Let’s face it – we mean well. We really do. Many of us spend the last few days resolving to do things differently next year and we have the best of intentions. But despite our best intentions, those resolutions often fail. Maybe it’s because they’re too grandiose (become debt free this year); or maybe they’re unrealistic (travel to 10 foreign countries this year); or maybe they’re just too dang hard (lose 50 lbs this year). But the truth is there are countless achievable goals we can set that aren’t grandiose or unrealistic or too dang hard. I’ve put together a list of key traits needed by all homesteaders and anyone wanting to become self-sufficient. Most of us don’t have the means to jump into this lifestyle cold turkey, so I offer some ideas for a New Year’s resolution that is achievable and will help you on your journey towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Just remember: the key is to pick one, or two, or a small handful and then build on your success.
Drum roll, please……. (listed in no particular order of importance)
- Grow Some Food. Of course this makes the list. It would be very hard to be truly self-sufficient without producing your own food. But that doesn’t mean you have to produce everything (see bartering, below). Start small and start with something easy. My recommendations? Zucchini because it’s simple and produces a LOT (and because most non-organic zucchini and yellow squash in the super market is genetically modified – but don’t get me started on GMOs!) You can grow it in a container if space is an issue or you can have a few hills in a small garden. And remember, zucchini is the gift that keeps on giving because it’s so prolific! You can trade your zucchini for some of your neighbor’s green beans (also very prolific), or bake and freeze zucchini bread, can zucchini pickles or zucchini relish – all of which are value-added products to keep or trade. If you’re ready for a bigger challenge and have the space, consider potatoes, carrots, winter squash and onions. All are heavy producers, easy to grow, and keep well, which means you’ll have food for months – ideally enough to get you through the winter when most of your garden is idle. Not having to purchase these food staples from the grocery store is incredibly, incredibly liberating! And the taste is beyond compare.
- Learn a New Skill. At the risk of stating the obvious, being self-sufficient means relying on yourself. You should plan on doing things that you used to pay someone else to do for you. Some people have a romanticized vision of homesteading. But the reality is that it is work. And time. And skill. If you’ve made the right choice, you will delight in these tasks. If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to be honest and ask yourself if you’ve made the right choice. I can’t tell you how many people say to me ‘I wish I had your life!’ But when we start talking about canning, milking goats, pulling weeds, grinding corn, mucking out stalls or any other of the myriad tasks we engage in on a daily basis, I usually get either a deer-in-the-headlights look or wrinkled up noses. Folks, being self-sufficient is WORK. So it’s time to embrace a new skill. There are so many skills you’ll need, but this year focus on just one. Learn to can food – one of THE most essential homestead skills. Or learn to make fermented food, beer, hard cider or wine (yes, please!) Take up wood working or welding. Learn to knit, crochet, weave or spin fibers. Some of these ideas seem daunting, but you’d be amazed how many great video tutorials you can find on Youtube. I taught myself how to crochet using this very simple pattern for the Fiona Button Scarf. It was literally just as easy as it looks in the video! Not only will your new skill become invaluable for maintaining your homestead and producing your own items, it could also create a new revenue stream or value-added product (like wool from your sheep that you spin into yarn or knit into a scarf, hat, blanket, etc.) to give as gifts, sell or barter.
- Learn to Barter. Speaking of bartering…this is a sadly overlooked skill. Most Americans are really bad at this. In other cultures, bartering is a way of life but it feels strange to us to exchange products and services without exchanging cash. But I guarantee the things you produce and the skills you have are valuable to someone. And as you move towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle, bartering will come in very handy, particularly when you’re starting out and have little cash flow. I’ve found the easiest way to get started bartering is to put a shout out to your friends on Facebook or post an ad on Craig’s list. You’ll be surprised how many people respond! Got tomatoes? List them for trade and watch the offers roll in. Are you good at fixing stuff? Offer an hour or two of repair work and see what others are willing to trade you in return. Everybody, EVERYBODY has something to trade. Babysitting? Hair styling? Hanging Christmas lights? Tree pruning? Dog walking? Baked goods? A home cooked meal? Old canning jars? Fabric scraps? A ride for someone without a car? The possibilities are endless so don’t be afraid to put your offer out there. I promise it’s fun and rewarding. Every time I barter for something I get a huge thrill – no matter how small it is. Honestly, I feel like I’m “stickin’ it to the Man” because Uncle Sam isn’t getting a piece of the transaction. That feeling of independence is priceless!
- Start Raising Livestock. Don’t get me started on the perils of buying meat, dairy and eggs from the super market! (I’m working on a post about why this is totally gross, inhumane and down right dangerous.) Anyone can learn to raise livestock and there’s no easier starter livestock than chickens. They’re cheap, low maintenance and you don’t have to do anything more than supply them with feed and water in order to get eggs. But beware, chickens are the “gateway livestock” (watch this funny video about the hazards of raising hens). Whether you live in the country or in the city, you can raise a few chickens. Disclaimer: Okay, some very unenlightened cities still prohibit raising livestock of any kind in the city limits so check with your local planning department or search this database on local chicken laws and ordinances. Rabbits are another great source of protein and revenue that require minimal inputs. Most does can safely produce 3-4 litters per year, yielding 6-10 offspring per litter. That’s a decent number of meals for your freezer or bunnies to sell or barter. Bees are another great option. Again, check your local ordinances. We need more bees so you could be doing your part to boost their numbers while also creating a readily available source of sweetener for your family. That can be huge. Refined and processed sugar and syrup is costly and difficult to produce at home, but honey is a cheap, healthy and adaptable substitute for most sweeteners. Now, if you’re really serious about becoming self-sufficient, you’re going to need a milk goat. Why a goat, you ask? Because they’re freakin’ awesome says my totally unbiased, unfiltered and possibly unstable crazy-goat-lady-self. Seriously though, goats are a great place to start producing your own milk and dairy products. Some cities allow a single backyard goat. And believe me – one standard dairy goat will provide all the milk you need for a family of four. My does give a half to a full gallon of milk per day each. Even my family of 5 can’t drink that much milk. Not all goat’s milk has a strong taste. We milk LaMancha and Oberhasli’s and they both have very mild tasting milk – not “goaty” at all. If space is limited, consider getting a Nigerian Dwarf. They’re small, but they’re considered excellent milkers. If you’re still not sold on goats, consider getting a dairy cow, but know that space and feed needs are much greater and they’ll also produce a lot more milk. So you might want to add cheesemaking to your list of new skills to learn this year….
- Pay Down Debt. I know, I know. This IS hard. But notice I didn’t say pay OFF debt. I said pay DOWN debt. Many experts will tell you to start with your highest balance because that is the one that most impacts your cash flow. But I disagree. We need wins. Most people need to feel successful in order to stay motivated. So I recommend starting with your smallest bill and resolving to pay that off. Maybe you pinch pennies for a couple of months to make it happen. Or you sell something so you have a lump sum to apply. Even if that bill is only a hundred dollars, you’ll get a euphoric sense of accomplishment that is both rewarding and reinforcing. Then you can can tackle the bigger bills – now that you’re an expert and all ; ) Why is paying down debt important? Because if you’re tied to bills, you’re tied to a job and that limits your opportunity to invest in yourself and your self-sufficient lifestyle.
There you have it – my list of 5 easy-to-keep resolutions to become more self-sufficient. Remember that the key to success is setting attainable goals. Small bits of progress really add up. Commit to one or two items from this list and build on that success. Now is as good a time as any to practice patience and perseverance because, let’s face it, you’re going to need it in spades as you embark on your homesteader’s journey.
Best luck and wishes in 2015 from our farm to yours ~