What Will We Contribute to the Gift Economy?

As a couple of quickly aging farmers, we expect to need lots of support from our friends, family, and neighbors to survive after our industrial economy collapses. We envision a return to some form of a gift economy, in which communities that matter will be almost exclusively local.

It’s obvious we will need the gift economy. What can we provide to others as our contributions?

We can provide encouragement. I hope I keep getting better at this. The world needs more people who naturally, without thinking about it, notice when someone else does something generous, or helpful, or just smart, and congratulates them for it. I don’t do it enough, not even with the woman I love. Perhaps you can remind me from to time by asking me how I’m coming with that encourager role.

We can share knowledge. Yes, the subtitle of this site is “Beginners Learning Subsistence Farming,” and we certainly were beginners when we started. But that was 18 months ago. We’re slowly learning when to plant the okra, what it takes to make a subsistence farm work smoothly, and how to live a coherent life without spending a lot of money. Those don’t sound like critical skills to the industrial economy, but in the difficult days to come, every one of them will matter.

As I’ve already said here, I subscribe to Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that it takes a good 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something. By my calculation, Amanda and I are about 31% of the way, not masters by any definition but clearly novice or better. And I expect we’ll get smarter (and therefore more helpful to others) during the next few years.

We can share food. Amanda loves giving food away. She’s never said so, but I can tell she takes pride in the fact that almost no one leaves Longleaf Breeze empty-handed. As we get better and make fewer mistakes, maybe we’ll be able to share even more. We particularly hope that the young orchard we have planted and are so carefully tending will one day yield fruit in quantity.

It is our fond hope in particular that the muscadines we’ve planted (four last year, plus 15 that survived after planting this year) will produce enough fruit for muscadine jam, or maybe even a little muscadine wine. We need to be careful not to count our muscadines before they sprout of course. But on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with good planning.

I remember my first year as a new divorce lawyer, I had almost no business but expected my volume to increase later, so I spent my time planning and developing systems that would allow me to handle a comparatively large volume of business without needing to expand or hire staff. It was the right decision to make, because business picked up quickly, and I was ready. Now it’s probably time for Amanda and I to engage in a similar process with our little farm. We have relatively little food to show for our efforts, but we expect that to improve over time. As it does, how will we use, store, and give away what we don’t need to eat right away?

We have agreed to hold off on laying hens until the lodge is complete; we decided that introducing chickens would be a major new initiative, and we don’t need another major new initiative right now. Later, though, when we have laying hens, we hope to have more eggs than we can use so we will be able to share them with others.

We can share shelter. For those who know how Amanda and I live now, that seems a curious prospect, to say the least. How could a couple of old people who live in a 600 sq ft apartment in their pole barn talk about making room for others to stay with them? Shouldn’t that fall naturally to our neighbors, most of whom live in large houses and who almost all have extra bedrooms? Start with the understanding that we say we live in 600 sq ft, but that’s really a lie. We have plenty of storage space in addition to our little apartment, and we spend most of the day outside, so it might be more accurate to say we sleep in a 600 sq ft apartment. We live in a much larger area.

Add to that the construction we have just begun on a lodge up the hill from the barn. The two structures are really so close that they function as one home, and the lodge is dedicated to hosting others, with a full kitchen, a large gathering area, and three modest bedrooms. So we really do anticipate being able to offer shelter to others on a temporary basis from time to time.

We can share our time. Both Amanda and I, at a comparatively young age, have carved out lives that offer us flexible schedules. There are always tasks that need doing, and they always seem urgent. But our schedules really are flexible. It’s good to be able to take time off to meet a friend somewhere and help with loading or unloading something, or to be able to run an errand for somebody from time to time. Of course, in the post-collapse gift economy we envision, many of us will be blessed with extra time, time we can share with others as part of our contribution to the gift economy. This will feel awful at first to those of us who are accustomed to think of working at our job as the only way to survive. Eventually, though, we will adjust our expectations and become comfortable with the extra time we will have. That’s probably a good thing.

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