Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Katie Luther: Agrarian Saint

Next to God's Word, The world has no more precious treasure than Holy Matrimony. God's best gift is a pious, cheerful, God fearing, home-keeping wife, to whom you can trust your goods, your body, your life. There are couples who neither care for their families nor love each other. People like these are not human beings, They make their homes a hell.
-Martin Luther

Today is the 459th anniversary of the death of Katherine von Bora Luther, wife of Martin Luther. I am a very great admirer of the woman whom Luther referred to as "my lord Katie". Readers of Luther will note that the reformer was strong willed and often given to biting satire and hyperbole in making his points. He often met his match in Katie. She was intelligent and seems to have been his intellectual equal. She was also a very capable household manager. Her management began soon after their marriage.  

Prior to his marriage, the reformer lived  like a bachelor farmer. The bachelor Luther never kept regular meal times unless invited elsewhere. Katie found his quarters strewn with books and papers. Luther never made his bed or changed his sheets. She said he claimed the unmade bed was easier to get into at night. His pet dog used to make a bed in papers on the floor. The dog often shewed papers, shoes, and belts, without much notice by his master.

With Germanic thoroughness, Katie kicked the dog out into the yard, changed the sheets, and started ensuring regular mealtimes. She seemed to lose some fights over the messy papers. Reading some of the Table Talks indicates that the dog made it back in sometimes--- at least to beg at the table. 

As the family grew to include not only children but many seminarians and visitors, Katie turned the crusty bachelor pad into a home.She brewed beer so good it made her husband homesick when he traveled and had to drink inferior brews. 

While Luther wrote his tomes and worked at reforming the church, she managed gardens, poultry, fields and livestock to ensure the family would eat. Luther tended to be generous to a fault, and it fell upon Katie to prevent want. She did this through shrewd and thrifty domestic economy. As part of Luther's pay came as hay or grain, she fed cattle and pigs.  When money was available she  bought or leased fields. In one case she bought a property with a stream and dammed it as a fishpond for food.Her gardens and beasts inspired her husband to often meditate upon God's creative work in nature.

After Luther's death, the political instability of events  left her impoverished. She had had to leave the family home and returned later to find her gardens laid waste. She had to leave again due to want. She died in a cart accident on the way to a farm field and small house near  that Luther had previously bought for her.  That field had been one of her favorites as it was more fertile than much of the land around their Wittenburg homes. 

The saints who have gone before offer us models of a Christian life. Katie reminds us that a clean bed, good beer, and wholesome food enjoyed at family meals are a part of the sanctity of every day life.

Her final words are reputed to be, "I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth" which is a fitting analogy for an agrarian saint.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Maybe Occupy Wall Street is not just smelly clueless Hippies?

I talked to another local farmer last night. His wife just returned from a holiday shopping trip in New York City. She made  point to go see some of the Occupy Wall Street protestors.  From her first hand account, most of them have jobs, are not smelly hippies, and are doing this in their spare time. It may very well be that the media is not telling us the truth about these people.

The farm economy today is not about capitalism. It is about a few large corporations using the power of government to control the markets. My friend's visit reminded me of this excellent interview from Common Sense Coalition Radio. You can hear it here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our vocation and the image of God in us

I am privileged to know and worship with the Reverend Dr.  T David Gordon, who also attends my church in Slippery Rock. 

T David recently gave a fine interview on Lutheran Public Radio,  where he spoke about the theology of work, with much to ponder for agrarians who are also Christians. You can hear it here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Agrarian Art of Lisa Grossman

                                         Green Prairie-Passing Storms by Lisa Grossman

With no TV and the long dark nights of December, I recently finished Gene Logsdons' Agrarianism and the Mother of All Arts. This inspired me to start re-reading an old favorite, The Trees By Conrad Richter.

