Aquilegia formosa

moving towards a goal I can never hope to reach… April 17, 2010

Filed under: Sustainable,TEOTWAWKI — aquilegiaformosa @ 1:14 pm
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Recently Kate from Living the Frugal Life wrote this post about self-sufficiency… or, as she wrote in the comments, “perhaps it would be more accurate to say a lesser degree of dependence.” She described her efforts towards self-sufficiency with the following: garlic, eggs, potatoes, bread, fruits and other vegetables, and heat/energy. She then posed this question, “so what about you?” in relation to the following areas:

How much does our own skill/labor “count” for in terms of self-sufficiency if we must purchase inputs?
How do you factor in dependence on a locally produced good versus dependence on something produced very far from where you live?  Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?
If you depend upon “infrastructure” (e.g. fruit trees, livestock, PV panels, etc.) that you own, but that will eventually die or wear out, how do you gauge your level of self-sufficiency?

I’ve been reading Kate’s blog for over a year, and I find her a consistent source of inspiration in my own journey towards less reliance on the industrial food system. I think her goal of self-sufficiency and her exercise in evaluating her progress is admirable, and also not easily quantifiable. If I were to attempt a similar assignation of percentages to my own efforts, I imagine I’d be hovering in the 10 to 20% range!

For starters, I don’t own property, and the property I rent is too small to enable me to legally keep animals such as chickens or rabbits. The goal is to buy a property larger than an acre within 3 years, using the proceeds from the sale of my mother’s condo as the down payment. Until that time, upgrading heating and energy efficiency isn’t even a part of the picture.

My concerns at this point are less about self-sufficiency and more about developing the skills to maintain a degree of independence and food security. In my community near Vancouver, BC, food security is considered important enough that the Health Authority provides partial funding for food security councils in several municipalities. Their activities have revolved around creating Harvest Box programs and Farmer’s Markets. The goal is more related to economic accessibility to healthy, local food.

I don’t feel I can respond to all of Kate’s questions, but I’d like to tackle this one:

Are we more self-sufficient if we can get something from our neighbor, or make a bicycle trip to obtain something locally produced?  Why, or why not?

Yes, I certainly do think we are more self-sufficient if we can source products from our local communities. I say this because self-sufficiency for me has nothing to do with being able to provide all my own food from my property alone. I think the goal is really self-sufficiency at a community level. I neither have the skill-set or the interest to provide for all of my needs. For example, I have no idea how to work on my car’s engine, but I would consider myself self-sufficient if I could barter with a local mechanic for such work. Further, in a low-energy future (if TSHTF, as Kate so eloquently put it), when I’m not driving my car, I still doubt I’ll have any new mechanical or engineering or construction or plumbing know-how, and I’m sure I’ll still be needing to trade for such services.

As for the skills I have that I could use to trade or barter for such services, I believe I’d be relying on my green thumb and on my inter-personal skills. I am a social work student, and I have spent much time honing my counselling and advocacy skills. As well, I am adept with understanding and negotiating policy. I can’t see these skills being unuseful in a low-energy future. Additionally, I have a lifetime’s background in vegetable gardening. My maternal grandmother was born on a farm, and while her career, coupled with social factors like the Depression and the War, had her leave the family farm, she always kept a kitchen garden, as did my mother, as do I. My father is also a gardener, and my maternal aunt and my two sisters and I have all worked in garden centers. I have an extensive knowledge base and history of practical gardening experience from which to draw. Recently I’ve been coveting a greenhouse and I’ve been working at developing practices to consistently extend my growing season. I can see many possibilities here for trading products or services.

I believe individual self-sufficiency, as in complete self-reliance for the stuff of life, is not possible for human beings, and I don’t think it ever has been in our history. We are communal, tribal beings. We are designed to depend on one another. However, I think self-sufficiency at the community level is an admirable goal. Our planet would be much better served by human beings who produced less fossil fuel exhaust.


in which I lower my expectations February 12, 2010

My intentions for this blog have been overwhelming me. I want to post a well-written, carefully thought out article about 2 or 3 times a week. I am just too busy to meet my own expectations! Thus, time to lower the expectations. 🙂 Maybe a post a week, maybe more journal like, and less article like.

