An advertising agency in Chicago used to pay Lisa Kivirist one big paycheck. Now, hundreds of people pay her lots of very small ones. All these little paychecks – over a thousand last year – allow Lisa, her husband John and their son to live the life they want: rural, sustainable and meaningful.
People write Lisa little checks for a few farmstand vegetables, or for a copy of one of the books she’s co-authored with her husband, or for a weekend away at the rural, award-winning “carbon negative” Wisconsin inn her family operates.
At the end of the year, her utility company writes her a check for all the solar and wind energy she’s generated on-site and fed back to the grid.
It’s a frugal life – Lisa says her family income is below federal poverty level – but it’s a rich life. It’s rich in time with those closest to her, and in community. Much of the food she eats and serves to her Inn Serendipity guests is grown on her own five acre organic farm – and it’s the kind of food you only get to eat when you grow it and preserve it yourself.
Lisa combines the proud heritage of practical Midwestern frugality with a deep passion for environmental and entrepreneurial stewardship. She is active in promoting female farmers and what she calls “ecopreneurialism” – finding creative ways to make a living while honoring her “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profit.
I was so inspired by the two workshops Lisa led at the Mother Earth News Fair I recently attended that I stalked her at the handwashing sinks of the ladies restroom (true story-and yeah, maybe a little weird but I had to meet this woman!) to ask her how she became an Ecopreneur, and how other people looking to build a more sustainable life for themselves on their own terms could make it happen.
Here’s what I learned.
Rethink Your Life Equation: Where Do You Really Want To Be?
In her early 20s, Lisa and John found themselves living in the city, paying city-rent prices, putting in hours at the office to pay for long-weekend “get-aways” in rural Wisconsin. These weekends in the country became so frequent that they asked themselves if they could swap their definition of “away.”
Could they live in the rural communities that spoke to them and think of a periodic weekend in the city, eating ethnic food and taking in fast-paced urban amenities, as the vacation instead of the daily life?
Lisa and John rolled the dice, and decided to build their life in the country. They were willing to give up short term comforts to make that happen, and continue to be willing to prioritize the essentials daily.
To make their dream of rural acreage a reality, Lisa and her husband focused on reducing expenses, paying off debt and saving to buy the land that would become their 5 acre farm.
1,000 Little Paychecks: Stitching Together An Income Quilt
Lisa’s long-term goal was to generate income on farm but not necessarily solely from farming. This concept, of making your living in your place without becoming a full-time, full-scale farmer, is something that appeals deeply to me, and to many other people I suspect. To do this, they built multiple income streams, selling goods and services and education in small bites to hundreds of people.
Slowly they built a sustaining, diversified income of what Lisa calls her “thousand little paychecks.” Now, sixteen years later, the dozens of ventures and projects – bed and breakfast, speaking, books, farmstand produce and more – have patching into a financial quilt that provides Lisa and her family with as much as they need while allowing them to live a life they feel proud of.
Recapturing Money, Recapturing Energy
In order to ensure their income quilt cover their expenses, Lisa continues to focus on getting the details right when it comes to expenses.
She is thoughtful about the details of frugality. In one of Lisa’s Mother Earth News Fair presentations, she laid out two scenarios for cooking a meal with some frozen, blanched spinach taken from the freezer.
In both scenarios, money and energy have been expended to grow or buy the spinach, package it, freeze it and keep it frozen.
In the first scenario, the meal (say, Spinach and Feta Spanakopita) is planned in advance and the spinach is pulled from the freezer and thawed slowly in the refrigerator, over several days. In this way, the cold contained within the frozen item is released into the refrigerator, helping to cool other things in the fridge. The spinach thaws, and everything else stays cool with less work from the refrigerator. The money and energy used to freeze the spinach is partially recaptured with only a small amount of planning.
In the second scenario, the spinach is pulled from the freezer 15 minutes or so before dinner. Because it is frozen solid, the dinner-maker pops it in the microwave to defrost it. Now, not only has the potential cooling savings of the frozen spinach been lost, but yet more energy and money have to be poured into thawing it.
It’s The Little Things…
As simple and obvious as the spinach-thawing example is, it was a total light-bulb moment for me. No big changes are required to pull this off: no switching to an all-plant diet or only buying packaged food on double coupon days. All that’s required is paying a giving a bit more attention and a bit more care to the ways you do what you already do. I love that. That’s how we all make changes that last anyway.
Heeding to the details of conservation and frugality (frugality is nothing more than conservation of money, after all) allow Lisa and her family to live the life they want. Thawing spinach slowly in the fridge is just one small way she recaptures money and energy. Investing in on-site, grid-tied solar and wind energy solutions that pay her back is another, slightly larger example of the same concept.
By not scorning those little slips of income, and by paying attention to little details of frugality, Lisa and her family have pieced together a sustainable economic quilt that makes a lower-impact, lower-income lifestyle possible, pleasant and inspirational.
Yes But How Do I Do It? The Build The Life You Really Want Three Book Giveaway
Lisa and John have written several books dedicated to helping people make the same transition they made in moving to a more thoughtful, sustainable lifestyle. I am thrilled to offer a giveaway here of their three most recent, sponsored by New Society Publishers, the publishing house for all three.
The winner of this giveaway will receive one copy of each of the following:
Farmstead Chef - This is a homegrown, handmade cookbook for people who eat and cook like they mean it. The food isn’t flashy, but it is impressive. Seasonal and solution-oriented (zucchini glut anyone?), these recipes are made for those with a garden or a farmers market addiction. Interwoven amongst the food is the philosophy of thoughtful eating and mindful consumption, but without a lick of preachiness.
Rural Renaissance - The more detailed story of how Lisa and John traded cubical jockying for farm freedom, Rural Renaissance is part philosophical blueprint for a lighter lifestyle and part how to manual to lower your impact and your bills.
Ecopreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits - Details the how’s and why’s of running a sustainable business. Lisa and John talk about honoring the three “Ps”- people, planet and profit, and make the case that you can live your values while still making a living.
To enter to win all three books leave a comment below telling me what your dream “on farm” job would be. If just generating income weren’t an issue, what work would you find fulfilling that would allow you to work from a low-impact home base?
Contest closes 8 pm Friday August 10 (You have two weeks guys, spread the word!) and is open to residents in the U.S. and Canada. Winner will be contacted by email by Monday August 13th. Only one entry per person will be counted. Good luck!
Update: Contest now closed. Winner will be notified by email. Thank you for entering.