Quick, what are the first things to come to mind when you think of self-sufficiency? I asked my husband this question and his thoughts were the same as mine. We both thought of being off-grid, producing the majority of our food, and having a reliable water source. What were your first thoughts?
I was born into a self-sufficient, farming family. My grandparents were the single most influential people in my life. I realize now, I took so much for granted. I didn’t pay enough attention to what they wanted to teach me. I’m thankful to have learned almost everything I know about self-sufficiency from them, but I have had to learn some things the hard way because of youth’s folly. Those are all precious memories to me, especially the older I get.
Today, homesteading is not just a way of life, for many it’s more like a movement. You hear words like freedom, security, and simple living when you hear someone talking about starting their homesteading journey. I’m thankful to have been able to live this life to varying degrees for over 50 years. In these uncertain times, more and more people are moving away from cities and seeking a new start in rural areas.
For those who practice self-sufficiency, not much would change if suddenly the power grid goes down, or the dollar crashes. With the help of friends and family, we’d be able to continue living the self-sufficient homesteading life we love so much. There are also some tools and skills necessary to live a life of self-sufficiency.
Tips For a Life of Self-Sufficiency
Manual kitchen tools
Having a quality set of knives is a must for any homemaker. It’s easy to purchase cheap knives, but you’ll find the frequent replacement of them becomes costly. The time and energy you’ll save in keeping them sharp and replacing them will more than makeup for the extra cost of purchasing a good set of knives. I have two knives my grandmother used. I use them every day. They were of good quality, obviously, because I still use them. I can’t even remember the last time they had to be sharpened.
A hand power mixer is a must for me. I remember helping Granny make pies and cakes using hers. I felt like a big girl turning the handle of her hand-powered mixer. When we lived on the grid, I used my Kitchen Aid almost every day. I have some off-grid friends who have solar power and they still use their electricity when the sun allows. Maybe I’ll get one again when we have our solar system in place, but I’ll always have hand-powered kitchen tools because you never know.
My husband bought me one of my favorite tools around 10 years ago, a Borner slicer. It’s saved me hundreds of hours of labor when processing all kinds of produce. There are several cheaper brands, but you can see from the photo that after all these years of use, it looks and functions as good as new. This tool has paid for itself many times over. Electricity or nor, I’ll always have this tool.
While there is something nostalgic about a stovetop percolator, we find it a most useful tool for self-sufficiency. It can be used over all types of power sources so we never have to miss a cup of coffee! We use it on our wood stove, an open fire, and the Coleman camping stove.
The sense of smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory. Those in the medical field say it’s the last sense to go. The smell of coffee percolating and bacon frying makes me feel I’ll open my eyes and be waking up in my grandmother’s house.
Skills for self-sufficiency
Don’t wait until it’s down to the wire to learn some basic skills for self-sufficiency. If you’re planning on moving to a homestead one day, take the time now to learn some of the skills you’ll need. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
From Scratch Cooking
I learned to cook from scratch from my grandmother. It’s probably the skill I appreciate most. Nothing says lovin’ like a home-cooked meal. From scratch cooking allows me the satisfaction of knowing what’s in the food I’m presenting my loved ones with. The symbiotic relationship between the nutritional needs of the human body and the seasonal foods available is no coincidence.
There’s an old saying, “The better the ingredients, the better the meal.” The truth of this statement makes organic gardening a must for us. Although I’ve been gardening since I was able to walk, I’m constantly reading and learning. There’s a great learning curve for me now since we made a move last year (November 2015) from the deep south to the wilderness of the Idaho panhandle. Yep, that’s from a zone 8 to a zone 6/5; from pretty much gardening year around to a 90-100 day growing season. So see, you’re never too old to learn and we never learn everything.
The first thing I always advise someone who asks me about getting started in homesteading to do is to find an old-timer in your area. They are almost always willing to share their years of experience. I take advantage of every opportunity to sit down with one and soak up anything they want to share with me.
There are so many skills they had, oh my heart aches with what I’ll never know that my grandparents knew! They not only knew to harvest at a certain time of the year but also certain times of the day. This allowed them to take advantage of the optimal taste and nutrition of certain foods, especially foraged foods. There’s so much to learn, I know I’ll be learning for as long as I live.
Raising chickens for eggs and meat
This is a mainstay for any homesteader seeking self-sufficiency. The skills required to raise a healthy, thriving herd of animals or flock of poultry are necessary to successful homesteading. This past year, our nation experienced an egg shortage due to the loss of egg layers to the bird flu. Egg prices went through the roof and stores limited the number you could purchase. Now the crisis is apparently over, egg prices are not coming back down. Those of us who had our own flocks were totally unaffected by this dilemma.
Restoring life to the soil is something many homesteaders have to deal with. The homestead herds and flocks play a vital role in aerating and feeding the land. Animal husbandry skills, including butchering, also produce things like eggs, butter, wool, meat, and other of life’s necessities. Can you still make it if your local grocer quit selling the staples of life? Or are you of the mindset to be able to live without some things?
Preserving food is a skill that goes hand in hand with gardening and animal husbandry. Granny always said, “Waste not, want not!” Letting something waste in the garden or of what we’ve butchered is unthinkable. Although some things in the garden slip by me, they are not wasted. We feed them to the chickens, cows, pigs, or compost pile. It gets recycled in some way.
I can remember asking Papa why he planted so much when the pantry was full from last year. His answer struck me and stays in my mind all these years later. He said, “You never know what will happen with this year’s crop. You don’t want to use up all you have and then find out you can’t replace it or you don’t have seeds enough for another year. No, It’s better to have too much and be able to share, than to have too little and be in want. Do all you can and leave the rest to God.”
Learning to dehydrate, pressure can, and smoke your food can help ensure you won’t starve when you run into lean times. Many people depend on their freezers to preserve foods. I am not one of them. I don’t have a freezer. In the past, I’ve lost many foods stored in the freezer because of extended power outages. No, it only takes a little effort, to learn to dehydrate and can your foods. The shelf life of properly dehydrated food is indeterminate. We are still eating foods dehydrated in 2009! Once re-hydrated, they taste like just picked, really! The only food I still pressure can is tomatoes and meat. Many people dehydrate tomatoes and meat, but I just love the look and taste of canned tomatoes. It’s probably from warm childhood memories.
Living a life of self-sufficiency is about acquiring the skills which enable us to live a natural, healthy lifestyle. It’s the most satisfying way to live for us. It’s who we are which makes it what we do.
Don’t be afraid or overwhelmed to begin your own journey to self-sufficiency. Set your goals, prioritize them, and take small steps to achieve them. Remember, homesteading for self-sufficiency isn’t a destination, it’s a journey! You’ll never have a time when everything is done, the work is part of the joy of the journey. Relax and enjoy it!