A short selection of quotes from E. P. Roe

In my previous blog entry, I introduced you to Edward Payson Roe, a Christian agrarian writer from the 1800s. In this blog I’d like to share some choice quotations from a couple of his books. Take a moment to read these and I think you’ll start to appreciate Mr. Roe's writing.

Those who need much instruction in regard to [planting] bush-beans should remain in the city and raise cats in their paved back yards. We shall only warn against planting too early--not before the last of April in our region. It does not take much frost to destroy the plants, and if the soil is cold and wet, the beans decay instead of coming up.

There is a large class who believe in small fruits, and know their value. They enjoy them amazingly at a friend's table, and even buy some when they are cheap. A little greater outlay and a little intelligent effort would give them an abundant supply from their own grounds. In a vague way they are aware of this, and reproach themselves for their negligence, but time passes and there is no change for the better. Why? I don't know. There are men who rarely kiss their wives and children. For them the birds sing unheeded and even unheard; flowers become mere objects, and sunsets suggest only "quitting time." In theory they believe in all these things. What can be said of them save that they simply jog on to-day as they did yesterday, ever dimly hoping at some time or other "to live up to their privileges"? But they usually go on from bad to worse, until, like their neglected strawberry-beds, they are "turned under."

One may delve in the earth so long as to lose all dread at the thought of sleeping in it at last; and the luscious fruits and bright-hued flowers that come out of it, in a way no one can find out, may teach our own resurrection more effectually than do the learned theologians.

Living without books and pictures is only a little worse than living in the country without fruits and flowers. We must respect to some extent the old ascetics, who, in obedience to mistaken ideas of duty, deprived themselves of the good things God provided, even while we recognize the stupidity of such a course. Little children are rarely so lacking in sense as to try to please their father by contemptuously turning away from his best gifts, or by treating them with indifference.

The bush producing this exquisite fruit is like an uncouth-looking poet who gives beauty from an inner life, but disappoints in externals. It is low-branching and unshapely, and must be forced into good form--the bush, not the poet--by the pruning-knife. If this is done judiciously, no other variety will bear more profusely or present a fairer object on a July day.

As mere articles of food, these fruits are exceedingly valuable. They are capable of sustaining severe and continued labor. For months together we might become almost independent of butcher and doctor if we made our places produce all that nature permits. Purple grapes will hide unsightly buildings; currants, raspberries, and blackberries will grow along the fences and in the corners that are left to burdocks and brambles. I have known invalids to improve from the first day that berries were brought to the table, and thousands would exchange their sallow complexions, sick headaches, and general ennui for a breezy interest in life and its abounding pleasures, if they would only take nature's palpable hint, and enjoy the seasonable food she provides.

Belles can find better cosmetics in the fruit garden than on their toilet tables, and she who paints her cheeks with the pure, healthful blood that is made from nature's choicest gifts, and the exercise of gathering them, can give her lover a kiss that will make him wish for another.

This post is the second of four 
in a series about E.P. Roe. 
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E.P. Roe:
Christian Agrarian Writer of the 1800s

Edward Payson Roe was the most popular writer of his day. He lived from 1838 to 1888. He was a Christian and an agrarian. I have been reading about E.P. Roe in recent days and I have enjoyed learning about this man.

In addition to writing novels with strong moral and, often, agrarian-based themes, Roe wrote a couple of non-fiction agrarian books. One, The Home Acre, gives advice about planting and growing trees, vegetables and small fruits on your acre. Success With Small Fruits provides a wealth of information specifically about growing small fruits.

Roe was a chaplain in the Civil War. After the war, he pastored an Orthodox Presbyterian church for nine years. Then he left the ministry and pursued writing full time. He also operated a large mail order nursery business.

You can read short biographies of E.P. Roe HERE and HERE. You can also find your way to the text of most of his books on the internet.

Eleven years after his sudden death at 50 years of age, E.P. Roe’s sister wrote a book titled E. P. Roe; Reminiscences of His Life. That book is also available in its entirety on the internet. In this blog entry, I’d like to share a couple of portions from sister Mary’s book with you. Then, in my next blog, I will share some real gems from E.P.’s gardening books.

Mr. Roe wrote of his Civil War experiences for a Christian periodical, and they are excerpted at some length in Mary’s book. Any student of the Civil War would be fascinated by his writings in this regard. I offer the following short paragraph as an example. He is describing the battle cry of the southern soldiers, also known as the Rebel Yell.

“Every now and then a shell would whiz over our heads and explode, inspiring anything but agreeable emotions. Several charges were made on both sides. I wonder if it is possible to give any idea of a rebel charge. Their cries and yells are so peculiar, so wild, shrill, feverish, so ghastly (I had almost said ghostly), for the sounds seem so unreal, more like horrid shrieks heard in a dream than the utterances of living men. The shouting of our men is deeper and hoarser, and partakes more of the chest tone in its character, but the rebels charge with a yell that is something between the shriek of a woman and the scream of a panther. At times you can close your eyes and imagine that some fierce conflict of another age is passing before you in a dream, so strange and unnatural does it seem to see men engaged in mortal combat.”

In 1864 Roe was appointed Chaplain at a Union hospital. The following excerpt, written by Roe, is part of Mary’s book, and it reveals her brother’s strong agrarian inclinations.

”At that time I was one of the chaplains of the Fortress Monroe hospitals, and the campaigns in the vicinity of Petersburg and Richmond often filled our long barracks to repletion and also covered the adjacent acres with temporary tent wards. Lying around the hospital there was an abundance of idle and unfenced land. With the sanction of Doctor McClellan, the surgeon in charge, I had this enclosed and planted with such vegetables as were most useful and conducive to health, the odorous onion taking the lead...

