As a treat, I’ve decided to have my husband do the self-sustainability posts here and there. That being said, I will turn my blog over to him!
Being Resourceful / /
Bam! So working toward self-sufficiency isn’t about every single aspect of your life instantly being self-made/self-taught/self-awesome. You’ll spend a lot of time drawing off of others’ experience and knowledge. You’ll find yourself trying to acquire the tools and materials necessary to make your homestead productive. To put up fences to keep your animals in, or to keep other animals out of your garden. Seed boxes for planting and transplanting. Tools for cultivating or for storing up firewood. You’ll find very quickly that it’s not so straightforward and minimalist as your reading of Thoreau might have led you to believe. And that’s when you go, “Oh crap…”
In The Fat of the Land, John Seymour proposes that we are at a tremendous disadvantage living in this last century not having been part of the peasant’s economy. We no longer have the peasant’s inheritance of the tools and experience necessary to carry out farm life or to produce our own wares and goods. Instead, many of us are just now turning from a very “safe” notion of work and livelihood, and trading it for an entirely new definition. One that we are ill equipped for. One that, if we are truly going to call self-reliant, cannot so heavily depend on the retail economy we’re used to. So how do we approach this overwhelming need of redefining, re-equipping, and re-learning?
You start with what you do have. And while I do mean that in terms of taking stock of the tools and resources you do have, I also mean starting with your mind. I mean, I’ve been researching and collecting tools for a few years now, and I’m still not milling my own lumber, or making my own clothes. But you have to do what you can right now in order to get anywhere. And only now is it becoming clear to me, if you want to be self-reliant, you have to start by sharpening yourself. Not with building a log cabin, but you have to start seeing things differently, and thinking differently. You have to be resourceful. Wouldn’t it be better to have a shower stall flipped upside down with 4 lovely porkers sleeping inside, instead of no bacon come winter just because you don’t have a perfect barn? Try to exploit what you have available, or what you find in your travels to accomplish the tasks you have before you.
I don’t know if you can effectively homestead without being resourceful and adaptive. Or maybe it would be better to say, I don’t know if you can effectively homestead without becoming more resourceful and adaptive than you were when you started. I came into all of this as green as you can imagine, and I’m definitely not the most handy person you ever met. But when you pick up a new goat, and she slips right between the strands of electric fence an hour before you’re supposed to be in to work, you have to get creative. This life just demands that flexibility of you, and after you screw things up enough, you start to adapt. You start to do, instead of waiting around to have all your ducks in a row. (Seriously, read The Fat of the Land. It might inspire you to just start doing something with what little you already have, and get you on the road to bigger and farmy-er things.)
This whole way of life is one of stewardship, and though that does mean tending the earth, caring for animals, and providing for yourself and your family, none of it happens without exercising the mind. And while gardening, beekeeping, milking and all that stuff are fairly obvious ways to work toward self-sufficiency, being creative and seeing new purpose for old things or new ways of doing things can be just as important. Being able to recognize the assets you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have can be liberating and encouraging. I’ve spent a few years now neglecting to take time to search out and see those assets, and as a result I’ve tied my hands on numerous occasions, instead of getting them dirty, and making progress toward said gardening, beekeeping, and milking.
Thoreau did offer one bit of advice which I think we can run with. He said never to take a job that required a change of wardrobe. I find that relevant, because there is a romance to the “country life/simple life/farm life.” And there are lots of fun new toys to acquire and learn to use. It’s fun to wear that new outfit. Be aware, though, that it is easy to think you’re just gonna wake up one day and be cruising around on your tractor, and after you come in from your perfectly planted fields and orchards, the smoke will be gently rising from the chimney of your wood fire cook stove and you’ll come in and your wife will have your pipe filled with your favorite tobacco. So, naturally, you go out and buy a tractor and a pipe. But I say to you, do yourself a favor, and forego the tractor, and start with the practical. Learn to tie knots. Start patching your clothes. Start making grocery bags or baby hats from old tee shirts. Start collecting pallets. Get on pinterest so you can find all the magical uses for said pallets (or if you’re a male, find a girlfriend/wife so she can, and you can glean ideas shame-free). Just develop a sense for what assets are already available to you, and run with them. Discern between junk collecting and asset building. Understand also that I am not proposing you go out and make a fool of yourself by trying to homestead all half-cocked. There are a lot of things to consider, but when you do make that decision, find creative and resourceful ways of making your place productive and awesome. You’ll find a new sense of accomplishment and mastery when that frankenstein project you’ve been piecing together from scavenged materials works out.
A couple of good books to try and get your hands on (check your library) are:
The Fat of the Land by John Seymour
Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne