4 Tips for Building Your Own Church

Church

Maybe you want to bring religion to an isolated neighborhood. Maybe you just need a new facility to house your growing congregation. Whatever your reasons for building your own church, here are just four ways to raise a new roof for the Lord.

1. Get the Community Involved

Most of your flock will be more than happy to contribute to the building of a new church. Whether it’s hauling timber, laying tile, carving crosses or just hosting bake sale fundraisers, let them know how they can help. They might even have a few ideas of their own! The more that the community is involved with the construction process, the more likely that they’ll come visit once the construction is complete.

2. Budget Everything Carefully

Speaking of fundraisers and construction projects, you should know in advance that it won’t be cheap to build your own church. You’ll need to make a budget and stick with it. Talk to local contractors and ask them for quotes, estimates and general pricing guides; this will give you a starting point for creating a financial plan. If need be, you can always put off the actual building while you spend a few months raising the necessary capital.

3. Have A Vision

What do you want your church to look like? What kind of worship do you plan on leading, hosting or encouraging? If you’re thinking of old-school pews and alters, you might look into traditional Catholic church architecture; if you’re a modern kind of pastor, you might want a building that’s wired for video recording and satellite worship.

4. Plan for Growth

Always leave a few empty rows in the back of the room. You never know when your congregation will expand, and the last thing that you’ll want to do is turn away visitors because your building can’t accommodate them. You should also keep in mind that a long-term church will eventually house the kids and grandkids of current worshipers, so having enough room for everyone is essential!

These are just a few things to consider if you’re thinking about the creation of a brand-new church building. Don’t let yourself get too stressed, however. At the end of the day, the Bible can be taught in shacks and hovels as long as it’s being spread with an honest heart; a church is just a luxury. God bless your efforts!

Celebrity After dinner speakers: A great inclusion to corporate events

celebrity event

A popular way of jazzing up an otherwise regular corporate or charity event is the inclusion of after dinner speakers. If you still aren’t aware of who they are, you might as well want to educate yourself about the same and make sure that the next event organized by you is more special than what you had done earlier or have been doing so far.

Who are celebrity after dinner speakers? Why do you need to know about them?

Let us tell you that Celebrity After dinner speakers are slowly emerging as permanent fixtures in business and charity events and there are more than one reasons for the same. In fact, it would be wrong to claim that they are just a mere addition to these events. Rather they make for the highlight of the shows and are primarily responsible for making the event memorable for the attendees. The inclusion of celebrity speakers might get more people to your event at the first place. Take the example of TV presenters or journalists who not only have a large number of fans but have fascinating insights to share as well. What more? Sagacious speakers are even known to conduct research on the nature of your event and tailor their speech in accordance.

Finding the best in town

If you are looking forward to engaging your corporate attendees at an event you may rope in a corporate speaker with years of experience as an entrepreneur. In short, it is important to be discreet with your choice of the speaker who you would like to rope in for the event. The first consideration you should make is the background of the speaker himself. For instance, a motivational speaker or a comedian might as well be a great choice for a charity event. On the other hand, a corporate honcho (who’s also a speaker) is a perfect choice for a corporate event.

It is important to remember that the famous speakers remain busy throughout the year and you cannot really bank on last-minute calls and invites to get them on board. Make sure you’re booking months in advance. They are reputed speakers and spell out high fees for their services. Make sure you’re keeping this particular point in mind as well.

Getting a reputed after dinner speaker for your event can turn out to be a rewarding experience- not only for you but your attendees as well. However, in order to ensure success you need to carry out your plans in accordance. Carrying out substantial groundwork can always help you in your search. If you want your event to be a success, then start preparing for it at least six or seven months ahead- the earlier the better. Since you would want the most captivating of the speakers to be a part of your event you should conduct a background research of several speakers out there before zeroing in on a choice. Hope these tips will guide you in your search for the best after dinner speaker in town.

Desperate for Fossil Fuels: King Coal

Now Destroying Mountains Once Merely Raped

Patriot Coal,I spent a lot of time in Eastern Kentucky growing up, it’s where my paternal grandparents, Aunt and cousins lived and where we spent vacations no matter where else in the country (or elsewhere) we were living at the time (Navy brat). I’ve no more relatives there, the last of them died a decade ago and none of us siblings chose to live there for raising our own families or even retiring in our old age.