The Trees is set in eastern Ohio after the revolution, and tells the story of a pioneer family moving into a world of endless forests and trees so large that the sun cannot reach the forest floor. The trees almost take the role of a character in the novel. A small child lost in the forest is regarded as having been taken by the trees.
The story of that family is somewhat the story of my family (and many others). In 1797, Benedict Grossman and his wife crossed from what is now Adams County to pioneer near the headwaters of Slippery Rock Creek. 210+ years later, there are lots of Grossmans still in these parts. In fact so many we no longer all can figure out our relationships without a genealogy book. Pioneers like Benedict Grossman cleared a lot of trees, but they came back, especially as marginal farmland was abandoned. Trees define the landscape of rural Western Pennsylvania. Home to me is gray skies and rolling hills covered in trees.

Sometimes between the gray weather and the trees it can seem confining. In the Summer, vision in the woods is obstructed by tangles of underbrush, and in Winter the bare gray trees match the sky. Hills can also obstruct vision to make the world seem smaller. Many people escape this region to sunny Florida or sunny Arizona. I expect to die here, and I would rather die than live in a sunbelt suburb. Sometimes I do want to escape our weather, but my dream would be sunny Kansas. Some people like seashore and mountain. I love the broad flat grassy expanses of the Plains. I love the ability to see so far without obstruction by tree or hill.

Much to my delight, I recently discovered a distant cousin that not only moved to Kansas, but has become a part of Kansas. Lisa Grossman grew up not far from where old Benedict settled. She grew up in our world of gray skies and trees.  I am delighted she can show us how beautiful a place can be that many would dismiss as "flyover country". I think her art also gives us a measure for good agrarian stewardship. At our worst, we farmers try to square off corners and make the land fit the boxes in our heads. Even "flat" land contains subtle (and very feminine) curves. Those curves are dangerous, and plowing them under can be just as dumb as plowing the Appalachian hillsides where I live

The neoagrarian philosopher-king Wes Jackson talks about "becoming native to this place". Many Americans today are not native to anywhere. For the cause of community or conservation, no attitude can be more dangerous than the one that all places are alike. Lisa's art also shows us  that becoming native has nothing to do with where one was born. Becoming native is like marrying-it is an adult choice to stick with a place, and love it on its own terms. Her prairie art inspires me to stick with the grey skies and trees of my birthplace.   

The Prairies that Lisa paints are more endangered than most people realize. Because they are so overlooked they do not bring visitors like the more striking vistas of mountain and seashore. By showing us their beauty, she might help inspire people to steward them better.
Links to Lisa Grossman's Art:
Lisa Grossman Art
Land Institute Prairie Festival
Lawrence Kansas Arts Center

Monday, December 5, 2011

I'm a Farmer for Ron Paul

Regardless of political persuasion, the political media loves to say that votes make a difference. How many times Have you heard that THIS is the most important election of our lifetime? In a country with as many deep rooted cultural problems as ours, I rather think that our broken political system is only a reflection of our broken culture. Many other actions can make a bigger difference than politics. At this time of year, this one might be a good start. That said, I remain a stalwart Ron Paul supporter, as do many other farmers. Most notably, Joel Salatin of Polyface farms is now helping lead a committee of Farmers for Ron Paul. While I am not a complete advocate of Mr. Salatin's approaches for every farm, I think he is a decent Christian gentleman. He is also exactly right about the greatest problem facing most farmers today. Norman Rockwell once painted the old face of government on the family farm: A county agent bringing friendly advice.
The friendly County Agents are now mostly laid off. The face of government on the family farm now is more likely to look like this:
Ron Paul is the only candidate that has expressed any real concerns about our increasingly militarized federal agencies, warrant less searches and seizures, and issues like national animal ID. Family farmers have no better friend. If you Facebook, there is a page for Farmers for Ron Paul

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pepper Spray

The Agrarian tradition in America is basically conservative (not the fake conservatism of the likes of Hannity or Fox news), but it simultaneously harbors a broad populist streak that dislikes concentrations of power and wealth. I think many of the OWS crowd is clueless about solutions, but they are right that something is wrong. The banks own the government. Supporting the big business/big government alliance is neither conservative or agrarian. I have never known a farmer that did not regard bankers as somewhat akin to groundhogs-- basically a costly nuisance but in really hard times you might be able to eat a young fat one. I don't care much for public protests but I like injustice a whole lot less. Pepper spraying peaceful hippies at the behest of big banks is just plain wrong. I am glad I am not the only one who feels that way.... Great New Song by Rick Saenz in the rural populist tradition. Give a listen!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Shopping

No Crowds Here

An email from a friend and reader reminded me I have been neglecting agrarian blogging, while living the agrarian life. I have never mastered the art of writing without excessive verbosity. I am going to try both shorter posts and more frequent posts...