The labor of the hospital farm was performed by the patients themselves, and very many soon became deeply interested in their tasks. When a man became so far convalescent from illness or wounds as to be able to do a little work, he was detailed for the garden and employed in its lighter labors. As he grew stronger he was put at heavier work. Heroes who had lost arms and legs supplemented each other’s deficiencies, the two maimed men contriving to do between them far more than many a stout fellow who now demands $1.50 a day. A man with one hand could sow seed and weed the growing vegetables, while his comrade hitched along on his crutch and vigorously hoed the ground between the rows. I sometimes had as many as a hundred men at work, and I ever found that such tasks benefited body and soul. It did one's heart good to see pallid faces grow brown and ruddy, and flabby muscles round and hard. It did one more good thus easily to banish home sickness and the miserable incubus of ennui from which the sufferer is prone to seek relief in some form of vicious excitement. For the satisfaction of those who ask for more practical results I can state that we were able to send green vegetables to the hospital kitchens by the wagonload. As the record of the second year at the farm, made at the time, I find among other items the following: 700 bushels of snap beans in the pod, 120 do. lima beans, 130 do. carrots, 125 do. peas, 470 do. potatoes, 250 do. tomatoes, 1,500 bunches of green onions, 30,000 heads of cabbage, 26,900 ears of sweet corn, 2,500 muskmelons, etc. A large poultry yard, enclosing four acres, was also built,and many other improvements made, all being accomplished by the willing labor of the convalescents themselves, who more rapidly regained their strength while thus furnishing the means of health to those still confined within the walls.

Recalling these facts I am greatly pleased to learn that the New York Home is to be located on a farm, for thus it may be made a home in reality. Providence put the first man into a garden, and few men have lived since who have not felt more at home when a garden lay about the door."

The following excerpt, written by Roe’s sister, gives you some more insight into Roe’s life. Just imagine harvesting 40 bushels of strawberries, and so big! I think we might be able to learn something of fruit culture from this man’s writings. Roe’s description of currents, which follows, is delightful. It makes me think I should be growing currents and it’s the sort of quotation I will provide more of in my next blog installment.

After my brother's resignation from the ministry, he bought a plain, old-fashioned house with considerable ground about it, at Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, two miles distant from his childhood home, and went there to live.

It soon became evident, however, that Edward could not depend upon his literary work alone for the support of his growing family. He had for some years taken much interest in the cultivation of small fruits, and after the removal to Cornwall he carried on this work upon a larger scale, finding it profitable as well as interesting.

I remember the piles of letters that came to him each day for several years containing orders for plants. Although in general not a methodical man, yet the painstaking care which he was known to exercise in keeping the many varieties distinct enabled his customers to rely implicitly upon his statements as to the kind and value of the plants ordered. He often employed many men and boys on his place, but always engaged them with the understanding that if through carelessness the varieties of plants became mixed the offender was to be dismissed at once, and a few examples soon taught his assistants that he meant what he said. But when they were faithful to their duty, they invariably found him considerate and kind.

The strawberry was Edward's favorite among the small fruits, and he made many experiments with new varieties. When the vines were bearing, sometimes as many as forty bushels of berries were picked in a single day. Some of them were of mammoth size. I remember on one occasion we took from a basket four berries which filled to the brim a large coffee-cup, and notwithstanding their enormous size they were solid and sweet. During this period he wrote the articles on "Success with
Small Fruits," published in Scribbler's Magazine.

Currants came next in his favor. Writing of them he says: "Let me recommend the currant cure. If any one is languid, depressed in spirits, inclined to headaches, and generally 'out of sorts,' let him finish his breakfast daily for a month with a dish of freshly picked currants. He will soon doubt his own identity, and may even think that he is becoming a good man. In brief, the truth of the ancient pun will be verified, 'That the power to live a good life depends largely upon the liver! Let it be taught at the theological seminaries that the currant is a means of grace. It is a corrective, and that is what average humanity most needs."

Edward's coming to live in Cornwall was a source of great pleasure to our father, who, although then past eighty years of age, was still vigorous, and as full of enthusiasm for his garden as when he first moved to the country. Often on summer mornings, before the sun was fairly above the eastern mountains, father would drive over to my brother's, taking in his phaeton a basket of fruit or vegetables that he believed were earlier than any in my brother's garden. These he would leave at the front door for Edward to discover when he came downstairs, and return in time for our breakfast. He would laugh with the keenest enjoyment if he found that his beans or sweet corn had ripened first. Frequently he would remain at his son's house for breakfast, and afterwards the two would wander together over the grounds while the dew was still fresh upon the fruit and flowers. Many of the rosebushes and shrubs had been transplanted from the old garden, and it delighted my father and brother to see that they were flourishing and blooming in their new environment.

When Edward first moved to Cornwall several newspapers severely criticized him for giving up the ministry to write novels. I was sitting with him alone in his library one day when such a criticism came to him through the mail. After reading it he handed it quietly to me, went to his desk and took down a bundle of letters, saying: "These are mostly from young men, not one of whom I know, who have written to me of the benefit received from my books." He then read to me some of those touching letters of confession and thanks for his inspiring help to a better life.

When he finished reading the letters he said: "I know my books are read by thousands; my voice reached at most but a few hundred. I believe many who would never think of writing to me such letters as these are also helped. Do you think I have made a mistake? My object in writing, as in preaching, is to do good, and the question is, Which can I do best? I think with the pen, and I shall go on writing, no matter what
the critics say."

Still his name was retained on the rolls of the North River Presbytery, and he was always ready to preach when needed, especially in neglected districts. For a long time after father's death he kept up the little Sunday-school that had been father's special care.

This post is the first of four 
in a series about E.P. Roe. 
Click Here to go to the next post.

Christian Agrarians in "Christianity Today" Magazine

My thanks to Hugh out in Washington State for letting me know of THIS ARTICLE in Christianity Today magazine.

I spoke with the author, Rob Moll, many months ago and figured something had been published already. I pretty much forgot about it.

