Steps To Self-Sufficiency and Why They’re Important to Us

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One of our goals in moving to our hobby farm a year and a half ago was to increase our level of self-sufficiency.  Most of you know that self-sufficiency means being able to provide for yourself, but what does that mean, in detail, to our family?

It means that we, as much as possible, can support and care for ourselves without depending on other people.  Some of our goals in our quest for self-sufficiency?

– To provide for our own food sources.

– To provide our own energy sources.

– To not be dependent on anything but nature and our own hard work to provide for all of our needs.

What are some of the steps we’ve taken or are planning on taking in order to meet these goals?

Our Goal of Providing Our Own Food Sources

We did our first-run garden last summer in hopes of providing all of the veggies we needed for an entire year.  We didn’t even come close.  The peas died, the weeds grew in abundance, and the work of chopping and stacking wood took away a lot of the energy we needed to can and freeze the veggies we did grow.  This year we plan to double our garden size, better care for our garden, and can and/or preserve LOTS more veggies than we did this year.  Also in the plans?  A solid and big root cellar.

Our Goal of Providing Our Own Energy Sources

We did very little last year in this area, with the exception of getting the wood-burning stove into its proper place in our house.  This year we’ll get it hooked up, and chop and stack even more wood.  We’re also educating ourselves in areas of solar power and the like.  We’ll continue to hang-dry most all of our clothes, and look for other ways to utilize the sun and wind for power as much as we can.

Our Goal of Being Dependent Only on Nature’s Resources

We still have a long way to go in this area.  We’d love to implement more ways of utilizing the sun, wind and water to produce energy so that if, for whatever reason, the area’s energy supply runs dry, we’ve got a system in place.  Although we do have some solid ideas about how to accomplish this, we’re still very much in the “education” phase of our planning.  There is so much to learn when it comes to being self-sufficient.  150 years ago, self-sufficiency was the only form of survival, but with all of the “progress” we’ve made in the areas of energy and technology, we’ve become nearly 100% dependent on others for our survival.  This just doesn’t set well with us, so we’re working to learn how to get back to the basics of life long ago.

It sounds silly to some and seems backwards, but the way we see it, if we can have the knowledge in terms of self-sufficiency that they had centuries ago, combined with the time-saving technologies of today, we’ve got all of our bases covered in order to handle the natural disasters that so often cause trouble in this world.  Obviously, we can’t warn away every dangerous situation, but the more prepared we are for them, the better, don’t you think?

Is self-sufficiency important to you, or do you find it unnecessary?  Have you ever tried to grow your own food provisions?

82 comments

  1. Barter with a neighbour for bales of straw. Put the straw down between the rows of plants. It will help to keep the weeds down and will help to keep the soil moist. You can till it in to the soil at the end of the growing season.

    If you want to heat with wood you will need a wood splitter. You can trade split wood for felled or fallen trees. I have not read that you own a wood lot so you will be hunting for trees. A person with a chain saw and lots of trees may give you 2 trees. One for you to keep and the other for you to cut and split and return to him.

    Time to move in to bartering. I live in the city now but trading labour to borrow equipment or skills that I didn’t posses was an important part of country life.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks for the great tips, Jane! We are lucky in that we have a wood splitter and a chainsaw, and we do live on a lot that is about 50% wooded. Yeah, we are talking lots these days about moving toward a life of bartering. I’d be willing to bet that bartering increases in popularity over the next decade.

  2. I am so impressed with you Laurie! I would love to have more self-sufficiency, but I have tried to just grow an herb garden multiple times and failed epically. My husband said this summer (he’s a teacher) he is going to try to grow some veggies because he saw this great presentation from a teacher at an urban school who talked about urban gardens. He figures that if inner city kids can grow and maintain a garden, he can too. We will see how that goes. I will probably blog about it. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Shannon, did you read my recent post on gardening? Michelle gives awesome tips about starting plants, which is where lots of people see their gardens go south. In there she talks about some of the reasons why gardens fail. We plan on putting more herbs in our garden this year too. You should try lemon basil if you think of it – yum!!

  3. Brit says:

    You have great goals. I don’t find self-sufficiency unnecessary is a lifestyle that is not for everyone. I myself are researching growing my own food and into solar panels but I have to keep in consideration where I live. I will start small this year and continue my research. Will I be completely self-sufficient, no but is a start.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s a great point, Brit. I love what you said about “it is a start”. That’s kind of how we’re working – starting and doing what we can and not worrying about the rest.

  4. Love this, Laurie! I definitely think self-sufficiency is important – although in our current location, we’re not as self-sufficient as I would ultimately like to be. One of our long term goals is to eventually move out to a piece of land from which we can take care of ourselves without depending on others a little better 🙂

  5. Michelle says:

    Love this post Laurie! We would like to one day work on becoming more self-sufficient. Starting with a garden would be our first step, but it’s something that we haven’t done yet.

