Rich Beyond Belief

As our income continues to drop since the economic collapse of 2008 we’ve learned to be more discerning about whom we compare ourselves to. It seems as though most people look at the people who have more than them. They look at the millionaires, the Hollywood stars or even the folks who live in the wealthy part of town. We prefer to think of those at the other end of the wealth spectrum. We learned to do this a long time ago, but it seems more important than ever now. We compare ourselves to people who have less, and on this planet, that is the majority of our fellow earthlings.

I’ve learned to savour the little things that give life so much pleasure. The free stuff! The awesome personal sports complex that I have right now, courtesy of my frozen pond. The infinite, no-carbon, renewable, regenerative heating source contained within our 150 acres. The dead trees are just waiting for us to come out and get them. My Dad gives me his “The Economist” magazines and “The Guardian” papers when he’s done with them. There is endless reading in them. We periodically add to our library but only titles from thrift stores that sell books for $2 or less. One of the thrift shops has gone corporate and charges $5 for a hardcover. No thanks.

I have particularly come to love our breakfasts. Breakfast has always been one of my favorite meals of the day, ranking right up there with lunch and dinner, and afternoon and evening snacks, but lately it’s moved up to number one on my all time favorite hit list of meals. And from a self-sufficiency point of view, we aim to produce as much of our breakfast items ourselves. We grow awesome potatoes and eat them in many forms with breakfast; grated and fried like potato rosti at those high-end restaurants, mashed and cooked with sweat potatoes (Editor’s Note: obviously Cam meant “sweet” potatoes but with the amount of “sweat equity” that goes into growing them, I think this is an appropriate typo!) and butter on the wood stove, or I like to bake some potatoes in the woodstove (zero-carbon cooking) and then cut them up and fry them with our onions for breakfast on the woodstove.

Our twelve feathered friends in our chicken coop provide us with awesome eggs. These eggs were a big part of the fuel inputs in producing food for our CSA … they were quickly converted to people energy in the garden. We have grown wheat in the past (read about it here) but right now we buy flour for our bread. Michelle makes a totally awesome 4-hour No Knead bread that I could (and do) eat every day.

There are two main components of our breakfast that I do not produce myself. One is salt. I have low blood pressure and so I refuse to be intimidated with all those warnings about the stuff, so I load up on it. It pours right back out of me while I am cutting firewood or growing food so I have long since stopped worrying about salt. If I wanted to source it really locally I could follow the snowplow after it’s gone down the road and scoop it up in one of those places where a bunch of it has tumbled out of the salt spreader in a pile. I’m not there yet. Salt is still pretty cheap in the store.

But the biggie, my Achilles heel of breakfast food independence is coffee. We have one cup of coffee a day, and I love it. It comes from far away. It is probably off the charts on the environmental “no-no” list but I will remain committed to saving the planet in many ways while continuing to indulge in this one human extravagance.

What amazes me is that I can afford this indulgence. It is grown in far off exotic places. It is picked and roasted and packaged and shipped great distances. And after all those inputs of human energy and fossil fuel energy, I can still afford to drink a cup a day. This is the stuff of kings and queens and the aristocracy. Lowly farmers and laborers should not be able to afford such a luxury, but I can. And I feel infinitely rich when I drink it. Such decadence!

When our daughter worked at Starbucks she introduced us to, and got us hooked, on a nice organic fair-trade blend, but they rejigged and re-named some of their products a while back and we were left trying to find an alternative. We eventually settled on the President’s Choice Gourmet Blend. It makes awesome coffee. It’s very strong and rich and wonderful, although I’m sure it helps that Michelle puts about 10 scoops into our Melitta manual drip coffee pot for our two cups of coffee. (Editors Note: Cam has a tendency to exaggerate his descriptions).

The 930 ml can sells right now for about $9, so we end up getting twice as much coffee for half the price, as our previous favourite. We used to buy the whole beans but Jasper has Super Dog hearing and he barks like crazy whenever we use the coffee grinder so we’re just as happy to buy it pre-ground. He could be 500 yards from the house, chasing a squirrel under a woodpile and as soon as we start up the coffee grinder he runs to the back door and starts barking like Cujo.

The whole beans came in a bag that is questionable in terms of recycling. It looks shiny like aluminum, even though I think it is just plastic. But look at this photo! Look at this incredible bonus for buying coffee! Way better than the prizes in sugared cereal, just look at this can! It’s unbelievably great! Soooo many uses! Do you know how many things I find to use this for this? Storing wheat, sorting tools and plumbing parts, saving seeds from the garden over the winter … the wonders never cease!


