It’s one thing to say that I want to build a generational home, a family that will develop its own existence beyond my lifetime.
It’s another thing to make it happen.
To Build Anything, You Need a Foundation
Social and economic pressures in the US are actually working against family as a lasting social structure. That’s something most of those folks decrying the ‘death’ of the nuclear family aren’t getting. This isn’t some moral failing or rejection of good-old-family values. It’s a rational response to the world we live in.
Nothing has a stronger impact on culture than economics. Even religion must bow to the basic necessity of putting food on the table.
But that, ironically, also explains how some families have managed to maintain coherence across generations.
I used to wonder how you could have business or farms that had been held by one family for decades or even centuries. It was only when I learned about the impact of economics on culture that I began to understand. A successful family business protects the family unit from economic disruption. After all, if Dad has a company you’ve been trained to take over, whether it’s a corner store or a Fortune 500 company, you don’t need to move across the country to find a job.
A family business provides a foundation for a family to last through the generations.
We Don’t Have One — Yet
For our family that will be the farm. If we are successful with it, then our heirs will have at least two cushions against economic disruption:
1) They will have land that they own. That means a home, shelter, a place to live. As long as they can keep the tax payments up they will always have a place to live. (Admittedly, tax payments have driven many people out of their family homes. But fewer people than rent or mortgage!)
2) If they keep the farm going (which will, of course, be out of my hands once we pass it on to said heirs), they will always have food to put on the table.
Those are powerful things to pass on to those who come after us.
We Aren’t a Traditional Family
Two major differences we have from a traditional family business come from our basis in polyamory. First, and most, this is a group enterprise. Second is our nature as a chosen family. While these bring challenges, probably including challenges we haven’t yet recognized, they also reduce challenges faced by traditional family businesses.
I’m still working through a lot of it. And I’m mostly working it through on my own. I do need to talk all this through with the rest of the family, but, hell, we are years away from getting the farm and none of us have the energy to spare right now. I happen to be one of those folks who obsessively plans for all possible futures. Partly a level of anxiety/paranoia. Partly because as an autistic person, the more I plan and prepare for the future, the less the changes the future brings fuck with my head.
Tradition and Freedom
That said, a big advantage this household will have is that as a group, there isn’t pressure for any individual to take up the family business. Only two or three people in each generation are needed to keep the farm going. Other members of the family who don’t want to take up the farm will be able to pursue their own life goals and bring in money from other careers. Basically, it’s kind of best-of-both-worlds. The food security of a family farm and the economic security of literally anything other than farming. Because, yeah, the economic prospects of farming in the modern world suck. Trust me, we’re not going into this blind.
Communal Isn’t a Bad Word
The most economically successful small-farming approach historically has been communal farms where a whole village works together. Why: simple. Farming is labor-intensive, and economies of scale apply to labor too. 10 people working together on 10 acres can do more than 10 people each working 1 acres. And our household being a family group means that extra labor will be available for labor-intensive work. Sure, no one wants to put an hour or two into harvesting before or after working an 8 hour day at the construction site or office. But for family (and food over the winter) people will do that kind of thing. And having those extra hands available makes a big difference. (In theory. I think. Yes, I’m making this up as I go along.)
Economy Over All
So, yeah. This probably isn’t what folks were expecting out of this post, but this is reality. The foundation of any human endeavor is economic. Which is another way of saying how will this be maintained. Either money, labor, or both are required to build anything lasting. And not paid once, but continuously. For social constructs (which is what any family is), the critical maintenance is food on the table and a roof to shelter under. This is true whether that food is scavenged from dumpsters or served on gold plates. Whether the roof is a cardboard box or a palace. If the food and shelter aren’t there or aren’t adequate, people who can will leave to find them.
I don’t need the gold plates or palace. But so long as I have any say in the matter, I’ll be damned if any of my family is food insecure or homeless again.