I hated school-it didn't make any sense My Mother's response to my grumbling was, "Just put up with it, you can't change it". It took me many years to find that she was right. After 3 years in the Marines, from '51 to '54, wife Barb and I lived in a housing project in South Boston, MA, while she finished her RN at Mass. General Hospital. I worked nights
and we delivered our second child, Doug, at home intentionally, six days after Barb graduated. Then a year in Winona's housing project, while I collected the GI Bill at Winona State, which was mostly a teachers college. Majored in biology, because it was the closest to my outdoor interest, but we never looked outdoors. Bought this l75 acre farm my second year in school, l956, on contract for deed--$6,000 down with the $l0,000 balance due in one year. Most didn't think we'd swing it, including the seller, but
this farm is still home.
Taught 6th grade for 2 years. Tried to get the kids out and bring the world into the classroom, including taking half the class, plus Barb and 2 dads, 300 miles to the Canadian border for a 6 day boundary waters canoe trip, but found school as stifling as a teacher as it was as a student.
To me, there are 3 ideals in life. I) to find some worthwhile activity, which will support you, yet it brings you such inner satisfaction that you would do it for no pay. 2) A piece of earth upon which you are content to spend the rest of your life and would not sell for any price. 3) A partner who feels the same about #1 and 2.
One thing most teenagers and retired people would seem to have in common is time, minus the pressures of having and supporting a family. If only teenagers were aware of and had the luxury of time to pursue the 3 mentioned goals; however, they don't; for society has contrived a series of fragmented distractions for the young, each with an institutionalized array of gaudy, external rewards, which in an of themselves become the goals, while totally overshadowing the pursuit, discovery and development of activities, which are capable of sustaining themselves through inner satisfaction. Schools institutionalize the distraction of athletics, with marching bands, cheer leaders, pom pom girls and a rabid "our team" against the enemy, that takes on the moral equivalent of war. Over 95% of those who play band instruments will never blow a note after graduations anymore than the 45 yr. old male will not be playing football or the mother of 5 will not be practicing the high hurdles in the backyard, for few of schools distracting activities are of a "life time" nature. However, most will graduate as lifetime sports fans and consumers. Scouts and 4-H would be dead without rewards. No badge or ribbons, no jump. Jumping for rewards conditions one to jump for money. For the right price, most do or sell whatever pays, until retirement. After school, weekends or school vacation, are for "having fun/hanging out or partying". Just as the worker feels deserving of a few beer and TV, after a shift at a meaningless job, so many look on retirement, as a well deserved "opportunity" to do nothing.
Some retirees, take a daily drive, to pass the time March l, l998, in a $200 car, I started taking a daily drive, with stops at 2 local supermarkets, to pick up waste food, with no thought of any compensation, other than the inner satisfaction of seeing the cycle of life completed by feeding tons of food to farm animals. The first day on "the job" a young produce mgr. said to a student employ, "Why don't these people get a job?" referring to me. I concluded that dumpster diving is beneath the dignity of the homeless and those who frequent food shelves, for in 8 months of 7 days a week diving, we never saw any of "those people". We outgrew the car, so bought a van and then a l ton truck. And then Gordon, who had a hog farm 30 miles from Winona and had received a $32,500 state grant to help him pick up food waste from Winona, Rochester and Albert Lea, quit, because of low hog prices. Without a doubt, 7 days a week, for 8 months, proved that
"dumpster diving for waste food" is what we would and did do for no pay.
Now we have 250 32 gallon Rubbermaid barrels, pressure washer, a 40'Xl00' hoop house with a l,000 gal tank in the floor so we can collect wash water to mix into compost piles, another outdoor wood boiler to heat the hoop house and hot water and we're searching for a way to make steam with wood, so that the food waste can be fed to hogs and chickens and so that we can produce power from downed urban trees, over 90% of which commercial tree trimmers torch or bury.
Dumpster diving and garbage feeding would be rated by most, to be at the "bottom of the barrel" -socially, intellectually and financially. That someone could gain inner satisfaction or "learn" anything from an activity that rates so low, when judged against the value system they have grown up with, would be unfathomable.
