Monday, January 18, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 3: Food

Every living person on this planet needs sustenance. Food is a critical component of not only energy and physical wellness but our cultural background, social experiences, creativity, and the communication of thoughts through taste, touch, smell, and sight.

Food is awesome. Food is life.

Unfortunately, food is expensive...even in rich upper-class countries like America. America's current economic mentality (work all the time) and culture (eating out is more enjoyable than cooking) doesn't allow much in the way of preparing our own food, nor does it allow us enough resources, education, or funds to purchase truly healthy, in-season items from our local farmers. We're left with a plethora of low-quality, manufactured choices that seem inexpensive, but are killing us in the long run with chronic conditions, medical bills, and widespread disease. Our sickness and aversion to spending $2 more on eggs inevitably lines the pockets of millionaires who, when given the chance, would do anything to keep things exactly they way they are...including lying the public, bribing government officials, and bankrupting American farmers.

These people, the people who build, buy, own, and manage your favorite grocery stores, want nothing more than a solid fiscal year. They do not care for you, your kids, your dog, your well-being. They care about money. 

Did you hear me? One of your greatest needs...the need to controlled by people who don't care the least bit about you. If they can make it for cheaper, they will, even if it means injecting human bodies with chemicals that make us infertile, autistic, and riddled with tumors. 

And that, my dear friends, is why having your own source of food is important. 

You can be self-sufficient without buying a farm, milking a cow, or making your own cheese. Although all of those things are incredible in their own right, they might not be realistic for you and that's ok. This entire journey is about finding what is applicable and doable for you, specifically. 

But that doesn't mean you can just sit back and wait for a food source to come to you. We're revolutionizing our lives here, right? Change is hard. You'll need to put in some effort. But don't worry....the things I'm going to suggest are pretty easy. Some are even ... *gasp!*....... fun :)

Start Small
This is critical. At one point in my life, yesterday, years ago, I imagined my yard overflowing with ornamental veggies, chickens, goats, an orchard, beehives, and an aquaponic rainwater system. Remember what I talked about in our goal-setting post? Set some specific, attainable goals. It's ok to have a vision of what you want in the end and it's ok to have a couple big goals on your list, but when creating your own food source, it's best to start small. Many of us have never created our own food before. It takes a good season or two to get the hang of it. Be patient and allow yourself to learn slowly. 

Growing something, anything, is my absolute favorite thing to recommend to those just starting their self-sufficiency journey. Anyone can pop a seed in a pot, honestly. If you have light, dirt, water, and a seed, you have a way to nourish yourself. And it doesn't need to be all work and hard labor and stuff. I was able to create a mostly maintenance-free food garden last year and it rocked my lazy socks off.

Everyone always recommends starting with tomatoes, but not me. I say pick your favorite vegetable and try to grow it. Does your family eat a lot of corn? Corn is the #1 most adulterated food on the planet. Grow some corn stalks. Don't let the size intimidate you. Like cucumbers? Grow cucumbers. I love sweet bell peppers, so I went big and grew two varieties last year. It was my first time growing peppers, ever, and you know what? They grew HUGE and beautiful and I had peppers for days up until the first frost.

If veggies are too intimidating, try herbs. Organic, fresh herbs can be yours at honestly 1% of the price of store-bought herbs. They can be used straight from the plant or dried on a windowsill and shoved into little glass shakers for use later. And some herbs will grow no matter how brown your mint! Or cilantro! Pretty much all the herbs I love to eat grow like weeds. Try making an outdoor herb spiral to make your herb garden even less time-consuming. Pretty, fun, and edible!

Watch where you buy your seeds. Some seed companies support the very corporations I referred to above. Others, like SeedSavers Exchange and Baker Creek, are heirloom seed companies that specialize in saving non-GMO, organic, "vintage" varieties of plants that would otherwise be pushed to extinction by our mechanized chemical food industry. The great thing about heirlooms is they tend to grow better in your specific climate -  I choose seeds from plants originating in Russia, or Minnesota, or Norway because I know they will live better in my super cold climate.

If you already have a garden, add to it. Try a new variety of your favorite veggie....or, if you really want to live on the self-sufficiency edge, vow to only eat whatever spinach (or kale, or tomatoes, or corn) you can grow yourself. That would be a good test of whether or not you need to expand your operation to truly feed your family all year long.

