The Rise of Catholic Homesteading (Guest: Jason Craig)

Why are so many Catholic families looking into farm life? Why is homesteading becoming a popular alternative to the suburban and city life?

Crisis Point
Crisis Point
The Rise of Catholic Homesteading (Guest: Jason Craig)
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Guest

Jason Craig writes from a small dairy farm in Western North Carolina. He is the co-founder of Faternus, founding editor of Sword&Spade magazine, and author of Leaving Boyhood Behind. His most recent book is Liturgy of the Land: Cultivating a Catholic Homestead from TAN Books. He holds a master’s degree from the Augustine Institute and is known to claim his family invented bourbon.

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Transcript

Eric Sammons:

Why are so many Catholic families looking into farm life? Why is homesteading becoming a popular alternative to suburban and city life? That’s what we’re going to talk about today on Crisis Point. Hello, I am your host, Eric Sammons, editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, I just want to encourage people to smash that like button to subscribe to the channel and let other people know about it. We always appreciate when you do that. Also, you can follow us on social media @CrisisMag at all the social media outlets, and you can subscribe to our email newsletter. Just go Crisismagazine.com, put in your email address, and you will get our articles sent to your inbox every morning.

I think it sends it out at nine o’clock in the morning eastern time, so you can always eagerly anticipate that coming to your inbox. Okay, so our guest today is Jason Craig. He writes from a small dairy farm in Western North Carolina. Okay, I just have to stop. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this when I was reading this, where in Western North Carolina? That’s where my mom’s family is from.

Jason Craig:

Okay, well I’m in Green Creek, but Green Creek doesn’t have a post office so Columbus is the closest town, but Hendersonville is the-

Eric Sammons:

Hendersonville, okay, I’m familiar with Hendersonville. But how far away are you from Asheville?

Jason Craig:

I’m right in between Asheville and Hendersonville, about hour from… I’m sorry, no, I’m sorry, right in between Asheville and Charlotte, so I’m about an hour east of Charlotte and west of Asheville, or vice versa.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, right, vice versa, right. So my mom’s side, they lived in the mountains of North Carolina, very close to Tennessee. Andrews, North Carolina, which I think it’s about an hour, hour and a half, something like that from Asheville.

Jason Craig:

It’s beautiful country.

Eric Sammons:

Oh, my gosh. We go down there every year, usually twice a year growing up, and I didn’t appreciate how beautiful it was. I mean, you’re a kid, that’s where your grandmother lives, you just go down to visit and everything. But as I got older and we’d visit… and I haven’t been down there in a while now… oh my gosh, it’s just some of the most beautiful country in the world, frankly, down there I think. Anyway.

Jason Craig:

I agree.

Eric Sammons:

So you are the co-founder of Fraternus, founding editor of Sword & Spade Magazine, author of Leaving Boyhood Behind. Your most recent book, let me pop it up on the screen here, is Liturgy of the Land: Cultivating a Catholic Homestead, from TAN Books, and you have a co-author and I apologize, I’m blanking. Who’s your co-author of this book?

Jason Craig:

I might call him Tommy, because he’s a friend I’ll call him Tommy, on the cover though Thomas van Horn.

Eric Sammons:

It’ll be very formal. Thomas Van Horn or Tommy. Okay, great. So you co-authored that book. You hold a master’s degree from the Augustine Institute and you are known to claim that your family invented bourbon.

Jason Craig:

That’s right.

Eric Sammons:

That’s impressive. I mean, what else is there to say at that point? I mean, we have the man whose family invented bourbon here on the show.

Jason Craig:

My response is just, you’re welcome. You’re welcome.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right.

Jason Craig:

As much as it’s for me to say that, you’re welcome.

Eric Sammons:

We all thank you, we all thank your family. So those of us who imbibe at times, adults of course, only adults.

Jason Craig:

Of course.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, so why don’t we just get started, tell us a little bit about your own background. You live on a small dairy farm now, but how did you grow up? Did you grow up Catholic? Did you grow up on a farm? What’s your own background?

Jason Craig:

Sure. The answer is no to all of those. I did not grow up Catholic. I did not grow up any kind of practicing Christian per se, although mostly in the South… Flannery O’Connor called it the Christ-haunted south… so Jesus is kind of everywhere and sometimes meaningless at the same time here. But conversion to the church around 2006 or so, I came into the church. And I found my way working with Catholic apostolates actually in grad school. I did grow up in a blue collar kind of atmosphere, my father’s a plumber. So just working outside, being outside was normal for me. Working with tools was normal. I had originally gone to school, I wanted to do horticulture, which is a fancy word for I wanted to be a landscaper. And long story short, I found my way in working in Catholic apostolic stuff, Catholic apostolates, and going to grad school for that purpose.

