D'ya ever feel guilty?

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Yay!! Got called off from overtime; so I have a bit more time to spend here! I've been thinking on this idea for a bit, and wanted to get y'alls take on it.

How well do you think that you use the acreage/resources you have available to you? Do you feel bad if you underutilize them? Do you feel guilty to have the space that you do but not be utilizing it to the fullest? Could you do more? Would you want to? Would you be willing to have less and do more with it?

Now, maybe it's just the residue of my Catholic upbringing; but sometimes I look around the farm and I think of all the things that I could be doing to make this place more productive, or to better utilize the resources that I have; and I feel guilty because I know a lot of folks would love to have what I have out here (not that most of them would be willing to do what I do to have it!)

For instance, between Pop, Unc and Us - we have 50 acres. Maybe a couple of acres is home lots and yard, etc.. that leaves 48 acres to work with.

9 acres are in hilly, currently unfenced pasture ground that gets mowed with the bush hog a couple times a year to keep the multiflora roses within bounds. Doesn't produce a darn thing. Just sits there. Why, I could run 8 or so cow/calf pairs on that pasture! Or a dairy cow and some beef cattle. Or goats. Sheep, even! Nope, it just sits there.

18 acres are timber - mostly 2nd or 3rd growth; no really large trees but some in the 60 or so year age plus lots of smaller ones. Now, we don't have any trees that lumber buyers or veneer buyers would be interested in; but we have dead and dying trees that we could use for firewood. Unc burns wood at his cabin, but he's not there much in the winter. We burn propane. There are also some trees out there that would make nice timbers for a post and beam shed frame.

The other 21 acres are in crop ground. Now, 2 of them, I consider my "garden". That's where my raised beds are, and where the berries and asparagus live, and where we plant the sweet corn and the stuff that won't fit in the regular garden and my field of sunflowers. That area is pretty productive; tho not as productive as it could be. I could produce a lot more; and I could provide more of our foodstuffs - can more, freeze more, dehydrate more, a little patch of wheat maybe to grind for flour...

The other 19 of the 21 acres of crop ground, Uncle Ivan farms and we sell the crop off the farm - corn, soybeans, wheat. Now, shouldn't we be raising several different small crops a year? Corn, wheat, oats, hay, things we could feed to stock? Feeding out those cattle that aren't on the pasture, and the sheep we don't have along with my imaginary goats and the dairy cow and maybe some pigs? We could do it. We could be really close to self-sufficient out here if we tried.

Problem is, it would be a full time job for somebody - or somebodies, and there doesn't seem to be any somebodys out here that are willing to do it and have the knowledge and skills to do it. Unc's got the farming knowlegde and the machinery skills. Pop knows the soil and hogs and cattle and more about sheep than he would like to know. Hubs just isn't all that interested; and he isn't much of a marketer, anyway. My job is the best paying one out here, so it doesn't make sense for me to quit it; but it doesn't leave me much time to do more than I already do in the garden. I'm good at plotting and planning and flow charts and the like; and I feel sure that I could direct the operation; but I don't have the time to do all that needs to be done. And, after 20+ years of selling fruit and berries to the public, I'm not sure I want to deal with them much anymore!

Although I know I could better utilize a smaller place, I'm really not willing to move to a smaller place - not around here anyway. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have enough land to buffer me from the "outside world" now! And I guess that while I'm really not utilizing this place to it's fullest potential, at least I'm keeping it from being turned into a subdivision! And, if I even need it, it will be here to be used.

How do you feel about your place and how you use it? Are you comfortable with how you use your resources? Do you feel that perhaps our age (as we seem to be in a 20 year range) has anything to do with how much we use our resources? So tell me, what do you think!?

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2002


Doesn't your fallow, underutilized, whatever land have benefits to wildlife? Must every bit of land 'produce a product' that is immediately or directly useable by a human? Even lying fallow and "unused", it has a product -- wildlife. Seeing wildlife feeds MY soul, so there you have a direct product. You could put in native plants that will take care of themselves, and reap the benefit of enjoying their beauty.

This underutilized land is rebuilding strength. The dead trees are feeding and housing wildlife. And so on and so forth. Try reading a book called Noah's Garden: Restoring the Ecology of Our Own Back Yards by Sara Stein -- probably your library has a copy.

