How to be partially self-sufficient

24 September 2013
My brain wasn't working properly yesterday. Now that I've rested, I remembered that Tim at Slow magazine has given me a copy of the current edition to give away.  Australian readers only please.  Just leave a comment about Slow and I'll pick numbers out of a hat. It will close tomorrow - my Wednesday morning.  Good luck!

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Once upon a time, self-sufficiency was a goal of mine. That was in the days before I'd thought about what it meant. When I did think about it, I knew I couldn't live that way without giving up a lot of things I didn't want to give up. I didn't want to live without tea or coffee, and although I can easily grow both tea and coffee here, I don't want the palaver of processing them to the drinkable stage. Besides, we have excellent Montville organic coffee here, there is good Australian tea, so I prefer to tap into my community to buy those two commodities; I want to be part of my community, not cut off from it. I don't want to give up salt either, or meat. We could probably run a lot more chickens here if we wanted to but I know I couldn't kill a chicken, or a pig. I don't want Hanno to do that either. He has had to kill a chicken or two over the years when they were injured, and it upset him. I can look at photos of animals being killed for food, I watched on as my grandmother killed her own chooks when I was younger, but I don't want to do it myself. We'll be happy to collect eggs from our girls and be content with that.

When I finally came to this way of living I knew would have to learn a lot but if I did I could live in an environmentally-sound manner, stretch my dollars, cut out a lot of the chemicals I once foolishly accepted with no questions asked, grow food in the backyard and home-produce bread, jams, relishes, sauces, soap, laundry liquid and all my cleaners. And while I admire those who can live a self-sufficient lifestyle, we will live as close to it as we can while making certain choices that make it impossible for us. We have chosen partial self-sufficiency.

The common idea most people have of a self-sufficient or partially self-sufficient lifestyle is that it's full of productive work, animals, fences, vegetable gardening, making wine, cheese, soap and bread. And that's a fair summation of what can go into it. One thing there is no doubt about is that you have to learn a lot of new skills. When we decided to live this way we decided there would be take-away, no supermarket bread, no over-priced soft drinks or convenience foods. You do all those things for yourself and if you don't know how, you learn. You learn to cook, garden, preserve, make jams and sauces and a hundred other things. So why would you live like this if there is more work? There are many answers to that but the one that seems to be glaringly obvious is we all need to learn how to look after ourselves. If you're looking for other reasons, there are many out there to choose from. Take your pick: climate change, peak oil, economic uncertainty, job loss, divorce or loss of a partner, retirement, or just plain common sense - it makes sense to do it. Now, and especially in the future, everyone should be skilled and self-reliant.  We should aim at supplying as much as we can for ourselves. I doubt many of us could live a genuine self-sufficient lifestyle but I think partial self-sufficiency is there for most of us. The choices we all make to suit the way we live will be different for all of us, but that's fine. We should be a diverse group with differing skills and goals.

Times are changing, most of us acknowledge that, and although we might disagree on the whys and whens and hows, change is coming. I think it's already started. The many simple living and environmentally focused blogs and books that have been published in the past few years bear testament to a change. I've been told by numerous people that when the global economic crisis ends, things will return to normal, that rampant spending and unlimited economic growth will return and we'll all prosper. I don't believe there is such a thing as unlimited economic growth and even it it was a common belief in the past, those days are over. There is a good and a bad element to this for me and Hanno. We won't be here to see it. We'll be here through the transition, but I doubt we'll still be here when the changes that many people predict will be the current 'normal'.

There are many dire predictions about our post-carbon, global warming, peak oil, economic deflated world. There are also the more personal scenarios to think about. If all that is happening in the outer world, what is happening in your home? No matter what happens, it will help us all to be prepared and more capable than we are now. We've been dumbed down. We have morphed into helpless beings who can't cook, make a fire or recognise the night sky. We need to get back to being more capable and skill ourselves so we can take care of ourselves, regardless of what happens.

So what does that mean for all of us? For me and Hanno it means staying the same while we continue to learn as much as we can. Human society has lived through many changes, we can see this one through too. When you think back on the changes in the last couple of centuries - the industrial revolution, the world wars, the great depression - each of these altered daily life and challenged ideas of what normal was, yet we lived through each of them. People adapt, they change what they think is normal. They learn to get by, they reskill themselves and work towards different goals.  That is my goal now - learning to adapt for the future normal and helping as many others as I can. I hope we can learn this together and pool our resources so that many more of us can lay claim to being capable and prepared for the what the future holds.

What are your thoughts on preparing for the future? What are you planning to do?

... to be continued