Chapter 8 Land, Of The Free (Land Part 1)
Copyright Michael Bunker 2009
Land, A Longing in the Heart
I would have loved to talk about land first. After all, we are ôBack to the Landö proponents, arenÆt we? As homesteaders, our lexicon is steeped in the concept of ôthe landö: We work the land; we live off the land; we see land, and the blessings and obligations involved with working and tilling it, as the central pillar of our philosophy. So why didn’t I make Land the first category and chapter of the book? Well, because I have had to deal with the way the mind works today, and that is quite a chore. There were too many giants in the land to talk about the land first. Hopefully, having slain a few giants, we can talk about the good and plentiful land.
The thought of working on a piece of land he can call his own has ever been the secret yearning of billions of men; although, if we stop to think about it, the concept of owning land is really a bizarre one when you consider how long the earth has been here, and how short our own lives are in comparison. But I believe that there is a spark of GodÆs original plan for the earth in every single man and woman. Why do you think people take vacations from work? Seriously, why do people save up money and vacation days to go somewhere wild and unspoiled? Why do people go camping when they have time off from work? Have you ever been out in the wild, or on a trip through Amish country, or on a beach or a boat somewhere and thought, You know, I cannot wait to get into a cubicle in a building somewhere in some big city! Of course, nobody but a fool would dream about leaving a homestead somewhere, someday, to get a grinding corporate job punching a clock. I know people who spend most of their lives thinking about two things: Weekends, and Vacations. Why is that? Why do people spend their vacations out on some hunting lease, at a lake, or camping in the wilds? Why do parents take their children on day trips to petting zoos and model farms or homesteads? What is the deal with camping? Why do people choose to spend their ôfreeö time trying to get back in touch with the land, unless there is some connection between freedom and land? When people look at a picture of a beautiful Amish farm, they are generally overwhelmed with a feeling of peace, tranquility, and a secret longing for a simpler life. When the same people look at pictures of traffic, or cubicles, or cityscapes, they are often inundated with feelings of stress, anger, confusion, or hopelessness. These are not isolated feelings. If we are honest, almost every one of us identify with what I am saying.
In every place where urbanization really began to take root, a walk or ride in the country was soon the cure offered for city madness or stress. When urbanization and industrialization inevitably led to greater class distinctions (more rich people, more poor people, and fewer middle-class people), we find the rich buying ôcountry housesö to ôget away from it allö. I am convinced that the command of God to work, till, and have benevolent dominion over the land, is a latent urge and desire in every human put there by God. It is a faint reminder or our pre-fallen state, and, if you are honest enough within yourself to admit that it is there, it is plain and unequivocal evidence that we are correct in our Agrarian philosophy and ideas.
Modern man is lost without a compass, hopeless and confused in an increasingly urban world. Something in him, however faintly, detects peace and goodness in the concept of being in nature and working the land. I am not the only one calling men back to the land. I honestly believe that the conscience of man, if it is still functional at all, is calling men and women back to the land.
Debunking Some Myths
There are some great myths in the minds of many people when they hear about Agrarianism or Agrarians. Debunking these myths is necessary before we can get into too much depth talking about land and a right land philosophy. Here are a few of the most notable myths:
1. That there would be no cities, towns, or villages in an Agrarian society.
2. That under an Agrarian system, everyone will own land and have their own farm.
3. That when you live off-grid in an Agrarian system, you are expected to make or provide 100% of what you consume straight off the land.
