27 Comments

  1. Sage
    Sage March 2, 2016 at 10:46 am | | Reply

    Great show! I met Penny and her boys at Curtis Pond swimming lessons, and she is one of the most joyful and welcoming people. This was a great interview, and I look forward to your piece “A Pint with Penny.” Because in my mind, there is no way Ben would have been able to do this without a strong, patient, and intelligent woman.

  2. Gail
    Gail March 2, 2016 at 12:13 pm | | Reply

    This is so refreshing! and the music perfect for the piece. There is much to be said about the satisfaction of hard physical work that’s purposeful and that ends in pure exhaustion. A life such as theirs knows no end, no retirement. In a way it’s easy compared to the life he chose not to live. The day’s work is always laid out in front of him and he gets up in the morning….and does it! I love the story about the oak tree and the VW Beetle that served as a rope tow.
    A lovely lovely exchange between you two.

  3. Brian
    Brian March 2, 2016 at 12:25 pm | | Reply

    Thanks so much for letting us listen in on a great, smart conversation. And I agree with Sage about Penny- they have an incredibly strong and wonderful partnership.

  4. robby
    robby March 2, 2016 at 1:40 pm | | Reply

    Great show, Erica. Reminded me of my childhood. Maybe you should do a show, “Homesteaders argue about the meaning of life and work”

  5. robby
    robby March 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm | | Reply
  6. Eugene A
    Eugene A March 2, 2016 at 5:19 pm | | Reply

    Great Show and I hope the readers don’t fail to go the next step and look at the extraordinary photos by Alex McPhail which start with a picture of a very much younger person than Ben Hewitt in the midst of turning a pig into a winter’s worth of bacon and sausage.
    For those who might want to read a classic on homesteading in a different era – including perhaps Mr. and Mrs Hewitt themselves – We Took to The Woods, by Louise Day Rich (J. B. Lippincott. 1942) is a wonderful account by people (writers as well) who yielded to the pull of homesteading though at older ages than the Hewitts.
    Ben and Erica and the Riches, go a long way to describe why homesteading is something that so many of us dream about.

  7. Robin Follette
    Robin Follette March 2, 2016 at 6:40 pm | | Reply

    Fantastic! I found your site through a link Heather B shared on Facebook today. I have time off tomorrow thanks to the weather and will be listening with an extra cup of coffee. I’m looking forward to it.

    Hunting is an important part of putting meat on the table on my homestead. This is my big game animal.
    http://robinfollette.com/wp-content/uploads/peter-robin-buck.jpg

  8. Alex Kaufman
    Alex Kaufman March 3, 2016 at 5:47 pm | | Reply

    Fantastic conversation. The mental struggle between the true uselessness of “content creation” versus human survival competency is real.

  9. Hi There
    Hi There March 3, 2016 at 9:42 pm | | Reply

    Ben’s commitment to his life and work is admirable. His tendency to caricature the life of others, though, is lamentable. Many people get a great deal of satisfaction from doing loads of things that he doesn’t and which, it appears, he cannot think of as anything but abhorrent. Chill, Ben. Move on from your 16-year-old self’s conception of the “you’re doing a job you hate to pay the bills”. His imagination fails, also, to understand the pleasure of relaxing after concerted mental effort; it’s directly comparable to that “proper work” he considers himself to be undertaking. I liked his account of his activities; I did not like that he moved so many decent, contented people firmly into the camp of ‘other’ with an uninterrogated assumption about the nature of their existence.

  10. Dan Breslaw
    Dan Breslaw March 5, 2016 at 5:08 am | | Reply

    I would say the same thing, Erica. One thing I like and respect about Ben’s musings is I’ve always felt that at the heart of them is an attempt to liberate himself from judgment. It is tricky, to be sure. We judge ourselves, we judge others–we even (maybe especially) judge ourselves for judging. When there’s a feeling that something’s wrong with the world, as many of us suspect, we start inevitably to judge it. It can all turn into a tangle of contradictions. Given human nature, there’s really nothing we can do about that, except strive to become more aware of it as it’s happening. Ben does fine. We’re all doing fine. We’re all doing our best.

    You went to the heart of it when you admitted you sometime felt judged simply in the light of Ben’s choices, of different decisions he may have made from yours, etc. But then you admitted that this comes out of your own self-judgment. Exactly–it wouldn’t bother you otherwise. And we all do this–there are no exceptions.

    Fascinating topic, judgment. I once heard a Buddhist teacher say something like the following: It’s a deep teaching that judgment is a pervasive toxic influence that we should try and free ourselves from. But an even deeper teaching is that judgment is perfectly okay.

    Thanks for this interview.

