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12 October 2010

From little things, big things grow

I have written here in the past about the satisfaction Hanno and I feel by being independent. For us, independence means that we're able to look after ourselves well, choose what we'll do with our time every day, and if there was a disaster here and we were cut off from the shops, or water, or electricity, we'd happily stay afloat for months before we'd need assistance. But we also know that to remain independent in the long term, we need to be a part of an inclusive and supportive community. No matter how smart and capable you are, there will always be a time you need help and will have to rely on others to get you through. If you're part of a supportive community you're more likely to maintain your independence, albeit within the framework of interdependence.

There is another important element here to consider as well. No one can do everything. There are very few of us who could learn every skill, have access to all the raw ingredients, give the time to making everything from scratch and still have time for the sweet enjoyment this way of living brings. So there will be common sense trade offs along the way. You don't know how to make soap? Fine, barter good soap from a local trader and trade something you have that s/he needs. You don't have the land to grow a garden? Not a problem, barter your knitting, sewing, car maintenance, lawn mowing, jam making, sour dough services to a local vegetable gardener who doesn't have your skills. Need eggs but your local government authority doesn't allow you to keep chickens? Who cares, trade the honey from your bees, your homemade soap or laundry liquid for eggs. There are any number of trades you could come up with, or you could buy what you need from local people and help keep you local economy strong and robust.

Your currency here, just as in many other circumstances, are your life skills. Learning how to make a lot of what you need will help put you in a position to barter those skills to get the items you have neither the time nor inclination to make yourself. But you need to be part of a healthy community to know who to barter with.

This type of community doesn't just happen, it needs to be built; it takes time and a lot of interested people to do it. You can help move it along by:
  • compiling a list of local skilled people (contact them and let them know what you're doing);
  • writing an article for the local paper to ask if there are any others interested in building the community;
  • bartering and sharing;
  • passing on what you know;
  • getting to know your neighbours;
  • helping your neighbours;
  • starting a car pool for school.
Communities don't build themselves. It requires dedication, commitment and generosity from many people. But unless someone steps up to start this, often it falls by the way side because people don't know what to do or even if there are others out there who want the same thing. Start by knowing your neighbours, and the teachers at your children's school, walk into your local neighbourhood centre and see if they have space for you to teach what you know. There might well be some people longing to make bread or soap, or wanting to learn how to clean without commercial cleaners. If you know how to do these things, you'll be a god-send. You have no neighbourhood centre? Use your community notice board. Put up signs. Call a meeting of like minded souls, offer to teach and barter. Whether you have the skills to pass on or want to learn them, get involved, start the wheel turning and be part of something important. Reach out, and hopefully you'll find others reaching back, and as soon as that interaction happens, you're on the road to real community development.

I see a time in our future when Hanno and I won't be able to garden as we do now, but because we live in a thriving and caring community, we'll continue to eat fresh, organic, backyard produce because we will barter weekly eggs or bread for the vegetables we need. That's like an insurance policy. We invest in our community now, we help support this most valuable and significant of resources, and we reap the benefits of being a part of it for a long time. This is long term planning but it needs to start with your small steps towards it now. Who knows what your community might turn into with a little bit of help. I do know one thing, you'll never know unless you, or someone who looks very much like you, starts that wheel turning.

The story of the photo.
Recently I was asked by an English publisher for some photos of loofahs, both growing and being processed. I sent what they needed and they wrote back and said the final photos of the loofahs soaking in water with a little bleach added weren't suitable and could I send others. It was a particularly busy time and after looking for the photos I thought I had without finding them, I decided to take new photos. I found a box full of loofahs that were waiting to be cleaned up, and took the photos they needed. But because I was so busy, I just left the bowl there and got on with life. A week later, I was really surprised to see two loofah vines growing from inside the loofah, and even more vines developing inside the sponge. It goes to show that given the right circumstances, amazing things can happen.


  1. What fantastic photos to go with your post. I've never seen loofahs growing like that (or at all for that matter) - they are amazing!

