Happy Independence Day, my friends. My apologies for not posting sooner, but the last few months have been a whirlwind. In addition to finishing up book five (editing is almost complete), I’ve been in the process of starting a vineyard here on the farm. It will be far easier to show you the process than to attempt to describe it, so here is the journey in pictures:
I got busy yesterday and didn’t get to post my Monday Motivational, so I guess technically this is a Tuesday Titillation. However, building on the theme of some of the previous Motivationals, you are in charge of your future. You are in charge of your road to success, even when it seems like obstacles are in your way. Every obstacles is an opportunity to prove yourself, so if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Take charge, don’t make excuses, and work a little harder today to achieve your dreams.
Just a quick update, book five is almost complete. All fourteen chapters are written, and I’m currently writing the epilogue. The editor is already at work polishing, and the cover art is nearly finished. I can’t wait to share this cover with you. The work is absolutely beautiful, richly textured with depth and energy. It’s a fitting cover to close out the series. I don’t have a firm timetable for release yet because I want the editing to be thorough, but we are close. Hopefully within the next month or two.
I’ve been working pretty hard on the farm lately. I may try to post a couple of updates on the things I have going on here. The labor has been intense, but I enjoy it. Also, it’s good to feel productive with something that I’m building with my own two hands. I’ve wanted to get this going for some time now, and despite the setbacks, I’m still motivated on achieving these goals. So over the next week or so, please look for a post on what’s going on.
Here’s why I find myself growing angry and bitter. By the terms of my divorce, based on Tennessee law, my child support is based on a ratio between my income and solely the mother’s, and the time we each have the boys. Because she doesn’t work, I’m required to pay roughly 30% of my take home income, regardless of what her household income is. Financially, that’s crippling and affects my ability to spend time with my sons. Furthermore, I have no oversight on how that money is spent. None. In addition to that, I get no tax break on that money. My taxes are based on gross income, so some years I actually owe money at the end of the year, despite living well below the poverty line.
If I don’t pay child support, I can face jail time for contempt of court. If I don’t pay it, even though I have no way of ensuring that money is spent on my children, I’m labeled a deadbeat dad, not just by the law but also by society. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with supporting my children. I would do anything for them. What I have a problem with is the imbalance of the laws that have crippled me financially for at least twelve more years, offer me no safeguards that the money is used for its intended purpose, and in effect enslave me to that obligation, regardless of whether or not she actually needs the money.
So I work, pay the money, and scrape by on what’s left.
My profession is education. Aside from writing, that’s what I’m best at doing. Today, because our society so undervalues education, during the school year, I work 60-70 hours a week. Last night, I graded until 8:00 PM, on Friday night. I woke up this morning and spent three more hours grading, recording, and uploading files. As soon as I finish this post, I’ll spend at least five to six more hours doing the same. Tomorrow, I’ll spend all day grading. From mid-August to mid-December, I get maybe three or four full days off. Anyone who has ever taught can attest that being in the classroom teaching is exhausting work in and of itself. I’ve worked other jobs and have often said that one hour in class equates to about two hours at another job. During the school year, I and every other teacher I know live in a constant state of exhaustion.
Because I have to work so many long hours with so little time off, I have no time or energy left over for loved ones. Just talking to my children for an hour four nights a week is taxing. Forget about date nights (not that I have any money for one) or spending quality time with friends and family. Forget about writing or doing the things I need to do for the farm. By the time I accomplish everything I have to do for school, I’m utterly spent, and it’s Monday morning and time to start over again. Forget about promoting my books the way I need to. Forget about nurturing a relationship. Forget about having any kind of a normal life.
I’ve had well-intending people tell me to find another profession, as if the answer is so simple. I’m trained to teach and write. I’ve yet to find an employer out there that values my skills or equates them to their needs. Not that there are any decent jobs out there right now. I feel trapped by circumstances with no foreseeable end to the cycle. I’ve all but lost hope on my books ever being “successful” financially. I’ve all but lost hope on ever getting the farm off the ground, even though I’ve proven my hydro design works. I simply don’t have the funds to make it happen.
So each day, I feel a little more bitter, a little more angry. I feel like our system has failed me at each and every turn. I’m trying desperately to find something to give me a glimmer of hope, a flicker of optimism that somehow things will get better, but each day I feel more trapped, more alone, more forsaken, more disenfranchised. That’s my reality. That’s where I am right now.
Two and a half years ago, I was a shell of a man, struggling to get to my feet and find my bearings after my divorce. I was broke and broken. I lived in my best friend’s spare bedroom and didn’t have my own car. I made it to and from work by bumming rides from family and friends. Each day was a challenge to find the motivation to get out of bed and force myself to trudge onward. Because of the terms of my divorce, I get to keep roughly $.51 on every $1.00 I earn. After taxes, child support, and insurance for my kids, my take home pay is barely above minimum wage. Those factors severely limit how often I get to see my children, and for anyone who knows me, you know how deeply that affects me.
Two and a half years ago, I faced tough choices. I could lay down and give up, and quite frankly, that option was pretty appealing. I could move somewhere else, closer to my kids, and start a new life. I went so far as to apply for jobs in South Georgia and North Florida. Then, one day, as I worked on cleaning up my motor home to get it livable, an idea came to me. I looked out at my family’s 27 acres and realized that one of the passions I’ve always wanted to pursue is growing vegetables.