I do recall several very nasty UMW strikes in the mining region around Harlan, and I recall the black moonscape on the Green River near Paducah’s western shipping point that stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions, the coal tailings having turned a lovely rolling greenscape into utterly depressing nothing. I also recall learning to shoot my father’s beautiful pearl-handled six-guns at the abandoned strip mine near Laurel, and one touristy adventure in a no longer operating underground mine where we rode through in one of those little coal rail cars as if it were an amusement park ride.

These days they do things a little differently, as the deep seams get harder to work (and miners become more rare, having been decimated by Black Lung) and the easy seams have all been stripped. Now they’re going for the mid-seams, the last of the stored coal, by simply blowing up the entire mountain to get to it.

It’s called Mountaintop Removal mining, and it’s utterly devastating the southern Appalachians in the traditional coal mining regions of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. It’s a horror even worse than Mister Peabody’s tailings outside Paducah. It’s destroyed ~500 whole mountains so far, it’s polluting mountain streams that contribute to the primary water supplies for millions of people downstream, and it’s killing the abundant biodiversity these mountains are so very famous for. Most of all, for those of us who dearly love these gorgeous mountains, it’s very, very tragic. Some of the mines are as big as the Island of Manhattan.

map

When growing up with strong ties to Kentucky, I learned from my Aunt – a state social worker – that King Coal was an “economic boom” to the people who traditionally made their means by doing things for themselves with what the mountains provided. Yet what I saw was crushing poverty, Black Lung, and a hopeless generation of young people who couldn’t wait to get as far away from their family’s traditional homesteads as possible. It’s not like the miners and their families got any of the great wealth King Coal brought to the mining companies, their stockholders and the industrial consumers of the coal taken out of their ground.

When my family determined to move back to the land 16 years ago to see if we could re-invent self-sufficiency and commune with nature instead of a million-plus other humans in immediate proximity, we chose Western North Carolina instead of Kentucky. Or Tennessee. Or West Virginia, or even Virginia (the most perfectly beautiful and well-maintained state in the union, IMO). We chose it for being Appalachia and beautiful (tourism is our largest industry), for more sophisticated residents and politics, for then-reasonable land prices, and for not being enslaved to King Coal.

movementBut alas, this is the land of Duke Energy, and a thriving piedmont and coast full of large energy consumers. Turns out that North Carolina is the #1 consumer of coal mined by means of Mountaintop Removal. Thus I was greatly pleased when the NC State Legislature introduced a bill in May of 2008 to ban the use of coal mined by this method within the borders of our beautiful state!

There will be a lengthy legislative fight over the bill, but hope in the very fact that we did get a law back in 1983 banning development on high ridge lines – thereby destroying the mountain views from which a majority of residents make their living. Because the mountains are a gold mine simply for their beauty, there is strong incentive to keep them beautiful.

I realize that many or most of my readers don’t live in these mountains, but any of us who love the land and work hard to make our way lightly on this earth should get to know about how desperate the corporate evil-doers are to squeeze (and blast) the very last drop of profit from the earth, not caring how much irrevocable damage they do to it in the process. Educate yourself about the issue by perusing some of the great links below. Write to your state and federal representatives about your concerns, talk to activists about how to ban the burning of this ill-gotten coal in your state, and support some of these efforts to save the mountains. Please!

If there is no market for this coal, King Coal has no reason to destroy the mountains.

Links:

WattHead: Taking Mountain Top Removal On
Appalachian Voices: Geography of Mountaintop Removal
iLoveMountains: Mountaintop Removal
DKos: Mountain Mondays v 1.0
RAN: Bringing the Climate Fight to King Coal
Southern Environmental Law Center: Mountaintop Removal [TN]
NYT: Ravaging Appalachia
Stop Mountaintop Removal

Corporate Food & Human Backlash

Honey Laundering

The current collapse of the world financial system has revealed some structural problems in our national economy that have flourished over a period of decades as corporate interests bought politicians and lobbyists to craft legislation to remove legal roadblocks to mass theft and market manipulation. And despite some changes in the D.C. political landscape, our government remains apparently helpless to do anything about corporate malfeasance on any level. With all the bad economic news dominating the public consciousness, some issues in the food supply sector are having a difficult time being properly correlated and attended to despite the serious level of danger they present to public health.

