The Sharing Economy

We’re starting to see glimpses of what the emerging new economy will look like. And it seems clear that what is being called “the sharing economy” will be part of it.

I’m not sure if there is yet any standard accepted definition of “the sharing economy,” but it is reflected in things like Air BnB and Uber. The idea is that we are taking things that are otherwise going unused or underused and turning them into a way to earn money, while providing a service to someone who needs it.

I’m a fan of the sharing economy. It seems to me to be a responsible way to use and conserve resources. And it appeals to my preference for thrift, frugality and community-based economies. I also like it because it sticks it to the man a little.

I have it on my mind after reading this interesting article. The authors are not fans, and their reasoning is interesting.

The piece uses a hypothetical young woman in Denver, who they name Zoe, as an illustration. Zoe works for a hotel, but the business is careful to limit her hours to 29 or less per week, so it doesn’t have to provide her with insurance or other benefits. To make ends meet Zoe does freelance landscaping through TaskRabbit, she shuttles people between bars on weekend nights through Uber and during tourist season she stays with her parents and rents out her apartment through AirBnb. These days, the authors say, people like Zoe will work for more people in a month that many in her parents’ generation worked for their entire lives.

The authors lament the loss of the employer-based economy, under which a person would go to work for a company and spend their entire working life there. The employer would provide insurance, paid vacations and possibly a pension. Zoe, they say, never goes on vacation, can save no money for retirement and only has insurance because of Obamacare.

But it seems to me that those things–retirement, paid vacation, “benefits”–are historical anomalies. An economy in which those things don’t come with employment, as perks, is just a return to the way things have always been. And, it seems to me, we’d better start getting used to not having them.

That’s not the only economic paradigm shift we’re facing when it comes to employment. We’ve already seen globalization gut the economies of the developed world, transforming us into supposed “service economies,” which might well be an unsustainable game of musical chairs. But now the rapid arrival of robotics and automation is eliminating jobs (by rendering them obsolete) in everything from agricultural labor to anesthesiology, and even more dramatic changes are immanent it seems to me.

If “the economy” is dependent upon consumer spending, yet is rapidly destroying the livelihoods of the consumers upon whom it depends, then something’s gotta give.

As we transition to the next state, the “sharing economy” will become increasingly important, it seems to me. And the new economy, whatever final form it may take, will be an economy that is less consumeristic and less dependent upon corporate employers, the government and illusions of prosperity.

At least that’s my hope. I don’t care for the alternatives.

Chapter One

I’m very pleased that the publisher is making Chapter One of my book and the introductory video to the video series available for free. Here is the video. Please let me know what you think!

And HERE is the link to the Organic Wesley website, where you will find instructions for how to download Chapter One.

I was also pleased to get two more endorsements yesterday, from people I admire.

“Every person eats every day. Rarely do we spend time considering our food choices in the light of the gospel. But John Wesley did, and we can too. Organic Wesley sheds new light on the historic connections between the Christian faith and ethical eating. It turns out that we in the Christian food movement are not pioneers – we are heirs of Wesley’s practical wisdom and everyday ethics. This inspiring and informative book is an invaluable addition to the contemporary conversation on food and faith.”

–The Rev. Nurya Love Parish, editor Guide to the Christian Food Movement and co-founder of Plainsong Farm

“In an age in which flesh is separated from spirit and bodies from the earth we are in need of a practical theology that will bring us toward wholeness.  In Organic Wesley Bill Guerrant shows us that John Wesley provides just the sort of guidance we now need to find our flourishing.  Articulate, profound, and deeply accessible, this is a book that offers important insights for all of us who struggle to live rightly in a complex world. “

—Ragan Sutterfield, author of This is My Body and Cultivating Reality

This project has consumed a lot of my time and energy over the last two years, but I have rarely blogged about it. So I hope y’all will indulge me if it seems I’m blogging too much about it now.

About to Drop

Here’s the trailer to the Organic Wesley video series. I’m pleased to be able to share this.

It feels awkward (and immodest) to repeat nice things people have said about you, but here are some endorsements the book has received.

“For a tradition whose central expression of faith is a meal, it is lamentable that many – if not most – of our churches rarely talk about our relationship with food. Our potlucks are filled with comfort food which has been prepared with little thought to where the ingredients came from, nor to the cost of our beloved dishes to ourselves, to the earth that God loves and the creatures with which we share it. Eating is a daily opportunity for us to grow in our discipleship to Christ: I believe Bill Guerrant may have written the most important book in Wesleyan studies for the next decade.”

– Sean Gladding, author of The Story of God, the Story of UsTEN: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn-out Culture; and Centurion

“In Organic Wesley, Bill Guerrant offers a finely crafted theological argument for rethinking the ways we eat. This book will be of benefit, not just to Methodists, but to all who seek follow holistically in the way of Jesus.”

– C. Christopher Smith, co-author of Slow Church, and founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books

Organic Wesley is a unique and deeply inspiring work that mixes the deep soil of a particular theologian and his plot of modern church history with the current conversation on sustainable agriculture, healthy eating and the reformation of food production in our times. This work is not just for Methodists and Wesleyans – it is like the treasure of some delicious root vegetable unearthed and prepared for all the tribes of the Church who are willing to feast on its wisdom. I am excited to see this book get a wide reading in a time when many Christians have forgotten the importance of both land and body. Bill has penned something that, in the tradition of Wendell Berry, only a farmer-theologian could write with such clarity. For many of us in the Christian food movement it is a reaffirmation that our prophetic work is rooted in historical Christian discipleship.”

