Back to the land (again)
Editor’s note: For the past five years, Crash Barry has pursued the neo-homesteading lifestyle in eastern Oxford County. This is the sixth of a dozen essays about his attempts to live closer to nature.
Even way out here in the hinterlands, I can hear the sorrowful lament of Portland’s hipsters and homeless. Gentrification has resulted in a dramatic shortage of affordable housing for the middle class and working poor. Meanwhile, spineless politicians and budgeteers eagerly scapegoat society’s less fortunate for nickel-dime savings while simultaneously fellating profit-mongering developers and other corporatists — all of them fat and rich from suckling on the public teat of subsidies, tax breaks and special treatment. These bastards applaud the condo-ization of residential neighborhoods and the clear-cutting of the Hobo Jungle and the slashing of emergency-shelter funding, and don’t give a damn about those displaced by the speculative greed.
Standing silent in the woods the other morning, inspiration struck. I suddenly had a solution for Portland’s suffering homeless and hipsters and others who agonize over the ruthlessness of capitalism. At first, the idea was something like an updated version of the “poor farms” of the 19th century. Those places were miserable, though, mere dumping grounds for the aged, the family-less, unwed mothers and the daft. Not cool at all.
But soon the concept and principles of what I’m calling the Maine Farm Collective became clear. I need to come up with a ton of cash to fund a worker-owned entity with enough capital to acquire a dozen 100-acre-plus farms within two hours of Portland. Many hands make light work, and within a couple years the MFC could be producing astounding amounts of sustainable meats, veggies, beer, marijuana, herbs, flowers, mushrooms, dairy and wheat products, lovingly manifested by folks and animals empowered by labor and a life interwoven with the natural rhythm of the world around them.
And, of course, those goods could then be sold to the humans who don’t feel the driving desire to live off the land, and who can still afford to live in Portland.
The deeper problem plaguing the hipsters and homeless is a sinking feeling of disconnect, amplified by ailments that doctors and/or pills can’t seem to fix. This uneasy disease is a direct result of toiling at a shitty job in order to pay for a shitty apartment, or standing in lines, waiting for shelter beds or soup-kitchen slop day in and out. No surprise that in a noisy, paved-over landscape populated by zombies wielding smart phones and attaché cases, sensitive folks of all types feel the pang of longing for a more meaningful existence, one missing from most of modernity.
I know because I used to live that cobblestoned, citified life, so distant from Mother Earth and her loving comfort and embrace. At the turn of the century, I wore shoes, ate at overpriced restaurants and fretted about the impact gentrification would have on the city by the sea I loved so much. That existence eventually took a toll. My judgment grew cloudy. My third eye was calcified by the treated water. My soul was polluted by the vehicular exhaust and the constant clamor of urbanity mixed with the silent angst of broken people passing me on the sidewalks. Before long I was bitter, tired and ready for a change.
Escaping, and hard physical labor, saved me. First for five years in Washington County, then another five on Dreamstead. If I hadn’t fled the city, I’ve no doubt I would have gone crazy. (Crazier than I am now, that is.) My point is this: if you spend more time complaining about, rather than enjoying, where you live, then it’s time to move. Life is too short to be spent struggling in a constant battle against the plutocracy and their minions. And life ain’t long enough to enjoy all the possible pleasure to be derived from living in the moment in the middle of the woods, serenaded by birdsong and inhaling pine smell.
That’s why the MFC feels like such a good idea. These worker-collectives would initially be managed by oldster farmers and wizened back-to-landers eager to share their knowledge before they kick the bucket. All interested collectivists would initially attend a mandatory eight-week MFC boot camp to weed out the poseurs. At camp, they’ll do grunt work, get some basic agricultural training, and then some practical experience with permaculture techniques. From there, the neo-collectivists apply for farm jobs within the MFC that match their skills and interests.
Alas, unless a one-percenter forks over ten million by next month, my scheme won’t help those in need right now.
Here’s a quick solution if you’re in crisis and feeling overwhelmed by the intensity of trying to survive in the current housing bubble. Hold a yard sale and sell all unessential stuff. Quit your lousy job and move to the country and get an entry-level gig on a farm that may not pay you a dime, but will provide food and housing and an education far more valuable than any college degree. (Visit the Farmer’s Market and ask about these jobs, or check out World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms for more leads, at wwoof.net.)
Don’t be afraid to search for a new place to call home, because Maine is filled with great people and communities far from the streets of Portland — although I would avoid anywhere on the coast, because I’ve learned that a certain of type of money loves the smell of salt air, so gentrification and inflated land prices are inevitable in locales with beautiful water views. Leave the city and shore to those who can thrive there: the bankers, the lawyers, the insurers, the salespeople, the restaurateurs and those who willingly work under them. (Also the lucky few who bought urban real estate back when it was really cheap.)
When you do escape, prepare for a miracle. It’ll strike soon after you’ve spent some time in the field, garden or barn. When we get dirty with soil and muck, anxiety, depression and other mental ills often have a tendency to disappear. Or at least lessen. Growing food and mindfully working the land is an amazing, grounding exercise that stimulates healing and provides the brain and spirit with the opportunity to recharge and look anew at reality. And to feel gratitude. Suddenly, the poisonous thoughts and anger and worry and stress that plagued us before don’t seem so powerful after all.