  6. We’re a bit limited in what we can do, especially now that the city annexed us about two years ago. Strangely enough, of course, we get less services now that we’re considered a part of the city, but that is a different topic for a different day. 😉 We do garden quite a bit and froze quite a bit last year and plan to get in to canning this year if we can find the time. There’s just something to the satisfaction of making a salad for the family and knowing that it all came from your garden that makes you want to do more of it. Now if we could only get our green beans to grow then I’d be happy. 🙂

  7. Jamie V says:

    Self-sufficiency is one of our mail life goals. We want to own a farm, raise animals, grow our own food, and make as much stuff as we can on our own to eventually disconnect from the grid. It seems a long ways off, and I have no idea how we couple this with our lifelong dream of traveling the world for a number of years. I’m glad to see you are well on your way to realizing your dreams!

  8. I certainly don’t see it as backwards, I view it as incredibly difficult. I’m still in a phase of my life (and not sure I’ll change) that I’ll pay for the convenience of not having to chop wood to heat my own or canning fruits and veggies. I also don’t know where I’d possibly find wood to chop in NYC! 🙂 I have loads of respect for people who pursue the sustainable lifestyle. Good for both your wallet and the environment.

  9. Pauline says:

    For me it was pretty important as I lived in Europe and the food came from unknown sources with lots of chemicals. In Guatemala most of the meat is free range anyway so I don’t really mind who raised it. I still find it really cool to be able to depend on no one, but prices are so low here (like $0.3/lb tomatoes) it makes little sense to grow your own.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow, yeah, at prices like that, it’s almost not worth the work, however, I do like having the skillsets and knowing that if we were in a situation where we had to grow our own, we could. I know what you mean about the chemicals, too. I do hate buying meat from the grocery stores for that reason.

  10. Self-sufficiency and preparedness are important to our family too. Food is where we have concetrated most of our efforts, though we do conserve energy and use natural sources when possible.

    Keep up the good work Laurie! You have great goals and I’m excited to see what you’ll accomplish. Aren’t you just chomping at the bit to get your garden in this year? I am!

  11. Matt Becker says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that we are incredibly non-self sufficient. I think it’s an incredibly admirable goal and will definitely serve you well, it’s just not something we’ve ever personally strived for.

  12. Sicorra says:

    Laurie, you guys have made excellent progress.

    I have never grown a garden, well other than a few flowers, but my parents had a huge garden just in the backyard of their suburban home and they loved it. And they did the canning thing too. They would take huge cucumbers and turn them into dill pickles. And we had the sweetest, largest tomatoes I have ever had. I so miss those days 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Garden veggies are SO yummy, aren’t they, Sicorra? They taste a thousand times better than what you get at the store. My kids aren’t huge veggie fans, but when our garden is sprouting up good, they routinely head out back and grab stuff straight out of the garden because it tastes SO much better. That’s a great sight to see. 🙂

  13. I think self-sufficiency is such a cool goal. I don’t think it’s feasible for us since we live in NYC, but I’d definitely like to one day produce some of my own energy and grow some of my own food in the backyard. I read a pretty interesting article on yahoo about a family that is self-sufficient you might be interesting in reading about: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/family-life-off-the-grid-abe-connally-vela-creations-144054081.html

    • Laurie says:

      I read that article!! Wasn’t it cool, Andrew?? Those are the kind of folks we want to emulate in our self-sufficiency, yet are terrified to because they really are off the grid. 🙂

  14. I would love to become self-sufficient one day. It is, in my opinion, the healthiest and most rewarding way of living and nothing can compare to the feeling you get when you eat the food that you grew, live in a house that you built and know that no matter what happens in the world, you’re covered. You’re doing great with the self-sufficiency trip and hopefully this year will be a lot better than the previous one.

    • Laurie says:

      You’re right, C – it really is rewarding. I don’t quite know why, but there’s something very peaceful about eating food you grew, and heating your house with wood that you chopped and stacked. 🙂

  15. Kara says:

    This year we are planning on a large (for us) garden and we hope to be able to can/freeze. I look forward to hearing about your root cellar!

  16. I think it’s really cool what you guys are doing, Laurie. We’re your typical, inter-dependent yuppies who wouldn’t fare too well in a true disaster. But I’m okay with that on some level, too. I had an organic garden plot a while back and learned almost immediately that it was not for me. I like outsourcing my food production, mainly because growing food is really hard work.

