Whole Life Redesign

As most of you will remember, we came very close to moving during the summer. It was an agonizing decision to make - there were compelling arguments on both sides, and while we ultimately came down in favor of staying in place, we also recognized that the problems we saw with our present situation are real, and need to be resolved in some way.

All of this came back to us last week when Eric and I took the boys to our favorite orchard, up near the farm we nearly bought. There was the house and its for-sale sign still there. We'd assumed that the house would sell, and now we were back to the same conversation - because in many ways, we hadn't yet begun to consciously deal deeply with the uncertainties of our present place. We've had so much to do and so many projects up in the air that much of the planning and organizing that this will require seemed like a lot of work. But until we do it, we're not going to be sure where we stand.

What came out of that apple picking trip was a lot of good analysis, and what Eric and I found was that we both really agree on one thing - that we really need to apply ourselves to making our life work better if we're to stay here. We've let a lot of things slide because we've been busy with other projects - but we both want and need to devote our attention to pulling things together.

What is on the table? Well, first of all, money. We've never been a profligate family, mostly because we've never been able to afford to be. But looming money concerns are starting to make both of us nervous. Eric is a non-tenured state faculty member, and the SUNY budget is being slashed - whole departments at his university are being eliminated and we think one of three things is a likely outcome in the coming year. First, Eric could lose his job altogether. Second, SUNY could slash benefits and raise costs for health insurance. Third, the state could enter furlough status and Eric could take a major paycut. All of these things are possible to likely, and they mean we could be living on a lot less money.

Given the rise in property taxes and insurance costs at our house, I'm not completely sure that on my income alone we'd be able to keep the farm. That's one of the reasons we so seriously considered moving, and in a better housing market, we probably would have done so - but I'm not sure we could sell, either.

So we need to figure out how to live on less money - we've done it before - when we first lived here our income for a family of four was less than 20K annually, but we've gradually let a lot of creep in our budget accumulate. By most people's standards we're probably pretty frugal - our family of six still lives on under 50K. with only mortgage debt and some savings. But if Eric loses his job - or has a furlough salary cut or loses benefits, we'll struggle (like everyone else) and to the extent we can insulate ourselves from that, we need to.

We haven't put our full efforts into making the farm pay for itself and reducing its tax burden because we've been doing other things. But we've decided that if we're to have a long term future, that has to change. Moreover, we've got to do the ordinary work of just getting our budget back down so that we can handle major income shifts if need being.

We'd like to open up the farm - to teach classes on site, bring people in, etc... but that also takes money and planning. The insurance costs alone are intimidating - so we need to find that budget flexibility and make the capital improvements that would make that possible without going into debt.

Our record keeping has slid a bit, and that makes it hard for us to figure out how some of our projects are going. We're doing really cool stuff with woody pasturage, with native plants and with edibles, and we'd like to share it, but for that we need good records, good assessments, to make the place look attractive enough to bring people in, and some capital investments in new projects.

Besides money, there's general organization. I've always been something of a slob, but again, we're doing so much stuff that we've let a lot of things go - and the chaos has started to get to the point of really bothering me. I feel like if I could just give it my time and attention, I could get our home systems working a lot better, and spend a lot less time digging around for things I've misplaced or just less time cleaning, if I could get into a system of regular maintenence. There are costs to always being behind and to losing track of things.

So one of my goals for the winter is to bang the house and farm buildings into shape, and get a plan for actually keeping them that way as much as possible. Now I buy a lot of time to get things done by not worrying too much about a little chaos, and I plan to stay that way - but I'd be happier with a greater measure of underlying order. I also need to clean out and declutter - there are still possessions of Eric's grandparents, for example, that I've never dealt with since their deaths four years ago, much less my own clutter.

Number three is simply a reassessment of our goals in terms of being self-supporting and our basic adaptation in place plans. What's next? Where do we want to concentrate our energies? What projects are on the line, and what can wait? What do we need to do to start undertaking these?

I want to rebuild our community relationships - probably the single biggest thing besides money that drove us to consider moving was our situation in our community. After many years of relying heavily on close ties with neighbors, those ties frayed somewhat, not from any conflict, but because of moving, life changes, etc... The community shifted, and we felt somewhat bereft - and were somewhat lazy about replacing those ties. We need to devote more time to local community building in our immediate area, or we simply won't want to stay. Both of us can see the need for this, but again, time has been a limiting factor.

