Is it possible to be self sufficient in 2020?
First things first…
needing no outside help in satisfying one’s basic needs, especially with regard to the production of food.
That’s the dictionary definition of self-sufficiency…but is it possible to be self sufficient in the 21st century?
For some people being self sufficient is a dream. For others, becoming less reliant on others just makes sense for more practical reasons.
Until very recently, many of us would never have imagined that we’d be experiencing food shortages and panic buying to this extent in 2020.
However, Covid-19 has opened our eyes to our vulnerabilities and shown us just how dependent we are on others to meet our basic needs.
As a result, Garden Centres have seen a huge surge in sales of seeds and compost as everyone scrambles to grow their own and become more self sufficient.
But could we ever be truly self sufficient?
Is it really possible to produce everything you need for your family?
If we stick to dictionary definitions, self-sufficiency would mean fulfilling all of our basic needs…food, energy, clean water and transport.
Does that sound achievable?
Producing your own food is a huge part of becoming self sufficient. Infact, a productive garden is probably the first thing people think of when they hear the word.
The sad reality is though that most of the foods that we consume have traveled thousands of miles to get to our plate.
Importing food is nothing new though. Britain has a long history of trading food. At a very early date the Phoenicians brought Saffron to trade for tin.
In the Middle Ages, the rich flavoured their food with spices from as far away as Asia.
During the Tudor times, trade increased as did the discovery of new lands. Along came spices from the Far East, coffee and cocoa from South America, sugar from the Caribbean and tea from India.
By the First World War Britain was importing two-thirds of its food. Dependence on imports left Britons vulnerable as shipping routes became the target of attacks. It’s not surprising that the British Government asked its citizens to “dig for victory” during the second world war with the aim of increasing national production.
Being self sufficient does protect from variable world food prices and supply shortages but things at the other end of the spectrum don’t appear all that rosy either.
Being entirely self sufficient is perhaps as unbalanced as being entirely dependent on others.
We grow vegetables, fruit, keep bees and manage a woodland…while earning money and home educating our young boys.
The idea of producing all of our food alone is daunting and seems horribly inefficient.
The skill set and resources required to do so would not be achievable by the average person.
And…what happens if it goes wrong…
Monty Don controversially said…
Self-sufficiency, I have to tell you, is a non-starter. At best, it consigns you to a life of dreary repetition and terrible food, at worst your teeth fall out, your breath stinks, you erupt in boils and you sink into 13th-century malnutrition.
An extreme example was seen in 1845 in Ireland when potato crops failed due to disease. They continued to fail and within a few years one million people had died. There were clearly several issues worsening the famine in Ireland, but it is an example of what can happen when one becomes too dependent on a food source.
If we ignore extremes for a minute and consider self sufficiency to be somewhere in the middle…
A moving away from utter dependence on organizations and corporations. Doing something positive to better our own lives without waiting for someone else do it for us. That is an exciting concept!
Some people will succeed in living an entirely self sufficient, off-grid lifestyle. These pioneers have so much to teach us and are incredibly inspirational.
However, those who dream of self sufficiency shouldn’t attempt to emulate them or feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to do so.
I was raised by parents who grew much of what we ate. As a family of 8 we ate our own potatoes every single day.I didn’t taste pasta or rice until I was way into my teenage years! We cooked on a wood burning stove, harvested our own wood to burn and raised a few animals.
My parents worked so hard to achieve it (and still do now)….but they still weren’t entirely self sufficient.
It has to be said that there is something amazing about eating a plate of colourful offerings from your own garden, of drizzling your bees honey on freshly baked bread and harvesting coppice to keep your family warm over winter.
Self sufficiency isn’t just about growing fruit and vegetables.
There are many aspects of our lifestyle that are hugely dependent on somebody else. Many seem so basic that we take them for granted…that is until we contemplate producing or sourcing them for ourselves.
Gone are the days where every house or community had a well as a source of fresh water, outhouses, and access to wood for burning.
The technologies we’ve become accustomed to bring their own complications. Personally, I couldn’t work from home without the internet. My husband couldn’t teach in a school that’s 20 miles away without a vehicle.
Rising fossil fuel costs are enough to make anyone consider the alternatives.
For anyone dreaming of being self sufficient then living in an off-grid house is an ultimate goal.
With strict planning laws and financial implications, building a new house isn’t an option for many. (If it’s your dream then it’s worth looking into OPD in Wales.)
Part of being self-sufficient is learning to make do and better what you already have.
We recently spent a year in France and could not afford the astronomical electricity bills to properly heat the poorly insulated 2 bed house. Our log burning stove back home in Wales was enough to tempt us back!
We don’t live in an off-grid house but it’s incredibly well insulated. We’ve added solar panels and heat our water and radiators with a wood burning stove.
Before considering any big changes to your home, reducing energy usage is the obvious place to start.
This post includes 60+ tips for living more eco-consciously and reducing energy and water consumption.
Reducing our dependency on fossil fuels will not only benefit our planet but our health too.
It’s worth remembering that self sufficiency is a journey.
The more of us that take steps towards this way of life, the easier it will become to live as self sufficient communities. Sharing workloads, skills, seeds and produce. Just as my father remembers everyone getting together to plant potatoes or help with hay making.
To take the first steps towards self sufficiency we must first consider all that can be done and decide for ourselves what we will do to bring about greater resilience, diversity and pleasure in our lives.
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So, is it possible to be self sufficient? What do you think?