Over the weekend I read a great article on The Washington Post about the fact that women are reclaiming domestic activities.. ala cooking, canning, knitting and such, and it asks whether this is empowering or a step backwards for women’s progress. I think the article is beneficial because it is rightly painting domestic tasks in a favorable light and shows that women who pursue such things are finding enjoyment in them. But I also think it misses a larger point about feminism and domesticity.
Domesticity can be tied quite closely to self sufficiency and empowerment. Empowerment allows us to throw aside the shackles of slavery… slavery to corporations that provide products and services to us because we are not able to provide them for ourselves. The lack of these domestic skills is not empowering, as many modern feminists have tried to make us believe all these all years. Women were encouraged to look at their duties and situations as a homemaker and home “producer” and see it as something that was holding them back from “real power”. Those feminists were wrong though. Women had power already. They had the power to provide for their families, take care of them by nurturing them with real home cooked foods, and heal them when they became ill. They were producers rather than just mindless consumers. They worked with their partners to create good lives and healthy families and their contributions were every bit as valuable as men’s. In my opinion modern feminism did a lot of destructive things but one of the worst was that it made women shun domesticity. Women traded away a skills set that made them self sufficient, wise, and powerful. They traded it away because they thought it made them equal to men when in actuality it worked to enslave them AND their families to corporations and businesses who saw the potential in this movement to create consumers dependent on them for survival and basic necessities.
I think it is great that women are realizing that they find joy in domestic tasks and deciding that it is “feminist” of them to pursue whatever joyful path they want. But instead reclaiming domesticity simply because it is fun, why not encourage it because it is smart and empowering? And this isn’t just about women either. Men and women need to reclaim domesticity. It is not a duty that subjugates them. It is a powerful life choice that makes them more self sufficient and in control of their finances and future. It is actually incredibly sad when the idea of taking care of one’s self is considered a radically new idea or an antiquated one. How did taking care of one’s self ever go out of style? How did we ever buy into that load of malarkey? I will leave that to the social anthropologists.
One thing IS clear though, domesticity is making a comeback because we have so many broken systems in this country that are failing us. We cannot trust big agricorp or food corporations to feed us safe and nourishing foods. We can only rely on them to provide us with something that resembles food and that may or may not be tainted with toxic ingredients and chemicals. We cannot trust other corporations to provide us with safe household products, clothing, toys, and housewares either. When profit comes first we get lead laced, pesticide laden, planet killing products. We get bodies burdened with chemicals and carcinogens we never even dreamed we were being exposed to. We get government agencies working right along side them to tell us that “all is well. We’ve got your back.” Reclaiming domesticity is about standing up and telling them they are no longer our master. We can do that thing our ancestors did from the time of hunter-gatherers. We can take care of ourselves dagnabbit! Sure it may look a little different now and it may be a long road to learn some lost skills but every step we take to reclaim that part of our heritage is a step closer to self sufficiency and freedom. Oh, and it is kind of fun so that makes it easier.
Where to start? Usually the easiest place to start for many is with food. You can start making more of your own food from scratch and growing some of your own food. We have even better tools and gadgets than out ancestors did and there is no shame in buying them if the end result is going to be a better nourished and ultimately more self sufficient family. Get the right tools to Create a Real Foods Kitchen and start learning how to bake, cook, preserve, pickle, marinade, soak, sprout, ferment, etc. Growing your own food can start with one or two crops like some potted herbs in the window or a potted tomato plant on your patio. Start small and go bigger as you can and as experience allows. Square Foot Gardening is a classic book that shows you how to grow food in small spaces. I also like books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. It gives you insight into new ways to increase your self sufficiency from butter making, to curing your own bacon (if you eat it), to making bee boxes. For a more modern and romantic twist I absolutely adore any book by MaryJane Butters but especially MaryJane’s Ideabook – Cookbook – Lifebook. She is the Martha Stewart of farming and homesteading whether you actually live on a farm or in the city.
