The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Voluntary simplicity for the poor

Baker FarmIn the most relevant section of this week's Walden passage, Thoreau is caught out in the rain and takes shelter in what he thought was an uninhabited hut.  However, since he had last been there, "an Irishman, his wife, and several children" had moved in.  Rather than thanking them for their hospitality for letting him come in out of the rain, Thoreau proceeded to lecture them about simple living.

I've excerpted the most relevant portions below (adding in my own line breaks because Thoreau doesn't believe in short sentences or paragraphs, but I do):

"I tried to help [the Irishman] with my experience, telling him...that I too...was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own...

"...That I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system...." 

"I told him, that as he worked so hard at bogging, he required thick boots and stout clothing, which yet were soon soiled and worn out, but I wore light shoes and thin clothing, which cost not half so much, though he might think that I was dressed like a gentleman (which, however, was not the case), and in an hour or two, without labor, but as recreation, I could, if I wished, catch as many fish as I should want for two days, or earn enough money to support me for a week.

"If he and his family would live simply, they might all go a-huckleberrying in the summer for their amusement."

Baker woodI believe that this passage strikes to the heart of the problem with the voluntary simplicity movement.  The man whom Thoreau was lecturing had immigrated from Ireland not long before with his family and probably was in debt as a result.  He (presumably) had no nest egg that would allow him to buy a plot of land, nor did he have wealthy friends like Thoreau did who might let him squat on their land for free.  What he did have was several dependents, which added up to a lot more required fish than Thoreau was reckoning on.  (If you read the reviews on Amazon for Possum Living, you'll see similar complaints about this more modern day manual of simple living.)

Although Mark and I tightened our belts in a lot of ways most middle class Americans wouldn't consider (for example, choosing in favor of trailer life and not to have kids), we also got lucky.  I was about halfway through saving up the $10,000 I reckoned I'd need to buy ten Appalachian acres when a friend of mine came through with a no interest loan that allowed me to purchase a much larger acreage.  My friend didn't ask for regular payments while we were spending every penny getting the farm up and running, so we only paid off the last of our debt this year, by which time local land prices had risen precipitously.

So here's the thought question for this week.  Can you live simply if you're not at least culturally middle class?  Anyone who wants to do further reading might consider the very readable Nickel and Dimed, which explores how hard it really is to live on minimum wageWeekend Homesteader if you're starting from square one.  I'll be curious to learn what you all think.  (And, as usual, feel free to also comment on other aspects of the chapters not mentioned here.)

If you're new to the book club, you might want to check out the thought-provoking comments on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapters 3 and 4, chapters 5 and 6, and chapters 7 and 8.  We'll be discussing chapter 11 (Higher laws) and chapter 12 (Brute neighbors) next Wednesday, and anyone is welcome to join in.

The paperback edition of Weekend Homesteader is full of fun and easy projects that guide you onto the path of self-sufficiency.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have been thinking about these exact issues, and here you have put down my thoughts in words!
Comment by MaryAnn Wed Jun 6 12:18:37 2012
I have puzzled over this very question for a long time. I feel very lucky that I live on land that I was able to purchase flexibly from family, however this option is not availble to many people. Despite this fact property taxes alone are enough in the the area that I live to make the idea of self sufficiency a challenge for someone with out financial backing. I struggle with the fact that the minute I begin working for someone else to pay taxes etc I am trapped. I now have to maintain a means of transportation, requiring me to work longer hours. And of course every hour that I work for someone else is one less hour that I spend on working towards self sufficiency. This cycle is continuous and leads away from self sufficiency. For the time being we will work hard to be as close as possible to the "Simple Life."
Comment by Henry Wed Jun 6 13:23:49 2012
Although I'm not reading along myself, your summaries seem to be relatively objective and unbiased, so I feel fairly confident saying that it sounds like Thoreau was a pompous prick that I probably would not have liked to know in person! Pardon my language.
Comment by mitsy Wed Jun 6 13:33:22 2012

I have found, among older and disabled older people in town, who are trying to live "on a fixed income" that they (we) want to live simply BECAUSE we are NOT middle class. That is, we hold fast to values like mending clothes, eating up left-overs, trying to get only items that are useful (not the new stuff advertised on TV, etc). But, to help young families, I think that the issue is not so much if the family identifies with a class as one of time and energy. That is, can the parent(s) have enough energy, time and private space, to read! And can they talk over plans with others in their family? (I'll read over this ch. again, to comment again.) I do know that sometimes trying to live simply can become draining. More than having middle-class values, I think the real issue is health and being part of a good network of family and friends. To be part of a network means to have some purpose bigger than just to survive simply.

