Call For Stories
Our new Resilience Spotlight series of real stories from PeakProsperity.com readers has received a lot of interest and praise so far.
Surfacing models (of both success and failure) is one of the best ways to learn from each other.
So far, we’ve had stories of:
- Suburban permaculture
- Dealing with a reluctant partner
- Installing a garden with raised beds
But, now we need more!
Every one of us has a story to share. It doesn’t need to be long, nor some grand topic. Learnings come in all shapes & sizes.
What’s an experience you’ve had, a project you undertook, or an exciting idea you’ve entertained that the community here would benefit from learning from?
Being of modest means, I have put a priority on investing time rather than money in developing a non-fragile system on my nine acres of mortgage-free Vermont countryside. I have a set of twelve metrics that I laid out when I began this journey eight years ago. One metric is: Produce as much of our own food as possible, by means as low-tech as possible. I have put a premium on purchasing the tools and developing the knowledge I need so that I can do everything by hand if necessary – although I usually use power tools to save time and get more done.
(I consider working by hand the “100 year solution.” Power tools are an interim measure, good for as long as they are good – that is, as long as they can be repaired or replaced and their fuel source is available and affordable. So such tools are “30 year solutions” in my lingo. Solar power fits in the “30 year solution” category; wood from my own woodlot, wood stoves, the back-up hand well pump, and other quality hand tools are “100 year solutions.”)
I pursue the food production metric by challenging myself to win a game that I call “The Free Food Game.” The idea is to continually conceive, test, and refine ideas that let us eat highly-healthy, organic, GMO-free, heritage-breed vegetables, plus meat that is all of that and grass-raised, for as close to zero cost as I can manage. So, of course I grow my own vegetables in my own garden. And because it’s almost as easy to grow twice what I need for my household, I grow double and sell the excess to pay down the expenses of building the soil and purchasing what seeds and tools I need. As I go, I’m also learning to select and save seed from current crops in order to reduce that annual expense while improving yield by selecting seed from plants that excel on my bit of land. Seeds are a small expense, but by mastering the process I’m making myself less fragile while moving my food expense closer to zero.
I also raise chickens for eggs and meat. Living in Vermont I’m allowed to sell up to 1000 butchered chickens off the farm without state inspection. I raise, butcher, and package up to 100, keep up to 35, and sell the rest. That pays all of my chicken expenses and puts some more positive cash flow in my pocket. I also keep egg birds. Currently they are producing 8-9 eggs/day, far more than we can use. I sell the extra which also nets positive cash flow.
Those three trickles of cash offset over 50% of the cost of the grass-raised milk, beef, and lamb I purchase from local growers whose production methods I’d use if I were the grower. Because I buy in bulk – a half animal at a time – I get significantly discounted bulk prices rather than pay retail (plus all the bones I want free, for broth). To store all of that meat, I have slowly picked up 5 freezers of various sizes and 1 storage refrigerator. I only paid for one of the freezers, the others came to me free from people who thought I might be able to use theirs when they were either upgrading or downsizing. All were in excellent working order when I got them and have yet to fail me. (One freezer and the storage refrigerator are primarily for keeping the butchered chickens until sold, and are thereafter turned off for the year.)
Because I like to cook, and we pretty much only eat one meal a day, I have developed a passion for making tasty food. (If you’re eating no breakfast, a main meal mid-day, and just a tiny evening meal, if any, it’s a good idea to tickle your taste buds.) To save money on the many exotic spices I like to use I started purchasing them in bulk through a local buying coop started by some nearby neighbors. That alone saved more than 50% of the store cost of spices and herbs, getting me closer to a zero cost for seasonings. After awhile it occurred to me that I might find a market for my unique spice blends among other foodies who like to cook great food from scratch, so I packaged some up and tested them in a local farmers market. The response was strong enough to move up to jars and a couple farmers markets the following year. From there I went to regional shows the third year, secured wholesale purchase status with several of the best spice suppliers in the country, joined a Vermont statewide organization for specialty foods producers, and got a marketing company to help me determine if there’s a strong enough online market to make it worth taking this fledgling business to the next level of capital investment. (This year will tell.)
The growth has been steady, but also organic. Meaning, my total investment has been under $3000, spread out over as many years. The business has paid for all the rest of its growth. I don’t need to be the next national name, I’m just looking to provide a high-quality product of the kind I use myself to enough people that I get all of my own spices for free and turn a net profit – which will further reduce my food expenses toward zero. (On the other hand, if it takes off, I have other artisanal blends to add to the family.)
This step in my Free Food game also helps me address another of my twelve metrics: Develop multiple streams of income.
Another way I move toward winning my Free Food game is by making my own kimchi, kefir, broths, and bread. Each starts with home-grown or bulk-purchased ingredients, which means both the ingredients and the final products cost a fraction of store-bought versions. They’re all much healthier and nutrient-dense, too, made from the best organic, heritage breed, and fresh-from-the-field ingredients, so we fill up eating a lot less than we used to, and have abundant good energy for a day’s work.
This is why we eat so little, now, and seldom sleep even 6 hours. We focus on high-quality omega-3 rich fat for energy, and consume very small amounts of omega-6 rich carbohydrates. Of the very limited grains and starches we do eat, statistically none is store-bought. Of course we’ve lost weight. At almost 66 years old I’m back to my high school weight, and am far more energetic than I was when I started down this road at age 58, when I was also 34 pounds overweight. All of my once-developing aches and pains have disappeared, I think clearly eating this way, and I have the stamina to play my various games, start businesses, and still bring in 3-4 cords of firewood each year from my own woodlot – which, in turn, lets us heat in winter from our 3 wood stoves, including a real cook stove with a water heating bladder (yet to be plumbed into the house system). That reduces our energy costs toward zero, too – which contributes to the “Free Utilities” game we play – while helping us meet another of our twelve metrics: Get healthy and fit.
I really like what you’re doing. It sounds wonderful. Unfortunately, with the growing clamor about climate change, they’re going to ban those wood burning stoves or, at the very least, tax the heck out of them. It’s already started.
IMO, for some while increasing taxes will happen wherever they can be applied. It is how guvmint hopes to share the pain on the way down as long as possible. I almost discount that aspect of near-future living as a given – except for my efforts to use tax policy as much as possible to minimize my designation as one who “has excess resources.” But eventually, the taxation regime peaks, then declines, and finally all but fails. So, too, then, do the various distribution programs. No doubt life will be dark and hard for awhile, largely due to government efforts to manage the decline. At least, that’s what I am planning for.
I don’t think wood stoves will be banned for long here. First, as with gun ownership, almost all Vermonters will simply refuse to comply. Second, as oil becomes scarce and expensive, and solar panels prove inadequate to our winters, wood burning just to survive will be the fall back “necessary evil.” I expect increasing incentives to move people out of the countryside and into our more urban areas on the grounds that groups of people can be centrally provisioned with heat and light far more cheaply and “environmentally” than can dispersed persons in the country, and as climate hysteria builds the effort to corral outliers may intensify. Again, a lot of multi-generational Vermonters will simply refuse to comply, and few sheriffs are going to go along with enforcement – we already saw a significant contingent of local and state LEOs join citizens in opposing new gun control legislation. That contingent is growing. I think there’s a fair chance our small government may decide to leave stubborn country people to their own fate – complete with warnings and public safety messages aimed at getting the weak-kneed off the farm – and focus on those who move in from the cold.
Like Chris, I think the decline is going to be more slope than cliff. But he might be too optimistic about how long it’ll take to slide into real trouble. I think the pace is already increasing; at a certain point the pace of decline becomes quickly exponential. Soon after, time’s up. There’s no time left to put off preparing. Nor is any effort wasted; even if nothing bad happens (an idea I don’t believe), non-fragility is the result of greater self-reliance and self-provision.
I also think real personal liberty is only for yeomen – people who can make their own life with their own hands. To the extent someone depends on what others provide, personal freedom is compromised – that’s particularly true if one must turn to the state for provisioning of any kind, but it also applies to needing a job in someone else’s enterprise. (If one chooses to work for someone rather than having no option, that’s a different story.) Most people will heed the government’s call to collect in urban areas or other “settlement areas” because they don’t know how, nor have the resources, to produce their own lives on their own terms apart from the market economy and resources of the state. Such people are already living in a zombie freedom. They are not really free; even if for the moment the government allows and encourages them to exercise libertinism, that isn’t liberty, it’s bread and circuses.
My main task for as much of the next decade as we have remaining is to build out my plan B food forest that I have the rudiment of but have not prosecuted while redirected on getting the spice blend business to the point I can semi-automate its growth. The food forest is essential in event of a Stalin-like confiscation of garden produce, or in event the weather doesn’t cooperate enough to grow good annual food (I’m expecting cooler average temps for the next 30 years or so, based on sun spot activity), or in event the number of people we’re feeding suddenly grows – if, for example, the kids take us up on our standing invitation for them and their families to relocate here whenever they deem it prudent.