May 23, 2009,  8pm and Intermission at Wisconsin Fashion week where my 30 something wife is making a stand for Real Beauty against the insurgent tide of all but 2 dimensional (literally) teen-something “beauties” that have come to define what it means to be pretty in America.  She is stomping the runway against all odds through incredible skill, vit and vim and I am damn proud of her.  And yes, its hot to be married to a model. For me, sitting in the Fashion Show was interesting to say the least.  Pretty sure I was the only potato farmer there…    Now, placed on a bench on the sidewalk of State Street and People Watching.  Just amazing to see the world passing by and I am waxing philosophical.  Go figure. 


State street is so vibrant, so unlike the subdivision where I live.  So many people; so easy to go all existential… what are they doing, where are they going.  Who do they love what are they thinking about?  Diversity everywhere with swallows and nighthawks to boot.


Country living – is it an escape or a quest?  Am I running from something or towards something?  Times like this I really wonder as the city certainly has its allure.  I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago – and never felt at home.  The competion, the sameness for mile after mile after mile.  Going to school out in the plains – Nebraska and South Dakota literally opened me to new horizons and the vastness and the cleansing emptiness of Nature.  Wisconsin brought what I thought to be a compromise.  For a year we lived right smack in the middle of down town Milwaukee – but it was nothing like this.  Where we now reside.. in a small bedroom community of 1200 on the freeway with no infrasctuture other than its HOA’s and Outlet Mall will likely never feel like “home”; there is simply not enough there.  Should the free way cease to exist the town would shrink to nothingness again.  There is no purpose; no community.  


At the farm, I do feel more connected, but the communion is more with Gaia than my fellow sapiens.  The earth is so alive there as to create an almost visceral reaction – the vibrancy fills your nostrils, your mouth, perhaps even your soul.  Bringing life from the soil is less a matter of coaxing than of daming; an attempt to hold back the bounty of the  Earth so as to get only what is needed/wanted rather than the profuseness that Nature desires.   


But the farm is not my home either – at least not yet.  And truth be told, I am not convinced it will be.  The farm entails so many finalities.  Livestock ends most travel, affordable land removes us from most to all of human contact as we get further and further away from civilization.  And removing ourselves that far – is that sustainable?  We  cannot create *everything* we need on the farm, and post oil is we are 40 miles from a population center is that workable?  With whom will we barter and share labor?  With whom will I drink my home brew?  What village will help raise my children? That desicon is a bit off, but it is not a forgone conclusion despite me soul’s yearning to bring forth bounties from the Earth.


Here on State Street I know that the denisty is not sustainable either – too many people even in this lightly populated metropolis for the solar energy falling in its square mileage to produce enough calories.  But I think that this may be closer to the sustainable ideal than a 20 acre oasis an hours drive from here.  I look around and see the collee youth, the educated culturata, the hedonists and know that much will change in the coming years – the years that my children will grow to witness.  As the Flobots say – we are the architects of our Last Stand.  The key to that battle, as any military strategist will tell you, is in choosing your ground.  I have many of the tools and am learning the skills – the choice looming now before me is to where I sink my own roots.   


Much thought on this in the coming years.


Be the Change.


9 Responses

  1. A small, walkable city with good resources and good hinterland if you can find such a thing. That way you can have the best of both. I live in one. We live 30 mins walk from city centre but my view is bush, pasture and sheep. I hope we will be able to weather most storms with our generally decent society. I grew up in the country and that was ok if you happen to fit in but can get a bit insular. I prefer here for us now.

    viv in nz

  2. Rob, I think that right where you are is going to be there for quite a while; even if the freeway goes away there are probably a number of your neighbors who are too invested in their mortgages to just leave, even if they do lose their jobs.

    I can easily see some entrepreneurship evolving: somebody who still has a job going to town and buying up lots of pairs of shoes to sell locally, a clothing coop, that sort of thing. Possibly even local scrip, if there are enough people with enough different skill sets to make it workable.

    Now I know that sounds like fantasy right out of the transition towns handbook (FWIW I am not altogether sure that planning how the future will unfold is doable) but I’ve seen it done in many places before where I have lived. My exhusband worked for a mining company in a non mining division and so I have lived in several mining towns in various stages of decay as the mines were tapped out. I’ve seen it happen. People who have an emotional investment will do what it takes to stay, and others will stay because they also don’t want to leave. Better the devil you know, eh?

  3. Rob,
    I’ve been grappling with this question for so long. I used to live in Calgary (canada) in the central part of town, I commuted by foot or bike for 95% of everything. Life was relatively good, however, we could never afford to own in the areas we wanted to live in. The walkable neighborhoods were unaffordable, so there was the renters, slowly being driven out by people that could “afford it”.

