True Costs
(An Essay by Lyle Stout)

Dateline: 15 September 2014

Spring in The Country, by Iowa artist, Grant Wood

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”
—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

I first came across this quote just last year – 2012. Leopold's book was first published in 1949, the year after his death. So, I am admittedly late to his party, and I doubt that he and I would agree upon theology. Yet this quote embodies much of why I have made the choices I have made in my life, and the way in which I have raised my children.

If we are disconnected from the production of those things which are essential for our survival, we become arrogant. Arrogance is a spiritual disease. If we think that our desires can be fulfilled at the mere turn of a faucet, touch of a button or click of a mouse, then we will thoughtlessly fulfill those desires without discerning the true costs. 

In Genesis 3, God declares, “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat your bread.” That is a true cost, and I have not seen evidence that God has changed His mind. A related principle of life I have observed is that if I am not sweating for my bread, then my choice forces someone else to sweat twice as hard. Such knowledge wears on my conscience, so I garden for some of my food and cut wood for some of my heat in order to sweat for some of my bread. 

If I can't humble myself in order to meet my own needs of daily bread, then I have succumbed to the arrogant vision of the society in which we live. I have shared my vision with my family. As my children grew, they helped in the garden, helped cut firewood, and had a small dairy goat herd that they milked twice every day. The goats left when the children left home, but my children, now adults, often still choose to return home and aid me in my Quixotic journey in the pursuit of justice. May God bless them!

To further illustrate the nature of true costs, I will end with a story my father told me. When he returned to his parents' farm in 1946 after his military service in World War II, he continued to raise livestock there even while he pursued other employment. One day he was filling a hog water via water pumped by the windmill. He became occupied in other things and forgot that the hog water was filling. Inevitably, it overflowed, flooded the pen, and made a big mess that he had to clean up. As he cleaned up the mess, his father came over, leaned on the fence, and said, “You know, this never happened back when you had to hand pump the water into buckets and carry it over to the pen.”

Spring in Town, by Grant Wood


Herrick Kimball said...

I should have mentioned above that Lyle sent me this essay after I posted his essay "Who Decides What's For Dinner" back on September 7th. It was originally posted to his Facebook page for his family to read.

The essence of what Lyle says about working for our bread really resonates with me. I could write a whole blog post on the subject of work, and so I guess I'll save what I have to say on the subject for a later time.

For now, suffice it to say that I appreciate, and can relate to, Lyle's perspective.

RonC said...

I read Mr. Leopold's quote and it went over my head and I didn't really take the time to carefully read your blog yesterday. I have a lot of hay down cleaning off garden, butchering chickens and getting ready for Winter.

My two kids who were adopted from Haiti were complaining this evening because the wife was teaching them cursive writing in home school today. They thought it was a cool way to write at one time and were begging my wife to teach them cursive. Today, they got their wish and they were very disappointed. I asked the daughter why the sudden change of thought? "Well, I didn't think it would be so hard to learn" was her reply. A discussion about how anything worth while in life requires some work ensued around the supper table tonight. "Take for instance the chickens that we butchered this past weekend and the fine food we've been eating lately" I mentioned. The boy said, "I'll just buy mine from the store." Kinda reminded me of the quote at the start of this blog so I sat down tonight and really made an effort to understand it. I only had to read a bit further and your paraphrase made it so clear.

Yes we are on a spiritual journey and yes, the agrarian lifestyle is much more work, but I've come to the conclusion that the work is so worth it. I started down the gardening path in 2008 when I saw the government bailing everybody out. I thought to myself, "Man this is going to really hurt in a few years." Since then, my hobby has been learning to grow food and how to preserve it. The wife and kids went along with my projects grudgingly at first. We learned how to can chicken this Fall because we are a bit limited on freezer space. We all love the taste of canned chicken. It could be used in any recipe that calls for tuna as far as I'm concerned. Meal planning can be as simple as tossing a pound of canned chicken in a sauce pan and throwing in a pint of that really thick soup stock that you get from boiling down the backs and necks in carrots and onions and spices for 4 to 5 hours. Slather that on a slice of home made wheat bread and it just doesn't get much better.

By the way, Thanks so much for writing that chicken butchering tutorial. It gave me the confidence to take on this chicken project. We raised Buff Orpingtons last year and were a bit disappointed with the meat quality. Tried Broilers this year and are much happier. I got 50 Buff Orpingtons as well and will probably can them this year. I want to keep back 16 or so hens and 2 roosters for a laying flock.

The wife also ordered 50 poultry bags from you recently and are those things ever slick. We freeze the breasts two to a bag which makes a nice tight package after it is shrunk down. None of us really cared for the dark meat until we started canning it this year. We boil it for half an hour and then strip the meat from the bone and put a pound of meat in a quart jar along with some of the broth generated during the boiling process.

Unknown said...

Chicken feet stock is exceptionally easy and healthy. If you get the feet dunked when you scald them, the outer skin will come off in the plucker. Then just save all the feet and put them in a very big stock pot. I put it on simmer for about 12 hours. There is no meat on them and nothing to clean after the simmer is done. Remove whole feet. Cool and freeze or can. I like to freeze them in 1 cup amounts so it is so easy to take one out of the freezer when I am making various recipes. I suppose the same could be done in pint jars. You will be amazed how the broth or stock gels when it cools.
Try a side by side comparison of store bought chicken and your chicken. Maybe your children would appreciate the difference. Keep trying to teach them, us folks without kids are relying on you to raise the next generations. Or we stand to loose it all as a people/society.

Unknown said...

Beautifully written. Thank you.
~ Jennifer