  2. Hi rhonda ,i love reading what you have to say ,our local neighbourhood centre has a community Garden were vegtables are Grown it started of small but is growing quite big now i think it's great, im sure it helps a lot of people whom may be going with out they can do some work in the garden and get some vegtables and there for eat better and make new friends along the way :-)

  3. How terrific. It would be great to build the kind of community you describe here, where we gain from each other's skills and knowledge in a simpler, more relational way. While that is developing, it's still gratifying to bless your friends and neighbors with gifts of your 'extra' products/produce, even if they may not be able to offer anything in return. Likely, they'll be intrigued by the handmade and handgrown stuff, wanting to find out how to do more for themselves as a result.
    Good post!

  4. Hi Rhonda, We have recently moved to a new area and are working on being as self sufficient as we can be. don't have a garden by DH's Aunt has a massive one but doesn't do much gardening herself so I have been given a really good sized patch to work on as I wish and we will share the produce between us. I don't really know a lot of people in my new area yet but would love to bean active part of the local community involved in craft groups, gardening, self sufficiency etc. A group that got together and enouraged that would be amazing- could I do that? Maybe- I wouldn't know where to start though! I will carry on reading the comments though and see if anyone else is part of anything similar. You have really got me thinking though- thanks x

  5. I so agree that no one person or couple needs to think they have to do everything. We do as much for ourselves as we have skill and time. Buying fresh, local, hormone free meats and eggs is worth the extra effort and certainly not necessarily more expensive than store bought; just a different way of obtaining goods. Over the past few years, as we have developed more and different skills, we have come to depend less and less on the typical grocery store. Making nutritious meals, mending, gardening and cleaning with simple ingredients is very rewarding .. filling time that once was relegated to 'entertainment' such as excess TV, movies, and magazines.

  6. I agree. It's important to not pressure ourselves to do it all, and as you've said, it's a great way to support other families too.

  7. Hi Rhonda - I enjoy reading you everyday and today's post was specially brilliant. I have been reading John Seymour's books on self sufficiency and, although I admire what he and his wife achieved, that is not how I want to live - that kind of life just does not leave enough time for smelling the roses (or anything else). Your suggestions are a far smarter way to go.
    On another note, work pressures are such at the moment that I am becoming ill from stress - never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated this...It is nice to know that I have a growing alternative right in my very own backyard...

  8. Oh that is so cool! Life has to happen. There is just no stopping it.

  9. I love the idea of bartering and trading our skills. My neighbour up the street, a young single mum sometimes asks me to watch her 2 boys. She always offers to pay, but as I know she doesn't have that kind of spare cash, I usually ask her to do something in the garden for me I know I can't manage...cutting back a particularly thick treebranch, or moving something heavy.

    We both benefit this way....we can't be independent alone.

  10. This is excellent advice. I was so lucky to be brought up in a very strong community and now I'm married and living in Italy and once again I find myself in the middle of a close-knit community. I feel sorry for people who have never known or don't appreciate community spirit.

    I love the pictures of the loofahs. I'd never actually thought about how they grow and would love to know how to do it myself.

  11. Hi Rhonda, I love how thought provoking some of your posts are. I was only just thinking recently about bartering for things we use frequently and how I could source people to barter with. When I stop working I plan to join a local sustainable living group. I hope to make new friends and be part of a small community that may be open (if not already) to bartering for goods. I have bartered child minding for hair cuts in the past and neither of us complained!!! It is true that we can't do "everything" and these types of communities would support skills and encourage a supportive dynamic amongst its members. A great and meaningful post, thanks!

  12. Another great idea ~ that I am going to try! I would love to grow my own loofahs. Every idea that I try of yours works and I am thrilled with the results....butter making was awesome and I am still making my own butter and giving it to friends too. Keep sharing!

  13. Hi! New follower from far far way.. hope you stop by too..

  14. Since I still have a day job, as does my Husband, we try to buy local and support the folks that do things we aren't in a position to do ourselves, like our Egg Lady. She and her husband have chickens, which we don't really want to tackle right now, so we support her in her endeavors and buy our eggs from her. That way they can keep on with the chickens and we have yummy eggs.

  15. what a thrill to see a loofah growing! x


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