4. That business, buying, selling, trade, import, export, etc. have no place in Agrarianism.
If we are to have a right mind and a right land philosophy, it is necessary that we debunk these myths. These myths are all interrelated, so I will deal with them corporately:
There have been cities, towns, and villages almost as long as there have been people. In fact, so long as there is sin, there will be big cities. That is not the issue we are addressing. The idea of the small town or village is not incompatible with Agrarianism at all, in fact, when Agrarianism was the ruling economic system and philosophy of life, small towns and villages thrived and everyone benefited. It is only natural that there will be those in Agrarian societies who are gifted with special talents, or who will be called upon to benefit the society and the community by expediting trade, barter, import, and export. Villages and towns were nothing more than places where Agrarians could go to commune, to seek services, and to expedite the exchange of excess materials or crops for other necessary items. Every region, every area, and every property is not conducive to growing or producing every single thing that might be helpful or necessary for life. Therefore, towns will always spring up to assist in trade between individuals or between different regions so as to equalize the availability of needful things. The main difference between the hyper-specialized commercial society (like in our current system) and pure Agrarianism, is that in a truly Agrarian society, everyone would have at least a garden plot and a few animals in order to help (as much as is possible) to ensure survival and to mitigate against shortages, scarcity, or an interruption in trade.
Every piece of land does not have every necessary mineral or resource. It would be nice if every farm was a complete closed loop – a perfect biosphere – but most farms are not. Some land is resource rich, and some land is resource poor. Your land may have a nice, sustainable woodlot, while your treeless neighbor may have a nice vein of salt or iron ore on his land. Not every farm, community, or every area will be able to produce everything that is necessary for survival and comfort; and it is good that trade and barter develop in and between Agrarian communities. The whole community is strengthened through these means.
Not every person in an Agrarian society will be a landowner and farmer. Although it is a high ideal, it is impossible. It has never been a workable solution – in all of history – for every man to own and farm land. Not every Amish man owns his own full-fledged farm. When you go to Amish country and you see Amish buggies, someone made those buggies; and someone is working on them and fixing them. But behind that buggy shop, you are likely to see a small farm, or at least a garden. Every community will need people who are good at building things, repairing things, procuring things, etc. Some men have skills and talents in management, while others are ôsmall pictureö folks, with an eye and heart towards artisanship in a very specific area. Even in the most successful eras of Agrarian history, there have been landed folk and unlanded folk. There will always be employers and the employed. Even in the Bible, the shepherds were shepherds, meaning that they were specialists that tended and herded sheep. The Bible teaches employers to be fair with their employees and to not withhold their wages; and the Bible teaches employees to serve and honor their masters, and to work for them as if they were doing the work for God Himself. There is nothing dishonorable about being employed in a trade or specialty. In Agrarian Europe 250 years ago, the average farm would have employed dozens and dozens of workers – shepherds, swineherds, thatchers, millers, coopers, smiths, brewers, etc. How do you think most people came upon their last names?
Here is where many people get confused. How can we say that specialization is good, when we have already named specialization as one of the primary causes of many of the problems in the society today? Is specialization good? Or is it bad? Some specialization in an Agrarian culture is a good thing, but when specialization becomes sub-human, in that it causes almost every human to become just a cog in a larger machine, then it has gone too far. The problem with specialization occurs when people throw off all responsibility to provide for themselves and their families from the land, and instead begin to rely on an unnatural and unsustainable system for that provision. When the farmer stops growing most of his own food, and instead puts all of his land and resources into growing a single ômoney cropö, then he begins to rely inordinately on the system, and he begins to feed the system that will one day destroy him. As this type of system develops, eventually the farmer doesnÆt even know where his food is grown or who grows it. When problems happen, as they inevitably will; when people get sick from dangerous and unsafe foods; when the whole society grows sick from the un-Godly methods of commercial agriculture, there grows up a need for more specialists and bureaucrats: Food Inspectors, Government Agents, Purchasers, Middle-Men, Trucking Specialists; not to mention the need for more Doctors, Nurses, hospitals, insurance, socialized medicine, etc., etc. Taxes go up and up and up, and eventually there will be a call for the government to step in and just run everything for everyone. All of these people and systems and government regulation become necessary to make the farmer, who once grew his own food, feel comfortable and safe in the environment and culture caused by hyper-specialization. The point is that when specialization is very limited, and when it focuses on Agrarian activities, art, and skills, it is a good thing; when it becomes corrupted, and is the single most identifiable element of the society and culture, then it is a very bad thing.