Winter is the perfect time for planning your new endeavors and also to try things like sewing, quilting, knitting, and soapmaking. If you already do these things then work on teaching your kids, boys and girls. These skills need to be passed on! I sew myself, but I have never quilted so that is something I really want to pursue this year. Take classes or learn from family if you need to but LEARN. Other ideas to think about include raising animals for their products, food foraging, making your own beauty products, making your own cleaners and detergents, woodworking, composting, learning about car mechanics or solar energy installation, masonry… the list is endless and the amount of knowledge you have access to at your local library is vast. In fact I have have read some amazing books lately that delve into this area and all are new releases. Domesticity is really catching on eh?
Tales From the Sustainable Underground: A Wild Journey with People Who Care More About the Planet Than the Law – This book is all about becoming an activist for social change through homesteading and self sufficiency. It has lots of great info about intentional communities, alternative energy, and it also delves into some areas that are culturally taboo, like pot growing. It is partly about green anarchy and partly about smart self sufficient choices. It is a fun and entertaining read though it may be a bit “out there’ for some. ;)
Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes – A lovely book that has lots of backyard eggs/chickens stories, photos, and recipes. I just love personal stories mixed in with yummy recipes.
Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life – Reading this book is like picking up the journal of a whimsical farmer/artist. It talks about all sorts of farming topics and give instructions and diagrams but all are hand drawn. It is an amazing collection of knowledge but also a work of art. Look at the cover art and you will get the idea.
The Wisdom of the Radish: And Other Lessons Learned on a Small Farm – This follows the story of a young couple that graduate from college and decide they want to be farmers, without any actual experience with farming, and what that entails… complete with successes and failures. It is a fun read and applicable I think to anyone who wants to get into small scale farming, whether it be for business or for self sufficiency.
When making our New Year’s Resolutions every year we need to think about what we can do or what we can learn to be more self sufficient and dare I say it… domestic.
What is on your list?
Nowadays you hear everyone talking about stress, how much they have to accomplish, how little time they have, and how much clutter is in their homes and lives. It is no wonder that a big trend in books and media has been getting back to a simplistic, minimal lifestyle. Many want to have a life that is free of complications; a life that has been pared down to its most basic and fundamental needs. If this sounds good to you then you may be interested in looking into a minimalist lifestyle as well.
What is a Minimalist Lifestyle?
Being a minimalist is a way of living that is built around those things in life; those core values and beliefs that are the most important to you. Of course this requires that you know what exactly those things are, and for many, especially in consumer-driven western societies, discovering these core values and beliefs only becomes clear once you begin to strip away the layers of societal conditioning and extraneous clutter that fill up most of our lives. A green living journey actually does wonders to strip these things away as luck would have it.
Of course how you determine a life to be free of complications, or what you see as your most basic and fundamental needs is going to change from person to person, and from society to society, but it is the ability of the minimalist lifestyle to be able to adapt itself to each person and their own particular view that makes the concept so appealing to so many people.
How to Become a Minimalist
Divesting your life of clutter and its resulting complications is the first (and biggest) step to living a minimalist lifestyle. This can be clutter in the physical sense (as in things that you have collected that you do not actually need, want or use) but it can also be clutter in the emotional and psychological sense, as in relationships and outmoded beliefs.
While clutter can be obvious; like having too many books, clothes or knickknacks; it can also be found in things like cable packages, telephone plans and credit cards. For many living a minimalist lifestyle will mean cutting down to the most basic of cable packages or (revolutionary thought) getting rid of the TV altogether. It really is amazing how much time we devote to television; time that we could be spending on more productive ventures. But what about telephones – we need them, right? In today’s society, of course we do, but do you need all the bells and whistles? Do you need a house phone AND a cell phone or could you make do with just one or the other?