Comment by adrianne hess Wed Jun 6 13:34:42 2012
I love Thoreau but have had similar thoughts about his claim to simplicity. It is easy to do when you have a sponsor. Just like it is a lot easier to get moving towards the self-sufficient lifestyle if you have a bunch of money or a high paying job that affords you a lot of free time. It is easy to "make do" if when you need a barn you just go buy the materials and build one (or even further, have one built for you). I haven't read Walden in a long, long time so I don't remember if he ever discusses it or not, but what would happen if everyone dropped the way they were living and adopted his style of gathering and fishing etc? Surely he has to realize that there couldn't be enough berries and river fish to feed everyone in the world. And like you said, what about someone with debts? Yes there is a whole lot of good in his philosophy, but there are a lot of holes as well.
Comment by Jason Wed Jun 6 14:45:45 2012

Oy, there are so many layers to this issue for so many people. I agree that Thoreau probably spoke out of turn to the Irishman about his chosen means of living. The choices we make in how and where we live are so personal that they may not even be explicable to others. I could go on to write an essay about all this right here and now, but the bottom line is this: i agree that the key is having the nest egg, and perhaps not having debt. My teen wrote a paper on the nature of the cycle of poverty in America, and why the poor are likely to have children who grow up to be poor, too. And it all swirls around the nest egg. Without it, even paltry unexpected expenses set one back from getting ahead. Radio personality Dave Ramsay calls is the "shovel to hole ratio". How do you get out of the hole when you can't fill it fast enough, and the hole is getting bigger beneath you? Example: how do you get to work when you can't afford to get your car fixed and there's no public transit/other means of getting to work? Then you miss work and don't get paid... It'd be great to homestead, live off the land so as not to need to go anywhere to work (which is actually my personal goal), but that comes back around to the next egg or some means of having at least just enough money to get by I guess. And then what happens when you are no longer physically able to grow your own food? What then? (Anna, feel free to edit for space)

Comment by jen g Wed Jun 6 15:03:29 2012
A simple lifestyle is more about controlling your wants than taking care of your needs, I think.
Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Jun 6 16:13:10 2012

MaryAnn --- Thanks!

Henry --- Property taxes are another good point I see people bring up a lot. For us, they're not such a big deal. We live in a very poor area, so even though property taxes have risen by 60% in the last 8 years, we still only pay a bit over $300 per year. Much cheaper than any possible rent situation....

Mitsy --- I get that feeling often as I read the book. I don't think I would have liked Thoreau much in person.

Mom --- That's the other, and more sustainable, side of the simple living coin. We enjoy our helper because he was raised very poor and knows all of the self-sufficiency skills simply because it's what you did to get by. Of course, I don't think that he would say he aspires to live simply. If anything, he probably would like as much cash as possible!

Jason --- I agree that it's hard to call a lifestyle sustainable if everyone couldn't do it without depleting the resources. On the other hand, I think it's sustainable in this day and age for people to take advantage of society's excess when they, for example, take food out of dumpsters to feed their chickens or get free cooking oil to turn into biodiesel. Yes, if everyone did that, the waste stream would dry up and urban scavengers would have to find other sources of chicken feed and fuel. But, in all honesty, I can't say I believe that everyone is ever going to choose to live that way. So, finding a niche within the existing society does seem valid.

jen g --- Very vivid and succinct explanation of the problem with your hole analogy!

Roland --- I definitely agree, and I think that's what Thoreau was really getting at in his rant. I think where he missed the boat is not understanding his audience.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 6 19:27:47 2012
I feel the only way to live simply successfully is by having a strong support network. Barn raising, quilting bees, some sound advice and a grandma who shares recipes. That's some good community.
Comment by Fostermamas Wed Jun 6 21:49:43 2012

I will admit that I haven't been reading along - currently running around Ghana and on my way to Malawi for work. But as another reader mentioned, your summaries have been insightful.

