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I have this great book by John Seymour called “The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It” that briefly discusses nearly all aspects of self-sustainable living. In it, there is a section that compares a homestead on one acre versus one on 5 acres. Of course, he assumes that each property is ideal, with flat, excellent soil, and full sun all day long. What intrigues me about this is the enormous difference in production, both animal and plant, between just one acre and five acres.

jsbook

This is what he has to say about one acre:

If you had one acre of good, well-drained land, you might choose to use all of it to grow fruit and vegetables. Myself, I would divide it in half and put half an acre down to grass, on which I would graze a cow and perhaps a goat to give milk during the short periods when the cow would be dry, a sow for breeding, and a dozen chickens. I would admittedly have to buy in food from outside to feed these animals through the winter, but this is preferable to buying in dairy products and meat, which would be the alternative.
My remaining half-acre I would divide into four plots for intenstive vegetable production, devoting a plot each to potatoes, legumes (peas and beans), brassicas (cabbage family), and roots. I would divide the grass half-acre into four plots as well, and rotate the whole holding every year. This means I would be planting a grass plot every year and it would stay grass until I plowed it up four years later. I would not have enough grass to keep the cow outdoors all year. I would have a greenhouse for tomatoes and hives for bees, and I would plant a vegetable patch with extra household vegetables, herbs, and soft fruit.

This is what he has to say about five acres:

If you had five acres of good, well-drained land, you could support a family of, say, six people and have occasional surpluses to sell. Of course, no two five-acre plots are ever the same, but in an ideal situation, I would set aside one of my acres for the house, farm buildings, kitchen garden, and orchard, and the other four acres I would divide into eight half-acre plots. Three of them I would put down to grass every year, and there I would run two cows for dairy produce, four sows, a boar, some sheep, and some geese for meat, and some chickens for eggs. I would keep ducks, rabbits, pigeons, and bees wherever I could fit them in.
Now in the five remaining plots, I would sow wheat, roots, Jerusalem artichokes or potatoes, peas and beans, oats, and barley undersown with grass and clover. I would rotate all eight plots every year so no plot ever grew the same crop two years running, unless it was grass. A grass plot would stay grass for three years before being plowed.

The book also has fantastic artwork which describes his ideas much better than words ever could. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the self-sufficient lifestyle. Ok, enough promotion, now down to business.

While one acre is certainly a lot compared to the average city lot, I believe that a family who has 5 acres or more would be much better able to pull through economic uncertainty, job loss, injury, sudden financial crisis, or natural disaster. Yes, you can still grow a lot of your own food on one acre, and you may or may not be able to raise some farm critters for meat and eggs, but you will still have to spend a lot of your income on feed for the critters, fuel for heating, more shots for your grazing livestock because you won’t be able to rotate them efficiently, and for the rest of the meat and vegetables that you just don’t have room for.

Five acres, while still not ideal, would at least take care of 90% of your fruit and vegetable needs, and might even be enough to feed your minimal herd of livestock year-round. Heating fuel might still be an expense even if you heat with wood, because 5 acres really isn’t enough to give you a yearly supply of wood plus all of your edibles. I have learned a lot about crop rotation, and I don’t think I would follow Seymour’s advice on rotating the grass every fourth year. I have talked with ranchers who keep multiple pastures separated into 2-8 different paddocks, and they simply rotate the grazers through the paddocks. I don’t see why a grass plot should be plowed up and replanted, as grass is something that volunteers very well, creates a root mat that only gets sturdier with age, and can simply be aerated every few years to stay healthy. The fewer seeds one has to buy, the more money one can save for other things.

I also think that while five acres could feed an average family, it could also support a small business or farm. Berry crops, like strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, currants, and raspberries, would do very well if given three acres of the five. These are premium crops that, if tended well, will yield high values at harvest time. While this leaves less room for fuits, vegetables, and livestock, one could always buy the remainder of yearly supplies with proceeds from the three acre harvest. Another idea for a five acre plot would be to erect multiple greenhouses and go into business as a nursery. Whether it is just for flowers, or includes fruits and vegetables, nurseries are very popular locally. With the advent of the internet, a nursery could also deal with mail orders. Of course, when the economy tanks, so could your business and any extra income you would have had from it.

Personally, I would like 10 acres or more for my family when we finally settle down somewhere. This way, we have some wiggle room for a woodlot, a pond, a small guest house or two, and not all of the land would need to be dedicated to crops. We are huge fans of wilderness, and I’d like my children to still be able to experience wooded romps, wild animal sightings, and wilderness foraging. Ten acres with a small (even seasonal) stream right on the border of a wildlife refuge or national forest? Sign me up! Also, with more land comes more wiggle room for business ventures. If you have enough land to produce your yearly food supply, PLUS some extra… why not try your hand at growing some market crops? We have tossed around some other ideas for a homestead business, too, but that is probably going to be a complete blog post of its own. Maybe the next one…

I have thought long and hard about priorities. I used to think that a large, spacious house with a large, spacious garage and a large, spacious yard were my American dream. I used to think that having a lot of “stuff” like large TV’s, all the latest kitchen gadgets, new computers, new cars, new furniture, and anything else proclaimed as “the best” was what being modern and happy was all about. I bought into all those TV commercials that are constantly foisting cheap, foreign-made, new and necessary items. A machine that can chop an onion in one swift motion? Awesome! A new pre-packaged pancake mix that makes fluffier pancakes? Hell yeah! A chemical spray that takes all the work out of scrubbing the shower? Give it to me!

