What Is Self-Sufficiency?

My allergies have been so bad the last couple of days that I’ve been hiding inside to avoid aggravating them further, so not much has been happening on the Farm.

Featured Image: Swallowtail butterfly on my lilacs this spring (May 2016).

This past week, the question of “how much” came up on a couple of Facebook pages/groups I follow.  One was, “How much land do you need to be self-sufficient?”  The other was, “What/How much would I need to create a (fictional) town of 200 people that was wholly self-sufficient?”

The answer to those questions depends on another question: “How do you define ‘self-sufficient’?”  It means something different to different people.  Does it mean totally independent, not needing any form of outside assistance or any product not produced on your own land?  Or does it mean being as independent as reasonably possible?

In this modern age, the former is practically impossible unless you’re willing to forgo certain amenities that we are accustomed to, like refined metal products and electronics.  To even obtain basic metals would be difficult unless you had a “perfect” piece of land that included space for raising crops and livestock in addition to an ore mine.

That said, every person is capable of adding a little self-sufficiency to their lives: learning how to sew to produce their own clothing (even if they buy the fabric somewhere else); learning how to throw pottery to produce their own crockery (even if they buy the clay and glazes and pay for the firing).  Anything that we do that fills a basic need is a form of self-sufficiency.

My definition of self-sufficiency has been refined and redefined over the last three years, and will likely undergo further rethinking, and I call it “virtually self-sufficient.”  Examples of the self-sufficient concepts that are important to me with regards to the Farm include:

  • Reducing consumption of fossil fuels.  How? By replacing diesel- and gasoline-dependent farm implements with alternatives, including a water wheel and draft animals.  It’s unrealistic at this stage to consider completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels on the Farm because of the probable need to make long-distance trips and transport livestock and produce, but reduction is very feasible.
  • Producing all the feed needed to provide for the livestock through the winter.  I’ll go into this one in more detail in a future post, but the number of animals that will be overwintering on the Farm dictates how large a space we need to accomplish this goal.
  • Producing and preserving all the food necessary to survive for a year.  This will be a gradual process.  Vegetables and grains are easy to grow and I can quickly and easily grow enough to last a year, but I need to work on my preservation skills a little.  The meat requirements are “easy” to fulfill, in terms of how much is produced by the different critters, but I can’t have all those animals from Day 1 – they’re expensive to obtain, they need housing which may or may not be available on the land I end up purchasing.  Most fruits take a few years to become established and start producing.  Dairy depends on the presence of dairy animals, cows in my case, which I may or may not have to start with.
  • Producing basic necessities like dishes, clothing, and furniture.  I know how to make crockery, I have basic sewing and weaving skills, and I can make functional furniture in a pinch.  But I need a kiln, glazes, and a source of clay; I want to have alpacas for the wool, so I still need to learn how to spin and knit; and my furniture may be functional, but it probably won’t last and it certainly won’t be pretty.

Examples of things that do not fall under my definition of self-sufficiency include:

  • Metal products (stainless steel cookware, tools, nails/screws, etc.).  Sure, a person could do without these things, to a point, but there are some things that make life so much easier that they’re worth buying.
  • Electronics.  Electricity can be produced on the Farm through solar, geothermal, wind, or water power, but you still need all the equipment to carry and store it.  In addition, I’m certainly not going to learn how to build a cell phone or a sewing machine from scratch.
  • Medicines.  Yes, I’ll undoubtedly have things like aloe and medicinal herbs, but modern medicine has produced some things that are handy to have around.  Ibuprofen is one of my favorites.

Defining self-sufficiency in regards to the Farm has driven most of the decisions around what I need, how much I need, and how to produce it.  Watch for future posts elaborating on these decisions.

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