People have become passionate about their hobbies of collecting video games, pirating movies, getting reacquainted on Facebook, upgrading their home entertainment system, and refining the skill of microwave dinners. These skills are fine and dandy when a homeowner can pay the mortgage. However, when it takes two incomes to make ends meet and one person gets laid off, what does a person do?
Wendell Berry, author of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, writes, “If you’ve got 300 million people, most of whom produce nothing for themselves or for the community and to whom everything has to be brought from somewhere else, then there’s no way you’re going to have limited government, or limited anything. All organizations feed upon the helplessness and ignorance and passivity of the people.”
Alice finishes writing a check to the cable company. She says, “Frank, I know right now it’s hard for you to get a job, considering your graduate degree is in Slavic languages and literature. In the meantime, why don’t you make a go at some of your other interests to make some extra money?”
Frank sets down his iPhone, turns to his wife and mumbles, “At home I only know how to enjoy my leisure time. The last family members to have a meaningful hobby were my grandparents. Grandma would knit hats for pleasure, grandpa whittled toys for fun, both cooked to entertain friends, and gardened, which brought them a sense of pride and independence. I’m useless.” “You are not useless,” Alice responds with a thoughtful look. “Maybe we can turn part of our three-car garage into a public home theater. You can entertain people with useless pop culture facts, challenge them to Wii bowling and make some money by serving Tony’s Pizza and PBR by donation.”
Setting up TiVo for the night, Frank keeps staring at the flat screen tv. “Where will the cars sleep?”
The conversation ends.
Alice sighs and thinks to herself, “Our only hope is a massive government bailout.”
Today’s middle class defines pleasure as leisure. Unfortunately, when the economy goes belly up, a nation cannot rebound using the skills of leisure. Over the last several years, I have traveled to develop skills that can be utilized on a piece of property. I am are currently at Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, California.
What makes Love Apple Farm unique to this story the property started out as a typical love nest. Cynthia Sandberg was one of those people who found pleasure by working with her hands. While married, she became passionate about tomatoes. For whatever reason, Cynthia and her husband split, leaving her with the house. When economic hard times hit, she applied the skills learned from growing tomatoes to make ends meet.
The love nest turned into a biodynamic farm full of chickens, greenhouses, hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, loads of different vegetables, and an education center. People from all over the world line up for the opportunity to study the Cynthia way, reporters looking for a good story will call her up, and her farm became the exclusive kitchen garden for Manresa, a two star Michelin restaurant located in nearby Los Gatos. (Here is a link to a good description of Manresa)
The transition from hobbyist to farmer was not exactly easy. The pool had to be filled in with dirt. The grass gave way to more dirt. The water tower was converted into a studio apartment. When her son comes home from college, he sometimes has to share his room with interns or volunteers. Cynthia also has to prepare lesson plans for a variety of hands-on workshops about urban farming.
A lot of people talk about preparing for retirement. Back in the day, parents recommended to children that they get a good job that offers a pension. When the corporations took away employee pensions, parents recommended getting hired on by a company that had a matching 401K program. Now the stock market has taken a nasty slip down the economic staircase and is still falling.
My retirement advice is to start cultivating hobbies that are based on passion rather than passivity. Find pleasure in some sort of hands-on activity such as baking apple pies, practicing the guitar, growing flowers, leatherwork, dog obedience training, or repairing bicycles. There are plenty of hobbies that can be practiced under the laws of most neighborhood associations.
Retirement in this economy does not discriminate against age. When a person’s golden years come early, one quickly learns leisure cannot put food on the table or clothes on a body, and leisureliness cannot be bartered.