Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
My name is Garth Brown, and since the first of this year, my brother Edmund and I have been living entirely on food we’ve grown, hunted, or foraged, and we intend to keep it up for all of 2015. Well, we’re also allowed to barter and receive gifts in limited circumstances, but so far, this has netted us one gallon of milk and a container of yogurt, so we’re on our own for the most part. We both have wives who are very supportive, and they, too, eat largely food we’ve grown, but they just didn’t feel called to give up coffee.
We share a farm about twenty minutes from Cooperstown in central New York, so we have plenty of land and livestock, and we have a large vegetable garden. This past fall we followed the plans from MOTHER EARTH NEWS to make a root cellar out of a precast, concrete septic tank to store our harvest. We had been using the basement of the old farmhouse, but it would inevitably get too cold or two warm, and we could never keep the vegetables damp enough. We hunt deer and turkey, as well as the occasional rabbit and squirrel, and we have ramps, wild apples, dandelions, and all the other forageable foods common to the Northeast.
Reasons for Pledging to Eat Locally
The first question people usually ask when they hear what I’m doing is why I would choose to subject myself to such a program. It’s surprisingly difficult to answer. I’ve been more self-sufficient every year since buying the farm, and in many ways it’s natural to take this to its logical conclusion. It just feels like something I want to do.
But there’s more to it than that. I’m interested in the questions raised by the undertaking. The more I planned and thought about what I would need to make it a full year, particularly starting in January, the more I realized how much I would inevitably rely on outside resources. I feed the hens all the table scraps, but they also get grain. The cows’ hay all comes off our land, but the machinery and diesel required to put it up obviously don’t. I save some seed, but certainly not for everything I grow in a given year. For these and many other reasons absolute self-sufficiency is an illusion, but by raising these points the experiment encourages thought about which items it really makes sense to produce individually and which should be made on a community level.
Learning to Produce Your Own Food
But I also seek a practical understanding of food production. How will I make up for a failed potato crop or to smooth out the lean period when winter stores are depleted but the new carrots aren’t in yet? Which crops maintain their quality in the root cellar? What’s the fastest way to get calories out of the garden in the spring? What items will I miss most, and what will I replace them with? (Actually, I already know the answer to this. It’s coffee and chocolate, and there is no satisfactory replacement for either of them.) How hard will it be to find willing partners to barter with, and what sorts of foods will they have? How much food will I be able to forage?
I hope you’ll enjoy following along as I seek to answer these and other questions that I’m sure will arise in the course of the coming year, and I hope you’ll suggest any topics you’d like to see addressed.
I’ll close with a little housekeeping. My brother, Ed, and I share a byline for this blog, and we will both be writing entries. For the sake of clarity, we will be using the first-person singular as I’ve done in this post even though this project and the farm as a whole are very much collaborative enterprises. If you are interested in a more day-to-day account of the year, we post four times per week to the blog on the Cairncrest Farm website.
I look forward to keeping you updated on the highs and lows of the coming year!
— Garth Brown
Photo by Alanna Rose
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