Like most Americans did, I went shopping today. Bought a bag of dog treats and hot coffee at the local general store/diner (Pictured above in warmer weather).

We also drove to New Wilmington to pick up our big purchase. We ordered a Hickory chest as a combination sitting bench and firewood storage for our Hitzer parlor stove. An Amish acquaintance did the work. I made a kitchen firewood box from 1X6's but my wife wanted something pretty for the parlor. I felt good about spending the money, which was much better work than my DIY. The purchase helps sustain a family we like and I expect the bench to last the rest of my life.

It shocks me how people will camp out, endure crushing crowds, and even get peppered sprayed for some electronic gadget that might be out of fashion or break next year. I can attest that it is entirely possible to live a reasonable happy life without an IPAD, IPOD, a microwave, or a television. Though we do love our automatic dishwasher, and of course the laptop I typed this on..... So much for my Luddite purity.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Stacking the Deck Against Small Farms

Imagine owning a Mom and Pop Hardware Store. Imagine that every time you sell a power tool, a dollar is taken from you by the "Hardware Retail Alliance". This money goes to advertise your big box competitors like Lowes or Home Depot.

That is exactly what happens every time our small farm sends a steer or heifer to a livestock auction.Big Companies like Monsanto and Con Agra are using my beef checkoff money to sponsor something called the "Food Dialogues" a faux town hall meeting to try to undo the damage from Movies like Food Inc. and Farmageddon. You can read about is here in at the American Conservative Magazine's website (AmCon is one of the only truly conservative political magazines left in America).

To make things even better, a judge in Wisconsin has ruled that Americans have no right to produce and consume their own food.

I am no libertarian or anarchist. I do not believe rights are absolute; they end where your neighbors' rights begin. If you see my other blog, you may know that a large part of my off-farm professional work deal with balancing property rights against those of a neighbor or a community at large. Local law properly executed can protect private property while minimizing restrictions. What this judge has done is the equivalent of changing a zoning ordinance from regulating the size of a building to mandating the color of the kitchen walls. It may be a reasonable exercise of law to ban selling tainted milk to school children. What is on my dinner plate from my goat or my garden is my own business.

As Walter Jeffries said, we need to start raising a stink. A good start is buying local and ending EVERY FARM SUBSIDY.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New rant at the new blog

I try to write with charity, but I drove by something today worth a rant.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Endings and Beginnings (what happened to granny miller blog)

Update, November 2012 : The site has been restored at granny-miller.com

I received a comment today asking about the new site. It is not complete, but it can be found here After years of blogging, I never wrote about how I make my off-farm living. Inspired by my friend Herrick Kimball's wonderful blog about our agrarian past, I will be looking at the prospects for an agrarian future in the midst of urban America.

I also owe many of the readers of my wife's now defunct website a more complete obituary. Early this year, my wife made the conscious decision to spend a lot less time on the web, and more time living her life. As Granny Miller became more popular, it was taking 3+ hours of each day. She really did want to keep the site and videos up until December, but in the midst of this, we had to care for a very sick family member. With my very time consuming business, our farm, and the need to care for a loved one, the accidental loss of the website seemed of little consequence. Since the You tube videos were only an introduction that linked to necessary and more in depth information on the website, she removed them out of a sense of responsibility that someone not misuse something incomplete.

I know there is strong interest out there for homesteading skills. The best advice I can give someone who wants to learn canning and small farming is to find a real world Granny or Grandpa. They are out there, even in cities. Last year I had a fascinating conservation with an older Bulgarian man about food preservation and scything fodder for livestock. We had this conversation on the stoop of a Manhattan apartment. There are people with skills worth learning wherever you live. Go meet them.