I’ve been reading lots of great stuff on the ‘net. A particularly good source has been Surviving the Suburbs, a new-to-me blog about prepping for a low-energy future. Today’s post includes the following:

the key to transforming the world is starting from a mental place of abundance, not scarcity


even though we seem to be surrounded by so much, with the consumeristic mindset, we’re actually in a scarcity model, in which we work at meaningless tasks so that we can earn, essentially, worthless currency to buy more stuff that we probably don’t really need.

Another post included a link to the Archdruid Report. That post included this lovely gem:

empire is the methamphetamine of nations

Love it. There isn’t much separating the haves (in the post, the US. I’d say the whole global north) from the have nots (third world countries) except for our high standard of living and our massive energy and resource consumption. It’s a slippery slope, and we’re halfway down.

I also just finished reading the novel “The Book of Negroes”. It was fantastic. It describes how England and other European nations were able to create their empires – by exploitation.


homemade iced tea January 28, 2010

file this one under baby steps:

My husband, a major consumer of Nestle’s brand iced tea, decided to make his own today. He had stayed home sick from work, and was apparently feeling better in the afternoon. He made two batches about 3.5 L each. One was sweeter than the other, and we’ll do taste tests to see which one still tastes best tomorrow and the next day. By then it’ll likely be gone, so we’ll have to have gotten enough data to choose!

I’m so impressed, I made one comment about how it’d be cheaper, and we do have tons of Earl Gray tea, his favorite. I also read the label, because I’m becoming a Food Renegade (see button on side bar 🙂 ). Step 1 is ‘become a label Nazi’ and the commercial brand has high fructose corn syrup, which, according to the video, below, must be from GMO corn. Ew.


what I’ve been up to January 23, 2010

…because I haven’t been blogging. 🙂

I’ve been working away diligently at being a mom and at being an awesome social worker.

I’ve been reading lots of blogs about yummy, frugal, local meals:

I’ve been thinking and researching local food (on the ‘net) and the academic literature around this whole food movement. I picked up a few books from my university’s library. They are:

  • The Slow Food Story by Geoff Andrews, 2008.
  • French Beans and Food Scares: Culture and Commerce in an Anxious Age by Susanne Freidberg, 2004.
  • Outgrowing the Earth: the Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures by Lester R. Brown, 2004.
  • Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry is Killing Us by Christopher D. Cook, 2004.

I didn’t have much time at the library, so I just grabbed according to publication date and then interest in the title or back jacket blurb. I don’t know that I’m going to read them all – I really don’t have a lot of time, I have papers to write on a few different subjects. Diet for a Dead Planet sounds a little grim for me , but the back jacket quotes Frances Moore Lappe (author of Diet for a Small Planet, a cookbook I remember fondly from my childhood) about how the book can “motivate change before it’s too late… we don’t have to be victims.” So I read self-empowerment in that, a bottom-up, grassroots approach to changing food production. Outgrowing the Earth seems like it will be similar, but with a global warming, population surging, environmental science approach, rather than a political, economic, health care approach to the topic. I’m not too into grim, scary, however. I don’t need all the evidence recounted to me, I find it overwhelming and depressing. I’d rather skip right to the ‘what to do’ chapters.

The Slow Food Story seems interesting so far; I’ve read half of the chapter on the history of the movement, in Italy in the 70’s as an offshoot of leftist political action. I like that premise – that the pleasure taken in eating well can be a political action. That by making ethical food choices, I am making a political statement. That is empowering to me because I feel like I have no political clout in this country, even though I exercise my democratic right to vote. My vote counts for squat because of the party system. By participating in the politics of food production, I’m participating in direct democracy. This might be the book to focus on for this semester.

I also read a few great blog posts about packaged foods, quitting grocery shopping, and the ethics of raising chickens and buying seeds. These posts have got me thinking so much, I’m planning separate blog posts about each topic. I am fascinated by ethics. I’ve taken a couple of courses at my university on ethics, “morality and politics” and “ethics and public policy.” (The prof who taught those is currently teaching “environmental ethics” which I would have loved to take, if it hadn’t conflicted with a course required for my degree.) I think this journey I’ve begun is heavily related to doing what I think is right, moral, ethical. I think we have a responsibility, a duty of care, to one another and to this planet. If we are doing things that are killing plants, animals, ecosystems, entire human cultures, we are doing things that are wrong.

But are we doing harm intentionally? And do we see the harm we’re doing? Are we responsible for discovering and rectifying the damage? Can we compel others to do the same?

Thinking deep thoughts, that’s what I’ve been up to.