Finally, there's time and energy - both personal energy and the kind that comes from fossil fuels. Commitments keep accumulating, and we're finding that while all the stuff we're doing is important, and valuable, the net reality is that we're unable to find enough time to do this kind of sitting down and reassessing. Often the only time we have to really talk things out or begin a new project is at the end of the day when we're tired. We're getting to feel like we're always running. For example, I realized in July that I had a commitment for every single weekend between August and the end of December. That's just too much, and since for us, one of the major benefits of our lifestyle has always been that we have time, even if not money, it seems like almost a bigger cost than the income shocks we expect.

Moreover, I've noticed our resource use has crept up a little bit - we're getting away from using 15% of what the average american household uses and heading up to 20 or 21%. This is a function of time and energy too - no time means no time to think it through, exhaustion means that it is easier to say "oh, just this one more time." But, of course, it is never just one more time .

We're not in crisis, we're not having a bad time - but the fact that we're looking outward for solutions suggests to both of us that maybe we should try making time to find solutions in other ways first. So we've committed to making that time, and doing the work. We're going to sit down and focus on home, family, energy use, community, money, farm, preparedness and scheduling and really work out how we want these things to work, and what we feel we can do to make things more satisfying and happier.

What we're really talking about is a permaculture redesign, or reassessment of our whole lives. We're allotting a year to do it - we have several times now done year long projects - once by not buying anything but food and fuel for a whole year, another with the Riot for Austerity, trying to get our resource use down to 10% of the American average, and both were enormously useful and revelatory. Both resulted in long term changes that we were happy with. So we're going to do it again - starting November 1 and running until next November 1, we're enting the whole-life redesign project, which I think of as simply an offshoot of Adapting in Place. And like my prior projects, we thought it would be fun to do it with other people. Anyone interested?

I'll write up a set of formal parameters, and do some preparation stuff in the next few weeks, and invite other people to look at their lives and see where work could be done. I'm going to make up a 12 month plan for what we want to focus on each month, and then get on with it. If you are interested, I'd invite you to join in. I suspect it will be both fun and revelatory!

More like this

Sharon, I may be out of place to suggest this but.. I think that you and your family would be happier and better off living out West. I grew up in Illinois and have lived various places, including four years in New York. No place is as free and unregulated, with such low property taxes and cost of living, such self-reliant and independent people, such unlimited access to wild nature, as the intermountain West.

I spent over a decade living on the Navajo Reservation and never experienced such culture shock, such rude & stressed out people, as I did living on Long Island. I had a good friend in Putnam County and spent a lot of time there also; my friend and I did quite a bit of hiking and exploring around in upstate NY and New England. There is some interesting country in the northeastern US but compared to the Rockies & Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin horst & graben landscapes, the Chihuahuan & Sonoran Deserts..? You've got to be kidding me.

Property taxes here in NM are about 1/7 what they are in NY. The northwestern part of NM is a natgas, oil & coal sacrifice area; I don't recommend it. But the Gila country, the Silver City area, or the northcentral part of the state, are fantastic, both culturally & natural history-wise. Colorado is more expensive, Arizona has gone completely Fascist, and Utah has it's Mormons & 3.2% beer. El pais de encantada is cheapest, most ethnically diverse, most laid back and best of the Four Corners states. You could probably buy an entire ranch for the price of your little farmstead in NY. NM's state budget is strapped for revenue but the situation isn't nearly as bad as in NY, Cali, et al. No state govt. layoffs or furloughs as yet. And tell Eric there's little light pollution outside the major metro areas. Wouldn't surprise me but what he could get a secure & well paying job at Los Alamos or on the VLA near Magdalena. I don't usually recommend that Easterners move here, because I like the low population density, but for cool people I make an exception. :)

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 13 Oct 2010 #permalink

Yeah, but probably the entire ranch gets as much annual rainfall as her little farmstead in NY too, right? ;-)

Sharon, I'd be very interested, though not sure how well I could participate. Really, it's my DH who could most benefit since he manages our home and not terribly efficiently, but it's one of those situations where my pointing out the inefficiencies does nothing for domestic bliss. You wouldn't be prepared to offer a twelve-week class on spouse reform, would ya? :)

I'm in for a Whole Life Redesign. I've been toying with it, anyway and having some support and ideas from others sounds perfect!

I've become complacent about my life recently and have begun to notice traces of plastic and other evidence of a consumptive lifestyle starting to reappear so .....yes redesign or readjustment seems in order ;-)

Yeah, but probably the entire ranch gets as much annual rainfall as her little farmstead in NY too, right? ;-)

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 13 Oct 2010 #permalink

I'm so in. This is the year we move onto our sailboat and figure out how to make a life on it. I reckon my challenges will be different than a whole-life redesign on a farm, but I also suspect there will be similarities.

By BlissfulBee (not verified) on 13 Oct 2010 #permalink

I'm in. I have spent the last 6 months trying to motivate myself to make this happen.. maybe if I have to be accountable i'll manage to get my thinking gear focused.

