Truly Green Investment

These few years in New Orleans have been really great, this place is as good as a city gets– charming old architecture steeped in history, a vitally important music and art scene, fabulous restaurants, a very un-American lack of prudishness, and whole seasons of jasmine and magnolia flowers. But, I am not a city girl. As our return to Alaska approaches I’m getting quite eager for our sleepy little hole in the wilderness where a Saturday drive ‘out the road’ yields adventures like this:

Just as much as the place, I am really yearning to be back in Our Own Home. This rental stuff is fine, but I have been realizing just how much my ‘work’ and my homeplace are intrinsically bonded. I can shop at the farmers’ market and grow a small garden anywhere, but that’s just treading water. To really move forward with the lifework I aim for, to climb the rungs of my chosen ‘career’ ladder, I need to stay in one place. One home which I can continually make more efficient, one chunk of land which I can build up towards my edible Eden, one particular ecosystem which I can come ever closer to knowing.

I have felt it here, the loss. The landscape so unfamiliar, the weather patterns confounding, the flora an almost complete blank (I am a wild plant buff in my home territory). Even eating confused me for a while– a responsible local diet here consists of things I had rarely let myself buy at home and didn’t know how to turn into mainstay meals; let alone that cooking itself is all wrong as a way to approach dinner when it’s 95 degrees in your kitchen. And unlike when I was young and resilient with energy to burn, I found it hard to rally myself for re-learning and re-building everything.

This homesteady lifestyle is all about investment and return. And I’m not talking metaphor. I have put 4 years of hard labor and hundreds of dollars worth of soil amendments into my Alaska garden. I built it up from a sorry looking lawn over a bare inch of topsoil with gravel fill substrate, to 160 square feet of luscious dirt in raised beds. In a town where you cannot, no matter how much you are willing to pay, order a truckload of dirt, those garden beds are pure gold. And they are only going to get better! After the very large up-front investment there is only so much work necessary every year to maintain the beds and build up fertility, but the return will continue to grow.

The garden is the best example, but really my entire lifework is wrapped around sticking to one place. Back in this now proverbial Home, I had also built a tight little chicken coop, put in a 20 foot long raspberry hedge to close off our yard, and spent years setting up an efficient kitchen (not to be underestimated!) Beyond the tangible accrual of humus and building projects, the knowledge of the area and the skills for using local resources grow slowly, over time. I had several years under my belt of ‘local university,’ learning which varieties of vegetables did best in our ridiculously rainy climate, how to process 35 whole sockeye salmon in two days, and creating an internal map of where all the best berries, wild mushrooms and edible plants grew in proliferation.

Very few of you have such an intensely localized tie to one place. Down here in rest of the 48 states, the most green responsible lifestyles are based of farming– whether you do it yourself or support someone else’s effort– and farming is at least recognizably similar throughout the temperate world. Even moving across country doesn’t shake everything you’ve ever known to the ground. Nevertheless, I think we all underestimate the profit to be realized from staying put.

The books always stress that “even renters can grow a garden,” and while that is true, I have built up and left behind a few times now, and I can tell you it is a certain kind of heartbreak. You don’t get to take your equity with you. No one else will recognize the value of your hard work, or care about the money you spent. When you leave, you leave it all behind.

I don’t mean to discourage those of you who do not own your own place, but rather to remind those of you who do how much it means. Don’t take your investments of time and money for granted. Just like in business, the ‘profit’ goes right back in as further investment for many years, which makes it hard to see. But so long as you manage to stay in place (a feat these days), you are building up for future dividends.

I can hardly wait to get back to my own double lot homestead and do some re-investing. My garden beds have been cover cropped for three years and I have a chicken coop full of aged manure. I’ll know what to plant, and when to do it. Times are going to be good.

10 thoughts on “Truly Green Investment

  1. I lost my house last year, where I had worked for 15 years to build my little urban homestead. I almost moved to NOLA, where I have friends, but it was too expensive. I instead moved from Southwest Florida to North Florida, which I loved, but financial problems forced me back to Southwest Florida again. Being from SC originally, I fell back in love with the changing seasons in North Florida, and the :”real” trees, meaning NOT palm trees. Even though I know this part of FL like the back of my hand, I can’t wait to get back on my feet and go back to North FL. I can’t take the cold in my native state anymore, but that was as close as I had come to being back in my home town. If I could take the cold, I would love to go back home to SC. I admire people who live in Alaska. It truly is the final frontier.