It is a well-written article, but there is one point I want to clarify. Mr. Moll makes it sound as if all Christian agrarians are farmers. To define, pigeonhole, and limit this “movement” of the Lord to farming only is a big mistake.

There are many, many Christian agrarians out there, myself among them, who are not farmers. Our operations are more homestead oriented. We are industrial world (and industrial culture) contrarians. Our life focus is on faith, family, community, living simply, and working to be less dependent on the industrial/Babylonian system. Most of us choose to leave the urban areas and live in rural surroundings because it best fits the lifestyle we have chosen to pursue. But some Christian agrarians do live in the suburban centers.

Joel Salatin (quoted extensively in the article) has written a great book titled Family Friendly Farming. I think it is his best book. But not all Christians aspiring for the agrarian life can be farmers (at least not right away). Family Friendly Homesteading is the next best thing.

I welcome all Christianity Today readers who are interested in learning more about Christian agrarianism to check out the web site for my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. The site will take you to a selection of my online Christian agrarian essays, and the writings of other Christian agrarians.

To quickly and easily purchase a copy of Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I recommend you go to Cumberland Books.

A Perfectly Ordinary Sunday in October

Sunday last was an exceptionally nice day for my family. It was not exceptionally nice because we went somewhere different, or did out-of-the-ordinary things, or had anything unusual happen. It was exceptional because I was home with my family, the sun was shining, and our day was spent on home, land, and community-focused activities. In other words, it was a perfectly ordinary Sunday in October. I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

Marlene and I were up early (but not too early) and took a short walk to the end of our road. The air was autumn crisp and clear. The sun was just coming up, bright and strong. We had the road to ourselves (except for our dog, Annie, who loves to take walks). No automobile traffic. No sounds of human activity in the distance. Just the stillness of the morning. It was a good way to start the day.

Our home is situated on the east side of a small valley, almost, but not quite, to the crest. So, as the sun begins to rise each day, our small parcel of land is in a shadow for a few minutes while the other side of the valley is illuminated. This next picture, taken from in front of our house, shows the view down the road and over to the west side of the valley. Our house is off to the left side and a little behind from where I took the picture

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The trees were in peak color on Sunday. The reds and yellows are particularly vibrant this year. That, of course, added to the pleasure of our walk and the day ahead.

On the way back to the house, we stopped and pulled some carrots from the garden to make a morning glass of fresh carrot juice. Marlene added some Amish-grown celery from the farmer’s market (I‘ve never grown celery, but really think I should give it a try). I can, however, grow grapes and I have a row of them by the garden. Here’s a picture of my Concord grapes on the vine.

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Marlene and I each picked a small cluster of grapes and ate them. Just-picked Concord grapes are indescribably good. Someday soon, before the harshness of winter arrives, we will pick all the grapes and make juice. And I will wish I had planted more than one row.

When we got back to the house, I tended to my garlic. I am working to get this year’s crop of garlic processed into garlic powder. Part of the process involves slicing the cloves and dehydrating them. On Sunday morning I sliced and loaded two dehydrators full of garlic. I was up until 2:00am peeling the cloves the previous night. Here’s a picture of my two dehydrator loads of garlic.

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I have been photographing the process of turning garlic bulbs into great garlic powder and hope to create a blog tutorial on the subject, much like I recently did on the subject of How To Butcher A Chicken. Stay tuned for that.

Marlene got two of our boys up (the oldest stayed over at a friend’s house) around 8:00 and fed them breakfast. Then we all headed out to dig potatoes together. Some of you who read this may be thinking to yourselves that we are working on Sunday and that is not right. Well, I do not work my regular job on Sundays, and have almost never worked my regular job on Sunday. And we do not allow our children to work for neighbors on Sundays. That is the day we focus our activities almost exclusively on home and church and family. For example, we may dig potatoes together when they need digging.

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Those are red Pontiac potatoes. It was a good year for potatoes. Our dog, Annie, enjoyed laying on the cool, freshly-dug soil. Annie is now ten years old. She is the youngest member of our family.

At one point, while digging together, I was reveling in and commenting to my sons about, the beauty of the moment, of us all working together, and the wonders of God's creation, potatoes in particular, and James said to me, "Just think Dad, tomorrow you get to go back to prison." It was a reference to my industrial job and he said it at just that moment to tease me. He understands that my job is the antithesis of what we were at that moment doing and, at 13 years old, he can be a bugger. I feigned anger... "You had to say it didn't you! Now you've ruined everything!" And I proceeded to rough him up a little which, of course, he thoroughly enjoyed. Then we went back to the work of digging.

Someone at my church recently asked me for my advice about how to get kids to work, to enjoy working, and to develop a good work ethic. I didn’t really have a good answer at the time. I said something about modeling a good work ethic for them and hope that someday it “clicked.” But I’ve had a chance to think more about that question.

I believe it is indeed important to be a model of industriousness for our children. But there is more to it than that. I think it is also important to work with our children, not just give them a list of things to do on their own. When two or more work together to get a job done, there is a more positive dynamic to the equation. That’s one of the great things about developing a lifestyle around a homestead-- There is all sorts of work to be done and much of it can be done by family members working together. In time, the joy and challenge of work, of accomplishing tasks, will develop. Then those children will begin undertake work on their own and find it rewarding.

There is more I could say on this subject but that’s enough for now. God knows I’m no expert when it comes to raising children. But there are a few things I’ve done right and helping to instill a good work ethic in my sons is one of them. Of the three, one has less ambition (and less agrarian-focused interests) that the others, but I’ve come to realize that his work ethic is better than most his age. The other two are just exceptionally motivated boys.

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What would Sunday be without church? We are, of course, church goers. Our church, pictured above, is only a few miles from our home. It is in a large agricultural pole barn that was converted into a large sanctuary and fellowship hall. If you are in the Moravia, NY area on a Sunday morning, I invite you to come visit my church.