When my wife started Granny Miller, there were not as many homesteading sites on the web. It seems there is a new one every day. As someone who was raised on a farm and has consciously practiced homesteading skills for decades, I am not sure this is completely a good thing. The information I see on the web ranges from worthwhile to dangerously idiotic. Bad canning practices will kill you as quick as tainted industrial food.

If you are interested in seriously building agrarian skills, the best information is still in print media. Countryside and Small Stock and its family of magazines is a treasure of good information. I have copies back to the 70's. A small magazine out of Ohio called Farming is also worth its weight in Gold. One of the lessons I have learned from Media Ecology is that we also retain information better from the printed word than electronic media, so the small cost of these magazines is a great investment for any aspiring agrarian.

I also want to let Granny Miller readers know that she is doing well. She is training a rat terrier puppy, learning to upholster furniture, painting our new chicken coop, and cleaning up the last of this year's garden. She is also stumping locally for Ron Paul. Her Internet use these days is limited to Netflix and following celebrity gossip (we all have our vices!). I would be shocked it she ever returns to blogging.

I will continue to write as time permits as my professional obligations keep me at a computer for several hours each day. If you are interested, I look forward to seeing you over at the the Agrarian Urbanist.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

John Seymour Classics Back In Print

My family imparted to me, and later my wife, a great number of practical agrarian skills. However, growing up in an age where the myths of unending progress prevailed, I had to get much of my agrarian philosophy elsewhere. It all started with an Eric Sloane book I found in a used bookstore when I was 16. When I was 18, I found a copy of John Seymour's memoir "Fat of the Land" in the local library. I was hooked. Over the years I have collected many of his 41 books, which was fairly difficult before the Internet. If you are interested in any aspect of self sufficiency, you really need to read John Seymour. He is the father of the modern self sufficiency movement, and his works range from purely practical to some hard hitting social criticism. However, unlike many social critics, his books impart genuine affection for people. He understood that economies, farms, communities, are for PEOPLE, and we should not be mere cogs in service of the great god economy. Along with Gene Logsdon and Eric Sloane, John Seymour's ideas made me (for better or worse) the person I am today. If you are a fan, you may not know that his family has continued homesteading in Wales, and are bringing back some of his earlier works. I just received the news that his memoir of moving to Wales from England (I'm A Stranger Here Myself) has been brought back into print, and promptly ordered a copy. You can visit the family site at carninglipress. They also started a John Seymour quote Twitter Feed

Friday, August 26, 2011

some good reading here

I just discovered this agrarian weblog a couple of days ago:

The New Agrarian

Very thoughtful and articulate essays and shorter posts. I particularly commend his reading list and eightfold Agrarian Way.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beaver Wars

Dear Friends and Readers,
I am still playing with some details about a new blog, and will be posting here until I get unstuck.

I happened to hear a bit on the radio last night about recent events in Libya. I know about as much about middle eastern affairs as my dogs do, but a couple of things struck me.

1.I heard Libya is comprised of about 140 tribes.

2. Libya is a major oil producer, and we all know Oil is a scarce and desirable resource.

3. Media folks seem to assume that this is a western style enlightened "revolution", when maybe it is just one set of tribes taking advantage of a change in balances of power?

Tribalism has been the normal means of organization for most of human society and most of history. It is deeply antithetical to the way most western human people think, as we choose nation state or individualism as an identifier. Tribalism is a very different mindset. Think of it as football rivalry on steroids. The norm in tribal societies is perpetual warfare, and ideas about rule of law are diminished as the individual only has meaning in relationship to the group.

I am fascinated what happens when modern western empires interact with tribes. An interesting example is how the emerging Scottish state suppressed its tribes, beginning on the borders in the 16th Century and culminating with the breakup of the highland clans in the 18th. The Clans get romanticized a lot but an honest reading of history illustrates some incredible cruelties of one clan to another, or occasionally a chief to his subjects.

One facet of inter-tribal warfare seems to be that one group is always looking for an edge. When a technologically superior outsider (European Empire) comes in with that edge, they will use it. For example, the Aztecs beat up and enslaved their neighbors. When Hernan Cortes came, they were happy to ally with him to beat up and enslave the Aztecs.

