Sustainability School Programs — Jump Into June

June 2, 2014 in Community Events, Community Resources, Sustainability Schools, Uncategorized

community-workshopsCheck out what’s going on near you!

PASA’s Sustainability Schools are heating up in June with “hot” topic programs on composting, industrial hemp, honey harvesting, landscaping strategies for bees, cultivating biodiversity, seed balls, and making your own pesto. There are also lots of cool opportunities for kids and the whole family! Check out the programs near you!

 Scroll down for a complete listing of upcoming events and register today!

Thanks is due to all our partners:

 Chatham University’s Master of Arts in Food Study,

 Country Barn Farm,

 Dickinson College Farm,

East End Food Co-op,

Eastern PA Permaculture Guild,

Fair Food,

Glade Run Adventures,

IMBY at Misty Hollow Farm 

Jennings Environmental Education Center,

 the Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County,

Pennypack Farm & Education Center,

 Spring Creek Homesteading,

and Quiet Creek Herb Farm.

Visit our main Sustainability Schools page for more information or follow the links above to visit each partner’s page for workshops near you!

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Sustainability School Programs – MORE BUZZ IN MAY!

May 13, 2014 in Community Resources, Sustainability Schools, Uncategorized

honey bees

Check out what’s going on near you!

PASA’s Sustainability Schools are offering more cool opportunities in May including: Sheep to Shawl, Honey Bees, Medicinal Plants and Wild Edibles. Check out the opportunities in your area.

Scroll down for a complete listing of upcoming events and register today!

Visit our main Sustainability Schools page for more information or follow the links above to visit each partner’s page for workshops near you!

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This is it. Let’s fix FSMA together! — the comment period closes tomorrow at 11:59 pm

November 14, 2013 in Take Action, Uncategorized

(From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition)


That’s how long you have left to make your voice heard on the Food Safety Modernization Act – new food safety regulations that will unfairly burden family farmers, target sustainable and organic farming, and reduce the availability of fresh, local food in our communities.

These rules put us on a path to: 

  • put many farms out of business;

  • reduce the supply of fresh, local produce in schools and hospitals;

  • push farmers to tear out wildlife habitat; and

  • increase the use of chemicals rather than natural fertilizers.

The good news is that we’ve got a chance to fix this – the Food and Drug Administration is asking for comments from people like YOU before the rules become final law!  But the comment period closes at 11:59pm this Friday, November 15. We’re running out of time to have an impact on what these rules look like – so don’t delay. Submit a comment to fix FSMA today. Here’s how:

1. Get informed. If you’re new to this issue – or just feeling iffy on some of the details – we’ve got you covered. Read our Top 10 Problems with FSMA, or check out our issue pages for some of the real nitty gritty. Farmers and food entrepreneurs should check out our “am I affected?” information too.

2. Take action. OK, here’s the deal – submitting a comment takes a little longer than simply sending a form email. But FDA will read every single submission, and it takes only a few moments! We’ve put together templates for farmers and consumers to help you customize your comment. Basically, in as few or many words as you like, you’ll want to share your concerns about the rules. You have a story to tell – about your food business, favorite farmer, or the role that local produce plays in your community – and it’s critical to share it with the FDA so they understand how many people from across the country are taking note of these rules and demanding that they work for sustainable agriculture!

3. Be sure to submit (or postmark) your comment by the deadline: November 15, 2013. There are two ways to submit:

  • Electronically. Submit one copy of your comments to the Produce Rule and one to thePreventive Controls Rule. We have more detailed instructions online here that walk you through the simple process!

  • Snail mail. Send a hard copy of your comments to: Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305) Food and Drug Administration 5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061 Rockville, MD 20852

That’s it! Have last-minute questions? We’re here to help at Two days. This is it. Let’s fix FSMA together. Sincerely, The NSAC Food Safety Team P.S. Have you already submitted a comment? Fantastic! You’re the best! Help us spread the word via Facebook and Twitter, too!