I was working with Fraternus… and I still work with Fraternus… at that time, which the thrust of Fraternus is that boys need men to become men. And I know that everyone nods and they’ll say boys need mentors, boys need their fathers around. And the whole purpose of Fraternus was just training and challenging men to just do that. But then slowly we realized, wow, the reason the men aren’t forming the boys very well is that the men are very poorly formed. And so it’s an apostolate for men and boys is what it is. But you start to ask these questions. You don’t read about these sort of apostolates in former times. Why is this obviously necessary? Because some people say, well, they didn’t have men’s groups back then. Yeah, they did. They’re called the Benedictines. Why is it so hard now and why are we hemorrhaging boys so much?

So eventually you come up to just the hard facts of the industrial revolution and some of the other, the sexual revolution, and even the technological revolution, and their effects on the home. And we explore those in lots of different ways. It’s common for Catholics in certain circles to explore and acknowledge these things. But my interest was really that for centuries and centuries, boys were formed into men alongside their fathers mostly working on farms. In our country, we went from a country of about 90% of the population being farmers to now less than 1%. And that happened in short order. I mean, historically speaking, that sort of shift in a society is… it’s unprecedented. I mean to go as a predominant occupation, and we know that the occupation of farming is an entire way of life so it’s not as if everyone just changed jobs. It’s even bigger than a mass migration.

I mean, this is a just unprecedented and often unexamined historical shift. And the book you mentioned I wrote called Leaving Boyhood Behind, that’s sort of a Catholic understanding and anthropology of rites of passage like how boys become men. The short end of it is it doesn’t happen by accident, it is sort of done to them. They’re made into men. It doesn’t happen organically the way it does for women and girls. And so anyway, I’m dealing with all those things and it was an intellectual conversion that I have a suspicion that a farm is a place where we should be, because we were starting to have more children and sons.

Eric Sammons:

So you’re living at this point though in apartments, suburbia, what? What’s your status?

Jason Craig:

We were in an apartment in Denver, Colorado. That’s where I was in. We’re from North Carolina, but I was in an apartment in Denver, Colorado, and I was holding my second-born son. We now have five sons and three daughters. And it was our third child, second son, so things are starting to teeter towards the boys at that point, which it continued for… we were plagued with a decade of boys. So that second boy-

Eric Sammons:

I have one boy and six girls, and the one boy is still… he’s out of the house now… but when he was younger, I mean he’s still the dominant force day to day because he’s a boy and the girls are girls. So I can imagine five boys. I mean even just with one it was like that so five boys had to be just insane.

Jason Craig:

Oh, it’s savagery. It’s savagery. It’s amazing. But I had intuited we need to be on a farm if these boys are going to keep coming in. So this was an intellectual that, hey, the family has not recovered from losing the sort of ecosystem of an agrarian life. But also boys just… I found a quote from Pope Pius XII, he said, “The farm just produces altogether different men.” And living in the city, in the suburbs, it’s like that’s the kind of men I want to raise. So for us as a family it very much was sort of an intellectual conversion. And then what happened was we moved in 2012 with Tommy Van Horn, who was my co-author at the same time, and we’re like, “Hey, we’re going to start a homestead. We’re going to be the new Catholic land movement.” And I don’t know if you remember back in the day there was a website, The New Catholic Land Movement?

Eric Sammons:

That does sound familiar, yeah.

Jason Craig:

Yeah, it was kind of big around 2012. I know there’s iterations of the Catholic Land Movement come every so often, but that was one back then. We had a board, we were founding, and we were going to start Catholic villages and all these ideals. And this book that we wrote is kind of 12 years looking back realizing and talking about the move to a homestead as being like a form of conversion from suburbia. And if you ask a fish, “How’s the water?” The fish says, “What’s water?” And a lot of times it’s not until you’re out of the water and in the homestead you start to realize I am formed by an industrialized tech-saturated, busy, frenetic, consumer, materialist culture. And to just say I’m just going to overlay some chickens and a garden on top of that and now I’m a Catholic villager in Christendom, it’s delusional.

And so we wrote this book because a lot of people, I think every family at one point goes maybe we should live on a farm. I think everyone, especially fathers, maybe this would be easier if we were just on a farm. And we wrote this book to say that’s true because it is the natural place of the family, which we argue that man’s nature sort of is at peace in creation, where he put them in the garden in the first place, where God put us, but that it actually still requires a conversion. So that was a long answer, but no, I didn’t grow up Catholic and I didn’t grow up a homesteader. So reconciling some of those things as conversions is what this book really revolves around.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, so why don’t we then take a step back and just kind of define our terms, because we’ve kind of said living on a farm, we said homestead, but I know in the book you make a distinction between the two. So why don’t we kind of define what do you mean by a homestead as opposed to or maybe in conjunction with living on a farm? I think most people when they hear homestead, what they picture is, you’re out in the middle of nowhere, outside of the suburbia, you have a lot of property, you have a lot of land, you have cows, you have crops and all that stuff. So what exactly are you meaning by these terms?