The food supply issues didn’t begin with the market manipulations on Wall Street and from there to exchanges all over the world. Though for many people the first alarms went off as the CDS fraud crashed the economy in 2008 and the financial players went looking for other markets to wreak havoc on. They seized on commodities – staple foods from the agricultural sector increasingly dominated by multinational corporations like Monsanto, ADM and Cargill. As a traceable beginning in 2008 to what this year became the “Arab Spring” movement across North Africa and spreading to the Middle East and southern Asia, food riots broke out in Egypt and Syria and portions of India as well as elsewhere when people could no longer afford to feed themselves and their families. Things have only gotten worse in the years since, and Americans are slowly waking up.

In 2011 a full quarter of the U.S. population are dependent on food stamps. As unemployment keeps on rising, the government strangely keeps slashing the food stamp budget to appease nutty Republican radicals who insist those hardest hit by the Great Recession are just “lazy” and undeserving of aid that might require corporations and billionaires to pay taxes. Why one of the political parties in our nation believes that Americans will quietly and without complaint starve to death in the streets in order to protect billionaires from paying as much of their income in taxes as their chauffeur does has never been explained by the financial sector’s pundits at the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Major cognitive disconnect.

But serious food supply issues encompass much more than just market manipulation and governmental paralysis. Consider some of these issues while attempting to get a picture of how dire the overall situation is…

Honey Laundering: China’s at it again – Adulterating pet and human foods with melamine wasn’t bad enough – though one corporate scapegoat was executed by the Chinese government hoping to save its place as cheap ingredients supplier to the world – the latest food scam involves honey. Not just fake honey in those little bee-shaped plastic bottles, Chinese honey brokers are creating honey by mixing sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn/rice syrup, barley malt and a variety of unrefined sugars. Failure to police storage requirements has resulted in heavy metal contamination as well, primarily lead.

If you’ve been thinking about beekeeping for honey (and handy pollinators), this is the year to get busy on it. Extension services in many rural counties offer literature, evening classes, and instructions on building hives. Agents often know who in the area builds hives for sale, and aren’t shy of giving out that information. Many people who are trying hard to eat better and healthier are being taken in by the Chinese honey scam, and big food processors using that fake honey in their supposedly ‘natural’ food lines are risking their markets. Grow your own honey or buy locally from someone honest.

Time to re-engineer the meatpacking sector – Late July brought the second largest tainted meat recall so far, when Cargill’s meat packing division recalled ~36 million pounds of ground turkey products tainted with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella. The biggest recall was in 2008, when a slaughterhouse in California recalled 143 million pounds of beef due to allowing downer cows into the mix. The dangers to public health from e.coli, salmonella, listeria and other bacteria, and from adulterants and contaminates are high, yet our government doesn’t give the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] the power to force food recalls. Companies have to do this voluntarily, and they don’t often volunteer until people start dying and CDC tracks the source down.

If your family eats meat, now is the time to seriously consider raising your own or contracting with a neighbor who raises meat animals. A side of beef from a calf pastured for a year, dressed whole chickens raised happily free range, maybe rabbit stew meat, a slab of locally smoked bacon and/or ham… buying from known sources or doing it yourself could easily save your family’s lives. The more that control of our commercial food supply gets concentrated into the greedy hands of a few, the more danger is present overall. Avoid it like the plague it truly is.

The Nation has a good article looking at How change is going to come in the food system despite united resistance of the big corporate players to cater to public demands for better, less adulterated and far less fattening foods. There is a lot of good information in this article’s analysis to arm yourself with when next you try arguing with a friend, relative or acquaintance about the importance of healthy food and the severe shortage of it in our commercial food supply.

And finally, the good news. The New York Times informs us that vegetable gardens are booming in a fallow economy. We homesteaders have of course known this all along – and have done more than our share to get more people digging and grow the local markets – but we should always welcome mainstream coverage that helps to spread awareness. Recent movement in many states to allow the use of food stamps at farmer’s markets and bulk purchases straight from farmers are helping more people to get more and better food than they could purchase in the grocery store.

