Let’s continue that last blog post conversation, shall we?

Is there anything cuter than a bowl full of baby bantams?

Many, many good points and questions were brought up in the comments section of my last post on the cottage industry law that recently took effect in Michigan.  The legality of home-baked, home-produced goods was but one facet of the conversation, with bartering, taxes, and general farm-based living issues wrapped up in it too.

So again, the obvious.  I wouldn’t mind being taxed on my egg money, not at all, which is why my CPA knows about the contents of my farm earnings  jar.  My point in the last post is that the farm’s output has repeatedly exceeded the consumption pattern of its residents.  What to do with this excess?  I could bank it against a cold and rainy day, and do.  I could give it away to the food shelves, but I have been discouraged from doing so:  the ones in town don’t want anything that’s not already in a tin can or box, thanks.  I grow and can things for my daughter’s school.  I could give it away to friends and relatives and generally, this has been my operational model.  But my friends think they’re taking advantage of the bounty, especially now that there’s a high-value, rare item involved (goat’s milk products).  Thus, the filling jar.

Let me first make a personal state-of-the-homestead/farmer statement.  I am avowedly on the left side of the political spectrum, and I surely do not think I am taxed enough.  In my particular worldview, I am taxed little and get little in return.  Locally, our property taxes are a pittance, and I suppose that grants us the pittance we receive:  our roads are plowed and paved, and we have 911 service if we can afford to have a telephone.  One example: Despite the hefty share they receive from local and state funding, the public schools in my area are awful.  Every referendum on an increase in millage (basically a percentage increase to pay for school “improvements” based upon property taxes) has gone down in flames.  I consider this short-sighted, crass, and anti-community, and really a part of a larger social problem that is frankly beyond the scope of this blog post.  (And no, my daughter is not in public school, and won’t be:  this in no way affects my opinion on paying for those children who are.)  But the (non)value of schools is an illustration of my larger point.  If we don’t care for school-aged non-tax-paying children, we’re probably not caring much for many others in my community.  But hey!  What about them low property taxes?

Bringing this one-sided conversation from this particular person to the general readership.  The bigger picture is how do you, dear reader, take the next step in your own little homemade-food world?  If you live in Michigan, the steps for putting up a tent in a farmer’s market are now a lot clearer.  Those cookies everyone raves about?  Wrap them up, list the potential allergens, the ingredients in descending order, your home phone and address and you can legally sell them, if you’re so inclined!  Likewise your home-decanted vinegars, dried herbal teas, killer pickles, jewel-toned fruit jams and more can be legally sold.  Grow enough vegetables, you can start a CSA along with your Saturday stall.  The world is your oyster, or at least your zebra mussel.

If, however,  someone were to ask me the course I would chart to, say, move from city to country and make a livable wage off the products of one’s labors, I would snarkily ask to see their trust fund disbursements.  It’s more than a gamble, frankly, and there’s a lot of work and head-banging ahead of you.  For the foreseeable future, one needs off-farm income to make a go at this kind of life.  I feel I am in good company (Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver) when I say this.  You can raise as many heirloom vegetables, meat animals, and make as many artisan cheeses and wool products as you would like to sell but it will in all likelihood be a losing venture, economically.

I am still trying to ride the razor of the livelihood/lifestyle that is what it is that I do.  I like producing food because I like CONSUMING food.  I like to share; so do others, which is why barter is fun.  I like the idea that I could be a bigger part of something should the lights go out and my neighborhood worries about its food supply.  I like to teach.  Money is in no way a motivation for me mainly because I am as yet secure in my off-farm income.  This cottage food industry bill that has become law is a boon to me, should I really fire up the Loven more than once a week, or if I should decide to can more veg than we consume.

My point to all of this:  For me, it is not about the money, and so far has not been.  It’s about the life, and about sharing that life with others.  We moved here knowing we’d make a third of our city income.  That income still stands, but the quality of our life has vastly improved, of which diet is the first obvious part.  Am I saying “follow me”?  No, not unless you’re already so inclined.

