Here's an interesting and inspiring-to-some story. Lots of interesting comments on it in the link.
He reminds me of Scott and Helen Nearing. Yup, he's car-free.
Growing more, living with less
Subsistence farmer has need-to-work method
Tim Coughenour lives on about $600 a year.
He grows his own wheat on about one-fifth of an acre in North Lawrence.
He also grows some corn and soybeans along with potatoes, sweet potatoes and other vegetables in a garden plot.
He builds his own stockpile and sells the rest to earn what annual income he needs, which is mostly to pay the property tax on his home in the 1200 block of New York Street.
That’s the life of a subsistence farmer in the heart of a city, where he shuttles around on his bicycle and hauls his goods on a small trailer.
It takes about half of the year to prepare for the winter, which he spends studying various subjects and visiting friends.
“I have six months’ vacation every year,” said Coughenour, 53. “My work and leisure — it’s all mixed together. I can’t even begin to separate hours.”
Need is a key word for Coughenour. He does only what needs to be done. When he finishes, he has the freedom and control to do what he wants.
“You are a little more in touch with reality in a subsistence economy,” Coughenour said.
Seeds for a way of life
The subsistence may seem foreign to most Americans today, but Coughenour points to the country’s Amish communities as an example.
He grew up in Manhattan and later attended the University of Arizona, where he studied Chinese and other subjects. He also worked in print shops.
Tim O’Brien cuts wheat with a hand scythe, one fistful at a time in a small field in North Lawrence. O’Brien and other volunteers recently helped Tim Coughenour, Lawrence, harvest his fifth of an acre of wheat by hand. The wheat, top right, provides Coughenour enough grain to live on until next year’s harvest.
Growing more, living with less
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“It became clear that at jobs, 98 percent of what I was doing had no real purpose other than to keep the economy from failing,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. We need to work at things that do need to be done and to stop when the job is done.”
So Coughenour moved to Lawrence and worked for about a year at a Lawrence printing company. He then started to phase out work as he studied more about subsistence farming, agriculture and the way he wanted to live.
“By my 28th birthday, I’d never grown a garden vegetable in my entire life. I started learning,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things, but it’s all been pretty much self-taught.”
Eventually, he paid off his house, and for the last 14 years he has farmed and gardened full-time.
Now he concentrates on “building a community of people who want to depend on each other, who don’t want to depend on some person at a computer far away.”
Although no one else in Lawrence takes subsistence farming yet to that extreme, Coughenour cherishes visiting friends across Lawrence face-to-face and working together on projects such as the annual wheat harvest by hand, which has become a tradition.
Tim O’Brien, a Lawrence artist and gardener, met Coughenour about eight years ago.
“I think Tim is very inspiring. He lives much more simply than anybody else I know for sure in this country,” O’Brien said. “And yet, even though he works very hard, he’s got a lot of time to pursue other interests of his own.”
O’Brien and more than a dozen others helped Coughenour plant and harvest this year’s winter wheat crop.
Coughenour expects to yield about 350 pounds and hopes to give about 100 pounds to those who helped. Some in the group seem to be making a gradual move toward total subsistence farming, Coughenour said.
“I think the movement is growing. It’s more difficult to get started,” he said.
His advice includes getting out of debt and getting rid of automobiles and utilities.
He collects rainwater from his roof and stores it in a cistern. He pedals an exercise bike attached to a grinder that crushes his grain into flour.
During the winter, he closes half of his house and uses his wood stove to keep “quite comfy.”
“It only seems like a big deal if you haven’t done it,” he said with a shrug.
He buys five items from the grocery store — margarine, cooking oil, salt, pepper and baking powder — plus eggs and apples from friends.
He shops at thrift stores and garage sales if he needs new clothes. When something breaks, he goes to the hardware store. He spends about $100 per year on bicycle maintenance.
During his free time, he studies botany, astronomy, music, history and anything else that catches his interest. O’Brien said Coughenour has a dinner and gathering each winter for several friends and provides the food. They talk mostly about farming.
Coughenour doesn’t believe in war, 99 percent of government expenses and buying insurance.
He had a doctor stitch up a cut in his finger once.
“Nobody’s healthier than me. I basically don’t get sick, and I think the lifestyle is a major factor in it,” he said.
The owner of the North Lawrence lot lets him and others use it for planting. On a recent morning, Coughenour — in his scruffy beard, straw hat, flannel shirt and slacks — talked passionately about his lifestyle and his property taxes.
“The hardest part of every year living as a subsistence farmer is the fact that I have to go out and earn money for other people’s lifestyles,” he said.
Owning his home makes it easier, but Coughenour said the lifestyle would benefit homeless people who want to make it work — even though it may be difficult for them to find a place to live — because it is based on a personal choice to survive.
“I’m trying to build a way of life that is possible not only for rich people but for people of small monetary means and a small degree of discipline who can somehow do this on a small scale,” he said.