I would just like to contribute another way of looking at this. It isn't only that one needs a middle class perspective, but to realize that the poor generally pay more. There have been any number of studies, articles, and books written about the high cost of poverty. They pay more in time, hassle, exhaustion/health, and money. Part of it is building the next egg and being able to invest for savings in time and money. Possibly you don't live near a discount grocery store and you don't have 3 hours to take the bus to buy groceries, so you end up paying more for your basic food. If you don't have a bank account or beyond a basic account, you pay check cashing fees or other bank fees that people with more money are able to avoid. If you can't buy larger volume items, you end up paying more for lower numbers of units at a time. While this is very evident in urban centers, it is also true in remote rural areas where it costs more to get goods/services out to people and it takes more money these days to get gas in the tank to get anywhere.

More simple living skills and self reliance for a broader group would absolutely be wonderful and help. But we also need to build community to overcome some of the challenges related to the high cost of poverty. And perhaps redefine poverty as not an income level, but some level of financial security, access to means of production, and ability to manage risk and withstand shocks.

Comment by Charity Thu Jun 7 02:24:11 2012
I am a bit fascinated by this topic. You write about it so well. It is all about entitlement. Privilege could mean that a person like Thoreau didn't know better, but it was his job to reflect and act with humanity, dignity, and equality.
Comment by Maggie Thu Jun 7 09:37:10 2012

Jason, I wholeheartedly disagree with your assumption that not everyone could live off of what the land provides. I disagree for many reasons, which are too numerous to really get into here, but it is sufficient to say that this attitude invites apathy and complacency.

We need only look into the difference between yields and inputs when comparing modern farming with a neo-traditional method like bio-intensive forest gardening in a permaculture system to know which one makes more food per square acre. The difference is these neo-traditional systems aren't as scalable on a mass production level like the football-field sized chicken houses and 100-acre potato monocultures of Idaho. Have a look at the mountains of corn we throw away that just sit rotting outside the grain elevators in the midwest and central plains. Look into how much food we ship overseas in the name of charity, which really just destroys the local agrarian economies in third world countries for the sake of propping up an unsustainable business model here in the United States.

When I apply Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative to the issue, which I think is what you are doing, I come up with a totally different answer. What if everyone lived this way? It would be a good thing, in my opinion.

However I'm also a realist and I know that's not going to happen, at least not without some major natural or made-made disasters that totally change the course of history.

Which brings us to the question: What about those who WANT to pursue such a lifestyle but don't have the financial means to buy land? Unfortunately they have to come to grips with the fact that they may not be able to live that life, but if they work hard enough toward the goal they can set their children and grandchildren up to live that life. This is the selfless attitude that built this country and I think it is something we have lost. I include myself amongst the problem.

I'd also like to add that this Irish immigrant had a family to feed and children to care for. People, myself included (until last year), have NO IDEA (None!) how hard it is to be a parent in a new place with no family or support network until they are actually thrown into that fire. I don't care how many books you read about it or how many times you've babysat your nephew or niece. Thoreau was being a pampas ASS in this man's home, but luckily he was a greater man than Thoreau because he fed him and listened to his insulting rants with what seems to be good humor. I'd have probably punched Henry David in his spoiled little mouth and thrown him out of my "hut".

And the irony of it all is that Thoreau left the area while Irish immigrant families like that stayed here became the backbone of Appalachian and Northeaster rural culture, including art, music and agri'culture'.

Comment by Everett Thu Jun 7 09:59:45 2012

Fostermamas --- Excellent point. I've been coming around to that way of thinking over the last few years --- that being "self"-sufficient really means creating a sustainable community that can meet everyone's needs nearby.

Charity --- I totally agree with you on all the issues that you mention folks having to face if you're living close to the line. The question is --- can you tweak simple living ideals to fit into that niche and make poverty less difficult rather than more so?

Maggie --- Glad to hear you're enjoying the discussion! I agree that the terms "entitlement" and "privilege" are very relevant to the issue.

Everett --- My reading of Jason's comment must have been different from yours --- I thought he was referring to more of a scavenging/hunter/gatherer lifestyle. But I've heard people also make the argument that an agrarian lifestyle wouldn't work if everyone got on board, so I'm glad you rebutted that. :-)

I do think there are options other than just working hard in hopes that your kids can enjoy what you can't. (That's a pretty dicey proposition anyway --- who's to say they'll even be interested in the land?) If you're willing to compromise, there are a lot of situations that would allow folks to go back to the land without a nest egg. For example, I lived on a farm for a couple of years, getting basic room and board in exchange for helping with the kids and the land. That left me about half my time to pursue my own interests. (That said, I didn't really take that much advantage of the land because it wasn't my own, so I didn't have the incentive to put long term projects into place....)

