My son and his wife are on their way home. They made it into Nebraska last night, chosing the longer Northern route to avoid the long, expansive desert stretches. Wise I think as their cars are old and there are places that you just don’t want to break down. We hope to see them drive in either late Friday or early Saturday. They had hoped to take a month for the trip, stopping to visit all of the National Parks on the way but the rising cost of both gas and food put the cost of such a venture out of reach for a couple with limited savings and no job waiting at home.

I have had a parade of visitors this week. We relocated our strawberry patch and have been giving away several hundred healthy plants. We had no problem finding homes. A couple of the young people who are homesteading about a mile from here have offered to swap labor for plants. We just might take them up on that. We have bee balm, fiddleheads, raspberries and strawberries to offer and a mess behind the neighbor’s barn that needs to come out so we can yellow raspberries to our patch. There’s a good market for berries. The asking price is obscene but the delicious little things are so fragile. They must be carefully picked and sold immediately. It’s one of those labor intensive crops that justifies the price for the grower if not the consumer.

We have had a couple of other young homesteaders stop by to check out our bee operation. Once again, I think many are surprised by just how labor intensive the work is. You don’t just buy some bees, pop them in a hive and gather honey in the fall. Bees have to be managed. Bruce spends many hours a week in the summer and keeps very accurate records so he knows just how much a pound of honey cost him. He hasn’t yet figured out a way to price in the cost of the stings. The initial outlay can be high unless you get everything used. That has its own pitfalls as you need to diligent about not bringing diseased home. A used hive is no bargain if it introduces mites or foul brood into your apiary. Around here, bear protection is a must. Electric fencing is a must and even that is no guarantee.

All of this talk about labor intensity is on my mind today. I read a bit on a preparedness site about foraging for food. The writer may have been well-intentioned but he was also nuts. I went out to get ramps last week. It took me a good 1/2 hour to fill a grocery bag. You have to harvest in a way that respects the integrity of the patch, taking only a few specimens and leaving the best behind. Ramps love steep, wet inclines and a lot of leaf litter. It’s cold, muddy work. I took them home and cleaned them up which took another 1/2 hour. I had about two cups of food for my trouble although I used the greens for stock. By the time I carmelized them, this had reduced to a little over a cup. They were fabulous but they were a treat as opposed to food. It’s mighty hard to get too far down the road on a foraged diet and you really can’t calculate a price. One of the tricky parts of operating outside a formal economy is going be figuring out just what things are worth. Plastic pumpkins are one thing. Ramps and honey are another. What an odd society it is that has people willing to plunk down chunks of their life energy for something that has no real value and huge environmental costs but complain about the price of something with real value, both to the consumer and to the ecosystem.

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