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Sharon Astyk adapts in place: an exposé

This is a guest post by writer Mynda Ubis-Ness, a lead reporter from the Canadian Environmental Magazine “Salacious Green.”  Mynda writes “I asked Astyk for an interview about her newly released (on store shelves today) book, but it became very clear shortly after I arrived at her farm that there was a much bigger story here - she’s not really what dozens of readers have come to believe she is.  The public has a right to know how she’s misleading us!”

Contacted to defend herself against these allegations, Astyk replied, “Ummm….”

Mynda: May I call you Sharon?

Sharon: Of course - everyone does. 

Mynda: Sharon, your writings make you seem to have it all. You have the perfect, dream homestead.  A supportive family.  A brilliant, loving husband.  Four beautiful children.  Delicious, homegrown food.  You homeschool, farm and write, as well as preparing for peak oil and climate change.  And yet, the reality is a little different than the perceptions, right?

Sharon: Of course it is - we’re normal people, in fact, on the lazy side a lot of the time.  You saw the three foot weeds in the “perennial garden” on the way in, right?  Want to see the seedlings that the goats got at?  The perfect children are out there whining at the brilliant husband, who is snapping at them because he’s trying to get a field scythed and keeps stopping to take people to the potty and get them glasses of water.  And as soon as I’m done with you, I will go clean the goat and chicken poop off the milking stand. It isn’t very Martha Stewart.

Mynda: Yes, I was surprised, nay, shocked, to find that the house doesn’t seem to be the paradise I’d imagined it to be.  Don’t you think it is unfair to other people, especially women, that you make it seem so easy, let them think that you are the sustainable Martha,  when in fact, this place is…dare I say…kind of a dump.  I mean look at those rolls of rusty fencing, and the firewood that hasn’t been stacked.  There’s chicken poop on the walkway and do I hear those children *complaining* about egg collection?  I thought they loved to do their chores.

Sharon: Well, we’re rather fond of our dump, but yes, you could say that.  I keep meaning to get the fencing put away.  And sometimes the kids do like to do their chores, but sometimes they don’t want to, and we make them do them anyway.  But I never claimed I was a perfect housekeeper, or mother - in fact, I keep saying I’m not.

Mynda: But you must admit, others take your protests to be merely polite form - but I look around and think “I’ve never seen a cobweb that big.”

Sharon: We always say “It isn’t just a home, it is an ecosystem.” 

Mynda: And you do claim, don’t you, that you mostly eat local and homegrown food.  But looking in your refrigerator (she opens fridge door) - look here, I see mustard from France, limes, and…what’s this?  (Mynda opens chest freezer) - I am shocked!  Shocked and appalled!  Popsicles.  Not organic, local juice popsicles.  But artificially flavored and colored popsicles.  Oh, and are you claiming that wasabi peas are locally produced?!

Sharon (weakly) Well, the french mustard was a presesnt from a friend of mine who went to France.  And yes, there are the popsicles - I know we should make them from local juices, but well…sometimes there isn’t time.  And umm…the wasabi peas are from (she sneaks a look at the package) umm…Virgina, which means they aren’t that non-local…  We try to keep our junk levels down to a minimum, but we do allow ourselves about 5% of our food purchases to be non-local and non-sustainable.

On the other hand, this corn is corn I dehydrated.  And look, over here - see the beets?  And the jars of pickles….

Mynda: About those pickles - you are a food storage and preservation expert, are you not? 

Sharon: Well, I’m writing a book about it, and I do teach classes, but there are still things I’m learning myself.  Why?

Mynda: Aren’t there supposed to be labels on the jars?  Didn’t you write something about demons gnawing your entrails if people don’t label *before* the date on these jar lids.

Sharon: Ummm….

Mynda: Moving on. Let us see your emergency evacuation bags.  You have written about those, I think?

Sharon: Yes, here they are, hanging on the hooks in the closet.  Well, all but Isaiah’s, since he was pretending to go down the Oregon Trail with his - I think it is up in his room - somewhere. 

Mynda: May I look inside?  Hmmm…jacknife, food, water, directions, photocopies of ID, matches….very nice.  (She opens another bag)  I was led to believe that your youngest child was 3, no?  Is that not him out there, a very tall, solid young boy, nearly as big as his 4 year old brother? 

Sharon: Yes, of course, that’s Asher.

Mynda: Then why are the clothes in this bag for a 12 month sized infant, please? 

Sharon: Ummm….yes, updating the emergency bags has been on my list for a bit now. 