Back to my main point: not everyone will own land. Some people will eventually become Agrarian specialists. Some people will not have the necessary ability to keep and hold property, while a few people may grow wealthy in land and holdings. WeÆre not communists. We believe in freedom, and in a truly free society, there will be some people who have more than others. But, what does all of this mean to you? As you move forward with your off off-grid plans, you need to be thinking about what you want to do. What skills do you have, and how do you see yourself living in the future? If it is not possible for you to become a land-owning farmer, it is still possible for you to go off-grid and to live life in Agrarian terms. Land ought not to be an idol. Many of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, and the Pioneers, worked for decades before they owned their own farms; and some were more than happy to live their lives as servants and workers. In many cases, these workers served on the main farm, but also had a small spread for themselves and their families, which they worked diligently to provide more for themselves and their loved ones. Others started up trades in small villages, working for themselves and helping the Agrarian society by focusing on a specific area of need in the community. As I said, there will always be those who acquire and hold more land than others, and who are willing to employ others.
What is a Farmer?
People today have some very odd ideas about what a farmer is. Very lately, there has developed an image of the farmer as the rich rural cowboy, riding huge tractors, each costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, across thousands of acres of open farmland. I am sorry to tell you that this man is not a farmer. He is an agribusiness-man. I canÆt help but snort with barely masked derision when these men claim to be farmers. If people do not see the farmer as a rich rural cowboy, they might instead imagine him as a poor, miserable, wretch, just struggling to make ends meet. Both of these views are, generally, inventions of the 20th Century; and both are snapshots taken at different times during that century of the fall and ruin of the farming culture and society. Here is how the system progressed (or actually regressed):
Historically, the farmer was considered a wealthy man, held in high esteem by the society and by other men: He was the Gentleman Farmer. There was nothing shameful or ignoble about working for a good, honest farmer on a good farm. The farmer was not only the master of his family, but he was the benevolent leader of a large, extended family of workers and tradesmen. The farmer was a lynchpin in the society. He was the benefactor of the Agrarian community and he was responsible for the happiness and survival of many. Many of the beautiful villages you see in the picture postcards of rural Europe actually began as small towns that sprung up on or near large farms and estates. The community and the society was so intertwined with working the land, that there was no real dividing line between ôtownö and ôfarmö. The town was merely a location where specialized Agrarian trades and some commerce took place. The town was a place of communion and unity. It held the farming community together, so that people felt like they belonged to some unit larger than just the nuclear family. The village was not mercenary. It didnÆt exist just for buying and selling and making money. It was a place of common ground, which is why most early villages had a ôgreenö, which was often called ôthe commonsö. Almost everyone in a village or region felt that they were related, if not by common blood (though many of them were related by blood), at least by common purposes. The farm and the community was the society.
The Fall of the Real Farmer and the Rise of Agribusiness
At some point, when trade and mercantilism began to flourish, farmers learned that they had the opportunity to make enormous amounts of money if they would put all of their land, and all of their resources, into the production of just one product or cropà ôthe money cropö. Survival, Simplicity, Sustainability, Satisfaction û all of these were no longer the main point. MONEY became the main point. Farming, rather than being a life, slowly became ômaking a livingö; it became a business. The millers, the thatchers, the coopers, etc. were all let go û unless they were needed for the production and sale of the one money crop. Laborers stopped being neighbors, and started being mercenaries themselves. They were no longer a part of the farmerÆs family; they became hired guns, contract workers. They often worked for more than one farmer; for anyone who paid well. As specialists, these workers moved to town and opened up shop. Gone were the private plots and the family gardens. Any land that was not set aside and usable for production of the money crop (which could be either plants or animals) was sold off, and more land was purchased for production. This means that the village was no longer located on the expansive family farm. The village became independent, and its purpose became mercenary, just like the people who now lived there. Jobs left the farm and went to the village first, and eventually to the cities and the ports where trade was centered. When hard times hit, or when crops failed, or when the business changed, the farmers either suffered through it, or they went out of business. The downside of specialization became a common reality. Revolving debt became necessary in order to tide the farmer through planting season, or through any rough patches or seasons. Most of the farmers eventually closed up and went to the cities. Bankers became the new lynchpins and masters of the community. Agri-businessmen and corporate farmers, aided by the bankers, grabbed up the newly available land, and the maintenance of the soil was turned over to the new mercenary spirit. Governments began to learn that, under a system of specialization and industrialization, the money crop agri-businessmen had to be kept (as much as possible) from failing, so crop insurance and subsidies were put in place. Government tariffs were imposed to keep the farmer from suffering through the ôwhims of the marketö. Before long, almost 100% of agribusiness was being run or directed by agents in the governments of the world. As a result, when you meet a man who calls himself a farmer today, statistically it is most probable that you are meeting a state-sponsored and tax supported agri-businessman, not a real farmer. There are some real farmers out there today, but not many. Keep this in mind when you hear statistics about how many people still farm. Keep this in mind when someone tells you that some bill or some tax is going to be ôgood for farmersö.