Jason Craig:

Sure, you might just be describing something completely different from what’s reality for some people. All right, so let’s define them. The center of a homestead is a home. So a homestead is a place where the surrounding property is used and worked by a family for the basic sustenance of life. So food, shelter, warmth is outside, so it’s a productive home. So the big difference, remember this is a shift that we actually don’t recognize… and I lean heavily in the book on the research of Allan Carlson and on the insights of Nisbet and The Quest for Community, I’m not sure of some of these books… is the overwhelming leak, the most common model of a household throughout history is a productive household. And that the distinction of a productive household, like what do we put that up against on the other side of the spectrum would be a suburban household.

So a suburban household is a completely consumer-based unit, as an economic and functioning unit it’s consumer based, meaning you make money and do things outside of the home and you bring the money back to consume the resources in the home. Now, a homestead also consumes, right, there’s no reason to grow food if you’re not going to eat it. It’s just that you’re a part of the production of it. But a suburban home is primarily a place of recreation and consuming. It’s where you go to rest, to watch movies together, to eat meals together, but the home itself does not have a functional purpose or an economic purpose other than recreation and consumption. Whereas when we say homestead, we simply mean a home that is engaged in some, maybe very little, of the production of what it needs. So when you say farm, I mean most of us rightly think of that as an occupation.

I have a friend, he was a conventional farmer. He just retired. You know what he’s doing in retirement? Homesteading. Meaning he’s spending his retirement growing food because he enjoys it. He enjoys the small flock of chickens, he enjoys growing his vegetables. But when you’re farming, it’s a different business. And the purpose of it that’s unavoidable is that you’re making an income from the farm. So this is why a lot of people can say, “Yeah, I’m a homesteader,” and people will dismiss like, “Oh, you’re not, you still have a job.” It’s like, “Yeah, of course.” I mean this is actually the argument of some of the great Catholic leaders, sort of our own American Catholic Land Movement, is like Father John Rall of The Rural Life. He proposed that every family should see themselves as needing for the sake of sanity and freedom and holiness, at least a little plot to have some food, whether or not they have a job in town or not.

So when I say homestead, I mean someone engaged in the direct production of food or maybe even warmth, of something. So the same category could be used for a home that’s productive that’s also a workshop. This was very common in former times that a home was a workshop. But when I say homestead, this is kind of what you described except not related specifically to economics and as we often mean it, which is making money, GDP. I mean economics meaning the household management, the household revolves around growing and living off the land.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, so I’m glad of that last part because that’s what I wanted to follow up with. So when you’re talking about homesteading, you’re more talking about using the land to produce things, not money, but produce things… that may produce money, that you might sell them, for example… or you might consume them yourselves. So for example, how about the family who lives in suburbia and they homeschool, and then the wife… I’m sorry, the husband, he works from home. He’s a IT person let’s say, so he’s producing something. I mean whatever his job is, he’s getting paid for it and he’s doing it all from the home. So he is not using the home just as recreation or whatever. But let’s say they’re not doing anything other than that.

So would you say that’s not really homesteading because it’s not producing something other than, like you mentioned a workshop, but I mean IT is probably a good example because a lot of people, probably people listening to this, including the person you’re talking to right now, I mean in that sense I’m not IT but I work from home, so what distinctions would you make there? And we’re going to lead into of course why these distinctions matter, I know, but let’s make sure we know what these distinctions are here first.

Jason Craig:

Well, one, I think actually the relationship to homeschooling is much easier to recognize. The beautiful thing that homeschooling has done for thousands of families is to re-functionalize the home, because our homes have become a place… not of dysfunction, although we know that’s true too… but of just non-function. They don’t have a practical bearing on our life. I credit definitely Robert Nisbet for really writing about this and pointing out a lot about when families existed to help one another do something, meaning the families take care of one another directly, so this is caring for the elderly, caring for babies, feeding each other, taking care of one another practically in a functional way where you actually have practical need for one another, that families thrive in that setting. Historically, families do better when they take care of one another practically. When the family becomes a place where everyone who comes together to get updates on everyone else’s individual pursuits of success and happiness, and then you give unfeigning supports for whatever… my family really supported me in my endeavors. Right?

Actually the family suffers because the members learn to not need one another. So we tend to have strong communion and bonds with people that we actually need. And this is not about being utilitarian, it’s just that God actually intended for us to take care of one another’s needs as a sign in a bond of our love. So when St. Paul says he who doesn’t take care of his family is worse than an unbeliever, he wasn’t talking about call them on their birthday and offer emotional support. He meant take care of them practically. So what Nisbet says is that when the family went from functional unit to companionship only, we’re just here as companions, and the way to do that and the way that traditionally occurred is to re-function and making the home a necessary part of the whole family’s function, which is what the homeschool does.

