Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Add to My MSN

Do We Depend Too Much on Electricity?

5/15/2013 2:04:00 PM

Tags: off-grid, human powered, Linda Holliday, Great Depression

three girl friendsWith so many people preparing to survive economic depression as previous generations did in the 1930s, I wonder about our “advancement” since that humble time.

Over the years, I’ve talked to many elderly, country folks who gave little thought to the Great Depression. Perhaps it was because they were children at the time. But, I think their contentment during those hard times was because of their families’ self-reliance. Their root cellars were full, water was free and trading among neighbors was a way of life.

Another vast difference is that most rural areas didn’t have electricity in the 1930s. In fact, many areas were not electrified until the mid-1950s. As such, country folks did much of their work by hand, grew and preserved their own food, and relied heavily on horsepower and each other. Their skills were not limited to one trade. On any given day, a farmer could find himself as a carpenter, veterinarian, plumber and mechanic – using mainly human-powered tools.

When electricity, inexpensive fuel and motorized equipment reached everyone, those old treadle sewing machines, galvanized wash tubs, hand-operated push mowers, kerosene lamps, hand pumps and all manner of non-electric tools and appliances were tossed in the city dump. Horse-drawn farm equipment was left to rust behind barns or, worse yet, hauled to the front yard to be adorned with petunias.

Americans migrated by the millions to the suburbs where they could mow 3 acres of grass every Saturday before driving 30 miles to the supermarket for some corn dogs, potato chips and year-round watermelon.

Compared to many nations, we Yankees are ridiculous – turning up the heat in winter so we can take off our sweaters, and then turning down the air-conditioner in summer so we have to wear jackets indoors in July. We had enjoyed decades of a seemingly unending supply of cheap fuel, plentiful food and clean water, and many of us simply never practiced conservation.

Of the two dairy farms I grew up between in the 1960s, the family to the north had 9 kids; the other to the south had 12. My friend, Janet, was second youngest among her clan, behind five brothers and two sisters. I remember only once seeing Janet in new clothes – two cotton summer suits her sister made in home economics class. The chest freezer in Janet’s huge kitchen was as big as a ’69 Beetle Bug and packed to the top with homegrown veggies and bread.

To the south, Rosemary was the baby in her family of mostly girls. She never had a new dress or shoes. Our parents did not have air-conditioners, leaf blowers or jet skis. The funny thing is, looking back, none of us considered ourselves poor. Money was scarce, but food was not.

I especially loved eating supper at Rosemary’s house in summertime. After helping bring in the cows for milking, we’d devour plates of homemade bread smothered in warm applesauce, pitchers of fresh-from-the-cow milk and strawberries. The kids lined long benches on both sides of a 10-foot table, but there was always room for one more.

Our parents never paid any heed to a food pyramid. We simply ate an abundance of whatever was in season. Many August meals were only of corn on the cob as big as our forearms. Butter dripped from our elbows, and we thought there could be no better dinner anywhere.

My mother made raspberry jam in a kettle big enough to boil half a hog. At other times, the same kettle held squirrel stew, pickle brine, tomatoes to can or wild hickory nuts to shell. I could not say so then, but admit now that I do not care to eat raccoon, our main winter meat back then. But, because big, fat Wisconsin coon hides brought $35-$40 each in the 1970s, we scoured the woods for them nightly. The greasy meat was merely a byproduct we did not waste.Rabbit Hunting

Still, although many of us ate from the land and lived by the motto “waste not, want not,” most of our tools and household items functioned on electricity and that cheap fuel I mentioned. Reversing that way of living will not be so easy. Our lives have been built around power and mobility. Who among us can sharpen (or even use) a crosscut saw, make lye soap (without store-bought ingredients), build a cistern or cut grain with a scythe? Only those who are 60+ seem to recognize what a well bucket is or have experience hand-pumping water.

While we are growing as much food here as possible in every season with our saved seeds, heating with wood we cut, and can get water without electricity, we still are on the grid – although working steadily at pulling the plug.

