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Tools that homesteaders wouldn't want to be without.

Choices motivated by aesthetic, health, environmental concerns

John Cronin

Vashon Island, Washington

Your Q of M is a timely one for us in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. In late January winter storms from the un-Pacific Ocean, packing winds up to 90 mph, left most of the area without electric power. Our neo-Luddite five-acre subsistence farm took the storm in stride since we have a minimal reliance on electricity,

Ten years ago we built a passive solar heated underground home. We warmed our home and cooked our meals on our woodstove during the storms, as usual. Although I missed my favorite tv show -- the Simpsons-- my wife enjoyed destroying me in candlelit card games. Many other families enjoyed the togetherness of games and conversation around stoves and fireplaces without help from the tube. Our place did not suffer costly freezer losses since we rely mainly on canning and drying for food storage.

Emergencies such as these should alert people to the need to be ready to provide for themselves without modern conveniences that may not always be there.

In the future, nature's fury won't be the only factor putting out the lights. Population growth coupled with increased demands for electric power to run the endless new gadgetry of modern life will cause blackouts, brownouts and prohibitive costs.

Your discussion raises the question -- what is appropriate technology for our time? I agree with your suggestion that we re-examine the 30s and 40s since it is apparent that something went wrong in the last half of this century. In the years after WW II the industrial nations, in the manner of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, unleashed pernicious poisons into the environment and outrageously counter-productive technological "improvements" into our lives. In a general sense, how beneficial are agricultural pesticides when thereby the soil is poisoned and its produce is polluted? Did society really benefit from the labor-saving aspects of pesticides and complex machinery when, as a result, the descendants of our former rural population are now warehoused into crime infested cities with little hope of employment or fulfillment in life?

On a personal plane, each of us must assess what technology most helps us with the least damage to ourselves, others, and the environment. For myself, the only concession I make to the internal combustion engine is a pickup truck to carry payloads since I do not choose to submit a horse and wagon to the perils of a modern highway. When possible I use footpower or the appropriate technology of my bicycle. I have no problem choosing crosscut and bow saws over chainsaws. I opt for shovel and hoe rather than a rototiller, a rake rather than a leafblower and a hand powered reel mower rather than a gas model. My choices are motivated by esthetics and health as well as environmental concerns. I want to hear birdsong when I cut wood rather than have my hearing impaired by engine noise. I want to enjoy fresh air... not exhaust fumes. These are major reasons we moved to a rural area.

Moreover, using my own energy saves the time and money I would need for a health club membership to exercise engine pampered muscles.

It is not my intention to judge my neighbor's use of any of these modern marvels. My choice might be different if physical disability required it or if I were far beyond my young 57 years. For example: I hope I will always be fit enough to grind my own grain and knead my own bread. The activity is healthful, relaxing and satisfying. If however, in 30 or 40 years my knuckles are frozen in arthritic torment, I will consider an electric flour mill and automatic bread maker.

She'll take her sewing machine

Teresa Griesse

Buffalo, Missouri

Believe it or not, I would say that the tool I would hate to be without in tight times is my sewing machine. It's just an old Singer that my parents gave me in college, but I can't imagine getting along without it.

I know that a person could sew by hand, but it would be hard, if not impossible, to sew as efficiently or as fast. My machine is in almost constant use and it has been since I got it.

I sew as much as I can for my family and home to help stretch the family budget. I have made bedspreads for all of our beds, including spreads for my sons' bunk beds, made out of squares of denim cut from the legs of old jeans. I have sewn quilts that we all use instead of store-bought blankets. I have sewn clothing for myself, my husband and my two sons, and I repair worn and torn clothing. Not only does it save money but it allows you to have higher quality items than you could afford to buy.

I also sew to make extra money. All kinds of crafts can be sewn and then later sold or traded. There are lots of fairs or carnivals to sell your items or they can be traded with neighbors or friends. Materials don't necessarily have to be costly. My sister-in-law, wanting to make some extra money while she was unemployed, would buy good condition used clothing at yard sales. She would then reuse the material in them in her crafts. Even patterns can often be picked up at yard sales or second hand stores. Luckily, I have a neighbor who also sews and we exchange patterns constantly. But even if you didn't have such a neighbor, libraries stock pattern books and often quite an assortment of craft magazine.