But hey:  those taxes are sure low.

Okay, so it’s not quite a full bowl.

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22 responses to “Let’s continue that last blog post conversation, shall we?

  1. Cogently cognated and expressed, El. I’m sending this to my friend Ann who raises grass-fed beef here in Vermont and is constantly wondering if that one aspect of farming can support itself or if she should just quit. I think she shouldn’t quit — we live off a significant portion of her excellent beef.

  2. You mentioned one of my favorite writers — I think Gene Logsdon has done so much to clarify what it means to live off a farm’s income. One of my children is currently asking about it — which amazes me. And yes, tax increases would make sense but in our area, it’s the Prop 13 property tax freeze that killed schools, and now people are very wary of giving more money to schools which don’t seem to improve no matter what.

    Answers? I don’t know — I just jar up that honey. But I’d rather sell directly than to a store. It’s more intimate, more connected, and ultimately more fun. Michigan’s law is a good one, as I think you recognize. Good conversation.

  3. I peek in on your blog every now and then as we live in the same neck of the woods and live a similar farmstead vein of existence. I appreciate your willingness to share what you do of your adventures (and a tad envious you seem able to get so much more out of a 24 hour day than I can. 🙂

    This entry though has brought out my first response — don’t political things always seem to? I am not of the mind that — beyond the basics — more money solves many problems. In fact, I think it removes much individual responsibility that used to be what made communities more cohesive and with greater functionality.

    People no longer take meals to elderly neighbors, bridge the gap when someone is short for their heating bill, reach out to a stumbling child, take in family or friends who have hit a rough patch because it is no longer our responsibility. There has to be some .gov program that will take care of it so we don’t.

    As to public education, funding is not the critical issue. It’s parents who have abdicated the raising of their children to a system that on its best day cannot — and should not — be relied on as the primary means to produce motivated, thinking, caring, well-loved human beings. That is an unfair and impossible expectation.

    • sue raises some interesting points. i work in educational policy, and i will tell you right now that we’re stuck between a scylla and charybdis in terms of the problem of our public schools. on the one hand, sue isn’t exactly wrong, and throwing money at the problem hasn’t always helped. imho the reason for that has to do with a highly entrenched class of administrators, many of whom command salaries far above the most experienced teachers in the system. there is so much fraud, waste and mismanagement of our schools, and yet people constantly blame only “the teachers,” not realizing that the administrative class makes most of the decisions about where to spend money. i could go on and on about this, but it brings me to my second point, which is also in agreement with sue. and that has to do with parents. parents who are also voters, and who should be, but aren’t, paying attention to who is elected to school boards, who those boards hire to run schools, and so on. just as most parents are failing to take an active role in their child’s education, they also are failing to understand their own responsibility to participate in how our schools are run. too many people seem to believe that someone else will do all that.

      sorry to go off on such a long educational tangent. i don’t have children, but after more than 20 years working in various levels of education, if i had kids, i’d homeschool them. public schools are mostly that bad right now.

  4. I tend to agree with you El, that we do not pay enough taxes. Folks who are unwilling to educate their community’s children, whether they are theirs or not, will bear the brunt of it later when these same children grow up to be uninformed, uneducated, and sometimes unwilling voters. I hear a lot these days about how some folks are trying to bring about socialism in the US, like socialism is a bad thing. Socialism can work well- all the Scandinavian countries are socialist countries, and though they have higher taxes than we do, they also have a generally better way of life, and no one is left behind. They also expect their governments to do a lot for them, have a higher percentage of voter involvement, and their governments are responsive and responsible. If there is anything that Katrina taught me, it was that we can’t rely on our government, and I think that’s largely because we haven’t ponied up for a really good one. Jimmy Dean used to say on his sausage commercials, “you get what you pay for”, and I think that’s true. But maybe that was because I was raised with the idea that being able to pay taxes is a privilege, and that from those of us to whom much has been given, much is expected. To not do your fair share is just plain selfish.

