Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Next Major Endeavor: The Galt's Gulch Project

I won't bother to delay you with an introduction: The major project noted in my last weekly summary is that of a small-scale, self-sustaining farm. I either want to be the head of one or involved intricately in one (I'll pursue the former first most and with the most energy, and settle for the latter if time proves too short. Given whatever climate and soil I settle upon -- I may or may not stay in Texas for it -- I want to establish myself in a way so that I'm producing and feeding myself my own produce, dairy, and livestock, and, heck, even cultivating some ornamental horticulture for comfort. This I consider this to be my next major endeavor beyond the past Project that brought me to Texas, and I'd consider it my five to ten year plan, though I want to make progress on it as rapidly as possible. The prospect is very exciting to me, as I consider it extremely educational and healthy, and, most importantly, relevant to my culinary central purpose in life.

Why do I want to do this? Well, a little back story on my life in Texas to make things clearer:

Ever since I moved to Texas I have to admit that I've transitioned to being depressed about the state of the world, and of course I hid it from everyone, including you Emotionally I have been totally consistent like this, for intermixed would be themes of energetic contentment for the good present and positive future, but sore moods have been frequent still. The Project -- you know, with the uppercase P -- solved the longest-lasting, most deleterious set of problems I've had to face in my life, and in getting out of that situation I've been severely disappointed that in finally being set free from one problem I had to face the unfairness of transitioning into another: The collapse of the economy and the decline of the world. As I say often around here I'm optimistic about the future, that America can eventually come through, but, like I mentioned in yesterday's post, the storm on the way there seem far too daunting, severe, and long-term to be endurable, so I've spent the last few months in trying to build strength to face that prospect. The intensity of the contentment I've received from surmounting such difficult problems as the ones I faced a few months ago were enough to convince me that life is worth living and that even higher rewards are achievable in life, so even with a troublesomely low spirit I've been pressing on to steel and repair myself, and figure out how to deal with matters.

The most difficult coping point has been with my career. However fuzzily thought-out it may be for now, you and I know that I want to be in the culinary field, and the transition there means building up my knowledge and skills in the hot kitchens of restaurants. Gotta cook to learn to cook and be a cook. The severity of the economic storm to befall our heads, I fear, will put a significant amount of restaurants out of business and deal a severe blow to the food supply. Given that I've just started, it's a scary prospect as to what might happen to someone as low on the ladder as I, and it's further worrisome to think of what practice I'll be deprived of by a restricted and expensive food supply, which would make it more difficult for me to actually cultivate cooking skills. Sure, I know that life is so well worth living that even if I have to start in my thirties or forties it'll be worth waiting for, but how much potential would be involuntarily sacrificed? How lesser will my accomplishments be? Will my growth stagnate and retrogress? Largely I've been focusing on the here and now to get my mind off matters, for it's not helpful or constructive to fret about matters constantly, and a significant portion of my contemplation has been directed towards just what I can do to protect myself -- spirit, wealth, and body -- from this storm that approaches. I am of scant means financially, so most of my time has been spent in just thinking about strategies rather than implementing them.

One day I made a rather intriguing discovery while on break from work. I work in a shopping conglomerate, so as a ritual pleasure and means to mental refreshment I tend to take a walk during my breaks after I lunch, and routinely I'll enter the bookstore to browse the shelves. As you might guess, I tend to like the cooking aisle best, and visit it on most regular occasion in opposition to the others. One day I noticed near the end of the aisle they had this book, turned face out, called Homesteading. It was intensely interesting to me, moving me to at least want to make a note of it, but it didn't give me very many ideas at the time or emotionally register deeply. Still: It planted a unique seed of thought in my mind, and for reasons unknown to me I kept revisiting this "homesteading" idea sort of thing. It kept lingering in my mind, and in some vague form or another I kept remembering my interest in that book, though at the time I don't think I had the foresight to document its title and editor.

