The Woman's Eye - August 3, 2010
Interview: Shannon Hayes On A New Back-To-The-Earth Movement: “Radical Homemaking”
Shannon Hayes says you can find real wealth in the simple life. She blogs and farms with her husband and two daughters in West Fulton, NY, where they raise all-natural grassfed animals.
Shannon traveled across the country to find people whose lifestyle was similar to her own and included them in her new book “Radical Homemakers.” They have all chosen to have their lives revolve completely around their home and community. According to Shannon, they and their children have found a frugal yet enriched back-to-the-earth existence.
The radical homemaker’s genuine wealth, she says, comes from the soil, water, sunlight, air, family and relationships.
When I read about Shannon’s book recently, I was intrigued. Could a movement be gaining popularity that encouraged simple concepts such as hanging out the laundry to dry, cooking for your family, and getting to know your neighbors? I wondered what made this woman with a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. switch over to a way of life that didn’t include climbing the ladder to success. How did she make this “radical homemaking” a reality?
“…while my grad school peers were settling into their new offices, I was out under a cloudless blue sky, painting for $10/hr. I decided that I had the better deal.”
Shannon took the time to explain to me why she feels home is where social change will begin…
THE WOMEN’S EYE: You’ve described radical homemaking as a “hidden revolution.” How widespread and important do you think it is?
SHANNON: I don’t know. It is hidden, because there is no way to count them. There are no professional associations, they might be listed statistically as “unemployed,” they’re invisible. But, if you look at the growth of the local food movement, as these folks are hard-core locavores, I get the sense it is pretty large, and growing fast.
EYE: What was the turning point when you decided this philosophy would be the way of life for you and your family?
SHANNON: I finished my Ph.D. and realized that every prospective job opportunity was going to pull me away from my husband, parents and family farm. We had a moment of reckoning while the ink was still fresh on my diploma, then my husband and I re-grouped and started in with the lifestyle. We worked a lot of odd jobs to hold things together then. I remember one bright, clear August day, standing on a ladder painting the top of someone’s pergola, marveling that I was a newly minted “Dr. Hayes,” and while my grad school peers were settling into their new offices, I was out under a cloudless blue sky, painting for $10/hr. I decided that I had the better deal.
EYE: You have a Master’s Degree and Ph.D. in Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development. What about criticism from some that you’re wasting your education?
SHANNON: I am very involved in the sustainable farming movement, particularly in the grassfed farming field. The advancements in sustainable farming these days are very farmer-directed. I feel very accepted there. One of my blogs is grassfedcooking.com. I think that if I were just an academic, the farmers wouldn’t be as interested in the work I do. The fact that I live my research gives me credibility…..with farmers and folks who are on this path. As for academia, I don’t know what they’re saying about me. Perhaps they don’t even know that I exist!
EYE: This philosophy flies in the face of feminists and many working women. Can you understand their point of view?
SHANNON: I do believe there has been some criticism from feminist scholars, but I can’t keep up with what all’s being said. I know it has been suggested that my ideas and practices are “dangerous” for women, among other things. But I don’t have the time or the emotional energy to worry about it any longer. There is a lot of information and commentary out there, and if I don’t filter some of it out, it gets hard for me to deal with my day to day priorities.
“Sometimes I wish I had health insurance, but trading in a joyful existence for an insurance card seems like a lousy exchange.”
EYE: What is different about this type of homemaking compared to the homemaking of earlier times when wives in many cases felt “stuck” in a life of drudgery in the house?
SHANNON: The book goes into this in extensive detail. But to put it in as few words as possible, homemaking was once an extremely viable and socially important vocation that, prior to the industrial revolution, was done by both men and women. After the industrial revolution, men’s domestic work was replaced by factories, and they left the home to go to work there in order to garner the wages that, had the factories not existed, enabled them to purchase the goods and services that they were no longer home to provide. That is when the separate spheres (man in the factory, woman in the home) developed.
Soon, the factories figured out how to supplant the women’s duties as well, so the craft tradition of homemaking fell away, and the woman’s primary job became driving a car and shopping. Pretty mind numbing. Simultaneously, America suburbanized, and so women were now isolated in their homes, which led to a lot of depression.
