Household economy stabilizing through family businesses

I was handed the $10 bill for a past bulk delivery of microgreens. What a surprise! I excitedly told my friend that Alexander would be joining our family on a cross-country trek through the Smoky Mountains. Perhaps he’d make it all the way down to the ocean with us!

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. An hour later, I included it in the bundle of cash remitted to my dog’s groomer. The money stayed in the neighborhood, quickly recycled a mere half-mile from my house. The $45 charge is at my upper limit, so a tip was out. Paying cash is my small way of tipping,  so I included Mr. Hamilton with a bundle of singles and pennies scrounged from around the house. The critic asks, “Why don’t you cut the dog’s hair yourself?”

I don’t want to.

You can only live like a tightwad for so long. We’ve been relaxing quite a bit these days. The upcoming road trip through the Smoky Mountains, across part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and down to Hilton Head is testimony to that, as is the fact that I just purchased early bird passes for the local ski hill for next winter. Has Hell frozen over? This is full-on rich people stuff.

Spirit Mtn
Spirit Mountain, as seen from a recent walk after sunset along the Western Waterfront Trail in Duluth whilst killing time during my son’s soccer practice. Pardon the crummy photography. Someone please tell me how to clean the inside of my phone’s lens!

And you know, we are rich, by global standards. It has been three years since I was laid off, went from $40k a year to a bit less than half that. Last year we emerged solidly in the 20’s. Better, but still not at the point of sustainability. We endlessly marvel at how we’re even surviving without falling into debt (other than the “good” kind — mortgage, small farm loan). We seemed to barely eke along when we were latched to the corporate teat. It’s a real wonder. Sacrifice, patience, persistence, zero bad debt, no impulse buying, etc. It has been utterly exhausting, though.

It would have been more ideal to have built the businesses up, on the side, and then bail out of a secure job at about this point. Truth is, it never would have happened otherwise. Desperation produces uncommon persistence and perseverance that cannot be replicated. For us, at least.

I’m very optimistic for the future. It feels like stable ground is just around that next bend. It’s not time to be irresponsible, for sure, but my twins become teenagers this year. I don’t want to spend their last years under our roof fretting about every penny spent, losing family-building opportunities along the way. It can get crazy when every last thing becomes an argument about needs vs wants, stressing about a new pair of shoes, every time we treat the kids to ice cream, on and on and on.

We have a different relationship with money than when a paycheck was direct-deposited into our account every other Friday. It’s difficult to describe, but very different.

Our income is more than dollars and cents now. It’s a direct result of our labor, what we’ve grown, made with our hands, created, and poured ourselves into. Payment comes from individuals and local businesses who appreciate the fruits of our work. It’s very different than being a cog in an enormous corporate machine, receiving cash for specific increments of time. While it’s a labor of love, it’s more than that, and certainly not only that. Perpetually living in business startup phase with a family is harder than I ever imagined. The stress is difficult to shut off, making being present with the family a challenge (thus the necessity of a road trip right before the farmer’s market season starts).

Every bit of cash that makes it into the larder, such as the recent bill featuring Alex, fills us with gratitude. I recall the odd hundred dollar increase to a paycheck for overtime feeling like nothing (after additional taxes and whatnot) in the $1160.32 paycheck magically plopped into the account on a Friday morning, and mostly gone by evening.

I wouldn’t say we’re developing an unhealthy love of money, admonished in scripture as the root of all sorts of evils, but there’s a greater connection to the community through it, and a feeling of survival. There are no paydays to look forward to. Every dollar is a gift to be thankful for.

It also helps that I’m not responsible for all our income anymore. My wife’s art has taken off this past year. In just a couple years, she has increased sales about tenfold. We’re both hitched to the wagon, pulling the load together. This is remarkably liberating.

While writing this, just 10 minutes ago, Shawna received an order on her website for over $2,000 in original paintings. This has never happened in one fell swoop like that. A sale like this means so much to our family, kids included.  That’s another month of living expenses right there. And then we have my farmer’s markets to look forward to. Starting to come together…

This freedom extends to Shawna’s creative process. She isn’t locked into producing predictable work, but keeps pushing the boundaries, exploring new areas. It blows my mind, actually. Right when she reaches an apogee of recognition and acclaim, she boldly begins a radically different series. She’s kind of like Bob Dylan, but prettier. I wouldn’t call her a risk-taker by nature. She just has always felt free to produce what inspires her in a given moment.

Dollars and cents flow in and out of our household with more intentionality and gratitude. Nothing frivolous. We know how much work goes into our income, and yet we are just stewards of these resources anyway. Interesting dichotomy there. The expression, “It’s only money,” means nothing to us. It’s more like blood, sweat, and tears. Generosity feels different too. It’s more of a giving of ourselves, rather than decimal points.

kids and ice
Lake Superior as it looks now with ice breaking up, flowing, and piling up. We also saw a bear on this bike ride, newly emerged from hibernation.

And so, we’re heading south in the near future, searching for spring. We’ve never taken a big road trip as a family. This one feels crucial. Otherwise, we might never get away all year, as happened the past couple years. It’s worth the sacrifice.

Grocery stores (Whole Foods Co-op and Mount Royal) are receiving larger than usual deliveries this week. Then, after March 29th, there will be no further deliveries until April 20th. I’M SO EXCITED TO BE TAKING A BREAK!!!! Stock up on microgreens, and enjoy better tasting and more interesting salads and sandwiches that’ll brighten your day while providing a real shot of nutrition. We’re harvesting a day early this time, on Thursday, and they should keep up to two weeks for you. Every clamshell you buy sends our family in the little red Prius another 50 miles down the road. We’ll be thinking of you at every fill-up, while looking forward to getting out of the car and exploring. Thanks so much for all your support while enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Remember to follow us on Instagram @tinyfarmduluth

I hear a Chinese space station could crash to Earth starting on the day we leave. We’re currently safe, a bit below 47 degrees north up here. The crash zone looks to be somewhere below 43 degrees north latitude. If I see anything, I’ll send it out on Instagram….


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