My growing season is short. Things get warm in late May and frost is circling by October. That means I have less than 4-5 months to get my food from seed to big, giant vegetable. It also means that unless I'm willing to eat nothing all winter, I need to figure out how to store the food I grow.

So how do we preserve what we grow?

Well, we can can (hehheh). Canning is no joke. I am going to dedicate an entire post in this series to canning - you're welcome to check out my bone broth post for a sneak-peak at my process (get it? process? You process jars when you can? Get it? No? Ehhh).

We can dry our food. Yep, even tomatoes and peppers. I would love a dehydrator, but I've dried herbs by just placing them on counter. The hardest part? Keeping the cat from laying on top of my herbs.

We can freeze our food. Oh yes, I love to freeze my food. I've frozen pureed zucchini, peppers, onion tops for stock, squash, and sweet corn. The only down side to freezing is the need for electricity - if you are trying to save energy or if you're worried about power outages, you might want to try a different preservation method.

My favorite way to preserve the harvest? Grow foods that will live outside in the winter or stay fresh in storage. Potatoes. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. You can grow these things and then leave them in a cold, dry place for months before they'll rot. Did you know that? I didn't know that for a long time. I always thought I needed to refrigerate my onions and taters. I also love my kale - it grows outside in the snow for months. I know if I need something to eat and am truly out of food, kale has my back. It may not taste like ice cream but its nutritional density and cold-hearty nature makes it a most sustainable little source of sustenance.

Consider Chickens
I know. I know most of you think this is so far beyond the stretch of suburban capacity. This is next-level self-sufficiency, here. But I beg you, if you can have chickens, do it. I am telling you. They are the most fun, most exciting, most resourceful little creatures on the planet. They are, compared to dogs, cats, and other animals who provide companionship, but no food, easy to care for.

Yes, there is a learning curve (I'm still nowhere near pro level). Yes, you will need to feed them and figure out what to do when they stop laying eggs. Yes, baby chicks are too adorable to ever consider eating. Yes, you need to build them a home. Yes, they poop. But I swear, dear readers, they are the greatest way to get your feet wet as a self-sufficient omnivore.

Their swift uptick in popularity has gifted us with some incredible chicken resources that will break down the ins and outs of chicken care. We are in the age of instant knowledge - what better way to go big and try something you'd never considered before?

You gotta learn how to prepare those things you're growing, right? Even if you don't grow your own ingredients, cooking from healthy, well-sourced ingredients saves money, calories, and chemicals from entering your body.

One of the first things I ever cooked "from scratch" was a pumpkin pie. I bought a pre-made crust, a can of pumpkin, some evaporated milk, some sugar, and all the other things the back of the pumpkin can told me to get. I remember getting confused in the sugar isle. I saw "confectioners sugar" and assumed it was the right stuff - after all, aren't confections, like, little cakes and pies and shit? So I grabbed the confectioners sugar and baked these two pies. They were, of course, horrific. Nothing sweet or nostalgic about them whatsoever.

I share this story because I think it's important to point out we all start from nothing. The only Aunt Jemima I had in my kitchen growing up was the stationary, printed kind on my syrup bottle. I had to start from the bottom, from the sad, sad bottom of ignorance, and work my way up.

Since the Punkin Pie Episode of 2007, I've learned not only the difference between confectioners sugar and real sugar, but also the difference between fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin, jack-o-lantern pumpkin plants and sugar pumpkin plants, and of course, how to make a real, authentic, top-notch pumpkin pie from the crust to the delicious, velvety-smooth center.

Cooking can be a pain in the ass at first. Once you get some tried-and-true recipes under your belt, cooking can also be fun. Relaxing, even. No, I know. Who woulda thunk it. My #1 favorite thing to do in the kitchen? Knead dough. I love kneading dough so, so much. And you know, if I hadn't tried to make my own pizza crust once on a whim, I would've never found something I've truly come to love. Take the time and the risk and cook!

Find Food Elsewhere
So here's the deal. To be truly self-sufficient, you've gotta do some of this stuff yourself. But, and this is a huge but, sometimes things like gardens and chickens and pressure canners aren't realistic. Normally I'd say tough, deal with it, do it, grow it, cook it....but I'm willing to make an exception. One exception.

