Rory Groves is the author of the book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time. He lives in Minnesota.
Q: What inspired you to write Durable Trades?
A: I'm a computer programmer by training, which means everything I create goes obsolete in a couple of years (or months!).
On our farm I witness real things, tangible things, happening all around me: lambs being born, seeds sprouting, sap dripping from trees which we boil down into maple syrup, harvests from our garden lasting through the winter.
I began to question if maybe the land and professions connected to it held more promise in the long run than cubicles and keyboards.
As our family grew, I also felt the pull to be more involved in my kids’ lives, to not have to always leave the family to go to work.
I was inspired by the concept of the “family economy”—an integrated way to live and work that unified families around a common purpose rather than everybody separating into a different factory. I knew of examples of family businesses that had lasted for several generations.
And so I wanted to find out if there were any options left for people like me, who wanted to build something that would last and do it together as a family.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?
A: The most disruptive event in human history, when it comes to work and family life, was the Industrial Revolution. So I decided to research which professions had been around before the Industrial Revolution, beginning in 1790, and are still thriving today.
I developed a scoring system based on criteria like historical stability, family-centeredness, and income, so I could rank each trade against each other to discover what were the most durable and most family-centered professions.
One of the most surprising discoveries was how modern, industrial economies negatively impacted family relationships.
With the Industrial Revolution, efficiency became our highest virtue, and generational stability collapsed. The factory replaced the family as the primary means of sustenance. As a result, opportunities for apprenticeship, mentorship, and cross-generational continuity of faith and culture disappeared.
But we can recover what was lost if we prioritize family and community ahead of modest gains in efficiency, if we reclaim time together rather than paychecks apart.
Q: How would you define "durable trades”?
A: Durable trades are those which have existed since the founding of our country, at least 230 years, and continue to thrive today.
To be included in this list means the professions will have survived revolutions, world wars, recessions, depressions, hyperinflation, inventions, social upheaval and supply-chain disruptions.
They also have a greater focus on the family as proprietors rather than being organized around corporate or government structures.
Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to family-centered economies?
A: 2020 has pulled back the curtain on the frailty of long global supply chains and distant manufacturing plants. Just-in-time manufacturing is highly efficient but incredibly vulnerable to shocks and disruptions.
I think we will see a reversion to domestic manufacturing as a way to build more resiliency into the supply chain. But that can take years, even decades to accomplish.
Most likely, it will be individual families who create their own resiliency by developing skills catering core human needs, and who provide more of what they need themselves rather than relying on fragile external systems. These are the families that will survive and thrive in the years to come.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I still work part-time as a technology consultant, but we spend most of our time on our small farm in southern Minnesota, trying to grow as much of own our food as possible.
On a typical day we will milk goats, collect eggs, move sheep to pasture, mend fences (always mending fences) and plant or weed in the garden. We have five children, ages 10 to 1, and they are wonderful helpers, taking on more responsibilities as they get older.
We publish a quarterly newsletter about our experiences and to encourage other families who are forging a different path like us. We also host homesteading workshops and other gatherings on our farm throughout the year.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: This book started as a research project for our own family, but I realized it might benefit other families who are looking for another way forward.
Family-centered trades are not only the most durable throughout history; they are also the ideal context by which parents can pass their values, faith, and culture on to the next generation.
My hope is that this book inspires readers in some way to begin building a lasting inheritance for their families.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb