24 September 2006

Leaping Off A Cliff (Again)

Almost eleven years ago we Made Our Move; Left the city and moved to our half-built House At Braamekraal.  More accurately, the journey started something like 12 or 13 years ago with the decision to drop out of the corporate city lifestyle, and the subsequent search for land, but I digress...

The first several years were taken up with finishing the house, getting established as a teacher of programming and as an OO-design consultant, all as a way to get debt-free.  What Permaculture calls "looking after Zone 0".  A basic principle of Permaculture is that you get control of the most immediate zone before expanding outwards into the next.  I confess that I broke the rules.  I could not restrain myself, and work on Zone 2 – specifically the veggie garden and Chicken run – began almost from Day One.

Getting Out Of Debt was, in retrospect, absolutely the correct, and most powerful thing to do.  I leave to your imagination the looks on the faces of the bank clerks when I went in there to legally cancel the bond they held on the property and close the mortgage account.
"Ummm....  We don't actually know how to do that.  We'll have to phone Head Office and get back to you."
If you dream of escaping the clutches of corporatised, urbanised life, I cannot emphasize enough the importance and power of getting rid of all your debt.  Remember that "mortgage" literally means "death grip". Another subject for another day...

Previously I thought of this decade past as the fruition of my lifelong dream, and that left me going "Now What?" in some sense.  I have begun to see it as merely a transition period. For all of that time I have still been essentially hooked into the software industry in one way or another.  The past year or so has been the story of "Trying to Fund an Internet Startup".  My TechBlog has some of the details – a little sketchy, as I was trying to protect potential IP details to avoid scaring possible venture investors.  All has more-or-less come to naught.

So I am left with the "problem" – or challenge, if you will – of living in the 21st Century.  That means: To some extent I am still tied into the Money  System (despite being debt free).  Arguably that extent stems from my own addiction to certain Modern Conveniences like The Internet, Medical Insurance, Non-Local Music, Hot Running Water, Flushing Convenience and Toilet Paper, and that ubiquitous evil, the Motor Car.  The kids are pretty-much past the point where I need Life Insurance, and my life-insurance broker is shortly in for a surprise...  To sum up, I need some income.  Its a pretty small amount, by most standards – almost at the "poverty line".  But then, my wants are quite modest.

Now there are numerous ways I could generate that income, especially since I have Arcane Knowledge of Advanced Software Stuff.  I've given a lot of thought and energy to the prospect of organising workshops on advanced software-development topics, or becoming one of those dreaded (by American programmers) Offshore Workers (I'm still not as cheap as someone in India!) or of kicking-off some more modest Software Venture (I conceive about 3 viable ideas-with-a-real-business-model per week!)  But every time I approach a software project, I wilt like cut Lettuce on a midsummer day.  The thought of forging a way back into the software industry makes my energy level sag to the point of catatonia

In contrast, every time I venture out into the garden I feel great.

Ten (eleven?) years ago, when I was about to resign from my eight-and-a-half year corporate job, I had a vision of it as standing at the edge of a cliff, about to leap off.  A leap of Faith.  Either you'll fly, or you'll crash.  Either way, you'll finally experience freedom, whether for just a short, short while, or forever.

Today I feel the same way.

I can keep on hovering – dipping back into the Pond of Corporate Software Development – hating and cursing every moment (well, many moments, anyway) – or I can Get Serious with the Self-Sufficiency thing.

I am already scaling up the veggie garden to be able to supply Veggie Boxes locally, though its a lot of work getting beds double-dug in this soil.

I also have in mind to start an Organic Seed Supply business (and I would welcome input and feedback on this idea!)

A bit of background:  The legal situation in South Africa is a bit complicated.  Legislation seems to be set up to protect the Big Three seed companies.  One may not (legally) sell seed without a permit, and, in the past, permits have been unobtainable as a practical matter.  So I would have to attempt that process.  Then, too, the markets for organically-grown fresh produce are quite undeveloped, and consumers quite unsophisticated in these issues compared with their counterparts in the First World.  This means that prices for organically-grown produce do not command the premium that they would elsewhere.  Some premium, to be sure, but not that great.

My land is pretty small (1.7 hectares/4 acres) so, realistically, Fresh Produce has limited potential as a money-maker.  I also have to deal with my own emotional barrier to selling the abundance of the Earth.  I do so little – the Earth and my friends the Soil Creatures do most of the work.

Seed, on the other hand, is Very High Value.  Think about it: a packet containing maybe a teaspoonful of seed retails for about R10 (about USD1.30/EUR1.00/JPY150/CNY10.34 at today's exchange rates).  My seed cupboard currently harbours 1/2-litre containers of Carrot seed I grew last year, that I have been using to grow Carrots for all time since then.  It must contain a couple of hundred packets of seed, in retail home-grower quantities.

It is also a fact of seed-saving that it is easier (or at least "just as easy") to grow and process larger quantities of seed than smaller.  Consider Beans (Bush Bean, Runner Beans, whatever...)  To grow just enough for yourself for next season (plus a Safety Factor) is pretty easy, but the qunatity is so small – a few dozen Beans – that you end-up shelling them by hand. A large quantity, on the other hand, get stuffed into a bag, pummelled with a stick, and the Beans poured out.  Takes about a fifth of the time and effort for 100 times as many beans!

To ensure genetic diversity, one wants to grow as many plants as possible for a given batch of seed.  This, too, means you end up with a Hell Of A Lot Of Seed.  More, really, than you can ever use before it gets old and loses viability!

Am I just talking myself into something? Or is there a realistic possibility here?

I feel like it is time to embark on the next part of this Self-Sufficiency Journey.  Once again I am filled with doubts, fears, and the sense of expanding possibilities.  Once again its time to Leap Off The Cliff.

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