Makenna Goodman  @  ChelseaGreen

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Bread Labor Party

Posted on Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 at 10:04 am by Makenna Goodman

I'm reading a lot about the Nearings, intensely committed folk who came from NYC to Vermont before the Back to the Land movement existed, during the depression. They were the original gangsters who left New York City in search of what they call, "The Good Life". They're extreme. They don't eat bread. They don't eat ice cream! They did not put their maple syrup on vanilla ice cream, like I love. They're perfected, they're regimented, they're scientific, they're precise.

They're everything I'm not.

Spring is here, and the preparations are underway. And instead of being excited, I'm spending a lot of time worrying how I'm going to screw everything up. Planting the seeds, weeding, raising new animals, transplanting, making sure the flowers are all nice and alert–oh my god it just makes me want to crawl into a little stone hut that I built myself and stay there until next winter. What if I suck at gardening?

This, of course, is a common problem: people fear what they don't yet know. But it feels like the loneliest thing in the world when it's you who doesn't know anything, and everyone else around seems to be just the dandiest planter on the east coast. Where are all of the other misguided, misinformed, maladjusted young people around here? Am I the only person having a meltdown as I watch the snow melt away? I've gotten used to winter, for crying out loud. Why does everything all of a sudden have to change? I mean, I've just become accustomed to the idea that I can man the fires, feed the cows, bake cornbread in the wood stove, skate on ponds, drive in blizzards–and I practically ride muddy driveways now for sport. But gardening? Fugettaboutit. I'm totally trippin'. It feels like when I lived in Colorado and everyone was a Grand Canyon River Guide or an ice climber or Lance Armstrong. You'd go get your coffee in the morning at the bakery and sixty-five mountain bikers would be rolling in from a forty-mile morning ride! Gangsters. And here I am, biting my nails over whether or not to mulch.

The first flowers came up this weekend–little Snow Bells. Those brave little buds with their teeny, white heads lowered and braced against the chilly wind. Frida was interested in them, too–she's about as clueless as I am, adopted from a pound in Brooklyn and all, fresh to the land. Together we threw a bale of hay to the cows, and sort of tripped around the melting lumps of ice in the backyard and I wondered what Helen Nearing would say to me, if she were there. Something tells me we wouldn't be smoking a joint together. Work! There is work to be done! There's always more and more and more work! I can't wait for it, actually, is the truth. It freaks me out because I'm no master at it, but I'm desperate for manual work. Too much thinking about the garden…time to get busy.

I was thinking about another thing I never did when I lived in New York: listen to the radio. It's not really part of the culture there, to click on NPR in the mornings, or at least not among my friends. Maybe because everyone has access to TV and newspapers and blogs, so the radio is too slow, too talky for the busy commuter. I love the radio, but it's not that uplifting these days. With the G20 summit meeting about how to handle the financial crisis, the protests, the jobless streaming in the streets, unable to afford health care while bankers take trips to the Bahamas on their bonus bucks–the world is in pretty tough shape. It reminds me how lucky I am, to be able to consider self-sufficiency, or at least aspire to it. What would it be like, in this day and age, to actually function apart from the market economy, for real? Some people can't really consider it, for so many reasons. But I've heard of the Transition Towns who seek the redefinition of money and community…and I'm into it. To rely on the labor of friends, the trading between neighbors (syrup for firewood, beef for cider, butter for beer). It sounds like a hippy notion, but it's so possible–and it's already happening. More and more young people are re-thinking their lives, and the possibilities. And perhaps bread labor (which is what the Nearings called it–the labor you need in order to put bread on your table) will replace the act of making money to spend money, on things we don't need.

I'm going to learn how to make bread this weekend. That will be my version of bread labor. Maybe one of these days, I won't need to buy it at all.

This just in! I have begun planning a chicken tractor. A brilliant concoction created by permaculturist Toby Hemenway.

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