An Interview with Shannon Hayes – Radical!

August 9, 2012 in Author Series, Sustainability Schools, Uncategorized

Author Shannon Hayes writes and farms with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York. The family raises grassfed lamb, beef, pork, and poultry. She blogs for Yes! Magazine and is the author of Radical Homemakers, Grassfed Gourmet, Farmer and the Grill, and (upcoming) Long Way on a Little.

Earlier this year, Shannon delivered the PASAbilities plenary address at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s (PASA’s) Farming for the Future Conference. She wowed us with her thought-provoking message on the concept of radical homemaking. There was such an overwhelmingly positive response to her address, I thought it essential to follow up with Shannon who graciously agreed to be interviewed and offers this additional insight into her life’s work:

Shannon, my first introduction to your work was through friends Jonas and Judy Stoltzfus, farmers who pasture beef cattle in Pennsylvania (JuJo Acres). I remember how excited they were to offer your Grassfed Gourmet cookbook to their customers. With your cookbook as a reference, I learned a great deal about how to prepare grassfed meat in order to end up with something very tender and delicious. One of my favorite things about that book doesn’t actually have to do with the recipes. It’s the “View from the Farm” snippets that appear throughout. It’s unusual for a cookbook to include such treasures. What went into the thinking about including them?
I’m so pleased you thought to ask this question!  I think that now, with the local food movement in full force, such a perspective in a cookbook is not all that unusual.  But back then, it was actually controversial, because there was a clear interest in the publishing world to make sure that Americans didn’t have to draw any connections between the food on their plates and the big brown eyes of the gentle creature that provided it, or the farmer that led that animal to slaughter.  Glossy magazines could snap romantic images of veggie growers and artisan cheesemakers, but livestock folks were just too close for comfort for mainstream press.  Back then, mainstream culture preferred to think of burgers without the beef – or the chicken breasts without the bird.  But I felt that telling the stories of the farmers was essential for people to gain an understanding of what went into good food.  Flavor, nutrition, and healing our land all begins with the farm.  I didn’t feel I could get that message across without first telling the farmers’ stories, and the stories of their animals.

Do you have a favorite recipe or two from your cookbooks that you like to prepare?
My weekly menus all come from my cookbooks.  All the recipes I’ve written were done in the context of a moderately chaotic, home-centered, farm-centered lifestyle.  My family has had to make some dietary adjustments over the years to accommodate for grain/gluten free living, and I’ve had to get more savvy about being less wasteful with my food.  Thus, a lot of what I cook lately comes from “Long Way on a Little” (due out October 12 and available for pre-order) as it contains accommodations for these needs, but there are still fundamental techniques from “Grassfed Gourmet” and “Farmer and the Grill” that will never die.

In Grassfed Gourmet, you also talk about the social benefits of the grassfed meat movement. For our readers who not familiar with your cookbook, what are some of those benefits? Why should we care about these benefits?
There are so many benefits; it is hard to list them …without writing an entire book on the subject!  Grassfed meats, raised by local farmers, help to protect our landscapes and watershed, they increase the organic matter in our soils, keeping our regions more resilient in times of drought and flood.  The working conditions are better for farmers (and the livestock) because they are out in the open air (rather than in confined settings, as in factory farming).  In these hard economic times, the local grassfed meat movement becomes even more crucial.  We are creating a sustainable economy that is able to function locally outside the whims of the larger global economy.  We are able to be more responsive to people’s needs.  I know a lot of grass farmers who ask for a fair wage for their efforts, but also find ways to share their abundance with those in need – by donating meat to homeless shelters, quietly slipping extra food into the bags of customers who are facing hard times, raising animals and giving them away to good causes.  Local grass farms are fully invested in their communities, making them better environmentally and socially.

One last question on cooking: is there a “cardinal rule” for cooking grassfed meats? If so, what is it?
Don’t over-cook it.  The temperature guidelines I recommend for reliably-sourced grassfed meat are significantly different from the USDA recommended temperatures.  It makes all the difference to have meat cooked to the correct internal temperature!