Which brings us to credit cards; revolving credit may be great for the economy, but it ties you down to payments for things that you probably didn’t actually need or even want but rather felt that you had to have. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for credit (think mortgages or school loans) but why are you purchasing consumable items with a promise of payment in the future? You are just extending your headaches over your accumulated possessions into the future. Paying off your credit cards is another big step on the road to living a minimalist lifestyle, and it is a step that the credit card companies will fight tooth and nail, even going so far as to penalize your credit record for closing an account. But the freedom that comes from not being tied to a financial obligation for your stuff is worth it in the long run.
You Can Get There
Living a minimalist lifestyle is not an instantaneous process. It takes courage and commitment and a deep desire to create a more meaningful life for yourself and your family. But no matter how cluttered and confused your life is right now, you can get there; you can live a minimalist lifestyle if you simply have the courage to take the first step. Here are a few ways to get back to basics and live with simplicity:
* Stop shopping at large chain groceries and instead buy a CSA share and make small weekly trips to the farmer’s market. Simple food, good food, less hassle.
* Stop buying books and start going to the library.
* Skip the gym one day a week and take a walk or hike outside.
* Use what you have instead of buying new.
* Get rid of the stuff you don’t really need.
* Prioritize the things that energize you and make you passionate about life.
*Take advantage of Frugal Luxuries.
* Pare down your wardrobe (or that of family members) to the basics and you’ll have less laundry to do.
* Read my article on Raising Minimalist Children in a Society of Excess.
I have always been more than a little interested in self sufficiency. And I do mean always. When I was little I used to empty my closet of its considerable toy and clothing stash and put empty cardboard boxes in it so I could pretend I was homeless and living off the land. When I was older I used to pour over books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. Then I got a dose of reality when I did in fact move to a farm and it was MUCH tougher than I ever bargained for. Yeah, a horse getting out of the barn in the middle of the night, in winter, when you are 8 months pregnant is not fun. It wasn’t long before I moved back to the city. But the longing for a self sufficient life never went away and I began to wonder if things could have been different if I weren’t so far away from town, if I weren’t pregnant and suffering from cancer at the same time, if my husband was actually home and not on the road 25 days a month as he used to be. I still read those self sufficiency books and memoires. Heck I read The Hunger Games (an awesome book BTW) this week and even it reminded me of that long held dream. Reading inspirational stories of small scale and urban homesteaders gives me incentive to one day try again.
A couple weeks ago I asked about self sufficiency skills on the Natural Family Living Facebook page and got lots of great answers from moms who are practicing a variety of these skills at home. Angela was one of those moms and she generously put up with my barrage of questions. All photos in this post are hers.
Tiffany: So tell us a bit about yourself… how many are in your family, where do you live, how much land do you have, etc.
Angela: My name is Angela, and I’m a 31-year old homemaker. I have an amazing husband, a beautiful daughter, who is 3.5 years old, and a baby due in June 2011. We moved from Arizona to Oregon five years ago and just two years ago we moved to our current home on 0.38 acres. Our property backs up to 9 acres of semi-secluded green space, so we have the feeling of having much more land than we actually do.
Tiffany: Did you fall into homesteading because you wanted to be self sufficient, was it finances that motivated you, how did you end up living this lifestyle?
Angela: Homesteading and self-sufficiency sort of found us, I suppose. We always had a desire to have our own garden, and that is how it all started. I began learning more about food, our food supply, health, household chemicals, etc., and the more I learned, the more self-sufficient I’ve wanted to become. My husband has always wanted to “live off the grid” but for slightly different reasons. He enjoys the independence and freedom it provides. Once we got the ball rolling, the snowball effect took hold, and now we want to do as much for ourselves as we can. What we can’t grow, we buy from local farmers. We find supporting our small, local farms and our community nearly as rewarding as being self-
sufficient. I have made so many wonderful friends and contacts that way, too.
As of late, finances have played a role in the growth of our homestead. We foresaw some tough times coming, so we decided to expand the garden and add chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. It has really come in handy, too. One month we only had $50 in our grocery budget, and we were still able to eat like kings.
Tiffany: What do you grow on your land? Do you preserve foods?
