S2E9: The Verdict, Year 2 of Our Back to the Land Homestead
Last year, I gave the verdict on the lasagna gardening method. This year, I set out to grow enough produce to last us an entire year, and I'll share precise details on crop yields and expenses below. But first, I want to show you how the garden is just one part of what we’re doing here in Midcoast Maine.
As I wrote in 2018, I took a step back from my career as a culinary travel writer to achieve specific back-to-the-land goals. As only video can show, this is what it’s like to step away from a desk and connect with nature. What it doesn’t show is that Maine is greatly free of the billboards and other types of advertising that suffocates the rest of the country, an aesthetic I find abhorrent.
I also achieved goals related to land stewardship, living intentionally, climate change, and privacy. As I talked about in the first video of Season 2, human populations are taking over the last unspoiled regions on earth, and land stewardship—the practice of caring for the health of an ecosystem—is one of the only ways the average person can fight back. We have 10 acres and we have made it our intention to improve the land while sharing it with the other plants and animals that already call it home. For instance, we allow our back field to grow wild all summer to help bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Also, we will never develop our fields and forest into a subdivision, factory, etc.
In terms of reducing our personal impact on climate change, we had solar energy installed. I also installed a woodstove and chimney, and we supplement 40 percent of our winter heat with wood from Maine’s sustainable logging industry. This means, to stay warm, we pay Mainers, not the international oil and natural gas tycoons who are turning the earth into a furnace. Thanks to living the back-to-the-land lifestyle, I have also saved money by doing many jobs myself, such as building a woodshed. In the process, I’ve learned new skills, spent more time with my dad, paid fewer federal taxes by doing it myself and paying less for labor, and enjoyed the overall health benefits that come when you spend time away from a computer desk. With the epic back problems I was facing doing desk work, I believe I never would have healed and my condition would have surely worsened had I not made this radical change.
Privacy is a big one because it is another word for freedom. We cannot see another neighbor, and, in this space, we have solitude, which is essential for many artists. Growing up in such a rare environment as rural Maine, I also love silence and darkness, two luxuries that are quickly disappearing. Further, having connected with and become a part of a small-town community, we have built relationships with people in-person, not on the internet, where privacy is impossible.
Speaking of possible, none of this would have been possible without gardening. For me, gardening is one of the foundations of the good life because it delivers the best flavors on earth and feeds you most of the year. In 2020, I wanted to grow enough produce to last us for a complete year. To do this, we doubled the size of our garden, learned to can, and found creative ways to store food. We lasted from June to March – so 10 months – and we still have two dozen quarts of canned tomatoes, a dozen jars of pesto, and other odds and ends.
I’ve been trying to determine the economic value of all this. To establish our subsistence garden, our expenses in the first two years were $1517. We did not need to spend this much. You can certainly start a lasagna garden that will provide food indefinitely for under $100. We spent this much greatly because we were in a hurry—if you remember, we actually put in our lasagna garden in Maine in December, the same month we moved into our new home. Many of our fees were related to deliveries or aesthetic decisions, like $386 for woodchips between the rows, that others may find unimportant. Also, gardening comes with numerous intangibles, such as health benefits... and a what would a gym membership have cost for 24 months?
Anyway, I expect the total costs of our 2021 garden to be around $200. That covers seeds, a few fertilizers and organic bug repellants, and random costs, such as wood for a hinged greenhouse. So that’s $200 for 10 months of de-freaking-licious produce in an omnivore household that loves vegetables. Take it from a restaurant critic: the flavors are unbelievable.
Moving forward, I expect these types of costs to endure for decades to come. The natural beauty, the education, the health benefits, the absurd quality—are all intangible bonuses. I hope the Ravenous Farmer Project inspires others to find the courage to pursue what really matters to them. Life is short and the world is pretty fucked, but you don’t have to participate in that.