Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Boiling sap for maple syrup

I decided not to tap any of my maple trees this year. I just didn’t feel like doing it, and we still have plenty of syrup from last year. We don’t have very many syrup trees, maybe three dozen at the most. But, our friend Gill who lives across town has a couple hundred he usually taps. Last year he let us collect sap from his trees and boil it down on his evaporator. This year the weather hasn’t cooperated very well, but Gill has been collecting sap for about a week and expects to get more in the next few days. He offered us some sap, because he didn’t think he would get all that he had collected boiled down soon enough.

So, Dad and I went over yesterday to bring home some sap. We didn’t know quite how we were going to evaporate it to make maple syrup, but we figured we would come up with some way. In the past we have evaporated a few gallons inside on our wood stoves. But, we brought home about fireplace for boiling sap85 gallons from Gill’s, and that is too much to do inside. Gill was kind enough to lend us his small evaporator pan. It holds about 15 gallons.

We put the sap in a 275 gallon tote that I had previously had water in for the cows (thankfully, it was empty). When we got back home, I made a quick fireplace with concrete blocks, tote with sap on back of the trucksome pieces of metal, and a short section of stove pipe. It’s large enough for the pan to cover the opening on the top. Keeping a good fire in it allows the sap to boil, evaporating off most of the water, leaving the sugars concentrated for syrup. We finish it inside one the wood stove. It boils away at about 1.5 inches per hour.

I lifted the bed of the truck to tilt the tote, making it easier to get the sap out. The fireplace is near the truck, making it easy to add sap to the pan as needed.

in front of the garageI finished two pints of syrup last night. This is grade “AA” stuff – quite thick and flavorful. I put another pan of sap on last night after taking off the first batch. Before going to bed I was able to add about 6 gallons more sap and then some more this morning for about 27 or 28 gallons all together. I made three pints of grade “AA” syrup form this today. We just took off the third batch we boiled down from about 21 gallons of sap this afternoon. Dad will finish it tonight. There’s another pan on to evaporate tonight and tomorrow morning, hopefully finishing up what we brought home.

When I bring the condensed sap in to finish it, I put it on the stove to boil. Inside I can watch it more carefully and keep from scorching it. Our candy thermometer doesn’t work, even though it is brand new (I don’t know if we’ve ever had one that actually works right). When the syrup started foaming vigorously, I figured it was ready to bottle. I heated pint jars in the oven and boiled some lids. Then, I strained the syrup (a slow process, usually) into the jars, put lids and rings on them, and set them on the counter. They usually seal within 30 minutes or so.

We enjoy the pure maple syrup we make during the rest of the year. It’s great on pancakes, of course.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Homesteading as a moral commitment

“I’d love to do what you’re doing,” we sometimes hear, followed by the inevitable “but.” There are people who say they would love to live a more self-sufficient life, to be off-the-grid, to homestead out in the country, growing their own food and living a more intentional life. Many of these individuals are sincere and do wish to break free of their enslavement to a social and economic system that holds them tightly in its grasp, but how many of them will ever move on their desires?

It was very encouraging recently to come into contact with a man and his family who earnestly desire to become modern day homesteaders. I will do anything and everything I can to help them realize their dreams (and whomever else). This family’s desire is not just a passing fancy; they are serious and are doing things now to make it a reality. Unfortunately, most of the people I’ve heard express affinity for what my family and I are doing are most likely never going to do it. They have a romantic notion of “the simple life” (which ain’t so simple) but they value some things too highly to give them up to see their notions become reality.

Recently, in passing I mentioned that living a homesteading life requires a moral commitment, but I didn’t elaborate on that point. Basically, the morality of the situation resides in believing it is good/better to pursuing this particular way of living, an intentional life, as I like to call it. For us it is better to live without debt than to borrow money in order to have things which we may want but don’t need, realizing the difference between wants and needs. It is right to invest our energy and labor in providing as much as we can for ourselves rather than relying on industrial mechanisms to make things available for us via an exchange of my labor in the form of dollar bills. Being together and working together as a family is more highly valued than having enough money to provide a bigger home and more things at the expense of family. These are all moral choices that guide our way of life.