Comment by anna Thu Jun 7 17:06:38 2012

The FAO estimated that approximately 0.5 hectares per person is necessary to support a diversified diet (including meat). The absolute minimum is 0.07 hectare pp assuming a largely vegetarian diet, no land degradation or water shortages, virtually no post-harvest waste, and farmers who know precisely when and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, etc. This minimum seems unrealistic to me.

The available arable land (worldwide) is around 0.2 hectares pp.

(1 hectacre = 10,000 m2 is around 2.5 acres.)

Anna, just for comparison, how much land do you have cultivated to (mostly?) feed two people?

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Jun 8 11:42:46 2012

Roland --- I think the last time I measured, I realized I'd been overestimating, and that our total area is only 0.1 acres (0.04 hectares). What I can't remember is whether that includes our chicken pastures, or whether they double that figure. I'll measure again one of these days and make a post about it so that I remember!

But we buy in chicken feed, so even if we were only eating chicken as our meat (which isn't the case), we wouldn't be feeding them off this area only. I suspect we'd need another acre of grain/soybean area to feed the chickens and raise enough straw for our garden. (I need to do that math too and make it into a post. I recently figured we needed about an acre to raise the straw for our garden, but haven't done the math on how much grain we'd need for the chickens.)

So, best case scenario, if we were totally self-sufficient on food, we might be using an acre and a quarter for two people, or 0.5 hectares. The fact that my number is a lot smaller than the FAO's estimate for carnivores is due to the fact that you can grow a lot more in a given area if you use intensive cultivation methods like we do and stack --- for example, grazing chickens under fruit trees. If we were pressed for space, we could definitely use less --- I spread out more than I need to because we have the room. :-) But that would mean no red meat in our diet (since, presumably, there might be no forested land to give us our "free" deer.)

Comment by anna Fri Jun 8 12:19:20 2012

Um, yeah, I was talking about a hunter/gatherer type lifestyle like Anna said, and how with the number of people in the world I can’t see that being a feasible lifestyle for everyone. I am neither apathetic nor complacent and do not think others should be either. I think you must have misinterpreted what I was getting at because I agree with your views on farming and monocultures and waste and unsustainable business models. I think it would be good if people tried to live the Thoreau lifestyle as well, I just don’t see how millions of people swarming over the wilderness trying to forage a living could work. I think that it is possible for everyone to “live off the land” but not necessarily live from the Wilderness, meaning that there needs to be some cultivation be it your “bio-intensive forest gardening” or merely a family garden. And also, I don’t think we should ship charity food overseas; it may be cruel but that is my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, if a hungry family came to my door I wouldn’t turn them away, but it obviously doesn’t help, it seems to just proliferate the issue and “prop up” an unsustainable system.

I also agree that many people feel that they cannot afford to buy land and try to pay it forward to the next generation (which seems to fall short a lot of the time because of the complacency you talked about). As a father of a young son living on a small farm holding where we try to do our best to be sustainable I can tell you it is even hard for me to pass on the virtues and inherent worth of this lifestyle down to my son and we’re seeing it and living it every day. I can’t imagine how hard and frustrating it would be for someone who couldn’t live this way to try and pass the values down to their children. I could see it being very tempting to just live the modern life… This being said I think a lot of folks have such idealized notions of what they would need to go live on a plot of land in the country or wilderness that they never even feel they are close when the truth is they could probably just change their lifestyle and be able to afford it immediately. It might not be in the zip code they want it to be, but there are places in this country where you can get land for low prices. And there are ways to live other than in a house. If you could buy a few acres of land with shelter on it for less than the price of a newer used car why wouldn’t you? I think many people get tied up in what others would think of them if they lived in a trailer or yurt or one room cabin with no power (I know my wife did, and now we live in a house that I built on land that was free and clear, except now we pay a mortgage because she was afraid of what her family would think if we moved into a yurt, which is what I wanted to do).