    What we will be facing soon is higher taxes without the boon of better services, and that’s all our fault. Even though I’ve lived well beneath my means and don’t have debt, and was never part of the mess that created the situation we’re in as a country, it’s just as much my fault as anyone else’s for not writing to my congress persons and senators more often, and my fault for not being more involved. So even though my taxes will have to be raised in order to pay for what we’ve done, I still consider it a privilege to be able to pay them. I just don’t think we’ve evolved the kind of government that will be able to make the best use of them, and I’m not talking one party versus another- I mean the whole, ineffective and politically short-sighted ball of wax.

    So- we go back to the land in our own little back yards, and try to make sure the neighbors are fed. And pay our taxes.

  5. Sort of off-topic here, but there’s a handy (and free) tool for making nutrition information/ingredient labels: http://nutritiondata.com/

    You put in your recipe (5 cups of fresh raspberries + 1 cup of sugar = 50 servings of jam) and it figures out the nutrition information and gives you a label you can print off and attach to your market-bound goodies.

  6. I was raised on a farm we didn’t have goats or chickens we had beef cattle. More often than not it was a break even, because there’s so much care and upkeep when you have livestock that I don’t think too often my parents owed the government. My dad loved having the livestock because he knew what we were eating. I wouldn’t change a thing having grown up on a farm, some of my fondest memories are from there. When I look at your pictures, especially the very first one, makes me think of pictures of me when I was young walking around with little calves following me. And yes, I had on my boots more often than not. I love your blogs, great topics and pictures that make me reminisce.

  7. I too think we pay too little. Where I live we have to buy our way into the library per household rather that pay a small library tax based on property values. An embarrassment! Schools are threatened with closures, yet millions are plowed into widening a road without much traffic.

    Sustainable, rural employment should be prioritized and supported.

    steps off soap box and walks away muttering…

  8. Here in California I don’t think we are taxed too little! As you point out in your post El, the problem is the dismal return on our taxes with poor schools (and so many other programs). If we perceived that our hard earned wages were being spent wisely, most of us would not turn a hair at the thought of paying even more in taxes. I am a bit right of center but no Tea Party-er….I am a proud American who believes in freedom and civil political discourse…I think all people of good will want the same things, including the end of poverty and education and healthcare for all…we just differ on how to get there. I know these days it’s more popular for conservatives to simply be hated….and I’m sad about that. I myself prefer to believe that others (including liberals!) are mainly well meaning…..! I love your blog, El! Thanks for all you do….

  9. Such really good and diverse thoughts here.

    The first ironic thought that popped in my head after reading this post was, well maybe we should all live in the big city and be corporate sellouts so as to earn as much income as humanly possible, just to support the social systems we need. I’m with Sue in that money is not a problem solver in a lot of ways–maybe our society’s quest for the $$ has filled up our time so much that we can’t “afford” to help out our neighbors. But that’s a philosophical problem, and money is also a practical tool.

    The socialist in me appreciates the value for myself and others for the somewhat high taxes I pay (curbside recycling! free mulch! transit bus service!). The libertarian in me grumbles that I have almost no garbage to haul, and I compost my own yard waste. I might as well live in the country! Ha.

    PS, is your gmail working now? I had a greenhouse question…. 🙂

  10. There are many environmental laws and regulations that are justifiable for all kinds of good reasons. I taught environmental economics for 30+ years and always argued that unconstrained firms (and gov’t agencies and non-profits and farms, etc.) would make decisions in their own best interests (to maximise profits). But these decisions would cause a lot of consequences to other people (externalities, we call them) that the firms would just ignore (or commonly not even be aware of). A basic function of government is to set the rules of the game, to prevent one group of people from harming others, and so I automatically favored regulation.