    If the poo hits the fan though, maybe you can give us a crash course on farming? 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny, DB40. 🙂 Gardening is definitely something that takes time to learn, so you’d better start now. Do a tomato plant, at least. Of course, you could always drive the 24 or so hours up here and share in our bounty, provided the conditions at the time allow you to. 🙂

  17. I recently put apple seeds in water and let it germinate. The roots came out and I put them in soil. I hope it grows because my son loves apples lol.

    I would love to grow our own food source as well but it’s a lot of work! Knowing me, I probably wouldn’t keep up with tilling the land. My parents live in TN and they grow all kinds of stuff. They have all the time in the world since they’r retired.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, it is definitely a learned skill, Mel. If you would’ve seen our garden last year, you’d have been convinced we have NO business blogging on gardening of any sort. 🙂

  18. I totally admire your ambition but I am totally useless when it comes to most DIY projects. LOL! I’d really like to be able to grow a few other things in my tiny gar dent without killing everything but tomatoes this year. That would be a nice start. But I think overall, the amount of startup costs for things and time spent for upkeep isn’t worth it in the long run for me. A couple small changes like making my own home cleaner is always beneficial not just for the cost but for the environment. Good luck with the garden this year!

    • Laurie says:

      Tanya, start with something cool and small, like a favorite herb (basil, Lemon basil, mint?). Keep it on a sunny windowsill and watch it grow. I love that you’re doing home cleaner – we’ve started doing lots of that too, and I feel SO much better about the impact we’re having on our own health, and on our environment. Those chemical-laden cleaners really freak me out.

  19. Mark Ross says:

    It does sound interesting to me. Maybe I could do that when I have my own house where I can do anything I want and with an abundance of natural resources.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, “anything I want”. We learned in suburbia that your house, though you may own it, might not truly be your own. Our old neighborhood had rules about all sorts of stupid things, like how long you can leave your garbage can outside after the trash man picks up the garbage, where in the yard you can and can not keep your garbage can, etc. It was ridiculous! Make sure you research this stuff BEFORE you buy your house, Mark. 🙂

  20. You are doing a great job and I’m looking forward to following along with your progress. We are also increasing our self-sufficiency. My husband does an amazing vegetable garden. We freeze and can lots of produce and also sell some excess. We installed a wood stove when we first moved in our home and it was truly one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We don’t have a wood splitter, but a neighbor sometimes helps us take wood from our property. For me, the more self-sufficient we can be, the more secure I feel. It doesn’t mean I want to “unplug” from society, just be able to take care of ourselves and maybe reduce our impact on the environment.

    • Laurie says:

      Wow – you guys are having great garden success, Kay! Love what you said about not wanting to unplug from society, but instead, just wanting to take care of yourselves and reduce your impact on the environment too. That is SO us. We figure the better we take care of things on this earth, the better it will be for our children and grandchildren.

  21. E.M. says:

    I think wanting to be self-sufficient is a very worthy and admirable goal! I’m not sure it’s the lifestyle for us, though. I would love to incorporate a little bit in our lives eventually, like having chickens for eggs and a vegetable garden. Having your own source of food is pretty awesome.

  22. Hi Laurie and thanks for keeping us up to date with how things have progressed.

    I like the idea that you can live your life pretty much on your own steam and that it is relatively equal to the pioneering days of yesteryear! The more power you allows yourselves, the less influence outside factors can damage your family’s independence.

    I look forward to more successful posts in this regard 🙂

    Take care and my best to all.

    Lyle

  23. Dear Debt says:

    You would fit right in in Portland! I’ve come to enjoy the benefits of biking, using less, recycling, composting, etc. At heart though I’m a city girl, and just learning all this stuff. I dig it and think it’s a great way to go. You are doing yourself and the planet a favor!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Melanie. 🙂 Yeah, reducing our environmental footprint feels pretty good, as does providing for our own needs. When I was younger, Rick wanted to move out here, and I said “NO WAY”. Now I’m loving it!

  24. Autumn says:

    Have you read the book square foot gardening? We plan to try it this year because we have heard so many great things about this book from friends. I read the book a month ago and I am very excited about it. The method of square foot gardening leaves less time for weed pulling, watering and transplanting. It also gives the plants more nutrients which means fruits and veggies will give us more nutrients.

    • Laurie says:

      I’ve heard of this book, Autumn! It sounds like a great one. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for reminding me of it – I’d long forgotten it!

  25. Well Laurie, the closest I’ve come so far is prepping our yard for a raised-bed garden. Unfortunately life got busy last Summer so instead of having a bunch of veggies in our freezer we have no veggies and…I didn’t even build the raised bed gardens yet! I have read a couple of ‘survivalist’ books out of interest in the topic and I think the first step for me is just doing the easy stuff I should have done years ago – have more water on hand, have more food on hand, etc. Especially with our winters here it would be nice to have an “independent” energy source in case of an emergency. I have a long way to go in this area.

