Creating a Life of Plenty! That is the theme of this blog, much of it has to do with gardening, cooking and home projects and those really make me happy, but it is more than that, it is about creating a balanced life in harmony with my environment, it is about having “enough” and sharing that bounty with the people I love and care about.
Over the past few years, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain that balance in this insane world. I have been thinking a lot about how to navigate the world well and still maintain a happy, balanced life.
I am certainly not a “crazy prepper”…that isn’t my style, but I am very concerned about the state of our economy, the state of our environment and the condition of our society. I will not espouse my beliefs as a way everyone should live and I assure you I won’t end up on a ridge somewhere in a bomb shelter if I can possibly help it. But I will simply encourage everyone to be as educated as possible on all of these areas and to decide for yourself where we, as a society are and where we are heading.
Since starting my garden, then completing an exhaustive research project on homesteading, food and energy security, I have been educating myself and looking for ways to become significantly less reliant on “systems” to enable my living and thriving. When I speak of systems, I refer to industrial agriculture and food production, commercial energy, as well as water and waste systems. These systems are overtaxed, unsustainable and in many ways just broken.
Becoming self-reliant is not as easy as buying “green”…it is systemic, involves thought, investment and in many cases hard work. It is perpetual, and it can be discouraging at times. Not having vast lands to utilize to produce large amounts of food, raise larger animals, dispose of my own waste and provide 100% of the water we utilize it would be very easy to give up…it can be very easy to, as I put it, “fall back asleep” and simply allow ourselves to re-attach to those existing systems for our lives and accept any consequences that come along with that choice when the “system” has a bump, a failure or a full collapse.
A more positive alternative to sleeping or giving up is to ask the question “What CAN we do?” This is an exercise in which you realistically evaluate your priorities as well as your options, abilities, etc. to understand how self-reliant you can reasonably be. For example, since I like living near a city for cultural purposes, I trade having a large tract of land so I have to come up with appropriate alternate goals and plans. I will probably never be able to produce my own baking soda, borax, essential oils, etc. so I will rely on someone else for those. But I can do a lot of other things, which is what this exercise is all about.
I recently went through this exercise with my partner and it was definitely eye opening. I am not a terribly patient person, in the past, for me “instant gratification” took too long. As I gain experience, I have gained “some” patience, but I still wanted to implement everything from this plan right away….that is not possible. This plan is multiyear; it is, for us, an unreasonable expectation that we could accomplish all of these goals immediately from a financial, effort and time perspective. Some we already have achieved but can tweak and add to, others we have yet to start.
With that in mind, we selected the following categories in which to focus on for the next few years. I look at this as a personal and household manifesto of sorts…these goals shape thoughts, those thoughts shape our decisions and actions in these areas:
I will share with you our goals in these categories not as a model to follow but to give you examples and inspiration from which to start. Many of you may already have some of these goals under your belt, others may just be thinking about starting on this path…wherever you are, I honor that.
Food & Beverage
- Increase food production on our own plot to meet 70%+/- of our fruit and vegetable consumption each year (this is an annual average as each season will have varying percentages and we currently have a finite growing space).
- Increase growing space by co-opting (gardening a friend or neighbor’s yard in exchange for a portion of the harvest), participating in a community garden (applying for and leasing a plot from a community organization or local government) or purchasing an empty lot for cash to garden on (there are a lot of empty lots in cities that may be available for little cost). This goal is probably the vaguest since we have not looked at every option, nor have we reached a maximum production point on our own lot.
- Home made bread and bread products.
- Home Vinegar Production
- Home Wine and Other Fermented Beverage Production
- Home Cheese production (small scale)
- Add bees to our backyard space to provide pollination, and hive products (honey, pollen, wax)
- Add chickens to our backyard space for small scale egg production and to add as part waste recycling.
- Decentralize and localize acquisition of balance of food and food products: This means NOT going to the grocery store for everything else. This will include local, organic U-pick farms, farmers markets and local meat and some local grain production.
- Plan two vegetarian days each week. This is not only a healthier option, but reduces the load on the meat production system (local, organic or not) and is subsequently environmentally sensitive.
We are already quite energy conservative. We utilize oil lamps for ambient lighting when possible, we have a programmable thermostat and keep our winter temperatures low and our summer temperatures high to avoid energy utilization. But there are always improvements to be made, here are our goals. Some are reasonable and inexpensive to achieve, while others may require a capital investment.
