The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.


Sycamore leaf with snowI've been doing a lot of thinking about self-sufficiency lately.  When I was in my early twenties and dreaming of (and saving for) a homestead, my goal was complete self-sufficiency.  I imagined parking at the corner of my wooded property and walking back to a tent, where I lived until I'd cut down enough trees to make my home.  I had absolutely no contact with the outside world in this dream, and needed none.

Age (and Mark's mitigating influence) have slowly redefined my vision of self-sufficiency to include the local community and beyond.  Rather than living without electricity for a couple of decades until we saved enough for an off-grid power setup, we went ahead and plugged into the cheap, mainstream grid, and reaped the benefits by making a living online.  We take advantage of the copious waste in American society, living in a forty year old trailer that was being thrown away and trading fresh eggs for horse manure.  Nowadays, my vision of self-sufficiency involves tricking talking enough like-minded --- but subtly different --- neighbors into settling nearby so that we could trade peaches for fresh milk and homegrown honey for half of a pig rather than having to raise every sort of livestock ourselves.
Flooded creek
That said, I have to admit that I love days when we're flooded in and it becomes clear how self-sufficient our homestead already is.  Even without high creek waters, we generally only go into town two days a week to mail our chicken waterers, hitting the grocery store once every week or two for the scant provisions we don't grow ourselves, and visiting the big city perhaps once or twice a month for other supplies.  Who cares if it floods Tuesday night when you're not due to go into town until Friday anyway?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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The perfect is the enemy of the good. - Voltaire

Nice musings. I think a lot of people fail to pursue their permacultural ideals because they get discouraged when it comes time to compromise. I know i do. It's great to get a dose of reality from those actually doing and not just dreaming.

It's interesting to note that economies of scale and specialization are in many ways the cornerstones of civilization.


Comment by Pouletic Thu Dec 2 18:23:32 2010

Good quote! My philosophy is to start where you're at and just keep striving for perfection. I've noticed that a lot of people wish they could be homesteading, but they're not willing to rough it for a few years, and keep saving for decades so that they can live a simple life with all of the modern conveniences. We've found that a lot of the fun of homesteading is starting with nothing and figuring out ways to make do.

I go back and forth on specialization. On the one hand, you're right that it's what let civilization thrive. On the other hand, I often feel like our society's current extent of specialization is exactly what's wrong with modern society. I feel like we, and our environment, would be healthier, if we all stepped back and became generalists with just a few specialties.

Comment by anna Thu Dec 2 18:38:04 2010
My mom gets paid for web design work in local veggies and local whiskey; she trades farm work for a raw milk share; and all the neighbors trade in lamb, cider, and eggs (among other things). The local economy is the BEST route to self-sufficiency. :)
Comment by Madeline Thu Dec 2 21:00:08 2010
That sounds like an awesome local economy! We need to work harder at making that happen here.
Comment by anna Fri Dec 3 08:55:51 2010
My husband and I are just starting the journey towards becoming more self-sufficient. Considering neither of us produce anything right now, just a little will make a huge difference. We've got big aspirations for creating our homestead in the country - growing a garden, raising a few small livestock and chickens, and becoming a functioning member of the community. You inspire us that it can be done - it just takes hard work, patience, and time.
Comment by Emma Wed Dec 22 12:58:57 2010
That's just the way to look at it --- anything that improves your sustainability even a bit is worth doing and is a step in the right direction. Good luck --- you're in for a fun adventure!
Comment by anna Wed Dec 22 14:36:08 2010

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