I started researching what it would take to launch a farm. The more I learned, the more I realized that the future of farming is indoor growing, so I launched myself into studying as much as I could about aeroponics and hydroponics. At first, I leaned towards an aeroponic system because of the efficiency, and I built a functional prototype. However, the more I learned, the more I saw that those units, while efficient, are highly unstable.
So I went back to the drawing board and designed an ebb and flow hydroponic unit. In August of this year, I finally had enough money to buy all of the components necessary to build and launch the system. Today, I’m a couple of weeks away from the first harvest. From this experience, I’ve learned some valuable lessons, most notably that because of the grow rates of various plants, it’s important to have multiple systems to maintain proper nutrient cycles for each. To that end, I want to build our second unit that I can dedicate to one specific vegetable.
But like I said, I’m severely limited in my financial resources, so quite honestly, I need help. I’m currently running an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for this second unit. If I didn’t need this money to get the unit up and running soon, I wouldn’t be asking, but I know, based on my take home income, it will be mid-summer before I can have enough money to put into it. If I can get this system going now, I could effectively have three harvests in that time frame.
Recently, I’ve watched three specific fundraisers have tremendous success. A friend of mine raised money for a rock video. Within 48 hours, he had surpassed his goal. An acquaintance raised money for an independent film and received enough to cover production costs. Most recently, my publisher ran a campaign for a new book project and raised nearly 250% of their goal. I don’t resent the successes of these fund raisers. In fact, I supported each one, sharing links and writing blogs about them, but I am bothered by the lack of interest in supporting my project.
I’m trying to build a farm that will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of people in this region. We need more fresh, organic vegetables in this area. We need more sustainable agricultural practices. That’s not political either. It’s just a fact. Weather patterns are changing. During the grow season, we have extended periods of drought followed by intense storms. That’s not conducive to efficient farming. The future will have to be focused on developing indoor growing environments that are year round and efficient. I’m not even going to get into the effects of rising fuel prices on traditional farming, but our current model isn’t financially sustainable long-term.
So I’m asking for your help. If you can, please, contribute, even $1. If you can’t, please share the link, especially with people you know who might be interested. This farm has the opportunity to change lives, not just mine but those in my community, too. I believe that with all my heart. I have the plan, the design, and the ability to make it happen. What I don’t have are the financial resources. Please, help me make this a reality.
Here’s an update on the farm. The first hydroponic unit is doing pretty well. All of our seeds but two came up, and so far, all of the plants are growing well, especially the cucumbers. Assuming nothing goes awry, we should have our first harvest by the end of this month. We’ve learned a lot on this initial run and have some plans for how to refine and improve the system. Our next goal is to build a second system that is dedicated solely to one crop. From there, we’ll work on building at least one unit for each specific plant.
Now that this system has proven itself, I have a question open to anyone. Do you think it would be worth the effort to run a second Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the second unit? The last campaign was a little disappointing, but now, with a functional unit in place, do you think more people would be willing to contribute? After watching the efficiency of the system, I’m convinced now more than ever that this is the future of farming, and I’m more dedicated than ever to getting this project off the ground. Please, share your thoughts and let me know your opinions.
Here’s a farm update. After two years of research, planning, testing, set-backs, building, and rebuilding, our first hydroponic system is up and running. For the trial run, we’re growing three varieties of tomato, two kinds of lettuce, cucumbers, and cauliflower. So far, the seedlings for spinach and peppers haven’t sprouted, though one of spinach plants looked promising this morning. Right now, the young plants are growing well and all is working as it should. Hopefully, in the next couple of months, we’ll have our first harvest of fresh, organic veggies, just as prices begin to skyrocket.
The thing I love about this system is the simplicity. It’s an easily repeatable design and functions quite nicely. We won’t know if it fully works until we get a harvest, but so far, the lights seem to produce ample spectrum; the grow chamber floods and drains the way it should; and the plants have shot up quite a bit in one week. After watching them flourish so quickly, I’m more convinced than ever that indoor growing is the future of farming, especially as weather patterns become more and more erratic and more and more extreme. The indoor environment is more stable, more efficient, and more controllable than outdoors. Long-term, indoor production will be the solution to farming.
I’ll continue to post updates as the plants mature.
Here’s an update on the farm. These pics won’t really do justice to how hard I’ve worked the last three days to accomplish this, but it’s the best I can do.
There are still three or four trees to get from the hill, but I started with the two highest. I figured that would make the others seem easier. There are two more maples, at least two more ironwoods, and one elm that are the right size for harvest. I’m only taking out what I need for the cabins and am trying to minimize the damage to the young growth. I want to keep that hillside as natural and unblemished as possible. The other hill will eventually be cleared more because it faces south and should be good for certain crops.
Cutting those two trees and getting them down the hill was backbreaking work and took a lot out of me, but the feeling of satisfaction is worth it. Once we have enough logs for five or six cabins, we’ll begin the inoculation process. With any luck, in the spring, we’ll have fresh mushrooms ready for market. Eventually, we plan to have about 36 cabins total, but it will take some time to get there. Once that’s rolling, we should have a fairly steady supply. I’m pretty excited about it.
Working on the farm and writing book four have been amazing experiences this summer. For the first time in many, many years, I feel like I’ve found my place. My goal is to make both of these endeavors my full-time professions over the next couple of years. Working on the land nourishes my creative spirit, and writing feeds my soul. I’m grateful to have had the time to do both this summer.