To get there, you go up North Main Street in Moravia, turn right on Oak Hill Road, and drive a couple miles. You will see a very large sign on an old red barn on the left side of the road that says, Jesus is Alive. Turn right into the driveway across from the sign. Our morning service starts at 11:00. On the first and third Sundays of the month we have a dish-to-pass dinner right after the service. You’re welcome to stay for dinner even if you didn’t bring any food.

Last Sunday, Pastor Dale Weed began his sermon with a large candy bar and Proverbs 23:8:

The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.

When’s the last time you heard a sermon preached on that verse? About 35 people were in attendance. We usually have a few more than that. But it is a small congregation. Small is good in my book.

I occasionally get an e-mail from a blog reader wondering what kind of church I go to. New Hope Bible Fellowship is an independent, fundamental, Baptist church.

I must admit that I have, in recent years, drifted away from the Baptist “rapture theology” that I grew up learning and believing. Such is due to the Bible teaching of several Reformed men. I’ve also come to think that Calvin’s teaching on predestination may be more in line with what scripture actually teaches.

But neither difference in understanding is, to my mind, any reason not to attend the church I attend. That’s because it is, without any doubt, a Bible-believing, Christ-centered, God-honoring fellowship of local believers.

Something I’ve never been able to fully understand is why some Bible-believing Christians in a rural community, refuse to attend the local Bible-believing church and, instead, travel a half hour (or more) to a city church. Go figure.

We stayed for the dinner after church. Marlene brought a bowl of sliced Roma tomatoes (from our garden) with chopped onions (from our garden) and a little basil (from our garden), mixed with some Italian salad dressing (not from our garden). It’s an example of simple, down-to-earth food that down-to-earth folks enjoy.

If you had a birthday since the last meal, we would all sing Happy Birthday to you and you get to go to the head of the line. James was one of the privileged last Sunday.

After church we headed home, but not before stopping down in Moravia and buying a gallon of locally made cider. We are cider connoisseurs and we love to sample the gallons in October. Every jug you buy in a store is questionable. Most times there is a hint of soapy taste. No store-bought cider is as good as what we’ve made ourselves. But sometimes we are pleasantly surprised. Last Sunday’s gallon wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. The jug was empty by the end of the day. Hopefully, we will have time to make our own cider this fall.

When we got home from church, I checked on my onions, which have been drying on screened racks under the roof of our woodshed. It was a good year for onions. I grew enough to last us all winter (we use an average of one a day. There will be quite a few extra to give to friends and maybe even barter with.

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Marlene and I and the kids took a few minutes to visit with our neighbors up the road. They packed a moving truck and headed out for Washington State on Monday. We wanted to say good-by and tell them what great neighbors they have been. They truly were good neighbors. They let us use a portion of their land for the past few years as if it were our own. And we were good neighbors in return. We often watched their little girl. We even took her to church with us one Sunday when her parents had to work.

I planted carrots and onions and potatoes on that land this year, and we pastured our turkeys there too. It sure was nice.

When the neighbor listed his house and 8 acres for sale a couple months ago, the first person to look at it put in a purchase offer in for the entire asking price ($136,000). We have not yet met the new neighbors but it’s not likely we will be able to continue using the land as we have. That is disappointing.

As a result, this will be my last year growing a garlic crop to make “Herrick’s Homegrown Garlic Powder.” And there is no way we will have the space to raise turkeys. Our little bit of open acreage will be enough to grow a big kitchen garden and we will still be able to pasture a crop of broilers on the front lawn. Otherwise, our agrarian pursuits are curtailed until we can find a plot of land to purchase, or rent, or something.

Back to Sunday… We finished digging all the potatoes and, later in the day, picked them into crates for winter storage. I spent some time working in my shop, boxing orders for Whizbang chicken plucker parts. Robert went woodchuck hunting. Marlene busied herself with some projects in the house.

James spent part of the afternoon mowing his grandfather’s lawn. My dad has a big lawn and a riding mower. James loves the riding mower because it’s a whole lot more fun than the push mower we use to mow our lawn. I refuse to buy a riding mower. When I was a kid, my dad didn’t have a riding mower. We had only a push mower. I made sure to tell James that. =-)

So there’s a look into the kind of day we had here last Sunday. All in all, it was an ordinary Sunday in October. It was a busy and full day, but it was not a hectic day. It was a day of relaxation, reflection, inspiration, fellowship, variety, accomplishment, and, ultimately, satisfaction. We also all slept good that night.

I love ordinary Sundays in October.

Economics Lesson in a $5 Bill (And The Road Ahead)

[Dateline: 22 October 2007]

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My son, Robert, recently told me he got an old $5 bill in his change at a store. It was dated 1950. What a great opportunity to teach my son a lesson about money....

I asked Robert to read aloud the little paragraph of small print on the upper left side.


Then I asked him to read what it says under Abe Lincoln.


Then I asked him if he had a new $5 bill. He did and he read what the new bill says.


And under Lincoln, the words, FIVE DOLLARS stand alone. It does not say WILL PAY TO THE BEARER ON DEMAND.

Then I explained the difference: The old bill was redeemable in LAWFUL money. It was not, in itself, LAWFUL money. It was, essentially, a receipt, or "note" for LAWFUL money. You could turn it in and get five dollars of LAWFUL money in exchange for the note.

That, of course, begs the question, “What is LAWFUL money?”

The answer is found in Article I Section 10 of the United States Constitution: “[No State shall ...] make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; ...”

Gold and silver coin are constitutional, LAWFUL, money.

Robert asked if he could take the note to a bank and get gold for it. I told him that’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it used to be, but not any longer.

From there I explained to Robert that the men who founded this nation, our agrarian-minded forefathers, were wise men. They knew the dangers of paper money. They understood that it was an invitation to inflation and, subsequently, economic disaster.

