March 8

An Except from Ordinary World

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Gracie and I have been blessed.  We live on twenty acres well outside of town.  We raise goats and make cheese, which we sell everywhere we can in Southern Utah.  We have a healthy son, now seven years old, who goes to a very good public school and does well there.

We don’t have a lot of money, but we have an incredible amount of freedom. And that’s a worthwhile exchange.

I spent years punching a clock in Los Angeles, building up a retirement fund that went broke when the tech bubble burst.  With the California economy in tatters and promises of a new beginning failing to materialize, I sold what I had and moved to Utah.

That’s where I met Gracie, who had moved from the Rocky Mountains with her family some years before.  Together we built the cheese business.  It took all the money we had, and took a few detours along the way, but these days it’s putting food on the table.

Gracie and I work together, as a team, making our decisions together, raising our son together.  We set our own hours and take responsibility for our own success or failure.  If we take a vacation, we don’t sell cheese that week, and we have to live with the consequences of that.  Which means we learn to plan for it.

Our ranch is located in rural Iron County.  We live, basically, in the middle of nowhere.  We’re just two miles of dirt road from the interstate, but our nearest neighbor, Steve Peck, lives a half mile away to the south.  To the north, east, and west, there isn’t another house for miles.

The town of Paragonah is only five miles from us, and that’s where we get our mail.  If we went to church, that’s where we’d go.  It’s a small town of 500 people, and there aren’t any businesses there.

Parowan, eight miles away, is the county seat; it has a courthouse, a small grocery store, a hardware store, three gas stations, and a handful of restaurants.

The closest “big box” store, movie theater, or hospital is in Cedar City, twenty-five miles south of us.  Cedar has 30,000 people, half the county’s residents.  It has a bustling main street, complete with traffic lights.  It boasts four grocery stores, three feed stores, an office supply store, two movie theatres, and even a handful of factories.  But if you want to shop at a department store, you’ll need to drive to St. George, population 100,000, which is fifty miles further south.

Often, Cedar City seems very distant.  Our ranch is so isolated and peaceful that it’s easy to forget there is another world out there.  We’re on the floor of a high-desert valley, surrounded by sagebrush.  Our house sits at nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, but we are surrounded by mountains that to rise as high as 11,000 feet.  Much of the year, they are covered with snow.  In May, it can be ninety degrees on the valley floor, yet all around us are snow-capped mountains.  In some ways, it’s like living in a postcard.

We love making cheese.  It’s satisfying to take a raw material – milk – and turn it into a delicious artisan product that people enjoy.  It’s “artisan” cheese because we make it in small batches, not factories.  Our vat has a 150-gallon capacity.  If that seems like a lot, consider that most cheese factories produce 100,000 pounds of cheese every day, or more.

If that sounds like a canned pitch, it’s because I say it a dozen times a month at least.  We sell at all the farmers markets in the area.  There are three on Saturday – I take one, Gracie takes another, and we hire someone to do the third.  There’s another on Wednesday, which Gracie and Joe and I all do together.  And we do music festivals, wine tastings, and a handful of other events throughout the year.  The market is seasonal – we sell far more cheese in summer than in winter.

Our cheese is seasonal, as well.  Our goats produce milk nine months out of the year; we dry them out at year-end so they can give birth in March.  By April, we’re up and running again.  That’s the natural cycle of things.

A lot of people are so far removed from the source of their food, they don’t understand seasonal cycles.  They expect to find a decent tomato in January.  And they don’t understand why our goats can’t produce year-round.  Many don’t realize that a goat has to give birth before she will produce milk.  Just like human beings.

But then, some folks forget that milk actually comes from animals at all.  When I sell cheese at events, I invariably meet people who make faces when I suggest that their cheese comes from cows, goats, or sheep.  I can almost hear their inner voice: “Ick!”

Our friend who grows vegetables gets similar responses at times from people who didn’t realize vegetables grow in dirt: “Ick!”

Cheese comes from milk, and milk comes from animals.  We do buy cow milk from another dairy, but the animals we raise are goats.  We bring them into the world at their birthing, we get to know their personalities as we milk them, and we mourn them when they die.  Yes, our goats are part of the family.  Asni was the first doe we buried.  She died during a bad birthing, despite us nursing her night and day for five straight days.  And she wasn’t the last.  We have cried as they gave their last breaths, and said prayers over their graves when we buried them in the back yard.  There are eight goats buried there now, and I remember each and every one.

This is where food comes from, and this is the cycle of life.  We bring them in, we see them out.   And in the process, we enjoy their company – and are reminded that we, too, are subject to that cycle.  As we come in, so shall we depart.