However, it is this lowly activity, which is the foundation for unschoolers visiting and taking part in an unschooling lifestyle, which is probably unique to small farms. At l3 I could've started what we are doing, using a bike and cart to collect waste food, for it was at l3 that I peddled l20 daily papers through the same area that we now collect food waste from.
In l999, with an incubator, we hatched some chicks from our own eggs, raised them almost totally on waste food and sold 300 to Hmongs for $5 @. In 2000 we sold l000 chickens and 300 doz. eggs at $l a doz. and we have 600 chickens left, so the cycle will continue, with no further investment.
Collecting, incubating and hatching chicken eggs; then raising them on the energy in food waste, that we are paid to pick up, that would otherwise go to a land fill, is a beautiful cycle that is so "light on the land" compared with the years this farm was trampled by over l00 head of cattle. Unlike cattle, chickens are something that all ages can safely help with.
In l958, while attending Winona State University, on the G.I. Bill, I picked up food waste for my hogs. That ended when the enlightening institution started 40 years of cramming a ton of garbage a day into a garbage disposal unit, until it fouled up Winona's sewage plant. It froze, smelled or attracted flies and bees in their compactor, so now I could tell the young produce mgr. that I do have a job--at 2 universities, the hospital, a Food Coop, Winona's largest supermarket and the list is growing. And now, Winona County is going to try and persuade the Winona Area Schools, that The Winona Farm could make their students aware that there is a better use for their food waste than a landfill.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in life, it is the only thing" Schooled kids are submerged in the "schooling" process. From cradle to grave, schoolers are surrounded by examples of schooling, to where it is almost impossible for them to think beyond departmentalized subject matter. The same schooling malaise surrounds unschoolers. Where do they find an unschooling example or an adult that not only supports the unschooling philosophy, but doesn't then go off to a schooling job or support the unschooler's efforts by reminding that some colleges now accept unschoolers.
I contend that if a child's natural curiosity is not squashed or distracted he will find answers, just as we did at l2 and l3, riding our bikes up and down alleys, finding pigeon raisers, or at l4, after reading books on trapping and having little luck a friend's dad introduced us to a fireman, who told us of the dirt hole set. With the dirt hole set, in l948 when l6, I trapped 54 fox in 2.5 mo., after school for the $4 bounty and 7l the next
Fall. Four dollars then was at least l0 times what it is now and I saved every penny. Far more important, while trapping I met Sonny, a dairy farmer. I hated school and trapping allowed me to leave school at. 3:00 PM, instead of 4:00 PM, during the fall. Playing high school hockey got me out early during the winter and Sonny signed my work slip, so I could help him on the farm, spring quarter My Mother's words were, "Sonny should be
paying you, he has the first dime he ever made". I had no urge to ask Sonny for pay and I probably wasn't worth much, but Sonny paid me far more than money. By allowing me to help cut wood, peel fence posts, build fence, feed cows and clean barns, I experienced the satisfaction of "constructive exercise" and the small farm lifestyle that led me to buy this l75 acre farm next to Sonny's, when I was 24, with a wife and 2 kids. Life is a "series of accidents", some good and some not so good, but unless you start making accidents happen early, life might just pass you by.
With the net, one can be buried in information. What is lacking are kids that have something they want to find out about, so they can build, create or solve their own problems, rather than solving work book problems, for a grade. This unschooling approach is based on a positive attitude toward humans. We came into this world full of curiosity and mastered crawling, walking and speaking whatever languages we were exposed to, minus carrots and sticks. Those of us that have had the courage not to send our kids to school and not to play teacher have found that you can't stop a kid from reading. One of my sons was l0 or ll before he started reading. By that age he had milked a lot of cows, made a lot of hay, been in nearly every state with me on the semi and somewhere in there, he figured out reading, on his own. Once we get excited about something, we tend to hang on like a bulldog and every interest leads to something else. School is based on a negative approach. The human must be told what to do, know and think, for l2 to l6 years, at least. This system is guaranteed to kill their curiosity and prepare them to stick with a job, often the same one for 30 to 40 years. Schools produce the few well-paid athletes and the essential loyal fans. My last "teaching" job after l0 yrs. of working at every experimental ed. program I could find was "69-'70 at State University of NY at Plattsburgh. Four of us worked full time with 90 students, 30 of whom took no classes. It was based on the belief that when a student is told what to do for every minute of l2 school years, that they have no idea what, if anything, they want to do. Our job was to try to get these students to figure out what they wanted to do and to get them out into the world doing it. My conclusion was that it was 20 years too late. Ideally, kids start at ground level, where they can get their hands dirty and are among adults pursuing their interests, which is just the opposite of school.