And as you know, I work, I mean a lot of us… that’s the great blessing and it’s very ironic and paradoxical when people think this is contradictory. You can’t enjoy the fruits of the modern economy and technology and claim to be a homesteader at the same time, which is absurd. And this shows that we actually just don’t think about the family as the center of economic activity, which absolutely, of course I can have multiple jobs and homestead. Not that I just want to pile on more things to do, that’s another, maybe we can talk about that later if you wanted to, how does that actually work? And the answer is no and yes, depending, and it takes a lot of discernment. Right? So I would say the homeschool, yes, is a re-functionalizing of the home, but it’s engaged in education. I’m talking about the engagement of growing food and what the effect of receiving the fruits of the earth directly and cultivating the earth and having that as a work of the family, what that does for the family is very good and very healthy and is holy because it’s natural.

I would argue that it’s the natural state of man to be concerned about where your food’s going to come from and being engaged with growing and procuring and having some understanding, because we’re all agrarians, we all have a relationship to the land because we eat every day. Everyone has a relationship. It’s just how distant is the relationship. And my argument is that it doesn’t mean everyone has to be directly growing everything they eat, that’s not what we’re arguing, but that it is good for humanity and good for the family and good for the soul for a lot more of us to have an awareness and an engagement with the natural activity of growing. I mean, human culture is food. Even the sacraments are made from some things we grow from the ground. I mean growing, eating, cooking, enjoying, feasting, this is what we do.

Eric Sammons:

So really while there are elements of homesteading and just homeschooling or in working from home like a computer job or whatever the case may be, really you’re kind of defining homeschooling to include some type of production of food. So whether that’s, I guess it’d be both from the ground, but also I assume animals that you can consume as well. Okay, so I’m glad that we have that. So you’ve touched on it a bit, but I want you really to explain to us why homesteading is something… I mean, it seems like you’re advocating that most Catholics, I mean most people, but we’re talking to a Catholic audience primarily, should at least consider this as a superior form of living, frankly, than traditional suburban life as we think of it. And so why don’t you give us your pitch of why that is?

Jason Craig:

Sure. Well, I want to be very careful not to romantically say or flippantly say homesteading is better and more of you should do it. Because if you could be like me and follow me on Instagram, then we would all… No, I don’t have Instagram.

Eric Sammons:

That would be ironic if that was your pitch.

Jason Craig:

Well, I mean, the reason I say that is there’s a lot of people in the city and there’s people online on YouTube, on Instagram, they’re taking pictures and they’re not telling the whole story and they’re just romanticizing this idea. And a lot of people in the name of doing something good for their family jump out selling all and buying a plot of land and it crashes awfully. That’s part of the reason we wrote the book is to actually say, yes, I would say everyone needs to understand why the liturgy of the land and a closeness to the land and its seasons and its cycles is important for our souls. No, not everyone needs to sell everything and move out to a rural location and stead.

Eric Sammons:

Do you know who Devin Rose is? He’s a friend of mine, he’s written a book on-

Jason Craig:

Yeah, The Flop.

Eric Sammons:

… for Catholic Answers, but also did the Farm Flop or whatever it is.

Jason Craig:

Yes, I read that. Actually, I read an article a long time ago, I can’t recall where it was published, and I emailed him because we corresponded every now and then, and I was like, “Hey, I’m kind of making fun of you. Is that okay?” He said, “Absolutely.”

Eric Sammons:

That was a great book just because he’s very self-deprecating, very self-aware. It takes a humble person and a good person to write a book like that. But for those who don’t know, Devin Rose, he wrote a book, I just read it on a Kindle or something like that, but it basically was he attempted the farm life and let’s just say it wasn’t a rousing success. And he writes about his successes, but mostly his failures in doing it. It’s a great book. I think I read it when I went through the phase, I mean, everybody goes through it, and some people it returns to them. That’s what happens to me often. I went through a phase of, “Oh yeah, maybe we should live on a farm,” and I read that and I was like, “Okay, slow your roll suburban-boy, let’s take baby steps here.” But go ahead, I’m sorry. But I read that book, yeah.

Jason Craig:

I mean most people, they go radical, they read some Chesterton, they read some back to the land stuff, they get out there, they buy a bunch of cows, they buy some goats. Everything’s getting out. They don’t know what they’re doing. Their neighbors hate them. They feel isolated. They’re driving two hours to soccer practice and it’s like, okay, this is why we wrote this book actually because that’s not an uncommon experience. But to the question of what we are proposing to the audience, I guess the strongest challenge would be that the proposal we make at the very beginning is that the suburbanization of the United States particularly was not an outcome of free market economics. That the intentionality of removing productivity from the home as a consequence of policies, particularly of the government, is traceable. And the scholarship of Allan Carlson is just unmatched in this area that the United States intentionally wanted the suburbanization of a farming populace.

And businesses, big businesses also… so big corporations, big business, big bad guys… they also benefited from the move to a consumerist and industrialized society, and that suburbanization was intended to shift our country to a more consumer-based hypermobile economy. And it worked. They did it. They did this. Our challenge, what we are proposing though, is that this has been traceably bad for the family, that the family losing its needfulness for one another, its connection to place in tradition, its ability to be rooted, just the outcome of these things are rarely examined. But as an example, we’re always talking about in the Catholic spheres about cultivating Catholic culture. We need a good Catholic culture and strong bonds and local bonds and all those things.