Kind Regards

Yes! Count me in. I am on the same wavelength, here . I have been on the road a lot lately, and things keep slipping behind. Just trying to keep up with planting, harvest, and storage of food. The food storage system needs reorganizing... and I really need to set some systems in place for this and for gardening (planting times, seed storage, etc.)... so that I don't have to think about it so much, but just do it. It would be great to work on this together with others.


Sounds like a great plan - I had been considering our need to do something like it for ourselves.

Sounds great! It seems that my wife and I have been in a forever process of redesigning our lives. For the last ten years, we have been organizing with different groups of people to start an intentional community. It hasn't gotten off the ground, yet, but I hope with the group we have now that we'll be on the land by this coming Summer. I'm a stay-at-home unschooling dad, and I think I've finally gotten in the grove of balancing giving the kids the attention and focus they need and giving myself my own time. With that now in balance, I'm working on reskilling. I'll be making passive solar food dehydrators on Friday with friends and pedal powered machines (like blenders and a spin cycle machine) on Tuesday. I'm getting a lot of reading done with a large list of how-to books.

I'm curious what your thoughts are on the process for life redesigning.

By Abe Karl-Gruswitz (not verified) on 13 Oct 2010 #permalink

I've been feeling this way too, especially since our youngest is now past the newborn state. Count us in!

Ha ha. I just wrote that my own experience in your food preservation class was "part of the sputtering re-boot of my personal philosophy into some hybridized blogostani bourgeoise-pagan-doomerism." I'm not sure what help I would be.

But I think you are caught in a classic dilemma of being just too far ahead of the curve. You're designed for the future economy, not the present one -- and I'm not sure you can entirely solve that discrepancy. You have specialized in things that have been stupendously de-valued in our current cultural-economy like food, community, energy efficiency and so on. Hour for hour, calorie for calorie, none of this really pays off in terms of paying the bills or anchoring your property-ownership. Which ideally shouldn't be a problem, but probably is -- especially if the proverbial goat manure hits the propellors.

We assume your investment (of time, material and sweat) will all be (stupendously) valuable in the future, but I wonder if it is possible at all to reconcile the two things you want to do in the present -- live true to that future economy of values, while at the same time securing yourselves within the current dysfunctional one. I'm certainly having trouble imagining how I could do it -- and so far it's literally no more than a work of imagination.

I'm in too. Have been doing this to some degree since taking your Adapting in Place course last year. Over the summer I began going through the Edible Forest Gardens books because it had become apparent that the front yard food forest needed a redesign ... and the code cops reinforced that decision. I think more is needed besides the food forest redesign, however. I can start with what remains undone from the Adapting in Place course and go on from there.

I *really* want to participate, but one thing is holding me back.... The part of my life that MOST needs re-designed is the amount of time I spend online that therefore prevents me from getting the things done that I want to prioritize. It's even a large part of my community-building as I volunteer for a local non-profit and much of what I do at home for that is online. Like Sharon, I'm also trying to make our farm profitable....my husband isn't too many years from retirement and we'd like to have a productive orchard and greenhouse by the time he's no longer working. But the business ventures are also taking a lot of online research. I sit in front of the computer way too many hours a day, even though I don't otherwise hold a job. But I don't see myself ever giving up my computer time....I do need balance. So I guess I talked myself into it. Count me in! (in NE Oklahoma)

By Leslie Moyer (not verified) on 13 Oct 2010 #permalink

It sounds like a terrific idea. We are looking into ways in our community to found a group that could embrace such an effort. That being said, we are far behind you in preparation, and also greatly in need of decluttering, re-allocating resources and generally getting better organized for the uncertain future. It would be great to have an outline to follow. We might even come up with an idea or two to add to the general discussion.

We'd love to work collaboratively on this effort. After the Adapting in Place class this spring we moved over 700 miles to step into our right circumstances. We're permies and are imagining a great yield in sharing with kindred spirits.

DD, thanks for the suggestion and the good advice. I fear we won't take it - if anything, we might move further back east towards my family. Everyone, I think has a sense of place, and I'm from this cold, wet rocky place. I love the west when I've visited it, but it doesn't feel right - and is far away from all my kids' grandparents and aunts and uncles. Our area is actually incredibly friendly, though, compared to Long Island ;-).

Andy, I think that is part of it - finding the right balance between life now and life to come is a big and central project.


This sounds like a great project. I have to agree with Andy Brown, though, about how out of sync you and yours are with BAU.

We are still at the beginning of this whole process. We are sure we want to stay here, but it's been difficult to move forward with consistancy.

