Posted On 27 Feb 2012
What might be an excellent career choice for the next few decades?
Let’s assume that you are young, perhaps in your twenties, and are looking for a viable option for sustaining yourself and your loved ones. Alternatively, you are open to a significant change or want to supplement your retirement.
The general task is to match your aptitudes, skills, and interests with what will be the pre-existing demand for them.
Since I don’t know you as an individual, let’s focus here on demand. I have two suggestions worth considering seriously and one of them may surprise you.
Look at the big economic picture. I have mentioned some salient trends in other posts [whose links are provided below]. Let’s assume that you are an American and that, for geographic and climactic reasons similar to the ones I’ve mentioned, you’ll be living in, or just outside, a small community in the Northeast.
In a world after the collapse of the dollar standard that is not only hotter by at least 1 or 2 degrees C but also has a dramatically curtailed transportation system due to depleted supplies of oil and natural gas, what might be an excellent career choice?
First, one of the helping professions will still be an excellent career choice for some.
After all, it’s not easy to flourish and people often want direct help with their problems. They often feel a need for the services of physicians and surgeons, teachers, and counselors. Presumably, there will be more options in the future for serving patients, students, and clients online.
Two downsides of this option are that (1) certification in one of the helping professions can require many years of advanced education that can leave you mired in financial debt for decades and (2) your actions can easily become the target of lawsuits so that you’ll require expensive insurance. Nevertheless, one of these as a career choice may provide immense, direct satisfaction.
(If you know my background as a professor, this suggestion is hardly surprising!)
Second, an excellent career choice for which there will be huge demand is anything involving local food production. Furthermore, it can work well as a supplemental income stream right now.
To get your mind around this option, begin by letting go of any ideas involving monocultures, plows, combines, or feedlots. Start thinking in terms of properly managed herbivores and perennials.
I learned about that kind of farming or ranching as a boy growing up in the 1950’s. Each summer my parents would rent a housekeeping cottage for a couple of weeks at Bondi on Lake of Bays in the beautiful Muskoka district of Ontario.
Paul Tapley and his wife Rosemary ran the resort. It was Paul who taught me about the relevant energy cycle. He kept two work horses, Pat and Tony, for tilling his fields, hauling timber out of the bush to be turned into firewood for heating, pulling blocks of ice in the winter up from the lake to the ice house, which was packed with sawdust from cutting firewood, for the iceboxes used in the cottages, and so on.
There was a small barn with their two stalls. Paul explained to me one day while mucking out those stalls that he spread the manure they produced on their pasture, which fertilized the grasses and other plants. Pat and Tony then ate those plants and produced more manure. Lovely!
I’m suggesting that you consider what has come to be known as “permaculture” as a career choice. Ideally, the end of one production cycle is the beginning of another; material that is a byproduct of one cycle is the beginning of another.
The idea is to tier or stack natural, seasonal production cycles to achieve a balanced, sustainable, local system of food production. In other words, it’s to mimic Mother Nature by avoiding unnatural production such as single-use acreage to create a multi-species symbiosis.
Think of land as wealth. To think about investing in a small ecological farm is to think about healing the land by feeding the soil with multi-species controlled grazing, fertilizing with animal manures and other organic material such as compost, and developing protected water supplies.
Imagine working with the seasons instead of increasing production costs by trying to buck them. Similarly, imagine maintaining natural chains of who follows whom. For example, in a pasture birds follow herbivores . In a hay shed, pigs follow cows (to make compost and root through the bedding). Let animals do as much of the material handling work as possible.
If you have access to the right kind of land, one good career choice might be to buy some 500 or 600 pound calves every spring, graze them properly for 6 or 7 months, then sell them for meat in the fall after they’ve doubled in weight.
The right kind of land for pasture-finishing beef would have pasture that is never more than about 200 yards from woodland and plenty of water. It should have water pipes, electric fence, and fenced out riparian areas. Making it pay would require satisfactory marketing.
However, it wouldn’t necessarily require owning land or a barn or a tractor or other machinery. So it could be inexpensive to get started and wouldn’t require much insurance.
If you know what you are doing, you’ll not only make a good profit from selling the beef, but you’ll reduce weeds, make the land more beautiful, and increase wildlife populations!
Start small to gain experience inexpensively. In your first year you could raise several stockers on just 5 acres. Moving them to fresh pasture requires no more than twenty minutes daily (so you could do it part-time) and you’d learn a lot in just one season.
That’s only one career choice – and there are many similar ones. Think in terms of becoming a good steward to the land and using livestock as your chief land management tool. Do it well and your pastures will become more productive with every passing season.
Think of passing a well-managed 15 to 50 acre farmstead on to others. You’d be giving them a way of being lastingly useful to their neighbors by being able to offer them in a sustainable way, for example, pasture-finished beef, pastured broilers, eggs, turkeys, firewood and market garden vegetables and fruits.
Your career choice should be something you genuinely value. Forget money making and acquiring possessions or fame; instead, ask yourself how best you can serve others for the rest of your life.
On your deathbed, what would you regret not doing? What ability do you have that you would regret not turning into a skill?
Examining yourself is not easy, but it’s necessary if you are to make an excellent career choice.
If you hate animals and growing things, then don’t make farming your career choice. Many people, though, dream about having a beautiful, productive farm of their own. If that’s you, why not?
Additional reading suggestions about the second career choice mentioned above: Joel Salatin, You Can Farm, Salad Bar Beef, and Pastured Poultry Profits; Bill Mollison, Introduction to Permaculture; Charles Walters, Jr., Eco-Farm, An Acres Use Primer; and James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency.
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please forward it.