I disagree that an agrarian lifestyle wouldn’t work if everyone lived that way, but I haven’t heard that argument before so I don’t know the reasoning behind it. The US has 2.3 billion acres of land and 312 million people; that is 7 acres of land per person if you considered all of it useable (which I am sure it isn’t). I think that is more than enough for an adequate agrarian lifestyle, but I can’t see being able to forage off 7 acres of land and live well. Maybe I’m wrong.

I also agree that through his writings Thoreau does come off as a bit preachy and seemed to be somewhat of a poser at times, but I still like him. And the Irishman probably didn’t throw him out of the hut because it wasn’t his to begin with, he was squatting remember.

So yeah, either you interpreted me wrongly, or you’re just being idealistically argumentative. :P

Comment by Jason Fri Jun 8 13:31:33 2012
If we're already .3 short then why aren't we all starving? It's been a long day for me so maybe I'm just confused.
Comment by Everett Fri Jun 8 14:16:43 2012
When I read somewhere that Thoreau took his laundry to his mother to wash every weekend and that she also made lunch for him all the time, that ruined it for me. A pompous ass and also somewhat of a sham, it would seem. :)
Comment by Heather W. Sun Jun 10 01:02:05 2012

Anna -- one of the things I love about your blog is that you don't get preachy about things, which is something Thoreau is a bit too much of at times. And it's an example of what I think could help make simple living easier to get to from a point of poverty. The easiest way to learn anything is in the context of mimicking someone you want to be like. That sort of learning has a way of both sticking with you, and causing you to stick to it when things become difficult. One of the worst ways to learn something is to be told "this is what you need to do", when you don't particularly care for the teller, and frankly, have other cares at the time. Many people coming from poverty situations look at the people who are not poor, and those are the people they often try to become like, difficult though it may be.

On the other hand, if they happen to be in acquaintance with people who live simply and happily, who share what they know in a way that empowers instead of reprimands, they might well be inspired to do something similar. There's no way to force them to be so influenced. All one can do, so far as I am aware, is make the conditions favorable for it, at least if you want people to -want- to do it. A strong, and accepting community. Otherwise, you're just going to have a situation where it's seen as something to be gotten out of doing, rather than something that ought to be done. It's sort of how we got where we are today: homesteading, farming, and most forms of manual work, have been seen for the last few generations as things to be gotten away from. I had a friend once who came from a rural area, and they would turn almost nasty towards me when I expressed a desire to get out of the city.

I would also agree that you really do need some resources to get an easier start. It helps a lot to understand what you're giving up, to understand the truly wide variety of possible options, than to just be told you can do without (often by someone who has what you don't!). I'm only just getting started myself, but I've also spent the last 12 years acquiring tools and learning things, making mistakes, and learning about my own motivations, luxuries that those in real poverty do not usually have. I also have family helping me out with land, another big advantage. And on a social note, it was very difficult for me to decide to accept that offer of help. There was a period of time where I resisted it, thinking that if I was being helped along, it wasn't good somehow. It's kind of like the 'what will people think' issue that Jason's wife had with the yurt. Social/cultural influences, though often lacking in actual bite, are very powerful and hard to overcome. (One of the reasons I think Thoreau wrote about solitude earlier). Especially for people already in poverty, risking their social network, which they probably rely on to get by, isn't going to sound like a good idea.

On the discussion of acres per person for food and such: Depressing as it is, I really do think Malthus had it right, that "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". Modern agricultural practices added a big buffer to the food side of things over the last century, but this simply allowed lots and lots more people to exist with relative ease. Population is catching up. Finding ways to produce X amount of food per person per acre will never reach a point where everyone has all the food they need, so long as population continues to grow. A better solution, might be to find ways to limit population growth (and maybe even reduce it for awhile!) that are neither unethical nor that work against peoples' natures (which is really the hard part!). It sure would be nice if the population in the US were the same as in 1840. We could all have a cool 135 acres each!

Comment by Sam Sun Jun 10 12:48:38 2012

Heather W. --- I read that on the internet too, but don't know how true it is. It did make me a little less enthused about Thoreau....

Sam --- As usual, your comment really hit the spot! I appreciate the reminder that the way to change the world is to create a good example that others will want to emulate --- now and then I forget. :-)

I think you've got a very deep understanding of the issue when you talk about support networks and poverty, too. One of my favorite bloggers (Sharon Astyk) often writes about how people without lots of cash money coming in depend on informal networks of people in their community who are mutually beneficial. Although I like to think we can all ignore peer pressure and live in a trailer if we want to, you've got an excellent point that if your livelihood depends on these intangible networks of people, you have to pay attention to what people think of your choices.