I'll never make a fortune off my sewing but it does allow me to add some extra cash to the family budget. It also helps me stretch that same budget a little further.

As far as I'm concerned, in tight times what more could you ask of any tool.

Techno-tools steal from me... isolate me

Paul Molyneaux

Lubec, Maine

I would like to write on your question of the month without getting smug or self-righteous. About our lifestyle -- we didn't plan to be homesteaders, we just ended up living this way as a result of the choices we made getting here.

No electricity? O.K. Outhouse? O.K. No running water? O.K. Homegrown food always tastes so good we keep growing more of it.

As far as technological tools are concerned, I'm down to my truck, a 1947 Farmall "A" with PTO powered bean thresher, and a weather radio.

Currently I use my tractor for plowing in the spring and to run my bean thresher in the fall. I hope to get oxen to replace it and build a treadmill power source. (Does anyone have a set of plans?) The reason I haven't done so yet is because I don't have an adequate water supply, or a barn, or pasture, or the complete support of my wife. These things take time.

In our local area we have a firewood sawing club that my neighbor and I started. When my chainsaw wouldn't start in the spring of 1989 for want of some part I was too broke to buy, he came along with his two man crosscut saw and offered to help me cut my wood if I'd help him cut his. I agreed and it was great! We worked, talked while we worked, listened to the warblers sing while we worked and never had a breakdown. We now have five members. Since then I have sold my chainsaw, generator and circular saw and have learned how to keep my hand saws sharp.

I like peace, quiet and fresh air and have realized that the more I avoid electric and gas powered tools the more serene I stay. Coming to this awareness early in the game has allowed me to avoid the seduction of many techno-tools in the first place.

I make my living in the summer and winter by harvesting periwinkles (sea snails). In the summer I row my dory to the coves where they are found. In winter, I go overland by dogsled. Despite the peer pressure to get mechanized I have always operated this way because I know that techno-tools and machinery give me only an illusion of power, while in reality they sap my strength and self-confidence. (How helpless I initially feel when they break down!)

Techno-tools steal from me the skill and artifice I learn every time I use a hand tool. They isolate me from other animals and inhibit my contact with the world I live in. I don't feel like much of a man when using techno-tools--more like an emasculated technician--whereas using simple people powered tools always heightens my self-esteem.

Homesteader and unemployed are mutually exclusive terms. All homesteaders are employed at homesteading and we're all on a tight budget in terms of years to live and calories to burn. How we spend our time and energy is a personal choice.

I like to choose serenity over the confusion of noise, pollution, electromagnetic fields, etc. Realizing that I can't bank any labor I save, I prefer to focus on enjoying my work even if it takes more time.

The most important tool that I would recommend to a homesteader with a limited life span is a U-Bar. This apparatus, used for tilling previously cultivated soil, consists of two 5-foot ash handles, one rising vertically from each end of a horizontal 20-inch steel bar and five 12-inch hardened steel tines descending vertically from the bar, one every 5 inches. You put your foot on the bar and drive the tines into the ground then lean back on the handles prying and breaking up the soil as the tines come out of the ground.

I received my U-Bar as a gift. It requires no maintenance, and like all hand tools, runs on whatever I am burning for calories. I think it produces better results than a rototiller with a lot less effort. Although it takes a little more time (not much) to till a given piece of ground, I can listen to the birds sing while I work. That's important!

For information on U-Bars, contact: Ecology Action, 5798 Ridgewood Rd., Willits, CA 95490.

Send this Depression child back to the '30s!

Catherine McQuade

Brighton, Tennessee

Re: "techno-industrial establishment" -- boy do I wish we could go back to the 1940's or even better -- 1930's! In a heartbeat I would have given up television, second cars, freezers, central air and heat, vacuum cleaners, dryers and cordless telephones for the joy of staying home to raise my four boys.

I still don't have a mixmaster, food processor, dishwasher, crockpot, curling iron, blow dryer, trash compactor or microwave -- for years we didn't have a toaster and last month I bought my first steam iron.

