Monday, October 14, 2013

Outside of paradise

Country living

It's the ultimate dream - move to the country, keep a few animals and live closer to nature. There is nothing wrong with having a dream, it's just a little different when you have to actually live it! That's when you learn all the details you never knew existed before.

Enter our five acres we've affectionately dubbed, Gully Grove. This was our dream we chose to pursue, and it has given us so many opportunities we wouldn't have experienced in suburbia. But we did have to move further away from essential services, like hospitals, dentists and mechanics. It's manageable for us while we have our health, but it would be a different matter if one of us got seriously ill or needed a lot of specialist treatment.

I've been noticing a trend in many of the blogs and websites I read, which espouse a more simplified approach to living and ways to go about it. Very little is written from the perspective of those with health challenges or outright physical disabilities. And why would you write about it, if disability isn't something which has touched your life?

Wall building ~ 2008

One particular blog I read occasionally though, announced they were starting to write a book about a future with little of today's luxuries - they wrote things like medicine will become less available, but not to panic as there are ways of coping. As someone who requires daily artificial insulin, in order to live, I thought that statement about medicine a little naive. It does become a big deal when its not optional. It's not something you can address with finding substitutes in nature, making by hand or simply learning to do without.

I started to contemplate much of the thought-provoking material I like to read on a regular basis, and it suddenly dawned on me, how much of it presumes you are able-bodied. While I have my health, I can be empowered by reading such material. I can go about my property, digging swales, planting edibles and providing a more simple life for our family. What happens if you're not able bodied though?

I guess I'm wondering where the living simply material is, for those with health challenges? Or indeed, where is the material for anyone who has come a cropper with their life circumstances, which forces them to deviate from living simply.

Earthworks by hand

My reality on our five acres, is that it's a lot of hard work. I like the work, as it suits my driven nature. But given a different set of circumstances which didn't allow me to negotiate those available options today, what would I do in that diminished capacity? I would want to do something of equal merit, even if it did look enormously different!

If you know of any such material out there, please point me to it. I would love to read about a simple living future, where we include those with disabilities and diminished capacities. How will they participate in a diminished energy future?


  1. Good point Chris. I have long thought that if either Pete or I had any kind of accident or illness that reduced our capacity for hard physical work we would probably have to move back to the city. I just don't know how we could possible round up cattle or build fence if one or both of us was unable to help. I know that we will get weaker as we age, and it is a focus for us to get the heavy work done now while we can, so that we have systems set up and working for us when we are older, so that we can stay out on the farm as long as possible. One thing that challenged that assumption recently, was the other day we picked up some cattle panels from a semi-rural property near Toowoomba. The proprietor of the business was in a wheel chair due to an accident, but he lived on 10 acres and ran a business importing fencing equipment, mostly sold online. He had a low set house and everything arranged so that he could get around in his chair. He had a couple of employees who drove the forklift and pallet lift, but I did notice that he had a modified off-road vehicle (not sure what they are called) with a ramp so that he could drive up in his wheelchair and I assume he used that vehicle to get around the property. Its not ideal, and you would have to find the right (flat-ish) property to make it work, but it just shows that its possible to live on acerage with a disability, if you have the right machines to help you and the right property. I has very heartened to see what he had achieved, he was only around 30, and he's made a life for himself in the country without having to sit at home in a city house and rely on others, as I would have previously thought. Diminished energy may be a problem in the future though, as he was relying on machines. I think in a diminished energy future we would have to rely on community to help, rather than machines.

    And you're right, there isn't much information out there about small-farming (or large farming) with a disability, or even just in old age when things naturally get more difficult. We also have a friend who is over 70 and still gets up at 5am to milk 100 dairy cows with his son and carries heavy buckets of feed and chases cattle, I think the farm keeps him alive, he is a huge inspiration to us!

    Very interesting post, that really got me thinking, thanks Chris!

  2. I think those vehicles you are referring to are ATV's (all terrain vehicles) and they're really exceptional to have on large properties. But they would also service those with diminished capacity get about the farm too. My own grandfather had a golf buggy to get around his one acre property. Nothing like an ATV, but he wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere either.

    Thanks for sharing those examples - it's heartening to know there are ways to get about a property, despite impaired mobility. You're right, it is a very energy hungry means to an end though. I can see animals playing an important part - working dogs would be essential at rounding up livestock but then you'd have to have human support too. An extra set of eyes to watch out for you, especially when you're working with animals, is not a bad thing.

