Conscious conscientious decision-making

A state of dependency:

Someone recently asked me if I plan to feed my dog with my farm produce, as well as ourselves. Another, whether or not I was going to make herbal teas and sachets. Still another, whether or not I would grow wheat, oats, and barley, and would I have a cow. Believe me, when I first committed to the ‘Year in Provisions’ project, those thoughts drifted through my head, as well as a host of others. Things like, whether I could feed the other animals on the farm–goats, ducks, chickens, horse. Could I use my horse for roto-tilling the garden. Quite apart from the question of whether or not I’ll continue to have the luxury items of modern day that I can’t grow myself, I had to work through these and a host of other ideas as well.

More importantly for me emotionally, I had to work through the attachment I had to a salary. I quit my job and came back to British Columbia to attempt the project. In order to do this, I need to be financially supported by my husband; something I have not been comfortable with until now. I have never not been self-supporting financially before. Not only that, I had a good paying job at a University, which afforded me certain luxuries I’ve had to give up, and which came with all the benefits of a government job: social security, medical, dental, a pension plan, and paid holidays. It was a big emotional trajectory that I had to work through in order to get here. Moreover it is a risk. I am no longer building up my pension, I don’t have social security, I don’t have a wage to save with for my future, and I am completely dependent upon not only, the generosity of my husband, but also his ability to continue bringing in a wage. Suddenly, these too become luxuries I cannot take for granted.

A matter of time:

Since taking on the challenge of the project, and beginning to let people know what I’m up to, there has been no end of suggestions about what I could do or should do. It is a daunting undertaking.  In particular, figuring out where to stop and what my limits are has been difficult. In fact, it is an almost daily negotiation: should I buy sugar so I can make jam with all my fruit, should I buy vinegar  to can relishes and pickles, should I make vinegar myself from my own apples, etc, etc.? I had to decide whether I would be a  ‘purist’ or simply accept that some foods are necessary to make other foods last. Ultimately, I acknowledged that even the pioneers and cowboys had sugar, flour and coffee!

In the beginning, we talked about cutting out foods we couldn’t produce ourselves, such as olive oil, coffee, wine, beer, etc., as Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet fame did, but ultimately we decided not to–because of the time constraints. Smith and MacKinnon spent their time sourcing local foods whereas I’m spending time growing it. What’s more, they’ve already done it–and for that I am grateful. What they have achieved–getting local eating on the media agenda, locally, regionally and internationally–is a major accomplishment. My hat is off to them.

We also decided not to cut out all ‘off-farm’ luxuries for socio-cultural reasons. Food creates community. Food is culture. Food is a social binder. Once you decide to cut out this or that, you can find yourself suddenly sitting alone on the bench (If you’ve ever gone on a strict diet you will know this!). In addition, this year, we knew we would be hiring a bunch of people to help us get barns built and green-houses built. The compromise we have made instead is buy regionally roasted organic coffee and to brew our own beer and wine at the local U-brew. I just couldn’t see myself explaining to ‘the guys’ why I couldn’t make them a coffee to keep them going at mid-day, or offer them a beer after a hard day’s work!

Life is a compromise!

In the end, I let the idea of rigorous ‘Personal Food Sovereignty’ go. I had to. For one thing, it was just too unrealistic a goal: I don’t own enough land, the growing conditions here are not conducive to grain, and I am only one person (albeit with a helpful partner). Moreover, I don’t have the funds to buy not only  the necessary larger piece of land, but also the requisite equipment needed to accomplish the above.

It was a good mental exercise to work through these ideas (and others such as, “How many cauliflower plants should I grow? How often do we want to eat chicken or fish?”). It has been, to say the least, a thought provoking exercise and something I encourage anyone reading this to ponder in terms of their own life. When you sit and think about how you would feed yourself, your family, your animals should you ever have to, it certainly sharpens the mind and focuses your energies! Once you suddenly realize just how dependent you are on ‘the system’, you will be humbled, if not shocked and somewhat un-nerved as I was.

