Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Working towards Greater Self-Sufficiency

I've been thinking about my last post on the book by Sharon Astyk Independence Days and what it means to me.  Here are some of my thoughts.

We have made a conscious effort to take a good hard look at our lives over the years. We are not wanting to be independent of people  - as the title might suggest - in fact we want to become more inter-dependent.  The Independence had more to do with living life more deeply or more fully and perhaps in a more REAL and thoughtful way.  It began more than 10 years ago when several situations revealed how dependent we were on someone else aka "the system" to take care of us.

We needed the electric company to keep the lights on and the stove working.
We needed the water utility to keep the water running.
We needed grocery stores to supply us with weekly food.
We needed oil to heat our home and electricity to start the furnace and run the fan.

If anything went wrong with "the system" at that point there was almost NOTHING we could do about it.  We couldn't fix it anyway.  We were essentially at the mercy of a system that could fail at any time and did on several occasions simply because we hadn't ever thought about it before it happened.  We were very unprepared..

I remember one cold winter day in our home in the city.  The power was out again.  We lived in an area of town that had frequent power outages - perhaps because we were in an older subdivision.  The first hour wasn't too bad.  By hour two the kids and I were cuddled up on the couch under blankets watching a movie on the last of the computers battery.  By hour three we had layers of clothes on.  By the time hour 5 came along we had to leave the house - it was just too cold to stay and by then it was also getting dark.  We had flashlights and even a Coleman camp stove (somewhere in the back shed with the other camping supplies) but without heat we couldn't stay.

Six hours max- not exactly a happy thought.  Each hour I would declare - the power MUST be coming back on very soon - let's just wait a bit longer.  Thankfully THAT day we just had to drive to another part of town that was unaffected by the power outage and get warm - our friends even fed us dinner.

Then there was the infamous multi-day power outage that occurred in the middle of the biggest heat wave of the summer.  With no electricity, the grocery stores had to close because they didn't have a way to keep the freezers and fridges running and the gas stations didn't have electricity for the gas pumps.  No ATMs were functioning so it was a cash-only scenario at some little convenience stores, no video games could be played after the batteries died (blessed peace and quiet!), no TV (I liked that part too!)  ...the freezers defrosted, the food in the fridge was quickly spoiling and BOY-OH-BOY it was HOT and we had no way to plug in a fan to cool down.

We decided we didn't like being dependent on "someone else" very much.  I hated the helpless feeling I had while trying to deal with simple every-day tasks that we all take for granted.  It was the beginning of a complete change of direction in our lives.

We started with simple things. Thinking out the basics we tried to find solutions for heat, light, food and water.  We moved the camp stove and lantern out of the shed into a more accessible place, made sure we had a lighter, matches, extra candles and holders somewhere in a cupboard close by. We bought some inexpensive kerosene lanterns and fuel.  We added some extra food to the pantry that was easy to prepare.  We reorganized the linen closet to make room for the sleeping bags. we already owned   None of these preparations were going to solve every problem but it sure made life easier the next time we experienced a power outage.

Those simple solutions led to some deeper conversations about other areas where we could become more prepared for example: OTC medicines we could have on hand before cold and flu season and allergy season.  It seemed a reasonable step to work out what we used most often and build a medicine cabinet first aid kit.  There's nothing worse than someone coming down with something and having to go to the drug store at midnight - especially when the very item you need to purchase was on sale a few weeks earlier but now in your moment of need is FULL PRICE (excuse the swear word). 

We got to a point where we could have weathered most storms in town of short duration -  but any length of time and we would have run out of options (kerosene, food, propane and water) pretty quickly.  Our hearts were moving swiftly towards our long held dream of living in the country and right along with it was the opportunity to become more self-sufficient.

Wowzers - a dream pantry!
We've been working and talking and thinking about the same issues for 10 years now.  In town we were looking for cheap portable solutions now we're looking into more permanent ones.  A woodstove is near top of the list.  We've increased our food storage of foods we eat regularly.  We're working on producing a greater amount of food from our farm.  Eggs, duck and chicken are covered but the garden is a work in progress.  We've also planted fruit trees and berry bushes with more in the works for the spring.  We are constantly working on plans to improve our situation here and lessen our dependency on "the system".

We would love to have solar panels and a host of other larger improvements but for now we just keep working with what we have and moving mostly in the right direction.

So back to Independence Days...