In your last book, Radical Homemakers, you present a well-argued point that men traditionally played as much of a role in “homemaking” as women. Do you see many young families embracing this approach these days?
Absolutely.  In nearly all the households I visited, if a man was part of the family dynamic, he was doing as much to keep up the home as the woman was.  I don’t think it is even so much a matter of “embracing” it any longer.  I think many young families simply understand this as a given.  If there wasn’t a balance of labor in the household, the marriage wouldn’t still be going on!

Is there a story you’ve heard of homemakers since your book came out that is particularly inspiring or heartening?
That book came out 2 years ago, and I still receive more and more stories every week.  If there is a heartening tale to tell, it is in their growing numbers.  It thrills me to flip on my computer and receive messages from new people every week who are finding ways to make their lives more meaningful, joyful and ecologically sound.

Radical Homemakers also played a prominent role in your talks at the PASA Farming for the Future Conference this year. So many people, particularly male farmers, who weren’t sure what you had to deliver would resonate with them have commented on what an inspiring talk it was. What do you hope farming families take away from your message? What do you hope the non-farming community takes away?
We are facing times of incredible change.  Each of us has come to the earth at this point in time to play a part in this transition; to help the human race become a beneficent species on the planet.  That means we have to adapt to a redefined resource base, to climate change, to limited fossil fuels.  All these things are possible.  And I truly believe that life as human beings can be better than it ever was as a result.  But we will have to endure some pain and make full use of our minds, bodies and spirits to enable this adaptation.  Sometimes we can get swallowed by that pain, and our cynicism and fear can override our hope, paralyzing us from making the progress that is necessary.  We have to keep our attention on the good life that can result from going through this great turning.  That is what will give us the strength to move forward.  If there is something I hope people take away from my talks, whether they are farming or not, it is this.

Something you mentioned in a workshop you led at the Conference had to do with the radical act of hanging a clothesline. Can you talk more about that?
Ah!  For some it is more radical than others!  Out here in the country, you’re thought a fool if you toss your skivvies in the dryer.  But in many parts of this country, clotheslines are considered unsightly and hanging out laundry is against local codes.  Thoreau wrote, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?”  Obliging citizens to engage in the act of putting their clothes into an electric dryer requires that we harm the earth in order to adhere to the law.  In my estimation, transgression is imperative (as well as endeavoring to make change) – for the folks who face these laws directly, that’s pretty radical and scary.

David Korten, author of Agenda for a New Economy and The Great Turning, reviewed Radical Homemakers as “Brilliant, visionary, and practical. This is a mind-bending book that will forever change your view of human possibility and compel you to rethink your life…” At the end of the day, a day that probably involves any number of responsibilities on your farm that surely stretch you, yourself, in innumerable ways, what are your reflections on the impact you have had on other people’s lives?
Golly.  I guess I don’t think about the impact I’ve had on other people’s lives that much.  I tend to ask myself if I’ve lived each day in accordance with my heart and conscience.  I feel that part of my “life’s calling,” if you will, is to be a storyteller and a communicator, but in that sense, I am merely a conduit for allowing others to think through their own lives.  My raspberry patch, my lamb chops, my life with my parents, my husband and my kids are just a daily life that is uniquely mine.  No one needs to do what I do in the exact way that I do it.  I just hope that my willingness to reflect on it in my writing and my talks inspires people to think about their own daily world, and to make the changes they feel in their hearts are most important.

In 2010, you published an online article titled, “The Work Ahead.” My favorite line from that article is, “It is the physical work that puts us in tune with the rhythms of nature and sharpens our powers of observation to detect problems.” In many ways, for me, this observation speaks to exactly what is necessary to keep us from going awry as humans. Do you feel hopeful or fearful about the direction we are taking as a planet?
I have to feel hopeful.  Hope is a renewable resource, and if we don’t spend it, we will be frozen in place by despair.  And that will only guarantee failure as the human race adapts to these changing times.

