Exploring options, spotlight on "Earthwise"
Carl and Children Moving Logs
"People come to us to learn about designing and building their own homes, understanding off-grid power systems, composting toilets and grey-water systems, on-farm slaughtering, bio-dynamic practices, spiritual gardening, dowsing, forest management, grazing systems, food preparation, timber harvesting, and working draft animals. We recognize that perhaps the most valuable product of our farm is our experience. We do not promote ourselves as possessing the "Right Way". We have skills, and we are glad to share them with people who value the learning."
- Lisa McCrory and Carl Russell
In July, 2007 I wrote an article "What To Do, What To Do? Taking Action In The Face Of Collapse" in which I offered some options for collapse preparation. Truth To Power will continue to illuminate the ugly realities of collapse-AND, it will also focus from time to time on people who are doing extraordinary things not merely in preparation for collapse, but because those activities and lifestyles give them energy and feed their souls.
This post highlights Lisa McCrory and Carl Russell in rural Vermont who operate Earthwise Farm and Forest which teaches a variety of skills for sustainable living, including the use of draft animals in raising organic crops. They are hosting Northeast Animal-Power Field Days, September 29-30 in Tunbridge, Vermont.
How long have the two of you lived in Vermont?
Carl: I have been in Vermont my entire life, (so far!!). Our family is living and working on property that my grand-parents purchased in 1938.
Lisa : I moved to Vermont in 1974 with my parents and siblings (from Wisconsin) and have lived here ever since.
What motivated you to become farmers? Did you grow up on a farm? Did you have a transition from city life to rural VT? If you did have to make a transition, what was that like for you?
Carl: I grew up in the 1960-70's, and in Vermont there were still many people who had small farms, raised their own food, worked in the woods, and lived self-employed, diversified lives. I was always drawn to animals, soil, and the forest, but I was also affected by an admiration for the sufficiency and independence that I saw in these farmers and woodsmen. Even though I worked on farms and in the woods, there were also trends toward playing sports, learning the ethic of commerce, and "hanging out". By the time I was out of college, the expectations were toward professional careers, credit cards, and car loans. The transition I made was mostly in the way of perspective. I remembered my desire for independence, purposeful work, outdoors, with soil, plants, and animals. So actually I interrupted the transition I might have made into the cultural norm.
Lisa: I was not raised on a farm, but when we moved to Vermont in the early 70's (I was 11 at the time) we did move to a place with a house, barn, a few acres and my parents allowed us to dabble in raising a few farm animals (riding horses, chickens, a goat and lamb) and have a vegetable garden. This was the time of my transition from city life to rural life. I have always been drawn to animals and the natural world and know that my calling is to be a steward of the land; to participate in a deeper understanding of the needs of the Earth and how to work co-creatively with the land, my family, our farm and our local community. I pursued a degree in animal sciences and in the plant sciences knowing that one day I would have a farm where I would be growing most of my own food and living as closely to the land as possible.
What inspired you to begin using draft animals for farming? What are the advantages f using them? What are some of the liabilities?
Carl: There were people in my youth who worked horses of oxen, and I loved to see them working. As a young adult I had it in my mind that I would someday have a work-horse, but it seemed more like a hobby in a more modern lifestyle. In 1986 as I was preparing for self-employment as a forester/logger, I visited a man I had been buying logs from. He was a horse logger, and as I watched him perform what seemed to be a working dance with a living animal, I was awakened. I could see the energy efficiency, the low-impact, and the independence of low overhead, Most of all, I could see the craft, the expression, and the fulfillment. The drawbacks of draft animals are all related to experience and expectation. Learning how to care for them, and what to expect from them. It's all about time, time, and more time. It is continuous, laborious, slow work, with low cash flow. But, it is very satisfying, and it puts into perspective what we are losing as a planet and a species by developing technologies that turn life into quick, easy projects. By using draft animals as our primary power, we lay hands on so many aspects of our own lives.
Lisa : I started getting involved with draft animals when I met Carl in 2000, but this lifestyle has attracted me for quite some time and may have something to do with what brought us together. I have worked with horses and cows most of my youth and it has tied in nicely in my professional career as an organic livestock and grazing consultant.
Can you say more about the principles of stewardship that you encourage others to follow?