I still fall for consumerism every now and then. I still go the way of convenience every now and then. But I have started to become more conscious of what I put money into. As a result, we are leading a more spartan lifestyle now. I used to try decorating, matching the curtains to the furniture, buying fancy knick-knacks that looked nice when placed on shelves. But now I don’t stress too much about that. We’ve not purchased any new furniture in the past 3 years. I haven’t bought curtains, paintings, cutesy knick-knacks, or all the latest technology. Our house is I-Pod free. We have paid off one vehicle, and are working on paying off the other that we bought used a couple years ago.

In short, we have slowly begun the transformation from eager and willing consumers to experienced users of the used. I don’t mind shopping for clothes at Goodwill or a consignment store. I don’t mind waiting for a good sale to buy something that I can afford now but don’t necessarily need now. I still impulse buy on occasion, but not nearly as badly as I used to. And my impulse buys tend to be on the smart side now anyway. This past week: grapefruit. I don’t think impulse buying a healthy snack is too terrible considering I used to buy things like expensive scented candles, kitchen gadgets, movies, and junk food like cookies.

I’m in the middle of my consumer journey now, I believe. I still have a long way to go, though. I’d like to someday not have to depend on the grocery store for things like milk, eggs, cheese, bread, meat, fresh fruits, vegetables, and the like. I’d like to someday learn to fix things like fences, gates, holes in the driveway, loose shingles, broken screens, punched-through drywall, hostile toasters, broken furniture, and small issues with our vehicles. I’d like to someday learn how to make things like furniture, tools, utensils, dinnerware, smoked meats, chutneys, relishes, bee hives, cisterns, windmills, and fences. I’d like to be knowledgable enough to be able to scavenge things from junk yards, forests, and my own backyard.

I guess this is all part of creating and establishing the self-sufficient mindset. I realize it may be easier to just depend on the grocery store, depend on the city water and gas, depend on the work of skilled labor, and depend on the government. But easy isn’t always right. Breaking the ties that bond me and my family to the consumer lifestyle is a tough job, but one that I think needs doing for us to be happy and healthy. We are taking baby steps. Slowly but surely we will unentangle ourselves from this business of keeping up with the Jones’.

I often find myself wondering what would so-and-so do if they were in my situation, but that’s not helping me to change. I am already so radically different from the people around me, that if I start comparing myself to them I often end up losing sight of what I want to become. I see a lot of bible-thumpers talking about WWJD (What would jesus do), and I’m just dumbstruck with awe and fright. Even if that person did exist, it was two millenia ago in a different part of the world where people had a completely different society and totally different way of life. In my opinion, that is expecting way too little of one’s self. So, stealing the idea of “what would [blank] do” I have decided to think up a superbly optimistic version of myself in the future. In the future, I am very knowledgable, self-sufficient, hard-working, dedicated, and full of hope. It’s not too far off from what I am now, anyway. I now find myself asking… well… myself what I would do as the future me.

As I go back and read this, it kind of looks like I’m turning into a crazy person. I swear I don’t talk to myself (when other people can hear me). I’m just trying to become the best person I can be, and in order to do that I’ve had to actually create that image in my mind. I’m trying to base my choices now on what will help me acheive my goal me in the future. Maybe it’s not as new and exciting to other people, but I’m sick of living my life by the standards chosen by other people. I am sick of comparing myself to those around me, when I am obviously an anomaly in the population. I am sick of listening to and seeing advertising for products that will only serve to make me more like all of the other consumerist clones in the country.

I no longer feel the need to “fit in” or do what is popular. I’m becoming less dependent on pop culture and media, more dependent on my own ideas. For me the question is no longer “what would they do,” but “what would I do?”

What would you do?

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. It’s called Imagine, by John Lennon.

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

I am definitely a dreamer. I dream that someday I will live in a small, close-knit intentional community with other people and families who share the same goals as us. I dream that I will be able to raise my own fruits, vegetables, and livestock. I dream of living sustainably, and teaching our children how to live ecologically sound and economically smart. I dream of small fields of wheat, rye, hay, corn, and barley. I dream of neighbors getting together for a weekly meal. I dream of an environment for our children that is free from superstition and hysteria, where their minds can soar.

I know I have wrote about intentional communities before, but it’s an idea that needs repeating every now and then. I have no illusions that everything would be perfect in such a community, but if we were able to find other people with stout hearts and strong minds then I’m sure we’d be able to make it through just about anything. This isn’t all about lessening our carbon footprint. I mean, if that happens then great, but that’s not why we want to live this way. We are separated from our families by more than distance, so we’d very much like to make a new one we can be close to. We would like to think of ourselves as independent and capable, by separating ourselves from the mainstream and the grid. We would like to help others, whether by sharing resources or teaching what we know. Conversely, we would also like to be helped, to have more than just our two minds available for insights.

