Back to the Land Without Health Care

On Tuesday, Olga interviewed Mark Schneider and Val Phillips, resident stewards of Shii Koeii community farm, and a reader asked them about how they manage to live without health care, and what their plans for retirement are. I didn’t want their responses buried in the comments section, so I’m posting it here.

Mark: We joke that our health insurance is kale, but truly that’s not far off. For emergency care, we are covered, for now, with state indigent care — it’s not great, but if we broke our leg, we’re not going to break the bank. Beyond living healthy lives of exercise, physical work and nutritious and delicious food we also have friends who are naturopaths who are willing to treat us at deep discounts or trade and barter. In the five years I’ve been here I’ve never been physically sick. I’ve been fatigued and worn down, but then I’ll get more rest and eat lots of vegetables! When I lived in the city I could count on getting sick at least once a year and had respiratory problems because of the smog (and I walked and bicycled everywhere).

The above is a mechanical response. Another perspective is to look at the vast majority of the world’s population and see that they don’t have access to western health care. Western health care is predicated on a classist privileged ideology. Like the rest of capitalism, how do you feel with your health care privilege that does come at the expense of others? And we all know health insurance companies, lawyers and doctors exploit all of us to earn scandalous profits. Beyond dollars, the drugging of our population as health care is but a precarious bandaid on a deeper problem.

So we choose to be in solidarity with the oppressed (your questioner called ‘destitute’). We choose not to exploit others for profit.

I don’t plan on retiring like people have been colonized to believe in. I refuse to work a soul-less job most of my life for primarily rich white men and then ‘retire’ with all of the assorted drugs and addictions of our culture. If I get sick or disabled later in life I put my faith in our relations here to take care of me. That’s the least we should be doing for our elders.

Val: This is a very thoughtful question, and one we get asked a lot.

Because we primarily eat what we produce on the farm, we have considerably more fresh organic vegetables in our diet than most Americans. On the rare occasion I visit a doctor I’m always asked if I eat at least 5 servings of vegetables a day. In the winter I do, but in the warm season my answer is “more like 11.”

We do a lot of very physical labor, far more than most people, every day in the warm season. As a result, even though I am overweight (because I LOVE food) and in my mid-40s, my numbers for everything heart-related are astoundingly good. Mark works harder than I do, and Mark’s numbers are better. Mark is genetically and temperamentally prone to high blood pressure, and while that was a problem when we lived and worked in the city, it’s simply not a problem for him living and working on the land.

We get a lot of sunshine and fresh air, we aren’t exposed to toxic chemicals, cell tower radio waves, and the near-constant electrical bombardment of most cities and suburbs. So you see, in a very real way, our lifeway is our health insurance.

When we need health care, we turn primarily to traditional and simple recipes: if we’re exhausted, stressed out, anxious, cranky or depressed, we’ve finally figured out that the best medicine is rest. Balance. R & R. We can’t always manage this, but we’re getting better at it. As for colds, flus, etc., this may be hard to believe but we simply don’t get them. We’re not exposed to many germs because we live in a large county of 6000 people, and we have extremely strong immune systems because of our lifeway. We know something of herbs and homeopathic remedies and use them. We are blessed with good friends who are naturopathic doctors who offer advice and support.

We are also blessed to live in a country and a county which still provides at least some options for the poor. We are not entirely independent of government aid. We are both eligible for our state’s indigent health care program, and participate primarily to protect us in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident. Our county provides free gynecological exams and mammograms annually for women.

In the case of our having a community member who is disabled or has chronic health conditions, most likely we would have to earn or raise enough cash to provide that person with health insurance, or else find doctors and pharmacists willing to barter.

With regard to aging, retirement, and the possibility of our own illness or desire not to do this work anymore, first note that most farmers—healthy ones anyway—continue farming well into their 80s, again, because it’s a healthy lifestyle. Also, hunting, fishing, gardening, spending time in nature, and mentoring young people are the kinds of activities retirees look forward to, so one might say that, in a way, we’re already retired (though the 14 hour days of summer would suggest otherwise ;-).

But the primary answer to your question really lies in community. We didn’t set out to do this alone. We set out to create an intentional community, and are still working to grow that community. We had the brief privilege of sufficient capital to buy the land but we did nothing to earn that and so we don’t feel it belonged to us. We consider property theft (in this hemisphere specifically the theft of Native nations’ lands), we don’t believe in private land ownership and we believe everyone has a right to a home. This land and lifeways was meant to be shared, to provide a home and livelihood for others in addition to us. We believe that younger people will be drawn to this lifeway—many such as Olga already have been, at least in the short-term–and will choose to live here longterm in community with us. Really, it’s a good deal for young people if you think about it—the land and infrastructure are paid for, and the work and resources are all shared. This was always meant to be a multi-generational project, something which survives us. What we build is literally meant for future generations to enjoy.

Precarity is real, whether you live on the land or in the city, whether you farm or work for Bear Stearns or teach in a public school. It’s the price we pay for being alive. But we don’t want precarity. We want to control everything from the temperature of the air around us to when we finally show signs of aging. This is living at war with reality, and it isn’t sustainable. The capitalist system, including health insurance, social security, and retirement are all extremely precarious, yet advertise themselves as almost invincible bulwarks against precarity. After the economic fall of 2008, when many people lost their retirement savings and/or their homes, and the increasingly skittish nature of numerous markets one would think people would stop putting such faith in this system. I think they continue to do so because they don’t think they have any other options. We exist to say otherwise.

From our perspective, it’s really just a matter of where you place your faith, and which sort of precarity you choose: the precarity of real relationships and life lived in balance with the natural world, or the precarity of a dependence on banks, a government which prioritizes war over people, and anonymous corporations which neither know nor care about you. Our life on the land is not perfect nor without its compromises, but each day we find new ways to choose the former.



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