Buy local.

Yep. If you can't make your own milk, find out who can. Ask your town's Facebook group. Ask your neighbor. Ask someone at your local farmers market. Take the time to scout out the best local source of meat, cheese, fruits, breads, and vegetables.

I am going out on a limb here by venturing to say you can be self-sufficient by proxy, meaning you can distance yourself from the sticky, poisoned web of lies spun by our commercial food industry simply by forming a community of growers around you. You become self-sufficient through the relationships you form with your friends, your neighbors, your community.

If you can't physically do it, find someone who can and pay them to. It still takes effort, but hey. Change requires time. And effort. And trying new things.

Give this a try: instead of heading to your local farmers market to get a few little fun things, bring your entire grocery list. What can you cross off? What do you have trouble finding? Do you really need those things? Joel Salatin once said something along the lines of: if those who shopped at farmers markets actually went to buy groceries instead of participating in them like a social event, our food system would be fixed.

You don't need to do it all yourself. You can find others who do it for a living and pay them to do it. It will cost you more, but will require less effort on your part.

Still cook, though. Just give it a try. 

How about you, dear readers? Do you have any food-related goals for the year? Which one of my suggestions seems the most realistic to you? What are your challenges related to self-sufficiency with food? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading :)

Did you miss a Self-Sufficient Life series post? Don't worry! Here's what we've covered so far:

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)


Monday, January 11, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 2: Handling Setbacks

The very words "self-sufficiency" imply a sense of independence, doing things on your own, being alone. They inspire empowerment, a feeling that no matter what, you can do this. You don't need anything but your own two hands to change the world.

And that's all fun and good until you're faced with handling problems all by yourself.

In those instances, self-sufficiency can be intimidating. Too much. Scary. Mayday, mayday, we're failing our goals - anyone out there?

If you're anything like me, with a strong group of friends and fantastic family, the answer to that last questions is...... no. Confused? Hear me out.

Many of my goals revolve around some pretty laborious tasks....hard labor, gardening, fostering a sense of peace within myself, creating my own happiness, enriching my children. While friends and family care about me, care about my life, they can't tell me what to do when the crap hits the fan. They can't physically pick up my dreams and take over for a while when I'm sick or tired or just plain over it all.

And that's where being self-sufficient is most challenging. It's all on you, tired or not.

But there are ways to combat this sense of isolation. These are my top 3 tips for dealing with setbacks in your journey to becoming self-sufficient.

1. Expect it
Know ahead of time that your goals will not be easy to attain. Embrace this awareness from the very beginning. If your goals were easy, you'd have done them by now...even the smaller tasks I spoke of last week require focus and motivation to complete.

Prepare for major setbacks by remaining hopeful, but understanding you might be standing alone when the going gets tough. Sometimes chickens die and you have to dispatch them while crying, alone, in the rain. Sometimes a tomato plant started from seed and gingerly protected all spring will wither. Sometimes the dinner you spent an hour on will taste like garbage. Sometimes people you depend on leave, either of their own accord or not. Friends. Family. Spouses. Relationships, people, moments of joy, and life in general is not eternal. It's not fun to think about....matter of fact it royally sucks to think about.....but having a complete understanding of the nature of life will help when life happens. It will still knock the breath from your lungs, but you'll be prepared. You'll have practiced taking deep gulps of air to steady yourself.

2. Reach Outside
I have a standard list of support people I turn to when I feel destroyed. Some of these people are family, others are friends, but like all family and friend circles, not everyone understands my perspective. Sometimes I get advice that wraps me like a hug, other times I feel an unintended coldness that pierces my heart. It's not their fault. Perspective is earned by doing and we each do very different things.

So sometimes, my best bet is to reach outside of my inner circle and reach for those specifically involved in the very things I need help with. My homesteading group on Facebook helped me when I struggled with feelings of failure from a poor garden harvest and losing half my flock. My moms' group hurts and heals with me when I struggle with feelings of failure as a parent. I know exactly which friends of mine are unbiased enough to talk to about my failed marriage.....and sometimes these people are more like acquaintances, only popping in and out of my life every so often. They're still fantastic, close circle or not.

