“Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members”.~Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973), My Several Worlds .
A close friend of mine works in a grocery store, and tells me that there are a number of people who say they are cutting back on groceries and saving much of their money in order to buy fuel through the coming winter. Most of these, he says, are elderly people who talk to him as he puts out produce. They tend to be SSI receipients who, instead of spending $150 on groceries, are only spending $75 and are banking the rest in order to buy fuel next winter. One old woman wanted to haggle over a bag of carrots. Carrots, mind you, cost under $1.50 last time I checked.
“I only want to buy one carrot.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but the smallest we have is this one pound bag of carrots.”
“But I only want one. It’s just me. The rest will go bad!”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but I can’t do anything. You can talk to the manager if you like, right over there.”
So she did, and then tried to get the cashier to sell her just one carrot. According to my friend, she was extremely distraught.
Over a bag of carrots.
For those unfamiliar with Vermont winters, they can be gentle, or they can be brutal. Last year was actually not that bad of a winter for many Vermonters, even though we reached near record levels of snow. The Ice Storm of 1998 lingers long in every Vermonter’s mind, when we were not merely covered, but encased in ice. Norm’s car was literally buried in ice overnight, and we couldn’t get it out until spring. (Thankfully it was a Ford escort, so no big loss there.)
The prospect of not affording feul this next winter is very real for many Vermonters, myself included. The cost of living is so high here to begin with (thanks to all you flatlanders paying exorbitant fees and buying up the land for your summer homes) that the increase in fuel and food costs is particularly scary. I will most likely have to get a second job very soon in order to ensure enough funds for winter feul. I’ve already begun chopping wood and gathering deadwood to burn in the woodstove.
But I’ll get by. Not only do I have the best family support system in the world, but we are taking proactive measures at home in order to not just save, but to change our way of living. I’m hoping to post some videos soon (we’ll see) of the land around the house. We’ve planted some of our garden, and cultivated some wildflowers that are growing out back. The ground here is so fertile that we have ten birch saplings that sprouted this year and are at least 3 feet tall already. We mow the area where they grow, so I know they’re new this year. And last year our tomato plants grew to the top of our ranch home. (That’s not an exaggeration in the least.) We’ve transplanted the seedlings, and two maple seedlings from the back are going into the front yard. If they grow this much every year, I may start selling them. As well as eggs and veggies in the summer.
We’re going to see how much we can actually grow this summer, and if we get enough we intend to sell some, and make a roadside stand. If we do well enough, I’m going to try building a small greenhouse so that we can get an early start next fall. As for the eggs, we already get a few dozen extra a month from the 3 hens we have, and we’re going to get another 3 in order to have more to sell. It’s really cheaper and easier than buying eggs at the store, especially when I do my baking (God, I sound like Catherine Engalls right about now), and with only the few chickens, it doesn’t stink. (And, you know, we have horses, so . . . )
We’re also going to do some canning. I know, what a hick. I don’t care what you think. I’ve got a man; who do I need to impress? Besides, I make some damned fine soup with hamburg, pasta, and home-canned tomatoes that would knock your socks off. (There are many other ingredients, but if I choose to share the recipe it’ll be later on.)
Within the next couple of years I hope to install some solar panels. Electricity is at a premium here, and VT’s contract for cheap electricity with Hydro-Quebec doesn’t have long left to it. We’re attempting to reduce our waste, composting, and using less gas by going to the grocery store less often.
Why the change? Because when my friend told me what one man said, it chilled me to the bone: “We’re buying less food to save for fuel this winter. My wife isn’t going to freeze to death. I may starve, but she’s not going to freeze to death. No sir.”
And yeah, Vermonters really talk like that.