    More recently I’ve become a lot more hesitant: how much of my behavior – and the behaviors of others – do I want to have mandated by big government, especially when I distrust the judgement of legislators and bureaucrats and the “experts”, when I know the people who are writing the laws and then the rules have little experience of the nuts and bolts of the industries they are trying to regulate and so fail to make the fine distinctions required to make the rules really work well? Should the same food safety rules written for large, for-profit farms and dairies be applied automatically to small farms and small dairies? Or are the circumstances quite different? And so often, even commonly, the rules are written to advantage the rich and the powerful at the expense of people like you and me.

    And the regulators have their own agendas. An individual inspector can wreak havoc with a small farmer or dairy if he or she chooses to do so. Joel Salatin wrote a whole book on his struggles against government regulators.

    Maybe our numbers and our technology have simply outrun what we, as a species, can handle? I see no evidence that our leaders in Washington, or in many states, are exhibiting the necessary wisdom to help us cope with unsustainable agriculture, peak oil, global climate change, and running out of water in many regions.

    Schools funding and management of our state and national economies are additional evidences of inadequate, politically short-sighted leadership.

    As a result, I am much more inclined, now at the age of 67, than I was in previous decades, not to worry about the law in the kind of circumstances you describe, El. Or to put it another way, “What the DNR doesn’t know can’t hurt you!”

  11. One last quick comment: too many of us assume that it is a moral necessity to obey the law. But this assumes that laws are written in a moral manner and for moral purposes. Too often they are written for the advantage of some (say large dairies and Monsanto) at the expense of others (like small farms and dairies). In other words, greatly increasing the costs to the small operations so they find it difficult to stay in business; but that would be the point of the law, to drive them out of business. And there are too, too many laws written like that. I see no moral necessity to obey such laws, when they are written by bought-off legislators.

  12. Again, very interesting. I’m inclined to agree with you.

    Those baby bantams are adorable! What breed? I’ve heard that bantams are better fliers than standards. Do you think this is true? I would hate to “lose” some because they flew over my 6ft fence and potentially into a dangerous situation. That’s why I’m starting out with standards. But in the future, I’d like to get some bantams, if I think they will be safe with me.

  13. well my goodness….all I have to say is you are still inspiring me to get that greenhouse up and up it will go, this fall.

    and that you are kind and eloquent even in the midst of snarky comments. You are made of some awesome El!

  14. Thanks for your thoughts. Your website has been very inspiring (and reassuring) to me, as we are finding our way to homesteading.

  15. I think this whole discussion about income and the things that are more important to us than money is really important. It’s so easy to get caught up in life choices being defined by dollars, and the reality is, at the end of the day, many of make life choices for other reasons anyway. I’ve linked your post to my blog, where I’m trying to muddle through how I feel about the possibility of farming for income and how income fits into what feels like a sustainable life. Thanks for all the food for thought!

  16. Pingback: Another link in the conversation.. | Backyard Feast

  17. i have to try to restrain myself; this is a hot topic in my household and among those with whom i work and converse.

    the way i see it, we’ve got three major problems to address before this country gets back on track. the first is taxation. did you know that superlarge corporations like Exxon and Halliburton pay NO taxes? and that due to favorable laws that were written by large corporations, they sometimes get paid by the government (“tax refunds”)? do a little research if you aren’t aware of this, but don’t look for useful information from most of the mainstream press. they are mostly owned by very large corporations which benefit from these tax laws. in the 50s, a period many americans believe to be our golden age, large corporations and the very wealthy often paid 60-90% taxation rates! can you even imagine that today? we Little People are overtaxed; I am a radical leftist but i agree with my far right counterparts. federal income should be EVENLY drawn from ALL actors in our economy according to their size. and don’t get me started on off-shore “headquarters” in tropical island nations where the rich and corporations go to avoid paying US taxes. if we properly taxed everyone who did business here, so many of our problems would be solved overnight.

    the second problem i see is the ever growing, always hungry for a bigger budget “MIC.” (that’s military-industrial complex, coined by Eisenhower). why ‘can’t’ the democrats end the wars, even thought they campaigned on that, twice? because the MIC is so powerful it can assert its own will over that of even good public officials, and does so easily with those who are corrupt. again, if we spent what we waste in iraq and afghanistan on a jobs program, a lot of people would benefit. and our soldiers would be able to come home to their families. we will never “win” anything in those nations, by the way. never.

    finally, education. the parasitic administrative overclass needs to be pared to about 1/10th its size, and mandatory testing needs to end. everything that is wrong with this country today can be traced back to the destruction of quality public education in this country, a process that started in the 70s by the ideological right and republican party, and followed thru by today’s democrats, who are as conservative as republicans were in the 60s. but the ruling class of the elite wealthy understood, then as now, that the easiest way to control a population is to keep them ignorant and unaware of what their government is doing. they mostly succeeded.

  18. heh, i’m going to link to this post over at my blog, http://www.correntewire.com, soon. i’d like to invite all you folks to stop by and join the conversation. we started out as a liberal issues political blog, but we’ve rapidly expanded and many of us are writing about garden/food/farm issues now, with lots of political context. everyone is welcome, even those with different political views. thanks again for the thoughtful conversation and i apologize for being so wordy. 🙂

  19. Goodness, Sharon, I hope your friend doesn’t quit. And unless she’s quitting entirely (sometimes that’s highly unlikely) she might just be raising the cattle for her own needs: indeed, that’s how I got my last beef order, by a family who raised two (!!) boys to killing age. So there might be a middle ground after all, in going smaller. Tell her to keep your number!

    Hi Stefani, yeah, I can’t imagine getting bigger either mainly because I really want that connection. And on their end too, they trust me! Logsdon is great. What’s funny of course is I think his farm is huge and he thinks it’s tiny. I suppose that’s the scale difference between 5 and 5,000 acres (not his, but what he thinks is big, which I think is unfathomable).

    Sue! Hi. I read your comment and had to think “there’s a whole lot of abdication going on” as I don’t see much in the way of “general good neighborliness” going on, period, in the country or the city. I actually felt more at ease with my city neighbors, felt more like they’d help me than I was down, and that surprises me considering how transitory city people are. I don’t know the answer in re: schools and funding. And maybe I am frightfully naive to think more money thrown at them would ensure good results. Both you and chidy are bringing up wonderful points that, surprisingly, are not canceling each other out at all. Even in my kid’s private school, there are sooooo many drop-off parents that it kind of makes me nutty: in this case, they really do think they’re paying for the teachers to be the parents. Also interestingly, the tuition for the school is exactly the state/local’s per-student price spent on her seat in a public school, so it’s not like she’s eating off fine china and watching the polo club or something. Dang parents!

    Taxes are a privilege, as you say, Paula; you said it well. I guess I am of the school that I would love to see more done with them, and have higher expectations of what happens with them, if I saw a bigger buy-in for what the taxes would do for me (personally). I would love single-payer, I would love cradle-to-grave health care, I would love to have taken the two years maternity leave I did take off paid for by Uncle Sam but he’s a stingy uncle, expecting you to salute him and then you’re left with health care which will take effect if at all in 2014, and there is no way maternity leave will be anything other than the parents’ choice in this country. And don’t get me started about early childhood education; the number 2 Republican senator in this country (Kyl, AZ) wants to repeal the 14th amendment so the kids of illegal parents get the boot. I don’t know. I think we expect too little and are disinvested too much and so, you’re right, we have jack…and yeah, we have ourselves to blame. Better get out and weed.

    Thanks again, Emily 🙂

    Paula! Aww, I hope growing up on a farm gives my kid the warm-and-fuzzies too and that she doesn’t resent me for taking her out of the city. But yes you point out one very important thing: your dad (and I can only infer your mom too) was happy raising that stock. What more can you say?

    et, that’s crazy (that you have to buy in to your library). What’s next? I would think the libraries of, especially, small communities and inner-city locales to be, frankly, beacons in a storm. Screwed up priorities, all.