Let's face it - everyone is busy. All we need is to try to cram MORE into our lives.  BUT maybe thats the problem...maybe we need LESS.  More of the good and less of the energy draining activities of life.  We decided that having meals together at home was more important than running out to kids sports events every night.  We chose to homeschool - some might say that made life MORE complicated but it added a richness and quality to our lives that is near impossible to describe and I can't recommend it enough.  We were still busy but we were making choices that were right for us.  Everyone's choices may be different and there is no right or wrong answer as to what needs to be done.  I can only HIGHLY recommend MAKING conscious choices instead of just doing what everyone else does and then having an unsettled feeling that everything is not as it should be.

I have no illusions about my own situation  right now - I will not be able to make contributions to this list every day - probably not even every week in every area but keeping it in the forefront of my mind will steer me in the right direction.  I AIM to work at it.  I will not do things perfectly.  I will at times be too busy with others things to do ANY of it but I don't want that to prevent me from trying at all.

So this week:
PLANT SOMETHING: I soaked some seeds to make sprouts for salad.
HARVEST SOMETHING: I collected eggs - rather a cop-out since we do that every day!
PRESERVE SOMETHING: I made sauerkraut and yogurt.
WASTE NOT: I got most of the food scraps into the bucket for the chickens and I am making soup tomorrow out of the chicken leftovers from last night.
WANT NOT: I ordered and received a box of organic herbs and dried plants for teas and tinctures that should help to keep us healthy for the next few years.
EAT THE FOOD: We eat home canned food almost every day - applesauce, pickles, yogurt and sprouts this week. Eggs and chicken too of course.
COMMUNITY FOOD SYSTEMS: I'm writing this blog post as my encouragement to community food systems :)
SKILL UP: I've been reading about starting seeds indoors and tomorrow I start planting.

All of this planning over the years has been life-enriching - I would even say soul-enriching.  There is something very satisfying about being directly involved in producing your own food and being more closely related to how it gets to the table.  It seems our family has made an exchange - we chose to leave the standard North American lifestyle for something that WE think is more authentic - as Hannah would say - WE HAVE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS.  We still have high speed internet and most of the modern conveniences of living in the 21st century ( we gave up TV) but we also have a life we CHOOSE instead of one we live by default.

It's been a long process and we are no where near the end of it.  Life is a never ending opportunity to learn and grown and I am excited to be on the journey.

We are not prepared for everything but we did manage the doggie-skunk disaster with barely a blip this week. We could last a few days without electricity because we can heat our home, cook multiple ways, we would eat well and drink clean water.

So ultimately WHY do I think all this is important??Maybe you think I'm crazy - I don't think I'm crazy but that's rather subjective.  Maybe you wonder what on earth I am worried about.    I no longer worry about a lot of things because we decided to design a plan and get PREPARED. 

How about you?


  1. I love the zombies picture. haha.

    I've wanted to gradually build up to a small family farm, one that we can sell some produce and eggs and the like to help cover cost, but that will produce enough to cut down on the food bill. We've often talked about solar panels and a generator rather than being on the electric grid, but that's all for the dream house way down the road. :)

    1. I've had that picture saved for awhile wondering how I was going to be able to incorporate it into a post :) hee hee! Dreams come true and I can't wait to here when you finally get there! While I waited to move here I started notebooks of information I would need later and would read read read - it did make a difference eventually because we could get started right away instead of having to read up on everything AFTER we moved.

  2. The zombie pic got a chuckle out of me. We are working, always working on it. I am learning new skills and actually teaching some in classes. Basic bread and cheese making is coming up at the end of April and I feel great about being able to help my like minded neighbors learn this new skill. This week I learned how to corn beef and it was yummy but could stand some tweeking so I'm doing it again with a couple changes. I am in the middle of ordering cheese making supplies so I can make my own Feta, ricotta, and improve on the mozzarella that I make. Talk about putting the cart before the horse. I use to have goats on my other farm but can't have them here. So I buy goat milk from my old breeder and use that to make cheese. So I guess I am learning a skill before I get the raw material! lol! I'm late with starting the spring garden but will get there. We have 4 new baby ducks that my Silkie hen hatched out to add to the flock of egg layers (hopefully they are female)and I am looking to re-home a few of my beloved chickens so that I can get a breed that is more in tune with the self sufficiency theme. I will also be doing a blog post on that subject.

    Loved your post. Will be working through your older ones as time allows.

  3. If only I lived nearby I would would love to take a cheese making class from you! The self sufficient chicken is a dilemma for us too. We have great egg layers but they aren't great sitters. We had one hen go broody so we left her in one of the nesting boxes - I'm sure she would have hatched out something but every chicken in the coop wanted to lay thier eggs in her box so we couldn't tell which ones were fresh and which ones she could possibly have kicked out of her nest. We ended up throwing out so many eggs "just in case". I think we'll put her in a seperate coop with a pile of eggs and see what happens. Thanks for reading!


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