Time Constraints Force a Reevaluation of My Priorities and Methods

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Nearly completed greenhouse.

Farming has taken on a new seriousness for me, so I have violated my initial principle of doing everything on the cheap. This last summer, for example, I bought a 17′ x 28′ greenhouse. I did get it used, of course, for about 1/3 its new price, and at a third less than the seller was originally asking. Still, by the time I erected and covered it, I spent $1500.

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Using the Earthway to seed the greenhouse.

I’ve made a number of smaller purchases, too, that I would not have done in the first couple years, that make it faster and easier to plant and harvest, such as an Earthway seeder and a heavy duty rototiller. I also replaced the rather flexible electric fence T-posts with the galvanized iron pipe posts used for chain link fencing. They allow for a more stable electric fence system.

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My new rototiller.

The rototiller signals another change. Initially, I intended to do everything by hand. That’s no longer the case. I’m glad for the initial focus, because now I know what I can do by hand. If it comes to it, I know how much I can do by myself, and how much to expect if I have additional hands. But it takes a comparatively long time to prepare the ground by hand, compared to using a good rototiller, and I want to prepare a lot more ground.

My garden infrastructure needs to mature quickly. I expect next summer to be about the end of the grace period we’ve been living in – a grace period caused by the government’s manipulation of our currency to keep the official inflation rate around zero. Of course, any of us who know how economics really works, and who have noticed the reduced quantities being sold in cookie and cereal boxes, know that the purchasing power of the dollar is declining steadily.

Meanwhile,the job market continues to be stagnant, and the real unemployment rate (if you don’t exclude people who drop out of the labor force not because they don’t need to earn money but because they are too discouraged to keep looking for work) is around 12% according to the most conservative estimates. (Some estimates put it at closer to 18%; in the Great Depression, the unemployed reached only about one quarter of the working age population.)

Today, we learn that the Chinese yuan has replaced the euro as the second most-used currency for international financial settlement, behind the U.S. dollar. China has been working for years to replace the dollar with either the yuan or a basket of international currencies for international trade settlement. They are getting close, and that spells more trouble for us.

It is the essential role of the dollar in international exchange settlement that has allowed us to print so many baseless dollars without  incurring  the problems other countries (like Greece) have had when their deficit spending catches up. Now that our currency is finally being replaced, other nations will not feel the need to either hold dollars or prop the dollar up by buying the excess our Treasury is dumping onto the world market. In fact, we should expect other nations to start dumping their dollars onto the market, which will further reduce the purchasing power of each dollar. That is inflation, and that is what will bite us. Soon.

We also learn today that the United States is no longer considered an essential market in the strategy of other nations to sustain their productivity. That’s a big change; for generations we have been the preferred trading partner for most nations because our own economic power made us the major consumer of goods. The word today is that we are no longer necessary.

We are also no longer a significant producer. We have outsourced so much of our production that we don’t make many of the products we consider essential to our own lifestyle. That means we don’t create real value; value creation comes about by taking something of low value – such as iron ore – and turning it into something of higher value – such as an engine block. Because we don’t create things of real value, we are at a disadvantage when it comes to trading goods with other nations. In that way, too, we are no longer essential to the world’s economic life.

Plus, if we depend upon importing important products, but our dollar is worth less and less due to overprinting, the cost of those products is going to soar beyond the reach of many, if not most, people, and we are going to experience shortages.

The big, unasked question is: if we are not needed by the world economy to produce goods, or to consume goods, and if our dollar is no longer necessary to international trade, but we’ve printed far more than our productivity can justify, reducing our purchasing power, then what are we going to contribute to the world economy? What is going to be the foundation of our future wealth? What is going to keep us solvent?

This year I tripled the area I have under cultivation. It’s still not large; about 2700 square feet. Next summer, I want to plant separate corn and potato fields, and possibly a separate bean field.

Next summer I also plan to build a barn-like shed that will include tool and equipment storage, a chicken coop for 8 birds, and a refrigerated cold room. The refrigeration is to help me harvest, cool, and store produce all through the week, for sale at weekly farmers’ markets – because I want to increase my ability to earn from the garden’s productivity.

Another change: I will have areas of the garden devoted to seed production. My intention is to be supplying my own seeds so I am no longer dependent upon commercial suppliers. And I want to explore crops that are unusual in Vermont, such as upland rice, perennial rye, and Spanish peanuts. These are already being grown in Vermont, but barely.

Overall, my emphasis will be on heritage and heirloom produce. I love seeking out Vermont-hardy and Vermont-bred vegetables and grains, and I want to perpetuate open-pollinated varieties that have lineage back to the time before commercial interests started hybridizing and lab-modifying food. I think the oldest varieties of any given vegetable will prove to be the most hardy in difficult times, when commercial herbicides, pesticides, and soil amendments are hard to come by. And if that time never comes, they will still be cheaper to grow.

Vegetables and grains that have not been manipulated or bred for the commercial market are also better for the human body. They contain nutrients, vitamins, and trace elements that are not present in many commercial vegetables, legumes and grains. Plus, there are some great varieties that are just not grown for the mass market. I want to explore those and decide what I’m going to specialize in. The right choices will enhance my ability to earn top dollar for what I grow for market.

Because time is short, the need to develop self-sufficiency is growing in urgency. That conviction has impelled me to move more quickly than I have been; and because money compensates for time, I can get further faster by spending more sooner. And so I am.