    We found our dream land in 2002 it was affordable and we finally made the move here in 2006. We live 45 min drive from two 10,000 person towns and a 2 mile bike ride/walk from a great little town (blink and you miss it sort of place.) Although we are in paradise now and I don’t regret it for the kids sake to be growing up in this world. The continual analytical side of me sees the increase in gasoline usage. I ride my bike to our small town as much as I can, but once a month or sometimes 2-3 times we’ll drive to the big towns, dentist, banking, big food purchases, farmer supply etc… Living out here has increased my dependence on gasoline for sure….and as that supply decreases due to supply or affordability, my options for making out in winter when we’ve got 4′ of snow without gas or diesel become limited…

    In the community sense, we are lucky because we have a tight and vibrant community. Overwhelmingly it is also a very conscious place in that everyone is growing gardens and working towards reducing impact that way.. lots of teachers around here, doing it all sorts of ways. Life is a lot slower out here and people seem to be in touch with what’s important. Personally we also get our water gravity fed straight from the mountain and the air is fresh and clean, the sounds are of nature, or occasionally the neighbor’s or my chain saw.

    Yesterday I went on a tour of a neighbor who moved here 35 years ago onto a rough raw piece of land. Like you, he’s also a potato farmer, his wife raises the best nursery/bedding plants around. I was really inspired by how planting yourself in one place and putting in consistent and loving effort into a place for that long a work of art slowly evolves. As much as I like to hold onto the zen idea of non-attachment, being walked around by these farmer/artisst masterpiece is enough to make me think that this sort of attachment and connection to the land is worth everything.

    I shudder to think of the piece of art that would evolve out of a piece of land that you put your seemingly endless energies into. I for one hope you find that perfect balance of community and affordable land to make it happen!

    As an aside:
    My potato farmer neighbor also mentioned that it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to get organically raised potato seed crops… which is interesting. They, like fossil fuels are decreasing in abundance and increasing in price. He showed me how he’s also been using alfalfa as a cover/rotational crop. I asked him about the price of alfalfa seed and it’s gone up in price by 20-30% in the last year. I think the next 30 years will certainly bring on more challenges than he’s faced in the previous 30…

  4. Thanks for your insights Craig. What is painful now is that, had we made better/dfferent decisions 2 years ago, with the market crash our dreams would be ripe for the picking. Our current dream is a 5-10 acre plot with useable, modern outbuildings ( no barns) within 20 miles of Madison, WI. Last year that was $450,000 US. Now it is half that.

    I think that some of the issues with the organic spuds may be a supply demand thing – I found out last year that if I didn’t get my orders in by the end of January I was s.o.l. I use Moose Tubers, but shipping is painful. Next year I will likely try for 1500 pounds again, but this time do it on under 80 pounds of seed rather than 200… meaning towers will be in more use if they work – I need to simplify and a 500% reduction in sq footage is a 500% reduction in weeding, tilling, and watering time which will pay off the towers in 1 year.

  5. I wrestle with the same dilemma. I think part of the problem is that we (maybe this includes you, maybe it doesn’t – don’t take offense) look for that ideal setup in the present. The more I wrestle with this problem, the more I come to believe that I won’t be able to pick up and move my family to that place b/c it just doesn’t exist. Make no mistake, it will be necessary for us as a society to move back to a highly localized, village-like economy, but there’s no way we can predict how events will pan out. What may appear to be an ideal situation now may be the worst place to be in a decade. What to do? Keep up what you’re already doing!!! Build local relationships, inspire your neighbors to be more self-suffienct, till up more grass and plant more vegetables, and keep up the inspiring blog.

  6. Rob,
    Take heart, with land and houses, I think it’s always a matter of “you should have been here 10 years ago”. others. I don’t think you need to have any regrets, and honestly you don’t strike me as the sort that would harbor them. You’re blog and stuff you are doing have been inspiring to me and a lot of others I’m sure. The path you are on will surely lead to a place where you want to be.

    I’m watching your potato tower experiment with interest…

    By the way, I like your analogy of damming, holding back the bounty of Gaia…makes me really think about my edges and minimizing the amount of edge I have to keep back…

  7. The greatest strength of humanity is our adaptability. Each of the locales you speak of has its benefits and drawbacks. And there are countless unanticipated factors in each column as well. Each “could” be made into a workable solution. The question ultimately becomes:

    “Which locale best suits your strengths.”

  8. True. For now, I am trying to be fairly Zen with it all. The future is one seemingly unbridled potentiality, from which a clear choice will arise when it is right. That is way more metaphysical that my typical staid self, but it sums up what I feel. Now is good. The future is vague, but as of now -today- I am hopeful.

    Must have had a good breakfast or something.


  9. I just re-read one of the better articles I have found on this subject:

    I have not found them yet, but I am all but certain there are communities such as the one Toby describes in his native Eugene in my native Madison. More thoughts.

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