 Reaching an online audience clearly has it benefits and limitations. What are your thoughts on the role your blog at plays in your ability to connect with the broader community with regard to moving forward and deepening understanding? What are the differences from connecting through other avenues?
I was extremely reluctant to become a blogger.  I didn’t feel I had something to say each week, and I felt that it was better to connect personally with folks.  But I cannot connect personally with folks on any kind of predictable basis and take care of the home/farm/family life I advocate for so strongly.  I’ve learned that if I make the time to blog, my readers fuel my writing, giving me ideas on subjects to tackle and ways that I can expand my thinking.  It also becomes a weekly connection for people, who then use the posts as a platform for engaging in dialog with people who may not have considered some of these ideas yet.  That’s pretty powerful.  At the same time, I am able to keep my attention focused on my roots here.  I guess the blog enables me to team up with readers, and gives us a tool to work together for bringing about greater change and touching more people.

That said, there is nothing that can compare with going out in public and meeting people, getting hugs, hearing their beautiful stories and seeing the light in their eyes as they go after the life they want.  It reminds me that I’m not alone in this work.  Better still, I tend to get a lot of good information from the folks I meet – suggestions on books to read, techniques to try with my kids, in my garden, or on the farm, ideas for doing this differently.  That’s all terrific stuff.  But if I do too much of that, then I am not keeping my own home fires alive.  Thus, the blog has been tremendously helpful to me in maintaining a healthy balance.

 In addition to writing and speaking publicly, farming with your family clearly plays a major role in your life. What does it mean to you to be part of a three-generation farm? What stage is being set for your daughters’ futures with sustaining this commitment?
If we didn’t have multiple generations on this farm, I wouldn’t be sitting here answering interview questions or writing books.  From the time I was very young, my parents recognized that I was a rather communicative artsy-creative type.  I married a communicative artsy-creative type.  Most folks like that don’t find their way to a farm.  But by being part of multiple generations, Bob and I were able to bring our creativity to the enterprise.  We are able to help with the chicken processing, sell the pork chops, and still do creative work like writing and publishing books, weaving baskets, and playing music.  At the same time, if Bob and I weren’t with the farm, my parents wouldn’t be selling meat at the local farmers’ market, they wouldn’t have their vacations, and they’d probably have collapsed from the exhaustion by now.

Three generations on the land gives everyone time to rest and play, and gives everyone an opportunity to take nourishment from the deeply pleasurable work that is involved.  It enables us to have our own creative and intellectual outlets without being swallowed up by a family business.

As for my girls, of course I cannot control their future choices.  But I see a wonderful future for them here.  My oldest is an artist to her core.  I see the farm as a way to support that lifestyle, and we’ve come to see how valuable it is to the land and business to have an artist involved.  She does our wool displays, works with her dad in setting up the retail space so that it is visually appealing, helps with signs, and readily takes any young children who come with customers out to play safely so that their parents can enjoy their visit.  My youngest (who is 5) is already a hard-core salesperson.  She moves so many of my candles, soaps, salves and books that I pay her a commission.  I think she’d sell the meat, too, but she is too short to reach the product display.  It thrills her to engage with people, talk to them about their needs and interests, and to help them find what they are looking for.  She’s also amazingly strong and can carry water buckets like nobody’s business.

That’s a long way of saying that they are already incredibly valuable to us.  So while I cannot control what they will choose to do in the future, I can make sure that they understand the importance of their contributions, and I can take advantage of the three generations we have on this land to take them away on fantastic adventures (we went to Europe for 7 weeks this past winter), so that they fully see and enjoy this world.  My theory on that is that if they see it and know it, and understand that the rest of the world is not denied to them, then the farm becomes the path toward greater enjoyment of their lives…not a prison.