Being a child of the Depression, growing up in the parish next to Orleans in Louisiana, I have some wonderful memories of my childhood. I remember blackberrying with my Daddy and later smelling the aroma of the blackberry cobbler. Our milk wasn't pasteurized and the cream rose to the top so we had it (whipped or not) for topping. Got our eggs from a neighbor with chickens -- not the grocery. All our shrimp, fish and crabs came from the bayous. Had a banana tree in the back yard and although the bananas couldn't be eaten raw, they were delicious fried in butter (not oleo) and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

We cut ladies from magazines and played paper dolls on the bushes outside or furniture inside. During bad weather we played Major Bowes in someone's basement. Paraded around in bathing suits playing Miss America while someone squirted us with a hose during the warm weather.

Thought Princess Margaret Rose and Princess Elizabeth were the luckiest children in the world -- what a laugh! And the Dionne quintuplets -- how I envied them with all the publicity and their pictures everywhere you looked.

Funny how growing up changes everything. Now I cherish my memories of being poor and happy in a family with values. No abuse, no drinking, no meandering father, just a happy family of four doing their best with what they had.

We never locked doors -- didn't need to. And what if a neighbor needed to come borrow a cup of sugar while you were gone? If she couldn't get in her cake might be ruined. And eating that ice and salt while Daddy cranked away on the ice cream freezer. Mama always said we would throw up -- but we didn't.

I think that computers and daytime television are the worst things that have been invented. No one talks anymore, plays cards, listens to the radio, and few children sit down and read books like we used to do. Maybe people who write to our magazine -- the honest-to-goodness homesteaders -- do have to work harder but at least it is for themselves and it builds character.

We now live on 6-1/2 acres. Have four wild turkeys living in our big gum tree -- they eat all the corn from the goat food. Have about 30 goats. Milk them and furnish many happy city folks with my milk. Also make cheese, butter and ice cream. I love to quilt and am a mean cook -- everything from scratch.

Seems the more I digress technically, the happier I am!

Young and old have different values

Kathie Johnson

Paonia, Colorado

What technological tools that I now use could I easily get along without? Why do I continue to use them? Have I discontinued any?

When I was a volunteer for a development organization, several women were asked what modern features they couldn't live without in their kitchens. The younger women responded with answers like food processor and microwave. Older women said running water and refrigeration!

I'm in the older-women category, though since I just moved here and have limited income I am not living with my first technological choices in all cases. I live in a small cabin in a medium-sized farm with several other people near a small town. I don't have running water and don't miss it. I walk just a short distance to the root cellar for water and pick up my vegetables while I'm there. We are in a semi-arid zone where ground water is rapidly being depleted, and using water out of a gallon jug reminds me that water is the necessity of all life on this planet and it keeps me thankful. I am blown away by people who let their water run and run and run because it's there and doesn't cost much. But what about all the money and energy of all sorts to store, divert, pipe and dispose of all that water that isn't really being used?

A modern improvement I could not live without is my little airtight stove. The stove that was here when I moved in was a cute little potbelly with more holes in it than a Swiss cheese, there was no way to shut it off if I had to, and it was an incredible wood guzzler. No way it could have kept me warm! My baby airtight uses a lot less wood and provides heat well into the night. I burn slab which is waste and inexpensive. I can't see cutting down a tree just to burn it. I use the stove for cooking, and melting wax for my small candle business too. Next summer I will build a small mud stove outside for these purposes.

The big technological tool I choose to not live without (this time!) is electricity. I lived without refrigeration for food for part of the summer and found it too limiting. The little coil that heats one cup of water for tea is nice. Good lighting is a necessity for the crafts work I do. I am in love with my electric typewriter, and there are nights when my heating pad is my back's best friend. Right now my juice comes from a power pole, but I would gladly move to wind and/or solar as soon as I win the lottery. I would like to build and play with a biogas generator some day.

I have a store-bought composting toilet which is frozen solid and worthless this winter because it is outside. I would gladly give it up for something lower-tech and homemade. A neighbor has one that is just sawdust and poops. When the barrel is full he dumps it in a back corner and leaves it for a couple years to finish composting. Sounds pretty foolproof to me and recycles nutrients unlike an old-fangled outhouse.