  2. Great read – thought provoking for me – dwelling on the fact that to stay in one place will get you so much further than moving about – my father has said this to me all of my life. Cheers, Wendy

  3. Hi again – Hope you don’t mind but I want to link to this post of yours in my next blog post – it was just like you were talking to me and only me and I would like to share it on my blog. Cheers, Wendy

  4. We have been living at our place now for five years – the longest we’ve stayed put anywhere. Growing veggies here has been awesome but I know what you mean about the wider edible landscape – my grandpa was a forester in Poland and their homestead was in the forest – I know every nook and cranny of that place – where to get the best mushrooms and when, which berries grow where, which fruit trees will give fruit when….. Not felt the same excitement here. The fens around us are flat flat flat – its an area called ‘south holland’ and mirrors our Dutch neighbours across the sea in that we have fields and fields of tulips, daffodils, flowers, and veg growing in the fields all around this area – but it’s all sprayed to hell with pesticides so not very Eden-ish in that respect. I’m tired of living on the main village route and having neighbours – want to experience the freedom of having our own patch that is not overlooked at all – so the kids can really run riot without me feeling guilty they’re being too noisy, where we can keep chickens, grow more veg, and kick back a little. This post just reminded me that whilst I live in a pretty house I don’t think we have found our forever home yet. You can pretty up any house if it’s a good solid blank canvas in the right spot, and if it ticks all the really important boxes.

  5. I’m going to miss your blog like crazy when you go. I love your attitude, and although I’m not a country bumpkin really at all, I soo totally get the vibe of what you mean. We only have 700square metres, and most of it’s house, but fuck, do I know every inch! It’s all ours, and although my neighbours probably think I’m nuts, I grow food, I have chickens, and I let my kids outside so long as it’s light out. I just don’t mind if they do the same. I wish I had land, but after reading No Impact Man, I know this is where I am, and to preserve what I’m only likely to see on holidays, I need to live in an urban centre RESPONSIBLY. I am part of a coop for meat and veg, I avoid the mega chains as much as possible (buying local products if I do go in them), and am knitting and sewing as much of our own stuff as I can. It’s the pressure from the Outside Man that’s harder to avoid when you live like this. The kids will eventually realise they aren’t dressing the same, or have a leapthingywhatsit and that the telly isn’t actually broken, but switched off at the wall. But alongside that they can read Tomorrow Land by Jackie French, we can visit gorgeous untouched places and then they can combine the two worlds as they see fit.
    Have fun with the planning to return. One day, I’m just gunna visit you I reckon.

    1. Hey, who said I was quitting the blog? What do you think we live in igloos with no internet connection? My subject matter might change a little, look forward to How to Butcher a Moose, but I don’t anticipate losing my desire/obsession to write.
      I think it’s true about urban living being more sustainable. I sometimes feel very selfish living in a remote town in Alaska. We don’t drive much, but when we go for a trip it usually involves an at least two thousand mile jet flight. We can harvest a lot of wild food locally, but everything else took that same 2,000 mile trip to get to the store.
      Then again there is a need for some folks to work “in the field” as protectors of wild places, I like to think that could be us.

      1. HAHA! No, I didn’t think you would be internet free, and I really should factor in the indoors months which will see you blogging like a crazed lunatic.
        But still, it’d be worth the plane trip!
        Save me some berries, and I’ll even try the moose…

  6. I can’t imagine enjoying the (relative) climate extremes if either Alaska or New Orleans (though I’d live to *visit* both), but I can easily understand your pleasure in returning home.

    Here in Canberra I have friends who own a lovely house, and other friends who just bought a new house (having recently moved back here), and I was surprised a couple if weeks ago to hear them both talk of moving again, that this house is their ‘for now’ house, but in say ten years (when the children are a bit older), they see themselves wanting something different.

    Our house is a but small for us, by the standards of our peers, having only 3 bedrooms, so that two children will always have to share (and there’re 4 year gaps both times, so that will likely always be a little fraught), but I realised a couple of years back that we either had to commit to this house, or commit to moving and all that would entail work/budget-wise. We committed to the house, so now I can feel really good about sending out time and money on things like increasing the insulation, solar power, and fruit trees. I love the feeling of being truly settled that came with that decision, knowing the fruit trees we put in now will be providing for us in years to come, and likewise the work in the soil, and yes the chook run. And the solar panels, which won’t pay themselves off for a number of years, because we had to borrow money to install them, but will eventually be a good financial investment, and are already a good ‘green investment’.

    I too have left a number of rental vegetable gardens in my adult life, and I do enjoy moving around and experiencing new cities (I’m a city girl, though really suburban, nit inner city), but I enjoy this feeling if being settled more.

    1. PS sorry about all the typos I always have – I generally only get to read blogs on my phone, which makes it hard to hobbsck and reread comments before I post them.

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