I’ve mentioned a couple times recently that my big goal for this year is to start steering our household in the direction of becoming more self-sufficient & sustainable. Theoretically, it seems like it’ll be an easy transition-we’re both environmentally conscious & have a genuine desire to reduce our footprint even more, but as I do research & attempt to get my ducks in a row, I can’t help but wonder how difficult it might be to make the transition? Is this something we can commit to? Is our community conducive to this sort of lifestyle?
Living self-sufficient & somewhat off the grid has been a dream of mine for a number of years. It’s only recently that my life has slowed down, that I feel the urge to find a place to root & my nomadic tendencies have begun to wane; the closest I’ve come in my adult life to living without & making do was while I was in Southern Utah for a spell. It was a taste of a life I knew I could see myself settling into just fine, with the proper steps. Like anyone else, my dreams border on the grandiose & idyllic, but I can’t help but believe that a taste of that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
My first experiences with sustainable living came to me when I was very young. I spent my childhood on a sustainable homestead
in the Southern Adirondack region of upstate NY. A large expanse of land, a log home literally built around me from the ground up,animals for both husbandry & companionship, energy conservation & utilization of every last resource was a way of life. Kerosene lanterns provided light instead of electricity until I was a teenager, a woodstove provided heat & cooked the food, a generator fueled a small black & white television or stereo where PBS or public radio was readily available. We used greywater to flush the toilet once we moved it indoors & large barrels on the porch caught water from rain storms & snow run-off. I learned to ride a horse & drive a tractor there, caught lightening bugs in mason jars, played in the grass, the mud, & the snow with my sister, & learned how not to milk a cow…some of my fondest memories are of that home. Those memories have been the inspiration & driving force behind my dreams.
So, where do we start?
I’ve been browsing the internet for urban homesteading sites & scouring for tips, stories, & suggestions for those first steps. A site I came across recently called Urban Homesteading has been pretty helpful & encouraging. They have an entry about the 10 Elements of Urban Homesteading that I wanted to share, as well as use as a sort of outline for what goals we need to set, as well as identify what we may already have in place. I like that they acknowledge that most homesteads will be work in progress & individual circumstances will apply.
1. Grow Your Own Food This is a big one for us this year & admittedly, one that’s giving me the most agita. The fact that I have a black thumb aside, we live in downtown Salem, in a rented condo, with no yard to speak of. We have a small patch of grass that runs along side the house, but the fine citizens of this neighborhood cannot be trusted not to trample, pilfer, or likely urinate on my lawn. I discovered last spring that there is a community garden on the waterfront a block from our house & have sent in an application for a plot for this year. Here’s hoping! Damn near my entire ancestral lineage were farmers…I must have it in me somewhere.
2. Use Alternative Energy Sources & Transportation This isn’t a hard one for me, transportation wise. I haven’t driven a car, save for sporadic occassions here & there, since 2001. I have utilized a bike, a scooter, public transportation, & my own 2 feets. As a couple, Aaron & I do our best to use the car as little as possible. Our trips out are planned & we do as much as we can in one fell swoop. I know Aaron would like to cut down even more in the coming year. I’m curious what some folks do in terms of heating their homes as renters-how much say do we really have in something like that?
3. Keep Farm Animals for manure & food Obviously, we aren’t going to go this route. I can’t help but think, however, that alternatively, we could “utilize” the natural pollination habits of birds, bees, & small animals to propagate our gardens, flowers, lawns, etc. by establishing a cycle to keep that alive-planting fauna that will attract said insects & beasts. That to me seems like a harmless, useful way to benefit from what they have to offer. A win-win situation, if I’m making any sense here. And in a perfect world, I’ll eventually live in a place where I have a substantial amount of land & the ability to take in a small number of animals in need. Don’t think for a moment I won’t use everyone’s poop in my garden! Honestly, I am not opposed to the notion of learning beekeeping. It’s a necessary practice this day & age in some places, as the bee population suffers. When I lived in Asheville, they offered free beekeeping courses for folks interested…I realize I’m getting into something many vegans are split on; what do you think?
4. Practice waste reduction I’m forever looking for ways to reduce our waste. I’m a huge supporter of finding second hand goods to love again, of recycling, sharing, & utilizing every last bit of something I can. I’ve never been in a position to compost & I’m looking forward to the possibility of that this year-I’d love to know what people have found to be easiest in a setting like mine.
5. Live Simply I make a lot of our food from scratch & do what I can with my DIY skills to get back to basics with homemaking. I don’t want for much, I’m not a materialistic person by nature-I’m known for just giving it all away-but often, I feel like I can’t live simply enough. We live in a world of excess & it seems hard sometimes not to get caught up. What do you do to live simply?
6. Collect rainwater This is something I’d love for us to do this year, given the space & possibility. I’d also love to talk to folks who have established a greywater system to learn more.
7. Work at home I’m lucky in the sense that essentially, I do work at home…and have, in a roundabout way, for a couple years. My employer, who is also a tremendous inspiration for me, as she & her husband have established a sustainable homestead in Vermont, is of the same mindset as I am in keeping things at a community level as opposed to corporate. My job, obviously, is not a secure one, so I’m hoping to figure out a way to either keep doing what I do when this chapter ends or utilize my skills to generate an income. I feel that we’ve lost that sense of relying on our skills, relying on one another as a community, & nothing is set up to be self reliant anymore-in fact, we seem to be encouraged to rely strictly on big business…but I have many friends who have gone into business for themselves & that gives me hope.
8. Be a good neighbor I love this idea in theory. I hate to say that in practice, I am not so hopeful. I live in Massachusetts…need I say more? I joke, but seriously-what happened to establishing a sense of community? Or just being kind to the folks around you? It seems we’ve become less & less connected to the people around us & that bums me out. I love meeting & interacting with new people & I feel the loss of friendship & connection here as I cross the threshold of my first full year in Salem. This is something I hope to discover more answers to this year.
9. Do It Yourself I’m fortunate to have grown up in a culture with the DIY mindset, ideals that have permeated almost every aspect of who I & my peers were & are now…and my hope is that I can rely on & broaden those skills & tap into ideas to make dreams reality.
What are your big goals for 2013? Have any of you adapted any of these elements into your lifestyle already? Has anyone had success or learned anything from taking steps towards becoming more self reliant? What does sustainability mean to you?