Just a short few days ago during a walk the puzzle pieces fell together. Somehow or another I was contemplating my longing for my old favorite cooking show, Good Eats. In specific I thought about the episodes where Alton Brown robbed a tomato farmer during tomato season, and then another in which Mr. Brown was overwhelmed by endless cucumbers from the same farmer. It may have been the single image in my mind of seeing the farmer push a wheelbarrow of cucumbers that ignited my thought process. I then revisited memories in my childhood where I remembered comments from my elders about how abundant some relatives' gardens were: How when the vegetables came to ripeness and season they were overwhelmed by their number and had the annoying difficulty of trying to dispose of them and give them away. I then remembered the word "homesteading" and everything came together: Given my central purpose in life and the position of the economy, it would be unbelievably practical and spiritually fulfilling to establish and nurture a small-scale, self-sustaining farm. My mind started reeling with ideas, causing me to prolong the walk and continue the rest of it in heightened spirits and a near-smile. Whatever angle I looked at it, I cannot see a single thing that would be objectionable to me in it: I wouldn't mind the hard labor, the learning, the frequent upkeep, the variety of skills to learn, or anything.

Look at it in the light of my central purpose in life and career ambitions: In a time where the economy is about to go to pot and the food supply possible kaput, would it not be practical to nurture a style of living where I could produce more food than I could possibly consume and have a large scale of raw materials to practice cooking with? In the end, this would allow me to not only stay fed and physically healthy during bad times, but to also continue moving forward in gaining my desired knowledge, skills, and abilities regardless of whether or not there's a business climate to cater to it. For example, instead of being disappointed in how difficult it is to afford red peppers at Walmart, I could grow a whole smorgasbord of them and have all the soup, pickles, sauces, and whatever else I want. It's an irritation to, say, goof up on cutting what few bell peppers I might obtain, but in growing them the waste in error is minimized and the opportunity for practice is maximized.

To make things easier, why don't I put it all in list format?

1.) It's relevant to my purpose in life: Honestly, I'm not sure where I stand in regards to culinary creativity. I don't often go about daydreaming new dishes and the like, though still enjoy the process of it nonetheless. More interesting to me is the scientific aspect: Why foods are the way they are, how they react to heat and cooling, how they respond to certain methods of cooking . . . how they're produced and manufactured. This farming endeavor wouldn't at all be a sidetrack to my central purpose in life, but in actuality a relevant pursuit beneficial to it. My emotional reaction to this project has been so strongly positive that I'm wondering if there's something deeper in meaning here, for I almost think that I'd take this endeavor on even if it were economically prosperous times.

Aside from all the learning and unique skills I'd obtain, I would also be given an immense amount of resources for culinary practice. I already had the desire to learn how to slaughter and butcher livestock months before I conceived of this project, so it wouldn't inconvenience me in the least to take on such learning as part of a lifestyle change. And hey, out of it I'd get to practice such dishes as leg of lamb, headcheese, roasted tenderloin, crown roast, and more, all the fruits of my labor.

And who knows? Maybe in my learning and skill nurturing I could come up with some unique innovations to advance my efforts and perhaps profit from in more prosperous times. And maybe even more basic heating methods, like wood fires instead of electrical appliances, could cultivate better skills just like how one's mathematical intellect can be improved in forgoing a calculator. (I don't want to give up electricity and live Amish, but I'll prepare for that case scenario if I'm forced into it.)

2.) It's practical: In this day and age we're largely depending on other people to make our food for us. Even if we're cooking from scratch, we're often at least depending on a farmer to raise the meat or grow the produce. In the worst of times their ability to produce goods for the economy could be severely undermined, if not halted, and starvation could become a real threat in our country. But as mentioned earlier, even a tiny little garden is more than sufficient for producing more produce than one can consume . . . so aside from being applicable to my ultimate happiness, this project would also be good for keeping me fed and healthy, as while stores are depleted my own labors for my own consumption can be abundant.

3.) It's Paleo: A minor consideration in the grand scheme of things, but one still important and worthwhile, and something contributing to my excitement about the project. Not only would I keep a sustaining diet, I'd also be able to continue living on the standards of Paleo nutrition: fresh fruits and vegetables, pasture raised meat and eggs, full-fat and raw dairy, and so on. If anything, I think I would actually get healthier than I am now living this way, for my dependency on other producers right now, tight finances, and limited options keeps me living on a sub-optimal diet, such as by eating minimal beef, having grain-fed and pasteurized butter and cream, and so on. I've been living on the Paleo diet for a long time now, but I don't think I've gotten all the health benefits I can out of it yet.