What inspires you?
Ahhh…so much.  Where would I start?  My morning walk with my dog, picking berries, stacking firewood, a phone call from a friend, lunch on the back porch with my parents,  laying my head in my husband’s lap at the end of the day, watching my daughters teach themselves something new…I find inspiration in every little mundane thing. Except traffic.  I don’t find traffic congestion particularly inspiring.  So I try to avoid traffic congestion.

Perhaps mundane, perhaps profound, what is something that would surprise us about your day-to-day life?
If it would be a surprise, then it means I didn’t want you to know about it, right? (she smiles)

Point taken! So, what’s on the horizon for you?
I’m very excited to be bringing out “Long Way on a Little” this fall.  The book has taken me four years to write, and has been the most transformative cookbook in my career.   I’ve had to learn how to eliminate my own kitchen waste by challenging myself to figure out how to use my leftovers. I’ve had to figure out how to make prudent use of the bones and fat on the animals and how to do it all with the myriad dietary restrictions so many Americans are confronting (my family included).  I’ve fallen in love with this book!

How can people find your work and keep an eye out for what you are up to?
People can read my articles and buy books at and  They are also available through Chelsea Green Publishing and they can buy electronic copies of my works through any of the major online venues.

Thanks, Shannon, for giving us some insight into your life and your work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to explore these questions with me.


A few notes from Shannon’s website…

Shannon’s essays and articles have appeared in myriad regional and national publications, including The New York Times, The Boston Review, and Northeast Public Radio. Hayes’ quirky lifestyle, her attempts to live a life of personal accountability and sustainability, and her current research and writings about homemaking as an ecological movement have landed her and her family on the pages of the New York Times, Brain Child Magazine, Lancaster Farming, Small Farm Quarterly, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, Grit, Yes! Magazine, Elle Magazine, the national newspapers of Germany, Turkey and Canada, Arab News and the Pakistan Observer.

Shannon’s newest book, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out from Left to Write Press on October 12. Left to Write Press, a company that Shannon and her husband Bob started as a way to enable them to live in Schoharie County without having to sell-out to corporate media, is distributed by Chelsea Green.



Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover’s Companion for Enjoying Meats, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously
Whole animal cooking for grassfed lamb, beef, pork and poultry….plus the leftovers.  Includes carbohydrate profiles, guides to grain-, legume-, and dairy-free recipes, color photography and  great information for stretching your food dollars.

Radical Homemakers
Shannon’s controversial best-seller that explores how social revolution and ecological reform begin at home.

The Farmer and the Grill
A guide to grilling, barbecuing and spit-roasting grassfed meat…and for saving the planet, one bite at a time. 

The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook
Finding, selecting, preparing and enjoying the most delicious and healthful meats for your body and the planet.


Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled
A little reality check about the glories of the good life…

The Smell of Mud Season
Featured on Northeast Public Radio

The West Fulton Turkey Supper
Featured on Northeast Public Radio

Featured on Northeast Public Radio

Featured on Northeast Public Radio

An Interview with Ben Hewitt: Author. Farmer. Instigator.

June 4, 2012 in Author Series, Community Resources, Uncategorized

Author Ben Hewitt

Author Ben Hewitt writes on everything from how local foods can revitalize working-class communities, to the relationship between humans and the bacteria they consume, to the power of questioning what we’re often told is not up for discussion. I recently had an opportunity to connect with Ben (Making Supper Safe, The Town That Food Saved and, upcoming, A Conscious Economy). My interview with him here touches on a number of thought-provoking subjects. I had heard him speak at the PASA Annual Meeting earlier this year and it was at this event the subject of Restorative Agriculture came up. I found this to be a very intriguing framework for thinking about agriculture and was so pleased when Ben agreed to speak to me on this and other topics relevant to creating sustainable communities.

The Town That Food Saved (Rodale Books)

Ben, when I’ve heard you speak about your first book, The Town That Food Saved, you often refer to your intrigue about a local foods movement that was stirring in the small town of Hardwick, Vermont. Prior to that town’s revitalization, you had been of the thinking that the “locavore” movement was for more affluent communities. As this is an assumption many of us have, can you talk more about this?

