Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On being Self- Sufficient

We have been having conversations over the kitchen table these days. These conversations are inspired by warm sunny days in November when we finish up chores before the snow falls. Some of these conversations project into the future what plans should be made if Mark is not rehired for next school year. Some of these conversations stem from the excitement of projects we are in the middle of right now. Some of these conversations inevitably come down to money.

Each week we sit down and look at our budget. The amount of money coming in from Mark's paycheck has not grown over the last 3 years as school budgets have not allowed for any cost of living increase. We are grateful for the job. But just because inflation has not occurred in the broader economy does not mean that our expenses have not increased. Oh, and that inflation in the broader economy(Consumer Price Index) does not include volatile energy and food prices. And for us ,those costs are increasing. Gas was 2.94 a gallon the last time I filled up. Thirty dollars did not fill up my car they way it did a month ago. We are paying more for health insurance this school year and receiving less benefit for the cost. Our grocery bill has increased considerably this fall as we feel the effects of not having a big garden while we moved to our new home. Hay for our sheep is more expensive this year because we were not able to get the lower price that comes from buying it in the field. We do not have chickens right now.

Some of these things we do on our homestead seem quaint and something we do for a hobby but they really do make a difference to our bottom line. Chickens eat all sorts of food scraps, provide nitrogen rich fertilizer for our corn, eggs and meat for the stew pot. The garden has provided a winter's worth of potatoes, winter squash, garlic, shelves of pickles, ,soup ingredients and a freezer full of food. In the past we have grown a pig. Piggy has provided a years worth of meat for our family of four. Our sheep mow our lawn, provide rich manure for our garden, give us wool for use and barter. The wood Mark cuts means we do not have to pay for petroleum based heating or pay someone else for our firewood.

When we began this homesteading journey we dreamed of becoming self-sufficient. To the extent that this is possible is an evolving prospect. At first it was enough to try to grow a big garden and provide some of our own meat. As we look towards next year at our new home we know that the necessity to ramp up our own self sufficiency will be imperative. Maybe Mark will keep his job for another year. Maybe he won't. But by trying to reduce our need for money for those things we need, we provide ourselves with insurance.

So we sit around the kitchen table and talk, make plans, dream .For the next growing season we will be building a barn for the sheep. We could also make enough room in it to grow meat rabbits if need be. We will grow another pig next spring. We will find some more laying hens and also plan on growing some roasting chickens. We are planning to grow some mangel-wurzels, pumpkins and dent corn for fodder. We have some big pine trees on our property that we are going to harvest and have milled for the wood for our barn. We have a good maple stand and will work to manage this over the next winter by harvesting the wood that is not maple in the area. This wood will warm us next winter. We plan to put in 50 taps for maple sap this coming season with the hope of making 4-5 gallons of maple syrup. We are learning about proper organic orchard maintenance so we can maximize the apple harvest next fall. Seed saving is a skill I have dabbled with in the past but I plan to learn more about it this coming year. Most of our garden will be planted with seedlings we have grown ourselves. We will install a few more rain barrels around the homestead. And if time and funds allow we will build a small greenhouse for extending our growing season. At the very least we will build quite a few more cold frames. It is my hope that our garden will provide all the veggies we need this year with the exception of some strawberry and blueberry picking.

It seems like a ambitious list born out of necessity but fulfilling our original aspirations. What it comes down to is that for every dollar we save by doing for ourselves means one less dollar we rely up earning from the “real economy”. Self-sufficiency also needs to be approached like a job. Most times it is hard work but one that grants moments of stillness, communing with dirt with seasons of busy-ness and seasons of hibernation. Unlike most jobs the fruits of our labors are lined up on the shelf. I won't pretend that this is a strategy that will keep us out of the real economy. It is not going to fund a 401K by any means. But during these uncertain times it can make those dollars we do have coming in go further. And maybe in the process fulfill a dream....


Ellen said...

Your plans are so much like ours, but with the difference that we have to wait almost 3 years to make them into reality. We have planned to move to the country when our youngest has finished high school. In the mean time I try to learn as much as possible, I have a vegetable patch, chickens, learned to can. On my to do list is learning to spin wool, how to handle bees, goats, sheep and much more.
You're so right about streching money with doing things yourself. Good luck and have fun with the planning!

Kathy said...

What?! No chickens? Oh no! Where can we get some? They would make a great family Christmas gift. Well, that and Chinese beer. :)

Wendy said...

What you said - every dollar we save by doing for ourselves means one less dollar we [have to] earn - is the key for me.

While we strive for self-sufficiency, we recognize that we have some significant limitations, but we also know that the more we can do for ourselves, the less we have to rely on outside sources of income, and the less income we have to have, the more self-sufficient we become ;).

Eventually, our goal, is to be self-employed and to view our money-making work as secondary to living our lives, rather than the way it is now with the things we would really like to be doing, often, taking a backseat to the need to earn a few dollars.