“What’s inflation, Dad?”

I told him that if the government puts a whole lot of paper money into circulation, the value of the so-called “dollars” becomes less. You can’t do that sort of thing when your money is gold and silver coin. After all, gold and silver doesn’t grow on trees, and paper does. There is a limited amount of gold & silver in the world. Then I gave him the classic example of a good quality man’s suit.

They say that an ounce of gold would buy a good quality man’s suit in the 1920s. The same is true today. The suit cost a $20 gold coin back then (approximately an ounce of gold). Today, a really fine suit will cost maybe $700, which happens to be what an ounce of gold is worth.

What changed? Certainly not the gold. The buying power of gold is, essentially, still the same. The “dollar” is what changed. The buying power of the dollar has declined. That’s inflation for you.

I explained to Robert that when paper money, also known as “fiat money,” is inflated, and the purchasing power of the money declines as a result, the government has stolen wealth from all the people who work hard and save their money. Robert can relate to this because he knows how hard he works to make the money he has earned, and he knows how hard it is to save.

Then I explained to him that inflation is especially hard on older people, like his grandfather, who live on a limited and fixed income.

That concluded our Economics lesson for the day.

Maybe in our next lesson I'll try to explain to him about how the FEDERAL reserve, which issues the fiat money, is not a government agency and, like its money, is completely contrary to what our founding fathers envisioned for this country.


I suspect that most people who are reading this understand that the current American dollar is becoming more worthless every passing day. Our industrial economy is on the brink of significant crisis.

I don’t follow the latest economic news like I once did. But I know that fiat money systems always fail. The day of reckoning always comes. And that is what I told my son. We will all feel its effect. Some more than others.

With all of that in mind, I’d like to tell you what a friend of mine told me today. He sits on the board of a local Credit Union. He just returned from a banker’s convention in Las Vegas (how appropriate). I asked him what the general consensus was. He said every speaker had a gloomy economic forecast. He told me we are headed for a “deep, dark recession for the next 4 to 10 years.” And “possible depression.”

I asked, “Did they really use the “D” word?”

“Oh, yes!” he replied, and added “I’m very concerned about the future.”

That, dear readers, is the inside story from the banking industry. The trouble is just starting.

Thirteen Years Old Today

It has been exactly one year since I wrote a blog essay titled, Twelve Years Old Today. Now my youngest son, James, has became a teenager, which means that, as of today, Marlene and I are the parents of three teenage boys. Please pray for us.

James woke up this morning and came downstairs to find his birthday present on the kitchen table. Marlene and I gave him one present. It was what he was hoping for… A Henry Lever Action .22 rifle.

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We’ve been plinking cans and little apples on top of cans in the back yard today. The gun has a smooth action and shoots straight. The walnut stock is beautiful. If taken care of, the rifle should last a couple lifetimes. James will be able to hand it down to a son or grandson, or even a daughter or granddaughter.

In my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I have a chapter titled Annie’s Got A Raccoon!. I tell the story of James, at 11-years-old, shooting a rabid coon in the creek behind our house, using his brother’s 20-gauge shotgun. This child has outdoor adventures and exploits like I never imagined at his age. That’s because I lived in a suburban housing project. My father didn’t hunt. He has never owned a gun.

The childhood my son experiences within the rural setting where we live allows him to grow up doing many of the same things that boys of our agrarian past did. Fishing, trapping, rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, woodchuck hunting, exploring in the surrounding countryside, camping out, cooking meals over a campfire, building forts, and so forth. This is a big reason why Marlene and I choose to raise our boys in this setting.

When you restrict a boy to an urban or suburban neighborhood, without wide spaces and wild adventures for him to explore and experience on a daily basis, it is akin to cruelty. That is my opinion. Furthermore, I think the cruelty is compounded when you send the boy to a government school where he has to sit still for long periods while being slowly and surely institutionalized, socialized, and feminized by the educational machine.

It makes me think of factory-raised chickens, confined to cages, never even seeing the light of day. Or industrially-raised cows in enormous dairy “farms” that never get to graze in a pasture. I don't believe God made animals to be confined in such horrible places. And boys (which can, at times, act a lot like animals) need a natural setting to grow up and mature in too.

There are people who fear the idea of giving a 13-year-old boy his own rifle. For them I offer the following quotation, which is from the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (it is also found on page 85 of my book):

How many parents have tried in vain to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns? Give it up. If you do not supply a boy with weapons, he will make them from whatever materials are at hand. My boys chew their graham crackers into the shape of hand guns at the breakfast table. Every stick or fallen branch is a spear, or better, a bazooka.

Despite what many modern educators would say, this is not a psychological disturbance brought on by violent television or chemical imbalance. Aggression is part of the masculine design; [men] are hardwired for it. If we believe that man is made in the image of God, them we would do well to remember that The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name(Exodus 15:3)

Happy Birthday, James!
Don't forget.....yer Pa loves ya!

The Christian-Agrarian “Awareness” Of Eric Sloane

As a teenager back in the 1970s I bought four paperback books by Eric Sloane. ”A Reverence for Wood,” “Our Vanishing Landscape,” “A Museum of Early American Tools” and ”Diary of an Early American Boy.”

Last year I read my tattered copy of Diary of an Early American Boy to my sons and they enjoyed it very much. I gave them the other books and they have studied them at length. It did my heart good to see them as captivated with Sloane’s books as I once was. Indeed, the illustrations and the information in those books stirred a great interest in me years ago, and they do it to me still.

Sloane was an incredibly talented artist. His rural scenes of old barns and fields with big, cloud-filled skies, resonate with my agrarian passions. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to get an Eric Sloane print, frame it, and hang it in my home.