When people ask me what I do, I either say ôI am a farmerö, or ôI homesteadö, and the difference in the responses I receive is notable. When I say, ôI am a farmerö, almost inevitably the next question asked is, ôOh. What do you farm?ö You see, the money crop system is so endemic and widespread, that people have trouble conceiving of what the word ôfarmerö really means historically. When they say ôWhat do you farmö, they mean, ôWhat is your money crop? What is your Business?ö When I say, ôI homesteadö, there usually is not any answer at all. Usually there is just a slight nodding of the head and a quizzical look, because ôI homesteadö is an answer that does not compute with most people. Colonization has taken its toll, and the mind no longer has a real concept of the sustenance farmer who works with his hands and raises most of the things that he needs from the land. That concept is an old, faded dream, or a picture postcard from some bygone time. Maybe such a farm would be a nice place to visit, but reallyà who would want to live there?
But what does all of this have to do with you buying land? This lesson is designed to give you a historical concept of what land is, and how our understanding of land has changed. Make sure you study the four myths given at the beginning of this chapter, and really ruminate and pray on what it is you actually want to do. It is always a mistake to jump into some new philosophy or way of life without knowing any history. Always remember that history is a lamp by which we may guide our feet.
Off Off-Grid Living – Life on the Land
Land. Mark Twain said, Buy it if you can because they aren’t making any more of it. There have been, it seems, in history, as many philosophies about land as there have been philosophers. Philosophers, even the good ones, are just zealots with ideas. Some ideas are really good, and some are really bad, but all ideas are founded on some philosophy. One of the problems with philosophies is that they often get codified into law by brute force without any real reason (Biblical or otherwise) behind them. At first a new philosophy may be questioned and debated, but, as time passes and people become totally trained in that philosophy, it may become an erroneous or unreasonable maxim. Unreasonable maxims become walls in our thinking, guiding us to conclusions that may be just as unreasonable as the philosophy that brought us there in the first place. This is why we say that the mind of modern man is ôcolonizedö, which means he has accepted things as truths that are not truths at all, but are just learned behaviors – patterns and trails of thinking – that have become ruts out of which man cannot free himself.
Most people believe certain things merely because their whole lives everyone around them has believed those things. People accept things the way they are mainly because they have never experienced, or been exposed to, any other way. Unhappily, when I speak to people about land it is difficult to get them to think clearly on the subject, because their thinking is based on a lifetime of accepting as truth what was once just the philosophy or crazy idea pushed by an eager zealot. The modern, industrialized mind cannot even begin to consider that, for literally thousands of years, the idea of being caged into a poorly built crackerbox house on a ╝ acre lot would have been laughable as a workable land philosophy. Most modern suburbanites donÆt know of any other way of living, because it is all they have ever known. Most of the people who first start studying history are shocked when they learn that, only 150 years ago, owning ôforty acres and a muleö was considered a bare minimum for sustenance farming. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave 160 acres of land to each person or family who could claim them, provided they stayed and worked the land for at least five years. By contrast, today, television commercials show excited, smiling couples, hugging one another in joyful bliss, ecstatic because they have entered into a thirty year mortgage contract to purchase a shoddily built, but gilded and trimmed, crackerbox house on ╝ acre of land. The voice over says, ôYou always dreamed of owning your own home…ö.