How is it possible that our society can produce a can with a plastic lid like this that is basically a throw away? Sure I can recycle it, but in many places it would be just tossed in the trash. All the energy to make the steel, all the fossil fuels to make the plastic lid. How is this possible? Why doesn’t this can of coffee cost $75? It should but it doesn’t. It’s $9 and I can afford it and I wonder at the miracle of it all.

Yes, I know, this is not fair trade coffee. It’s not organic. I should be kicked off the environmental team, but it’s a great cup of coffee and at my level of income I cannot always purchase the most sustainable choices. Just living on the planet I have an impact. This is my indulgence. I haven’t flown in 20+ years and I will never get on a jet again, but I will drink one cup of coffee every morning. I truly appreciate the efforts of my fellow farmers in warm climates who provide me with this extravagance.

And I will marvel at the luxury of it. That I can afford such an indulgence. A decadence available only to royalty and the superrich at one time. “I’m rich I tell ya, rich! Beyond my wildest dreams!”

Sorry to rant about such inane things as a coffee can, but living off the grid and producing all my own energy has taught me to appreciate all the little luxuries in life… flipping a switch and having a room filled with light, turning a tap and having drinking water come out of a tap, flushing a toilet and having waste disposed of safely. Life seems pretty darn miraculous to me most of the time. And my morning cup of coffee is no exception. In the words of Michael J. Fox, “I am a lucky man.”

* * * * * * *

Wishing you all a holiday season filled with the joy and wonder of all of the little things that make life so wonderful!

8 Responses to “Rich Beyond Belief”

  • Quinte Spirit:

    Merry Christmas Cam and Michelle !
    Your Christmas blog really hits the mark with me.
    I read your blog with great interest as I sip a single malt scotch (Xmas present from my daughters) and as Kathy prepares the Christmas turkey and duck. The hard work of my wife is my greatest appreciation !
    I really appreciate a coffee too and many of nature’s gifts, like the skating pond you describe.
    See you in the new year !

  • Ed:

    Merry Christmas to you and your family! I was wondering if Michelle could give us the recipe for the 4 hour no knead bread that was mentioned?

    Thanks for all you do!

  • Cate:

    Thank you, Cam, for your great insight on what some people call “the little things in life”! Your attitude is one with mine, and I find it sad to see so many other earthlings not understanding the words “appreciation” and “gratitude”. If only more people were cognizant of such words and set them into motion, just think what a wonderful world we’d have. I wish you and Michelle and your family a most wonderful Christmas; and I know you will have a healthy, prosperous New Year. God Bless us everyone!

  • Neil:

    When it comes to the carbon footprint of coffee, or other minor indulgences, I dare say you both have earned carbon offset by virute of all you do liivng an off-grid, sustainable lifestyle. However [RANT MODE: ON] the social footprint of buying non-fair-trade coffee is awful, even moreso if through a major retailer… if they’re selling 2 pounds for $9, how much is the farmer getting and how is that affecting the social fabric of the region it comes from? Do you trust PC to have any interests beyond their bottom line? Sustainability has three pillars (environmental, social, economic) so, as a long-time coffee conaisseur, I think (and feel) it has been worth it to pay more for organic, bird-friendly, fair-trade–and locally-roasted–coffee because it is more sustainable in the wholistic sense of the word. Isn’t that the same reasoning behind why people should buy *organic* produce?!? [RANT MODE: OFF] Sorry to be a downer on Christmas Eve… a pound of good karma coffee will be on its way to you shortly–Merry Christmas 🙂

  • Mark M:


    Thanks for the great post. My dad has coffee cans in the basement from his dad. In the 80’s my dad bought pipe tobacco in cans, so they have a large collection in their basement.

    Reduce, re-use, and recycle!

    Happy Holidays!

    Thanks, Mark

  • Gerrit:

    Great stuff! Happy Festivus to Cam and Michelle from Antoinette and I.

    PS: I’ve subscribed to Ben Hewitt’s website. Thanks Michelle, it looks great.

  • Here!Here! Merry Christmas Cam and Michelle!
    Lots of Love
    Jerry and Ellen

  • Michelle:

    I love people with attitudes such as yours. I share your perspective and I find optimistic people and grateful people are the happiest people. This blog is very much like another blog I read. If you haven’t read I suggest you do. You and Ben seem like you would be the best of friends. Happy holidays.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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