I discovered that Sloane prints are few and far between. When I last checked, there was nary a one on Ebay. I did find a couple galleries that sell signed, limited edition prints and original paintings. But I wasn’t looking to spend thousands of dollars. I’m not even looking to spend hundreds of dollars. Maybe a few tens. :-)

Well, anyway, during my internet searching I happened upon a web site about Eric Sloane that was very interesting. Among this site’s offerings is a page titled, Eric Sloane’s Philosophy of Awareness. I’m not sure who wrote the essay but it is well done. I hope the author will not mind me reprinting the excerpt that follows.

Anyone interested in America’s agrarian past and the Christian-agrarian resurgence we see happening today (neo-agrarianism) will find this essay to be particularly interesting. There are basic principles and that stand out and beckon us. We can learn much from the example of our Christian-agrarian forebears, and that’s the point of the essay...

Eric Sloane devoted the greater part of his life to the exploration of what he later coined his "philosophy of awareness". The basic concept of awareness that Sloane articulated through his many books centered upon his belief that the man (and woman) of yesterday was more aware than his or her modern day counterpart. This heightened sense of awareness came principally from "doing for oneself". In order to even begin to understand what Sloane meant by awareness, you must understand the world of 18th century New England.

In 18th century America, everyone was by necessity a farmer. Even the local doctor or lawyer needed to keep a horse and likely had chickens, goats, pigs and perhaps a cow. The vast majority of New Englanders listed themselves as "farmers" on census forms. An 18th century farmer had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, no television, no automobile and no "modern conveniences". Before you get wrapped up in the romantic warm blanket of yesterday, remember that life for these Americans was hard. Infant mortality rates were high. Life spans for healthy adults were short compared to today. Sickness could devastate a community. If your family was to survive, each family member was required to perform strenuous physical labor most of us couldn't imagine today.

Yet because of this, not in spite of it, the early American was peculiarly aware of many things that today we take for granted. Start with his very existence. Disease or injury, mild by today's standards, could kill. How would you live your life differently if you knew that the odds of you surviving to live 48 years were slim? Time and labor were not wasted. Families counted on each other for love and support. Communities banded together to help any and all members in need. The church and worship were the literal and figurative centers of the community.

From this emerged the early American. Hard working, God fearing, honest, and loyal. He and she worked a lifetime to build barns and homes to last generations. They cleared fields for planting, managed forests and in most cases practiced a form of animal husbandry and farm management that would ensure their farms would prosper for generations. Almost every single necessity was met on the farm: a tremendous variety of crops for food, medicine and clothing, trees for tools and building materials, herbs for cooking and healing, clay and rocks for building and sweet water for cooking and cleaning.

Most everything was done with an eye towards permanence and most everything was made by hand. How would you feel towards (and care for) a sweater that your mother knitted for you and dyed your favorite color by hand? Or a toy your father made for you when you were a child? Or a harvest table your parents made for you as a wedding gift from a Chestnut tree you once played on as a child that was since felled by a storm? Little wonder that most of what we now consider real "folk art" from the 18th and 19th centuries are beautiful works of art and extremely expensive.

As the early American man, woman and child looked about them, their sense of awareness was reinforced. The farm before them of well-tended fields, bountiful gardens, healthy animals and rugged stone fences all were transformed by their hands. The home and massive barn were built by friends and relatives in a Herculean community effort of love and support. The blanket chests, chairs, rope beds, quilts, clothing, candles - and nearly everything else in the home were made by a member of the family.

How did Eric Sloane, born almost a century after the declining years of what most of us consider to be "early America", come to understand his philosophy of awareness?......

You can read the rest of the essay HERE


Note: If you would like to get some of Eric Sloane’s books for yourself and your family, check out the good selection at great prices over at Cumberland Books

Facets of "The Good Life" (October 2007)

Got Carrot Juice?
If I were asked to define “the good life,” I would do so by providing you with some examples. For example, here in October, I could simply say, “Fresh carrots from my garden.”

I have a great crop of carrots this year. The following picture is not a good one of me, but just look at those carrots!

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I happen to believe that the best way to eat a carrot is to drink it. Marlene and I are avid vegetable and fruit juicers, especially in the fall, when the carrots are big. To be able to walk out into my garden and pull large, vibrant-orange, chemical-free, nutrition-packed carrots from the earth, then, minutes later, be drinking the juice from those carrots.... that truly is “the good life.”

Why Juice?
Because raw vegetable juices are alive with enzymes. Cooking kills enzymes. The typical modern diet is enzyme deficient. Enzymes are biochemical catalysts. In other words, they make everything that’s good for a body happen. Our bodies crave the enzymes in raw fruits and vegetables. They are necessary for optimum health.

Juicing separates juice from the plant’s fibers, thus making it very easy for your digestive system to assimilate the nutrients. We’re talking about an all-natural, awesome-good-for-you energy drink here.

Take eight big carrots, a medium beet, and one large clove of garlic. Run them through your juicer machine (we have used a Champion juicer for years). You will end up with two glasses of down-to-earth ambrosia like this:

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One glass is for you and one is for your spouse (or another loved one). You drink it together by sipping, savoring, and reflecting on the goodness of it all.

A quiet moment together with my wife, sipping fresh vegetable juice concoctions. Uh-huh....”The Good Life.”

Tainted Meat
I chose, months ago, to deliberately “tune out” the daily news blather. But I still get bits and pieces in conversation. I understand there has been a recent “meat scare.” Tons of “factory beef” are being recalled because it is not fit to eat. Ho-hum…. So what else is "new?"

I’ll tell you what’s new. We are buying half a Black Angus from one of our country neighbors. It might be one of the ones that got loose and stampeded down the road into our yard (and my garden) awhile back. Cut (by a local butcher, any way we want it), packaged, and frozen, we will pay $2.00 a pound. I have no idea if that is a lot or a little to pay. All I know is that the animal was well cared for and healthy, and it was raised just up the road by good folks we have known for years.