Many localities are also sponsoring seed exchanges through the Lions or Ruritan, sometimes through local Chambers of Commerce, 4-H and FFA clubs at high schools. These have committees in charge of getting open-pollinated seeds from local gardeners and farmers, packaging them, and then distributing them free in the late winter and early spring to local residents planning their season’s garden crops. Local schools and civic clubs are offering gardening classes and contacts to suppliers of tool exchanges, equipment like chicken coops and bee hives, and farmers who sell chicks, calves, kids and kits to those wishing to raise their own meat animals. Local butchers are making a comeback, and in many states the Extension Service offers classes all the way up to Master Gardening certification. So get busy, and get your neighbors busy making best use of all these developing local alternatives to Big Ag and Big Food, Inc. We will be a much happier and healthier nation for it, and probably much smarter as a people for our awareness and direct involvement in this most important aspect of everybody’s lives.

USDA: Sequester Impacts

Sequester_ImpactsWe homesteaders are among the citizens who pay a good deal of attention to the programs and operations of both state and federal agricultural departments because they can directly affect us (for good or ill). We often make use of our state ag departments’ extension services for education in things like beekeeping, land use, community ag promotional programs, etc. And we keep track – often with some trepidation – of the various ways that the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] can make or break our attempts to make our livings off the land and the work we put into it. Under this rubric come permissions and restrictions for selling our produce and other home-grown products to the public, to local and regional government programs, food banks, schools, etc., as well as all those expensive and tiring hoops we must jump through to obtain and keep certifications for organic labeling, etc.

We live on and off the land, and must keep ourselves abreast of the tricks of that trade. In this blog I have expressed some reservations about Tom Vilsack, who was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Obama some years ago, due to his corporate-friendly policies. Particularly in regards to Monsanto’s agri-chem and GMO activities, which are a considerable threat to organic producers. He has also been somewhat less than supportive of local producers being allowed to supply raw and processed foods to local schools and food banks, which we see as an important part of the ‘locavore’ – “Eat Local” movement. Buying and eating foods grown and processed close to home removes one of the most environmentally insidious government-subsidized cost-adds to our food supply – the costs of transporting foods grown in other states, regions and countries from farm to processor, and from processors to market. Almost all of it accomplished by the burning of fossil fuels.

The U.S. government has been operating for some months under what is known as “sequester,” one of those hostage threats Republicans in the U.S. Congress used to try and get their policies enacted despite being unable to win actual elections on the merits of their ideas. This seq uester has cut spending levels across the board fairly drastically, and crippled many government agencies and departments to the point where some of their most important jobs don’t get done. USDA is one of those crippled departments.

For example, the sequester has slashed government subsidies to school districts to help support their school breakfast and lunch programs. At the end of this month (October) schools will have to provide their own funding exclusively, though the government claims they will be reimbursed at some point. If the sequester is ever recinded, and now presuming those same Republican hostage-takers won’t keep the entire government shut down indefinitely while crashing the world’s economy by refusing to pay the bills for appropriations they’ve already allotted from the budget.

Concurrent drastic cuts and cut-offs to both the SNAP (Food Stamps) and WIC food programs are cutting deeply into the ability of families – many of them working full time but earning minimum wage – to put food on the table. With neither school feeding programs or food assistance from the government, a great many people will simply have to do without. We know that doing without food isn’t a particularly healthy way to live, but at least one party in our political system doesn’t think that’s a problem. I presume they and their families eat very well, thanks. We certainly pay them enough for that.

Both SNAP and WIC will run out of funds nationwide by mid-November. Just in time for the holidays! Funding for rental assistance has also been cut, and no new farm/business loans are being processed. Farmers who had previous loans through USDA and have sold this year’s crops can’t get the checks cashed because county offices for the Farm Service Agency are all closed. A freak autumn blizzard in the Dakotas killed thousands of cattle and horses, but the conservation arm of the USDA cannot help to get the dead livestock buried. This is obviously a serious issue for the immediate health and well-being of both rural dwellers and healthy livestock.

From here on, until and unless our government flunkies in Congress wake up and do their too well paid jobs, we are all on our own. Severe weather affecting farmers and ranchers will not be mitigated by the usual government emergency loans and/or mobilization of resources. Families going homeless and hungry through the winter will not be aided, nor will they or their pets or any farmer’s lost livestock get buried when they finally die. Hell, in another [not ag related] outrage of Congressional shananigans, the families of our soldiers dying in Afghanistan and elsewhere are no longer receiving the ‘death benefit’ they are entitled to, so not even our war dead are getting buried if the families don’t have cash on hand.