Excuse me, sorry.

Eric Sammons:

We have a homestead in practice.

Jason Craig:

We have a functional home right now.

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly. This is it in practice, baby.

Jason Craig:

Hold on, just edit this out. Katie, I’m going to forward this to you. Eric Sammons is judging me right now.

Eric Sammons:

I am. No, actually I’m saying this is how it works. If you were a suburban dad this wouldn’t happen. You’d have a nice enclosed space. It’d be all good. But now because you’re in a homestead, you can’t do that. It’s all-

Jason Craig:

I’ve integrated all these things.

Eric Sammons:

That’s right, it’s all integrated, it’s all good.

Jason Craig:

That’s right. People say, “Well, I just want to live the simple life.” It’s like we need to define what you mean by simple. If by simple you mean less things to worry about, it is not a simple life. If by simple you mean these things integrate with one another with some conversion, then yes, that might be true. Sorry, where were we on the… So the proposal that the suburb is not a natural outcome, that it was sort of done to us as a people and that the result has actually been not very good. So as an example when we talk about growing and cultivating Catholic cultures, well sort of the economic cultural reality for a lot of us is that we have these homes, we build them up, we pay our mortgages, and we send our children to college with this sort of presumption that like us they start from zero, live somewhere else, and it’s very hard to sort of integrate back into a work together because they’ve got to go and find their own way and their own job.

The family has a very hard time staying cohesive for more than one generation at a time, if that. And then the idea of having a culture that resets itself and disperses with every generation is absurd. I mean, if every household disperses out into the broad suburban world and your goal is to essentially try your best to plug into the global economy with the biggest fattest plug you can get and find a good comfortable suburb that you can at least maybe fly…these sorts of things. We try very hard not to flippantly criticize them or criticize people, but also just as a bit of realism, say what it’s doing to us is not good. And we lean on, hopefully, I think is recognized as pretty solid research and data that this isn’t working well for the family. So the family is not doing well under this model.

And so the idea that everyone has about maybe I should live on a homestead, the reason I think that does crop up regularly is that that is the natural state of man. I mean, God truly… and let’s just get out of income and debt and payments and those things for a minute and just say, I think every man would say, yeah, when I read Genesis and God places the family in a garden and you work, that sounds wonderful. I would love to be in a greater harmony with God, my family and the world directly around me and be occupied with gathering the fruits of the earth for the enjoyment of man. I mean, that is what I would like to be doing. And that our current economic model is keeping us away from that and the ability to do that is becoming more obvious as we’re saturated in the artificial, we’re just saturated in the media.

We sort of don’t know what to do about it because it’s just everywhere. We kind of feel that it’s doing something bad to us and we don’t know what to do. And when people have the response of I wish I could just live closer to nature and the land, that’s a reasonable response. A lot of us, you’ll hear people say that’s romantic and unrealistic, whatever, impractical, that’s the same argument everyone uses against contraception. That’s impractical or anything that’s hard and holy tends to get dismissed by the world as impractical. There is just nothing more practical than food growing out of the soil in your backyard. I just don’t know what’s more practical than that.

Eric Sammons:

So now the reality is of course, as you know, for the past couple of generations, really, we all have been… not all of us, but most people… have been living a suburban life, have been living exactly as you described it where you grow up in the suburbs, you go to college and you find your own suburban life to live and things like that. I mean, that describes my life to a T. I mean, it was funny I mentioned how my mom’s side, they’re from Western North Carolina. My dad’s from Appalachia in Kentucky, so very much farming and things of that nature, although my grandfather was a railroad conductor, but-

Jason Craig:

I think that makes you a hillbilly, and I mean that in a good way. Congratulations.

Eric Sammons:

No, I definitely, when I read Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, I was like, “These are my people.” I mean it very much is where I come from. It is very much hillbilly country and I don’t take it as an insult. I know people use it as an insult, but I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.” I’m not a hillbilly, but that’s not something I’m proud of, but that’s definitely my roots. But then both my parents, they left, they went to the suburbs in Ohio because everybody was doing that, frankly, this is 1950s, and that was where you could make it and that’s what they did. And then of course, so I and my siblings who grew up in the suburbs, and then our kids, same thing. And so it’s hard not to hear what you say, I’m playing devil’s advocate a little bit, and do think, “Oh, that’s just not practical,” because it’s like I have literally zero experience… and I’m speaking of my own but I know a lot of people like this.

I actually have a little because we’ve tried to do some stuff around here, but I have basically zero experience planting anything, raising animals other than we had a cat and a dog. I mean just zero whatsoever. I’m not a handy at all around the house. Here’s my confession, by the way, for everybody. My wife knows these weaknesses of mine, but if something breaks around the house I always give it a shot and I almost always fail and then I have to pay somebody else to fix it. So the idea of, okay, I mean that’s why I feel like Devin, what he did was that’s what I would do. If I would try this I would just fail miserably. So practically speaking, and I don’t mean to abuse that term, what are steps if somebody’s like I do have this feeling though that this is something I’m drawn to but I don’t want to be the story of the guy who just completely fell on his face, what are practical ways then that you go from living completely suburban, no real handiness, to having a true Catholic homestead?