Today’s RHers are different in that they are reclaiming these forgotten craft traditions – cooking, food preservation, sewing, gardening, keeping livestock, educating their children, etc. so that they do not need to be consumers any longer. They have a big picture view of the whole thing. When working with limited finances (as most of them are), if they must buy for all their needs, then they must engage in some form of social exploitation by purchasing whatever is cheapest, which is typically “cheap” because it is produced in a way that is damaging to the environment and the people who worked in the factories to produce it. By doing it themselves, they are opting for a more ecological, less exploitive life path. There is a far greater sense of purpose than driving to soccer practice and the department store.
EYE: Do you ever feel “stuck,” wishing you were working at a job away from the house?
SHANNON: No. Sometimes I wish I had health insurance, but trading in a joyful existence for an insurance card seems like a lousy exchange.
EYE: Did you have some of these homemaking skills to begin with or did you have to learn a lot of them?
SHANNON: A lot of folks around me engaged in them as I was growing up. Like most other folks, I did have to crack out the books to get a more official education on the matter, but there has always been another human being to turn to if I run into a question. Our Cooperative Extension even still has someone on staff who is a food preservation expert. That’s not always the case these days.
EYE: What is the toughest part of this lifestyle and the most rewarding?
SHANNON: August is pretty tough. I need to put up corn, peppers, tomatoes, beats, beans, pickles, jam, stew and peaches, plus continue with my farm duties, plus make time for kid play dates. I work a lot of extended hours, and have to keep assuring everyone around me “if we just get through August, it’s all easy rolling!” In fact, to celebrate, I schedule for us to take a week up in the Adirondacks right after Labor Day. Everyone else is back at school, and we have a lake all to ourselves. We spend every day hiking, paddling, playing games and celebrating the hard work that we’ve accomplished. So I guess that’s pretty rewarding.
In truth, I don’t think I could chose what is the “most” rewarding, because even when I’m in the throes of August, I am doing something I care about deeply, and I get to see the direct results. In the winter, there is a lot of time for hiking, playing music and rest, and by the time spring rolls around, I’m eager to be out doing stuff again.
“…the movement is asking people to question some of the biggest choices they’ve made in their lives.”
EYE: You were concerned about making this “radical” approach to homemaking public. Were there any serious repercussions?
SHANNON: There’ve been a few snarky articles, some harsh criticisms, etc. The idea seems to make some people angry. I think that is because the movement is asking people to question some of the biggest choices they’ve made in their lives (whether they were conscious of them or not): How important is a career? How is my life impacting my fellow earth citizens? How does it impact our soil, water, sunlight and air? Who should be raising my children? Growing my food? Producing for my daily domestic needs? How are my fears impacting my choices? Am I happy?
After asking themselves these questions, some people feel greatly rewarded by the answers. Others feel pretty defensive. And that leads to some bristling commentaries.
In fairness, those are pretty manageable repercussions. Obviously, my “coming out” hasn’t cost me my job!
EYE: Tell me about the husbands of radical homemakers. Do they have to have certain characteristics to make this lifestyle work?
SHANNON: Very often the husbands ARE the radical homemakers.
Either way, everyone’s got to take on their share. Period. Even if someone gets a paycheck they still need to take on 50% of the duties. A home is run 168 hours per week. A typical job is 37.5 (assuming you don’t let blackberries, emails, cell phones, etc dominate the rest of your life).
“…the vast majority of folks in it now aren’t doing it out of financial desperation – they are doing it because they don’t want to be involved in soul-sucking employment…”
EYE: How do you feel about women who don’t embrace this lifestyle? Do you think more people should practice “radical homemaking?”
SHANNON: RHing is a choice. No one should be coerced into doing this. However, RHers abide by four tenets: ecological sustainability, social justice, family and community. They direct their life energy toward these aims, and resist participation in anything that works against them.