Angela: We grow organic vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms. We also have a mini orchard consisting of several varieties of apples, two varieties of Asian pear, Italian prune, almonds, olives, Meyer lemons, naval oranges, figs, persimmons, peaches, nectarines, three varieties of pears, and three varieties of cherries. All but two of our orchard trees are grafted on dwarf rootstock and pruning will help to keep them, and their fruit, at manageable heights. Additionally, we grow six varieties of grapes, goji berries, kiwis, elderberries, huckleberries, lignon berries, red currant, green currant, strawberries, 21 blueberry bushes, gooseberries, tayberries, several varieties of raspberries, boysenberries, and blackberries grow wild in the green space. To pollinate the orchard trees and early-blooming fruits, we keep mason bees.
Our orchard is still young (planted just two years ago), so we haven’t had much fruit yet, and my daughter devours all the ripe fruit. She’s so voracious, we feel lucky if we get even a half dozen blueberries each. I’m hopeful that next year we will have enough fruit to preserve…though, like the trees, my daughter (and her appetite) is growing, so we’ll see.
This year we had 28 tomato plants, and despite the cool, wet summer weather, we were able to put up several gallons of tomatoes for sauce and about a gallon of salsa (the rest was devoured the day it was made or given away to friends). The fruit from the Principe Borghese tomatoes was dehydrated, so we have about two gallons of sun-dried tomatoes. Extra veggies get fermented or frozen, though I do hope to do more canning next year. Last year we had so many potatoes we gave away bags of them AND still had enough to get us through till summer. We planted half as many this year (we’ll still have enough to get us through spring) and used the extra space for onions and garlic. The onions were a flop because we didn’t harvest and cure them correctly, but the garlic is delicious and we have enough to last us for another couple months. Since neither my husband nor I have much prior experience, we find that every year is a learning experience and there is always something we don’t grow or cure quite right.
Tiffany: Do you raise animals for food?
Angela: Currently we have 18 layer hens that have 1/8 acre to forage on. We feed them a corn- and soy-free locally-grown organic whole grain mix with fish meal that I blend together myself, and they get oyster shells on a free-feed basis. During this past summer, they were allowed to free range throughout the green space and the neighbors’ yards (they loved their two-legged visitors), but after one neighbor found a gift of nine eggs in his backyard, we decided to clip their wings. They also did quite a number on our garden beds and the seedlings, making it nearly impossible to grow a fall garden. This year we raised three ducks for meat…well, they were meant to be layers, but all of them turned out to be male, so we sent our feathered friends off to the processors. In the spring, we are going to try our hands at raising heritage breed turkeys for meat and (depending on how much time and money we have) we may raise a batch of red broiler meat chickens in a chicken tractor. We are also planning on building honeybee hives on the property either this spring or the next.
Tiffany: What other things do you do yourself? (aka bread, yogurt, etc.)
Angela: In an effort to avoid unnecessary chemicals, sugars and preservatives, I make raw milk yogurt, kefir and the occasional batch of butter, kombucha tea, ginger beer, wild-yeasted sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning products (which are actually just baking soda and vinegar), body lotion (olive oil or coconut oil with the occasional essential oil added). I’d like to start taking up cheese making again…my previous attempts at mozzarella ended up as some tasty ricotta. In the past, we brewed and bottled our own beer. Currently, I’m looking into making my own bar soap and dishwasher soap, too.
Tiffany: Do you try to stay local with things you cannot provide yourself?
Angela: Absolutely. Every year we buy ¼ of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow for a local farmer. All our other pasture-raised meats come from Harmony J.A.C.K. farms in Scio, Oregon. I also buy raw milk from a friend in a neighboring town. During the fall and winter months, we order our fruits and veggies from Azure Standard. They either grow the food themselves in greenhouses on their farm in Dufur, Oregon or bring it in from Washington. Azure is also our supplier of organic whole grains for our hens.
Tiffany: What has been the most rewarding thing about this lifestyle?