(I totally agree with you about population, but that's a whole nother kettle of fish. :-) )

Comment by anna Sun Jun 10 14:30:21 2012

Coming at it from a different perspective. I've recently become employed as a liason "garden gleaning" for my local foodshelf. This book by Ruby K Payne was recommended to me. It was very interesting in helping me understand what some of the barriers are to teaching the foodshelf clients to garden, cook, preserve.

That would be the "expanded" program in a few years but it was a shock to me the lack of tools that often exist in a very poor home. Think of the last time you didn't have a pair of pliers or a scissors. yeah. How do you do DIY projects without tools? How do you become self-sufficient without pots, pans, canning jars etc.?

These cost money and if you're a single mom who just escaped a bad deal where do you start? How do you even begin?

Comment by c. Mon Jun 11 19:52:27 2012

c. --- Excellent point about the basic infrastructure needs. We picked up a lot of our tools on a major budget, at yard sales, auctions, etc., but even that method requires you to have reliable transportation to cruise by yard sales, then a settled place to store the tools in. Trying to get by without scissors would be very tough!

I'm intrigued by your position! I hope you'll tell us more about it. Maybe write me a guest post? :-)

Comment by anna Mon Jun 11 20:10:38 2012
Drat --- please ignore that auto indent. My comment was in reply to c, but I guess the software thinks there can be no c without an a. :-) (Ditto with the comment I just made on the other post....)
Comment by anna Mon Jun 11 20:13:40 2012

I cringed whenever I see 'Nickeled and Dimed'. It was an eminently readable book, one that made what most Americans call everyday life accessible to the 'middle' and upper classes.

but that chick payed for a motel room and car before she got her crappy jobs. the crappy jobs you cannot get without a car and a place to stay. the crappy jobs you need to get a car and a place to stay. see the problem?

I also literally threw the book when she went on a pissy rant about how she couldn't get a job at wal-mart because she had taken a break to hang out with her educated real-life friends and indulged in weed.

this was years ahead of the populate twitter hashtag #whitepeopleproblems or #firstworldproblems.

also the audacity she had to be miffed when she revealed her true identity to her cafe coworkers and they didn't care (duh)--it sounds like a very familiar tale after this chapter of Walden.

that said, I love your insights on the book and the blog. it inspires me.

I used to live a very different, off-the-land life but I had to move back home to the city to take care of my family and I got a job and a car (a car to get to the job, a job to pay to fix the car) and now I despair of ever being able to afford kids or a chicken coop (right now I babysit nieces & nephews and fret over a limp window box garden) and so basically when I read sanctimonious crap like that I want to punch someone in the face very badly.

lucky for Walden the Irish have some serious mythology about being nice to strangers or he probably WOULD have gotten punched in the face, lol. <3

Comment by Rosary Mon Jun 18 23:41:30 2012

Rosary --- I have to admit, it's been about a decade since I read Nickel and Dimed. It might not be as eye-opening as I recall.... :-) I do remember it was written in a very easy and fun to read way, which makes it more accessible than less fluffy books.

Good luck with your urban homesteading!

Comment by anna Tue Jun 19 06:23:27 2012

Having read more of Barbara Ehrenreich's work than Thoreau, I am probably the last person on Earth who should compare the two, but I will say that having lived at the level of what is charitably called "working poor" that I have developed a keen sense of what truly matters to me in life (great wealth isn't even on the list).

That said, I salute your willingness (and clear desire) to live as you do; you're better people than I. I have a very small - maybe 5'x10' - patch of vegetable garden, and a few herbs (my chives are mutant huge), but I live in an urban area and will likely never be able to afford to leave.

Wishing you health and happiness.

Comment by John A. Cunningham Sat Jun 30 12:14:37 2012

John --- I find that, in many ways, it's very freeing to find out what really matters to you and how little you really need. I feel very lucky that I was raised poor and don't have to be terrified of life below the poverty line.

I wouldn't say we're better people than you! Each person decides what matters most to them, and I just happen to be addicted to the land. :-)

Comment by anna Sat Jun 30 21:26:48 2012

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