This situation is obviously untenable and cannot keep going for long, but I see no signs that the radical reactionaries in Congress are willing to do anything whatsoever that might save the nation from absolute ruin. If something doesn’t give very soon, by the time agricultural America gets started planning the spring crops there may be no national government at all and no help for anyone to access adequate food.

There are a few things we can do. First and foremost, call and/or write your congressional representatives and let them know this obstructionism must stop. Now. Let all your friends and family know how important it is that our representatives face harsh pressure on these issues. Get involved with your county and state electoral organizations and help draft decent candidates to challenge die-hards in next year’s elections. Think hard about running yourself if you believe you can do a good job, everyone you know will be thankful.

Get together with your homesteading and farming neighbors and meet with your community aid organizations (like Lions, Kiwanis, 4-H, etc.) to expand community shares programs, community gardens and crop set-asides to go directly to local food distribution services and schools for feeding hungry people. Do as much fund-raising as you can – host events, give public presentations, lobby county and state governments as well as local businesses and corporations – to replace necessary funding for programs to help our communities.

If we go ahead and act as if the federal government is no longer in the business of serving the people, we can make concrete plans to serve each other. Then, when (and if) the dust in Washington settles, we may find ourselves much more committed to each other and much more capable of doing for ourselves. Which, in the end, may be the best lesson the political class in D.C. could ever be taught by ‘We The People’.

Tiny Houses: Part 3 – Cities Developing Tiny Housing

tiny_houseThis blog has examined the new trend toward “micro-housing” in terms of sub-urban and rural settings in the articles Teeny, Tiny Houses in July of 2011, and Tiny Houses: Part 2 in March of 2012. The trend for small, efficiently-designed housing doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon despite a slight bounce-back of the general real estate markets.

Now we are hearing more about big cities either looking into developing “micro-housing units” convenient to downtown workplaces and shopping, at reasonable prices (and rental prices) for young workers, middle income singles and couples without children, and segments of the elderly population.

The Christian Science Monitor for September 25th asks, “Could you live in 150 square feet? Cities try out micro-housing.” They report that San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York have begun trials of ever-smaller ‘efficiency’ apartments – dubbed micro-housing – in the hearts of their metro areas. For those who would eschew living as Bruce Willis’ character in the movie The Fifth Element, the very thought of living in a single room is uncomfortable. For many singles, childless couples and young people coming out of college (where they’ve lived in a dorm room for awhile), living small in the midst of the city doesn’t sound so bad.

Think about it. If you work 8-10 hours a day (sometimes more), what do you really need from ‘home’ apart from some privacy, a kitchenette to store and prep the few meals that aren’t eaten out, a suitable bathroom, a TV chair, a place to do any take-home work they’ve got, and a comfy bed to sleep in?

There is a notorious lack of affordable housing in urban, downtown areas all over the country, and despite the recent economic collapse, the costs aren’t going down. The Japanese have long been pioneers in living in small spaces, but how many Westerners would be happy in 250 square feet or less? New York designer/architect Alexander Gendell, whose company Foliture specializes in fold-away furniture for tight spaces (think Murphy Bed), told CSM…

Low quality of life does not have to go hand in hand with limited living space, he says. He points to Tokyo, where the Japanese have figured out how to make every inch of living space count, he says. “It’s entirely possible to live well in 200 square feet of living space,” he says, as long as every function has been well thought out.

“We are certainly not the first ones to deal with this issue,” Mr. Gendell says with a laugh. “We are blessed in this country with more living space,” he says, but many other nations have proved that it is entirely possible to live in a more concentrated living environment – one that would be better for the planet.

Chicago has built thousands of downtown dorm units in high-density buildings in recent decades, for the income-challenged and homeless population. As housing prices in cities begin to rise again, these small units will become increasingly popular. Moreover, I’d be willing to suggest that as “living small” becomes a somewhat normal thing in cities, the suburban and rural movement toward tiny houses will also benefit. Even stay-at-home homesteaders tend to spend more time outside than in as we work toward our idyllic self-sufficient dreams, many of us are nearing retirement age and the children are on their own. The whole “Tread Lightly On The Earth” philosophy has merits that perhaps in coming years our city cousins can learn to appreciate as much as we do. They’ll need outdoor activities to occupy their time too, so perhaps we can expect a boom in rooftop community gardens as this micro-housing trend takes off.

City homesteading can be ‘a thing’ too!

Fire on the Mountain …Again

 smoky haze
The slight smoky haze that first alerted us to the fire.