I like to say that the locavore movement suffers from “Al Gore-ism.” Which is to say, it is perceived by many as something for the Prius-driving, liberal elite. This is mostly because of cost, but also I think because of the language that is often attached to local foods, with words like “artisanal,” “terroir,” and sometimes, even “organic.” I don’t think this sort of language helps the cause at all. For instance, we make home-smoked bacon from our organic, artisanal, free-range, pastured pigs. I smoke it in a hole in the ground covered up with some rusty tin, and I call it “Ben and Penny’s White Trash Bacon.” And our working class neighbors love it and want more, more, more. If I called it “Ben and Penny’s Organic, Artisanal, Free Range Bacon,” would they like it as much? Maybe… but I sort of doubt it. 

That didn’t really answer your question, but it gets to one of the roots of the problem, which is the misperception that this food is expensive, because of course the true cost of the so-called food provided by the dominant food industry is far greater than the price tag attached to it. Still, the reality is that most folks are not inclined or simply don’t care to consider these externalized costs such as health care, environmental degradation, and subsidies. 

The tragic irony is, of course, that if there’s any posturing or presumption in the realm of food, it’s primarily in the dominant food industry and the cultural lie that we can truly nourish our population on so-called “cheap food,” while using tremendous quantities of heavily-subsidized non-renewable resources to do so. Never mind what we’re doing to the environment. 

One concept many people have been interested to hear about is your promotion of the agricultural framework: Restorative Agriculture. How does this differ from Sustainable Agriculture, if it does?

I was introduced to the concept of restorative agriculture by a friend, who talked about it in relation to forestry practices. I liked it immediately, because I think the term sustainable agriculture is flawed in a number of ways. First, the root of sustain is “maintain,” and frankly, I think we can do much, much better. Second, I think it fails to adequately address all the potential benefits that can come of small-scale, regionalized agriculture, which has the unique capacity to restore health, restore the environment, restore community vitality, and restore local economies. Among other things.

It’s a reality we subsidize industrial agriculture, do you have strategies for how can we start to decentralize our food systems?

I really believe it needs to happen at a grassroots level. That’s not to say there’s no role for State and even Federal government and agencies, only that we shouldn’t wait around for them to come to their senses. I also think that we need to insist that we be granted the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, none of which we can have in full if we can’t nourish ourselves with the food of our choosing. If it means breaking the law to codify this right, so be it. 

I know you agree, as a nation, we waste a lot of food as well. How can we change this?

Part of the problem is that we simply don’t revere food for what it is: the very nourishment that allows us to live. Think about that for a second; that’s pretty serious. I like to say that unless you’re paying for sex, it’s the most intimate form of commerce you’ll ever engage in. I mean, you’re putting it into your body. So, for starters, simply acknowledging how important it is and what a gift it is would go a long way. Second, we need to produce less food, not more. We produce so much food, and have such a glut of calories in this country, it’s no wonder we don’t value it. Here’s a sad piece of commentary on the current state of affairs in America, not solely relating to food: In 1970, we produced somewhere in the range of 3100 calories per person, per day, and about 2% of the population was on food stamps. Today, we produce nearly 3900 calories per person, per day, and about 15% of the population is on food stamps. 

In this culture, we receive many messages about measuring prosperity through GDP growth. Tell me how this form of measurement compares with the prosperity that can come with growing or locally sourcing your own food.

The problem is, if I answer this you’ll have no reason to buy my next book! It’s called A Conscious Economy: Reclaiming true wealth in an era of False Abundance. It’ll be out June 2013. But in short, the idea that we can and should somehow define our well being via money-related statistics is incredibly myopic and ultimately damaging to us individually and collectively. 

Making Supper Safe (Rodale Books)

OK, then. We’ll wait to read about it in your next book. Very exciting. Please keep us posted. In your most recent book, Making Supper Safe, you talk about food rights and food safety. Does a person have to live outside the system to be safe?