If you can afford to keep the land without "working" it, why not? :-)

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2002

BISF on 1.2 acre. Feel guilty.... no, Feel cramped?....most definatly. However, I do look at the 12 acres behind my place that I couldn't afford covered in weeds and wish I would win the lottery.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

I have 4.7 acres. Its not enough for all I'd like to do. We started looking at bigger places but got dicouraged and decided to stay put and make do..improve the house, make the gardens bigger and better, borrow the neighbors field since he won't sell. In a way this forcing to stay small is a good thing...it isn't more than I can handle yet most of the time. Now, I do have a section that is not fenced off and its a bunch of spindly spruces and gangly hardwoods that are over crowded and straining for the sun. I would like to go in and clean out some soft woods to give the hard woods more of a chance but then I look at the land all around us, being cleared and farmed for christmas trees etc...there isn't a whole lot of cover left for the deer etc. So I procrastinate on that chore. there aren't any worthwhile maples in there for tapping anyways so there is no real reason to get in there. Do i feel guilty? Sometimes...I really could produce more here if I worked harder at it.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Polly, I am with Joy. We have 40 acres here and utilize less than 1/2 of it; counting hay field,pasture, gardens and yard. I dearly love my fallow land and it is full of wonderful wildlife, wild flowers etc. We do heat with wood, but never use enough to burn all the dead fall trees. In all the years that we have lived here, we have never had to cut a live tree to heat. I love it that I am making top soil instead of depleting it. Makes me feel environmentally as if I am contributing to the preservation of my world.

We could cut every tree up and sell the wood and lease out our unused crop land instead of mowing it once or twice a year, but chose not to because we have never been able to find a farmer who was willing to use environmentally freindly farming methods.

I find great joy in my almost daily walks through the woods and fields and find not a stitch of guilt in not "using" every piece of it to make money or get ahead. I feel like a very good steward allowing some of it to make space for my birds etc. I guess if my age has anything to do with it, it is that I am more realistic in what I am able to do and tend to enjoy things "just as they are" much more than I ever have.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

I always try and remember that I am owner of the property only temporarily; the next person to inherit (or buy) my land will receive what I left.

So in that context, I am responsible for that one little patch of earth. Do I have the need to utilize all the land for my purposes? Nope. I think that keeping a piece of land in as natural a state as possible is my definition of wise use. If I was a farmer who made income from the land, I would probably feel different, but I have a job in the city; my rural property is for my peace of mind, not profit.

Therefore, my piece of property (approx. 88 acres) will be left as wild as possible. I will leave fencerows with at least one side of natural growth to grow. That fencerow will provide homes to birds, rabbits and therefore provide predators with some extra food. I hunt, so therefore will make my land as wildlife friendly as possible. I will not kill more than my family will eat; taking more than you need is a grave sin, in my opinion.

Just my .02

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

We have 5 acres, and the only thing I feel guilty about (with respect to its use, specifically), is how much we beat it up! We only have a small area that isn't grazed intensively. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever get good grass to grow on some of our pasture...but it always comes back just fine.

My guilt comes from tackling too many projects and only doing a half- assed job on some of them for that very reason. But I just forgive myself, remind myself that I'm doing the best that I can, and mostly try to remember that I'm learning SO MUCH.

Your place has been a producing farm so I can see where you are coming from. Our place has been a small house on a big field. For the last seven years we have been fencing, building, stocking, harvesting, etc. This is the first year that we may actually slow down, unless of course, we decide to do the addition/remodeling...in which case, I will *become* a case...

I wouldn't mind having a bigger space, with lots of wild stuff around it. It would be a tonic from living in a very hectic world. And yeah, I agree it lets the earth rest and gives the wildlife one more refuge.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Yeah, I know the ecological stuff; and I go along with the benefits to wildlife and all that as well; but not to the extent of letting this place go all the way back to nature. Ain't gonna happen! :o> I have no desire to have a 50 acre "back yard"! We have federal ground on two sides of us that has nothing done to it; so the deer and other wildlife have a large area to roam already; I have my big sunflower patch, and we plant feed patches for the wildlife as well - corn, soybeans, sunflowers, millet, etc..., along with my swiss chard that the darn deer come up into the yard to eat!! Apparently the wild critters around here like my crops better than the natural ones on the corp ground!

I don't want to make every inch of this place produce a paying crop - that's not where I'm coming from; my degree in agriculture notwithstanding. I don't even care if it pays the property taxes (>$3000/yr on the 3 places). I just feel like I'm wasting my own resources (my self!) - maybe having to work harder at that city job than I need to, because I'm not using what I have wisely. Example: Buying meat from the locker plant while selling the grain crop off the farm and while using non-renewable petroluem resources to mow pasture ground; when I could be raising my own (better) meat and having the manure to put back on the soil to help replace some of the nutrients taken by the grain crop. That's both more ecological and more fiscally responsible than what we're doing now. Growing multiple types of crops in a more diverse rotation, and grazing stock on the residue instead of a predictable three year corn, wheat, bean rotation - again, more ecological and fiscally responsible. Burning 800 gallons of non renewable propane a year, when I have a woodlot full of dead and dying trees.