I want to see people who choose to work have the same criteria for their jobs. If something about the work is ecologically damaging, results in the exploitation of others, or infringes on a person’s ability to take care of family and community, then it is unacceptable employment. We cannot continue to run our national and international economies without expecting to honor these tenets.
“ The only ‘change for the better’ would be a shift to a life serving economy…”
EYE: Is this lifestyle driven by the current economy? If it changes for the better will this movement last?
SHANNON: I think the current economy is driving more people to consider this, but the vast majority of folks in it now aren’t doing it out of financial desperation – they are doing it because they don’t want to be involved in soul-sucking employment, and because they feel personal accountability for the state of our planet. A rebound of the existing extractive economy would not be considered a change for the better to these folks. The only “change for the better” would be a shift to a life serving economy, where we work to generate a living for all, rather than a killing for a few (as David Korten puts it). And if that happens, then there will be lots more RHers.
EYE: You’ve traveled around the country talking to different homemakers for your book, sometimes in urban areas. Are there common denominators to their personalities?
SHANNON: Auto-didactic, skilled at cultivating relationships, dedicated to the principles of a life-serving economy, fearless.
EYE: You say this can apply to single parents, stay-at-home dads, widows, divorcees…how can you accomplish this as a single person?
SHANNON: See the story of Sylvia Tanner in the book. One must be skilled at cultivating relationships.
“The work of keeping a house became mindless and depressing…”
EYE: You believe “something happened when the household was no longer a unit of production but became a unit of consumption.” Explain please.
SHANNON: The work of keeping a house became mindless and depressing, and our relentless consumption has had a devastating ecological impact without making us one whit happier.
EYE: Most families you interviewed in your book “were living with a sense of abundance at about 200 percent of the federal poverty level, a little over $40,000 for a family of four”. How realistic is it to live on this kind of income?
SHANNON: I’ve been on it for 10 years. Seems pretty doable. Lots of folks in the book have been doing it for longer. They were in far better financial shape than the vast majority of Americans. Remember: they need to buy less because they are able to produce many of their needs with their own hands.
EYE: How has this lifestyle enriched the lives of your children?
SHANNON: That’s hard to answer, since this is the only lifestyle they’ve ever known. I wouldn’t be able to track a difference the same way as someone who was once raising kids in a rat race who then made the switch. But they’re great readers, free spirits, fun to be around and have a keen sense of their natural world. Last night I was reading Winnie the Pooh to my 3-year old. Pooh was trying to communicate with bees, and the story said he was looking among all the bees flying around, trying to find the Queen Bee. My 3-year-old stopped me promptly and said “Pooh’s wrong. The queen bee isn’t flying around. She’s supposed to stay in the hive.” (Unless, of course, she is on her nuptial flight). That’s pretty clever for a three-year-old. I don’t think she knows who Elmo is. But she seems to be up on her apiculture.
EYE: Do you expect this “radical” approach will be permanent for yourself and for your family?
EYE: What is your happiest moment of the day?
SHANNON: I don’t think I could choose just one. This way of life is pretty fun.
QUESTION: Would you want to be a radical homemaker? Would it be an enriching existence for you?
Read the entire interview.
Audio of Radical Homemaker Lecture
WGXC - November 5, 2010
Shannon Hayes led a “Radical Homemaker” lecture at St. Mary’s Church, in Hudson Nov. 5, and WGXC made an audio recording. The lecture, sponsored by the Living Learning Collaborative at Four Winds Farm, was part of a tour Hayes was on talking about ecological living, self-reliance, sustainable farming, and sustainable cooking.
Listen to the lecture over at WGXC's website.
Interview with Shannon Hayes
The Unnecesarean blog
September 19th, 2010
Earlier this year, the book Radical Homemakers was published. Dedicated to the idea that the dual-income, city-living, mass-consuming family isn’t the only way - or even the best way - to survive. From the book:
Radical Homemakers uncovers a hidden revolution quietly taking hold across the United States. It is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being. It explores the values, skills, motivations, accomplishments, power, challenges, joy and creative fulfillment of Americans who are endeavoring to change the world by first reclaiming control of home and hearth.
