I actually met Marie in 2015, during my cancer-fun. She was part of the crew who brought my family free meals during chemo (these are special angels sent direct from God, I promise you). But, by the time I was “better,” the Millers were off to California. I found out they were back because my kids kept talking about how absolutely adorable Annabelle was in the church nursery when they volunteered. Finally, I got wind of their “Saving the Millers” project—and, of course, this warranted a conversation. – Jennifer (my questions and comments are in bold)
Where did you each grow up and how did you both end up here?
Marc was born in Ohio and grew up there. In 2000, his family moved to Wyoming. Marie was born in New York and lived in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and North Carolina. We lived in Wyoming for 2 years before moving to Flagstaff, where Marc finished his engineering degree. After graduation, we moved to Phoenix.
What do you each do as a job?
Marc works as a Boiler & Machinery Engineering Consultant for the property insurance industry, and Marie has the full-time job of caring for our two children and our little farm.
Why are you at Roosevelt?
Initially, we came to Roosevelt in 2012 because we wanted to become part of the foster care initiative. We fostered seven children from 2014-2016. Roosevelt is a very good place for children with diverse experiences. We got involved and made many friends at Roosevelt, and have been tremendously blessed to be able to fellowship with this diverse group of like-minded Christians over the years.
How long have you been here?
We lived in Arizona for 7 years before we moved to California for 3 years. We are now back, most likely for good.
How long have you been a Christian?
Marc became a Christian at the age of 11. Marie became a Christian at the age of 13. We both grew up in Christian homes.
What are your hobbies?
That’s a tough one. We like buying homes that need rehabbing. We then spend a year or two repairing and remodeling them. However, we might be tired of moving so much, so our farm has now become a serious hobby that we hope to grow into a business. Marc enjoys woodworking , home-brewing, and crafting useful things; Marie enjoys reading and baking her artisan bread.
Name two things on your bucket list.
We try to live our bucket list. Ok, fine . . . We would like to go back to Spain and walk the entire 800 km Camino de Santiago. We walked 400 km in 2012, and loved it so much we have been trying to get back ever since.
What is your favorite book?
For Marc, it is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. For Marie, it is the Holy Bible.
What is your favorite movie?
Not really sure.
My family recently watched (randomly) The Biggest Little Farm about two California millennials, John and Molly Chester, who undertake a project similar to yours. Have you seen it? Is it fair to say these are similar projects? I kinda want to ask you an oddball question. Generational stuff. Bear with me. As a Gen X person, I want to ask you about the millennial thing. Are you millennials? Is there a millennial aspect to this? (I don’t really know what I’m getting at.) Are you embracing a characteristic of your generation, or is there some element of cultural backlash against Gen X and Boomer failures?
Marc was born on the edge of the arbitrary line that journalists tried to draw between Gen X and Millennials. As such, he chooses to speak out against the folly of both generations while trying to set an example of a better way. In general, the Baby Boomers had a very high skill level in being able to garden, preserve food, care for animals, build things, and maintain their own cars. As Gen X largely moved into electronic media and service jobs, many of these skill have gotten lost, to the point where millennials can hardly use their mirrors to back up a car, much less change the oil. While the millennial generation did not inherit a lot of this knowledge, it does seem like there is a general movement and desire to craft things and be more self-sufficient, rather than relying on giant corporate machines to care for our daily needs.
So we have not seen Biggest Little Farm, but it is fair to say that there are thousands of 20- and 30-somethings across the country who have transitioned into a more self-sufficient lifestyle, many even in very small backyard spaces. We know we’re not alone!
The cultural backlash is a regrettably disrespectful excuse for not taking personal responsibility for our own actions and lack of initiative. Rather than demonizing “old” people who stole something from us, we should be learning what we can from them and looking forward to choose the best path for our generation. Every generation has a unique set of circumstances that shapes the thinking and attitudes of the culture. It is incredibly arrogant and ignorant for a young person today to look at decisions made in the 1960s and say, I would have done better. The more productive way to do it is to learn from our parents and grandparents, and ask them what influences made them choose the things they did. So in many ways, “Saving Miller” is about returning to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle with the lost skills and knowledge of previous generations. By sharing our journey, we hope to inspire and support our peers in doing the same thing.
How long do anticipate doing this? Indefinitely?
Yes, this a lifestyle choice. We do anticipate changes as our skills and knowledge develop. But who knows where this will go?! A bigger farm?
On your website, you mention a “a grueling sojourn in Southern California.” What does this mean?
