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.


time to try the home creamery? February 1, 2010

Filed under: Food,Sustainable — aquilegiaformosa @ 2:06 pm
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Those folks over at Not Dabbling in Normal posted this which discusses making butter and ghee at home. There are also links to the author’s blog, Chiot’s Run with step-by-step how-to guides. The ghee is meant to be a (partial) replacement for non-local olive oil, I believe, but I think it better replaces other vegetable oils like canola, etc, due to the higher smoke point. I wonder if it’s a good choice for deep frying?

The NDiN post also mentions using milk that had soured a bit to make a quick pressed cheese. I love this frugal tip! It makes me think of my grandfather (who grew up in England during the 30’s and 40’s) saying “use it up!”

I’ve been thinking a lot about dairy products lately, as well as the pros and cons of trying raw milk. Many of my favorite sustainable, frugal, local food blogs talk about buying local raw milk. However, these writers are American, and are thus choosing not to use a very different kind of milk than what is sold in Canada. For example, my cousin, who is very into the Slow Food movement, says Canadian milk does not contain antibiotics. I’ve only her word to go on at this point, as I haven’t researched either the Canadian or the American mainstream commercial product, but it’s certainly food for thought. This site from California has some raw milk facts.

The idea of healthy, raw, local milk is somewhat appealing, however, it is illegal(!) to sell it in British Columbia. Home on the Range has a creative solution; interested individuals can buy a “share” in the herd and hire an “agister” (“one who takes care of cattle for a fee”) and then pay a weekly “maintenance” fee. I love the political subversion of this, which is likely more common than just in BC, as the NDiN post mentions doing the same thing in Ohio, as does this Globe and Mail article about an Ontario farm.

One share is $17.50/week for a gallon of milk. That’s $910/year, plus the share price. If I want butter or cream, it’s an additional $8, for 8 or 16 oz., respectively. $8 for half a pound?! That’s at least $8/week, or $416/year, plus extra when I bake, so maybe another $100/year. Right now I pay about $4 to $4.50/lb for conventional butter and less than $3/litre of half and half (10% m.f.) cream. However, since this is about baby-steps, instead of freaking myself out looking at costs per year, I could always start low-key, with a quarter share, for $50 and $5/week for a quart of milk. That’s $260/year, or $22/month.

The jury’s still out on this one, but I think it’s time to give yogurt a try. Maybe also look into soft cheeses, and purchasing the necessary cultures.