In my part of the World, European Empires once wanted Beaver skins. The tribes were happy to provide them, and started hunting and trapping harder than ever before. In trade for Beavers, the tribes got stuff they could not make, like muskets. As Beaver depleted, warfare intensified over the now scarce resource. The Iroquois confederacy began flexing their muscle to control more of the trade, resulting in Beaver Wars that included full scale genocide. It is also interesting to note that the Beaver Wars were primarily proxy wars. Dutch, English and French supplied the arsenals, but did little fighting. However, as Beavers vanished more and the tribes became more dependent on trade goods, the Seven Years War erupted across the world.

I think it is worthwhile to study the Beaver wars for parallels to today.

1. Tribal societies want military technology they cannot make. Whether a .62 caliber musket in 1700, or a 7.62X39 mm carbine today, most of the warfighting technology was/is supplied in exchange for Oil/Beaver .

2. Warfare intensifies as resources deplete.

3. If more than one Empire wants that scarce resource, a distant proxy war can come home.

4. It is likely that the now out-group set of tribes become the victims of atrocities, many of which we will not ever know about.

5. I think this knowledge of history was once a source for the non interventionism that once characterized our Republic.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Toy Guns Scaring the Nanny

Image courtesy of Heroiclife on Flckr

Mike Vanderboegh on the continuing disappearance of common sense.
Two kids playing army sends a town into the vapors.

Growing up in a region that mined coal and limestone, I played with carbide and blackpowder. I still have all my fingers. When I was not trying to break into Dad's carbide cans, I played army. We once "raided" the school on a holiday. We crawled over a mile of strip mines and "sprayed" the building with with toy machine gun fire. With zero tolerance kids who did that today would probably be in a long term psychiatric gulag.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Turning Up The Heat: The Government's War on Small Farmers

I received this letter in the mail today, and wanted to share it with the World. Apparently, in spite of a budget crisis, trillions in debt, two or three foreign wars, flash mobs, massive unemployment, a complete meltdown on the Mexican Border and the threat of a rising Chinese Navy, the Federal Government has time to send me a friendly warning that a pickup truck load of market lambs were not properly ear tagged in conformity with my state department of agriculture rules. For a Federale to do this is the equivalent to the FBI warning me about a speeding violation.

I had a mildly interesting conversation with Dr Smiley about this matter. Apparently Pennsylvania changed its rules that previously only required tags for older sheep.
Why does a Federal official feel a need to implement a state rule? When I asked for a copy of the state rule, He stated he would need to find it and send me a copy. I am sure he and I will be talking again.

You may of heard today that we Farmers are also going to have to get Commercial Driver's Licenses to keep the nation safe from our tractors, haybines and manure spreaders. As my lovely wife has a CDL and I don't, she is poised to be the only tractor driver in the family.

This also comes on the heels of a Freedom of Information Act request I had to file with the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security. You see, my wife and I hosted RWVA Appleseed shoots on our farm until they were taken over by a nearby Sportsman's Club. Under the previous governor, PA Homeland Security hired an Israeli intelligence gathering firm to monitor RWVA (and many other groups)as a potential for attracting "anti government extremists".

In comments under the previous post, I mentioned I was contemplating another blogging project since the death of the Granny Miller site. As freedom may be breathing its last in America and multiple financial crises usher in a police state, independent farms and businesses are going to be increasingly targeted. In these days, anyone with an opinion that differs from the mainstream will be labeled an extremist. In the face of such threats, "political" blogging is an act of self defense and I hope to have a new site up and running soon under my own name. If you don't hear from me, I may be in some USDA Gulag for not properly tagging a sheep.

Best Regards,

Richard Grossman

Monday, July 11, 2011

Granny Miller RIP

I am posting here to report the death of my wife's website www.homesteadgardenandpantry.com.

While Granny Miller the person is alive and well, "Granny Miller" the small farm blog has bit the dust. We were going to run it out to the end of 2011 then archive it, but Mrs. accidentally killed the site trying to delete some spam. In doing so, she hacked her own site. The files are literally deleted and the folks at Go Daddy cannot revive her. Their advice was hire a web consultant, which is a lot of trouble for a two-bit blog. As this is our busy time of year, a full obituary will follow.