– Jason Fowler, co-founder Sustainable Traditions

And from the Foreward, there is this:

“I am thrilled that Bill Guerrant wrote Organic Wesley. It is essential reading not only for those who admire John Wesley, but also for anyone who hungers for soul food.”

Matthew Sleeth, M.D.
Executive Director, Blessed Earth. Author of Serve God, Save the Planet and 24-6

Cool new stuff is happening every day now as the book and videos are about to launch. I’ll be sharing more soon, including a preview of the introductory video.

The Market and a Party

Yesterday began early for us, as market day Saturdays always do. It’s hard to believe August is over. Just two more months left for our primary farmers market.

One more month at the market in the books

One more month at the market in the books

In the afternoon we hosted some friends from town, who came to celebrate their daughter’s birthday.

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A good time was had by all. The birthday girl especially seemed to enjoy it.

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Her Dad asked if she could intern on our farm in about 15 years.

Harvesting Potatoes

With most crops, there are no real surprises at harvest. As the crop matures it’s easy to tell what kind of returns you’ll get at harvest time.

But not so with root crops. The crop is hidden underground. Sure, it’s possible to dig up a few and have a peek. But until you start digging them all up, you really can’t be sure whether the year has been good, fair or bad.

Yesterday I harvested potatoes and I’m sorry to say that the harvest was disappointing. Not a total failure. There will plenty of potatoes for us this winter. But not the kind of return I’d expected.

Yukon Golds

Yukon Golds

French fingerlings

French fingerlings

Once again I’m reminded of how important diversification is on a farm like ours. Every year we know there are going to be disappointments, but we have no way of knowing what they’re going to be. Likewise, every year something is going to surprise us with returns beyond our expectations. But we don’t know which plants are going to do that either.

So we grow over 100 things and most will be winners. We don’t put all our proverbial eggs in one basket.

If we were potato farmers, we might be worrying about how we’ll pay our bills. But we’re not. And with bumper crops of cantaloupes, watermelons and eggplant, we’ll have plenty of food for our customers today, even if we won’t have many potatoes.

In 1845 Irish farmers began digging up their potato crops and were horrified to discover that a blight had ruined most of them. Close to half of the Irish population had become dependent upon potatoes as almost their sole source of food. And they only grew one variety. So when that crop failed, people starved. Eventually over a million people starved to death in Ireland and a quarter of the country’s remaining population fled to America.

That story demonstrates tragically the risks of monocultures and dependency upon single varieties of foods. And, amazingly, in our food system today we are increasingly converting to monocultures and growing ever fewer varieties of vegetables. We are putting ourselves at great risk, unnecessarily.

We’re thankful to have potatoes this year. But even if our crop had been a total loss, unlike those Irish farmers 170 years ago, we wouldn’t starve. We’d just eat something else instead.

There are important lessons to be learned in both our story, and the story of the Irish Potato Famine.

Journaling

I started keeping a journal when we were on vacation many years ago, as a way to remember what we did, where we ate, etc. The second time I did that, I continued to make entries after the vacation was over and that evolved into a fairly consistent practice of journaling.

I was inspired by Cherie, who has always kept a journal. I’ve never been as diligent about it as she is, but it did eventually become part of my regular routine.

Many of my journal entries were written while I was waiting for a flight or riding on an airplane. In other words, when I had down time that I could use to capture thoughts.

It’s interesting to go back now and read some of those long-ago entries. The way I lived then was in many ways the polar opposite of the way I live now. Many of the things that worried me greatly then are things I can’t even recall the details of today. Those old journals are good reminders of why we quit living that way.

Nowadays I don’t keep a journal any more. I have one that I write in once in a while, but it’s a document on the computer rather than a book, and when I make an entry I usually just dash off something about the events of the day. No more long reflective musings while in some miserable airport.

There is value to journaling, I think. That’s because there is value in serious reflection. Of course one can seriously reflect, without writing down one’s thoughts. But I found the discipline of hand writing it out helped me sort through whatever was on my mind. And reading the entries years later helps me remember things I would otherwise have forgotten.

Just thinking this morning about whether I should return to a regular practice of journaling.

Any thoughts from current or former journalers will be appreciated.

Lesson Learned

Yesterday we did something very unusual for us–we took part of the day off.

But we didn’t go to the beach or anything like that. Instead we visited a midweek farmers market in a nearby city, investigating whether it might makes sense for us to become a vendor there in the future.

Because we were away from home at lunchtime, we did something else very unusual for us–we ate at a restaurant.

We chose a funky coffeehouse joint where we’d eaten in the past. The last time we were there we both had delicious vegetarian omelettes, and Cherie ordered one again this time. But my eye was caught by another item on the menu–identified as one of their specialties. Fish and chips.

It was a gloriously salty deep-fried lunch. I cleaned my plate and was a happy man.

But only for about an hour. Then my stomach commenced a full-scale riotous protest. I’ll spare y’all the details.

I can’t remember the last time I’d eaten deep-fried food, but it’s been many years. It seems that years of healthy food have left my innards unwilling to accommodate greasy french fries and battered deep-fried fish. Lesson learned.

The other meals I had yesterday were more to my body’s liking. For breakfast–shakshouka and cantaloupe, for supper–a pork chop, an okra/peppers/rice dish and watermelon. Everything but the rice we grew ourselves.

That’s the kind of food my stomach is used to now.