One of the disadvantages to the military lifestyle is the inability to iet up a forever home until later in life. While the moving and travel may be a bonus for some, I’d be happy to set up shop in one place for the rest of my career. Our family is all located in New England, and we want to start building our life here too.lver
In the past few months, I’ve come to the somewhat disagreeable conclusion that for at least the next 12 years we will be stuck in a cycle of renewal. Each new place we go we will have to rebuild our infrastructure- build new gardens, put together new workshops and redesign our living spaces.
In the meantime, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading up on many of my interests, rather than actually putting any of them into full-fledged practice. I was struck by a part of Frugalwood’s recent post- apparently, there is already a New England term for what I’ve been doing- “Learnin’ and Planin.’” It is something all those snow-bound Vermonters do when there is not much else to do during the winter, and it is a silver lining for us, too.
Joel Salatin, the iconoclast farmer, exhorts all of us to utilize our own “unfair advantage” in pursuit of our success. For Joel, one of his unfair advantages was access to a large urban market for his farm products. Other people’s advantages might be access to resources, or a particular talent. One of my unfair advantages is time. Not only does my current job afford me with non-traditional hours of work, but the portions of military life which seem a negative also provides an opportunity to expand our knowledge base and interests.
What We’ve Been Learnin’
Over the last few years, we have conducted a few small-scale experiments to further our learning.
Last winter we tapped a few Maple trees in our (rented) yard and produced a gallon of maple syrup. The only investment was about $20 for a maple syrup filter. We learned that syrup production was fun, a neat handmade treat, and delicious. This year I plan on testing the profitability of syruping.
Our gardening has been an ongoing experiment. We continue to learn about food production. This year I read Mark Sheppard’s Restoration Agriculture. It changed my outlook on gardening away from management intensive annual vegetables to vertically stacked – low management perennials. We can feed the world and save the environment, we just need to change!
Master’s Degree. I’ve taken advantage of my proximity to the Newport Naval War College to pursue a degree. It is tuition free, but it does require my time, especially as class is 75 miles from home. Since my unfair advantage is time, that’s OK. The Master’s Degree is the new undergrad degree. Without it, you can’t be promoted anymore, reliably seek a high-wage job on the outside, or teach at any level. A degree is vital for my family’s financial security. If I lose my job, a Masters will greatly facilitate my pursuit of outside employment.
I enjoy wild mushrooming. While Mrs. MF doesn’t eat mushrooms, I use my frequent woods walks to search for food and medicine. This year I’ve read two wonderful books on growing mushrooms, including Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Paul Stamets. It is possible to clone mushrooms, propagate the mycelium, and crop them out on many agricultural waste products. This is the ultimate frugality- turning (literal) crap into delicious, high protein, highly medicinal, and high cash value food.
Child rearing has been on our mind recently as we are expecting our first child this spring. There are a number of wonderful resources for new parents. I’ve been particularly fascinated by the powers of the human body to provide for the care and development of children, especially this article on Kangaroo Care.
This summer I learned a good bit about raising chicken for eggs and meat. I volunteered at the historic Borders Farm in Rhode Island for a few days. I got to see how chickens are raised and spent a full day dealing with turning chickens the bird into chicken the food. Not only does growing our own food provide a better quality product, but chickens are the ultimate recycler for a frugal family. They will turn your lawn clipping, old bread, kitchen scraps, bugs and other waste into eggs, meat and compost! Eggs especially are a wonderful food since they store for a long time without refrigeration, are relatively high value, pack a protein punch, can be prepared in many ways, come with their own package, and don’t require teeth to be eaten. We will be getting some chickens at our next duty station.
I read a book on Organic Farming. While I never intend on seeking Organic Certification, it was fascinating to learn about how to apply the many organic principles to our food production activities.
Passive Income: As I wrote here, we are trying to expand our passive income stream. Many people in the military look to real estate for their passive income. I’ve had a lot of time to learn about rental real estate over the last few years, from an academic standpoint. Just the other day this education paid off in a way I had not expected. I was able to help start a conversation with a co-worker who was planning to rent his family’s house after their transfer. I helped open his eyes to the difficulties of renting a single family home which had not been bought with rental attractiveness in mind. I think he now sees he is over-leveraged (as a result of a zero-down VA loan) in a market which may be peaking in value.
Personal Finance. The biggest gain to my current job has been the ability to finally educate myself on all things personal finance. I read J. Boggles and J. Collins books, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing and The Simple Path to Wealth, respectively. Here is a short list of the blogs I check in with daily and weekly:
- The Wealthy Accountant
- Financial Samurai
- Mr. Money Mustache
- Military Life Planning
What We’ve Been Plannin’
You might have noticed a significant side hustle bent to my learning. We are planning on expanding our side hustle business, more on this in a later post.
This spring we will begin to apply Mark Sheppard’s Restoration Agriculture techniques to my brother’s small farm. He has a 1-acre field which as been abused for years. We will dig a swale to spread out water and reduce soil erosion, seed soil building crops and plant perennial fruit and nut trees. Stand by for a YouTube channel documenting our experience. Eventually, we plan on extending these techniques as part of his landscaping business.
Syrup. Syrup is a high-value item, i’ve seen the local organic stuff for $76 for a half gallon!. This winter and spring I plan on expanding our operations to other tree species which produce a rarer (and more expensive) syrup. I’ll also closely track our expenses and time to test profitability.
Cheese Making. I successfully made 4 cheeses this winter. With this success, I plan on taking a cheese making class in the future. Cheese is expensive, delicious, and a nutrient dense food. It takes a lot of time to make (and age).
Taxes – I’ve planned our taxes for the next 2-3 years based on our projected income. It is wonderful to have a retirement savings plan in place to minimize our tax burden- what I like to call “The Drive to Zero” is awesome!
Food Production: In addition to chicken, this spring I’ll be investing in a homemade greenhouse to extend our growing season of vegetables (make your own baby food) and mushrooms.
I think all of out learnin’ and plannin’ is going to bear fruit when we finally set up our home. Over the course of the intervening years, we will have learned what we enjoy doing, what we need space for, and which endeavors we should invest in or build infrastructure for. We haven’t invested a lot of money- most of our items are handmade, like our maple syrup taps and buckets, or reused/recycled items.
What’s your unfair advantage?
Are you Learning? Planning?
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