Much like Daniel, who was interviewed in early August about illegalism, anarchy, and midwifery, Shannon Hayes has a not-particularly mainstream view of health care— maternity and otherwise— in the US, and was kind enough to agree to a brief interview about her ideas and experiences related to birth and health care.
In brief, Hayes describes her life as “Bob and I are radical homemakers. That means that we use life skills/domestic skills to provide for our needs, so that we do not require two full-time salaries in order to live. Our intent is to try to live by our values of ecological sustainability, social justice (we try to live a way that does not exploit other people), family and community.”
My questions are in bold and her answers in standard text.
1) I understand that you have had two different birth experiences: one hospital birth and one home birth. Can you give a rundown as to what led to your choices in each birth? How did you feel after the two different experiences?
When I was seven months pregnant with my first child, I had a sudden awakening where I realized that the healthy birth of my child was ultimately up to me, not because I could control my birth, but because I was the one who was choosing my caregivers. Until that point, I was working with my local hospital, which was fine…but in that scenario, I had no idea who was going to be overseeing my care and my baby’s care for our birth. If someone was overseeing the birth who did not share my views, and I was either consciously or tacitly permitting it, then I shared responsibility for the outcome.
Realizing that, I “fired” everyone and conducted a search until I was able to interview seven different people until I found a midwife who I felt I could trust, and determined that the best location for me to birth was home.
In my first birth, I labored for over 30 hours, with the final (pushing) lasting over 6 hours. After five hours, my midwife, who’d been carefully monitoring our safety, told me that it was time to go to the hospital. Saoirse was born in the triage room.
It was a rather dramatic birth, because when the hospital learned that I’d been pushing for so many hours, the OB-GYN on duty automatically lined up the OR for a cesarean. My midwife felt that I was tired and in need of an IV, but that the cesarean would not only be inappropriate, but dangerous, owing to my daughter’s position. The midwife risked having her license revoked by appearing at my bedside and advocating for my rights, refusing to move away from me until the doctor performed an exam. The doctor read her the riot act, threatened to turn her in, and I just kept on pushing. He finally consented to the exam prior to slicing me, discovered Saoirse’s head crowning, and promptly allowed for her natural delivery.
He later came to see me in my room and informed me that, while officially the hospital does not condone home birthing, I was in good care, and would most certainly be capable of having my next child at home (which, at that point, I thought was completely laughable).
When we did feel ready for a second child, there was no question about the care we wanted. We are pleased to point out that, where we live, it is so rural that you can’t get a pizza delivered, but you can get a baby.
Ula was born in our kitchen three and a half years later, with the same midwife attending. Her birth was much less dramatic, and much more restful. In both cases, however, I felt that the most important choice I made was in the selection of my caregiver. I knew that she honored my personal care preferences, and I also knew that when she felt it was time for different interventions, I could completely let go and trust her judgment, focusing on what was happening within me, rather than what was going on around me.
2) Do you have any concerns with the standard treatment of women and babies in the US in particular? What do you think could be done to change that?
Yes, I do have concerns about the woman being viewed as an impediment to the safe entry of her child into the world. I also resent that we treat birth was such fear. The fear, I think, can be a huge complicating factor in a safe delivery.
Thus, I do not feel that all births should be at home or that all births should be in the hospital. The mother must decide where she will feel most comfortable letting go and birthing. After a lot of introspection, I realized that I needed to labor away from all distractions. I didn’t want an audience of supporters. I wanted as few people around me as possible. That is not the case for everyone. However, I think if we were able to release our fears about childbirth, let go of the idea that it is a medical emergency, then mothers would be able to make clearer decisions about what is best for them. I firmly believe home birth should be a right in this country. New York State, where I live, technically allows it, but it is basically impossible for most home birth midwives to practice legally. I had a CNM attending my birth who started out being a legal home birth midwife, and then, overnight, her practice made her a felon. As she pointed out, that is kind of bummer for her career path.
I suppose you’ve also discussed on your website the varying costs of different birthing options, but I’ll bring it up anyway. If, nationally, we are truly interested in cutting medical costs, then allowing home birthing is an important step to take. Without complications, each of my births cost me $1800, including prenatal care, which I was able to pay out-of-pocket. As soon as the hospital is involved, the costs spike.
