Steps Towards Self-Sufficiency

One of the many lessons I've learned over the past forty-ahem years is the benefit of the experience of other people. When I want to learn something or expand on the little existing knowledge I have about a subject, I look to others in the know. So when I started to grow my own vegetables, I did the same. I bought a few secondhand books on growing your own veg from well-known names such as Alan Titchmarsh and from others such as Alys Fowler who I felt an affinity with. And I joined some Facebook groups and started following a few relevant hashtags on Instagram. I found Facebook groups particularly good because people often asked questions I was considering or questions I didn't know I wanted to ask yet! And in stepped people with their advice.

More recently, my increasing interest in keeping animals on a small scale has led me to homesteading groups, where the overall ambition seems to be self-sufficiency and, for some people, pursuing an 'off-grid' lifestyle. When I first read what people were doing, I have to say it appealed to me. Living a life where you work to provide your own food mainly - food that you have reared, raised or grown yourself, knowing its origins and treatment and overall path from field to fork. But what has become apparent is that there is a big old jump between growing some of your own food and true self-sufficiency. The latter takes real planning and thought. Essentially, what self-sufficiency is, is living without a reliance on buying, well, anything! Trade and bartering with others are possible, but purchasing from the shops is a not part of the plan.

So there's much to consider to be self-sufficient, particularly in the cooler Scottish climate in which we live. For example (and this just relates to the growing food part really), we need to be sowing seeds at the right time of year and successively to maintain a consistent supply of food for one thing. We need to learn how to nurture young seedlings into strong healthy productive plants. And we need to be growing sufficient food to eat well in the productive months, but also freezing with forethought for the 'hungry gap' - those colder, winter months where productivity all but ceases - so we continue to eat a good diet. We may need to acquire new skills: preserving, fermenting, salting, dehydrating too. And we are always at the mercy of the weather! But I think most of all, it takes a real adjustment in perspective to be self-sufficient because many of us, despite our best intentions, have been spoiled by the choice in the supermarkets and the extended growing seasons coupled with importing food which allows us to enjoy strawberries in December (though let's face it, they ain't good!). Even with the smartest planning, we just can't have what has been made available to us. I'm sure for many that's a big part of the motivation towards self-sufficiency itself, but it's an important consideration nonetheless.

Self-sufficiency by it's definition is a big commitment, perhaps even, you could argue, a vocation. Much of the commentary in the social media groups is critique and judgement of efforts deemed to not meet the criteria, sadly: the real downside of such a learning approach, I have to say. I like aspects of the self-sufficiency ethos, but I'm not 100% sold on it by definition. And it's not just about me - I have a family that appreciates the importance of producing our own food and eating food produced within the UK wherever possible, but the lifestyle described above is not for them either. That doesn't mean we should do nothing of course. The past few years of growing food have been a learning curve for me, and one I have shared with my children: last year my then-8 year old daughter set up her own garden growing peas, beans and lettuce, all on her own #proudmum! They have watched me try, fail, revise and succeed many times over. We all stood and quietly marveled at the far superior taste of a cucumber straight off the vine compared to one from the supermarket!

I think a good lesson I've learned is that you don't have to go all out to glean the benefits of something. We can experience many of the pleasures of an approach without being the text-book definition - even though social media is very adept of pushing us down that path of 'everything or failure'. I personally love eating putting food on the table for my family that I've worked hard to produce: that in itself is an achievement and reward enough.

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