Carl: So much of what we promote is craft. Stewardship is the art of managing land-based resources. Like any artist, the steward of land must learn the nuances of his/her medium, and learn to use tools and processes with finesse. The scientific process has helped us to see many important relationships that stewardship protects and cultivates. The drawback with scientific reasoning is a preconception that if we can't measure something, it has no value. If we don't know about it, it doesn't exist. We promote a highly intuitive process, where stewardship is about emotional investment, and personal responsibility. Do what you know is right, because you can feel it, and it makes you feel alive and connected to your surroundings.
Lisa: I think Carl said this nicely. The principles that we follow on our farm, on a practical level, are based upon organic farming principles: building our soil organic matter and balancing the soil nutrients so that the food we grow is nutritious for ourselves and our livestock. We also use biodynamic practices and products for some of our planting schedules and for composting our manure. Another part of our gardening and land management is the use of dowsing to plan our gardens and enhance the intuitive and spiritual connection we have with the land.
What positive differences has self-sufficiency made in your lives? What might be some of the liabilities?
Carl: As I have said before, independence, personal fulfillment, emotional and physical intimacy with soil, plants, and animals. It is a lot of work requiring time, knowledge, and commitment, and it interferes with professional careers and cash flow.
Lisa: I think that we are moving into a period where it is becoming increasingly important to KNOW how to grow one's own food, process it, store it and ultimately appreciate the bounty and build a connection with the land that we are farming. Building these skills is very satisfying, and there is always more to learn. With all the other things happening around us, sometimes we don't have the time or cash-flow to do everything that we would like to do, but this lifestyle encourages us to slow down - while some of our ‘off the farm' work asks us to turn things around quickly. It can be a push-me-pull-you kind of feeling and we need to check in regularly to prioritize what needs to get done on a daily basis.
Since young people of the twenty-first century are often strongly influenced by technology and the peer pressure of having cars, cell phone, ipods and other luxuries that they feel they can't live without, how have your children reacted to self-sufficiency and your style of living off the land in such a simple, basic manner?
Carl: It should be understood that we have cell phones, laptops, CD players, DVD/VCR-TV, and game-boys. What our off-grid sustainable lifestyle does, is puts these things into a subclass of luxury and leisure. We teach our kids the language of our modern culture because it is necessary for them to function within their community. We do not shun modern culture, or try to hide from it, but we strive to teach our children the language of the Earth, about the spiritual and physical truths of human life on planet Earth. We entertain acquaintances as we process chickens, as many people seek our guidance with the skills of slaughtering and butchering their own animals for food. One day as I was removing entrails, our 5-year old son cheered, "Chicken Livers"! Our visitor turned to me with a look of astonishment. "How many modern 5-yearolds know enough about intestines to know where the liver is, and how many of them would be excited about eating it, especially after seeing where it comes from?"
Lisa: Although we do have all the things that Carl has listed above, we DO NOT have access to public or cable television, so are not heavily influenced by commercial advertising, the constant marketing targeted towards children, and the media-driven ‘news' that to me is about 20% news and 80% questionable. We watch movies that we choose when it meets our schedule. We also home school our children which we feel has been very rewarding for our children and for ourselves (ages 3, 5 and 10). That said, our 10 year-old is going to the public school for some electives (music, art, math, soccer, band). I think that our kids are very in touch with where their food comes from and what it takes to make that happen. We went to eat at a friend's house not too long ago and our 3 year-old started asking questions about the food on the table; "Did you kill this chicken?" and other questions like that. Our 5 year-old was amazed to find out that this family did not have any farm animals and said ‘You mean you don't even have one cow?' Hilarious what comes out of the mouths of babes!
What are some of the principles you teach in your workshops?
Carl and Lisa: Our workshops are mostly about skills for earth-based livelihoods. The underlying principles come from within us, live craft-full, purpose-full, and care-full lives. If the lifestyle speaks to you then follow your instincts. I encourage people to trust their intuition, and to learn to feel the anxiety that comes from a good choice un-made. If a particular path is avoided because of a lack of skills, and we can help with teaching those skills, then maybe the path can be followed.
How often do you offer the workshops? How should people contact you if they are interested?