A technological tool I won't give up yet but want to someday is some sort of large powered garden implement. Our new plot is too big to dig by hand. The soil is clay bottomland that had 4' of topsoil stripped off it twelve years ago. Organic matter content and tilth are terrible. There is only one day during the irrigation cycle when the soil can be rototilled. Other days it is too wet or too dry. Can't do a large area under those time restraints. We have horses but they are untrained and have no equipment. So garden prep in the spring and fall is being done with the funky little tractor that is already here.

The soil is not fertile enough yet to do a smaller scale garden with intensive raised beds, but when it is I will build beds with river rock, slab wood or pop cans. Then I can add a new technological tool -- drip irrigation! Furrow irrigation uses huge amounts of water and floods the land so we can't garden for a couple days after watering. Drip will use much less water and solve the access problem (I hope!), but it costs money to get started.

I don't miss television at all. All the wonderful PBS stuff looks enticing but when I did have a telly I didn't get around to watching even PBS.

I don't have a phone in the cabin and don't miss it. I have access to a phone with answering machine a short ways away and that's just about right.

I couldn't live without a vehicle which right now is a small old car. Bicycles are nice but you can't carry feed sacks and stuff to craft shows on one. I use it as seldom as possible and get a nice insurance discount for low mileage.

Is a door lock a technological tool? That I don't miss at all. I feel safe where I am. Yes it's scary when something happens in town or the neighborhood but I remind myself I carry my feeling of safety with me and it feels really good. This is different when I visit the city. Do people begin to distrust each other when they are separated from the land by concrete and asphalt and don't grow their own good food and flowers and have animals that depend on them for all their needs?

What our choices come down to is a juggling act between priorities, values, time and resources. How far up or down the energy chains do you want to go? How big is your world -- where do you fit in economic, social and planetary justice issues? There's no free lunch with any system. All life is sustained by the death of something else, and as tool-users we humans cannot not use resources of some kind. What do you use often enough you don't want to do without? If you don't have the money to buy something you need, do you have the imagination and skills and raw materials to cobble it up? What do we have the time to do without? How "fast" do we want to live? How many different activities do we need/want to pack into our lives at once? (Homesteading = a high number!) While making do with what we have, are we setting better goals and lining ourselves up for meeting them? How secure are our souls? Do we need to grab "things" to solve our personal and homestead problems or make us feel good?

Isn't it nice that January is a slow month for us so we can sit in front of the fire and contemplate all these wonderful questions?

He doesn't have much to give up

E. J. Dishbrew

Wisterlo, New York

You asked what anyone could give up. I couldn't give much up because I don't have much. I do have a secondhand chainsaw. If I had something to draw my wood I could cut it by hand. For the last 15 years I have carried most of it in a pack basket. That takes all my time.

I am not the man I was when I worked in a lumber camp. I am over 80 years old. I don't have electricity. I carry my water 150 feet from a spring.

I could give up the people that live around me if I could get back the neighbors we used to have.

I could give up the laws that keep you from earning a living. The town board of Wisterlo passed a law that no one can have over five hogs and pigs at one time. It really means you can't keep a sow. You can't kill a pig and sell it to a neighbor. You can't sell raw milk. They are trying to turn the country in to a city and they are doing it!

The city people were the first to post their farms to no hunting or trapping They keep from two to four dogs and let them roam the countryside day and night.

She has much, but needs little

Wendy S. Martin

Calais, Vermont

"What technological tools that you now use could you easily get along without? Why do you continue to use them? Have you discontinued any? If you were (or are) one of the 9.6 million unemployed or on a very tight budget -- but a homesteader -- what tools would you consider most important? Why?

OK... what do I have?
 truck grow-mat ATV electric
saws chainsaw waffle iron microwave
oven popcorn popper convection
oven drill chipper/shredder
freezer Mantis tiller refrigerator lawn
mower sewing machine crock
pot food processor toaster blender ...

Hmm...we've only had electricity for one year. I enjoy it very much. But we got along well without it for years. We live in an underground house with an attached 12 x 48 ft. greenhouse. It includes an 8 x 8 ft. rootcellar, a homemade composting toilet, gravity fed spring water, two woodstoves and a huge library of do-it-yourself books. We keep a deep-cycle battery for emergencies and also have kerosene lamps and candles handy.

I have a CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm with 25 shareholders. The only tools I use are an ATV with two carts and a Mantis tiller. I have a chronic disease called lupus, which makes having the ATV very nice. The house is quite a ways back in the woods and all food and wood is hauled with it.