    I love the ingenuity of the 30 year old in need of a wheelchair though. Instead of working with animals to keep his property, he got in the business of supplying the means to "keep" animals for other farmers. It takes a person who needs equipment to know how to supply equipment to others. I like that approach, it's very practical.

    But it works while we have cheap energy...the future so many talk about beyond cheap energy, is a place people with disabilities will be living in too. I'm absolutely sure, they wouldn't want to sit on the sidelines. But in the material I've read to date (and its all great information) but the conversation doesn't seem to include those with
    impairments of a physical nature.

    I guess its stuff to ponder for the future though. :) Thanks for adding your thoughts.

  3. I wonder about tne same thing. Infact a friend was visiting me from Chicago this last weekend and we discussed it. I pretty much think it's up to us ( peopke with existing health concerns) to write those rules because they trully are not out there.
    My friend and I discussed it regarding how permaculture classes as well as herbal ones expect hard manual labor as well as tuition- for someone like myself, it can't work. Shameful.
    The common advise regarding medicine is to stock up. That's an incomplete answer obviously. Expiration dates, doctor co- operation, and cost all can hinder this option.
    Community might be an answer but most of us face alienation due to isolation. I suppose lots can be done but it's not being done widely.

  4. I noticed that about permaculture classes too, and the paying students complete hard physical work on permaculture sites to get their accreditation. That's not the problem actually, because it's a great way of teaching people on site...but how very little (nothing I've seen to date) is aimed at those with physical barriers too.

    It's such a shame, because I think permaculture probably has the best answers for people who are heavily dependent on fossil energy, because of disability. I was listening to a David Holmgren interview yesterday actually, about beyond sustainability. He talked about how each generation after this one, will be responsible for coming up with the means to do with less and less resources. It sounds encouraging, it's a place to start planning, but again, very little mention about people who will struggle with mobility.

    The mainstream discussion seems to imply (at least by omission) that the biggest struggle with be with those able-bodied people, giving up their corporate driven lifestyles because of a dwindling oil supply. Yet amongst that number are people living fossil hungry lives, because of disability. Where are their permaculture soltuions?

    But you're probably right that it will be up to those with impairments to enable themselves, and talk about their solutions more. In fact, it sounds like another blog post is in order on this subject. Permaculture is about observing nature and applying those permanent solutions found within it. Time to get observing...

    I hope you had a great time with your friend visiting recently. You certainly had a few thought provoking conversations by the sounds of it. :)

  5. I agree regarding the work involved in obtaining a permaculture certificate-its necessary. But I don't see the situation including disabled folks in the work itself despite the lip service paid to permaculture solutions to include the situation in its problem solving-at least state side.
    I had a designer visit our property and she told me that a permaculture club was starting up in the area soon. They would go from property to property and do the projects as they taught. I told her that I could not get involved if that was the case due to physical limitations. Her answer? "You cook. We can put you in the kitchen." Well I found that good intentioned but laughable-yes I can cook. But how on earth does that solve the actual problem?

    What Holmgren said was true but at the same time, Archdruid has been discussing this for awhile now too. I find locally that the permaculture crowd has this dream of positive thinking being the solution to these issues and folks like the Archdruid are too "negative" for them. I know that the future is scary and I am hoping Holmgren will help change minds over here:)

    I don't mean to sound negative-what you are saying is very true and I support you fully but as you know, its very serious stuff regardless of disability. I think that we can look to third world cultures and lifestyles to see how things are done regarding disability. I think we will find one solution to be tight knit families.

    Also, I was once upon a time wanting to apprentice with a company called Archeworkes in Chicago. They were an architectural firm that took on projects that helped not for profits, including those that helped persons with disablities. They took apprentices from all disciplines and walks of life to help make things happen. At any rate, about a year ago, I saw that they were getting into sustainability and I didn't have time to look further. It might be worth a look now to see if they didn't merge their interests in helping the disabled with this. Its a lead anyhow.

  6. Ah yes, I see. You can cook for a class to be taught on your site, which would include some physical labour done by others for you. But that doesn't solve your permanent issue of managing the land on a long term basis. Potentially there could be opportunities to network though, and meet others who have more permanent solutions.

    It would be great if you could put someone up on your property in lieu of rent. They help grow the food which helps feed you. But then it takes money and energy to build extra accommodation too. This is something people with disabilities need help organising, because they struggle more with the energy component required.

    Good luck following up the architectural firm - I hope they can help. They may even have contacts for organisations who can show you a working model, of how they work with those with physical disabilities.


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