling them away. And there are a lot of people out there seriously "mining" rolls of pennies, looking to extract all the copper cents. There are even machines you can buy to run your pennies through. The machine automatically separates the zinc pennies from the copper pennies. It won't be long before the copper pennies are gone from circulation.

Copper, primarily in the form of pennies and nickels, is now the "poor man's" precious metal. Do an Ebay search of "copper penny bullion" and you will find copper pennies for sale. For example, you can buy $100 face value of pennies (68 pounds worth) for around $200. There are no listings for Jefferson nickel bullion.... yet, but there will be some day. 

Many people are loading up on a supply of nickels and pennies for another reason. If the Powers That Be can't work their financial magic and save the economy from it's decline, we may well have an inflationary depression. The value of paper money will decline significantly, perhaps even to the point of worthlessness. America has never experienced this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean we won't. If it happens, copper pennies and nickels, with their intrinsic metal value, may become widely used for exchange instead of worthless dollars. It's entirely possible that a Jefferson nickel would have more buying power than a one hundred dollar bill. And if we go the other direction with a deflationary depression, the coins will hold their value. It would appear that you can't go wrong with copper pennies and nickels as an investment, or so it seems to me.

To keep track of the current melt-value of all kinds of American coinage, check out

For my young readers who are inspired by this coin collecting idea, I suggest that you let your friends and relatives know that you have taken up penny collecting. I'll bet many of them will be glad to help by saving pennies for you.

Here's An Idea
(for 12-year-old boys of all ages)

If I understand correctly, no significant new copper ore discoveries have been made in a hundred years. Copper demand currently exceeds production levels. That's why scrap dealers are paying the highest prices they've ever paid for copper scrap. This could, of course, change if industrial demand (primarily from China) were to drop significantly, and that's why pennies, with their face value, are better to "invest" in than bars of copper bullion. But there is another way to get yourself a supply of premium copper....

Every electrical appliance that has a motor has a power cord that has copper wire in it. And the electric motor itself has a lot of copper. Everything from garbage disposals to washing machines to vacuum cleaners to electric kitchen mixers have copper in them. If you see one of these items being thrown away, cut the cord, extract the motor, and salvage the copper. 

This is an educational, as well as a lucrative, little hobby that I recommend primarily to boys (and men) because most boys (and men) have a natural love of disassembling machines.

Just last week Marlene's electric kitchen mixer broke. No problem (she had a garage-sale backup on hand).  I decided to see just how much copper wire I could get out of that cheap little mixer. I performed the extraction operation using a few basic hand tools at the  kitchen table. It took about 15 minutes. And it was a lot of fun. In the end, I had myself 1-3/4 ounces of clean, bright copper wire, which always brings a premium at the scrap yard.

Broken mixer on left. Copper "mining" tools on the right. Copper wire in the center. Small Farmer's Journal underneath

Now, let's see.... If the value of copper is now up to $4.30 a pound, that's about 27-cents an ounce. So my 1-3/4 ounces of copper is currently worth about 47-cents. That's from a chintzy little plastic mixer. 

Who knows what copper will be worth a year from now, or five years from now? It could be worth a whole lot more than $4.30 a pound. Recycling can be a good investment. Mining thrown-out appliances for the copper makes good financial sense. Put your wire in a big plastic pail and add to it whenever you can, like a savings account. That's what I'm doing.

Inflation Calculations

Speaking of inflation and all of that, I think this is a good time to mention the US Inflation Calculator. It's a fascinating little web device that allows you to figure out how much value the American dollar has lost since 1913, which is the year the Federal Reserve Bank was established. :-(

For example, according to the calculator, it would take $754.52 in today's dollars to buy what $100 dollars would buy in 1958, the year I was born. 

So, according to the calculator, in the year 1964,  when my Grandfather Kimball made two $500 deposits into the savings account he started for me, it was the equivalent of a grandfather today making two deposits of $3, 517.02 (a total of $7,034.04) for his grandson. That puts things in a whole new perspective.

It's unlikely that I will ever be able to put away money like that for my grandchildren. Maybe I can save a few rolls of pennies and nickels. :-)

Garden Planning

Another Great Idea!

After much consideration, Marlene and  have ordered our garden seeds. I have great hopes for this year's garden. The last couple of years I've had very productive gardens but they have not looked so good. My problem is a real lack of time to keep them properly cultivated, especially as I am working at the factory job and trying to run the Planet Whizbang business here at home. It's too much for me, and the garden gets neglected. Still, I have high hopes, and I mean that literally...

Last year I experimented with some trellis growing ideas for beans, tomatoes and cucumbers. I had some successes and some failures, but I learned a lot, and I'm anxious to expand on the ideas that worked. For example my trellised tomatoes, pruned a certain way, came out beautiful. Here's a close-up from last summer...

These Tommy Toe tomatoes trellised up beautifully and yielded bountifully for us in 2010.
We ended up with many pounds of those Tommy Toes from three tomato plants. This year I will be trellising eight varieties of tomatoes, and only three plants of each. If they grow and yield anything like the Tommy Toe, we will have plenty of tomatoes for our needs.