We have a few years before my husband retires. Our goal now is to put in place the habits and infrastructure we can to ease that transition (with perhaps none of the retirement funds we were counting on).

One of the hardest parts is figuring out the timing of the financial system imploding. Can we afford to wait another year and several months to beging taking out some of the 401k?

His job is fairly secure, but in this climate, who knows if this will hold true long enough to get most of what we want done?

We have family here, but none are preparing or even aware of PO and the coming collapse. We want to be there for them when it is needed, and to leave a legacy of sorts: sustainably produced food and fiber, skills and knowledge of basic living, and so much more.

Prioritizing is crucial. Hope this project helps.



Sharon, you should have a work weekend. Bring in a gang of people, have some things you want to get tackled, and it'll get done! Having other people helps keep YOU on schedule, and with more people, more can get done. I, for one, would love to come out again and do such exciting tasks as go over record books and knit by the fire while eating good food! :-P

Sounds good to me - I'm in. I'm tucking into my own twelve month plan as of Nov. 1 (just after my candidacy exams). First up for me is health - I expect a lot more muscle power will be required in the coming times.

Boy do I need this. I'm rather appalled at how things have slipped around here on a number of fronts.
It also sounds like a great way for you to get a handle on your Adapting in Place book -- although your deadlines may not cooperate.

By Susan in NJ (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

Great idea. I really need to do something like this. I've kinda fallen off the bandwagon and need to get back on. I'm in!

We're in. We seem to be in continual de-cluttering, re-organizing mode. I can see our systems working much better than thay presently are.

The concept of 'home' has been on my mind for quite sometime, so I can relate to your dilemma. Make what you have work or go for the fresh start? We chose the fresh start and are fortunate enough to have just purchased 3 irrigated acres with a house and will move from our 2.25 dry acres in a couple weeks. We'll rent this one out.
A year of assessment would be great and I look forward to the parameters you will come up with to explore.
This will definitely be our 'adapting' in place' space. We already have an orchard, vineyard, food garden and edible landscaping planned. The wood stove goes in as soon as the move is done and a hand pump on the well. Solar will be further down the road, but Southwest Idaho is a great place for it.

How perfect! I began the process of rearranging and decluttering the house at the end of spring, and had to take a BIG break for gardening season. It's the I'm-turning-50-and-have-lived-in-my-house-10-years motivation, and if I could include more overall good prep for times to come, I'll be thrilled. We're also selling my husband's house to the tenant (once they sell her fiance's house), and we'd been talking adding a summer kitchen and wood cookstove, so this will be perfect preparation.
Thanks, Sharon!

By julie from cen… (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

I'm in -- don't know how much we can accomplish, but I definitely need to reassess and think about these sorts of things too. Great idea!

Fantastic idea. I'd love to join you in this but I can't find the time :-)

I too struggle dealing with lack of time, clutter, family life balance, home food preservation, home energy improvements, gardening, transition group meetings/events, volunteering, part-time working (both of us), caring for a pre-school and school age child, childrens party commitments, friends and community, exercise, etc... Being deep into "Depletion and Abundance" right now I sometimes a feel inadequate but its comforting to know you too struggle with lifes compromises.

By Adrian (in UK) (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

The Lesbian Ladies in Charlottesville are in!

By The lesbian Ladies (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

Oh heck, now I've got around to reading one or two of your blogs, I know I'm going to have to go back to the beginning and read form the start. Same thing happened when I realized the Archdruid report was all about resource depletion, not just an occasional topic on the matter.

Weâre planning on moving eastwards in the next year to eighteen months, cutting our resource use down as much as possible and becoming as self sufficient as we were in the 70âs when I grew up, growing our own food for the most part. Reading about other peopleâs experiences doing similar projects is an invaluable resource for us, and we thank you for sharing.

Oh, yes, count me in, too! Our schedules are jam-packed and subject to change without notice. As a result, we also suffer from clutter and undone projects around the house. Ditto increased resource use. A year is probably what it would take us to retool.

Sounds like just what I need for this winter. Last day of CSA 2010 is tomorrow, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad :). My house is a clutter filled mess :). I have always had the tendancy to "what if" items as in what if we'll need it. Now with the zombie hourds at the door some of the what ifs seem real. Mostly I am talking items those I might need to take in would need, clothing, beds, bedding and a few entertainment items like kids books or games.

I've been trying to be realistic about cleaning the clutter ie this item isn't valuable as is or upcycled into something else :)and am making progress. So......this winter, declutter and do some redecorating, so if I do need to take in people they won't run and scream toward the zombies due to such ugly and old rooms (last major painting done 10-20 years ago).

Oh and this is the place we're staying and I am very comfortable with that. And while I am good at growing food I am not good at making time to preserve much of it.


