Starting a Farm from Scratch: Part 1
by Chris Grataski
My work at Roots combines my love for the wild earth and adventure, kinship and hard work, building with my hands, and constant problem solving. It involves both managing and communicating detailed logistics, as well as conveying ideas that words often cannot do justice to. I have devoted possibly too much time to flint knapping and find ever increasing complexity and challenges to pursue with that skill. I have a love of bow building, archery, and hunting, a skill that has tested me on every level. The skills of tracking and awareness are brought to bare in every skill I work. The Scout classes are near obsession for me, but you will see that should you attend. Learning to connect these skills to the present day, to the present conditions of the world, I strive to re-evaluate and grow my perspective. My work is done in the company of friends, all determined in their own ways to make the world a richer, healthier place.
There is an inherent strength in connecting ourselves to our land base through the direct experience of obtaining the materials to satisfy our most basic needs of shelter, water, fire, food, and so on. One quickly learns how the land supports us, and that we in turn must support it. Through it we can connect ourselves to the fresh water of springs and not bottles, to food gathered from the ground and not wrapped in plastic, and a shelter built of trees to which we know the names and not to the amalgam of substances, some toxic, that make up our walls. My life is richer when I participate more with the natural world, and less to the industries that degrade it. It teaches me self reliance through skill, responsibility and gratitude in harvesting and gathering, and awe and wonder of things beyond the human realm through the beauty of the natural world. By interacting with the natural world and witnessing the many ways in which other forms of life participate, it in response can educate us on being more capable, responsible, and healthier human beings. I have focused my studies in ethnobotany, the uses of wild plants in the form of edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses, with a direct focus on wild crafted fibers. I see these skills as old as we as people are, and still here today, although not always visible in our culture. It has been an opportunity to teach others these skills, and I remain passionate about facilitating student's relationships to the natural world, and their own learning processes.
I grew up in central Vermont in a rural neighborhood. My house was bordered by a wetland, to the South, mixed forest to the East and West, and old fields and mountains to the North. These were the places where I sought adventure, understanding, and peace. These were the places that taught me that I was a part of something old and huge and beautiful.
I practice and teach primitive skills for many reasons, but two stand out. The first is to connect to my human ancestors and thus get closer to what it feels like to be Homo sapiens. I think the modern human experience of life is causing us to lose perspective on what a Homo sapiens really is. I don’t claim to know how humans are ‘supposed to’ live, however when I practice the ancient skills I feel more a part of the biotic community as a participant, rather than as an isolated observer. And despite how I might feel, my rational mind reminds me that we have been living as civilized Homo sapiens for only about 5% of the time that we have been walking the earth as anatomically modern humans. The first 190,000+ years of our species must count for something.
The second reason is to prepare for a future that is much less harmonious than the present in our Western Civilization. This part of my draw for the pursuit of survival skills and ancient technology comes from a profound understanding of how the systems of the world are changing drastically. From an early age I have always seen how ephemeral our civilization’s status quo is. Observation of nature taught me that no resource is infinite and no civilization is immortal, especially those that are in denial of these facts.
Therefore I feel confirmation that I am still on a path that is right for me. Perhaps if enough of us reconnected with our ancestral humanity we would behave as if life on earth is worth protecting again. In that scenario our survival skills would just be for fun.
I have been teaching people primitive skills since 2000 and have been titled as Outdoor Living Skills Instructor, Environmental Educator, After School Program Coordinator, Trip Leader, Senior Backcountry Instructor, Volunteer, Intern, Guest Instructor, Lead Mentor, and perhaps other things. In addition to these titles, throughout my teaching career I have continued to be a student. In the process of sharing a skill with others I inevitably learn more as well.
I love the entire spectrum of Stone Age skills and technology; however there are certain areas that I have invested more time into than others. Nature observation through drawing is the one skill that I can safely say I have been practicing for as long as I can remember. Wilderness survival, tracking and awareness, basketry and hide tanning are all skills that I foresee a lifelong relationship with, as the standards for excellence in which I strive for only increase with the years.
As Long as I can remember I have been devoted to maintaining a personal relationship with the natural world and have sought as many ways to interact directly with my environment as I could find. As a youth growing up in the D.C. metro area this meant finding overgrown and unused forest stands, following animal trails into areas unknown to most people and spending days moving across the landscape unseen; these were my introduction to survival as a life practice. It was my love for interacting with life in its natural state that lead me into an adolescence of seeking for and taking advantage of every moment I could spend in the forest. As an adult this love of a natural lifestyle has driven me to study the flora and fauna of the various places I have lived in order to better interact with the things that I appreciate in the world. Over the last 10 years my passions have lead me to study the practical application of primitive technologies in long term living situations, a study that includes fire production and maintenance, shelter construction, movement and tracking for observation and hunting, stone tool production and use, bow building and archery, animal processing and hide tanning, and camouflage and concealment.
In addition to practicing and teaching survival technologies, I am a professional fitness trainer and owner of Vermont-based North Country Kettle Bells. In working with individuals on functional fitness techniques I am able to continue my focus on the natural living world through the application of fitness to everyday life activity; to me this is a further study of the practical technologies that have brought humankind through generations of sustained existence on this Earth. I work to bring myself and others closer to the life that countless humans have appreciated and have surrounded myself with friends who are striving for the same goals.