Yes, I have thought through many of the details for how an intentional community can be accomplished, what it will be like, and when it would happen… but most of it is just a dream until we can find another person/family who is interested. I don’t want to be part of a community where there is an identified leader, a strict set of plans, and no wiggle room for individuality and creativity. We are very open-to-ideas sort of people, so this intentional community idea is wide open for outside opinions. We know what we want for ourselves, but we’d love to be able to share such a bounty with others.

 

Every heard of CAFOs? No? Well, then you should read on. CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These are large tracts of land filled to brimming with cattle, pigs, and fowl, where the animals are constantly ankle-deep in their excrement, never see a blade of grass, are fed an exclusive diet of corn and antibiotics, kept in such close quarters that the spread of illness and disease runs rampant, and where the animals are bred to produce the most usable meat in the least amount of time. The places where the animals are kept are often too small to allow the animals any form of natural exersize. This, combined with the selective breeding, ensures that the animals suffer from bone and muscle deterioration. Since the animals are given such high doses of antibiotics to encourage fast growth and disease resistance, viruses and bacteria have adapted to be resistant to almost all major antibiotics. A good example of this is the Escherichia coli 0157 H7 strain. (Here’s a link to the CDC page: http://www.cdc.gov/nczved/dfbmd/disease_listing/stec_gi.html )

These diseases are not confined to the animals, as fecal matter often finds its way to the meat during processing. Consumption of this tainted meat results in extreme sickness or death, and a recall is usually issued too late to have any beneficial effect. These diseases are also spread through the use of the manure slurry as fertilizer on crops, and through the drain-off of manure from the factory farms themselves. Do you remember all of the E. coli scares with spinach? It’s because diseased manure slurry was used to fertilize the dead earth where the spinach was being grown.

Another problem with CAFO’s is the fact that so much land must be devoted to the continual growth of one crop: corn. While we have many uses for corn (high fructose corn syrup, for example) the majority of U.S. grown corn is used to feed animals on factory farms. We are robbing the precious arable soil of our nation of essential nutrients by growing only one type of crop with little to no rotation. We are losing topsoil every year due to the constant tilling. We are polluting our rivers and water sources with the use of chemical and diseased pesticides and fertilizers. We are facing shortages of necessary crops like wheat because so much land is going to the production of corn. Did you know that the U.S. used to keep a two year reserve of wheat, but that now we are down to a 6-day supply on hand at any given moment? That is truly scary.

For an in depth look into factory farming, pigs in this instance, please follow this link to read about the top pork producer in the U.S.: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/12840743/porks_dirty_secret_the_nations_top_hog_producer_is_also_one_of_americas_worst_polluters/1

While these CAFO’s are a necessary evil in these days of fast food, there is something we can do. We can look for local co-ops where we can purchase grass-fed beef, pork, and chickens. We can buy pasture-fed, organic eggs. We can eat less meat. And above all… we can raise some of our own meat. I hope to someday be able to free-range chickens, pigs, and goats for eggs, meat, and milk. I’d also like to raise rabbits, as they are a fast and inexpensive protein source. To raise enough meat to feed our family, we would need no more than 5 acres. That acreage would be enough to keep the animals healthy through excersize and enough to grow the majority of feed ourselves. Yes, it is a lot of work, but I would rather work hard and know what I’m eating than be forced to eat something of unknown origin and content.

I’m anxious for the day my family can live a CAFO-free lifestyle. Until then, we’ll just have to be a bit more conscious of what we are consuming.

There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.

I am going through a truly conflicting time in my life right now. Because the economy has slowed down so much, we have had to learn to live on less of a paycheck while prices for everything continue to reach all-time highs. Feeding our family has become a conflict in relation to paying off debt. Every penny seems to count lately, and our debts and savings are taking a back seat. There are three solutions that I can see, but none of them are ideal.

The first: I could get a job outside of the home. This would mean that our children would go into daycare with a total stranger, which we would pay at least $7 an hour for. I would most likely have to commute, which means more to pay in terms of gas money and car maintenance. Even if I found a “good” job that paid $10 an hour, we would probably lose money in the long run. And I would lose my motherhood: the one thing in my life that I am truly proud of, the one thing that I feel successful at.

The second: My husband could get a second job. This would mean that he would be working nights and weekends, and neither I nor the kids would ever get to see him. I know for a fact that our marriage would suffer, and that I would feel horribly guilty that my kids were missing out on playing with him and learning from him.

The third: We could just suffer through this and hope that it passes. I think we are relatively happy when we aren’t concerned about financial issues. Yes, we won’t be able to pay off our debts and save up for land and a house this way, but we will stay strong as a family. I know we’ll pull through.

As you can probably tell, I’m all for the third option. I realize it will take just that much longer to accomplish our goals, but I’d much rather put that off than endanger my marriage, children, and self-worth. It’s frustrating, yes, having to wait even longer. I can live with a little waiting though. After all, I’ve waited this long.

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