I am glad to hear that you are trying to work it out where you are. Getting ahead of the curve headed your way is always a good thing. Being ahead of the curve for us, gets a bit lonely but it is necessary. Cutting costs can be done. We are a family of 6 living on somewhere in the market of $8000 annually. I work two part-time jobs for a totally of 25 hours a week. Larry is our full-time farmer and he does an excellent job of growing 80% of our food intake.
Good Luck!

Hi, Sharon--

I'm definitely in the process of doing a "page-one rewrite" of my life right now. The image I have is of a transparent butterfly that has just emerged out of the cocoon and is spreading his wings to let them harden in a safe-ish space where I can also keep my heart and belly soft.

I'm working with a couple of different men's groups incl. the ManKind Project, my recovery peeps, the Capital District Transition Network, my spiritual practice--all of it to redesign EVERYTHING in my life, and to rearrange it to suit "the Work of this God" as we say in our tradition.

That being said, I might not have a lotta-lotta time. But I'd like to strongly consider an amped up Adapting in Place that really takes all of the picture in. In working with a life coach, I'm just focusing on 2 areas and trusting they will affect the rest of my existence as well.

By Richard in Ren… (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

I've been on the same wavelength now for almost a year here in South Florida. First priority is to simplify each and every day til it hurts. Second, is to get help for the farm stuff. You cannot do the farm alone. Help is needed. Interns? Work donations? Call in the family and everyone you know to help.

My husband Don and I are very interested in the Whole Life Redesign project - count us in.

By Lila Porterfield (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

Andy in post #12 really hit on something that I've been thinking and dealing with too. While we see where we want to end up, the rest of the world just isn't there yet. Instead, it hits us with lots of rules, taxes, and other cash expenses that, if anything, promise to go *up* further before they go down. It seems like its this society's and this government's last ditch attempt to keep everything going, via more control and more taxing, and it will severely challenge those of us trying to pull back from the formal economy as we continue down the transition path we know we eventually *must* go.

In my work at the residential treatment school, on the large farm campus my employer has, my garden/farm efforts have really fallen flat this past year. Our client census is down due in no small part, to cities and towns keeping more of their SPED kids in-house as a way to save $$$. I've been pulled out of the outdoors and onto "the floor" more in the dorm. Everybody thinks the outdoors and farming is good for the kids, but just try to justify spending time out there if the kids, at the time, just don't want to go! (3000 sq foot gardens just don't work if people are imploring me to stay inside "just one more day", day after day in May and June... We have more day student kids while our in-residence numbers are down. Simultaneously, I've been warning people in this business that the ability of area school systems to keep sending us day students on those special ed vans, at a transportation cost currently in the neighborhood of nearly $30,000 a year, per kid, while the rest of society starts dealing with skyrocketing transport costs, is nearing an end. I think the residential segment will pick up again, (but probably on a lower cost, less services-provided model), but so far, the cost of keeping a kid at our place, with tuition, room and board, has worked to drive just the opposite trend - that is, more day kids. In the long run, I firmly believe that my employer's place will become something like the orphanage farm we used to be in the 1940s when the property was first bequeathed to us. We'll be tying the farm in more with the local community like we used to. But for now anyway, all anybody sees is lower overall census numbers with the trend being towards more day kids, driven from ever greater distances. Our school/farm campus is pretty much closed off to neighbors and other outside visitors-participants due to modern confidentiality concerns (we're more of a medical facility now than the orphanage-residence that was more intimately involved with the community years ago.) How do we/I survive the present financial crush (especially when co-workers think I'm somewhat obsessed pushing this outdoor, farm thing already?)

I don't know. I've been eying a move to a much more rural area myself. I think financially I could do it. But starting over at this point in a new place.....hmmmmm.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

I'm in on the year-long project. Sometimes when I read your blog, I think: I could be writing this!! Focusing on one thing per month would be a great way for my husband and I to work through projects we are interested in and create new habits.

Three months ago we sold our house in suburbia and moved to our 45acre farm in northern NSW, Australia. Old dairy property, run down, lots of weeds. I am on a three year research contract so we have three years of income to sort it out, taking it one year at at time seems logical and breaking it up into monthly bites is doable. So far I have got the vege garden going, we have the solar system operation up and place habitable. This months working on getting the chook pen built and chooks installed. Already harvesting silverbeet and rocket so I am feeling pretty good about myself. Community wise, have met some of the neighbours and working on getting to know others, our daughter is settled into school and happy. What next?

By kookaburra (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink

I think Andy and Stephen nailed it. Our first steps, coming out here, were to get ready for the future. We've achieved a lot of what we wanted - not all - but now comes the question of how to balance our foot in the future with the one we have in the present more clearly, and be as functional as possible in as many possible outcomes as possible.


