Partial self sufficiency - self-education, mindset and common sense

26 September 2013
When I first started living as I do now, I made lists of skills I wanted to reacquaint myself with or learn anew. It was not until I'd been working in this new way that I discovered that simple life has a way of telling you what you need to learn next. You learn something new, and then you see that it is connected to many other things, and often you must know about them too. All too often, I started learning about a new process and it opened up much more than I expected and lead me to on to a more comprehensive lesson and a deeper understanding. So I threw out my lists and just went where I was taken. For instance, when I enlarged the vegetable garden, I had to learn how to harvest properly and when the food was inside the house, how to sort out what to use fresh, what to freeze, what to ferment and what to put into jars.  It seems simple but unlike the common monocultures that make up specialist farms, I wasn't harvesting an acre of lettuce. I was picking the outside leaves of spinach and silverbeet, florettes of broccoli, 12 radishes, two carrots, a turnip, six lemons, two tomatoes and half a basket of beans. What do you do with that!

Freezing wasn't just freezing. I had to learn about blanching, make up a blanching times chart, learn how to package vegetables to retain quality, and learn, through trial and error, how to store food in a freezer. Fermenting was the same. It wasn't just collecting a couple of recipes for ginger beer and sauerkraut, I had to read books about fermenting, learn about fungus and moulds and then put that into practice in a way that added value to the food we grew and bought.

Baking was certainly not as straight-forward as I expected it to be. I had to find a reliable supplier of good flour and yeast, learn about water-flour ratio, temperature and kneading, then put it all into practise. I had to make my fair share of mistakes and not be disheartened, or waste too much.

There was trial and error involved in making cleaners too. I'd make up a recipe and see if it worked the way I needed it to. If not, I'd modify it, try it again and keep modifying until I had a product I could use again and again. Once made, they also had to store well and be able to do the job after sitting on the shelf for a while.

I spent hours outside monitoring electric and water meters, recycling various items, making compost, sorting out worm farms, sowing seeds, working out the best way to water them while nurturing them to seedling stage. We've saved seeds, peeled loofahs, broken open rosellas, plaited garlic and watched on while crops were damaged by the wind and rain. We planted some plants in full sun and some on the shady side of a trellis or tall plant, I helped position Hanno's shade tunnels, stood back and watched while he built a greenhouse.  We realised early that to make a success of what we wanted to grow, we had to create microclimates, extend growing periods and go beyond what we read to see how far we could push it in our backyard.

There were many hours given to mending and knitting. When I started knitting again, I undid so many stitches, but it taught me the valuable lesson of patience and that some tasks take the time they take. Over the years I felt a need to teach as many as I could the various old and new skills I'd become familiar with. This lead me to volunteering in my community and travelling out to various places to meet so many of you, to talk about this life and hopefully encourage and support others in their own transition.

We still have a lot we can do here. There is always work to do, we're not perfect and we have to always be mindful of what we're doing. The one thing I always have to watch is that tendency to slip back to convenience. I want these changes to be permanent for us. I want to continue here, living as we do now for as long as I can. I don't want to go back to mindless consumption, this is much better.

The most difficult part of this for me was the initial change of mindset and then maintaining that mindset even when it was easier not to. There are so many distractions, so many temptations. I carry on because I have been made happy again living this way, I am convinced that having everything you want is not good for the soul, I believe hard work builds character and I know that I have to give back some of what I've taken. I can't return those dozen pairs of shoes, the dresses, all the computers and TVs, but I can care for the land I live on, teach what I know to others and motivate people to live their best life. I know that the rampant consumerism we live with is killing the earth and I know that it will eventually change us. But how can you tell third world countries that they can't have the things we've had for the past 50 years because it's bad for the planet? How do you convince friends and neighbours that we should all be living with less? How do I look Jamie and Alex in the eye if I don't? They and their children will bear the consequences of what we've done. My way of answering those questions is to continue along our simple path and to show rather than preach. I want Jamie and Alex to see us living here, doing our work, making the place right for us. If we can start repairing past damage, hopefully those ripples will move out into the world.

But the message I'm really trying to give to you is to use your common sense, don't rely on others, read books, do your own research, push your own envelope and find out what works for you in your climate and in your home. Look after yourself and your family, know everything you need to know to do that and don't expect everything to be easy. Because this isn't just a few recipes for laundry liquid and orange cake; it's much deeper than that. If we're all going to make a small difference by living cleaner, greener, healthier, thriftier and by being more aware, we'll have to change our ideas about what success is, stop buying everything we want, localise our lives, connect with our communities and work hard.  And that is easier said than done.

How are you coping with the transition from old ways to new?

... to be continued.