Buying safe, locally-produced, beef and packing the freezer full... that’s yet another example of “the good life” here in October.

The arrival of autumn here in central New York state makes us think seriously about winter preparations. I ordered firewood from another neighbor. He is a small-scale dairy farmer. He took the farm over when his father died a few years ago. He is a bachelor and works alone. The firewood sales are a way to supplement his income. This man, a year older than I, is the hardest working person I know. I buy my firewood from him every year.

Ten face cord of seasoned wood, split and delivered, sells for $40 a cord. The price actually went down $5 a cord from last year. I asked why. He told me it was because I was a good customer. I told him we were grateful for his wood, that it was a blessing to us. And I paid him $42 a cord.

$420 worth of firewood will heat my home for the winter. A single, old, Vermont Castings wood stove in the living room of our house has been our sole source of heat for 22 years. Wood is some trouble to handle, and it does make some mess in the house, but it is an inexpensive, locally-available, renewable resource. And if an ice storm shuts down the power for a week, we will still be warm and snug.

There you go again.... yet another example of “the good life.”

(The only thing better would be to have my own woods and harvest firewood with my boys. I love to cut firewood. Maybe someday.)

Marlene has been making and canning applesauce. The apples were free for the taking from yet another rural friend. The apple trees were planted by our friend’s grandfather long ago. They are not sprayed or otherwise cared for. But the apples are very good this year.

Apples from friends. Jars of homemade applesauce in the pantry. Yep. “The good life” again.

The Wedding
Last Saturday we went to a wedding. One of our pastor’s sons married a girl that any parent would love to have as a daughter-in-law It was a simple wedding in a rural Baptist church (the bride’s church). We knew just about everyone seated on the groom’s side of the sanctuary. They were mostly friends and neighbors from our church and community. There was no fancy restaurant reception after the wedding (finger foods in the church’s gymnasium were very nice). There were no limousines to take the wedding party away. There was no live band. No worldly foolishness. Like I said, it was simple, but it was Christ-honoring, and that made it beautiful.

During one part of the wedding ceremony, our pastor prayed over the two young adults, asking God’s blessing on them and their union. His voice cracked with emotion. And we who sat in the pews, we who understand the special significance of a man and woman covenanting before God through their vows, we had tears in our eyes.

Oh yes! It was another manifestation of “the good life.”

Farm Market
My bride of almost 27 years, The Lovely Marlene, has finished up another successful season of selling her homemade breads and rolls at the farmer’s market. She has, over the years, gained a loyal customer base. When the market’s opening bell sounds on Thursday afternoon, people are lined up at her booth to buy.

One woman this past year informed Marlene that she wanted to quit her job and go into business with Marlene, starting a bakery. She would take care of the marketing and Marlene would take care of the baking. With bread like Marlene makes, the woman was sure the business would be successful. HMarlene's bread really is that good.

Farm markets and homemade bread. The good life? You betcha.

Coming Home To Apple Juice
We have not yet made cider (as in past years), but my son, James, and I ran some apples through our Champion juicer last weekend and enjoyed a couple glasses of real fine apple nectar. That, in itself, was great, but it gets better…

Yesterday I came home from my factory job in the city and I was feeling a little gloomy. Factory jobs will do that to a man. But my gloom turned instantly to joy and satisfaction when James walked up to me with a just-made glass of apple juice. He had made a glass for me and him. He gave me a big hug. Marlene, working in the kitchen, smiled and gave me a cheery welcome. My other son, Robert, yelled from the living room, “Hi Dad.”

Lord Almighty! If that isn’t the good life, I don’t know what is.

Making Diamonds
I could go on, but I think you have the idea. These examples of the good life are, in themselves, little things. When you put them together, however, they are like the many shining facets of a beautiful diamond. And there is an analogy for you to keep in your mind, always:

Simple, Christian-agrarian, faith-and-family-based life is a diamond that we, with the help of our Lord, create for ourselves, for our family, for our community, for the generations of our family to follow, for God’s glory. We do this with the beliefs we hold dear, the choices we make based on those beliefs, and the work we do putting those beliefs in action.

Make no mistake about it—-the good life, as I have endeavored to describe it here is not carefree and easy. It is a life of work and difficulty, because, ultimately, it is a life of responsibility, which brings me to another facet of our life here in the autumn of 2007…

The Fall & Its Consequences
Three weeks ago my 76-year-old father (stepfather) fell and broke his hip. He was already frail with the effects of age and many years of diabetes. But, until the fall, he had been holding his own, and was doing relatively well.

Yesterday, Marlene and James brought him home from the hospital. He can walk some with a walker. But he is now weaker and more helpless than he has ever been. I remember when this man was healthy and strong and self-confident and capable. He was once a Marine. Semper Fi. He has always had a strong work ethic. He could take care of himself. But that is no longer the case. He is in the October of his life—maybe even closer to November or December.

It is sad and sobering to watch your parent’s age, get sick, and eventually pass from this realm. I went through it with my mother four years ago. Fortunately, my father, the now-feeble man, was there for her to the end. Now, who will be there for him?

I have two younger sisters. Their life situations, the choices they have made, prevent them from being there to help their father. That leaves Marlene and I. There are no other relatives. Caring for my father is our responsibility. We will be there for him. We will help him. We will take care of him. We will love him in this difficult season of his life.

Our home is not big enough to take him in. I wish it was. We are considering an addition to do this. In the meantime, he lives only three miles away. If it becomes necessary, we will move in with him.

The lion’s share of caring for my father will fall on Marlene. She is now, as she was when my mother was dying of cancer, a ministering angel. She will check in on her father-in-law daily, help him get the food he needs, and take him to the many doctor appointments and therapy sessions scheduled in the weeks ahead.

