Thursday, 4 October 2012

Unplug: An Introduction To, And Challenge In, Self-Sufficiency

Fresh berries picked at the Fraser family farm in Collegeville, 
where the family grows and raises some of its foods. 
Homesteading involves creating and providing one’s own 
supplies, often including food.

A new television program called “Revolution” recently premiered on NBC. The premise of the show focuses on a dystopian planet 15 years after an unexplained global blackout. All electronic devices, down to the AAA batteries in the kitchen junk drawer, are rendered useless and the entire planet is forced to embrace practical and efficient ways of living.

While the notion of a global electromagnetic pulse sounds rather extreme, consider the issue it raises: if basic things you depend on for you lifestyle were taken away, would you be able to survive? Do you possess any knowledge or skills that would enable you to live solely by your own means and actions?

If you are unsure or know that your answer here is negative, please continue reading. The purpose of this piece is to encourage you to find something, even if it is small, to help change this fact.

Awareness and practice of self-sufficiency seems to be on the rise lately, with a scale of motivations and attitudes ranging from “going green” and “living a hippie lifestyle” all the way over to “extreme survivalism” and “doomsdayprepping.” With as many variations in motive towards self-sufficiency, there are also degrees of practice and involvement.

One of the more encompassing movements in self-sustainment has come to be known as “homesteading.” This movement began in the 1970s during the hippie movements and has developed into a fairly well-recognized lifestyle.

Reminiscent of life back in the 1800s, homesteading is based on small-scale farming of crops and livestock. A self-proclaimed homestead (most are on less than four acres of land) will almost always have at least one working garden and a small contingent of domesticated animals for purposes of meat, milk, fur or trade.

Homesteaders are known for producing many products on their own including food, fabric, soap and wood; excess of these products beyond the homesteaders need to live is often sold or bartered with neighbors for other goods or services. Many ‘steads utilize solar, wind and/or geothermal energy systems in order to strengthen their ability to live without dependence on others.

There is no shortage of information and testimony from homesteaders available to those interested. Many of them keep continuous blogs of their attempts, failures and successes in various endeavors.

Why care about providing for yourself? You live comfortably enough now without having to do too much work, right?
Well, for starters, it can save you money. The cost of maintaining a garden or going hunting is going to be cheaper than buying groceries every week or eating out at your favorite pizza joint.

You don’t have to be a “hippie” to want to become self-dependent. For some, it stems from a distrust of society and a feeling of inevitable government collapse (these folks are often referred to as “preppers,” and I used to live with one. They’re an interesting bunch); others simply wish to have the contentment of a simpler, more traditional lifestyle.

One does not have to brave the Oregon Trail or become a mountain man like Jeremiah Johnson (although some do) in order to provide for oneself. There are opportunities to be had within urban settings to decrease your dependence on others and save some money – and there are some simple skills that you can learn and practice to make yourself a little more free.

Take a stab at gardening, for instance. The Cedar Falls Community Gardens opened in 2010 and allows individuals to rent up to two 100-foot plots of soil for just $15 apiece per season.

A lot of food, seasonings and ingredients for herbal remedies can be grown in 200 feet of garden space, and you’ll know exactly what has gone into your food without having to pay boosted prices at the supermarket for labels that say“organic.”
There is also the possibility of hunting or trapping. There are state-required courses before being eligible for licensure, but the potential benefits go beyond simply killing an animal. In addition to general hunting aptitude with a firearm or bow, you could learn how to properly skin, butcher and harvest your catches for various products like meat, hide and fur.

Hide can be tanned and sold or used in leatherwork, which is a craft all its own. There are a variety of pelts legal to trap and sell in the state of Iowa, from raccoons to bobcats. We can’t forget the classic pastime of fishing, either.

Sadly, Cedar Falls does not allow for the ownership of “agricultural animals” within residential zones of the city. But every city has its own laws regarding animals such as chickens and rabbits in urban areas. Once you’re out of college and working a full-time job, this is a possibility depending on where you live.

Another great resource in this area is the Hartman Nature Reserve. This 300-acre wooded area is right here in Cedar Falls, and they are constantly running educational programs and events for the public.

These programs range from how to make apple cider from scratch and maintaining good hygiene while outdoors to foraging food and navigating the wild without a GPS. The folks who run these events are all knowledgeable in their fields and are overall fun people who want to help others learn. If you’ve never been there, I suggest you check it out. It’s a pretty cool place.

I challenge you to unplug yourself and pursue at least one skill, hobby or knowledge set that would somehow increase your ability to provide for yourself in more ways than simply earning additional money.

Let’s hope that we never have to find out if we’d be able to apply that skill to our survival if society or government collapses. But being able to take care of yourself, being accountable and responsible for your own prosperity, was a defining principle in the development of this country.

By living self-sufficiently, to any extent, you’re reflecting a key notion of the American Dream. Who doesn’t want that?

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