Carl and Lisa: People come to us to learn about designing and building their own homes, understanding off-grid power systems, composting toilets and grey-water systems, on-farm slaughtering, bio-dynamic practices, spiritual gardening, dowsing, forest management, grazing systems, food preparation, timber harvesting, and working draft animals. We recognize that perhaps the most valuable product of our farm is our experience. We do not promote ourselves as possessing the "Right Way". We have skills, and we are glad to share them with people who value the learning. We entertain people on their own schedule, but from time to time we try to hold group gatherings to concentrate our efforts and to improve the experience through social engagement. People should contact us by phone (802) 234-5524, or by mail 341 MacIntosh Hill Rd., Randolph. VT 05060, or in person. We are not advertising, or trying to convince anyone. If we are on their path, then we'll be here when they arrive.
What kind of alternative energy do you use on the farm?
Carl and Lisa: "Alternative Energy". I've been waiting for this question. If you haven't felt the paradigm shift yet, then maybe this will help. The only alternative energy that we use on our farm is gasoline. All the other energy sources, sun, wind, plants, and animals are standard energies of the Earth. "Alternative" is a term used by the people who manage "Status Quo". It is part of a program on the main-frame of the Matrix. "Alternative" energy, medicine, agriculture, and lifestyles, are all truths that our culture cannot embrace at this time. I firmly believe that the success of a sustainable human culture depends on our recognizing the artificiality of the systems that prop up our modern lifestyles. Anyway, we use solar power from a small array of panels to make electricity, and electricity from a wind turbine also charges our battery bank. We are also dependent on a gasoline generator to back-up the system, because like everybody else, we can use more electricity than we can make. This is where conservation can become a very valuable source of energy. Draft animals are the only power we use for farm and forestry work. Our lifestyle also depends on our personal physical and emotional energy, which are at the same time used and fueled by our intimate involvement in raising our own food. We believe in sobriety and conscious presence, and we use homeopathy and avoid the "Health Care System". Our most abundant energy source comes from within us, and we revere it, protect it, and cultivate it.
How has the local community responded to you and your work? How have the utility companies responded?
Carl: In the 1980's when I started practicing and learning skills that so many in my community had been convinced to discontinue, people definitely looked askance. To some my ambition seemed to be an affront to them, as if I knew better. My choices are not about improving on those made by others, so as I demonstrated my commitment of purpose, and respect for those who knew more than I, I gained the respect that was slim at first. Now, there are many people who are trying to make those first steps, and they are looking to us for guidance. In the broader community, as issues of culture, environment, and energy increase in importance, there are more people who, at the very least, have an appreciation for the work we have been doing. The Utility Companies??? They really don't even know we exist. Since we are not grid-tied, we didn't have to get permits from the Public Service Board. For a while after we built, the meter-reader drove up our drive looking for a meter. After three or four attempts without success, he quit.
Lisa: We completed building our home in 2004 and since then have been growing our outreach to the local community and beyond. So our ‘enterprise' is relatively new - though Carl has been farming/managing the woodlot here for many years prior to our partnership. People are becoming more and more aware of us as Earthwise Farm and Forest. I don't think that most people really get what we are doing, but when we make connections with people that are interested in our approach and lifestyle there is tremendous enthusiasm. Both Carl and I are involved in the community on many levels; as consultants doing our ‘off-farm' work, on various boards and volunteering for numerous events. I don't think many people realize we even have a farm within some of these circles.
What advice do you have for people who are considering preparing themselves for the collapse of industrial society and who want to adopt a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle?
Carl: I am not in the advice business. We all have so many extenuating circumstances that may make my choices seem ridiculous to a lot of other people. However, I will encourage people to quiet themselves, and to find a path that provides them with a sense of calm and security. I feel that it is important to focus on the relationships that we must make with the Earth and other life-forms in order to survive. There is something called the "Lemming Effect", where over-population and depleted resources lead to illness and neurosis, which then lead to wholesale chaos, where millions of these rodents run over cliffs and drown in the artic sea. My only advice is believe it, and step aside; those of us left will try another approach.
Lisa: I would encourage people to stay open to their ‘voice within' - to listen to their calling and to find the people around them that they can learn from. If someone is drawn to a certain geographical area, I am certain that there will be individuals there who can be an example and a resource and possibly a mentor. It is a valuable skill to be able to network and learn from others and it is important to realize one's own worth, ideas and individuality. Find your own truth and listen to your inner self for validation when you are walking your own path. The rest will fall into place.