  11. Doug Welch
    Doug Welch March 5, 2016 at 11:13 am | | Reply

    Erica – Wonderful interview. I met Ben about five years ago when he came to speak at the North Country Symposium in Canton, NY. about his book, THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED. Since I had spent most of 1970’s in Lamoille County I had a more than casual interest in what is going in Hardwick–especially since if someone had told me in 1975 Hardwick would become a local food center, I would have never believed it. We left Vt. in 1980–land was all up or all down and $1,000 an acre –too much for a young poor couple. As a fellow homesteader I value Ben’s work and blog. His topics often connect with my day to day life or jog memories. As an older homesteader my days are far shorter than in the past. Many of my homesteading friends have slowed down even more or have “retired”. There are times it can be isolating, so it is supportive to read Ben’s blog. The interview had a real intimacy to it, and the music interludes fit well. Assume the laughter in the background was Penny’s. The whole discussion of competence is a good one. As a generalist, I often feel like a pretender. I was a liberal arts major, so when we built our house we were totally over our head. We did the timber frame and as much of the work as we could, but also hired out the electrical and plumbing. I am not a great teamster, but our oxen have done well enough to get the work done without them or me getting seriously hurt. We never raise quite as much of our own food as we might like. . Many years ago Country Journal had an article about homesteading. The gist of it was that everyone was sure that there was someone somewhere that was totally self-sufficient, but no one knew those people personally. Our self judgements of “success” and “failure” can be debilitating if we let them be. More important, perhaps is that a homesteading way of life is an authentic way of being in the world. For me, that is more than enough.

  12. Shivani Arjuna
    Shivani Arjuna March 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm | | Reply

    Three years ago my husband and I moved to ten acres of what used to be a farm and have turned it into a good homestead, with work still in progress. I am “the farmer,” as my husband still works in tv/radio/writing, to bring in the necessary income. Amish cut trees here, brought their portable mill over to turn them into lumber, and put up the small barn I designed and we’ve added more, smaller buildings since. We have Shetland and Icelandic sheep, both small, very hardy breeds; various heritage breeds of chickens that go broody and produce more birds; Nigerian dwarf dairy goats like Ben’s, and plan to add meat rabbits. I grow a lot of summer produce and root veggies we store for winter, and LOTS of winter squash, as I am breeding new varieties of it. (One may be the only all-silver leafed, yummy-fleshed squash in the world. The silver indicating virus resistance.) We implement permaculture practices and are returning the land and ourselves to natural wellness. I have lived in many places in my 70+ years, and done many things, but have never until now felt truly well or that I was in the right place, living in the right way.

    In his book, Nourishing Homestead, Ben says “the extractive economy depends on people not understanding the connection between their individual choices and the impact their choices have on…the world.” It seems likely to me that the discomfort some feel when reading this book arises not from Ben supposedly judging them, but the stirring of awareness that they are still allied, by their acquiescence, to “the political and industrial forces that are the root cause of suffering for both humankind and the natural world.”

    Not many of us can presently live on country homesteads, of course. However, we can all make changes in our lives that withdraw our support from the extractive economy, giving our time and money instead to all that is needed to heal our society and our planet. And anyone with even a small yard can practice urban homesteading, producing a surprising amount of their own food, perhaps including chickens and/or rabbits.

    Erica, how can I send you a photo to post to this discussion?

  13. Hi There
    Hi There March 6, 2016 at 1:01 am | | Reply

    Erica: yes, absolutely, Ben’s talking about his ambivalence regarding writing vs. “real work” is insightful and honest. But it doesn’t make his discomforture an accurate reflection of actual circumstances. When he talks about his distaste for the life that he has not chosen, that’s what I’m referring to. Really?, I thought. Lives don’t divide into the Ben route and the I’m-dead-inside-because-I-work-for-The-Man. (As an aside, may I point out that having a mortgage is hardly debt-free.) Maybe what came across is in the edit. Maybe it isn’t.

    That you didn’t feel judged by Ben is immaterial. The content of what he had to say isn’t solely about you, obviously. You talk about anxiety regarding your own choices and potential deficits in your own understanding. Respectfully, that’s possibly a reaction born of feeling somehow diminished because you judge yourself (as you acknowledge) in a way that renders you vulnerable. That, as they say, is your shit, yes? Your reaction to his writing is of great interest, but is only one view. I listened with no agenda one way or another. I followed the ups and downs with as they unfolded. I found myself liking Ben’s attitude in some respects and being appalled by others, as I have enumerated. That is natural, for contentiousness is a weirdly fluid bedfellow. I slid away, though, at the (almost exuberant welcoming of the) oblivion of exhaustion: working to a point where you are shaking, your body is crying out for help, where you’re, basically, in an altered state. So, he reached an extreme. Even welcomed it, it appeared. OK. Gave me pause, though. Some may feel that such a state gives clarity and, I get it, on some levels it does. Limited levels, however: basically about how good it feels to not be in/to recover from that state.