    • Laurie says:

      I think the fact that you’re educating yourself is an awesome first step, DC, and the extra water and food is a terrific start. Yeah, I know what you mean about the energy source – this year’s high energy bills have really got us working harder on this.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, it’s definitely more difficult in the city. I love that you have fresh basil on the windowsill – it smells so yummy, and it’s great in a variety of dishes, especially when it’s fresh.

  26. That’s pretty impressive. It’s a great goal. While it be difficult for our family to move towards full self-sufficiency, I think everyone could do a little more and do their part. We’re planning to put up our garden again this summer, or at least a smaller version of what once was, before kids. Hopefully I can keep the rabbits away this time 🙂

  27. I have also looked into solar energy for our home and have been very disappointed with my discoveries. The initial costs are very high if you buy the panels. The leasing option is a better deal but it would only help us 3 months out of the year during the summer. Essentially PG&E would let us buy back electricity at the lower tier. Not what I expected.

    • Laurie says:

      Kyle, a friend of ours has been researching this stuff and has found a few different places with grants available. Maybe you guys could find something like that in your area? Check Craigslist to start. This is where Rick’s buddy is finding some stuff.

  28. I love the idea of self-sufficiency! I always tell my husband that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d be first to go because I am NOT self-sufficient. I rely too much on modern conveniences and my skill set is limited computers. I find your journal to self sufficiency impressive!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, the zombie apocalypse thing always makes me giggle. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the article, Emily. Plant some tomatoes this year, just to try it out. 🙂

  29. Mackenzie says:

    I love that you are doing all of this Laurie! My husband and I would love to (someday!) have a big enough property and be more self-sufficient. But for now, I will vicariously live through you! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, there are days when we want to dump the garden for the nearest grocery store, that’s for sure. Especially after spending several hours canning salsa that we could’ve bought at the store and been home again in 45 minutes. 🙂

  30. Providing our own needs is very awesome! I admire people who can generate their own energy source machine, can provide their own food and other stuffs. This article is very inspiring. Thanks for sharing this.

  31. What a wonderful goal for you and your family Laurie. I sure wish I had been as focused as you at your age. My husband and I do have a garden and while it provides some of our food–not even close to enough. Still it’s a start. What we do have is solar on our home and last year our electricity bill was $-0- That REALLY feels good. Best of all we have eliminated our debt so we are debt free and that too makes us feel very self sufficient. Good luck to you as you get closer and closer to your goals. And thanks for encouraging the rest of us.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh, how I wish for a zero electricity bill! This is one thing we are working toward too, Kathy. SO excited for you guys that you are at debt free and now working on your self-sufficiency goals – life is good!

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  33. I think self-sufficiency is a great goal! It’s not something I’ve thought much about, but it really can’t hurt to have those skills. Not to mention, it’s likely way cheaper!

    I’m hoping to eventually garden and utilize solar panels when I have my own house. Until then, I’m a renter pretty dependent on my apartment building and local grocery store to get me through 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Hey, Erin! Yes, we would love to have solar panels too. I think you’d be terrific at the self-sufficiency thing when you guys get your own place – it’s cool stuff. 🙂

  34. Jonny P says:

    Thanks a lot laurie for sharing these wonderful thoughts.
    I always try to be very self dependent infact I thought that I am self sufficient enough till I was reading your post.
    But after reading this post I find myself wrong because to me self dependency is doing my own work by myself like making food,washing cloths,cleaning house etc.
    But in ur post you are talking about a different level of self sufficiency, which is very impressive.
    I never thought like this before and now I decided that I must grow a garden shortly 🙂

  35. Jim says:

    Laurie, self sufficiency is a huge deal to me as well, I will be doing more this year to become less reliant. I am looking at getting my well pump on solar power, I will be doing a bigger garden this year, and perhaps some free range chickens. From the looks of things, learning to live “off the grid” is one of the wisest choices an individual can make!

    • Laurie says:

      Jim, that’s great!! Yeah, I’m with you on that one, for sure. After two straight months of ridiculously high heating bills, we are more determined than ever to step it up around here.

  36. It’s a formidable goal to be self sufficiency in terms of food but I can imagine how difficult it must be. My grandfather decided to grow some veggies in his backyard a few years ago and though he loves farming, he simply couldn’t plant/harvest enough to consider doing it on a bigger scale for the purpose of feeding the family. It’s hard work taking care of a kitchen garden, and it takes a lot of time. Hope you guys find the perfect solution.

    • Laurie says:

      Hi, Fehmeen!! Good to hear from you. We are lucky in that we’ve got lots of land here, so a garden big enough to supply our veggies for the year isn’t unreasonable. We just have to be committed to putting in the time and effort. That’s the difficult part. 🙂

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