3) (submitted by a reader) I completely agree with some of the participants take on health care.
I don’t want to have my money supporting Washington lobbyist doing the opposite of what I want. Of insurance companies that deny the things were paying for. Paying top dollar for health care that is substandard and without alternative medicine options. And I hate that I’m not scared to do anything. Our family’s take home pay is the EXACT amount we need for our food and bills without a savings. I would love to have the extra $500 that is deducted from my husbands pay check for our health insurance. The reality is I am terrified of not having some safety net incase one of my kids get sick or breaks a bone. Or worse yet needs surgery. What other options are there out there?
When I got pregnant, Bob and I were not able to afford health insurance. (Well, we had it when I got pregnant, and then they raised the rates overnight so high that we could no longer afford it.) I was still in the conventional mindset that babies were born in the hospital at that point, so I actually called around to different hospitals in the area and priced out prenatal care and delivery, much like a person might do if they were buying a car. It was ridiculous. Finally, I called Planned Parenthood and explained my predicament, wondering if there was some way I could just show up there when the time came. They pointed me to the Prenatal Care Assistance Program in NYS, and there are many different versions of it around the country. While the paperwork/approval process was a nightmare, the program was phenomenal. They did not cover home births, but because I had them as a back-up in case I needed hospital care or lab tests, I was able to pay for the actual care I wanted out-of-pocket. I will be forever grateful for that. That whole experience helped me get acquainted with Planned Parenthood for a lot of our other more conventional health care needs, which has been truly helpful. We also currently have state-funded insurance for our kids as a result of going through this process.
It is scary to live without medical insurance. But in my opinion, it is scarier to live a life of quiet desparation just to have a little card in one’s wallet. I do not always want to live without coverage, but for the time being, this is the choice we have made, for the reasons you have already outlined. We’ll see what happens in 2014!
Also, I should note that Bob and I procure most of our current health care needs through caregivers who are not involved with the conventional model. We use massage therapists, energetic healers, chiropractors, etc. We pay cash, full price when we can, or whatever we can afford when we can’t…or we trade homemade canned stew and honey or whatever else we have of value in exchange for services. These practitioners are all over the country, and their services are a deeply valuable part of community life. No amount of care we have ever received has ever cost as much as a monthly insurance premium. …And we never have to be “pre-approved” or get a referral for any of the care services we seek!
KOPN Food Sleuth Investigative Nutrition with Melinda Hemmelgarn, RD
August 26, 2010
Melinda - guest Shannon Hayes, Ph.D., author: Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture
What Makes You a Steady Mom :: Shannon Hayes of Radical Homemakers
August 17, 2010
I hope you've enjoyed the six steady moms we've gotten to know this summer. I feel that I've learned so much from their responses, and gathered many new ideas to choose from when I need a solution around these parts.
Shannon is a mother, a farmer, and a writer. I'm so happy to welcome her here today.
1. What is one important, practical step you take that helps you maintain a steady rhythm in your home and how does it make a difference to your days?
I write. I write to learn, to hear myself think, to note things my kids are discovering, to sort through my emotions, and to create pieces that share what I think with the world.
If I go too long without writing, I find I lose my bearings and begin to feel un-anchored and ill-equipped for dealing with the myriad elements in my life. But once I've done that simple thing, my peace and sense of creative fulfillment are renewed, and I find myself much more emotionally available to my family.
2. What is a personality weakness that motherhood has made more obvious to you and how have you tried to overcome that weakness for the sake of your children?
Just one? Well, if I must limit myself....I'd say that I get lost in the clouds. If there is something going on in my head, I can be staring right at my kids and not hear a word they are saying.
Writing, as I mentioned above, helps me to address this. When I get things out of my head and down on paper, then I am suddenly free once more to hear the world around me.
3. We all have those days--where all our good plans and intentions crumble around us, the children are miserable, and we are exhausted. On a really rough day, what techniques do you use to try and turn the mood around and redeem the day in your home?