Mynda: Moving on.  You advise everyone to have concise, written records of what they’ve done, what and where they plant, and everything they’ve done.  Can I see your records?

Sharon: Well…some of them are here ( after rummaging for a while, she hands over a sheaf of crumpled papers marred by a spill that appears to be grape juice)

Mynda: Let’s see, a garden plan from two years ago, a picture of an alien drawn by Simon, two old grocery lists, the immunization records of a cat from 1997 (is this cat even still alive?), an inventory of canned goods, and a doodled picture of a gentleman’s…Good gad…that can’t be your husband - no one is that…!?

Sharon (turning bright red and very much on her dignity) “That, Mynda, is actually a picture of a projected possible peak in natural gas and oil futures.”

Mynda: (skeptical) - Of course it is…well… this is a family magazine.  Regardless, these records seem incomplete.  As well as a bit disorganized.  Where are the rest of them?

Sharon: Well, uh…upstairs, I think.  Somewhere.

Mynda: Lead the way.  This will be an excellent chance to show everyone your composting toilet set up.  I’d love to see it.

Sharon: Well, there it is.

Mynda: But that’s just a commode in the bathroom. And not a clean bathroom at that. Don’t you have something more, well, photogenic for the magazine?

Sharon: A lot of what I do to save energy and adapt in place is kind of hard to take pictures of - not doing things isn’t nearly as photogenic as doing things. 

Mynda: Well, perhaps we’d better see the garden then.  Certainly that will make a good photo spread.

Sharon: Well, if you take a picture of the corn from this angle, and don’t show the lambs quarters going to seed in the middle, it almost looks like I keep my garden weeded, right?  Or maybe you could just take a very close up photo of this nice squash here.  No…not the 3 foot zucchini…  That’s umm… a seed saving experiment.  That’s right, I’m trying to maximize my production of zucchini seed.  Oh, and over here, come look at my beautiful comfrey and horseradish plants.  Yes, I absolutely planned to have the comfrey interplanted with the potatoes.  That has nothing at all to do with my laziness in rooting out the comfrey weeds - they are actually important guild plants in permaculture.

Mynda: Really.  With potatoes?

Sharon: Oh yes.  And look at that buckwheat…it isn’t it beautiful.  Of course I grow buckwheat seed.  Don’t you?  No, of course I didn’t forget to scythe it down at the flowering stage and let it go to seed.  Oh, sorry, there are a lot of thistles here, aren’t there. 

Mynda: You recently wrote about how you weren’t really “preparing” but living your life.  So tell me - how much of, say, your laundry do you actually do by hand. 

Sharon: Well, there are time constraints of course….maybe 5%?

Mynda: What about food - how much of your food do you actually grow? 

Sharon: About half our produce, and much less of our grains, 2/3 of our meat and 1/3 of our dairy.  And most of the rest is local.

Mynda: But I’m sure, like most of your readers, I thought you grew all your own food.  Don’t you worry you are misleading them?

Sharon: Sometimes.  It isn’t my intent to do it, but I write a lot of posts, and not everyone reads them all. Every so often I attempt to reassure people that my life is just as screwed up as theirs.  But not everyone gets that message, and sometimes I think I come across as more authoritative than I intend to.

Mynda: Don’t you think your readers deserve to know all the details of the harsh reality?  What about the cloth toilet paper?  What percentage of the time are you wiping with cloth?

Sharon: Oh no - I read the Times Article about NoImpactman - no way I’m talking toilet paper with any reporter. Sorry, I reserve the right not to answer that.

Mynda: Ah, you have secrets.  It all becomes clear.  No pictures.  Weeds.  No discussion of cloth toilet paper.  I spotted a pile of plastic star wars toys over there - what happened to your “cloth, wood and no television tie in toy rule?”  I see the dogs eat purchased dog food at least part of the time, and I hear the children asking for television.  Tell me, “Sharon” if that is your real name - aren’t you ashamed of yourself, pretending to be a leader in sustainability.  Did not the above mentioned NoImpactman publically state that the three best things you can do for the environment are to stop watching television, stop eating meat and stop driving.  And yet you kill and eat your chickens, let your children watch television and drive places.  And then there are those four children.  And you call yourself an environmentalist!

Sharon: Well, now that you mention it, I do pretty much fail on all those criteria.  Can we go back to talking about toilet paper?  Please?

Editorial Notes: Being able to laugh at yourself should be on the list of essential coping strategies!-SO

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