When you need help with one of your self-sufficient goals, reach out to a group of people that values the same goals. It doesn't make you weak....if anything, it allows you to deal with setbacks productively instead of heeding the advice of those who might not always understand the full picture.

3. Keep Motivation Handy
Some of the worst setbacks to happen to me come when I realize my goals and dreams depend on the involvement, appreciation, and support of another person. When that person is no longer available to help with my goals and dreams, I feel like these accomplishments are no longer possible. Kaput. No more. The same can be said of goals centered on money or time or the weather....we cannot control people, money, time, or the weather. These things are completely out of our control.

Keeping my methods of motivation handy helps me realign my goals with what I can accomplish right now, despite unexpected circumstances. I look at my pictures of horse-filled fields, baskets overflowing with homemade soap, cob-cottage homes, and vegetables piled up in massive pyramids and I envision them sitting in front of me, put there by my own hands. I visualize the things I want by drawing them to mind and then watching myself make them happen.

Maybe your motivation doesn't come from pictures and visions but from pets or kiddos. The most innocent souls on our earth can make everything seem so simple, so good, so possible. Maybe you draw motivation from movement, like yoga or walking. Whatever it is that motivates you, keep it close by and remember to draw upon the power of a motivated spirit when you feel like giving up.

I wish it were easier. I wish sometimes life didn't knock me down right when I started to regain my footing. But to believe there is no rhyme or reason behind these setbacks is to negate any opportunity to learn. Problems are sometimes out of my control, I get that. But I gotta believe something good can always come from the ashes, even if it's only the experience of loss and learning itself.

Any of you, dear readers, experience setbacks in your efforts to become more self-sufficient? How do you deal with problems that are beyond your control? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading!

Ready to check out the other phases? Click below!

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)


Monday, January 4, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 1 - Identify Your Goals

The start of the year is contagious. I'm not talking about the various viruses that may be weaving themselves into your home via kids returning to school, or the sick, sweeping panic of the political system as it winds up to deliver blow after blow of dollar-seeking propaganda, I'm talking about a sweet, clear perspective of freshness. A contagious, shared inhale and exhale. A new start. Whether we look forward to it, curse it, or anywhere in between, the start of every year yields a sense of beginning, motivation, and purpose.

January is typically a busy month for me. I was born this month, exactly three days and twenty-two years before my oldest daughter was born. My wedding occurred this month, although on paper we were married back in December. I'm winding down from the holidays and trying to fit back into routines. And last, but certainly not least, this month is busy because it's filled with planning.

Oh am I ever a planner. 

You wanna know what I do when I get sad? I plan vacations. Trips. Parties. Events. Dinners. These things might never (and rarely do) come to fruition, but I plan them anyways. Planning things, daydreaming, and seeking out the wondrous possibilities in front of me keeps me peppy. It brightens my day. 

And this year is no different. This year, I've planned a number of things already. And one of them has to do with you, dear readers. Oh yes.

If I had to name one area of my life where I've found new life, new joy, and new learning opportunities, it would be my journey into self-sufficiency. 

It started innocently enough. I felt a deep, deep sense of anger at the fractured way I was living my life. I worked to pay for a home I never saw, for kids I missed all day, a car that burned fuel racking up miles to the office each day, and food I didn't have time to prepare. I was tired, I was frustrated, and I was angry. And I still am. You see, despite quitting my corporate job and working from home, our household is still dependent on the income of my husband. He essentially switched places with me. We still shop at a commercial grocery store stocked with food from Mexico and I still buy clothes made in China.

I'm still chained to the dependent life. 

My dream is to personally make a big enough dent in our cost of living to actually make a difference in the quality of our lives. And I want to do it without the typical American budgeting tricks like shopping at WalMart, cutting coupons, or relying on cheap man-made goods to get me through. I want purity, I want community, and I want to learn how to do things the way nature intended. I want, with the help of rain, sun, dirt, and neighbors, to do this on my own. I want a self-sufficient life. 

And I'm not alone. 

The organic craze has exploded. Chicken-keeping is something women actually find cool again. Even some of my best dear blogging readers, who blog in a completely different genre, participate vividly when prompted with questions about a self-sufficient life. 

