When we started this project four years ago, we envisioned our Thanks for Nothing Month as a period of reflection – a time to think about each and every item we are consuming. And, of course, it does work. Sort of like walking up a steep hill, all the time reminding yourself how good the exercise is for you.For some reason the experience keeps reminding me of that old routine by George Carlin when he talks about “stuff.” You go on a trip and only take some of your stuff. Then you go on a day trip and take even less stuff – only the stuff you really, really need, and so on.Conscious consumption has brought on thoughts of things I need, rather than things I have or want. What are the things I am very aware of consuming when I limit consumption. Here is a brief list...
Firewood. Seems that in the middle of January, when the outside temperatures hit minus 5 degrees, I seem to need some heat. This is an actual honest to goodness need. Not a “want” pretending to be a need.
Water. We don't need a bunch of this – but the goats and llamas and dogs and cats seem to get very irritated if we don't keep fetching and carrying water to them. They just can't seem to get in the spirit of Thanks for Nothing Month (especially the cats).
Blankets. I feel like this is a borderline item, but there is nothing quite so nourishing as to get below a pile of blankets on a warm, soft bed as the world freezes solid outside.
I think everything else really falls into the “want” category, although if I didn't have them, I would probably be able to summon enough rationalizations to push them up a notch to “need.” I speak of course of...
Food. I could probably stand to go a fair time without it, but wouldn't want to. This month, however, I find that we are eating less and less. Perhaps it is because we have worked our way down through all the “goodies” and are well into bags of frozen chicken broth and rice. Still good and all that, but just fine in moderation.
Light. I could be flip and simply say that when the sun goes down, just climb under the blankets. But a bit of light in the evening is cheerful. But it is amazing how little light you actually need. We have been discussing personal light rather than abundant light. No need to light the whole room (or house) when you can simply light the place you are looking at.
Coffee. I thought about putting this under the “need” list. It seems to motivate me more than heat to get up in the middle of the night and fill the wood stove (so that hot water is waiting for me when I climb out from under the blankets).
Clean hair. I always figured that if I was captured by terrorists (or the CIA), all they would need to do is not let me wash my hair and then touch it. I would chatter away like Joe Biden.
So that's about it when it is pared down to the basics. So why do I have all this other stuff around the house? Under which list does the Chia Pet go?
According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (King James Bible).” The United States, being founded on Christian ideals, has shown to have taken the biblical directive of dominion over all to heart by consuming 20% of the world’s resources despite making up only 5% of world’s population. Additionally, this concept has created a worldview that has reduced many of the farm livestock and the pets in the US to dollars signs in the pasture, and ornaments in the apartment.
The reality is that when one views their livestock or pets as an object that they own, and not as a sentient being that also provides service for the human beings, it completely changes the dynamics of that relationship. For many Americans farmers, any kind of sacrifice, or inconvenience brought on from the animal’s anatomy (e.g. horns, claws, etc.) is often too difficult to learn to work with. Rather, the American farmer’s most preferred management style is to maim or strike fear into the animal for the sake of convenience (or because that is how it has always been done). The focus of this article will be on the prevalent practice of disbudding goats in the United States.
The process of disbudding a goat is an extremely painful procedure. A 1000º iron is pressed against the top of the skull of a baby goat (typically less than two weeks old), leaving large wounds in the place of the horns. In the best case scenario the animal screams, goes into shock, and is scarred for life. However, it is not uncommon for the animal to run a temperature for several days, and can become lethargic accompanied with depression. The eyes can also be affected if the heated iron touches soft tissue, causing blindness or a disfiguring of the face. Unfortunately, some animals experience personality changes and even stunted growth after disbudding.