I'm in! I think my husband will be, too, once he reads your post. We'll be trying to sell our place in the spring. We're in a whirl of decluttering, reconsidering the work we do, and figuring out how to raft the currents to our shared vision for the future. Whee. :)

By Shannon in Maine (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink


Everybody thinks the outdoors and farming is good for the kids..

How things have changed. In the late 19th/early 20th centuries the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools on the reservations were set up to be food self-sufficient. They had dairy cattle, chickens, large gardens, grain fields & all the facilities for providing food for the students. Students were expected to work on the school farms and learning to grow food was considered part of their education. By the mid-20th century attitudes changed and this arrangement came to be considered exploitative. The farms were abandoned and processed food trucked in by Cisco & other venders. Today, obesity & type 2 diabetes are rife on the rezzes. As far as I've observed there's been no move to revert back to food self-sufficiency. Any suggestion to do so would be laughed at. Maybe in more progressive white communities there's people who think that "the outdoors and farming is good for the kids," but certainly not at Dept. of the Interior headquarters in DC.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink


Our two kitchens (school building and house) are subject to board of health inspections and such is the case, several key people have adamantly stood in the way of "dirty" veggies being brought into the kitchens, saying the board of health would freak out if they saw this dirt. (Never mind we sometimes let dinner dishes from 15 people sit out dirty overnight.) The few kids that go out to the garden (the little one I had this year) sometimes bring stuff back. None of my fellow staff, however, have any inclination to clean, prepare, or otherwise do anything with the produce, so it just sits. I suspect that if I went down to town hall and asked the health agents about this, they'd be all for the garden, as long as we follow proper kitchen operations and would be aghast at how some people are blaming the board of health for keeping veggies out of the kitchens.

The reality is nobody wants to make the effort with this farm output. Given that I'm already doing 25 different things in the afternoon when the kids are most available, I just don't have the time. Furthermore, although I'm one of the few staff with food safety certification, the kitchen is not my department as has been made clear to me.

In fact, in this business, it's depressing how much people hide behind department walls, credentials, or lack thereof. The cooking is done by the cook, the teaching by the certified teachers, etc. Now some of this of course, I can see. We don't want nursing being done by non-nurses, but we carry it to extremes. Given all the farming I do, people at work are surprised to hear that I don't have some kind of degree in agriculture. They're doubly surprised to hear my undergrad is in electrical engineering with a master's in education. (I am doing what I want to do and what I see needs doing *now*, and that does NOT involve building more disk drive control units.)

I can't go into all of what I'm getting at here, but suffice to say that my business and agency is locked into an unhealthy rigidity. It all too often refuses to allow interdisciplinary work of most any type and uses all manner of excuses to keep from doing good and necessary things for the kids. It's really tiring. The problems of childhood obesity, ADHD and borderline ADHD tied to overly stimulating, confusing, artificial environments are plain for the whole world to see. Our outdoor environment is healthful, healing, and good not just for ordinary kids, but abused and neglected ones especially. But my business, despite some PR rhetoric generated from time to time, by and large is very obstinate, hiding behind bureaucratic rules and structures, rather than do what needs to be done for and with these kids.

I was making tremendous progress at this facility up until two years ago. But all the above problems, along with some very old ones such as cultural and racial obstacles, have really paralyized us more recently. I've tried talking to people, but it's been tough. People can't hear what I'm trying to say. The fact that I'm a middle-aged white guy has played into the outdoor farming image too and turned some people and kids off to farming and the outdoors. (I've had clients report to me that they don't belong in the outdoors, saying "coyotes like chocolate people, and I'm chocolate.") Other kids of color have repeatedly reported to me that they don't want to do the farming for the white people (that is, they don't want to become the new slaves.) When I attempt to talk about this with coworkers and superiors, I've been told that I am making too much of this. When combined with the fact that I've complained to superiors about being forced to listen to racist, misogynistic, and anti-gay music and media, often facilitated and allowed by counselor coworkers (meaning bootleg rap lyrics of the most horrific dimensions) I've also been told that I have "a problem working with black people." Sometimes on issues of race, culture, and the ability to think and talk *openly* and critically about those subjects, people in human services get more credit than they deserve.

However, in the past 8 weeks, we've picked up a few younger clients that seem more open to the outdoor, agricultural program, so that's a plus.

Still, there is a lot to work out here, stuff I just think is beyond what a modern social service agency's worker base is capable of. The fact that governments are increasingly strapped for special ed. monies for needy, abused kids and given the unwillingness of people in my industry to really follow the Peak Oil, declining resource debate at any level and what it could mean for our program, agency, and industry, instead blaming the decline we're suffering on state budgets, Republicans and Democrats, the future does indeed require some reevaluating here.

I had hoped as the Decline started, we'd be making more progress, but alas, no, not yet anyway.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 15 Oct 2010 #permalink

I am in. We have spent the last year saving money and planning for the move we have made. But now that we are here it seems like we have no goals and seem to be letting life carry us along. There is so much to do that we have yet to make a to do list because it seems overwhelming with all we have going on right now. This is just what I need. You are a very wise woman. Thankyou!

Life Redesign sounds like just what I need. And I hope to carry my wife along with me. I've been gardening for the last 4 years, getting more ambitious each year, trying to provide the bulk of our food. But we haven't really thought much about the rest of our retirement lives. This would be something that would be useful to us. Count me (us?)in.

I'd like to sign up too. After taking a permaculture design course and joining your first Adapting in Place course I was full of enthusiasm to adapt. Then work got *really* busy. That was good, in that I'm the only wage-earner in the household, but I feel my ambitions went on hold.
During the worst times last year I, and the rest of the company, took a 20% paycut. We're recently back to full pay but it turned out to be possible to live on the lower wages quite well. After Christmas I will be working a four day week, with alternate long weekends. I'm hoping that this will give me some of the time I've lacked.

That sounds like exactly the sort of project I need to take on: I've let a lot slide in favor of my dissertation, and am just about to finish it.




the ungrateful bastards full of hubris...


a bullet for your head, traitor

And finally, the *only* man in Minnesota who says there is no God has suddenly become an arbiter on mental health...



I agree that there is no sustainability if you can not control taxes. I live in the Buffalo National River area of NW Arkansas and our taxes are VERY low, #2 from the bottom in the US. Our 21.6 acres and home ($250K) is taxed at about $350 a year. Yes, a year. We moved from a similar home with less land that is taxed at $4500 a year. That is a net $4200 to the bottom line. Less government too.

And yes, we have plenty of water. Springs and rain.

In collapse, government will not reduce taxes, but your income will collapse until the new equilibrium is found. It won't happen here, we don't have one stop light in our county of 7,000. We do have broadband.

Get out of the cities and high tax areas. There is going to be a taxation feeding frenzy as incomes go down. It is a mess. Go rural and put that to bed at least.

Thank you, Stephen B., for your thoughtful response.

I no longer teach and have in fact allowed my teaching & ed administrative licenses to expire. (Some semesters I teach biology in an adjunct capacity at the local community college.) It's been over a decade since I have taught in the BIA or public school systems. The pressures on teachers have only increased over this period of time while the quality of educational delivery has declined precipitantly. I have no interest whatsoever in reentering the cesspool of government or public education. This said, I have friends who still teach. Every one of them hates their job and seeks desperately to switch careers. Just yesterday a friend who teaches math on the Jicarilla Rez was relating horror stories to me about how bad it's become for him. Students enter high school not knowing their multiplication tables yet his job is on the line if his students fail to meet criteria based on standardized test scores. It's madness. Speaking as someone with a Masters of Arts in Teaching and Masters of Educational Administration, I strongly recommend home schooling. I was never certified to teach special ed but as an academic dept. head and principal I supervised sped teachers and am aware of and sympathize with the problems they face. I am primarily white, of mostly Celtic heritage with a little Shawnee thrown in, and have worked for years on the Navajo Reservation for the BIA's Office of Indian Education programs, so I am likewise aware of the racism & cultural conflicts white teachers face on the reservations. My kids for the most part grew up on the reservation; they are authorities on racial prejudice from first hand experience.

Just down the road from where I live a preparatory high school offers space & irrigation water for a community garden. Or at least they did in the past. This year I didn't notice any preparation for gardening at all, altho I admittedly didn't pay much attention. In past years, however, community members prepared the soil and planted gardens, only to neglect them in summer and have their plots overgrown with Kochia by harvest time. People simply don't like doing agricultural grunt work under the summer sun. Where I now work we hire temporary summer help for hoeing and other manual labor and it is very difficult to get good workers. Many that we hire are young women who like to talk and are fun to be around, but are practically worthless when it comes to getting any work done. After half an hour on the hoe they have a blister or have been bitten by an ant and that's all she wrote in terms of further labor that day. Others are Native Americans who come to work hungover, if they come to work at all. Perhaps this sounds like stereotyping but it's just the observations I've made over the years. I'm not immune myself: Working on an experimental farm has made me less inclined to garden at home. All I know is that as resource depletion and environmental degradation issues worsen, there's going to be a lot of lardasses in for a rude awakening.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 18 Oct 2010 #permalink

Okay Sharon- youâve finally done it with this post! That is pushing me from the status of perpetual lurker to participant. A little bit about my history may explain why this is so significant.
I was an urban guy born and bred and a somewhat reluctant child of the sixties. In the late 70âs I taught a social policy course at a community college. The reading list for the course included Small is Beautiful, The Limits to Growth, Only One Earth, etc. I thought I was brilliant in that I had âdiscoveredâ a fundamental connection between dominant economic theory, and some of the results of operationalizing that theory including a social service system that functioned to deal with system casualties, and a nascent environmental crisis. (Only subsequently did I come to realize that it was my hubris that had prevented me from seeing I was just playing catch up.)
In any event that dawning understanding led me to undertake a fundamental shift in life circumstances. I along with my young family relocated to a 95 acre parcel of land in a rural community in western Alberta (property that we had originally bought as recreational land). This was a kind of tag end participation in the back to the land movement (I said I was a reluctant child of the sixties :)). I built a super insulated house that incorporated wood heat and solar panels for domestic hot water. It all started with the noblest of intentions. However after a couple of failed attempts at sustainable self employment I drifted back into my professional field. While I continued to heat with wood for the past thirty years, avoided buying new vehicles, grew a large garden and continued a few other superficial token gestures to a sustainable life style I basically returned to the trough along with most of the rest of North American society.
This may have continued on âjust fineâ ...in the short run, if I hadnât made the mistake of volunteering for a community planning process to develop a sustainability plan for local government. As preparation for this work I read a couple of dozen books including work by Jim Kunstler, Richard Heinberg , Herman Daly, Rob Hopkins, Thomas Homer-Dixon, and a host of others and began following an ever increasing list of blogs- the Oil Drum, Post Carbon Institute, Club Orlov, Casaubonâs Book, etc., etc. It felt a little bit like Rip Van Winkle, except more guilty.
This re-emerging perspective has led to a renewed commitment to realign my life to be more consistent with not only my underlying values but also with the realities of the world which will at some point begin to dictate our choices. So writing this post is a way for me to step outside my mental ruminations by making a public declaration to all you folks who I will likely never meet that I intend to undertake significant changes in my relationships with the physical, biological, and social worlds I inhabit.
Having said that however, more questions are posed than answered. It all seems so overwhelming. How do I engage a sympathetic but less involved spouse? Should my priority be increasing food independence or lowering energy consumption? How do I build a social support and real world network by seeking out and connecting with like-minded folks?
What I need is a Plan! A whole life redesign so to speak. Sign me up! Iâm particularly interested in following up on Andy and Sharonâs comments about the challenges of balancing living in the world we know and preparing for the world we will be living in.

I don't even know what this means!

Count me in!

By Michael Enquist (not verified) on 19 Oct 2010 #permalink

Kate @ #32: The 80% food production figure is just mind-bogglingly impressive to me. I'd be doing very well indeed to hit the 10% mark in my small suburban backyard, even if I added the fruit gathered at my friends' ranch (peach and pear trees). Right now I don't think I manage 5%, but 10% might be a goal towards which I could work, with careful planning and effort (and dietary modifications). Almost everything has to be grown in raised beds here, since the soil is very poor, and there's not much of it before you hit solid rock. But I have a compost bin, and access to lots of horse manure, so the raised beds are very manageable and productive (at least this year).

Count me in too! I've already been challenged by a 75 year old vegan friend that manages to grow 80% of her own food, including wheat and corn, in a small suburban lot. In the past five years, I've established a basic permaculture on my own medium sized yard in a mid-sized Midwestern town. The fruit & nut bushes and trees are doing well now so it's time to take a hard look at what else I can do to reduce my carbon footprint and increase self-sufficiency.

My last ditch, Desperate Plan C for the pending life challenges(if I can't pull off the self-sufficienty thing) is to change my name to Yoder, don a bonnet, and hitch hike 45 miles South into Amish country to find a sympathetic farm family who will take me in as their long lost cousin. Obviously, I need longer to-do lists for Plans A & B too!

By Maggie Anderson (not verified) on 24 Oct 2010 #permalink

Sounds like a plan, and good timing to boot (especially for those of us count this as the start of the year).

I'm with Leslie@14, in that the biggest thing for me is going to be reducing the online time so I have more time for the other things.

I'm a little late to this party but interested in joining in. I had a realization this week that we've lived on our homestead for over 7 years now and have made no real progress toward any of our goals...or perhaps it would be more accurate to say any of *my* goals since my husband has no interest whatsoever in any of this. So I'll do my best at redesigning and drag him along kicking and screaming if necessary. :D