The boys and I will do what we can to help him and support Marlene. I am taking tomorrow off from work to don an apron (figuratively speaking) and help with cleaning and clothes laundering here at home.
We are willingly entering into what may well be a difficult and stressful time for our family. Perhaps, after a couple weeks, my father will recover nicely and be independent once again. We pray that will be the case. And we hope that, however things play out, we will be able to care for him to the end, at home. Time will tell.

The point I want to make in all of this is that, sad and difficult as caring for an ailing, elderly parent is, we consider the ability to do this, and the opportunity to do this, to be as much a part of “the good life” as all the other blessings I’ve shared with you in this essay.


On another note, Rick Saenz has written some very fine agrarian-based essays at his blog, Dry Creek Chronicles. The essays are classic Saenz: intelligent, insightful, cogent, and compelling. I recommend them to you. Click here for links: The Lost Tools of Living

What A Man Needs....

I took three days off from work last week so I could get some things done around home. My primary focus was to convert a section of my workshop into a book storage, packaging room, and office for my part-time home business, Whizbang Books. For the past few years I have stored books and packaged orders in my house and in my workshop. It has been an unorganized operation. But that is about to change.

My shop measures 24ft by 32ft. A portion of it was an 8ft by 16ft storage bay with an overhead door. I cleaned out the bay, removed the door, and framed two windows in the opening. Then I insulated the walls and sheathed over the open studs on the inside with OSB plywood. It’s not pretty, but it was fast, and it’ll be functional.

My two youngest sons, Robert and James, helped me off and on. One day James was watching me and asked me this question:

Can you stand not doing anything?”

I wasn’t sure what he was asking. “What do you mean?,” I replied.

“I mean, can you stand not doing anything? You have so many projects. Could you stand it if you didn’t?”

My brain quickly absorbed the question, and I realized that my son has always known me to be an active person with numerous interests and projects. There are book writing projects, home improvement projects, Whizbang inventions, garden projects, and other homestead projects.

Then, out of the blue, I had an answer for him. A succinct and profound answer. That is rare for me. More often, I ramble on and on with my answers. But not this time. I said to my son:

“No, I wouldn’t be able to stand not doing anything. Do you know why that is?”

He said no and asked why.

“Because, and I want you to hear this carefully, James, every man needs three things in life. Do you know what they are?”

He said no and asked what they were.

“A man needs three things, son. A man needs a God to serve, a work to do, and a woman to love. Don’t ever forget that James.”

And that was it. I felt so wise. Now, I’ll confess that I didn’t come up with that on my own. I actually heard it from my wife. Isn’t that funny? She heard it years ago from a speaker at a home schooling convention. She thinks it was Mark Hamby.

So there you go. I really do think that sums up what a man needs. It’s something to think about. And, perhaps, someday you will have an opprtunity to share those words of wisdom with your adolescent son.

Earth Oven Inspiration

Dateline: 2 October 2007

My last three blog entries were about our recent three-day family vacation to Pennsylvania. On two of those days we went to a sustainable energy festival. The festival introduced us to a lot of new ideas. One of the best ideas I saw is an old idea that is becoming popular once again.... mud ovens.

Here’s a picture of a very simple mud oven that was built at the festival last year:

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We stopped by the mud oven many times during the two days to study and watch it bake pizzas. Here’s a picture of a just-cooked pizza coming out of the oven (look closely and you can see another pizza is still in there).

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A mud oven is incredibly simple to make and use. First, let me tell you how it is made: A layer of firebrick is placed on a solid surface as a base. Then a circle is drawn on the firebrick (27” diameter will work). The circle is an outline for a half-circle dome of damp sand that you then place, pack down, and shape by hand (it's around 16” high). Once the sand dome mold is made, a 4” thick layer of clay/sand mix is carefully packed over it.

When the clay/sand mud has dried a bit (but not completely), a door is cut into the dome. Then the sand is scraped out and a small fire is built in the oven chamber to cure the mud.

After the mud is cured, a layer of clay-and-sawdust “insulation” mix is packed over the whole oven. Chopped straw can be used in place of the sawdust. The oven in the above pictures had bits of straw sticking out of the surface.

That is how you build a mud oven. There is more to it. I have simplified the process. But even with added details, it is still a very simple thing to build a mud oven. So simple, in fact, that I think I can do it. I'll bet you could do it too.

I purchased a book att he festival titled Build Your Own Earth Oven. It tells everything you need to know to make very inexpensive mud oven.

Such ovens are incredibly functional. In addition too cooking a pizza in 3 to 5 minutes, you can cook bread and anything else you would cook in a regular household oven. The flavor of foods cooked in an earth oven is said to be better than modern ovens. My son James had an earth oven pizza and said is was great.

To use the oven, a small, hot fire is built inside it. The heat of the fire is absorbed by the mass of the mud. It will get up to 600 degrees pretty quick—--just right for cooking pizza. The coals are then removed, or they can be pushed back out of the way. No electricity is needed. No propane gas of any kind is needed. Just a small amount of firewood. This is sustainability, efficiency, survival, and FUN in a simple heap of dried earth. I am inspired.

A man I work with was born in Italy. He moved with his family to America when he was 12 years old. He told me his grandparents had a simple earth oven in their back yard. He said everyone in Italy had such ovens, and used them all the time. He says you can make the best dried tomatoes in these ovens with the heat down low. I am inspired.

Last year when we went to the farmer’s market in Ithaca, NY, there were people there selling pizza made in an earth oven that they pulled to the market on a trailer. I didn't pay that close of attention. But I noticed they were selling a lot of pizza. Now Marlene is thinking that, instead of making hand-cranked ice cream at events as a money maker, maybe pizzas from a portable earth oven would be better.

Maybe it would be. But before we get to that point, I hope to build some sort of an earth oven in my back yard next year.

Making the oven, heating it up, cooking the food, eating the food... it is shared experiences like those that create memories, establish family traditions, and help to bring a family closer together.

That is a good thing. I'm inspired. Stay tuned.....