You can examine anyone’s life and begin to see what they value. You can do that with my life and find things that reveal moral commitments I should change (I need to be examining my life for this purpose, actually). For instance, if one values things over relationships, this is evident. Granted, some do not see any other way to live than the usual, standard way of living that is all around us; they’ve been conditioned and trained to accept life on terms that they did not create. Intentionally changing the terms upon which we live our lives requires discernment, seeing how we live in its bare, naked form, for what it is.

Western culture and economics dictate a certain way of life, one that I find morally problematic in many ways. Until I had opportunity and reason to question the context of modern life, I didn’t see this. As my eyes opened to the problems of our socio-economic system, I was challenged with the responsibility of making a choice about what to do. Should I go along with what I understand is wrong but which is difficult to disentangle myself from (the easier path)? Or, should I act upon my understanding and choose to change the circumstances of my life, living in opposition to much of the socio-economic order surrounding me? That’s a tough place to be, but one in which everyone makes a choice. Even choosing not to decide is still to make a choice.

We are surrounded by romantic notions of rural/farm life and the good old days. Most of these notions are not in sync with the reality of rural/farm life as it exists today. Examine the packaging in the grocery store to see the images that are sold to us, images that draw upon our romantic notions. These are a part of our social psyche, but they are not based upon current reality. These are powerful images that when we buy things from the grocery store may help us feel good about what we’re buying and eating and keep us from seriously considering the real conditions of production. They are evidence, though, of the power of our notions and their very real existence.

I think it is these same kinds of romantic notions which lead people to say they would love to live a self-sufficient life but to never make changes in their lives to realize at least part of that desire. Being a homesteader doesn’t always mean owning a chunk of rural property with enough room to raise a large garden and a menagerie of animals. However, it does mean making choices and decisions in our lives that separate us from the hegemony of the socio-economic system in which we are all enslaved. It means frugality. It means doing as much for yourself and your family as you can. It means taking increasing responsibility for your life in meaningful ways within the current sphere of your existence. It’s a process, not a destination.

I wish to encourage all who want to homestead to take steps right now to realize their desires. However small the steps may be, start taking some now. Limit your consumption of industrially produced products by making do with what you have or making for yourself. Focus on and prioritize those things which are more meaningful, like time together as a family playing and working. Grow a tomato plant in a pot. Preserve some of your own food. Make your choices more intentional with a goal of realizing your dreams/desires one step at a time.

There’s nothing wrong with romantic notions. They can guide and motivate us. We need to take responsibility for our our actions, for the moral choices we make every day, with an end in view, not because it is a romantic notion, but because it is a better way to live. Our moral commitments are revealed in what we do. What does what we’re each doing say about us and our values?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lessons from solar: taking responsibility

We’ve been off the grid for a few days now. Everything is going quite well. As we’re becoming more acquainted with the ability of our system to provide our electric needs, we’re being very conservative in our usage, and we’re enjoying it. All of us keep an eye on the battery monitor which we usually have displaying the current amp hour rate (net gain or loss), watching to see what each item we turn on uses. Sometimes, one of the children will look at it and say, “Hey, someone has a light on” based on the number displayed.

The challenges associated with being off the grid are exciting and we are embracing them. It requires us to take responsibility for our power consumption, and we find ourselves paying more attention to the weather, whether cloudy or sunshine. This is a good thing and teaches some valuable lessons.

When connected to the utility grid, I believe most people don’t think much about the power they use and don’t equate that with the amount of coal required to generate it (as Anne said last night, most people don’t think about how much of a mountain it takes to support their power needs each day). The power is always there in practically infinite supply, and it really doesn’t cost much. Besides, we don’t see and realize the amount of electricity we use when we flip on light switch, open the hot water tap, boil water on the stove, or vacuum the carpet.

If people were aware of the rate at which their appliances consume electricity, would it lead to more conservation? If you turn on the stove burner and see that it is consuming the equivalent power of 24 100-watt light bulbs, would it make a difference? If you saw that your vacuum cleaner is sucking in power at the rate of 1.4 kilowatt hours, would that matter? A regular refrigerator uses about 2 kilowatt hours a day, every day. How much does a TV left on all day consume? What about a computer? In general, we don’t know and don’t think about it.