We have about nine acres of woods and I use a chainsaw to cut the firewood. My partner uses an axe to limb, a big iron bar for lifting logs, and a maul to split stubborn wood. Our land is mostly steep hillside, so the ATV and cart are very useful for hauling the wood to the house.

I couldn't live without the truck because I am constantly hauling manure for the farm. Also hay, scrap lumber, tires, 55-gallon barrels and anything else interesting that I can glean.

I bought the microwave oven the week we got electricity. We could live without it, but it has improved our eating habits by allowing us to eat leftovers easily. It sure cuts down on dirty dishes!

The convection oven is something my grandfather gave me. It cooks faster than our gas oven or the Coleman oven on the wood stove. I could get along without it, but like it if I can use it. I inherited the chipper/shredder, crock pot, toaster, waffle iron, popcorn popper and drill. I already had their non-electric counterparts and could live without them.

Before electricity I didn't use the Grow-mat to start seedlings. I just kept them near the woodstove. I love my Vita-Mix blender and food processor, but I do have several non-electric counterparts. The root cellar is divided into two parts -- one for canning jars, the other--cool and moist-- for root storage. There are also two buried flue tiles. Inside of these it's cold enough to store milk and mayonnaise year-round, so we could live without a fridge again. Before the freezer I just canned, dried or otherwise stored foods.

I own three sewing machines .... a working treadle, a treadle converted to electricity, and a fancy machine that does dozens of stitches. My favorite is the converted one, my second favorite is the treadle.

We built our house and greenhouse without power tools. The power tools are nice to have, but not necessary.

Our fields are uphill from a water supply, so we use a hydraulic ram pump to fill 55 gallon drums that are spaced all over the two acres. A few times I have been tempted to buy an electric pump, but it is not essential.

Oh -- I forgot the lawn mower. I bought it used and commenced abusing it. The two acres that are now raised beds were full of brush and poplars. I used a chainsaw on the big poplars, a bow saw on the medium ones, and loppers for sort of small ones. Everything else was hacked and mowed with the lawn mower. It took months and the blade was destroyed, but it sure cost less than hiring someone to bush-hog it. Now I use the mower once a year in the orchard to destroy woody weeds and to mow around the edges of the raised beds a couple of times each year. Then in the summer I mow down the strawberry plants.

We are on a very tight budget and always have been, so we haven't gone with much in the way of technological tools. I don't discontinue using anything because I already have them, and generally they are easy to use.

For most important, I'd vote for a chainsaw, pickup truck and small tiller. For me, I'd also add the ATV.

Maybe technological tools aren't as important as our attitude toward life

Laurie A. Slider

Elkland, Missouri

As I considered your question of the month I wondered if the question shouldn't be, "What part of country life would I give up to live the 'comfortable, easy life' of a city dweller?"

As I was pondering this question, my husband, son and I were in the woods cutting firewood in the midst of a snow storm. As the huge (1" and sometimes bigger) snowflakes fell heavily in the woods and even heavier in the open fields, it was beautiful! And knowing how wonderful the fire in the woodstove would feel when we did return home, I wouldn't give that up, ever! However, I would hate to cut wood without a chainsaw. (By the way, we have a central air and heat pump which only runs in emergencies.)

There are not many things more tasty than homegrown vegetables, especially sweet corn, but I sure enjoy my Troybuilt tiller. And I'd hate to preserve food without modern jars and lids and a pressure canner. Not all technology is terrible; it's our blind dependence on it that can cause problems.

I love to feed and care for my hens, rabbits and goats (both Angora and dairy). I enjoy my horse and my husband has a team of ponies he is training. He hopes to use them to cut hay, etc., some day. Which brings me to one last thought.

Have you ever noticed how much better that tall cold glass of water or lemonade tastes while you relax in the shade when you've just spent the hot afternoon hauling hay vs. when you've just sat around all day relaxing? Would you trade that chance to truly appreciate God's wonderful little gifts in life? I wouldn't!
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Author:Cronin, John; Griesse, Teresa; Molyneaux, Paul; McQuade, Catherine; Johnson, Kathie; Dishbrew, E.J.;
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:The song of the spinning wheel.
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