Yeah, this place has always been a producing farm as long as I can remember. We had grain crops that we ran through hogs and some cattle when I was young; plus a horse and those darn sheep! Various other citters at one time or the other - geese (never, ever again!), chickens, ducks, bunnies... always a garden. Then, when the feds took most of our ground for the lake, we morphed into the commercial orchard - Apples, peaches, strawberries, asparagus - plus annual crops like sweet corn, tomatoes, indian corn, etc... It's never made much money, but it really didn't need to as we've always worked it while working city jobs. I just think it needs to be prodcutive - for it's own self esteem if nothing else!! (grins!) It'd be like me hiring a housekeeper and coming home from work and sitting on the couch and eating bon-bons instead of cleaning my own house - poor use of resources!!

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

You have a degree in agriculture????? Wow. I feel seriously.....uumm..whats the word.. intimidated. I want to go to a 2 day workshop/seminar on organic growing and livestock management in March. Either that or look into distance education through the ag college here in NS. Wow, Poll..you could be a "real" farmer!!! Cool.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

My degree in ag taught me only that I do not ever want to be what the colleges consider a "real farmer". Farmer, my left foot!! Agribusinessman maybe; steward of the earth - NOT!!

Well, it also taught me that my arms are wayyyy too short. As I had my face mushed up against the intimate anatomy of a heifer I was trying to AI....

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Hmmm.......so Polly has a degree in agriculture......Let me get this straight........if I get a degree in agriculture, can I be a nurse too?

Polly, I can see you place lots of importance on wise use of resources, which is all well and good certainly, but how about the value of the things you truly love to do? If one gets no satisfaction (other than guilt relief perhaps?) from, for instance, providing all ones own heat by harvesting, cutting, splitting, stacking, carrying, loading wood to the stove all winter, then is it REALLY a wise use of resources? What about the resource of YOU. What about all the energy used in an activity that one really hates doing, that could be used for more creative, fun, and personal growth endeavors? What ya think?

I never felt anywhere near guilty either for our fallow land; in fact, we didnt use the majority of that big farm,a nd if we had stayed, and were rich, we'd probably be one of those people who would buy up as much land as possible, to keep it pristine. The enviromental issues are very dear to my heart, and I would much rather see land return to nature than have it used by conventional farmers.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

What??????????? Working at a job I loved and hiring someone to do the job I hated and coming home and eating bonbons would be a poor use of my resourses???? LOL, well burst my bubble Polly ;>)

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Okay, okay - I'll admit it!! I was up late last Friday morning paging through my ancient copy of the "Have More Plan" that I unearthed while looking for my Square Foot Gardening book. (Ma's been moving the books again!!) Probably what got me going again!

It's not so much the lack of guilt value, EM, tho that's surely there; as it is the providing for my family value. Ever stand in front of the pantry shelves and look at jars of produce you'd put up and think that you'd rather have all those jewel tones in your pantry than jewels on your fingers? It's pretty easy to forget about the hours spent planting and hoeing and picking and canning when you open a jar of tomatoes in January and the smell of summer comes rushing out!

I did some figuring while I was off line for a few minutes. Figuring in taxes, and using an average of Hub's and my rate of pay - paying the taxes on this place takes 261 hours of work off farm a year. I could spend some of those hours making this place more productive and let it help pay it's own way - like with the strawberries; which is really a poor example since I don't much like doing them - at least the way I've been doing them in the past few years! The propane bill takes 70 hours of work. Aren't those really more of a waste of the resource of Me than getting out in the fresh air, getting good exercise while we and split and stack wood? I never really minded dealing with the wood stoves; especially after we got one that would hold the fire more than 12 hours. If I did nned to spend more than 70 hours dealing with the wood for heat; I could always go with a corn furnace instead; it would take about 1 to 2 acres of our production to heat this place all winter. I spend $300 a month on "groceries" which includes paper products, cat food and toiletries - along with some food! Now, I don't know how I would produce salmon and tuna, or sugar or coffee, and I'm not going to set up to make hard cheeses; but I KNOW I could do better! Some things, I would be silly to do myself (grind wheat for flour) when a five pound bag of flour takes me .007 of an hour of work to purchase; but other things make more sense - cattle for beef for example. Even the chickens for eggs. I've got empty hives lying out behind the shed, taking up space - what could it hurt to make them productive again? But then, if I use $$hours as my yardstick, then the time I spend growing and preserving tomatoes could be better spent at work and paying 29 cents a can for (inferior quality) Aldi's tomatoes. See why I've been thinking on this so much - I'm confused!