This was mostly Marc’s experience. Marie had a nice time in SoCal. Marc’s job change took him to an office position in the regional office for the company he works for. We never intended to stay more than several years. Life in SoCal is not the sunny, easy-going, happy lifestyle that many people like to think it is. It is a lot of wasted hours sitting in traffic, hunting for parking spots, living in small and very expensive housing, experiencing crowds and lines of people everywhere, and finding very limited opportunities for the future. It would have been completely impossible for us to move to a little farm there. So it was a mentally and spiritually oppressive situation that looked pretty hopeless. The only way to improve it was to leave! And we are very happy to be back in Arizona.
I can fully appreciate how you’ve qualified your journey by saying that you’re trying to save the Millers—not the world. May I ask you specifics about that? I get your beer-lovin’ trepidations. I’m wondering, in truth, about the secularized element. Is this deliberate? Insignificant? (I’m actually asking—not to be annoying—but out of my own tendencies. As a writer, I chose deliberately to write for secular audiences. Mostly. I’m wondering if this translates into your experience.)
We defined the mission of Saving Miller to provide a wholesome lifestyle for ourselves and our children. However, part of that is involvement within the community we live. So we want our little farm to be a place our friends (mostly Roosevelt) and neighbors can come and enjoy nature and good food with us. As such, it becomes a tool for evangelizing. So we do not intend the media portion of Saving Miller to be an evangelizing tool, but rather a relationship-builder so the evangelizing can develop from the relationship.
I have been somewhat hesitant to share a lot of the beer-making online due to the audience we have developed to date. I don’t think most of them would appreciate it for what it is. However, I have received a number of requests to do more, so we might be adding that in the future. In that, I want to make it about the craft, so people can understand how it supports and fits into the farmstead lifestyle.
Also, I view YouTube/Google and the internet, in general, as a fickle, hostile environment for Christians and families, i.e. kids. For this reason, we try to be very judicious in the details we share. Anything on the internet can and will be used against us in the court of public opinion, potentially even a court of law! So Marc does not have any social media presence other than Saving Miller. Marie has a limited one that is used to communicate with family and friends. Overall, we want to provide wholesome content that can benefit other families, much in the same way that we have enjoyed content from other homesteading families on YouTube.
As you note, it takes a while for trees to grow. This is a long-term thing. What have you learned right now?
Right now, we are preparing for the trees. This is fairly involved as well. To grow productive fruit trees using sustainable methods; we have to have animals (chickens, in this case), and a good source of compost and supporting plant to cover the soil. So, we are learning how best to create compost here in the desert. This involves determining what plant matter goes into the compost piles, and what we want to keep out. In addition, we have to get better at managing the moisture content. The chickens will provide ground-level pest and weed control. We will be moving them through the orchard with our mobile chicken coop, so they can provide these services for us! We have been learning a lot about what works for us and what doesn’t. This means experimenting a bit. Probably the most important lesson we have learned is that there is never enough time to get everything done. So we have to be deliberate about taking time to enjoy our little farm, rather than working nonstop.
You also note that you’re not “off the grid.” And I believe you’re still pretty involved in grid-ish living. Do you foresee this as continuing? Related to this, have you discovered that you’re actually totally reliant on some things?
We do have municipal water and electricity. Within Maricopa County, it is very difficult to be fully off-grid. That said, we are not necessarily trying to accomplish that status currently. We are more focused on developing a productive farm, while using sustainable practices that would also be used if our home were off-grid.
Ironically, the service that we are probably most reliant on is the internet! We need it for Marc’s full time job and to share and acquire knowledge about plants, cooking, animal husbandry, and our community. This is kind of a bitter irony, although you could say the internet has made the modern homestead possible.
What animals do you have?
We have two steers that we are raising for beef, 5 ducks, 7 chickens, and our family dog. We will be adding more chickens soon. We would also like to get a livestock guard dog in the near future to help keep coyotes away from our flock.
About the coffee-roasting. When can I get some? How? Cost?
Marc has been roasting his own coffee since 2013, using several different roasters, including some that he built himself. Currently, we have a 4-pound roaster that used to roast coffee that we sold to friends and family. With the recent move, we have to change the burner system from natural gas back to propane before it will function properly. We hope to have it up and running in the next few months. Once we do, we will be selling our coffee on our website, www.SavingMiller.com . We try to make the cost reasonably competitive with the typical major retailers that sell whole bean coffee, roughly $16 per roasted pound.
Thanks, Miller Fam!