Redefining The American Dream
This next contribution in our new Resilience Spotlight series, featuring stories from Peak Prosperity readers, comes from reader Blackeagle. It’s a story of losing one’s way, and then, through vision and grit, creating a better one.
Here is our story. It regards the many people who left their countries in the hope of finding a better life, but ultimately come to realize that problems are the same everywhere, just with varying acuteness.
Simply put: Our American dream got busted.
My first wife and I left Algeria (Civil war, rampant fundamentalism, economic impasse, frequent water and food shortages, high unemployment rate, etc…) in 1993 to make a better life in France. Her sister, too, left Algeria one year after us and went directly to Canada. She convinced us to follow her to Canada. We moved to Canada in 1996. Life was wonderful (We easily found jobs in our field (Engineering), we purchased a house, two cars, our daughter is doing well at the university) until I realized in 2013 that things were not as good as they looked.
When I started scratching the surface, it became clear that the whole landscape was a big mock-up. 2013 is also when I discovered PP. I extended my research to understand the problem(s) we were facing. We (My second wife and I) came to the conclusion that a radical change in our life was necessary to shield ourselves as much as we could from the coming descent to hell.
The first months (from April to the end of the year), I was in an anxious state. I wanted to do everything NOW! To have a full garden! To stash a pile of gold! To have my money safe! But, heh…, things don’t work this way. At the same time my wife was the perfect reluctant partner. When I understood that my attitude was the problem (I was acting like a fundamentalist and she felt relentlessly pushed to do something she did not believe in), I let go, but continued my quest for a more resilient future without bothering her. Just telling her what I was doing. She did not stop me and progressively embarqued. Today, she is fully onboard and my anxiety is gone. Now, we are really progressing in our preparation.
Each of us is doing what he is most comfortable at. My wife is taking care of the pantry; the house heating (well, I cut the trees, and she burns them. She take care to always use the woodstove. We save on our electric bill); the garden. Me, I take care of our finance; I build the garden (raised beds, etc…); the beehives; the chicken coop; etc… I think we found the right balance that allow us to build together where no one feels pushed by the other.
In short, what we are doing:
- 2013 was mostly dedicated to learning, reading on the web (PP and many other places – some excellent, some good, some mediocre and other just crap. The good thing is that we are sifting thru all this information and we keep the good – well, we think), understanding the environment we live in, etc…
- 2014 was the year where we really started building resilience into our lives. The steps were small: build a deep pantry, start a small vegetable garden, continue to acquire books to learn about resilience, permaculture, homesteading, etc… and build a wood-fired oven.
- In 2015 we enlarged our garden surface; we started beekeeping (2 hives); did small scale test of solar energy harvesting (1 solar panel); build a rain water collector (2000 litres). We also took the decision to build a greenhouse and a chicken coop for the next year. At the end of 2015, I decided to build my own backhoe to help me with all the ground work involved in the construction of the greenhouse (A thermal battery is planned).
- In 2016, I completed the construction of the backhoe; I divided the hives (4 hives now); we increased again the garden; we build the chicken coop and the run; we raised our first 12 meat chickens (we are enjoying them) (Incidentally, my wife needed to do some shopping on the slaughter day); the greenhouse is not started yet, but I am using the backhoe to clear about 1-2 acres of land to build the greenhouse along with a small pond. We started composting, but quickly discovered that the black composter are a pain to turn the pile. We will find a simpler way to compost.
- In 2017 I am planning to complete the clearing and dig the pond. The greenhouse project has changed to become a 30×30 garage with three zones: year-round greenhouse (15×30), garage (15×20) and insulated chicken coop (15×5). The building will have a thermal battery to provide some heating during winter; solar panels for electricity; we are also planning doing aquaponics; The garage construction may start in 2018 and we are impatient to start the building.
Plans for later include a thermal mass heater for the house; a larger solar system (Grid-tied? Off-grid?); bring permaculture ideas at the city-hall: This could be a clever way to bring young families in our municipality as we are all aging and the actual population is slowly decreasing.
At the same time, we are trying to build a community. This is a really difficult task as many people are instinctively avoiding each other. It is like people lost how to interact with other face to face. Instead, the Facebook and the Twitter of this world are replacing direct interaction. We have got some nasty people in our street. One is gone (Ouf!). The other is quiet now. One neighbour and our mayor, started beekeeping after watching what we were doing. Another neighbor started a garden last year. This year he is starting a small chicken flock. Again, things are not going as fast as one want/wish, but they are not stopped. The trick with our neighbors, is that we don’t talk to them about the predicament of our world. They will find it by themselves. Instead, we interested them to activities that they are now doing (gardening, beekeeping). I helped my neighbor build his shed. In return he came help me clear the forest where we will build the greenhouse. He knows about our project and I won’t be surprised if he also start something one day. Every year our neighbors (The good ones!) receive a jar of honey.
As you can see, it takes time (a lot of it) to build resilience. Patience is a must. And experimenting should not scare us. I think we did well since 2013. Our friends tell us we are close to self-sufficiency. I think this is an unreachable goal and a non-realistic one. This is not our goal anyway. Self-sufficiency applies to a community, not to a single individual or family. Instead, at the individual level, the goal is to be as resilient as possible; to have a good percentage of our food produced on our property (We live on a 27 acres lot); to be able to sell part of what we produce (True organic honey, for instance) in hard times; and most importantly to build a network of people of good will.
It's good to see someone helping the bees back. God knows our AG department "gets the hives" whenever we ask them to stop the pesticides. Deep pantries, thermal mass heaters, garden beds – a real savings account. Knowledge, resilience, redundancy and community. (and don't forget humor) At least you have the mayor's attention
Leaps and bounds is what I hear in your story, Blackeagle. Impressive primary wealth creation in a short time once you took the red pill. Thanks for sharing your story and for the positive impact you are having in your hood and in our biosphere. I noticed several nuggets that are good to be reminded of as well – not belaboring neighbors with the predicaments, and understanding that sufficiency is a community, not personal, state.
Thanks for the comments.
I find myself lucky that I can progress this fast when I compare myself to other who have much more constraints than I have. Living outside the city where municipal laws are much less complex, having an onboard wife, having two good jobs, being able to work from home (saving me 3h commute per day), all helps.
One thing I did not mention: Having a plan helps a lot. It keeps us focused even if it has to be modified according to situation changes (ex: the greenhouse supposed to be built in 2016, is now a garage-greenhouse and will not be started before 2018 (at best!). What I know for sure: it will be built). The plan (can be called a set of goals) doesn't need to be large or complex. Do what you can with what you have, one step at a time.