Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Homesteading Self-reliance

Thanks to the folks at Irreguar Times for their mention of our permaculture project. Something I wanted to respond to was this excellent point:

Most of us will choose not to move to the woods like Denny (and given the size of our population, most of us can’t), but we can try to apply his lessons wherever we are in the world and in our life course as we brace for the human impact of a looming economic catastrophe. I encourage you to read his account and ask yourself what you can do.


For those that will not or cannot move into a rural area there is plenty they can do in an urban or suburban setting. In fact, most of what we are doing is on less than an acre. The main limitation for those on a smaller bit of land would be the number of fruit trees but even a few of those can be planted.

house2.jpgBack in 1998 I helped co-found the deCleyre Co-op in Memphis, TN and the intent was almost identical. We wanted to create an example of, and resource for, those interested in living sustainably and cooperatively in an urban setting. We dug up our front yard and planted a vegetable garden, raspberries, and blueberries. We also put in two small ponds and many native plants for habitat.

We typically housed 6-9 folks who participated in a weekly house meeting and several shared meals a week. We also sponsored monthly community potlucks, workshops, study groups, and more. Living in a co-op lowers monthly living costs dramatically and provides a sense of connection, comfort, and security. I would not hesitate to recommend this kind of living, especially in the greater depression we are now entering. The importance of pooled resources, skills, and the comfort of community cannot be overstated in times such as these.

Even if you choose to live in a more traditional setting, practically any home or apartment provides the opportunity to grow food. Any south facing area with full sun or light shade, even an apartment with a balcony, can be place to grow food. With good design using both horizontal and vertical space it is often possible to grow more food than you may realize.

Another aspect of simple and efficient living is the wise use of money. Don't waste it dining out!! During spring and summer months it is often possible to buy fresh produce at farmers markets for much less than grocery store prices. If you come upon a good deal buy extra and learn how to can it for later use. Many foods can also be easily dehydrated using a home made solar dehydrator made for less than $10. For many just learning how to cook at home is the starting point. Very healthy meals are easy to make and will save you both time and money. A meal for 2-4 people can be made for $2-4 and often takes less than 30 minutes. Compare that to a fast-food or regular restaurant meal that will cost $5-30 and requires time to drive to and wait for the meal which will likely be less healthy than what you make at home.

My suggestion is to stock up on 4-6 months (more if you are able) worth of canned goods and learn how to use them. With times as they are food prices are going up constantly so a nice supply of food bought today at $500 will likely cost $600 just a couple months from now. The same food purchased six months later may have gone up to $700, possibly much more. Given the state of the economy and the growing possibility of a dollar collapse investing in non-perishable food with a shelf life of 2-4 years may be the best investment you can make. If the economy stabilizes (it won't) then you have not wasted a penny because the food is there ready to cook.


Here's a sample of what I have stocked (1 person):
Mixed Veggies 50 cans
Corn 30 cans
Green beans 30 cans
Peaches 15 cans
Pinto beans 20 cans
Garbonzo beans 20 cans
Crushed tomatoes 20 cans (28 oz)
Diced tomatoes 20 cans (28 oz)
4-6 boxes macaroni (48 oz)
6-8 boxes spaghetti (48 oz)
1-2 5 lb bag bread flour
1-2 5 lb bag whole wheat flour
5-8 48 oz tub of rolled oats
5-10 lbs of brown rice
10-15 lbs of various beans, dry: black, black-eye pea, garbonzo, etc.
several pounds sugar and brown sugar
several tubs of salt
1-2 gallons canola oil
LOTS of onions and garlic
10 lbs of regular and sweet potatoes
5-10 lbs of apples

I only have to go shopping once, maybe twice a month to replace used stock rotating the old to the front. I buy as much as I can afford each trip to limit my time in the store which is a place I prefer not to be. Now that the garden is better established I'm hoping to can much more of my food supply in the future.

The above list can fairly easily be cooked, often with little to no prep time. Breakfast of rolled oats with sugar and cinnamon can be made in 1-2 minutes three to four times a week. I alternate that with eggs and fried potatoes which takes 30 minutes or so. A tub of rolled oats is $2.75 to $3 so a big bowl of that with sugar and cinnamon is a pretty cheap breakfast at about twenty cents. Pancakes with a bit of fruit topping are also pretty cheap and healthy if you mix in a bit of whole wheat flour, maybe some nuts too.

For other meals I usually make soup, beans and rice, or pasta. Red sauce is easy. Start with a sautéed onion and garlic then add a large can of crushed tomatoes, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, salt to taste, basil and oregano and you have a yummy red sauce. In the summer months sautéed yellow squash, zucchini, or eggplant with your onions for added nutrition and yumminess. Soup is very easy to make using a can or two of mixed veggies, potatoes, onion, garlic mixed in with crushed tomatoes and macaroni. Use whatever cheap veggies you can get at the farmers market to supplement the canned veggies. A nice fall variation of the above tomato-based soup uses pumpkin instead of tomato. Cut up and cube a pumpkin and boil for 30 minutes. Blend the cooked cubes and use that as a base rather than the tomato. Add in coconut milk, cinnamon, salt, curry and cayenne pepper for a super tasty and spicy soup. One medium pumpkin makes a pretty large pot of soup. You can bake the seeds on a cookie sheet or low heat on a covered frying pan with a bit of oil and season salt for a snack.

Soup, pasta, beans and rice... all these are fairly easy dishes to experiment with. Try different seasonings and mixtures or get recipes... I generally prefer to make up my own.

My favorite sites for learning the skills necessary for homesteading and self-reliance:
Sharon Astyk
Homegrown Evolution
Rachel's Tiny Farm
Red State Green



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2 comments:

  1. Once you really get your garden established, it's amazing how you can really stock up.

    I did a quite a lot of canning this year because I had both of the necessary ingredients: a lot of time on my hands, and a lot of fruits and veggies (many which were free).

    As an added bonus, I made sure to make the rounds on trash day, and got a bunch of free canning jars, so all I had to do was buy some lids.

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  2. I so agree with what you've written in this post, it's a pity more people haven't commented.

    I live in a similar way. We stockpile, grown food in our backyard and generally enjoy the life that allows us to do those things. It's not a life of deprivation, as many think. It's life affirming and empowering.

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