Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Choosing a Car (and farming)



It looks like our temporary car is going to turn into a permanent car.  It's an oddly tough choice to make.  For most Americans, having a car is the default status, and they can't imagine life without it.  But for two years, we've very much enjoyed not having a car.  I've especially enjoyed the additional exercise, reduced guilt about green house gas emissions, getting to know the streets and city in a different way.  I liked being used less as a chauffeur by my children, and the added resourcefulness and thoughtfulness that was required in how we approached getting around.  The challenge of it was fun.  It was a good conversation starter at parties or out and about.  I loved saving hundred of dollars every month and no longer having to worry about gas in the tank or oil changes or expensive repairs at the auto shop.  I learned how to maintain my own bike, which was fun and rewarding.

So why keep the car?

It's my fault.  Tracy and the kids could continue on without it.  Tracy gets to work fine by bike or T, the kids can walk/bike/scooter to school.  Grocery shopping is easier by bike than car much of the time.  We have zipcar.

But I want to farm.  This fall I'll be taking a Farm Business Planning class, through the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project in Lowell (run by Tufts), which is about 40 miles from here.  In the spring, I hope to be part of their Training Farm Program, farming a small parcel of land, growing vegetables for sale.  I've been able to pull of tending our three different gardens near home with just a bicycle, but I don't think I can manage the commute to the Lowell classes, workshops, and field time just with the commuter rail and bike (I'd thought about it).  And I will need to use a car or truck to haul the harvest to wherever it needs to go.  I could potentially try to find farm land within Boston, in biking distance, but the NESFP training program seems like exactly what I need.  (And land in Boston is pretty tough to find in 1/2 acre or larger plots for farming.)

So, in the end, I'm deciding to choose farming over not having a car.

Our goal will still be to use the car as little as possible.  I'll still grocery shop by bike, the kids will still get to school without a car, Tracy will keep cycling to work.  I'm realistic enough to recognize that we'll end up using the car more than I'd like for casual trips, for convenience.  Kira has field hockey this fall, and we'll be in a carpool for that. 

I'm looking for a parking spot right now.  If it's not too close to home, maybe 1/4 mile, that'll help keep casual errand running down to a minimum.

I think the key factors for getting along well in America without a car are these:
  • Living close to work (less than 5 miles, or very strong public transit options)
  • Living close to schools (1 mile)
  • Living close to shopping (up to 2 miles)
  • Access to public transportation (less than 1 mile)
  • Access to Zipcar or rental cars (less than 1 mile)
  • Bikeable streets (not too many multi-lane highways on your routes)
We had all of those factors going for us in Brookline, so living without a car was actually pretty simple.  It's only my adding a workplace that's 40 miles away and the need to haul cargo for work, that's making us go back.

All of which means I'll be writing a lot less in this blog.  I'll still post stories about other folks living without cars and making choices to walk and bike and take public transportation, rather than own cars, but I'll be posting much less (I'll be busy learning how to farm).  If you do have your own stories of car-free life, I do hope you'll share them here, or send me links about other people who are making it happen.

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