When our electricity is derived from the sun via a limited amount of solar panels and components that are not 100% efficient, we pay a whole lot more attention to what we’re using and what we’re gaining. Our inverter consumes 12 watts an hour and is displayed as 0.5 amps on our battery monitor. This is on 24 hours a day. A 12 watt CFL light bulb also uses 0.5 amps. When the refrigerator runs, the usage jumps up to about 7 or 8 amps and settles back to about 5 amps. We watch these things and know what they mean because we are connected to our electricity source and know that we must conserve.

The local lineman for the electric company was interested in our solar setup. I told him the first three things to do when going off the grid were conserve, conserve, conserve. I explained that our goal was to use, on average, 1.5 kilowatt hours per day, an amount that many families use in an hour. He commented that he couldn’t get his kids to conserve, because they have to have their TVs and games and stuff. I guess, they would feel deprived and would resent taking responsibility for the usage (another way to think about conservation). We don’t feel deprived; we are motivated to generate and use what we need, not mindlessly consume. It’s a challenge that we welcome and are excited about.

So far, we’re doing really well. As I said, we’re enjoying the challenge and opportunity to be off the grid. It fits with what we want to do and with our outlook on life and moral commitments (homesteading is a moral commitment, but that’s a topic for another time). Wouldn’t the world be better if fewer people were disconnected from their consumption (whether electricity or in other areas)? That doesn’t necessarily mean being off the grid, just taking responsibility for their usage in more meaningful ways than just paying a monthly bill.

Friday, February 12, 2010

We just threw the switch!

Batter meter We did it! We are off the grid!! Wow, this is cool!

I wired the battery meter (Bogart Engineering Trimetric 2020 – pictured to the left displaying battery voltage) and connected the power line from the inverter to our house wiring. In the disconnect box outside on the pole, I pulled the house wires loose and wrapped their ends with electrical tape.

The wire from the inverter (Exeltec XP1100) comes through the kitchen floor behind the electric stove (which is unplugged). I connected the neutral wire to the neutral in the outlet and the ground to the ground. Then, based upon a suggestion from Ramiah, I connected both existing hot wires in the outlet and the inverter hot wire to the same terminal. Ramiah suggestion was that I could just flip the breaker for the stove in the box. I was going to reroute the wires to the mains at the top. His suggestion helped clarify how unnecessary and complicated that was going to be. With the 240 volt 50 amp breaker the power would already be connected to both poles inside the box. So, I took his suggestion, and then flipped the switch.

Things are working well. The refrigerator came on right away and ran for about 5 minutes (see my post about our energy efficient refrigerator). The lights work (they’re not on now – it’s not dark enough). The computer works. In fact, at this moment, the power coming from the panels is enough to power the laptop I’m working on (it’s 3:36pm Central Time). Very cool!

We’re all excited!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The batteries are charged & I didn’t even know it

I’ve been keeping an eye on our solar electric system the last few days in order to watch how it’s performing. It’s been overcast every day it seems, and we even had some snow. However, the panels have been outputting power every day for about 9 hours a day. I was looking forward to seeing what kind of numbers we would get on a sunny day.

Today the sun actually shown through. However, I was disappointed and concerned to see an input value of only about 150 watts. Naturally, I wondered what was going on. I noticed that when I turned the photovoltaic array back on after momentarily disconnecting it via the circuit breaker that the power input would peak around 1,000 watts and then rapidly decrease.

For the previous days, I had noticed that the peak power input seemed to occur quite early and was much higher than the average input during the day. It seemed like something was bleeding off the power. So, I started checking my wiring on the panels. Interestingly, the input power was the same whether I had all panels connected or only some. I should mention that the source of my readings is the display on the Xantrex XW60 charge contollor.

Maybe I’m a bit slow, but I began to wonder if maybe the explanation had something to do with the solar charge controller. I couldn’t find anything in the manual, though. So, I called the technical assistance number and spoke with a representative, explaining what I was experiencing. She told me that the charge controller was adjusting the input because my batteries were fully charged or nearly fully charged.

I liked this answer, but it surprised me. I was sure that the batteries were a bit low based upon my voltage readings on them. I guess I was wrong. We’ve not connected the system to our house yet; I wanted it to fully charge the batteries first. Since it appeared that they were fully charged already and we had good sun today, I told the charge controller to equalize the batteries. This means that it purposefully charged them at a high voltage in order to mix the battery acid inside the cells. The reason for doing this was so that I could take specific gravity readings for each cell to use as a baseline for determining battery health in the future.