Jason Craig:

Well, obviously the first practical step is to buy this book.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, that’s actually a good point, yeah, we want to push that.

Jason Craig:

And the reason I say that is actually the two parts of this book, I don’t know how much you’ve looked through it, the beginning is the philosophy, the way we think about things and how they’re going to have to change. The book is kind of completely predicated on homesteading and suburbia being sort of on a spectrum of a fully consuming household. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just as a recognition, and a fully productive household, what we might call self-sustaining.

Eric Sammons:

I actually printed out, because I have an electronic copy, I printed out your four-

Jason Craig:

Oh, there you go.

Eric Sammons:

… quadrants of the spectrum, and I was going to bring it up, but yeah, so let’s go kind of through practically if somebody’s like I am interested in this but I am completely afraid of it. I feel like I’m going to fail. I don’t even know step one. So what do we do?

Jason Craig:

The first step of the book is how to think about it, right? The second part though is discernment. I think a lot of people, they lack… and I’m speaking from experience of failure here… they lack humility. They just presume that if everyone wanted to live off the land they could. And as John Senior said, “It takes about a semester to make a farm boy into a college boy, but it takes generations to make a college boy into a farm boy.” It’s just a different mode. And so we do want to slow people down to have some discernment. And I saw you printed off those four quadrants. We actually, so the second half of the book is in… All right, say you feel this call, let’s put yourself realistically in a box.

Because if you think you’re going to go from incompetent, dependent, consuming household to self-sufficient yeoman with one move, then you’re delusional. And we do these retreats on our farm or weekends on our farm, and we have couples fill out questionnaires. I’m like, do you know how to do stuff? Kind of a very honest, like what you were just doing, that’s actually honest. Because there are people, there’s a new homesteader and butcher across the street from me now, a Catholic guy, a great guy, and he’s annoyingly competent. He’s just able to do stuff. And Andy also, he’s the worst kind of neighbor because he finishes all his projects and it looks good.

Eric Sammons:

He’s making you look bad, Jason.

Jason Craig:

It’s not hard to do that. So measure those things. So part of the book is actually, I really hope couples and families read this together, like let’s be realistic. And then we go through and we rate the many different enterprises that you can do. And we don’t rate them on income. If you’re running spreadsheets on how you’re going to make money from rabbits in the backyard, if it was that easy a lot of people would be doing it. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to go from zero to making an income. And we’re proposing first the homestead, although Tommy, my co-author is a full-time farmer. He’s a beekeeper full-time. So we have me who’s a sideline supplementer as we call them, and then he’s full-time. But we go through and we rate them based on time requirements, startup expense, family friendliness. For example, if you want to grow a lot of food, get a milk cow. But you also are not going to do two-week vacations if you have to milk a cow every day.

So cash value, and by cash value we don’t mean what you can sell it for, meaning does that save your family money? So potatoes are a lot of work but they’re also really cheap at the grocery store, so maybe you could focus on something that would actually save you more money and giving you less dependency on money. Learning curve, do you think you can do this? So just how long does it take to actually do something? So for example, beekeeping, yeah, you can do that in your backyard in a little box, but the learning curve might be bigger than you think. You get a couple good years and your beehive leaves you. Acreage requirement, so do you have a backyard or do you have land? Seasonal variants, like Tommy for example, he’s the beekeeper, the season when the bees are going or the honey is harvesting versus winter time when they’re just sitting around doing nothing, compared to my family, we’re a dairy family so our life never changes.

We’re like a monastic, like milk them in the morning, milk them, milk them, milk them, milk them, milk them. Production expense, harvest requirement and bartering value. And then you saw in there, you held up, we do ask you to put yourself in one of these boxes on what’s actually reasonable and then these are some things that you could reasonably do. So hopefully that’ll help. But if that all sounds like just another how-to, I would just say we’re looking at this with a Catholic lens, a Catholic economic lens, meaning that the family being the center of the economy and the purpose of it being the flourishing of the family, this might not be income. And you have to discern things like if you’re really into soccer or you really want your kids to be a semi-pro hockey player, then you probably shouldn’t live outside of town, and maybe just have a backyard garden or maybe a beehive.

So we make lots of allowance for that variation and we try not to… don’t create in your head an ideal that’s unrealistic and you’re going to fail at because there’s too much to it. Now if you’re a retired hobby farmer and there’s not a lot of risk in you trying these things out, that’s another story. But we’re writing mostly for young families, or families for whom a change in their life in this kind of way proposes some risks, therefore requires real discernment and prudence.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I like how my wife did it because like most women, as opposed to men, she didn’t have grandiose plans to change everything overnight and all that. She just planted a garden, a little vegetable garden that was probably, I mean it was tiny. I can’t remember what she planted it for. And this was maybe six or seven years ago. And every year we would add to it. In the fall we’d put a tarp down and put some fertilizer to kill the grass and all that stuff and then we’d just add to it. And now she has a garden that is 100 feet long by like 20 feet wide or something like that. And she plants a whole bunch of stuff there. I can’t even keep track of everything she plants.