What’s important:

This deep dependency on a system is not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Consequently, that has become my focus: extracting myself as much as I can from ‘the system’. I have made a shift from the original goal–to grow all my own food for  a year, to creating interdependency within my community and social circle. This goal, like my garden, is growing, changing, and continuously evolving based on its relationship to the outside world and my innate limitations.

What is important and what I can manage ultimately comes down to time, my community, and my priorities and abilities for living a rich life. Through the blogging world I have found a community of like-minded others who, by their own writings, have mirrored with scintillating accuracy my own feelings about the day to day of a small-holding. As this fellow blogger, Stonehead, states so humorously:

As always, there are just two of us working the [farm], one full-time and one helping out as and when. It means we cannot possibly do all the things that everyone thinks we should be doing, whether it’s tanning rabbit skins, keeping a house cow, making our own paint brushes from pig bristle, keeping the place totally weed free, making our own soap, or dancing the fandango on the rooftoop every hour on the hour while playing the bagpipes. We have to decide and adjust our priorities constantly to ensure we get the important things done first…

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15 Comments

Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

15 responses to “Conscious conscientious decision-making

  1. Pingback: Choosing where and why to establish limits « Musings from a Stonehead

  2. Well said. I was directed here from Stonehead’s blog.

    We find the people making the suggestions, usually have such notions of “being able to do it all” because of what they have read, not what they have actually done themselves.

    I like to take photos and blog, I would never dream in a million years that I could, or would build the camera and computer to do these activities. So why would someone expect me to make my own shoes and weave my cloth for clothing.

    I do keep a family cow, since I have had cows all my life, and the land to support it. But, by reading blogs, I have been abhored to see the dismal conditions a fair number of family cows are being kept. I don’t know sometimes if I should comment or just keep my mouth shut. Usually, the latter, it won’t do any good anyway.

    Our committment to ourselves is to grow what we can easily raise here, in our climate, and feed ourselves and our livestock. We eat seasonally and preserve some food, but have adjusted our eating patterns to fit what we can grow and harvest throughout the year. To that end, this will be the last year we offer turkeys, and pork since they need grain for a big part of their diet. We can raise our grassfed beef on our pastures, and supplement our house cow with roots that easily grow and store. After jettisoning the turkeys and pigs we will feel like we are not so much of the “problem!”

    Thank you for the excellent post.

  3. Thank you for this post. I can relate to much of what you’re saying. I too recently resigned from a position of “prestige” to be a full time homemaker/gardenmaker (although I still run the local farmers market). But the guilt of not being a financial contributor had me sick. I am now on the upswing, coming to terms with contributing so much more than just $. The quality of life goes up dramatically when you tend to your homestead by growing and preparing your own food!

    I’m excited to read more of your blog.

    Best wishes!

  4. We are full time smallholders……….

    I find it is those who have NO idea how difficult it is …to do any self sufficient lifestyle aim…who are the ones who are most vociforous in shouting on my blog that we should be doing *MORE*!

    we are largely self sufficient in veg, fruit, eggs and wood for the wood burner..as well as making our own wine, jam, pickles, and drying/ freezing surplus stuff to eat later on.

    We make some of our own butter, cheese, yoghurt etc…IF we had a house cow or goat I could make all of it..but we don’t have such an animal ( yet! I am working on it! ) ….so I don’t.

    We have our own water and sewerage supply/treatment plant…and so we do not rely on utilities for those…..but we DO rely ( at the moment) on external electricity..we are not yet “off grid” but that is the next BIG project!

    we buy our meat from within 10 miles at a farmers market…and we get other stuff from it at the same time…

    I get flour from a local supplier and we make all our own baked goods..and it is produced and grown within 40 miles ( pretty good for the UK!)

    so …we have a long way to go by many folk’s standards..BUT by most people in the UK we are VERY self sufficient! Nearly all of our bought in food comes from within 20 miles apart from flour and feed for the hens…which is UK ( so 200 miles….max)

    nearly all is from within 20 miles….and most is within 5 miles ( or 50 feet , if from our garden!)

    I DO feel sometimes that people read my blog and criticise when they have NO idea of the realities of trying to be even moderately self sufficient!

