Complete self-sufficiency. That was a goal of mine for some years until I realized I simply don’t have the money, the time or the land to pull it off.
Unless you’re willing to weave your own clothing or live a nomadic lifestyle, complete self-sufficiency is likely a pipe dream.
Someone has to make your shoes.
Someone builds your tools.
Someone grows your seeds.
When you start to look around and realize how very many things are provided for us via the wonder of the free market, it’s mind-blowing. Even if you’re the most misanthropic individual on the planet, you’re probably stuck dealing with people.
Try closing a few of the self-sufficiency leaks and you’ll see how hard it is. I once tried to make a pair of sandals from cloth thongs and discarded tires. After a few hours of work, I gave up. Even then, I wasn’t really starting from scratch. A factory had made the tires and another factory had made the cloth… not to mention the needle and thread I was using or the razor knife I used to cut the rubber.
Another time my wife and I decided we were going to make all of our own cheese and milk by raising goats. That experiment lasted roughly a year before we realized just how time-consuming and resource-gobbling goats could be. They’re great animals, but they still required outside inputs like alfalfa and sweet feed. I didn’t have enough space to grow all my own food for them, so again… self-sufficiency was out the window.
We had the same problem with chickens. Despite my many calculations, producing eggs on our homestead wasn’t worth the constant work of keeping away predators, buying feed and maintaining fences, etc. Chickens take work, even when well-managed – and thanks to my teaching and traveling schedule, I couldn’t manage them as well as I’d like and they were eventually shipped off to a friend’s farm.
As for food growing, we haven’t reached full sustainability but we’re significantly closer than most folks. I produced over 1,000 lbs of produce last year (at least that I counted… kids tend to nibble in the gardens) and we’re on track to do it again this year. In another year or two, my fruit and nut trees will be coming into higher production and the numbers will increase. It’s reasonable to assume that we’ll be mostly fed off our land within a few short years. There are new crops being tested, roots in the ground, trees shooting for the sky and lots and lots of squirrels we can eat if all that stuff runs out.
The lesson for me is simple. I am a hard-core gardener and plant geek. I’m not a shoemaker, a dairyman or a chicken farmer.
I can’t do everything. You can’t either, though you may do better than me.
That said, I still have shoes, dairy and eggs. Thus far we can still buy our footwear in the store, and I can trade or buy local dairy and eggs of superb quality from friends for less time and money than it took me to produce them myself.
This is okay with me. My desire for self-sufficiency has evolved into a desire for strong community. Everyone has their respective gifts and abilities. Sometimes they overlap and you can work together on a project… sometimes they’re completely foreign to you and you just have to let someone else do it.
It’s important to realize that you can’t do everything. Here are some people I’ve met who fill in the gaps on my homestead:
The man who’s a go-to source and walking encyclopedia on aquaponics and wicking garden beds
The woman who provides me with fresh goat milk
The farmer that fills in the gaps in our produce needs
The IT professional who fixes my website and keeps me on-track technically
The tactical gun geek brother who gives me input on what to buy and how to use it
The crazy brilliant redneck Greek who really got me started on bourbon (not needed, but helpful)
The father who taught me to write, meaning I’m now able to support myself from home
The midwives who delivered our children
The organizer and feed store owner that introduces me to plant-buying customers
The local nurseryman who gave me space in his mist house to start rare edible plants
The famous writer who told me to “concentrate on my primary skill set (writing) first”
The woman who hired me to take care of her beautiful landscaping when I was a kid
The pastor that answers our questions about higher things and encourages us in our daily walk
The mother who always believed in great things for her children
The owner of a survivalist website who told me I was a fantastic garden teacher
The brother who’s a real-life action hero (firefighter!) who also saved us thousands on our bathroom remodeling
The list goes on… and on… and on…
People touch every aspect of our lives. They have value and worth beyond just what they can do for us, but we do have to realize that we need them whether we like it or not.
Self-sufficiency in a particular area is a great goal – but you can do even better by surrounding yourself with trustworthy people that are on the same page.
Things may get ugly in the future. Build your networks now and make sure you’re helping others just as they help you.
When TSHTF, we’ll need everything from janitors to electricians. Especially ones that are good with fans.