I kind of knew that three whole springs without a forest fire along the Norfolk-Southern’s grade over the continental divide was pushing things. Hoped maybe their relatively new-found practice of carefully checking their brake connections BEFORE heading uphill into the ‘loops’ might become a habit. It’s been raining pretty steady, and yesterday it snowed. Not more than an inch, though, and that was melted by noon.

Fire_on_the_Mountain2It’s that period of early spring when the wind has been blowing and the greenery hasn’t made its appearance yet but the sap is running, when molten-hot metal from what passes for brake pads on train cars can find some handy tinder and quickly set the dry leaves ablaze. It can actually be good for the forest – the older, established trees can take a bit of bark-char, and the ashes help balance out the acidity of red clay soil. Trick is to not let them get out of hand. Back when they were clear-cutting these mountains and carrying out the logs by steam trains, the fires got so hot they sterilized the soil to more than a foot underground. As abundant as these mountains are, it took decades to recover.

Fire_on_the_Mountain3Grandson noticed the smoky haze in the late afternoon, shortly before the spotter plane arrived to circle overhead and let us know the fire was just over the tracks along the back side of the property. We hiked on around the ridge to see what was what, found Old Fort’s Finest [VFD] already on the tracks and in the woods, on the job. In years past they’ve staged from our place, since we have direct access to the forest, and I always like them parking that nifty tanker truck right next to the cabin for the duration. Heck, I’ll make coffee for them all night long if they make sure my house doesn’t burn! But this one didn’t start on our side of the tracks or jump them, so we were in no serious danger and they used the scout camp access road instead.

The first bladder-chopper showed up about 6 pm, the second about half an hour later. Our fat white ducks Gladys and Amelia definitely didn’t like these fat, yellow, low-flying and incredibly noisy things one little bit. They quickly stashed themselves underneath the back deck to be invisible to these very strange raptors, and complained incessantly every time we got buzzed on their way from the lake at Camp Greer to the fire line. It was on the private hunting land immediately north of us and encompassing some acres of state game land just to the west, but didn’t get as far as the National Forest boundary on the other side of the northwestern cove. It was moving steadily east along the cove ridge, toward the railroad wall.

fire-on-the-roadsideOf course I sent hub out to take pictures, being as he is a professional photographer and all. This one – which I particularly like – was taken with the camera resting on the rail as the wall heads into the ridge cut. Our property is on the left side of those tracks, so we do have some appreciation for the sheer height and width of the rock rail bed that forms the wall. It takes a darned hot fire and a really stiff wind to jump that firebreak!

As darkness began to fall the 50 or so firefighters on the line sent out for coffee and take-out dinners, catered by the railroad watchers in their nifty track-truck. The fire was halfway up to the top of the ridge by the time the spotter and helicopters had to shut down for the night, so they didn’t bring the fire train usually kept in the rail yard in town. Nice multi-hose pumper contraption on a flat car between two tankers – one with water, the other with chemical retardant. The scheduler was getting antsy by the time the truck made it back to the line with food and drinks, kept calling to find out when they could start moving trains again. It was kind of humorous, since the fire by then had crept back down the mountainside and caused the firefighters to have to scramble straight up the loose rocks of the wall to get out of its way. Below is a shot of that bit of temporary excitement, from the 5th ‘hole’ of our disc golf course, called “High Springs” because 1) it’s a high point on the property, and 2) someone many years before us left a metal bedspring up there that a tree now nearly 3 feet in circumference grew in the middle of.

Fire_on_the_Mountain

It definitely looks exciting, but as usual it was mostly leaf and deadfall that burned. This morning there wasn’t even any smoke left, and by this time next month the forest floor will be even more thickly covered with greenery than it was before. Minus a few of the smaller saplings, which need to be thinned occasionally anyway, and maybe now that the leaves are ash we won’t get any further fires that close this year. We’re hoping, at any rate!

Senate Passes Outrageous New Farm Bill

New_Farm_BillYep. As of this writing, February 4, 2014, the U.S. Senate has passed a new Farm Bill that has gone way out of its way to exclude any real farmers as well as more than two million people who rely on food stamps to eat, and channels all the supposedly ‘saved’ money back to Big Agribiz as crop insurance rather than crop subsidies. As you can see clearly on the chart over there on the left, no money is actually “saved.” All these new non-subsidy subsidies and millions of hungrier Americans will cost us all 58% MORE over the next 10 years.