4.) It would help me retain my physique: Another point of concern is what could happen to my body during bad times. Bodybuilding is one of my hobbies: I love going to the gym, working out, and growing my strength and muscles. I love how it makes me look and feel, and how it makes everyday functions get easier and easier, such as the heavy lifting at work or running up stairs. And according to my understanding, weight lifting is the most practical form of exercise, as using only your body (e.g. pushups, situps, etc.) severely restricts how intensely you can work it -- you can increase your intensity faster and more beneficially with heavy iron than with earth's gravity and your weight. It could also actually be harmful by way of releasing destructive hormones through the increased repetitions your body will need in order to have an adaptive response and build muscle (e.g. more and more situps as your abs develop). Losing access to weights, could my muscles not wear away, due to both lack of proper intensity and undernourishment?

Well, some hard farm work ought to fix that right up. Now right now my plan is to be small-scale and for private use only, so I might be more apt. to use manual, basic tools over electrical and large-scale ones, especially as the future of electricity and fuel prices/availability is questionable. Given the reward of the effort, I wouldn't mind all the work involved in such a process, especially at it would allow me to maintain a muscular physique and perhaps even add to it. However, if I still somehow had gym access and a reasonable means to traveling there and paying for it, I'd probably still do formal exercise too to ensure muscle balance and all-around development. I'll do more exercise research since it is my hobby after all, but I think I could find some ways to endure the stress, such as cold showers to eliminate soreness, overheating, and fatigue. I've already adapted to the point that intense workouts hardly make me sore now and don't interfere with my labors at my current job.

5.) It would put me in a position to barter: One thing someone mentioned about economic collapses in the past in that some people have had to resort to bartering again in order to bypass worthless currency, and a point I've heard about the US is that we're not involved enough in the manufacture of basic necessities in order to be able to engage in bartering like this. And iPod for your flat screen, sir?

I will surely desire goods outside of my garden, so when approached with the opportunity I would have the means for trade. Taking for granted an abundance stored at home (I'll probably have farmhands for security), I would have the means to barter with other people, hopefully farmers who have what I don't. Steak for your avocados? How about this bacon for your olive oil and pecans?

A nice, secondary protection.

6.) I'd be a part of the economic solution: Another aspect I've heard that's fueling our economic ills is that we're based too much in the consumption of goods rather than production. While my plans are to grow and raise for private consumption and bartering, I would nonetheless be a part of the base solution by joining in the manufacturing industry, producing rather than being in service.

And for some strange reason I have to admit the prospect of becoming a producer is adding to my excitement. I've been thinking about the book Atlas Shrugged lately and don't think I've been doing a very good job producing values, so this project also appeals to my philosophical appreciation of the virtue of production.

7.) In better times, it'd help me retain a competitive advantage: I may be optimistic for the future, but a future beyond this project is fuzzy for me at the moment, so I can imagine anything. Vaguely at least I can imagine leaving my farm at some point -- unless I integrated a restaurant into it somehow (ooh!) -- and reentering the professional food service industry. At that point I may not have worked in a restaurant for some years, maybe a decade or more (the future is uncertain when left to a politician's whim), but at the end of it all I'd still be able to put on my resume the fantastic dishes I made with my own homemade stuff, the knife skills I nurtured by cutting endless vegetables, how I butchered my own animals and ate them nose-to-tail (throw away nothing!), how I created and thickened sauces with my own herbs and starches, and so on. I might not be actively involved in the restaurant industry for some time, but that time spent away would not be wasted: I'd still be building up a repertoire of knowledge and skills that should unfailingly impress any employer given their nature.

8.) It would be a spiritual comfort: This actually builds on point number one in being relevant to my happiness, but it emphasizes the more negative aspect. This project is not totally idyllic: There's still going to be a lot of stress, discomfort, and pain involved in it, not in its actual exertions but in knowing what's happening to the world in general. I'll take security measures, but I'll certainly worried about being robbed or murdered if the atmosphere becomes dangerous. I'll also worry about America's disastrous foreign policy, whether or not America will actually be subject to foreign invasion. And hey, I'll definitely worry about whether or not America will actually pull through in the end: I believe in strongly that we can win, but also know that we can lose. Worries, worries, worries . . . and, of course, I'll still be involved in activism too, not just idly worrying. 

This project would be soothing by keeping me in contact with my most essential values: Cooking, learning, self-improvement, Paleo living, body building, and more. I might have to give up some big values like chocolate, as chocolate is imported, but the stuff listed above is what's really important. After a hard day in the garden, performing maintenance, studying, cooking, and engaging in whatever activism I can, it'd be soothing to the soul to settle down to a grass-fed steak covered in grass-fed butter, accompanied by homegrown mashed sweet potatoes and homemade raw milk cheese, and to go to bed reading a book I bartered for, before sleep alongside an aromatic pot of lavender. Economically I would be in poverty, but spiritually it could be high-living.