Over half this place is lying fallow now; and even if we used the pasture that would still leave the 18 acres of woods more or less fallow; as I leave the snags with nest holes standing anyway. A better use of resources doesn't neccesarily have to be a raping the planet option.

(And no, EM - you only get to be a nurse if you get so disgusted with where your ag degree takes you that you go back to school to learn to do something useful!! I also have 2 years toward a bio-science teaching degree (doesn't pay well enough and you have to put up with teen-agers) and 2 more toward a business degree (I don't like business) - Pop wonders if I'll ever quit going to school!)

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

"Ever stand in front of the pantry shelves and look at jars of produce you'd put up and think that you'd rather have all those jewel tones in your pantry than jewels on your fingers?"

Yes Polly, all the time!!! That is what made me decide to throw out the dollar sign as a measurement of my success and just started staying home and doing what I loved to do. Some people pay big bucks to health clubs to get their exercize, I get mine helping with the wood. It just gets down to how we measure success.

My husband has a rather small, by most people's standards, job off the farm that provides us with good benefits. He likes it and it has some neat perks (like we can buy their "used" equipment as a very low price, access to the rich people's dumpster, etc. etc.) We have made freinds over the years with some of the people that live where he works, a gated community as a maintanence man, and quite a few have come to our homestead to buy eggs, milk, produce etc. Every single one of them at one time or another has said we lived "better" than them. I am not sure what they mean by "better", but I know that most of them work very high stress jobs and don't seem very happy.

I am not saying I think you are unhappy with your nursing; sounds to me like you really like it. I did for a long time and then I just didn't any more. I just am saying that money can not be a measurement for success in all cases, and just cause I can buy a can of tomatoes on sale for 29 cents does not mean I need to justify growing and canning my own because of the dollar factor. We raise our own beef, dairy products and eggs and I don't think we always save money doing it. Sure do like knowing "we" did it though and that is hard to put a price tag on.

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Wow, Polly. You certainly do lots more with your 50 acres than I ever thought about doing with our 95. Originally we had 100, but gave 1.50 acres to my inlaws and gave a little over 3 to our son when he graduated from high school (we were sooo amazed!!). We have about 22 acres in TSI (timber stand improvement). In this stand we have a great batch of white and brown ash which we selectively cut every three years or so (depending on growth), sell the ash boltwood, and use the thinnings for our firewood. We also have a stand of birch boltwood (about 20 acres) that we selectively cut. The boltwood makes your toothpicks and matches! But since the ice storm of '98, we haven't had to drop many trees...still cutting up deadfalls from that storm! For our actual homesteading area, I doubt that we use much more than 5 or 6 acres. That includes grazing for my goats and our garden area. I really don't feel guilty at all about not using more of this land for ourselves. Like many of you already mentioned, just leaving it wild so that we can walk where we want and not have to worry about traipsing across someone else's property and to be able to truly enjoy the wildlife is wonderful. Taxes aren't that bad where we are, so we can afford to leave the land as it was. We have thought about possibly selling a few acres out in the "back 40" to fellow homesteaders, but wonder whether or not we could find like-minded folks who would try to walk lightly on this property!! Maybe we will deed over some of our back property to the local conservation organization that...hopefully...will keep it wild forever!! In fact, hubby and I plan to have our ashes spread out in the back 40!!!!!

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

I don't know the demographics in your area, but could you sharecrop (? or?) some of your land? Out here, there's people who participate in "Pea Patches" where they grow their own food on free "leased" public land (I mean five acres in Seattle gets split up into row feet for dozens of folks, for heaven's sake!) Could it work for folks that moved to town but are still physically able to work small parcels? or?

If you wanted to make the most of your land, perhaps you could share some of it? In exchange for something? Time off (live-on caretakers?)

I understand (I think) about the cost-benefit analysis of growing your own vs. working and doing some production. Right now, I'm working, and while enjoying it, I am also watching some of my self- sufficiency plans be put on hold...and then there's those darn sheep....:-)

btw, you must have a calculator for a brain! I thought I was bad....!! tee hee...

-- Anonymous, January 21, 2002

Do I feel guilty about not using our land to its fullest potential? Nope, not even a little bit. I'm very confident that our land has a substantially increased capacity to support life than it had before we moved here.