    Ah well……..education, education, education is the key I guess

  5. Another one from Stonehead’s blog and another one in total agreement. Those who aren’t doing it have no idea how hard it is to be truly self sufficient especially if like me you are doing it alone. Last year I told someone that I’d just finished sowing the winter wheat. “Oh you’ve nothing to do until summer then” came the reply!

    I get up in the morning and think – I’ll weed the veg then cut the lawn, top the field and clean out the animals today when in fact any two of those things are achievable in a day if that. It’s much easier to say than actually do.

    My goal is to become far less dependant on non-local items and to reduce my carbon/waste etc, but like you say if you tell people that’s what you are doing they expect you to be doing everything all at once.

  6. Thanks Deb (and everyone else for sharing their experiences, and blogs).

    Right now, I’m running behind the zucchinis, pickling cukes, the rapidly molding peas and beans on the vine, the apples that need saucing and canning, the pears ditto…a host of other tasks that need doing, oh and by the way, my husband so kindly pointed out tonight after his walk, ‘the rose-hips are ready’…

  7. LOL!

    I go for a nice walk in our wood and all I can see are fallen branches just waiting to be gathered for the woodburner! ( rolls eyes!)

    But at this time of year, especially, there is just SO MUCH to be done…..

  8. Wanna come over and help??? Your place or mine…if only eh?

  9. Oh I wish!

    Thats the trouble with blogs, you “meet” all these like minded folk who you would reallly love to meet, but they live so far away……

    Ah well…back to the Beans…..Chutney on the go!

  10. It’s also the pleasure of blogs. There are very few people within reach of us who are doing the same thing to the same extent, but the internet means you’re all just next door. Now, can you spare me a pound of sugar, please?

  11. Sure, just let me know when you’ll be by to pick it up…

  12. I too was directed here by Stonehead.

    I understand where you are coming from…because I question myself much the same way.

    There are so many things that I want to do to make us more self-reliant, and I dream of doing them all of the time.

    But then reality (baby, full time job) kicks in and I am back to earth again.

    What a great blog you have!!
    Keep inspiring us!

  13. LittleFfarm Dairy

    Hiya matie –

    sorry for being tardy but stumbled across this one via a Stoney trackback/pingthingy (excuse the Luddite here!).

    I know exactly what you mean! I went from a very successful & prestigious, full-time, high-paid career to embarking on our dairy endeavours….& it’s been both a physical & mental struggle for me.

    I certainly don’t miss the average six-hour daily round trip commute to/from the office; however I do miss the decent salary which meant we could do what we wanted, when we wanted here on the Ffarm. However, the whole idea of getting our smallholding was precisely so I could give up what I was doing, to build a viable business to support us both….

    However, I now appreciate just how much time, investment & energy this takes. We reckon we’ve ploughed in (so far) around £600,000 to get where we are today: & we STILL don’t have our own on-farm unit to craft the gelato (give us another £100,000+ & I reckon we’ll just about get there!).

    Meanwhile there are the astronomical costs of energy, animal fodder, equipment, hire of off-farm premises, ingredients, delivery vehicle, packaging etc etc etc….the list goes on & on (not to mention feeding, clothing & caring for ourselves – very low on the list of priorities).

    It really is a case of just gritting our teeth & getting on with it; & I used to have such heartache that I was piling too much responsibility on my OH, to bring home not just a decent but frankly a darn good wage, to pay for all this investment whilst I was apparently ‘playing’ at being a farmer.

    But whilst his investment is mainly money (& when he’s working, let’s face it he actually enjoys a pretty good lifestyle – although to be fair when at home he does work darn hard to make up for those hours soaking up the sun by the pool!) my personal investment is time: long, gruelling hours whatever the weather; & doing each & every day, what most people probably fail to achieve in just one 24-hour stint.

    So I’m just about over the guilt stuff….sort of! But sincere thanks for this post – plus the comments it’s generated – as it’s put everything back in a more measured, comfortable perspective for me.

    P.S. Can I drop by for a cup of maple syrup pse (so much more yummylicious than sugar!).

    P.P.S. Working on the ‘Lovespoon’ apron – will PM ASAP. xxj

  14. Pingback: Blog Carnival : 21st June 09 | MyBlogPartner

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