* * * * *

Like all great ideas, it's one I wish I had a long time ago, especially as I've spent so long picking my brain as to what I should do to protect myself from such a disaster. Man, I could have been working on this months ago! But now is as good a time as any other to get started, and as I've already mentioned in my weekly summary I'm doing research this week by visiting a Farmers Market. I'll be doing even more, such as by taking a tour of a dairy farm and interviewing farmers, and who knows what else? I got some homesteading books from the library, and will be renting those quite frequently. I have an immense amount to learn. As for capital ($$$), I'll certainly take to saving more from my current job, which is quite an opportune time given that I'm getting more hours and am actually going to move up the ladder soon. But let us not forget that it's highly probable, if not absolutely certain, that I'll be bringing other people into this, so that's more help to my endeavor and another source of capital. Maybe I could even find, or convince, people that think the same way in regards to economical outlook, and unite us together for this purpose. Oh, I've got so much research and planning to do.

My last project was called "Project" as a shorthand reference, but since this project doesn't need to be kept a secret I've been brainstorming titles and have decided on one: The Galt's Gulch Project. I didn't think of it this way at first, but after examining the details of my plan and why I'm acting this way I found that a more appropriate name can't be found. While I intend to be involved in society in some way -- I'll certainly still be in the United States that's for sure -- it's still a withdrawing and isolation in a way, for I'll be depending largely on myself and some select individuals for those basic goods and services to keep me alive and content. I'll also be growing in my abilities and intellect all in the meanwhile, and statists will not be benefiting from the use of my mind. Furthermore, this project is largely a response to the oncoming economic collapse, just like how Galt's Gulch in Atlas Shrugged was designed to protect producers from the collapse and dictatorship of America; I'll be shrugging you could say, though that's not really my intention. Again, the withdrawing from society and the likes were not points in mind when I conceptualized this project, but you can see how "Galt Gulch" is a serendipitous title, no? Hell, if I have the authority I might even call the farm that.

This is a very ambitious undertaking, one that may be a long-shot. There may not be enough time before the collapse for me to implement it, but the way I see it it's do or die, so instead of contemplating the difficulties and wondering awe-eyed at politics it's time to start garnering knowledge, jumping hurdles, networking, surmounting obstacles, and making progress. I've got to research, interview, talk to people and spread the news, gather capital, search for land, and more. Ultimately, I see that whether I abstain from this endeavor or fail at it, the consequence is the same: I suffer just like everyone else in America when things go down. However, if I succeed, then the reward is immense and priceless. The best of my judgment urges me forward on this.

I'm so ecstatic to have come up with this idea, for it's not only a great endeavor, it also adds purpose and integration to my life in even the barest short-term. Ever since completing the Project I've actually been slightly disappointed, for a pursuit of such magnitude was fulfilling and engaging, and gave me a central point to help me decide which goals to set and chase. Since its ending, I've felt rather aimless, not sure what to do with my time or how to tie everything together. I've been productively occupied for sure, but it doesn't all seem to add together: The weekly goals I set seem unintegrated and hodge-podge, and my daily routine feels too devoid of chance for achievement. Now this new endeavor gives me a focal point to drive my energy at and arrange a multitude of pursuits and learning around, bringing integration into my life that feels more harmonious and like my time is well spent.

Hungry, hard-working shruggers are, of course, welcome, but for the most part I only plan on this being for the benefit of a rather small group, for labor help, physical safety, and security. Nonetheless, the soul of an entrepreneur and leader has been fired within me, so I can't wait to get started.

I hope you can find happiness in a disaster protection plan as I'm striving for.Life is worth living, and it doesn't look like the government can deprive me of that enjoyment even now.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ben,
    I really like the pure honesty and earnestness of your blog. It is refreshing and powerful to read. I too am a fan of Atlas Shrugged, and reading it has transformed my world view. It opened up a perspective on society I had never before thought of. I want to encourage your idea of creating your own Galt's Gulch over there in the USA. I am an Australian, living in Indonesia, where I too am inspired, partly by the book, to proceed in my own quest for a sustainable farm here. Please let me know how you are progressing with your project, I'll be watching with interest.
    Best wishes for your endeavor.


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