The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) currently does not allow dairy goats to be shown if they have horns.* It seems odd that a surgically altered goat would be deemed the breed standard. The official response from the ADGA is, “for the safety of other animals, as well as exhibitors, horned animals are not allowed at ADGA sanctioned shows.” This is the most common justification for disbudding. Having a goat with horns is just far too dangerous to have around humans or other goats. Horns do have the potential to be dangerous, but the danger is an exception and not the norm when the proper precautions are taken to ensure everyone’s safety around the animals.**
At Blue Rock Rock Station, the philosophy of livestock management focuses on ‘peaceagree’ (i.e. the ability to get along with the herd) rather than pedigree. Annie Warmke has been a goat herder off and on since she was 19 years old. She says that, “goats will ram with or without horns; it is part of who they are, but their horns are an important part of natural health for these livestock. They provide protection when giving and receiving blows. Constant maliciously intended rams to a goat’s side or udder could seriously injure it, but that goes back to ‘peaceagree’. The question we ask ourselves with any animal in our herd is, ‘Would I want a person with that attitude living with me in my home?’ and the answer to that question should help a farmer decide whether an unruly goat living amongst the herd is worth the risk.”
It is, of course, the job of the farmer to teach their livestock that it is not okay to ram humans. With or without horns, the farmer must always be aware of where their bodies are in relation to the goat’s head. Additionally, it is imperative that the farmer be attentive to places where a goat could potentially get its horns stuck (e.g. housing, fencing, etc.). Likewise, it does not mean that it is time to disbud if the farmer is unable to do their job adequately. It means that it is time for the farmer to reevaluate whether or not they should continue having a partnership with goats.
Horns provide great utility to the goats. Goats scratching themselves in hard to reach places while the disbudded ones are forced to rub up against fences, fence posts, buildings, trees, humans, large rocks, doors, etc. They are also handy when browsing for food. More importantly, the horns are chocked full of blood vessels that help to regulate the goat’s temperature.*** Losing horns is akin to a human losing the ability to sweat. It seems unkind to do this to an animal that spends most of its life outdoors.
The goat is the most widely domesticated livestock in the world, and in most countries the goats get to keep their horns. However, in the United States (i.e. cattle country) the inhumane practice of disbudding has been normalized; all in the name of safety. But life on a farm is full of potential hazards, many of which are exclusive to certain animals (e.g. horses’ hind legs, dogs’ teeth, cats’ claws, etc.). Part of being a farmer is learning to mitigate these hazards in a way that promote health in addition to prosperity to the land. This is a situation in which bending nature to human will is causing unnecessary suffering to sentient beings. It is not the goat’s horns that are truly dangerous, but human’s lack of desire to learn from these beautiful animals.
THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #3: ESTABLISH LASTING FRIENDSHIPS
All too often I meet people who have made it their sole mission in life to seek out one person who will give them indestructible happiness. This is a mission that is doomed for failure. Not only have they made an investment with impossible expectations for their significant other, but they have set themselves up to be resentful when those expectations are not met. It also creates a situation in which one will be all alone if the connection with the other ever severs. What happens if their lover dies, or they have to leave for a while, or it just doesn’t work out like it was originally planned? Happiness isn’t found in one person; it spawns from the multiple lifelong connections you have made within your world. As Aristotle once said, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
Now, I admit that I am not the most sociable person in the world. I can even be a bit snotty about it. I only let in people who I absolutely adore, mostly because I find social interaction to be exhausting. If I get to a point in my life where I feel like I have let too many people in, or if they are hanging out with too many people I do not want to let in, I disappear. I learned quickly that people get upset if you just ignore everyone for an indeterminate amount of time, so once I got a vehicle I began finding more excusable ways of escaping. I might change jobs, transfer schools, or work as an intern in Ohio. It’s like I have this unspecified social quota that I let slowly fill up, and once it’s filled I dump everything to start again. I should probably say that I plan to work on this, but I feel like I know myself well enough at this point to know that expecting anything else would be me not respecting the way my brain is wired. Though, I suppose I will eventually need to find less drastic ways to “recharge”.
I always come back to the ones I love. I may be extremely introverted, but I am not heartless. I require their support as much as any extroverted soul. I am only less overt with my appreciation. During my stay at Blue Rock Station, I have witnessed how exponentially important friendship becomes with age. People die, careers are halted, homes are loss, children can be ungrateful, romance may fade, but true friends are always there when you need them. For this reason, one should always make room for friendships in life. They fill your days with songs of laughter and joy, whose melodies will give you comfort in times of sorrow.
I have excelled at every job I have ever had. I may not have always been the most efficient or skilled worker, but I am almost always one of the favorites. Much of my success is likely due to the fact that I smile constantly. Coincidentally, in most of the photographs from my childhood I am wearing this awkward smirk because I was never quite sure what it felt like to smile. My family would always get after me about it. “Why are you making that face? You have such a nice smile, cut it out!” In which I would further contort my face into a catawampus mess in an attempt to please them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized smiling was more or less my default face. I am sure it has been a greater asset to me then I will ever know.
What has also been beneficial is the positive attitude I try to bring with me in everything I do. To the best of my ability, I try to match my supervisor’s sense of importance when accomplishing assigned tasks, and I set off to accomplish the tasks enthusiastically when I am asked to. I don’t do this because I want to kiss my boss’ ass; I do it because it genuinely makes my job more enjoyable. Additionally, I make a point to avoid co-workers who emit a negative aura. The complaints, the poor attitude; it is contagious, and I do not want to be miserable while I work. However, I have still never quite been able to be fully satisfied with whatever job I have held. I inevitably reach a point where I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “What the hell am I doing this for?”
You see, a sense of accomplishment is important, but it will only get me halfway there. In my search for meaningful work, I lacked a sense of purpose. My personal values and morals have never been aligned with the values and morals required to do my job. It feels as if I am always forced to put on one mask at home and put on another at work. I am not merely referring to formalities, but the clear disconnection between my ideology and the goal of the companies who employed me. One can lie to themselves for a while, but their own life may eventually begin to haunt them without a connection between their work and their soul (i.e. midlife crisis). I have witnessed this firsthand, as the many male role models in my life have begun to quietly unravel from their experiences in the military.
At Blue Rock Station, sometimes the connection to my values are obvious. For instance, when I muck out the goat stalls I am not only contributing to the health of an animal that provides me with milk, cheese, and laughter; but I am also creating soil that will be used to grow food in the future. Considering that sustenance is incredibly valuable to human life, it makes standing in shit not seem like such a bad deal. More importantly, though, I want to live in a way that shows a deep appreciation for my environment. I want to minimize the negative impact I have within the scope of my world, and cultivate healthy relationships with the people around me. The people I am currently working for not only support my lifestyle goals, but push me to pursue them. This not only makes the work I do more meaningful, but it kind of makes it not feel like work. Rather, it feels more like, as Annie says, “I am just living my life.”
The life expectancy in this country is nearly 80 years old. At 24, the time I have experienced on this planet will be experienced another two to three times before I die. I do not want to spend it invested into something I hate. I am aware that this will likely make my initial journey into the workforce difficult, but it will be well worth it. Following Jay’s advice: I will find something I enjoy, and when I do not enjoy it anymore, I will find something else to do.
THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #1: STAYING CONNECTED WITH FAMILY
When I was a child, every year I would stay with my grandparents in Texas for the summer break. Some of my fondest memories were from this time; I thought they were the richest people in the world. It wasn’t until much later that I realize how little they had.
Even still, as I thumb through the memories of seven people crammed into a two bedroom apartment, my mind refuses to see poverty. This is largely due to my grandmother’s gift to mask her frugality in a way that kept her children from ever worrying about being poor. The reason why we didn’t use the A/C wasn’t because the utility bill would be too high, it was because the freon gave my grandmother headaches. We didn’t walk miles to the local video store because we couldn’t afford another car payment, she just preferred to walk. The reason why we always had home cooked meals wasn’t because she couldn’t afford to feed us any other way, it was because the white people who owned those restaurants didn’t think she was good enough to eat there when she was a child, so she sure as hell wasn’t going to give them money now. A lack of money was only an issue back in North Carolina with my parents, but in Texas I wanted for nothing.