Although cutting wood may warm one twice, the energy crunch of the 70's, when many bought chain saws, trailers, pick-ups and wood stoves, proved that twice isn't enough inner warmth to sustain an activity. High priced fuel was their only motivation and most had their fill after one winter I've heated this farmhouse with only wood, (no back up) for over 40 years. It has nothing to do with the price of fuel. It is part of an outdoor life style that warms me more than twice. I've been swinging the same, razor sharp double bitted axe for 45 years. There's tape on the handle. Sonny Girtler, my farmer neighbor who impressed me with his axemanship when I was l6, said I'd split the handle if I kept twisting when I swung--thus the tape. Sunny died 34 years ago. He led a healthy lifestyle, but he smoked and it stopped his heart at 54. I take weed trees, like box elder, down with the chain saw, trim them with the axe and then block them into 4.5' pieces, which fit our 2 outdoor, wood boilers. Trimming a downed tree with an axe is a lifetime sport. A few well placed swings and the tree is trimmed. The brush is stacked for wildlife. Surrounding trees that are more beneficial to man and wild life, appreciate the space. When passing by in summer I'll notice the brown thrasher or catbird nesting in the brush pile with a woodchuck burrow underneath. Never, during the process of cutting, trimming, stacking to dry for a year, stacking in the shed as seasoned wood, have I ever thought of doing this to save money.
And so it is with the food waste also. For Gordon, it was a business that lacked the profit for him to continue. For me it is a passion, with rewards similar to woodcutting. It would seem these passions develop when one is young, when one does things only for the inner satisfaction, with no external reward. Today, with the earliest kid activities organized around winners and losers, these inner passions have little chance of developing and thus sustaining one in retirement.
Where you live is so important as to how your kid grows up. Bedroom communities, is a fitting description of suburbs, where the only sign of daytime life is the mailman or a lost dog. Everyone else is at work or school. George Goetzman farmed the 400 acre valley next to me, which now contains over l50 homes, with covenants that don't even allow clotheslines. We never see kids from those homes in the hills that surround them or along the trout stream that passes through our adjoining lands I was lucky to grow up on the edge of Lake Winona, an ideal kids lake, which was alive with fish, turtles, frogs, muskrats and life. Every morning I would fish with a willow pole I cut on the edge of the lake. I was given a used, canvas, l8' Old Town Canoe, when l3. Other than the distraction of school, Lake Winona provided me the opportunity to live spontaneously. I could canoe, fish, spear carp, swim, trap muskrats, skate and play hockey whenever conditions were right and I wasn't dependent on anyone to get me to the lake. Paul Goodman, in "Growing Up Absurd" tells how most kids are dependent on others to do about anything. On a hot day, they'd like to go swimming, but need a ride to and from, but it is a long drive to the crowded beach. Eventually they quit asking to swim and turn on the tube.
My Mother had a compost pile and she would have me screen it to start seedlings. Digging in that rich material and running my hands through the finished product, was a start, but what really solidified my interest in rich soil and all the life it would support came from digging worms on the other side of the fence from a wealthy family, where their gardeners and yard men had thrown leaves and grass clippings for years. Lake Winona provided an escape from a home in town, where there was little for a growing boy to do, other than mow the lawn and take out the trash. However, because of the determination to trap fox, Jim and I, at l4, walked around Lake Winona, over the 500' hill and down into East Burns Valley, where we found Helen Girtler, by her milk house and asked if we could trap fox on her farm. She said, "You'll have to ask Sonny". That accidental meeting was the beginning of a 50-year friendship, which led to my buying The Winona Farm, ten years later.