I have seen others, however, invest tremendous energy (and much money) converting to wind or solar systems in an attempt to keep their same comfort level off grid. That is rarely possible. Many, too, are building stills to keep their chainsaws, lawnmowers and roto-tillers going. While I admire their ingenuity, I believe we need to also teach our children not to rely on alternative energy, but to do things by hand. Long before the Industrial Revolution, societies flourished worldwide, built by human muscle.

I am thankful now for the experience of living from the land as a youngster, which has proven useful as we relearn to live frugally and without power. I’m not cooking any coon, though, and have a long way to go before I can run a household as efficiently as Great-grandma did.

Photos from Linda Holliday collection

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

 



Related Content

Struggling to Grow Food and Find Work During the Great Depression

C. Murray shares his experiences finding work to support his family as a child during the Great Depr...

Raising Chickens: Farming in the Great Depression

This story recounts one father's hard work to help his family survive by raising chickens and farmin...

Living Off Grid - An Average Summer Day

A typical day of activity on a modern homestead and off grid.

Film Strives to Promote Simple Living Off-Grid

An upcoming inspirational documentary, “Beyond Off-Grid,” that strives to motivate people to return ...

Content Tools




Post a comment below.

 

mrswaterbuck
5/28/2013 9:31:57 PM

mrswaterbuck
5/28/2013 9:31:28 PM

Oscar and Jerry D,

Thank you both for your comments.  I appreciate hearing all sides of every situation.  To what extent sustainability is practical is not the same for everyone.  Here, I enjoy doing as much as possible without relying on energy.  I prefer to water my garden with a 2-gallon watering can instead of using a sprinkler or garden hose because I get a good look at each plant.  The same applies for laundry and other household chores.  I think, too, that the more tasks one does by hand, such as pumping water, the more conserative we naturally become.  Thanks again for sharing your perspectives.

Linda Holliday


OsO
5/22/2013 5:20:33 PM

Linda,

I´m from Colombia, South America. Thanks for your wonderful words, full of images of happiness and nostalgia. I´m 40, but grew up in the country side of this beautiful land, where economic depressions is part of what we Colombians call "normal". I call "poor" to those who can´t use their imagination and human power to get things right. Oscar

 


OsO
5/22/2013 5:16:06 PM

Linda,

I´m from Colombia, South America. Thanks for your wonderful words, full of images of happiness and nostalgia. I´m 40, but grew up in the country side of this beautiful land, where economic depressions is part of what we Colombians call "normal". I call "poor" to those who can´t use their imagination and human power to get things right. Oscar

 


jerryd
5/22/2013 2:21:38 PM

       Sorry but this isn't very bright.   Electricity saves so much labor those against it are not smart in so many ways.

                The beauty of it is you can make your own cheaply.  I'm doing mine that not only runs my home but charges my lightweight electric vehicles.

                Drop a goldcart motor or transaxle on a tractor/lawn mower can do much work on little money.  Put a GC transaxle on the back of a MC with or without a cabin and you have good transport at $2/wk total costs. Can't get a 1 way bus ticket for that.

                These EV's can be part of the home electric system too.

                Linda if you want to go back to washing the family clothes by hand be my gues but most of us have better things to do than that and the other labor, cost saving eklectricity brings. I doubt others want to go back to the work your b-tt off just to stay above water without electricity.


AquaDragonfly
5/22/2013 10:01:11 AM

While we are working to depend less on electricity and natural gas, why not PAY less for it?  Energy deregulation has been going on for many years, but unfortunately many people don’t even realize they have the power to switch suppliers and save money!  I work for largest direct seller of retail energy in the world, with an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau.  I help people save money on natural gas & electric every day – at NO cost to them!  It’s great being able to help people save money on something they use constantly (at least until they can get off grid)!  :-)

Lori in NY
Regional Consultant, Ambit Energy
Do you like saving money?
Every day I pay less for my electric!
Find out how you can too at http://getpowerforless.myambit.com/

 

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.