It was a hot and humid September day our first time vendoring at our town’s Farmers’ Market a few years ago. Crayons were melting in the Black Walnut crayon holders I made earlier in the week. Our main product was free-range chickens that were raised on our farm, but we also offered a selection of homemade crafts. We ended up rotating the crayons with frozen chickens in the ice chest to keep them from melting. As a way to trial the Farmers’ Market business concept, we signed up for two weekends at the end of Summer. “What do you want to bet next time we’re here we’ll be in winter jackets?” Becca asked me as we sweated and enjoyed our Hawaiian Shaved Ice from the neighboring booth.
Sure enough, two weeks later all six of us sat bundled in our winter gear like undaunted Minnesotans, enduring hours of bitterly cold winds and constant rain. The Shave Ice vendor didn’t show that weekend. “Why are we doing this again?” was the question everyone was thinking. Despite the uncooperative weather, we came home beaming at the end of each market. We were doing it! Little by little, brick by brick, we were building our Family Economy.
The Family Economy
In our modern, specialized, individualistic society it takes extraordinary intention to do what came naturally to our forebears. In a typical American family, Dad commutes 45 minutes to work, mom works full-time outside the home, and kids are bussed to multiple schools where they file into to age-segregated classrooms. Elderly parents re-locate to “independent living” facilities. Even our entertainment options are heavily skewed to age-oriented, individual tastes. Nearly everything in modern culture is geared toward segregating the family unit. Yet only a few generations ago, and for millennia prior, practicing the Family Economy was not only natural, it was a necessity.
In his book Family Life, Kevin Swanson likens the Family Economy to an ax and handle. “An ax head by itself is of little use to take down trees. Place an ax head on an ax handle, and the capability for useful work has increased a hundred fold. This demonstrates the basic elements of the family economy as designed by God.” He continues, “The basic economic unit is not an individual and it is not a corporation or the government. According to the creation mandate and 5,900 years of historical practice, the basic economic unit is the family.”
The Family Economy encompasses more than family business and entrepreneurship, though that is an essential part of it. It also integrates education, discipleship, worship, and recreation. It is the melding of individual aspirations into a common purpose. More importantly, it has been the context by which parents pass their faith, culture and values on to their children for most of human history.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deut 6:4-8)
Swanson asks, “God’s intention for family discipleship is plainly stated, but what happens when families do not sit in the house or walk by the way anymore?”
A few years ago Becca and I started talking more seriously about this concept of a family economy and what it means to us. For many years we have felt the pull to combine forces someday, but never settled on what that focus would be. Now we know. It’s not one thing, it’s everything. We began praying and seeking to be of one mind when it comes to our family’s education, discipleship, worship, business, recreation and ministry. Little by little, the Lord has been answering our prayers and leading us in new directions.
I began researching what I call “durable trades”–those professions that have proven resilient over time, are not easily displaced by mass production, and lend themselves to family economies. It can take a lifetime to build a business. We didn’t want to put our energy towards something that would quickly fade or become obsolete in a few years. It seemed to us that if we were embarking on this path, we should build something that would last.
One of the paths we are currently exploring is raising animals for food. We are uniquely set up for small-scale livestock production here at the Grovestead. We don’t have enough land to mass-produce anything, nor would we want to. It just so happens that the kind of animals we can raise here, pasture-fed, organically raised chicken, lamb and pork are in high demand right now. We shared the idea with a few friends and within days we had an interested list of buyers.
We’ve also experimented with hosting camps and workshops, summer internships, and writing and publishing a print newsletter.
We continue to talk and dream about what may lie ahead. It can be challenging, I’ll admit. Giving up individual personal ambitions in favor of the family’s best interest cuts against the cultural grain. But I can also say the rewards are far beyond anything I’ve found in careerism. Our family is learning to think, then act as a single unit. And no matter where this path leads, we’ll be walking it together.