In order to properly think about land in our Agrarian journey to an off-grid life, we have to be willing to consider things we have never before considered. Land has to be central to our thinking and our philosophy, but land cannot become an idol, or we will surely fail in our Agrarian pursuit. Land is a means through which we can obey God, provide for our own, evangelize our families (first, and then others), build community, obey the commandments of God, and glorify Him in the work He has given us to do.
Land, like any other means, needs to be put in its proper place in our thinking. For too many people, land is the beginning and the ending of their off-grid planning, and they are crippled because they havenÆt ever examined any of their fundamental presuppositions or foundations concerning just where and how they want to live. This mentality can manifest itself in a few different and interesting ways:
1. Too many people are married to a place or a region, without any real identifiable reasons why. Just like a man who has a favorite sports team, even though he might have no real tie to that team at all, people grow fond of where they are, and they act like they are planted their like trees. In fact, one of the most popular (but stupid and untrue) statements I hear is ôGrow where you are planted.ö Well folks, we are people and not trees. We have legs and not roots. There is nothing wrong with being loyal to land and region if the reasons behind the loyalty are logical, reasonable, and/or Biblical. But, most of the people I talk to have a strange and unreasonable loyalty to an area or region and they cannot even begin to offer a logical and reasonable apologetic for their decision process. Unless you already own your land and are determined and committed to make homesteading work where you already are, there is no reason to default to one particular area over another without well thought-out reasons for your decisions.
2. If you do not already own your homesteading land, then please take the time to consider the ônon-physicalö or spiritual ramifications of what you are doing. I know too many people who have land and resources, but no fellowship or communion. I cannot imagine ever again living my life outside of true community. Fellowship is too important to us to sacrifice it for our own self-preservation and carnal success. I said recently that I would rather live in a desert with friends and brothers, than in a carnal ôparadiseö without any fellowship or community.
3. Please do everything you can to defeat and destroy any concept you have of ôThe perfect homesteadö. Too often we idealize the Agrarian life until it becomes a wall we cannot scale or a picture postcard we will never realize. I have heard people wistfully describing the land they are looking for with dreamy eyes cast back into their heads. After their breathless description of rural bliss, I will say, ôI have seen just the land you are describing… it is in a picture hanging on the wall in a restaurant in townö. Life is not a postcard. If you are expecting to find the perfect little homestead with a year-round brook flowing through it, and a pond with geese, and a perfectly green pasture with the perfect red barn… etc…. etc… then you will inevitably fail, because the homestead you look for will either a) cost you a million bucks, or b) never live up to the dream you have concocted in your mind. You will most likely start with empty or overgrown land and you will most likely have to build your utopia there. Agrarianism is coming to love the land God gives us, and to till it and work it according to our needs and the directions given by God. We build homesteads, we cannot afford to buy them.
Basically, this first part is an exercise in destroying myths and fantasies. When most people start on their journey, they have unreal expectations, and their dreams and visions are based on false presuppositions and faulty or unreasonable assumptions. Unhappily, people forget or leave out some really important things when they begin their quest for land, and they include some fantasies or myths that need to be dashed on the rocks. We need to have a realistic view of our land needs and desires, and we need to have at least some historical context through which we can view our situation.
Land is highly valued by Christian and Secularist alike, and will be tough to acquire in quantities enough to serve us as homesteads. If it were not tough, we would not value it highly enough. Acquiring land, if that is your goal, will take some creative thinking; unless you are just rich enough to plunk down a sizable wad of cash on the perfect homestead. Good for you if you are, but most of us are just not in that situation.