So, the batteries have been equalized. During the equalize cycle, the input was around 350 watts. When the cycle ended, I watched the input drop to zero watts. Confirmation that the charge controller was indeed adjusting/limiting the input. Very cool.

Only, I really have no way of knowing what kind of realistic input I can expect on cloudy days, now. What I’ve observed the last few days has been the charge controller adjusting the input to float charge the batteries. I guess it will be at least as much as we’ve seen so far, maybe more. Over 3.5 cloudy days, we registered 1.5 Kilowatt hours. Today only added half a kilowatt even with good sunshine and an equalize cycle. The possibilities are looking good, actually.

I’m going to take my specific gravity readings tonight. Then, tomorrow, I hope to complete the wiring so that we can flip the switch and be off the grid by tomorrow night.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Constructing a milking stanchion for our cows

I’ve been milking both Tilly and Josey in the mornings since the middle of January. At the time we butchered Chucky Joe, he was still nursing on Josey. So, afterwards, I figured we might as well have that milk now. Josey is still producing two to three quarts of milk a day.


Cleo is still nursing on Tilly, of course, since she’s almost six weeks old. Since Cleo was born, I’ve brought Tilly in to milk her in the mornings to make sure she’s stripped out. In the last two or three weeks, Cleo hasn’t left much for us. I have segregated Tilly at night a few times and am starting to do that regularly now. Doing so we get seven or eight quarts of milk from the two cows.

When I first started milking Josey after Chucky was born, I hooked her halter to a post in the barn. She’s well-behaved when being milked, and her being halter broke makes it easy to tie her and to lead her. Tilly, on the other hand, was not broke to a halter when we bought her. She still isn’t. So, tying her or hooking her halter to a post didn’t work too well for milking her. She protests against such confinement.

After Tilly got here, I built a gate for milking, because that’s what she was used to. It was set up just outside the loafing area in the barn. When I open the gate, whichever cow I’m going to milk walks straight into the milking stall. She stands next to a wall, and I close the gate against her which keeps her from moving around. Overall, this has worked fairly well for both cows during the last year.

Instead of giving the cows grain while I’m milking, I give them a flake of hay to eat. I’ve been putting the hay on the floor at the front of the milking stall. Trying out the stanchionThe only problem has been that they will move a little bit backwards and forwards while nuzzling through the hay. I’ve wanted to do something to constrain them a little more. So, today, I constructed a stanchion.

I used 2x4s to construct the stanchion. I set a post from floor to ceiling and tied it to existing posts. I used a 2x4 for the locking mechanism to hold the cow’s head in the small feed bunk I built to hold hay. It pivots over and is secured with a pin. When closed, there is about 8 inches of room for the cow’s neck which allows her to move enough to reach all the hay, but it doesn’t give her enough room to pull her head back out. I’m pretty sure of this because when I put Tilly in it to try it out today, she tried to pull her head out but couldn’t.

Josey in the homemade stanchionJosey eating hay

I actually put both cows in the stanchion to see how they would do with it and how well it works. Josey had no problem with it and enjoyed a little hay while standing there. Tilly, on the other hand, didn’t want her head locked in. She tried to get out but couldn’t. After a bit she calmed down and ate some hay. I sat next to her and simulated milking for a few minutes. When I moved near her head, she would begin to fight the stanchion and move her hind end over.
Stanchion with gate
Because of Tilly’s movements, I decided that I would continue to use the gate in addition to the stanchion. The cow's view of the stanchion when heading in to be milkedThis way, she would be forced to keep her hind end over and her forward and backward motions would be restricted. So, I made the necessary modifications to the gate (I made it shorter) and installed it. We’ll see in the morning how well it works. I believe it will work fine.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

We’re harvesting electricity from the sun

Although it’s been cloudy here, I’ve been watching the solar charge controller for evidence that we’re getting power from the panels. I thought there should be some power even with a

few clouds, but there was nothing. Nada. Zip.

I’ve been concerned that something was wrong,

that maybe I wired things incorrectly when tying the panels together, although I was careful when connecting them.

This afternoon, the sun actually peaked through the clouds. Still, no power. Hmm. I have a separate panel I want to install on the barn.

So, I put the multitester on it to see if it really was too cloudy.