    As I think about the podcast I listened to, I’ve found myself circling around that notion of the abnegation of self – and thus necessarily one’s connection with what lies beyond (other people outside those in your immediate circle). I don’t need to draw this in any more detail – I pretty much think my reaction is clear 🙂 I appreciate the exposure to another viewpoint, but I wish it had been more… well, more.

  14. Hi There
    Hi There March 6, 2016 at 8:38 am | | Reply

    I really should have said – thank you for all your excellent work on Rumble Strip Vermont. I’m sad that I’m now all caught up on past episodes and look forward to hearing more in the future.

  15. Ben Hewitt
    Ben Hewitt March 6, 2016 at 9:57 am | | Reply

    I thought Erica did a find job with the edit, which couldn’t have been an easy task, as we talked for three hours.

    I guess I figured it was pretty clear from the context of the interview that I was speaking strictly of my feelings and experiences and how they’ve informed my imperfect life. Perhaps I did not make this clear enough.

    Certainly I cannot recall suggesting that it boils down to my path or you’re dead inside from working for the Man. Maybe I need to listen to it again and figure out how to be more artful in my choice of words going forward.

    Good discussion, though. Thanks, Erica!

  16. Ruth Kassel
    Ruth Kassel March 6, 2016 at 7:01 pm | | Reply

    Erica: Wonderful discussion about Life; I want to congratulate Ben Hewitt for making good decisions when he was
    quite young (high school age) and You for asking all the right questions.

  17. Hi There
    Hi There March 6, 2016 at 7:40 pm | | Reply

    Point taken, Ben. That I am engaged to the point of taking the time to respond is A Good Thing. So little that one finds prompts any kind of response and that is a testament to Erica’s skills, and to your forthrightness – I may have misinterpreted the content but that isn’t the point. The point is wanting to have a conversation but being stymied because as a listener I can only comment and not participate. I want to be clear: it was a great discussion, but I obviously have some frustrations that I can’t get into a proper to and fro about what was talked about, nor is it possible to clarify as one can when one is actually present. But go you, and go Erica – I love this podcast! Probably I was caught up in my complaining and didn’t make that clear – sorry to all.

  18. Doug Welch
    Doug Welch March 6, 2016 at 8:47 pm | | Reply

    A story from Vermont, 1975. I spent part of that summer living with friends up in Westfield near Troy on the old Kendall Place. Up the road was a dairy farm and the family was French, though they emphasized their being American. They were catholic, had lots of kids, and the wife’s parent who were in their 70’s still lived in Quebec. We would help them with haying. One hot day I was up in the hay loft with the grandfather. I was 23 and very much wanted to show I could hold my own, so I was passing the bales as fast as I could go. Finally the old man turned to me and in a low, almost kind voice said, “Damn it, don’t rush me. We are going to do the same amount of work whether we are here eight hours or twelve hours”. Far from feeling put down, I had a paradigm shift. That the work was to be enjoyed and shared.

    1. Ben Hewitt
      Ben Hewitt March 7, 2016 at 8:02 am | | Reply

      Ok, so did this really happen, or is this one of those rural legends? ‘Cause I’ve heard this story more than a few times from more than a few folks.

      Then again, perhaps it was such widely accepted common sense wisdom that it was dispensed by every grandfather in every hayloft every July.

      1. Doug Welch
        Doug Welch March 7, 2016 at 4:31 pm | | Reply

        Ben – It really happened. It could also be a rural legend, but you may have heard it from me, I think I shared it at your blog two or three years ago.

  19. Ron van Wiggen
    Ron van Wiggen March 7, 2016 at 3:39 am | | Reply

    I really enjoyed this interview with Ben. First time I hear his voice, after following his blog for a while now.
    My family and I are in the process of creating a life similar to what Ben and many others are doing and I found his blog right when I was about to quit. We had hit a wall and Ben, among others, was the main inspiration to keep going, to keep working on it and to not give up.
    We had left the grim and grey city, we lived in, in our small, hopelessly overcrowded country by the North Sea, to begin a new life in a place that was home to us in our hearts, smack in the middle of rural Scandinavia, 1000 miles higher up north.
    Their way of living and Ben’s writing, both in printed form and digitally, gave me a lot of the inspiration, courage and strength needed to go on.
    Hearing his (tone of) voice does something…… It makes it all more real to me. Less….. I don’t know…. distant, abstract.
    This interview makes it all human, even on the other side of the Atlantic.

    A heartfelt “Tack så mycket” (Swedish for thank you 😉 ) to the both of you for this!

  20. Kimberly
    Kimberly March 31, 2016 at 9:29 pm | | Reply

    I had to laugh at all the jars full of…whatever. It’s such a common sight around here, too!

  21. Mr Bill
    Mr Bill June 30, 2016 at 9:29 pm | | Reply

    Lets have a beer. Of course, I’m not going to vermont any time soon. Nice post – Thanks.

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