    Petunia, thanks! Honestly you brought it up best in that all people of good will want the same things, just maybe a different path to get there…and maybe the degree to which whatever problem is a fire worth putting out. I think you’ve summed it up well. We need to see more good being done. I am quite happy with Michigan; in general, it’s a well-run state despite the various other problems affecting it…I wish you could say that about CA. It’s so sad that in 20-25 years your state has had such a turnaround in so many areas, and almost none to the better. Sigh.

    Ah Sara but if you did earn megabucks you wouldn’t be taxed the same way at all. And if you happened to make them this year and die this year too you’re (okay not you but your descendants) are in luck! no inheritance taxes. Sigh sigh sigh consumerism IS I fear the root of all of this.

    Let’s not forget Dennis that the legislators who craft those regulations do so at the behest, more often than not, of those lobbyists whose industries and interests they represent: there’s not much “greater good” but more like “for the good of the great” going on there, man. And yes individual regulators can be quite prickly…but then again I would prefer the prickles than the mine disasters and the oil disasters that lately have been wrought by a lack of oversight or maybe even those regulators are having beers with the people whose outfits they’re overseeing: not much impartiality there. Yeah I guess I am with you in not sweating the stuff too much with the local outfits and of course I wish laws were written more with the smaller farms in mind…or at least having exemptions if a farm is, say, under 50 acres and has less than x animals on it. Profit can’t be the only motive in this world; it has been, and look at the pickle we’re in!

    Jackie! They’re mutts! Dad is a white with buff strutting kind of thing and the moms (there are 3) are all Golden Sebrights. And yes, bantams are terribly flighty…all except the Silkies which can be quite tame (and I am sure there are others out there; my experience is fairly limited as I have only had 3 breeds, and they’re all nuts!). Their eggs are tiny, about half the size of a (big) chicken egg. And they’re fabulous mothers, which is why I have them. Otherwise, I think people have them because they’re so pretty, like yard objects-d’art. A 6′ fence would be no problem for them. But they do like to come home!

    Kathy, yaaayy! greenhouse!!! And thank you. I don’t know, sometimes these posts are the funnest ones even if they’re kind of painful to read and think about.

    Kate. Best of luck to you in your newest incarnation! I hope I continue to inspire; we’re doing what we can here…and yeah, it makes us tired sometimes but it’s lots more rewarding than life on the C train.

    BYF, indeed, there’s more to life than money; I am a walking advertisement, if I can be and not be a laughingstock, to nonconsumerism. I adore my priorities now. And my shoes and clothes fit me still from “back in the day” when I actually gave a rip what I looked like; now, well, now it’s a good day if I show up with no poo on my shoes. 🙂

    chidy! I obviously touched a nerve! zzzing! Actually, I truly appreciate your input. Most people don’t know the things you’re mentioning not, I would argue, out of a willful unknowing but more out of a, what, cultural amnesia? And maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a product of the culture. You mentioned Eisenhower: I would guess 12 of 20 Americans asked randomly on the street would not be able to say when that man was in office. Re: nontaxing big corporations. Does it all come down to the stupid decision of corporate personhood? No, I doubt that, but it has something to do with it. And the military. I think that’s a millstone we’re stuck wearing on our necks no matter what happens: even Secretary Gates recently said “Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?” (Yes, Mr. Secretary.) In other words, the MIC is rather unsustainable, just like a whole bunch of other American ways of being (driving gas-sucking SUVs, consuming endlessly, etc) are unsustainable, but somehow we lack the will (ability??) to change things. And public schools. I know well what you say re: the perils of administration. My mom is a 20 year veteran of the Chicago public schools. Many are the days she put on her battle armor and charged off to Pershing Rd for some stupid bureaucratic battle for or against something-or-other. Sigh. Often, these things are too painful for us to see, it’s just easier to look away, or maybe just look down and pull weeds. The latter’s been my m.o. And thanks for sending out a come-over-here to continue this conversation! I hope you get some takers 😀

  20. As a public school teacher, barterer and would-be homesteader, let me just say, “Amen Sister.” Thank you for once again expressing my thoughts so eloquently.

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