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Published January 07, 2010, 04:59 PM

Eddy Gilmore: A harvest of a different sort

What special skills do your neighbors possess?

By: Eddy Gilmore, Budgeteer News

Being rather lean on ideas this week, I asked my 4-year-old daughter what I should write about. Without skipping a beat she replied: “Chickens, and us, and hay.” Then her side kick, Polar Bear, chimed in that I should draw pictures on the back of the column along with jokes about reindeer.

Here’s my best effort to meet this tall order:

These bitterly cold days provide daily challenges for the chickens and our family (though the line between chicken and family is often blurred). I typically wait until well after 10 a.m., when the sun is high enough to shine directly on their coop and run, to let them out of their small dwelling.

Henrietta and Bernice are typically the first to trundle down the ramp to explore mounds of beautiful nutrient-filled hay and peck scratch that I’ve broadcasted liberally throughout their stomping grounds. The hay, like many of us, is beautiful on the inside, but rather moldy on the outside of the bale since I picked it up free along the road after someone’s Halloween display was dismantled.

I have four full bales; this is the key to getting a flock of hens through the winter in Duluth. It’s imperative for their health and sanity to get them outside in the fresh air, and warm hay with its treasures is the only way I know to keep them thriving this time of year.

In return they bless us with about five eggs per day, and the visual pleasure of seeing busy multi-colored chickens out pecking and scratching among the dried green grasses of this past summer’s harvest. What a nice break in the day it is to check on them. Since I work from home, I’m able to attend to their needs during breaks and lunch.

This brings me to my long-held dream of the entire family being involved in an economic activity run out of our home — as in the old days. We’ve started a small little business for the kids, Coop d’Etat’s Best, so they can learn about money by selling a few eggs to friends and neighbors. Hopefully through this we can impart traditional values such as hard work, thrift, saving and being generous through giving. It’s critical that these lessons be started in the early years.

(Shameless plug: My wife has also been cultivating her talent for visual art, and has her first solo show since college at the Duluth Teachers Credit Union up in Kenwood currently. Her moderately priced work will be on display there till the end of February.)

Another source of “hay” for our family is to engage in what I call harvesting the talents of our neighbors: There are some seriously talented people in our neighborhood, and there are in yours as well. To name a few, we have a biologist who will soon break out her fancy microscope so we may see the creepy crawlies that reside in the compost of my worm bin. There’s also a carpenter (who’s an even better stay-at-home dad) who was on the crew that built the “Extreme Makeover” home; someone who’s a leader in the local arts community; and a woman who can regale you with wacky stories of her life in Duluth and on a commune (among other things). You also can’t forget the senior solid waste operator, retired railroader, forestry expert, fish hatchery guy, more teachers than you can shake a stick at — and even a former Olympic skier.

I find these folks are passionate about their skills and hobbies, and are eager to share them with others. My life is increasingly enriched as I harvest their talents, knowledge and life experience for my own enjoyment. I’m the guy who’s been stuck in the basement all day who is eager to rub shoulders with others at the end of the day, and find myself door knocking. I suppose it’s out of a desire to restore the old village concept when there was a broad diversity of skills in the community out of necessity, and also a recapturing of the old art of “visiting.” I’m probably a pest from time to time, but you’ve just got to be proactive against the shut-in mentality that is so prevalent when we’re at a mere nine hours or so of light per day.

Oh, and, lest I forget ... why did Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer cross the road? Because he was tied to a chicken!

Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. Contact him at