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Chores, livestock, and food security

Joel Salatin with cowsI promised that Joel Salatin's Folks, This Ain't Normal would have something for everyone to disagree with, and the first three chapters are no exception.  Each essay dives right into something Salatin believes is wrong with modern American society, in this case:

  • Our kids no longer have chores, and we actually don't let them work if they want to.  "By denying these opportunities to bring value to [kids'] own lives and the community around them, we've relegated our young adults to teenage foolishness."
  • We've forgotten that animals are part of sustainable ecosystems, vilifying all meat-eating rather than focusing on outlawing CAFO operations.  "In a desire to get rid of the cow, they want to substitute plants that require tillage.  No long-term example exists in which tillage is sustainable.  It always requires injection of biomass from outside the system or a soil-development pasture cycle."
  • We've outsourced our food supply to far-away, consolidated places and aren't scared by the fact that the average town contains a mere three days' supply of food.  "The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else's responsibility until I'm ready to eat it."

I actually agree with all of Salatin's points this time around (even though I did enjoy my chore-less, layabout childhood consuming a book a day).  How about you?

Since Salatin's writing is so enjoyable and quick to read, I thought we'd discuss sixty pages per week (unless you comment to say that's too much).  So next Wednesday we'll focus on chapters four through nine (ending with "No Compost, No Digestion").  Don't forget --- Salatin's book is probably available in your library, so you've got nothing to lose by joining our book club!

The Weekend Homesteader walks you through easy projects to build your own home larder of locally grown or homegrown food.


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I disagree with point number one to a degree. I had chores growing up. Cleaning toilets and doing laundry did not add all that much value to my life, they just ensured I knew what to do when I moved out. Then (and now), I would hurry up with my chores so that I could get on to my own foolishness. I think a greater problem is that kids are often overscheduled, and thereby do not have enough time to develop their own interests or strategies for dealing with down time or do not have enough opportunities to explore things to develop their own interests. My daughter can spend her time sewing, knitting, doing calligraphy, cooking, reading, building forts, or nothing at all. My boys can create with legos, research things on the computer, build forts or rope ladders, or watch the hawks fly by, read books, etc. Generally, most of this will come after their chores are done and if anyone dares to claim they are bored, there are baseboards to wash. I do not kid myself though, I still anticipate plenty of foolishness.
Comment by Tisha A. Wed Nov 28 14:07:15 2012

I tend to agree with Joel on those three topics.

I too had chores growing up, and my allowance was dependent upon getting my chores done. If there was something I wanted that would cost more than I had or would take a significant length of time to save up for, I had the option to do offer my services as a babysitter to earn more.

I learned to work, I learned to save, and I learned to budget. I learned to wait, and learned that sometimes when I waited on a decision until I could afford to buy whatever, something better would come along, or I had changed my mind, or one of my "spoiled" friends got whatever, and it turned out to suck. I learned not to waste my money.

I also learned the joy of buying the things I wanted for myself with my own money. Laugh if you will, but my first pair of sensible comfortable shoes were ones I bought for myself when I was 14 years old, and I wore them for years. I learned the joy of eating food that tastes sublime instead of fast food that tastes "meh". I learned that somethings are worth spending more on, and some were not.

All thanks to having chores, and earning my own money.

Comment by Anne Ollamha Wed Nov 28 15:05:09 2012

When I was a kid, I had chores like washing the dishes, vacuuming the house or cleaning the bathroom or toilet. And while I don't have children myself, most of the children of people in my social circle get more chores as they get older. I think it is a good thing to learn that running a household requires effort.

While animals belong in an ecosystem (by definition), I don't think the importance of possible meat producing animals should be overstated since "roughly 90% of the NPP ends up being broken down by decomposers".

With regard to "outsourcing the X supply", why is X=food so special? You could say the same about clothes, tools, electronics et cetera. If you took everything "outsourced" from Mr. Salatin's picture, he'd probably look stark naked. (And of course there wouldn't be a picture. :-) )

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Nov 28 15:32:04 2012

What kids crave is meaningful work that is valued by others. Kids need to feel that they contribute to the family in order to build good self esteem. The best way is to let them exercise choice and ownership over their projects as much as possible.

My 5 yr old daughter has been cooking with me for a couple of years, and now she is able to make simple dishes with very little help from me. She doesn't think it's work! She doesn't have set chores (except getting herself ready for school and bed) but she notices things than need to be done and wants to do them. Today when she noticed a gate left open to the pasture, she put on her shoes and coat to close it without being asked.

When she's older she'll probably have to step into some of those jobs no one likes, but I think we've set some good groundwork.

Comment by Karen Wed Nov 28 20:57:58 2012

The reasons for not outsourcing our food supply seem to me to be pretty obvious, versus electronics and other items that aren't perishable and don't give life. Outsourcing things you can do without, but that are useful nevertheless, is reasonable compared to outsourcing the very basic elements of human life.

As far as kids and chores, I agree that most kids like to be helpful. Probably the biggest problem today is not that kids don't have chores, but that they don't often even have parents around to guide them through the basic steps of keeping a house. I grew up with a single mom who worked all the time, and for all her worrying over us not keeping up with chores and the house staying messy, she simply couldn't be there to keep on top of us until we understood the routines and steps involved in accomplishing something-- basic things like washing dishes, picking up after ourselves, etc. A lot of kids raise themselves these days. Inner city kids, who Joel specifically mentions, are living in single-parent households in the majority. The simply don't have parents around to show them how to keep a house, cook, or make good choices about food.

Some more responsible kids will take on chores themselves in the absence of parents, like cooking for younger siblings, but then they may not have the knowledge to acquire and cook good food. So they are preparing boxed mac n cheese, or pb&j, with all of the heart that an adult might put into a home cooked meal. They feel proud of themselves, but then we go on to criticize that food as insufficient. Doing the chores isn't really the issue. All these kids are surviving, even the ones wandering the streets at 2am. The thing that's missing, that Joel himself seems to point to most in his examples of "chores," is culture, which must be passed along from someone who has it.

I had the pleasure of meeting Will Allen, the Milkwaukee urban farmer that Joel mentions, and Will specifically mentions his father's influence in persisting in teaching him how to garden, and the value of garden. Now Will offers this kind of model to young kids in his community.

I say kids need parents and mentors before they need chores.

Comment by Sara Thu Nov 29 09:10:53 2012

I agreed with Joel on all these points. Growing up, I worked for my Dad (a dentist) since I was 12. I think being in his office was even better for me than doing chores. I was out in the real world, which was great for a shy child. I had my own money (no allowance) so I learned to save etc because I had to buy my own clothes and such (which made me learn to sew.) At 16 I started working "real" jobs which was even better for my financial development and confidence. Waiting tables especially made me study harder :-)

Animals as food: I have many vegetarian friends, and I sometimes debate giving them this book to read. I probably won't, but my resolve to buy only humanely raised local meat is stronger from re-reading this. I hunted deer for the first time this year, and DH got 2 bucks (one to go for a full freezer!) If Joel can get folks interested in where their food comes from, he's done a great thing.

Outsourcing food: I work in the PC industry and know all too well how fragile the supply chain is for everything we use... and food is much more fragile than electronics. We'd last alot longer than 3 days, but we could do alot better. I'd like to shift more from freezer to canning (in case the power goes out), and I'm working on improving my winter gardening. "Ice bred" greens from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is this year's experiment.

Comment by De Thu Nov 29 21:49:56 2012