Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Book Review)

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell and The Lazy Farmer
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Cover photo from Wipf and Stock, the publishing site

Rory Groves has given us a beacon of light at the end of a tumultuous year of medical, political, educational, career, and social unrest. Rory asks, and attempts to answer, what our response can be to brittle systems and challenges. He seeks to show how families can build their economies in a time of shifting sands. Through extensive research he lays out how we got here and tries to identify what will last and what will crumble under its own weight.

“Resilient nations rely on resilient communities, which rely on resilient families. Historically it has been decentralized, interdependent families and communities working together that have best weathered the storms of adversity.” The Industrial Revolution was a time in which handcrafted goods gave way to machine-aided production. In a single generation this had the effect of fracturing both home and community as work moved from home to centralized factories. Urbanization, with its concomitant financial abundance and disorienting fragmentation of families, came upon us.

Through historical research, Rory demonstrates how overly complex societies eventually collapse and details the ways in which Western culture is rushing in that direction. “For too long, work has driven a wedge into families, dividing husband from wife, father from son, mother from daughter, and family from home.”

“We are abundant with things but wracked with loneliness and starved for meaning.” Is it possible that the current resurgence in small batch handcrafting (be it beer, clothing, or furniture) is in reaction to the complexity and distance between us in society? Is it demonstrative of a desire to reconnect meaningfully to individual people even through the things and services we purchase?

Durable Trades Lead to Durable Families

Rory shows how we can reclaim meaningful work among strong families and resilient communities. We can build an inheritance that we can pass on to our children. “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.”

Trades that exist today and have endured across time are evaluated on their resiliency, stability, family-centeredness, income, and ease of entry. Over 60 vocations are identified as “family-centered and still viable to those who want to build durable futures for their families.” Individual vignettes under each trade help illustrate how that trade is being plied successfully today. 

Too far along traditional paths (and age) my husband and I couldn’t see our way clear to fully pursue this path ourselves yet wanted our son to know how and to be able to pursue his vocations and avocations within a family context. Like the Groves, we achieved that by first moving to the country and beginning to raise our own meat, eggs, and vegetables. Over the years since that move, we’ve been able to help our son to identify his God-given gifts and passions, and then give him a place to start and build businesses which can include his wife and children when God so blesses him. Now as a musician, music educator/tutor, future piano technician, and author his work is different than what we thought it would be, but richly rewarding and flexible enough to incorporate other interests and gifts within his own family. Being in the country gives him space without land use restrictions on which to pursue many different directions. It was exciting to see that Rory included most of our son’s pursuits in his list of durable trades.

If you desire to build your life and work around a durable, resilient, and family-centered career then Durable Trades is an excellent place to start your journey. It matters not whether you are traveling this road at the start of your adult life, as a young married couple, or even well past middle-age to help your children as we did.

How to Start

  1. If you are looking to change your career/trade, or are a young person trying to decide what work to pursue Durable Trades is a great place to start for well researched information on work that is lasting and resilient.
  1. Dick Bolles’ book, What Color is Your Parachute, is a good place to begin evaluating where lies the intersection of your deepest desires, God-given gifts, and society’s greatest needs. This life-changing book has been updated and re-released annually since the 70’s.
  1. If, like us, you simply want to provide opportunities and know-how for your children, then you’ll want to make both books a part of your active family library. Talk about these values with your children and give them a safe place to try new things. It helps to be in a rural area and on at least a small piece of land (we only have 5 acres). Teach them the value of families working and achieving great things together.
  1. Before jumping in feet first, find someone successfully working in the trade in which you are interested and ask them lots of questions. See if they will allow you to shadow them, intern for them, or even apprentice with them.
  1. If you still want to move forward after that, ask this same person the best ways to train for the field and request that they serve as your formal mentor. Since they have gotten to know you through your early interest in their work, they will often have a vested interest in seeing you succeed.


Our son did just this before starting to teach piano a few years ago. He did the same when he more recently decided to pursue piano tuning as an adjunct to his music teaching and performing work. Much as Rory Groves has recommended, our son looked to add something that:

  • tied in with his passions
  • could be entered without debt
  • capitalized on his ability to build customer relationships
  • overlapped his other work
  • created repeat business
  • could include his children one day

He had developed a relationship with the piano technician who serviced his studio piano and began asking career questions during each tuning. That eventually led to a recommendation on how to train while still running his other businesses. Now during that training phase, this wonderful man is serving as our son’s formal mentor.

As a technology consultant and founder of multiple software business, Rory Groves may seem an unusual advocate for sustainable and family-based trades, yet his well-researched and intelligent rating system in Durable Trades make this ground breaking book well worth reading and pondering. You will find that it demands a permanent place on your bookshelf as well as thoughtful reading and discussion within your family.

Discount available: Wipf & Stock is offering a $10 savings on the book through February 2021 – enter coupon code FAMILY.

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth GardenerandGrit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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