Friday, 8 August 2014

Are you self-sufficient?

Oh dear, oh dear!  Earlier in the week a delivery van came here.  The driver pulled up in the drive and hopped out.  The first thing he sais was, "Are you self-sufficient?!" 

It wasn't until he left that I realised!  He couldn't see into our yard from where he pulled up.  He couldn't see our veggie garden, compost heaps, orchard or the dairy.  So what made him ask this question?

That gave me a good giggle!  What gave him the clue that we try to do things for ourselves?  Was it the chooks, ducks and geese wandering everywhere?  Was it the children running feral on a school day and coming to investigate the stranger that had arrived?  Maybe it was my attire!  A baggy pair of tracky dacks, boots, beanie, scarf and a filthy jacket!!  Haha!  Perhaps I need to work on the impression we make when people turn up unexpectedly.
The question certainly started me thinking though......  We certainly are not self-sufficient by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I think we are  aiming to be.  To be self-sufficient, we would need to be able to provide our own clothes, grow enough food for ourselves and our animals, extract oil from olives or similar, to be able to make all our fencing and animal shelters from natural materials etc. etc. 

 Maybe not a hope in hell we could do all these things but would we want too?  Every waking minute would be filled with providing the basics for our needs.  This got me thinking about our motivation for living the life style we have chosen.  It's as simple as this.  We are trying to live a comfortable life while being respectful of the environment.  We don't want to add to the climate crisis that is occurring.  (And it truly is a crisis!  We're not doomed yet, but damn close, so you might want to give it some thought if you haven't already.)
 I make our own soap but find I don't do it regularly enough to keep us supplied.  Ditto with bread.  We are producing goats milk.  We make cheese.  I knit and sew.  We garden.  Hubby builds many things that we need and often uses natural materials when it works.  It's all wonderful stuff but there aren't enough hours in a day to do everything all the time. 
A temporary chook shelter in the garden they're digging over.
I still buy crackers, coffee, bread fairly often, all my staples like sugar, rice,  pasta and a heap of other things.  We try to buy household items and clothing second hand.  Most of my shoes are from the op-shop but I buy my workboots new and usually buy the children new shoes.  I would happily buy them from the op shop but, more often than not, I don't notice they are falling apart until it's too late.  When I notice the children wandering around with flapping soles, there's no time to scour the op shops so I race to the shoe shop feeling like a neglectful mother and buy the best option I can find.  All in all, our impact is fairly low compared to the average family and we keep working our way toward a greener life.

There's another very important element here too.  People.  If we truly spent every minute trying to provide for ourselves, we would be too busy to connect with others around us.   It would be an insular and lonely life.

So when I ponder the question of self-sufficiency I realise, it's not looking after ourselves in isolation that I'm after.  I want to connect with those around us and work together to create a better world.  I want to swap my goats milk for their pickles that I didn't get around to making for myself.  I want to use my friend's lard and repay her with the soap that I create with it.  I want to spend time with friends learning (or teaching) new skills.  I want to come together with other families so that our children can play.  I want to share meals where everyone brings a dish that they have cooked with fresh ingredients from the garden. 
It has been an unexpected benefit for me to discover that in trying to address climate change, in trying to create a good future for my children and others, that our lives have become more fulfilling.  We feel grounded, connected with nature, our food and our community.  We feel a sense of achievement that comes from being creative and learning new skills.  It's not doing it on our own that I'm after.  It's being a part of something bigger.  I want my community to be with me in this way of living.  A non-commercial life of thoughtfulness and creativity and appreciation for the simple things in life that really matter.

So now I need a new term.  It's not self-sufficiency.  Help me coin a new phrase.  Mine don't have a ring to them.  Is it 'community-sufficiency'?  Is it 'friendship-farming'?  Is it 'the-way-life-should-be sufficiency'?


Kim said...