But every year it’s just a little bit more. In fact, we didn’t add to it this past winter because she said, “I think that’s kind of the max. I don’t think I can manage something bigger than that.” So there was never this big jump, and I thought that was very wise of her to do that. And I’m involved in it some, I create the fencing around it and stuff like that, which I’m barely competent to do, but I can.

Jason Craig:

Eric, I’m sorry, I’ve got to challenge your theology here. You build the fence, you don’t create the fence, but keep going there.

Eric Sammons:

Very good, very good, exactly. So I created it out of nothing. I said, “Let there be a fence,” and there was.

Jason Craig:

That’s right, yeah. But that’s how we think we’re going to start a homestead. We’re just going to will ourselves into a completely different way of life that took previous generations centuries to cultivate and build, and we’re just going to go back to it really easily.

Eric Sammons:

It is funny because even something… and I don’t mind, I know my man card gets revoked for all this… but even building the fence, I screwed up a bunch of times. I had to return to the hardware store, because I’d never done it in my life, how am I supposed to know how to do it? My dad had never showed me how to do. He might have done it when I was a kid or something. But that’s what I liked about these four quadrants you have because you have the backyard gardener, the hobby homesteader, the sideline supplementer, and the full-time homesteader. I think we’re actually between backyard gardener and hobby homesteader actually.

I was kind of saying, “Okay, where are we on this?” 10 years ago we weren’t even at backyard gardener. And I think that’s another thing is just over time… I really liked your point about don’t look at his income because I think that’s what people do. They’re trying to replace their income and frankly that’s just hard to do. I mean, if you have an IT job, for example, you’re making decent money, you’re not going to do that just milking some cows.

Jason Craig:

Well, I’ll give you some anecdotal things with that too. I mean, there’s kind of a saying… like right down, so an eighth of a mile from me is a vegetable gardener, a market gardener, so that’s your local vegetable supplier for farmer’s markets and local stores. He’s a full-time farmer. The thing that they’ll say is, “Well, if you want a homestead don’t start a market garden, because that becomes an income and a job.” And Tommy actually had to really change his bee business. So he was a full-time farmer with bees, but he had to basically get out of the retailing, which is being in-store, because that’s the highest value. Because when we both started, we’re like how can we get the highest value for the product? Well of course it’s retail. I’ve got to be at the farmer’s market getting max value. So he actually had to go into wholesale beekeeping, which was more kind of bigger scale, maybe not as small and boutique and quaint, but that allowed him to be homesteading more so he had to scale back farming.

And in my case, so we’ve been dairying since 2012. We’ve always had a dairy cow and I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it really is a wonderful, it’s a culturally dominant reality of our family that we’re a dairy family, and it doesn’t matter if you have one milk cow or a thousand. People who have a milk cow know what that means. And so naturally I kept wanting to capitalize on this potential income. So we had a pretty successful yogurt business on the side where we were getting max value for these little 12 ounce yogurts that we were selling to coffee shops and we were like, oh man, we were just in it. But it wasn’t free profit and the work it took to get the bottle and the labels and the regulation and the grade A certification and the inspections and me getting up at 4:30 to make it to a farmer’s market while I had a full-time job, all of a sudden our farming was ruining our homesteading.

And when I started to think about the milk cows and a true economic, meaning household management, what is it actually providing for our home, and stopped trying to make an income from it, I actually think I’m, quote, unquote, “coming out better money-wise” because I’m making sure that nothing gets lost. I’m able to just focus on the art of the dairy, and that means manure and managing the herd better and maximizing our own… there was a ton of dairy products we were buying because we were selling most of our milk as yogurt. So what am I doing? And then also I’ve started to use my milk a lot more bartering with my neighbors, which sounds romantic and quaint and silly, but it’s really practical. I mean, one, my butcher and I have worked out, he butchers my animals and I give him milk. And I have another neighbor, I give him some of the meat from the butchered animals and he gives me eggs. I know it sounds funny we don’t have enough eggs for our family, but we have a lot of kids.

So my point is, actually so many people begin with the money. Now, the money, I’m not saying be romantic and impractical, I’m just saying actually if you really focus on being good, like your wife, you guys are doing great homesteading, you should write a book, that just starting simply with a simple backyard garden. We are not proposing a radical change. Now we are proposing that it would be better for our country, our church, if more people did take a more… because I don’t know how far you’re into it… but we propose sort of Aquinas’ vision of economics and the purpose of economics being for household management. If more of us were directly producing for the sake of our home, that is good for the country. But we’re also not trying to guilt someone who has followed the proposed path of suburbanization, college degree, and moved away from their parents, like everything you just described.

There’s a reason people do that. There’s a lot of good to it. It’s not as if everyone was rounded up in concentration camps and we’re liberating them to the island and chicken run. That’s not what we’re proposing. But more people can do it. But a lot of people could do a lot more than they’re doing. And if they stop focusing on how can I make money in my backyard and rather perfect the art and the enjoyment of it, you’ll find it is economically valuable. It just doesn’t make money.

Eric Sammons:

I think that’s a really good point because I know like myself, but in others, you start crunching numbers, looking at spreadsheets and stuff like that, and that actually ends up, like you said, that usually ends up doomed to failure. I want to wrap it up here, but I want to return to the theoretical, the higher level. And the title of the book is The Liturgy of the Land, and so the question is what do you mean when you say the liturgy of the land? Because obviously as Catholics we hear that term when we think of going to mass, maybe we think of the divine office or something like that. But you’re talking about the liturgy of land, so how do you tie that all together to say that… I mean, it sounds like you’re saying homesteading is like a liturgical act in a certain sense.

Jason Craig:

Yeah, we are. At the beginning of the book, we quote Saint Augustine who he’s trying to describe to, I believe like a pagan, somebody he’s writing this letter to, he’s trying to describe Christian worship. And one of the words he almost uses is cultus, like where we get the word culture from. And he actually decides not to use it, and the reason he says is that it fits because cultus can refer to looking up to the heavens and worship. But the problem is it can also refer to farming, like agriculture, and therefore let’s not use that word. Now he was talking specifically of the mass, of the divine liturgy of the church. But that really does fit with sort of the normal act of man, is that amongst creatures we are the only ones that our work is always sanctified, it’s always holy.

Because work is fulfilling a commandment of God, work is good. God, as our Lord says, God is at work. Jesus wants to be about my Father’s business. Work is good. It’s always holy and always connected to God, or it ought to be. And that the man, the beasts, they have their paws on the earth all the time but their mind is not in heaven. The angels, their mind is in heaven but they have no body to put their hands in the earth with. It’s only us that can have our hands in the soil and our mind and our heart in heaven at the same time. And there is a work and a holiness and a liturgy that occurs when we’re connected with that land directly. I mean, there is an unavoidable connection with the sacraments which require the goods and the cultivation of the earth and man. I mean there is a connection between our feasting and our fasting being matters of food primarily.

And this is sort of the natural and baseline occupation of man, is the work of the land, and that God himself teaches us through the land and rewards us through the land and the abundance and the fruitfulness and the fertility of the land. So it very much is a liturgy. I mean, it is our work. And it has its own rhythms and cycles, which as most people know from reading, but you learn it more by experience, that the liturgy and the rhythm of the church’s liturgy and the seasonal reality of the Earth, they go hand in hand beautifully. So this liturgy that belongs to us in the working, that just as the liturgy of the church is a work for God, the work of the people for God, and that we are formed by it, so too the liturgy and the working of the land is also for and to God and we learn from it.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I think that’s a good way to put it, is that we know as Catholics we go to the liturgy and we do something. We’re there, we’re praying, whatever the case may be. But really what’s happening is we’re being formed by our actions, because the liturgy changed in lex credendi, lex orandi, we were changed by it. And what you’re saying is working on the land, I mean, technically you could say any work you do forms you. I mean, for good or ill, I mean working at a computer all day, every day-

Jason Craig:

That’s going to do something, yes, it’s doing something.

Eric Sammons:

It is forming you, but working on the land is forming you in a much more natural state of how we were created, like you said, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. And so that’s what makes it really a liturgy. Okay, well, so the book is The Liturgy of the Land, and it’s from TAN Books. I’ll put a link to it so people can purchase. Is there anything else you want people to know about other than the book? Like they can find out more information or anything?

Jason Craig:

Absolutely. I mean, if they’re related… this kind of stuff, I have a magazine that you mentioned is swordandspade.com, but related to homesteading and the liturgy of the land you can go to litergyoftheland.com and you can purchase the book there. If you purchase it there we’ll be able to alert you, we’re going to have a conference in December for families, and I know there’s a number of different conferences, Mother Earth News and The Catholic Family, they’re really good. Ours, we’re really trying to focus on this, I think what you and I have been discussing, this discernment. Why should you do it? It’s pretty easy to, yeah, we should all just live on the land. But how and what’s realistic for you and your family, we’re going to have a lot of experienced homesteaders and full-time farmers there to get the kind of mentoring and reality check that you need, and gather around the idea, that’s great, but actually make it a very serious matter of discernment.

Eric Sammons:

So it’s liturgyoftheland.com?

Jason Craig:

Yep.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, I’ll put a link to that as well so people can go that, and so they’ll be able to then find out when the conference gets scheduled and how to register and things like that.

Jason Craig:

That’s it.

Eric Sammons:

Perfect. Well, thank you Jason. I really do appreciate you being on the program.

Jason Craig:

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. Until next time everybody, God love you.

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