The Daily Grind

“Most of us, male or female, work at full-time jobs that seem organized around a presumption that some wifely person is at home picking up the slack— filling the gap between school and workday’s end, doing errands only possible during business hours, meeting the expectation that we are hungry when we get home— but in fact June Cleaver has left the premises. Her income was needed to cover the mortgage and health insurance….In fact that gal Friday is us, both moms and dads running on overdrive, smashing the caretaking duties into small spaces between job and carpool and bedtime.”

— Barbara Kingsolver Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

At our daughter’s parent-teacher conference this week, I described her behavior at home: whining, fighting, sticking out her tongue, nasty under-the-breath comments, arms crossed, brow furrowed. She’s angry about everything. My behavior at home has also been marked by anger, shouting, crying, and muttering under my breath — I hate my life! I don’t hate my life, but boy is my family having a rough time adjusting to “the daily grind.” It has us bickering at breakfast and dinner (which is all the time we spend with each other now), rushing through bedtime routines to get exhausted children to sleep so we won’t hate each other so much the next day.

'Ahh...I see your future. Get up, go to work, go to bed. Get up, go to work, go to bed. Get...'

It blows my mind that most people in this country participate in the daily grind. No wonder we are an insane society! At the Bloomington Catholic Worker, we were busy but still we had more time with our children, more time for ourselves, and more time for serving others. I still struggled to parent my children well, but our daily lives generally felt more balanced. And I never ever uttered the words, “I hate my life.”

The question “Why?” comes to mind when I think about the daily grind. Why do we send our kids to school and rush off to work and then rejoin for dinner (often unpleasant), only to do it all again the next day? Yes, some people are pursuing fulfilling jobs and living out their passions. But even with the most fulfilling jobs, the daily grind asks so much of our lives. Never enough time with our families, never enough time for exercise or leisure or personal growth or other aspirations we’ve tucked away for retirement.

The answer is complex but largely wrapped up in security and stability. The daily grind, full-time work and full-time school, is how people afford housing and save for retirement and the kids’ college. It’s how we have to live to make ends meet. It’s very reasonable and responsible, but the outcome is so wretched. (Or maybe it’s just wretched for me and my family at this point in time….maybe it will get better?)

What does all this have to do with Common Home Farm? Part of our motivation for starting an intentional community farm is because we want a daily rhythm that is life-giving and balanced most of the time. We want to spend our days with our children (and with other people) engaged in meaningful, productive work. We are taking a risk in eschewing careers in favor of community. That risk is to let go of, or at least loosen our grip on the security of money.

This week I’ve been wondering if we are making the right choice. A friend of mine has community-minded parents who traveled the world seeking community instead of careers. Now they have no retirement funds and receive almost no social security payments. My friend and her husband work hard at full-time jobs to help support her parents. Her parents don’t have any other choice but to live with their children, which has been both a gift and a challenge. It makes me wonder if I should be less idealistic and more pragmatic. Should just stop my whining, find a career and start saving?

It seems to me that two truths are at play:

  1. We should work really hard now so that we can rest later.
  2. We should live out our values to the best of our ability each day.

I don’t think these should conflict with each other. I know we really want to do both: we want to work really hard to live out our values each day. I don’t know, however, that David and I will be able to rest when we are older. I don’t know that we will have any money in our bank account. I don’t know if we will be a burden on our children. I take some solace in thinking that we may have security on the land. That the place we hope to create – Common Home Farm – could be home to us and others for the rest of our lives. That the people who come to Common Home Farm, and the relationships we form, will be there to lift us up when we need help. We will have to work hard everyday to create this kind of security, but we believe it will offer us a daily rhythm instead of the daily grind.

The Economy of Interdependence

“It will become increasingly important, then, that we find ways to deconstruct the dominance of individualism in our society and to replace individualism with broader ideas of community. This shift will necessarily challenge notions of the centrality of competition for goods and the accumulation of individual wealth as we create persistent images of community well-being in our neighborhoods and reservations, in our cities, in our continental whole.” — Tink Tinker in American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty

Lately I’ve been mourning our exit from intentional community’s economy of interdependence. I turn weepy when I realize that I have personally bought every item in our refrigerator. It’s not stuffed with the donated food from Lucky’s Market or ham bones that Anne Jones dropped by. Extra produce no longer appears randomly on our kitchen table. Instead of living off the waste of the food system (and bulk lentils and rice), I join the rest of America and go to the store to buy my food.


My refrigerator contents, folks. I bought all that food! Come eat with us sometime!

One of the reasons I’m passionate about intentional community is because it decreases our dependency on money and the capitalist economy. It is a clustering of human and physical resources that are exchanged through personal relationship. At the Bloomington Catholic Worker, I didn’t need to own a second vehicle. I could borrow Chris and Emily’s van for carpooling needs, and they could take our car when they needed a more fuel-efficient vehicle. The four families in the community shared one truck (and lent it out to others) to haul manure for the gardens. We watched each other’s children for date-nights, doctor appointments, and other last minute emergencies. And together we were able to share our homes with people who had nowhere to live.

Our monthly contribution to the community (around $850), covered all our living expenses, the majority of our food expenses, and property maintenance. The community fund that paid for it all was composed of monthly contributions from members as well as some regular donations from people who supported our work. Our low living expenses were also greatly facilitated by an initial $100,000 donation that allowed for the purchase of the first two homes and no-interest loans that bought the second two homes.

What this decreased dependency on money meant is that we owned more of our time. With this time we lived out our values – volunteering in the jail, housing the homeless, welcoming visitors, planting trees and flowers, planning neighborhood block parties, taking care of our children, our neighbors and one another.

In our world, it seems that only the wealthy own their time, with no need to exchange labor for money. But the other way to own your time is to pool your resources and live simply together.

Out here in the capitalist economy of independence, I have to do more for myself by myself, which generally means I have to buy things or hire people to help solve my problems. When we moved, our living expenses increased so I took on a new job. But the new job required access to a vehicle, so we bought a second car, which also increased our living expenses. We are still trying to live out our communitarian values (carpool anyone?), even as it becomes more difficult to do so.

When we look ahead to buying land, we know we’ll have to do it in the economy of interdependence. We spent nine years at the Bloomington Catholic Worker on a path of downward mobility, intentionally avoiding the accrual of wealth. The house we lived in was a community house, and so we have no major assets. No bank will give us a mortgage because we earn below the poverty line. But that’s okay. We don’t want a large debt that would require us to find full-time paid work because that would take us away from the work at Common Home Farm.

We will need your help and your generosity. The financial stability and viability of Common Home Farm depends upon donations and no-interest loans for the purchase of the land. After that initial investment, our part-time paid work will be enough to fund the day-to-day operations. We’re hopeful that friends and family with financial resources will make an investment in the economy of interdependence we will create. Please think about what you can offer, and know that we will offer abundance back to you and the rest of the world.