Friday, March 9, 2012

Location, location, vocation

In some ways I knew what I was doing when I accepted a job here in Lancaster twenty years ago.  Back then, I was a newly divorced mom hoping to be able to buy a home on my own.  This small city, in the middle of lots of farmland, seemed affordable.  Sure enough, a year after I moved here, I bought a nice little house in a quiet neighborhood, and my daughter and I moved on in.

But in other ways, I had no idea what luck I was stumbling into.  Lancaster County boasts some of most fertile non-irrigated soil in the country.  This region is part of the reason our young country could win the Revolutionary War: it produced enough food to feed our soldiers.  And although cities and outlet malls have taken over large parts of that farmland over the past 250 years, the continued presence of the Amish keeps some of the worst encroachment in check.  As a result, I'm surrounded by farmer's markets, roadside stands, CSAs, pick-your-own orchards, and backyard gardeners.  When I moved here, I was a grocery store groupie.  I did not know the agricultural riches I was getting into.  But as I've learned more and more about the advantages of local produce, it's been almost embarrassingly easy for me to make the switch (and to do it relatively cheaply).  If I'd been in Arizona, say, or even in my dad's suburb in Maryland, I wouldn't have known where to turn.

I lucked out in other ways as well.  When I remarried fifteen years ago, my husband and I bought a home two blocks away from my office.  Also, half a mile from my kids' school.  Also, within a mile of our eventual church.  Also, less than two miles from the center of town.  I'm not sure what our family spent on groceries last year, but I know to a penny what I spent on gas:  $487.82.  I drove 7666 miles last year, about one third of which was for reimbursed business trips.  (Yes, I have a 2001 Prius and I hardly ever drive it.  Less than 80,000 miles on it.  True).

It would be nice to pretend that I planned all this.  The truth is, even though I was taking a job as a mathematics professor, I was pretty young and stupid about personal finance.  We all make seat-of-the-pants decisions as young adults that have huge impacts on the rest of our financial life -- mine could have been been a lot worse.

Many people have told me how much more expensive organic food is than grocery store fare, or how expensive farmer's markets are.  I'm guessing that's has not been true for me, but it's not because I'm particularly clever.  As I slowly do the reveal on our food spending, (if I'm actually right about my spending, that is), then I can point to some pure dumb luck that a clueless PhD student made two decades ago.  

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