Self-Sufficiency and a Pretty, Beige Dress

When I think about what my life might look like, if I were the sole supplier of all of the Whitaker household food,  I get a vivid picture in my mind of pioneer life — in particular the Ingalls’ family from  Little House on the Prairie.  I picture myself in a pretty, beige work dress with a white apron (just like “Ma’s”), hectically following behind a horse-drawn plow, sweat dripping from my brow.  I’m working from sun up to sun down, plowing the fields, sowing seed, harvesting, threshing, winnowing, butchering, and preserving food hour after hour, day after day, year after year, with no end in sight.

In some ways, I’m enchanted with the thought of returning to that past civilization and a time that seemed much simpler and slower.   I’ll admit that I  have a very romanticized, if not idealized view of those days.  However, when I think about all of the work it took to get a full course meal on the table, I don’t think I really want to go back there.  I honestly find great pleasure living in an industrialized, technologically advanced society and taking advantage of the modern conveniences that come with it —  flour that is already ground,  butter that is already churned,  and chickens that have already been butchered, de-feathered, gutted and skinned (I have to leave the story of our rooster butchering for another time, but suffice it to say, it’s definitely not something we’d want to be doing on a daily basis, now that we have intimate knowledge of the process).

Perhaps I’m looking at this all the wrong way, though.  Maybe providing more of our family’s food has more to do with the future, than the past.  According to John Seymour, author of The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, “Self-sufficiency does not mean ‘going back’ to the acceptance of a lower standard of living.  On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living; for food that is fresh and organically grown and good; for the good life in pleasant surroundings; for the health of body and peace of mind that comes with hard, varied work in the open air; and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully.”   It is  “accepting complete responsibility for what you do or what you don’t do”, and it means “husband[ing] the land wisely, knowledgeably, and as intensively as possible”.  Well, that doesn’t sound too archaic!

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to completely replace all of the food we buy from the grocery store, but, according to Mr. Seymour, my success won’t be measured by attaining full-fledged independence from all outside sources; victory will be found in the “striving” (and, I venture to guess,  even in my infinite failures!

In striving for self-sufficiency, will I ever grind my own wheat, churn my own butter, or butcher, de-feather, gut, and skin my own chickens?  It’s possible.  Given that we’ve ventured into goat raising  it is likely that, by this time next year, we’ll be eating our morning cereal with fresh goat’s milk, buttering our toast with homemade goat butter, and feasting on homemade pizzas topped with freshly processed goat cheese.  Doesn’t that just sound so fantastic and dreamy?  Can’t you just picture me waltzing out to the goat pen, beige dress fully girded, blissfully milking our two highly cooperative goats…okay, now we’re approaching fairy tale status.  Seriously, though, some of it might actually happenafter all, all things are possible with God!

Thus, as I endeavor to provide more of our family’s own fresh, organic, home-grown varieties of food, and reflect upon the nostalgic past – a time when self-sufficiency was just a normal part of everyday life, I am thankful that I live in an age where convenience is affordable, and grocery stores abound.  As food prices continue to rise, the future state of our national economy becomes more uncertain, and our family faces the real possibility of  living off of  those meager unemployment checks, I’m even more eager to pursue self-sufficiency.  Growing and producing more of our own food,  will, at the least,  better prepare us and make us more able to withstand these coming economic challenges.  But, heck, if all goes really well, it’s feasible we may never have to set foot inside of another grocery store again!  When that day comes, you can bet I’ll turn my attention to eliminating the next budget category… clothing.  I mean, really.  How difficult can it be to grow and process a few bales of cotton?  — Well,  at least just enough to make myself a pretty, beige dress.

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