Oh I get that ... I think sometimes the people making up the terms aren't the people doing it.Maybe you are just 'sufficient' Linda have everything just right like it should be . I think it is a very much a community effort - I thrive on the communication with other like minded people around me and recognise that we are a new society of sorts that are just 'happy and fulfilled ' in everything we do.

Cheryl said...

Well Tanya (flood proof mum) and I coined the phrase "Greenpies"...not quite greenies, not quite how about semi-sufficient greenpies!

Farmer Liz said...

haha, that's so funny Linda. I see it like we are learning how to be self-sufficient so that if we ever in a situation where we have to survive, its not a huge shock, and where is it cheaper and makes sense, then we do try to be self-sufficient, but I wouldn't want to be 100% unless I had to. Also in permaculture, David H talks about having a network and relying on community rather than self-sufficient, I like that concept too. Thanks for the laugh, I go to the supermarket dressed like that, I just forget....

myproductivebackyard said...

As I often say on my blog and facebook page, its about the little things. Contributing at all, no matter if its simply a pot on the windowsil that stops you buying processed herbs; or to the scale that you have. Anything you do is better for you, the environment and your community than doing nothing. Great post.

Kathy said...

I agree that there's the "term" and then there's the meaning. I use "simple living" on my blog but we all know that does not mean "easy or quick or in fact simple". Making soap that you have to wait 6 weeks to use vs going to the shop. Making bread that needs to rise for hours and be baked vs picking up a $1 loaf at the shops. It is not a simple life but a rewarding and enjoyable one and I think your house/garden/land provides for your family and the community (ie swaps etc.) It's an interesting topic. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane (

aroundthemulberrytree said...

This is so well said! Self-reliant is probably more apt. Irony is that this is how things were originally done and how the big chain stores developed by saving people time and money by offering 'convenience'. I believe this is where the farmers markets, buy swap and sells and community gardens can play a huge part. Happy medium I reckon! Your attire sound perfectly normal to me! Great post.

Fiona from Arbordale Farm said...

I agree with what everyone else has said and I absolutely believe that there are very few fully self sufficient people in this world, not as an individual house hold anyway. The reason is that it does not make sense for everyone to do everything. If one person in a community grows cucumbers and makes pickles and another grows tomatoes and makes tomato sauce it is more efficient. We need to build resilient and (some what)self sufficient communities. And I think the word community is key. It does not just refer to the place we live but 'the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common' and 'a group of interdependent plants or animals growing or living together in natural conditions or occupying a specified habitat'.
And I think this last one sums it up for me I want to be part of a group of interdependent people living together (in a region/area) in harmony with the natural environment.

Jenna the Pig Lady said...

I loved hearing the word "interdependent" at work years ago in a fascinating exploration of developing maturity, moving from dependence, to independence to interdependence, which is the most healthy state. That's how we want to be here too, it's not practical for everyone to do everything for themselves. And I love swapping lard for soap too, don't give that up!! So what about inter-sufficient? Though as you point out, even together we are not completely self-sufficient, just all doing what we can to make life and the world better.

purplepear said...

Ditto! to all you said as well as the comments. your post made me laugh. We often get asked the same question and I answer in words similar to what you have written here. I don't know what you'd call it really. It's just life. Living it the best way we can, but in a more meaningfull way. Who knows. It just feels so right.

Darren (Green Change) said...

I've also heard the terms "self-sufficientish" and "self-reliant". The American term "homesteader" seems appropriate as well, and lots of people now describe themselves as "urban homesteaders".

Kathryn Ray said...

It's funny to read this post today... I was at a family party last week and my aunt was asking about the difference between me and one of my cousins. To her, we are both self-sufficient... the only difference being that my cousin has chickens and we do not.

Of course the truth is that my cousin is significantly further down the path and we still rely heavily on stores, markets and service providers.

I think of it as a continuum... we cannot produce everything we want for ourselves, but we can do anywhere between some and most.

I like Darren's term "self-sufficientish."