March 2

Why I Make Cheese

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I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire where there was a lot of farming. Our milk was delivered from the local dairy by a milk man. Corn, tomatoes, and apples all grew plentifully. My dad was a CPA, so we didn’t do any farming ourselves. My recollection of our first gardens is that not much grew. But there was abundant produce in season, and I learned that there was nothing better than a fresh tomato grown nearby in real dirt, or an heirloom apple picked off the tree.

I recall one family reunion, held down by the ocean in Massachusetts, where fresh clams and lobster were cooked on a barbecue. My mom swam across the river and picked corn where it grew on the hillside, and that was cooked on the barbecue as well – straight from stalk to heat to mouth. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Fast forward to 25 years in Los Angeles. All food came from somewhere else. Tomatoes tasted like cardboard. Apples were one of five relatively-tasteless varieties. Corn tasted like school paste. “Fresh” meant it hadn’t sat around long enough to spoil yet.

When I moved to Utah in 2004, I bought 20 acres of land. It was mostly sagebrush growing on heavy clay, so it wasn’t much good for gardening. Still, it provided the potential to produce some of my own food.

My wife and I bought goats, and began milking them. That first year, we bought a milking doe and two kids. We collected the milk, and I made my first attempts at making cheese. They weren’t very good, but I persisted, and I learned. Soon, I was making Chevre that people enjoyed eating. We bought more goats, built a cheese facility, and went into business. At one point, we had 36 goats and were milking 16 of them.

Two things happened as we grew. First, we couldn’t produce enough goat milk to satisfy our customers’ demand. We began buying cow milk so we’d have more than just our goat cheese. Second,milking the goats became increasingly labor-intensive as the herd grew. One day, I ran the numbers and discovered that we were losing money on the goat cheese. That didn’t make much business sense. After exploring several options, we decided to stop milking goats and get rid of our herd. It was a hard decision – we had birthed many of them, and knew each one by name. They were almost part of the family.  But we weren’t in business to lose money.

At first, we kept several of the best milkers in case we changed our minds – or in case Ordinary World happened. But when my wife got pregnant last fall, we decided we had to simplify our lives. We sold the goats and the chickens, and the turkeys went to live in the freezer.

We still make cheese, though. We buy cow milk from a local dairy that doesn’t use hormones. And, with no goats to take care of, we can spend more time on making better quality cheese!  We also buy as much of our produce and meat locally as we can.  Not only does it taste better, it supports our local economy.

I enjoy making cheese. It is as much art as science. And it produces a product that feeds people in our community. I love when people taste a sample and their face lights up. Yes, there is great tasting food available from local sources! And, if the economy turns sour, we have something to trade.

February 25

What Inspired Ordinary World?

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Our family is pretty serious about preparedness.  Yes, we have a year’s supply of wheat stored away, and a hand grinder so we can make flour.  We have solar power and solar hot water; they don’t provide everything we need, but they help.  We have medical supplies and ammunition.  This seems like common sense when you live out in the middle of nowhere.  The power used to fail regularly, and at times the road has been impassable.

As an accountant, I love numbers.  Some of the numbers I find are pretty scary.  For example, from 2000 through 2012, the U.S. GDP grew by 25%.  Over the same period, the money supply, as measured by M-2, grew by 125%.  The national debt more than tripled, from $5.6 trillion to $16.1 trillion.  And it grew from 55% of GDP to 98% of GDP (IMF puts it at 106% of GDP).  That puts our nation in the company of such stellar-performing nations as Greece, Italy, and the Sudan.

As the real estate crash rippled through the economy, the possibility of a complete economic collapse seemed very real.  We began to wonder how prepared we really were.  What would we do if the trucks stopped delivering to our local Walmart?  What would we do without cell phones and internet?  Would we survive?  How?

Thus was born the idea for Ordinary World, the story of a family living much like we do, facing the collapse of the U.S. economy.  Some of the challenges they face they find solutions for without too much difficulty, often because they were prepared.  They are also fortunate to live in a community that helps each other, and they often find the right person or idea at just the right time.  But for some challenges, there are no easy solutions.  The world they live in is much less comfortable than ours, though they often describe it as far more rewarding.

I wrote Ordinary World mainly for my family, and have read it to my wife aloud several times.  It has helped us look at preparedness more seriously.  I can’t explain how surprised I was to find that so many other people were actually reading it!  If you’re one of those people, thank you – I hope you enjoyed it.  If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll consider it.  Whether or not you find it likely that the economy will collapse any time soon, this may suggest some new ideas for being prepared.  And even if not, I hope it’s a fun read.

February 24

Welcome to my Blog!

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Welcome to my blog.  If you’re wondering why I need a blog, you’re not alone.  I wonder myself!  But Ordinary World has sold over 2,500 copies, so it looks like I need to get serious about being an author.  Every site I’ve looked at on promoting books says a blog is essential.  So here it is.

On my blog, I hope to add: book excerpts, book news, free stories, and notes about my life and my writing process.

I hope you enjoy!

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