Thursday, February 17, 2011


Since we specialize in preserving traditional skills like building log cabins with nothing but axes, working draft animals, spinning, and a host of others, people are often surprised that we advocate and use modern technology. It can not be an either/or situation.

Let me explain this, I believe the world environmental and energy situation is becoming so critical that we have to put all our intellect and effort into creating a stable, sustainable culture on this planet. We cannot afford the luxury of dwelling on the past. Sustainable farming has the potential of squeezing out more food value per square inch than any corporate farm, but to do this, we need to blend every bit of skill and technology that we have. We have to be careful, some of the modern is dangerous, certainly the herbicides and insecticides of modern agriculture have been linked to the alarming increase in cancer in our population. But traditional methods led to soil erosion, deforestation, air pollution, disease, malnutrition, and inordinate occupational hazards.

Creating a sustainable farmstead requires designing a livable pattern of agriculture, energy, personal health, and nutrition. It may be comfortable to occupy spacious quarters, but heating the airspace in winter may require more work than can be sustained. Do we concentrate on feeding ourselves? Or raise a surplus that can be bartered for items we cannot produce on the farm? Or start evaluating and eliminating what we think we must have/do/make? We have to seek a balance. There are skills that we will need such as blacksmithing, coopering, tanning, harness making, and medicine that we can learn, but may take too much time and thus not be effective.

When I am at an historic event, it may the best answer to have a wooden wheeled Virginia wagon, but for every day use, a steel wheeled cart may serve my farm better. If we are going to survive, we have to be practical, not romantic. We have to pick the most survivable tool.

In writing about survival on the Overmountain frontier, I have said a number of times that it was not the tools that came from the East on the packhorse that enabled the frontiersmen to survive, it was the tools that came in their heads. If a plow breaks during spring plowing, life cannot go on hold until a new one is bought or the broken plow repaired. The farmer needs to be able to repair it himself or make a substitute. This is where the frontiersman had it all over us. He came out knowing he had to be self sufficient. We were raised in a culture of mutual support (even if that support has to be paid for).

I am not a nuclear physicist nor a plant biologist. But, there are things I can do to contribute to the solution to the energy depletion and environmental crises that are facing us. And, I will do them. I am experimenting with methods to find those that work and can be replicated by others. I am training myself to live a sustainable life. Even if I am imperfect, I can and do teach others what I have found out. This largely takes the form of working livestock, but that seems to be what I am best at.

At this stage, I think the biggest contribution that all of us involved in the sustainable lifestyle can do is be a loud example. When we can live well without compromising our principals, it encourages other to try. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get discouraged when I see the excessive consumption surrounding me. As people speed by in their SUVs, I know that they are using one third more gas than they would if they were driving conservatively. I pick up a vegetable and realize it is something we grow here, but this one came from the Philippines. Our local electrical co-op brags about burning coal they get from mountain top removal and collaterally all the good that does for Kentucky. The list is endless, and I cannot fight them all. I can be an example.

The Frontiersmen crossed the Appalachians in small groups, families and often alone. What they were doing was illegal (the Proclamation of 1763). They fought Indians and often outlaws. They were dragged into the Revolution by events, not ideology. We are very much in the same situation. Those of us fighting to make a difference face politicians owned by the corporations that created this mess. Certainly they are not going to support anything that might adversely influence corporate profits. We live among a populace that has been raised to expect the comforts and ease of cheap oil. They don’t want to see it change. Demagogues manipulate them to think that we can return to the status of the victors of World War II and the economy of the 1950s. We meet resistance at every turn, we are isolated and alone. That is what it means to be a frontiersman. But, the frontiersman of 1775 was the truly modern man of his time. If there is a future, historians will look back and see those of us fighting for responsible living as the modern "Man" of our age.

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