Not necessarily. But there’s no question that attempts to make the dominant food system more “safe” generally only lead to greater consolidation and stifling of regional food production. We need to understand that food safety is about more than the 3,000 or so Americans that die every year from acute food borne illness (salmonella, e coli, etc), and should include the more than 1,000,000 Americans that die every year from diet-related disease. 

Even people who care deeply about making change, can be paralyzed with confusion about where to start. In getting started, what questions can we ask ourselves in our journey toward eating more healthfully?

I’m loath to delve into specific nutritional advice, since that’s such a can of worms. However, almost no matter what your beliefs are, if you can simply manage to shun anything that comes in a box or a can, you’ll be 3/4 of the way there. Wait… that wasn’t a question. Here you go: Should I really be eating this crap that comes in boxes and cans? 

What actions can we take to create change in our own corner of the world? Or, what are a few ways we can vote for change with our dollars?

I tend to think about it in a way that’s at once a bit broader, and more simple: By my course of action – whether it’s choosing to buy one thing or another or nothing at all, or choosing to help someone or not, or choosing to spend my days in pursuit of financial recompense or in pursuit of my passions – what am I saying “yes” to? It’s a really simple litmus test, and in truth, sometimes I make the choice to say “yes” to something I’d rather not, like when I drive my car, or fly. But when I’m on the fence about something, it really helps clear my head and make a sound decision. 

How can we best build strong communities around us?

I think I might have mentioned my next book…

In all seriousness, building strong communities is something many of us are reflecting on these days. There is a great deal of discussion about this just about anywhere I go. There are also some really great minds focusing attention on creating new paradigms for understanding the importance of our connections with each other. If you haven’t read Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, I can’t recommend it enough.

Ben's sons living the high life...

Speaking of community, you live on a 40 acre farm with your wife and sons. Do you have extended family around you? Are they involved in your farm?

My parents live about 15 miles away. They’re not really involved, although they often come over and hang out with the boys while Penny and I “git r dun” as we say here in Vermont. I do work trades with friends and we do a lot of informal exchange/gifting/bartering with farming neighbors that keeps us all involved in each others’ operations. 

Can you talk a little more about the role of bartering and trading in your life? What are the benefits of such practices, versus simply paying for services and goods?

Again, you are touching on some key areas I’ll be addressing in my book. This is intimately connected with your question about building strong communities. We need to recognize that monetizing and commodifying so many aspects of our lives is making it increasingly difficult to experience the sort of interdependence that builds strong communities. We need to need each other, and we need to allow ourselves to feel obligated to others and gracious enough to allow them to feel obligated to us. 

We do a ton of barter and simple gift exchange; indeed, most of the products that come off our farm are traded for other goods and services. But I must acknowledge that I have the luxury of having other income that allows us to do this. It’s a bit more difficult when the farm is the sole source of income. More difficult, but no less important. 

What brings you the most joy when it comes to raising your sons on a farm?

We’ve chosen to raise our boys in a way that’s increasingly uncommon in 21st century America. We homeschool, we don’t have a TV or other digital media, and they have enormous freedom to explore the surrounding fields and forests. The other day, they took off first thing in the morning, walked 1/2 mile through the woods with their fishing poles, and came home two hours later with a bucket full of brook trout and a bunch of morel mushrooms they’d found. I am so, so happy they have these opportunities. 

Of course, the ungrateful little buggers don’t even realize how lucky they are. But then, I’m not sure that’s a child’s obligation. I’m just happy to see them so engaged with nature and living in the moment. 

If there were one message you hope people take away from all your writings and talks, what would that be?

Question the status quo. Whether it’s food, or wealth, or whatever, don’t assume the way it is is the way that’s best for us. 

Thank you so much Ben for taking the time to connect and for enticing us with the subject of your next book. We look forward to hearing more about that as well!

For more information on Ben and his writings, visit

Purchase Making Supper Safe

Purchase The Town That Food Saved

Don’t forget: up later this summer, Shannon Hayes and Charles Eisenstein!