This can happen pretty easily right around now, because we're so busy with our growing season. My remedy is a nice meal. It needn't be gourmet, and in a case like you've described, it is probably just some leftovers, or maybe just a salad.
Knowing this is a high likelihood around now, I keep lots of "fast foods" at the ready; like deviled eggs, or a big bowl of coleslaw, fresh vegetables that we can eat raw, or a few different cheeses.
But no matter what time it is, we set the table, sit down together, don't worry about bedtime, eat a light supper, and talk.
If we were snapping at each other, eating together somehow gets us to start apologizing, and re-playing the tough scenes to figure out how we all could've managed better (that includes Mommy and Daddy). Then my daughters Saoirse and Ula often start making us laugh with their antics.
4. In your wonderful, thought-provoking book, Radical Homemakers, you present the empowering image of intentional, sustainable homemaking as a profession that can impact and influence the world for good. What practical advice can you give to moms who love that image, but feel overwhelmed with how to get started?
RadHomeCover-200x300 Start with something easy. Cook one extra meal at home. Start hanging out your laundry. Try repairing something that breaks or tears.
If that seems too extreme, do something as seemingly minor as planting your own kitchen herbs in some pots. Make the commitment to a tiny simple thing, not to a radical transformation. And realize that with the commitment to something little, you are expressing your intention for something bigger.
Each small change often leads to something else, and makes the next transition seem more manageable when the time is right. Before you know it, you'll find that your life has transitioned.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughtful responses with us, Shannon. You can find Shannon here on Facebook and read more about her fascinating book on Amazon!
Read the whole article here.
Giveaway : : Radical Homemakers and Kickapoo Country Fair Tickets
July 20, 2010
I interviewed Shannon this week. Here's what she had to say.
Clean: How long have you been writing?
Hayes: Since i finished my PHD in 2001.
Clean: What inspired you to take the life and work path that you have chosen?
Hayes: I didn't want to leave my family farm or community. I really like it here. Simultaneously, my personal politics made it very difficult/impossible for me to find a job locally. That turned out to be good thing, because I got a far better deal, being able to stay home and on the farm all the time!!
Clean: How do you believe your work is bringing good into the world?
Hayes: I'm trying to ask questions, to challenge the assumptions we've made in our culture that bind us to ecologically-damaging lifestyles that cause suffering world-wide as the rest of the coutries try to keep up with American consumer needs. I'm pushing people's comfort levels, asking them to consider their fears in changing the way we live. Sometimes that offends folks, but it does get them talking. And a lot of people are taking action, which is thrilling to witness.
Read the whole article here.
Meet some of Portland's radical homemakers
By Leslie Cole, The Oregonian
April 20, 2010, 12:00AM
Hayes, 36, who works with her parents and husband on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York, is close to the subject herself, having jumped off the fast track to raise grass-fed livestock and rear two young children on what many would consider a meager income.
And she wouldn't have it any other way.
FOODday recently spoke with Hayes about the new face of homemaking.
What's a typical day in the life of a radical homemaker?
A lot of daily life is focused on getting in touch with the elements of living. Someone who's living like this is going to be thinking about what they're going to grow, plant and harvest, and they're also fixating on what the family meal is going to be and creating the time and emotional space to allow that to happen at a leisurely pace.
A lot of the times their daily life will look like to an outsider as though they had nothing to do, but they're constantly busy. And the house is going to be a mess. If it's a rainy day, you'll probably see wooden drying racks with clothes draped on them. If their kids are home-schooled, you'll see debris of art projects and books, science projects sitting on the windowsill. You'll see a living system as you walk in the house as opposed to a House Beautiful situation.
They will be cooking constantly -- you'll always find something fermenting, boiling, simmering, roasting, just always something happening in the kitchen. You might see jars of kombucha sitting out on the countertop. If the cows are out on grass, you might see pots of yogurt that are setting up in coolers, big stockpots full of bones slowly simmering on a stove. If they're out doing a lot of yardwork, they probably have their crockpots going.
Read the whole article here.