In order to procure land in the world today, we must be willing to pray hard, work hard, and think hard. If the solution is just ôplunk down the money and buy the landö, you may never have money enough to pull the trigger. The longer you work in the system, prices are going up and expenses are increasing. Your target is always going to be moving. I donÆt know how many people out there are working hard in the current consumer system, in order (they say) to get out of it; but, in my experience, I have met very few who have really thought out their plans, and I have met even fewer who are not still operating by some flawed presuppositions.
You need to be creative, and to think in ways you are not accustomed to thinking. There was a reason that millions of men and women became indentured servants only a few short centuries ago. They were willing to work as near slaves for 5-10 years in order to become landholders someday, if the Lord did will it. Today, few people are even willing to consider such a thing, and our society has trained them to rebel against any concept at all of servitude. Ironically, the same people who are brainwashed into rejecting out of hand any concept of servitude, remain slaves to a debilitating commercialized money economy, having their souls sucked out at their ôjobsö each and every day, just because they cannot think outside of what they already know. In effect they say, ôI will not be a servant!ö and they are too deaf to hear their exclamations drowned out by the rattle of their chains.
If we are to succeed in this revolutionary plan, we have to be willing to try new things, and to think extraordinary thoughts. Our ticket to land ownership may be out there right now – we just havenÆt thought of it yet.
How Many Acres Do I Need?
This ought to be one of the first questions you ask yourself. How many acres do YOU need? There is no ôone-size-fits-allö answer to this question. Historically, there were different kinds, and therefore different sizes, of farms. For most of pre-industrial history, forty acres has been generally accepted as the most acres a man could work with just his family and a mule, ox, or horses for plowing. I was shocked to learn that, on a common forty acre farm, only five or six acres were tilled and worked for growing crops. Most of the rest of the forty acres was used for housing, barns, other structures, and the balance was for pasture. I was very surprised to learn that so few acres were actually in tillage. But, when I studied deeper, it made sense. Most early farmers were not growing large amounts of ômoney cropsö; and a man and a mule would have their hands full plowing five or six acres in a day; so those five acres would be intensively farmed and cared for. The rest of the land was generally maintained in pasture for the animals. Later, with the advent of the cash crop and industrial farming methods, larger farms became more commonplace. In my opinion, except for those who are ranching or running cattle in arid areas (where more acres are needed), most families will find anything over forty acres to be superfluous and unnecessary.
But do you need forty acres? Absolutely not. I have read of people who are successfully homesteading on as few as two acres, and there are a whole lot of people out there who are very successful with as few as five acres. With intensive gardening and crop rotating techniques, it is very possible (and maybe even preferable) to maintain a micro-homestead.
As I have said, there is no single answer to the question ôhow many acresö that will be satisfactory for everyone. In my family, we are trying to model our homestead, as much as is possible, on the successful forty acre homesteads of the last several centuries; but there are others in our community who are very satisfied with less land. I am absolutely certain that it is possible to provide almost all of the food that a normal sized family can eat, off of only a few acres. The answer to How many acres do I need, is a fluid one, and the answer can change wildly depending on how we answer some pretty important questions.: What kinds of animals are we going to own, and how many? What type of growing philosophy are we going to adopt? Are we going to be row-croppers or intensive gardeners? Are we going to feed our animals with hay? With bagged feed? With root crops? Are we going to keep full-sized animals, or miniatures? Do we intend to harvest from the wild, or is most of our food going to come from gardens and from domesticated animals? Are we going to need a woodlot, or are there other natural resources we can tap? Are you going to be a lone-ranger, or are you going to live in a community, where you can specialize a little more, and then barter and trade for other needful things. All of these questions will have a bearing on how much land you want or need. So you can see, having a plan is critical to our homesteading survival.
It is certain that there is plenty to think about! Maybe it is time for a walk in the country to clear your head? In the next Chapter, we’ll look at some land ideas, and I’ll offer some real-world examples as well.
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