I grew a section of trellised green beans last year and a couple long rows of bush green beans. Marlene told me to just grow the trellised beans this year. They are much easier to pick and seem to yield over a longer length of time. 

Trellised cucumbers were also much easier to pick. Someday I hope to have my trellising system worked out to my satisfaction and I'll give you a  lot more details. 

One gardening idea I decided to try last year that did not work at all for me was those upside down tomato planters. I put two by our back patio. They were vibrant, healthy, plants (that Marlene had started from seed) when I put them in the upside down planters. A few days later, this is what they looked like....

I won't be trying this idea again

“Oh God, Pride Of Man,
Broken In The Dust Again”

In my younger days, I liked to listen to the folk music of Gordon Lightfoot. Feeling wistful and a little nostalgic in this month, I went to YouTube and checked out some of the Gordon Lightfoot clips. One was a song that I had never heard before. It is titled Pride of Man and was written by the folk singer/actor, Hamilton Camp, back in 1964 (there's that year again).

Pride of Man is a secular song, yet full of prophetic and vivid Biblical imagery, with the destruction of Babylon, and Egypt, two ancient pagan cultures. It’s interesting to note that he mentions a  falling tower and terror. I happen to believe the Twin Towers were a symbol of the pride of man in our modern Babylonian culture, just as is the entire modern financial system.

From what I’ve read of him, Hamilton Camp was not a Christian, yet his song resonates with me as a Christian. I am particularly struck by the last two lines:

And only God can lead the people back into the earth again 
Thy holy mountain be restored, thy mercy on thy people Lord
Deliberate Contentment
(A Chapter From My Book)
One Man's Ruminations About Faith, Family and Livin' The Good Life
In the comments on last month's blogazine, a man mentioned that he appreciated the chapter about contentment in my Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian book. Since I have been working feverishly on a new book this month, and have not been able to commit the usual amount of time to preparing this here blogazine issue, I've decided to publish that portion of the book here for you....
Chapter 6
Deliberate Contentment

A few stories back I told you how Marlene and I acquired our land and the home we live in, and how God has blessed our family. I believe the agrarian life we experience here is truly idyllic. That is, however, not to say it is carefree, because it is not. And neither do I mean to imply that difficult and unpleasant things do not come our way, because they do. But the goodness and satisfaction of our lifestyle is authentic.

All of this originates with our Christian faith and rests on the fundamental truth that God is in total control. He orchestrates the circumstances of our life for His good purposes. This is the very definition of His being sovereign.

Understanding and accepting God’s absolute sovereignty is foundational to living a godly life. Whenever I talk about The Good Life, what I really mean is a godly life lived within an agrarian paradigm.

I do not believe you can remove godly living and still realize The Good Life. You can have a lesser imitation but not the genuine article. All of which leads me to the subject of contentment, which is another vital part of The Good Life.

To my way of thinking, contentment is the same as being satisfied and comfortable with God’s provision, with His blessings. It is, very simply, the humble acceptance of His sovereignty and will.

On the other hand, discontentment is pride, it is anger, it is war against God’s providence. It is the same as saying to Him: “This is not enough! I want more!” Discontentment breeds bitterness, and rebellion, and worse.

Instead of working and waiting patiently for God’s greater provision (if He so chooses to grant it), the discontented person gets what he wants by other means: plunging into debt, questing for wealth, and even stealing, which, to my way of thinking, includes culturally acceptable forms of theft, like taking government grants or other handouts of taxpayer dollars.

Those who live with a proper understanding of their relationship to God understand that, because of Adam’s sin, God doesn’t owe us anything more than death and damnation. That this Holy Sovereign would send His sinless Son to live among us and then die a cruel death to atone for our sins is difficult to comprehend. This alone is far more than we deserve. That He then meets the basic needs of those who call Him Lord (and many who do not) is further evidence of His incredible goodness. That, in most instances, He grants us gifts far beyond our genuine needs is a further manifestation of His grace (getting what you don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting what you do deserve).

Nevertheless, after all such blessings are embraced and enjoyed, God’s people are prone to whine and cry and moan and complain. We have the audacity to believe we should have more. Some even think to themselves that they deserve more. This is nothing short of a crime, and when we do this sort of thing, we open ourselves up to very bad consequences.

the spirit of discontentment is always there, in the shadows, watching. He dogs you, waiting for his opportunity, waiting to exploit your weakness. He will let you first entertain those other spirits: jealousy, envy, covetousness, and materialism. They will lead you off the path. They will tear at your soul. They will weaken your faith. They will marinate you in their sourness. Finally, they will deliver you to the demon. And when discontentment sinks his teeth into you, the joy and peace of godly contentment leave.

It is sad to see discontent in others. It is sadder yet to see it in ourselves.

Some Quotes to Ponder

“To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power.”
—George McDonald
"There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more.  The other is to desire less."
— G. K. Chesterton
"Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is 'finding his place in it' while really it is finding it's place in him."
—C.S. Lewis
"The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket. "
—George Orwell
"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry