Tuesday, December 6, 2016


A grain scoop for the horses, and the tools used to make it.

As I grew up and set a direction in life, having a purpose was not one of my criteria, and I suspect that's true for most of us. Many people seem to be happy to go about their daily lives with little thought to purpose or any sort of big picture, but I'm not blessed with such an attitude.

A purpose need not be grandiose, such as achieving world peace.  I've found that simply meeting the needs of my family in a direct and tangible manner works just fine.  It's a bonus if I can do that while making the world a better place for others at the same time.

I've been thinking a lot about purpose lately, in large part because I think it's the lack thereof that has been at the core of my dissatisfaction with my career of the last 18 years (programmer, data analyst, etc). Yeah, I worked and my employers paid me for it, but at the end of the day I rarely felt as if I had accomplished anything of significance or importance to anyone. My sense of purpose would've been no less if I had been paid to dig random holes and fill them back up again.  

In Sebastian Junger's excellent book Tribe, he describes the way soldiers discover a new sense of purpose when they become part of a unit, of watching out for each other, and perhaps (but not always) attacking a common enemy. These same soldiers, returning to our society after their service, frequently commit suicide as their sense of purpose is lost. In fact, a very large percentage being diagnosed with PTSD haven't even seen combat; the stress they're experiencing is really a loss of purpose.  

Starting our farm here in Michigan, developing a sense of purpose was not one of my goals, but it has in fact been one of the outcomes.  I know that the food we produce helps others, and I know that the way we produce it helps everyone on the planet.  

We had one mother who was unable to nurse her baby, and was rightfully concerned that her one month old was quickly losing weight no matter what formula or concoction she fed her. Only when the child started receiving raw milk from our dairy did she start to gain weight again. Other parents have related stories of children whose severe allergies disappeared when they were on our milk. Many have discovered that "lactose intolerant" family members could in fact consume our milk without ill effect (pasteurization is in fact what makes many people unable to tolerate milk).

I see the effects of our milk and home-grown food in our son, whose teeth are (unlike either of his parents) almost perfectly straight, uncrowded, and cavity free. Many of our customers have raised children on our milk, to similar good effect. I've found that I no longer battle chronic sinus infections, as the far superior nutrition offered by whole, raw milk is known to boost the immune system. I'm sure we have customers experiencing the same effect, but a lack of sickness never seems to be noteworthy.

Our farm no longer releases massive quantities of Nitrous Oxide (a super potent greenhouse gas released by chemical fertilizer), CO2, or contaminates our neighbor's groundwater with cancer causing pesticides, as it was undoubtedly doing before our tenure. That's a good thing, and it also feeds the sense of purpose.  

So all would seem great -- I've got a new found sense of purpose. But, as it turns out, I haven't yet figured out how to retain it while earning enough money to sustain ourselves, no matter how frugal we become.  

We've reached a point where it appears as if greater frugality becomes counterproductive. Replacing our refrigerator with an icebox (as I would like to have done when it died last week) would require the construction of an ice-house as well as additional time to cut, haul, store, and retrieve ice. Time available for earning cash would have become even more scarce, probably resulting in a greater net cost than the new refrigerator and associated electricity use. Should I be factoring in the costs of fracked natural gas or nuclear power -- which generates the electricity that runs the fridge -- and ruins lives both present and in the future? Absolutely. But the system is such that I feel forced to disregard it, as does most everyone else.

If you ever sense in my writing that I'm cheering the decline of industrialization, you're not imagining things.  This is but one of many reasons to do so.

So for now I have a new career, after quitting my data analyst position in August. Much like the farm, it comes with a good sense of purpose. I'm making useful (and beautiful, I think) goods for friends, family, and customers in an environmentally friendly manner. There's no fossil fueled commute where I have to dodge cell-phone addled drivers, and no sense that I'm a cog in an evil machine (a former pharmaceutical industry job comes to mind...).  I've got full autonomy to make everything as I see fit, with a forest of raw materials that grows much faster than I'll ever be able to wield a bowl adze or chisel.

For now my hand craft is limited to woodenware -- bowls, plates, spoons, scoops, etc, but I would like to expand to blacksmithed and leather goods if I can find demand for them.  Here's a link to my current Etsy store for any who are interested.

In other news, we've had the most amazing extended fall, with a faint suggestion of winter just now approaching in the first week of December.  The colors were of the sort that made me think "Wow!" every time I looked.  I've taken photos of it all before, but here a few I just couldn't resist.

Winged sumac at the edge of our pasture

Jake (far side) and Jasper, our new team of Belgians

View from the house past the greenhouse, new barn, garden toolshed, and firewood stack.

Timber-framed garden shed.  Not 100% finished, but getting close!

1 comment:

Shirley J said...

Looks like heaven on earth!