It was putting out over 20 volts when I pointed it toward the sun.

First power reading

We definitely ought to be getting power from the array on the roof.

I climbed up on the roof to check the wiring on the panels. I disconnected on string and put the tester on it – over 90 volts. They were working. So, I came back down and opened the combiner box. I pulled the wires from the panels loose and tested them in pairs to be sure that each of the three strings was working properly. They were.

I decided to check the continuity between posts on the bus bars inside the combiner box. That’s when I discovered the problem. They aren’t really bus bar. Each terminal is only connected to the one on the opposite side; they aren’t all connected together. So, my strings of solar panels were not connected together and not connected to the charge controller.

Once I redid the connections inside the combiner box, the solar charge controller began to register power coming in and to charge the batteries. There isn’t a great deal of power at this point. I think I should be seeing more, but it’s hard to tell. It’s still partly cloudy, not direct sun. I’ll keep an eye on it. If it continues to register lower wattage than I believe it should, I’ll check a couple of things to see if it makes a difference.

Anyway, it’s exciting to have power from the sun flowing in to the batteries for the first time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Solar power: we’re getting closer

The solar panels installedMost of the snow melted off the porch roof yesterday. So, today, once I got a few things done inside the house, I worked on installing the rest of the solar panels. This job went quite well and didn’t take too long. Before lunch I started wiring them together. I finished after lunch.

There are 15 panels in all. There are three sets of five panels which are each wired in series. That means they are connected positive to negative. Another view of the installed panelsThis multiplies the voltage while the current stays the same. So, once five panels with a voltage of 17.4 volts each and an amp rating of 5.75 amps are wired in series, the voltage is 87 volts and the amperage is 5.75 amps.

Each of these three five-panel strings is then wired in parallel – connected positive to positive and negative to negative. Wiring in parallel multiplies the current while the voltage stays the same. So, three strings of 87 volts and 5.75 amps wired together in parallel yields 87 volts with 17.25 amps.View of the panels showing how they are mounted to the roof

There are of course variations in the voltage and amps coming off of the panels depending on different factors like how direct the sun light is and the temperature of the panels. Increasing the voltage by wiring in series allows smaller gauge wire to be used to bring the power from the panels to the solar charge controller since the wire gauge required is based upon the amperage and the length of the wire.

The solar charge controller I purchased will take the 87 volts (with variations) and convert it to the appropriate voltage for charging my battery bank. The battery bank is nominally 24 volts, but it will be charged closer to 29 volts. The controller is rated to handle up to 150 volts, but I’m happy with 87.

The three strings of series-wired panels are combined in a combiner box. The negative leads are attached to one bus bar, and the positive leads are attached to another bus bar. This combines the positives and the negatives from the panels allowing only one wire for postive and one for negative to be sent into the house to the charge controller.Combiner box

After installing and wiring the panels, I hooked up the negative and positive battery cables which lead to the disconnect box and from there to the other components of the system. I had them disconnected so that nothing would accidentally become powered inside before I wanted it to. After connecting them, I flipped the circuit breaker for the charge controller, and it woke up ready to be commissioned. The solar charge controllerCommissioning just meant I needed to verify the battery bank information for the controller.

It was late enough in the afternoon that the sun wasn’t shining directly enough on the panels for them to be producing power. So, I wasn’t able to determine for sure that everything is operational as it should be. I believe I wired them correctly, but I’ve made mistakes on other things before. Hopefully, we’ll have some sunlight tomorrow so that I can verify that things are working correctly and let the sun charge the batteries completely.

There are six tasks left to do before we flip the switch and go off the grid:

1.  Run the 12-2 wire from the inverter through the floor into the kitchen.
2.  Connect the wire from the inverter to the existing wiring in the outlet for the electric stove.
3.  Disconnect the mains from the AC circuit breaker box in our home.
4.  Connect the wire leading to the electric stove outlet to as the mains.
5.  Run the wires and connect the Bogart Engineering Trimetric 2020 battery monitor.
6.  Flip the switch to turn on the inverter.

At that point, we’ll be off the grid and on solar power. Don’t worry, I’ll disconnect the power from the utility company outside at the disconnect box before doing the wiring in the house. I have no desire to let electricity course through my body.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts on sustainability

One of our goals and objectives is the pursuit of sustainability. What does this mean, though? Is it possible? The term sustainable is frequently used in reference to our personal agricultural and homesteading practices. It's something I've been thinking about and which I think ought to be considered.

