February 12, 2016

New Adventures

My wife and I recently purchased 6.8 acres of land in northern New Hampshire with the goal of building a home and homestead and moving there full time within five years. Oh, and do it all with cash out of pocket without a mortgage. Ambitious? Unrealistic? Sure, and perhaps, but I’m up for this challenge!

What are my motivations for wanting to leave a comfortable home, good paying job, and established social circle? Well, it’s complicated! First and foremost, I love spending time outdoors. In my twenties, I expressed this love by partaking in backcountry ski tours and backpacking trips into the wilds of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York and motorcycle trips all over New England and beyond. Over time those adventures grew repetitious and I progressed into more home-centric pursuits of gardening, food preservation and preparation, and simple woodworking. Having children certainly ushered this transition! Now nine years into my garden experiment, my ambitions and space requirements have grown beyond my quarter-acre suburban parcel. I need some space to try things out! My wish list includes: growing most of my family’s annual supply of grain and dry beans, establishing a fruit, nut, and firewood orchard, raising a flock of sheep for meat and pasture mowing, raising chickens for eggs and meat, and expanding the kitchen garden to increase the percentage of fresh home-grown foods consumed by my family. Still being the adventurous outdoorsman at heart, I want to do all this within a short drive of some real mountains with hiking, skiing, hunting, and fishing opportunities. Hence the selection of the property merely minutes from the White Mountain National Forest and less than a 30 minute drive to some of New Hampshire’s most spectacular mountain playgrounds.

I have other motivations as well. I want to provide my children with a foundation of essential life skills, a respect for physical labor, and a reverence for nature. I’ll break down these three concepts a bit further. By essential life skills I mean skills that are universal and transferable such as growing and preparing food, using hand tools, making basic repairs to homes and equipment, and proficiency in social interactions, among others. I recognize that these skills can be taught in any setting, urban and rural alike; however, the nature of a working homestead should be conducive to these lessons. Socials interactions may or may not be more difficult in a rural setting; neighbors are few and far between but schools and community groups such as 4-H can fill that gap. We currently live in a neighborhood with many children but most times they are indoors behind a television set since outdoor play is constrained by busy roads, property boundaries, and ill-defined fears of "danger". As far as the universality and transferability of skills, cooking, building, and fixing are performed in all parts of the world and are the basis for higher skills. If my children want to specialize in something more esoteric like computer programming or high finance, fantastic, but they will at some point have learned how to pluck a chicken. Should the job market for esoteric skills crumble, I hope my children can fall back on basic skills for employment. When it comes to physical labor, my goal is not to make them love labor, but to have done it and therefore respect people that labor for their livelihood. Basically, I want them to know that labor and laborers are not beneath them.  Reverence for nature is a fairly straightforward but deep-reaching concept. It is easy for urban dwellers to champion movements to combat distant environmental degradations because they don’t directly see how their own resource-intensive lifestyles are the root of such degradations. Living in and among nature on a farm adjacent to forest could offer a more direct pathway to see how our actions influence nature. I would like to teach my children how to pursue a lifestyle that regenerates ecosystems.

My third motivation for the homestead is rather ambiguous so I’ll just throw out some thoughts in an attempt to define it. I foresee a decline in the American standard of living; in fact, this decline is well underway. Our nation is no longer the king of the heap with regards to manufacturing prosperity and we are moving towards a service economy with severe global competition. Globalization is forcing down wages, benefits, and the quality of goods while shifting wealth to multinational corporations. I foresee the power of sovereign nations diminishing in the face of consolidating corporate influence. Perhaps most significantly, I am concerned that the current growth economy model will falter as we tap out finite natural resources. How will our 401(k) plans fare if the Ponzi scheme that is Wall Street falls apart? Someone will still get rich but it won’t be you and me. We have the illusion of wealth in the form of new McMansion homes and shiny vehicles but I suspect much of this is supported by unending debt. We as a society have decided that convenience is paramount, so we willingly hand over cash to purchase items and services that we could easily produce or perform ourselves. When we hand over cash we relinquish control, and that is precisely how corporations have gained so much influence. So how do we regain control over our finances and government?  DO IT OURSELVES! By “it” I mean as much as possible; build our homes, grow our food, participate in government, so on and so forth. A man unburdened by debt and obligation is not easily manipulated. So to wrap up this thought, my homestead can be thought of an experiment in independence, or perhaps a long-term safety net for my family should the economy really start to slide. Now, I am not a doomsday prepper or anything like that, but I think having a piece of land that produces food, fuel, shelter, and recreation is as valid and diverse of an investment strategy as a mutual fund, if not more so. Trees continue to grow during floods, droughts, wars, bear markets, and the decline of civilizations. So why not invest in trees?

All of this is grand philosophy until I can pull it off!

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