The cuts to SNAP benefits (food stamps) in the bill are $8.7 billion over ten years (about 1% of the entire program). It also repeals $4.5 billion in annual direct cash payments based on acreage – planted or not – and put that money into subsidized crop insurance that benefits the big players. The Environmental Working Group estimates that just 10,000 policyholders receive over $100,000 per year in subsidies for the insurance (some over a million dollars), while 80% of the rest of the nation’s farmers will receive a mere $5,000.

Another program that will suffer under this new bill is Price Loss Coverage, where farmers are guaranteed a baseline price for 14 crops if the prices dip below a certain level when it comes time to sell. The raises the floor price, guaranteeing that the bigger players will receive more no matter how much of a glut there may be in the market. Another part of the bill will cover ‘shallow’ losses not covered under crop insurance deductibles, thereby ensuring full coverage for any crop losses suffered.

Moving away from direct payments and toward indirect insurance subsidies is an example of what author Suzanne Mettler calls “the submerged state.” So many federal social programs lurk underneath the surface that the public cannot get a good handle on who benefits from government largesse. “Appearing to emanate from the private [insurance] sector, such policies obscure the role of government and exaggerage that of the market,” Mettler says. And the vast majority of these programs benefit the wealthy, refuting the conceit that the rich boldly succeed without a government safety net protecting them

The bill is also cleverly crafted to ‘lock-in’ an overall rise in commodity prices that will be paid for by the taxpayers on April 15th and at the grocery checkout line. The disconnected political class probably thinks they’ve brilliantly crafted yet another shift of costs onto the middle and working classes in this country, while at the same time reducing government aid to the working poor, disabled, retired, and very poor so that they can pay more for food too. Just never forget, There Is No Inflation (our government tells us regularly). And since they refuse to count the costs of food, clothing, shelter or transportation, it works out great on their balance sheets.

But not to worry, some say, because all those “food insecure” children who can’t get enough to eat at home get all those free lunches at school, right? And sometimes breakfast, though many state legislatures are trying to impose severe budgetary limitations on that sort of thing as well. And then there’s the kids of working people who don’t qualify for free school meals, but who have trouble paying for them anyway. Why, just last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, 40 students at Uintah Elementary School had their lunches taken away from them after they’d sat down to eat, and promptly thrown in the trash. That’ll teach ‘em!

Honestly, it looks like the more the ‘haves’ in this country have, the less they want the ‘have nots’ to have. It’s a mean, mean climate out there, about which most of us can only shake our heads in despair. Still, things like this just make it more imperative that we homesteaders and small farmers and other independence-oriented folks make efforts to reach out to each other and our broader communities, work together to ensure the well-being of all even in our limited environs. Please check out some of the posts linked below about the political maneuvering, and about ways to help deal with hunger in your community…

Informative Links:

“Peak Food”?
Politicians Harming Americans. Again.
Hunger in the Heartland
Feeding The Hungry [3-parts, linked]

Old Crafts as New Careers

Old_Crafts_as_New_Careers

I recently met a wise 70 year old man from my hometowm who raises Oxen. He also builds log cabins… using no modern technology. To say that I was impressed is an understatement.

On a cold day recently we sat next to a fire in one of the log cabins on his property. The fireplace was made of stone. Each stone had been collected from the creek bed down the side of the mountain. He even told me about the large, sweeping headstone that ran across the top front of the fireplace. He said he spent months looking for the perfect stone and had almost given up hope when he was hiking the creek and it just popped out of him. If you saw this stone, you’d say it was a miracle. It is one continuous piece of long rock, with one flat side and one curved side that seems like it was made to fit this function.

The reason I tell this story is to make a point. Human beings receive a great deal of joy from working with their hands. From making things. From producing things. But many of the jobs in today’s economy leave people feeling dispirited and hopeless. They do not foster creativity or joy.

As I look to raise and shape my boys, I hope to encourage them to pursue a job not primarily for the money, but for the joy of learning a craft and making something wonderful. I want my boys to be able to look at their handiwork and feel a sense of pride.

Whether it’s being a farmer or being a gunsmith or a log cabin builder, the key is to find the right balance between effort and reward while minimizing stress. I believe that working the land or building something physical offers the greatest intangible rewards – but you do have to pay the bills too.