We've owned the land for about ten years and built on it about four yrs ago. Prior to our buying the land a portion of it had been used as a "hillbilly" junk yard/auto salvage operation and the other half had been a "rotten granite" quarry.

There's a total of 6 acres. About 1 1/4 acres are mature woods, the rest was either sand mixed with glass pebbles, nuts, bolts, washers, screws etc. or the "quarry" which basically looked like a moon scape. Prior to our moving here the only birds we saw were crows and the ocassional stray. Now there's an diverse abundance of birds.

Before there was a puddle about 30' in diameter and about 3' deep which supported lotsa skeeters and numerous frogs. Now theres a stocked pond about 150' in diameter and seven feet deep that supports the fish and the critters that feed off the fish, not to mention the frogs.

Where there was a field of sand mixed with junk that would barely support a few scrawny wild blackberry bushes, there's now a 3/4 acre garden with 6" or more of rich compost that provides heavy yields of veggies and flowers.

We're not where I wanna be yet because there's more land to "develop" into something useable but I feel like we've come a long way in the three or four years we've been here.

-- Anonymous, January 22, 2002

Yes polly you need to work parttime (or hey not at all!!!!) and do more at home. I highly recommend it. Lots of quiet respite even as you do your chores.But I'm not a big people person, either, so quiet respite is very important to me. " course when I still worked, I worked alone in the woods, so I still had both solitude and a paycheck.

Yes to producing as much as you can on your property for the health benifits alone,as long as you also enjoy doing all that,and you seem to.

No to feeling guilty abt not conventionally "using" the property.We now aren't "using" close to 200 acres,but,then again we are, bc we eat alot of wild game, so that is my organic, pesticide free, livestock.More sustainable than Euorpean immigrants. It's still kept pasture by burning, so we can still go conventional if we decide we need some more bucks.So you can still do both. Meanwhile the land is growing "native livestock",one way of looking at it, plus giving me incalculable ammounts of pleasant experiences.And we still have the Nat. forest around us too,but I need lots and lots of hiking space!

Good to talk to you over the weekend. Hope John is doing OK.

-- Anonymous, January 24, 2002

Well, it looks like it's pretty evenly divided! The folks with more land let more of it go fallow; while the folks with less land want more so they can do more with it. And John, with 6 acres is there in the middle sort of where I'm at - working slowly at making it more productive.

I guess I just don't want to be like a lot of my neighbors. Mostly city-folk who come out here and build a big house and mow a couple acre lawn and bitch about farm tractors getting mud on the roads (then what in the heck do you drive that big SUV for, if not to go through mud and snow?!) and whine about the "wildlife" eating their flowers and pets.

Sheepish, I don't want time off from the farm - what you said about a live on caretaker. Heck, I got Pop for that!! And Uncle Ivan if Pop is off somewhere. And for when all of us go to Iowa next year for the Old Threshers Reunion for a couple of days; there's a teenage farm boy about a mile away who'll tend to the critters for me. As for renting out space - this isn't the right locale for that. Most folks around here have enough space to grow things. Heck, most of them are too lazy to drive out here and pick stuff for free - they want you to pick it and bring it to town for them! Mutter, mutter!!

I guess I just want to be more self-sufficient.

-- Anonymous, January 26, 2002


Two points here.

The first is that "productive" means different things to different people.

The second is, what do you want to get out of your life?

If making your living off of your land is what you want to get out of your life then "productive" will mean putting your land to work to producing something that you can sell to make your living.

If that isn't what you want to get out of youf life then you can use your land for other uses, some of which may bring in income, some of which may have values that are economically intangible but that are important to you nevertheless.

Personally, I don't ever expect to make my living off of my nine acres though I do hope one day to at least make some small supplement to it from what I can produce. The state of the agricultural culture in this country today is such that making a living solely from your land has become very difficult. It seems that most of the large commodity farmers rely to some extent on Federal subsidies and many of the smaller farmers are forced to rely on off-farm income to at least supplement their family economy. In many cases they have to rely on both. An unfortunate situation to be sure but it's the way it is.

I *do* think that us smallholders (most homesteaders would fall into this category) can use our land to bring in some supplementary income, reduce our necessity to spend our money off-site by producing some of our necessities ourselves, and every bit as important to bring a sense of fulfillment into our lives. By owning land, having animals and growing gardens, trees and pastures I can teach a vast array of vital skills, ideas, attitudes and philosophies to my children. If I never make a dime off of the place I'll still have been "productive" and successful if I can accomplish these goals with my kids.

Money is just a part of the equation. For some it may even be a vital part but it's not the only part nor is it necessarily the most important.


-- Anonymous, February 01, 2002

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