- Reduce Phantom Electrical Loads
- Technology Free Days (one day a week, two week, month) where we utilize as little modern technology as possible (grill or fireplace cooking, no television, no computer or internet, little or no electric light)
- Small Scale Solar for net new items (alternative cooking methods, chicken coop, pond, etc.)
- Transfer Essential items to solar back up (refrigeration, water heating)
- Replace and insulate household water heater (consider tankless)
- Improve household insulation
- Household Solar (transferring to a grid tied solar energy system for the entire house)
- Rain collection for garden utilization- increase collection to cover 100% of garden water utilization (weather permitting).
- “First water” collection – Look for or develop cost effective methods of “catching” , storing and utilizing the first water that comes out of the tap either to make it cold or hot. This can represent hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water per year. We have considered storing and using this to water indoor plants, to filter and refrigerate for our own utilization, use to reduce the amount of water involved in flushing the toilet. We have not settled 100% of how we will use this water.
- Adding ballast to the toilet tanks to reduce water usage
- Look to secondary market first before buying/ordering: This serves double duty and will be included in the financial section. Utilizing secondary markets (craigslist, ebay, thrift stores and yard sales), not only saves money but it reduces demand for new products and therefore reduces waste (in my opinion).
- Upcycle – the use of something we already have for a secondary use. I have a particular aesthetic so it has to be beautiful and functional and not look “junky”. Shabby chic is ok for some folks, but I am not really one of them.
- Close the organic waste loop – Other than human waste, all other organic waste (including garden, yard, vegetable and other food, paper and cardboard) will be recycled for our use. Vehicles will include chickens, a vermiculture system (worm bin) and an expanded composting area.
- Homemade medicine – this goal really spans many of the categories, but caring for minor medical and health issues holistically and naturally with homemade products reduces waste and is a better utilization of natural resources. Plus it is better for us and our budgets.
- Homemade cleaning products – This is an environmental and a financial goal. By converting to as much homemade cleaning products as possible, we reduce waste, help the environment and reduce expenditures. 99% of cleaning products can be made with 5-8 simple ingredients, it reduces plastic and cardboard waste as we will re-use existing packaging and reduces our toxic load.
- Homemade Personal Care Products – I am an herbalist, most personal care products are easy to make. By eliminating the few that we currently buy and move to homemade, natural products (recycling containers, etc.) achieves the same as homemade cleaning products in terms of environmental impact, toxic load, waste and financial goals.
These steps will naturally reduce the amount of waste that goes to municipal collection; general trash, recycling and yard waste included.
- Live at 85% or less of our means.
- Look to secondary market first before buying/ordering: Utilizing secondary markets (craigslist, ebay, libraries, thrift stores and yard sales). This doesn’t mean for every purchase, but to look at this as a resource before going to a primary market.
- Add no unnecessary consumer debt and then add no more consumer debt. We are working on our finances to reduce any and all consumer debt. The first step in reducing is not to add any additional debt unless absolutely necessary. We both have minimal emergency funds so a new car or something large would have to be financed, but eventually, if we increase our funds, major emergencies become minor inconveniences. In addition, we will evaluate any debt purchase that will help us achieve any of our other goals individually for merit.
- Homestead “in place” – the decision not to seek a new property and stay where we are. The mortgage is low enough to be affordable in the long term and we have already made headway on paying it off. Finally, our home really only needs maintenance and minor projects as most of the remodeling was completed over the last 10 years.
- Homemade medicine – see above
- Homemade cleaning products – see above
- Homemade Personal Care Products – see above.
This plan or goal statement, will guide our choices and certainly will guide the projects I work on and present to you on this site. Achieving these goals even in some capacity provides a level of security and a mentality of self-reliance. For me it is an empowering experience…it may be the same for you.
If you are considering doing the same evaluation, I would encourage you to both understand and honor where you are at this very moment before beginning. This will give you a grounded place from which to start. When I completed our list, it was and still is a bit daunting so I say this because one can become disappointed in where they are. It can make you think that the road ahead is so hard and not achievable so you never begin. I hope you do some kind of evaluation. Even if each person did a little bit…or even one thing it would increase the sustainability of our systems, reduce their load as well as provide an empowering experience for the person.
This could be a very enlightening post for some and a total snore for others, but thanks for reading and as always, Happy Gardening!!