As I settle into life at Blue Rock Station, I have begun to recognize that a lot of the things I am getting into a habit of doing here are things that my grandparents already do (e.g. canning food, planning meals, eating together, freezing leftovers, conserving water/electricity, gardening, and composting). I had read quite a bit about sustainability before arriving here, but I somehow missed that connection. For many people my age, our grandparents already know how to live happily with less. However, somewhere during the rise of the consumer culture, my parent’s generation developed a phobia to frugality. Instead, they threw money at all their problems (because it freed up time to work more so they could throw money at other things). In a similar fashion, my generation would go on to accumulate $1.2 trillion in student loan debt in an attempt to learn what our poor, uneducated ancestors already knew. And while I acknowledge that it is unlikely that I would have come to this conclusion without coming here first, I am a little disappointed that I felt more comfortable driving 1000 miles to do an internship than I did asking my family for help.
Much of my discomfort likely derives from how disconnected I have become from my family, and I know I am not the only one. White culture says that when you become an adult you are supposed to leave home – it doesn’t matter where, but no self-respecting adult should stay home (most likely so you can make room to accumulate more shit you don’t need). Independence is great, but if we’re severing connections prematurely then we are constantly missing opportunities to learn from the people most like us. Instead, we create this distance between our family, only to see them on special occasions. What’s even more unfortunate is that on these special occasions, everyone gets thrown into this chaotic environment where on the inside we are stressed, annoyed, and then relieved when it is all over.
This is something I will work on when I return home. I have felt my ancestors reaching out to me for years; I’ve just been unsure how to reach back. Sustainability would be a great place to start, as it is clear to me now that I have enough of a foundation – given to me by my family – to reproduce what has been reinforced in me while at Blue Rock Station.
The importance of introductions and goodbyes have always been a difficult thing for me to process. Much of my early memories of social interaction involve my father apologizing to others for my rudeness when leaving abruptly or failing to say hello. Later, it would be my girlfriends who would be apologizing for me. I am still not completely convinced that introductions are necessary; as it all feels incredibly scripted, but I am conscious that others expect it from me.
So this is my Intro – my name is Christopher Creech, and I am a sociology major from central Texas with a focus on the consumption habits of North Americans. I am currently an intern at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living farm located in rural southeast Ohio in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, the focus of this internship is on correlation between consumption and subjective happiness. I have Asperger’s, and though I have never viewed it as a disorder, it has likely guided much of my frustration with the world. My desire to escape it, through music, first sparked my interest in sustainable living. As an “angsty” teenager, the folk-punk bands from the Midwest mesmerized me with lyrics that rejected the consumer culture and embraced simple living. This blog will be cataloging my journey towards a more sustainable way of life while at Blue Rock Station, in addition to me musing over the various factors that effect human happiness.
When I first arrived at Blue Rock Station I felt mostly apprehensive. I had spent most of my life running away from places; this was the first time I had ever arrived anywhere with a purpose. I would be spending the next 11 weeks learning new skills, interacting with new people, and all sorts of other things I normally tend to avoid because I have an aversion to failure. However, I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt like I was getting everything I had ever wanted, yet I was deeply unsatisfied. I eventually came to the conclusion that my dissatisfaction with life could not be cured by wants, but by the need for something different. This is what led me to Blue Rock Station.
My first day mostly consisted of me being acclimated to the farm. I drank tea with Jay while we discussed what skills I currently had, what skills I wanted to learn, and what goals I have for the internship (i.e. none, all of them, and the confidence to change the world). He then expressed his disdain with Texan’s infatuation with the shape of their state, only to proudly announce that Ohio was in the shape of a heart several minutes later (highlighting how individual differences tend to be slim). Afterwards, Melanie, the other intern, explained to me the assorted functions of all the buildings on the farm. I then followed her through the garden trying my best to not be annoying. She was incredibly kind, though, and helped me plant black radishes in one of the garden beds. I was intensely proud of myself, though I was too self conscious to show it.
As it got further into the evening Annie, Jay, Melanie, and I all convened at the Overlook to discuss the events of the day. I mostly just observed, but I appreciated everyone’s genuine interest in each other. They listened intently as each person told their version of the day. I recognize that this shouldn’t seem novel, but within our fast moving culture I have become accustomed to the scripted calls and responses that plague our daily conversations. It was refreshing. After night came I went to bed earlier than I had in years, likely because I hadn’t spent my day saturated in electronic interference. Laying in bed, I thought to myself, “I can do this,” feeling more confident than I had since I was a child.
P.S. If you have questions or comments I would love to hear from you.