And so, for the next 9 weeks, while we cozy up under winter's chill and wait for planting time to begin, I invite you to follow along as I unwrap 9 different phases of developing self-sufficiency. And I"m not only talking about the hippie, tree-hugging, permaculture sense of self-sufficiency (althought that's bound to appear now and then because those things are glorious), I'm talking about an all-encompassing, personalized sense of self-sufficiency...according to you. These phases are customizable.....I will explain my application of each phase, but how you apply them your own life will be completely dependent on you, your wishes, abilities, and efforts.

I could not be more excited to share what I learn as I walk, talk, and learn it, myself. 

So where do we begin?

I am a member of an incredible Facebook page for small-scale homesteading and self-sufficiency. One of the admins, a man named Rich, consistently adds his input to a repeat question I see time and time again on the page: "I want to get started with living off the land, producing my own food, and breaking ties with the grid, but how?"

His answer time and time again: Set. Your. Goals. 

I'm not talking about things like, "I want to be healthy," or, "I want to make money doing stuff I love." I'm talking about clear, specific, attainable goals. They don't need to be mind-blowing, huge goals, although you're welcome to shoot for the stars if you want to. I prefer to start small. When I accomplish small goals it helps me build the confidence I need to tackle the bigger, more mind-blowing tasks in my life.

A few of my goals for 2016:

1. Make at least 2 recipes from this cookbook a month.

2. Save enough money by bypassing store-bought items to take a vacation.

3. Write 20 articles for supplemental income.

4. Plant at least 5 new varieties of vegetables this year.

5. Offset an entire year's worth of onion costs by growing them instead of buying them.

6. Restock the chicken flock and secure egg buyers. 

7. Learn how to sew a dress for each kid. 

8. Add three more raised beds to the backyard.

9. Replace once-a-week eating out with once-a-week homemade pizza night.

10. Revamp freelance writing website and gain at least 3 new clients. 

Notice the goals are specific. And unique. Do websites and gardening typically fit together? No, but for me and my life, my website will (hopefully) earn me enough money to offset the startup and reoccurring costs involved with planting, chicken-keeping, and making my own household products. Even homemade hummus is made from something...and that something isn't free. 

Keep in mind self-sufficient doesn't need to mean devoid of income, especially when you are just starting out. Raised garden beds can be built from cheap materials, sure, but then you need to fill the beds with dirt. Dirt, strangely enough, isn't dirt cheap. 

To me (and everyone is different), self sufficiency means no longer spending my income in places that do not share my means no longer being dependent on people and things that do not jive with my goals in life. I will always need to shop (I can't grow my own olive oil, man!), but I want to buy my things and spend my money supporting people who care about our planet, our kids, and our health. And if that means I learn how to make my own cheese, stitch my own pillowcases, and chomp my own carrots in the process, then awesome. More life skills to market myself with.

Because that's the second part of my definition of self-sufficiency - I will know I've reached my goal of a self-sufficient life when me and my immediate family members are doing what we love instead of doing what we hate...or kinda just tolerate. I'll know I've made it when I am making ends meet doing what I love and when my immediate family members aren't forced to drive into a cubicle for 71% of their lives. I know. Sounds a little nuts, yes? Idealistic? Unrealistic? 

But no. People do it every. Single. Day. Every single day, someone realizes her talents, her dreams, and her capabilities and she packages it, markets it, and sells it with pride. And everyday, people buy it. They share it. Others buy it. And a lifestyle is made. It happens every day, people. And everyone has a right to realize that dream. You like yarn? I bet if you like it enough to make your own, people will buy it. You really need to love it, though. You need to be dedicated to making it real, despite what others think, or how hard it is, or how much you want to give up. There are millions of people who give up and walk around living and dying according to the clocks and agendas of others. 

You don't need to be one of those people. And you can start by identifying what you want and setting specific goals to get there. I'll do it with you. Let's go.

What are your goals for the new year? Anyone trying to eat healthier, start a new hobby, or worry less about money? Anyone out there have a lifelong dream you've never realized? Oh and if you enjoy pictures of chicken butts, homemade food, and garden greens, check out my backyard farm's new Instagram page. I created it exclusively for my journey toward we're sure to see some epic fail pics on there eventually! I am so excited to continue this journey with you next week, dear readers, and as always, thank you so, so much for reading :)

Ready to check out the next phases? Click below!