Angela: The pride of knowing we can do it ourselves has been our greatest reward. We are not reliant on big companies anymore and we spend a fraction of what we used to at the store. It is also a wonderful feeling knowing that we are living more in line with nature instead of in opposition to it. Mother Nature is amazing and it feels wonderful to know that we are being good stewards of the earth.
Tiffany: What do you hope your children will learn along the way?
Angela: I hope they learn self-sufficiency, independence and interdependence, and I hope they will have a deep respect for and connection to this beautiful earth we live on. My children will grow up knowing that our sort of lifestyle is very doable and highly rewarding. I also feel that living this lifestyle is the greatest antidote to consumerism and the marketing tactics of large corporations. They will know what is truly important in life, and it’s not the latest technology gadget, the latest fashions or fancy cars. I also sincerely hope they learn how to respect their bodies by eating nutrient-dense, organically-grown and humanely-raised food. Their health is their greatest asset in life.
Many thanks Angela for sharing with us and being an inspiration for wanna-be homesteaders!
This book was a really fun read for me. It is Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss. When I picked it up and read some of the chapter titles like “How to Protect Yourself from Inflation, Hackers, and Celine Dion” or “Surviving Snipers, Dirty Bombs, and Salad Bars” I expected a funny book that would be “light” on useful information. But come on those titles are hilarious…I had to read it. I am glad I did.
Neil Strauss is a writer and author. He has written for Rolling Stone and for the New York Times on many occasions. In the late 90s he started to become disullusioned with the US and in 2004 after Bush was re-elected…I think he went a little nuts. Yeah…I know the feeling. Strauss decided that the US may be on a collision course with disaster and he wanted an escape plan. If and when TSHTF (look it up if you don’t know what it means) he wanted a way to get the heck out of dodge and be able to survive in the aftermath of anything that came whether it be terrorism, chemical warfare, or complete economic collapse.
What began is the journey he outlines in this book which was well… awesome! He had one heck of an adventure and went from being a spoiled big city guy who lived on take out food to being what he describes as a REAL man… one that could take care of himself and survive in situations that most people nowadays would not be able to. Pretty much ALL the skills he acquired were brand new to him and very scary for him to pursue. It made for one great ride though, for him and for the reader of this book. Although a small warning is in order. The prologue was a little gruesome and since I had formed no attachment to the book I almost quit reading. Luckily before it got too bad it stopped so that the majority of the book could then explain how he had gotten to the point he had in the prologue. People who are sensitive to “hunting” details are warned.
He did soooo much in his journey to being a survivalist but here are some of the major things:
He went through gun training and got concealed and open carry permits.
He learned to ride a motorcycle and bought a military grade bike.
He went through intensive survival training and learned to survive in the woods for any length of time with only the clothes on his back.
He went through urban evasion training, learning how to pick locks, hot wire cars, break padlocks open, get out of virtually any restraint including handcuffs, and create caches with survival supplies and disguises.
He learned to hunt and fish.
He learned to grow his own food and raise and breed livestock.
He learned to track animals and humans over virtually any terrain.
He obtained citizenship and a home in another country. He also opened up an overseas bank account.
He took FEMA courses and joined the California Emergency Mobile Patrol unit AND became a licensed EMT.
That only covers a portion of it too. The book basically follows him on this long journey and he shares with the readers his fears and his failures. It is also full of many hilarious yet scary moments, such as when he disguises himself as a woman to evade bounty hunters and nearly get his behind kicked by thugs who didn’t take kindly to finding a cross dresser in the men’s bathroom. Or when he has to get out of handcuffs and the trunk of a car. Yet it also has sad moments such as when he is called to the scene of that horrible train on train crash last year in California.
It is also full of extremely interesting and/or useful information. The survival information was useful of course and the info about citizenship in other countries was interesting. I thought US immigration was tough but I think many other countries have us beat.
If you want a fun and clever weekend read this is a good one. And if you want to learn more about survivalism and having an “escape” plan then this might be your how-to guide. ;)