What does it mean for our practices to be sustainable? Webster's defines it as “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” For us, that means replacing the minerals and nutrients taken from the soil in growing food and forage. Additionally, to truly be sustainable, external resources would not be brought in to supplement or augment growing and harvesting our food, hay, and firewood.

Do we do this? No. We use machinery which requires fuel derived from petroleum. We cut and haul in firewood from other farms. We have had manure brought in from outside our farm. I've also taken several tons of hay off of the fields without putting amendments back on the fields as sustainability would require (this is an area to be addressed).

Do I want to be sustainable? Yes and no. I want to work toward being more sustainable than conventional agricultural practices and to have the ability and capacity to be completely sustainable at some point (if required). As long as I use machinery that is powered by internal combustion engines, I'm not practicing sustainability (unless, maybe, I can set up a wood gasification system on my tractor). I am not ready to do without these things though. The amount of physical labor required to grub hoe my garden instead of disk or till it and the labor required to scythe hay and haul it to the barn in loose form is mind-boggling (especially without the help of some sort of draft animal, be it horse or ox).

One of the problems with complete sustainability is that it is unrealistic, just like the term self-sufficient. We are created to need a community, the support of a structure larger than ourselves. I believe this is natural, normal, and necessary. We are social creatures and can accomplish so much more in conjunction with other individuals than we can alone.

What does this mean for homesteaders? It means we need each other. Homesteading is bigger than we are. My farm cannot be completely sustainable without a great amount of work. Using resources that come from outside our gates makes the work we have to do more doable. We also have resources that can be shared with others in order to make their work more doable. If we view sustainability from a personal, farm-specific perspective, we will find that it is an elusive, if not impossible, goal to attain. But, if we view it in terms of community, it is more realistic.

It's difficult for individuals who wish to homestead to capitalize on the notion of community with like-minded families. We seem to live so far apart mostly. Intentional communities that have been attempted have their own sets of problems. It's not easy. There used to be more community when people were mutually engaged in the process of growing their own food and helping one another with the work at hand. Mechanization and industrialization killed much of that as the rogue American independence triumphed over the strength and richness of real community.

I like to read about how things were done a hundred or more years ago in rural America. There were multiple diverse farms with people working to supply their own needs and for their neighbors' needs. Villages and towns were supported by a belt of these farms that grew (or could grow) most if not all of their food needs. In return, the people in the villages/towns provided for needs on the farms that otherwise would have been difficult to produce on site, from shoes to salt to farm equipment. There is a richness in such a situation and a sustainability that we can only dream of today.

Our current agricultural system involves the consumption of great amounts of petroleum. Even industrial organic agriculture consumes great quantities of petroleum, nearly as much as conventional, just not in the form of petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Industrial organics has adopted the conventional model merely with substitutions for the synthetic additives. Is the industrial organic model more sustainable? Although it has certain elements that make it 'better' than conventional, it is hardly more sustainable in the form it has taken.

True sustainability involves a retrogression to some age-old, pre-mechanized, pre-industrial practices, including the development of community inter-dependence. Without that, our efforts at sustainability involve a movement in the direction of more ecological responsibility, better stewardship of the land God has blessed us with, and the adoption of the philosophical and moral principles of the original organic agricultural movement (not its current iteration in the form of industrial agriculture).

Will this happen? Not without great disruption to the current order, I'm afraid. Do I want that? No, because it would bring great suffering. We live in an age that is based upon unsustainable practices such as a debt-based economy and petroleum-based agriculture and lifestyle. At some point, the resources we're exploiting will run out and the debt will have to be paid. Both of these outcomes will be difficult and painful because by-and-large, we are unprepared for it.

So, I come back to where I started. What does it mean to practice sustainability? For me it means working toward and reaching a point at which I can provide for my family and others in need without depleting the resources available to me and without being dependent upon external resources. It means working with and for those that live with and around me in order to help one another. It's less of a realistic goal to be achieved than a direction around which we seek to organize our life. It's a moral choice that reveals itself in what we do as a form of stewardship of the land and responsibility to ourselves and to others.

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