Thinking About Self-Sufficiency

Reader Contribution by Lee Bentley
article image

Growing Swiss chard is a major food staple in our household, it really is a wonderful plant. Each emerald bunch produces tasty leaves for at least two years, and it’s not fussy about light levels, temperatures or soil. We have between 15 to 20 plants at any time.

During the winter we grow chard and tat soy in a window trough that I detailed in an earlier post. But this is about economics…not the scary kind but just a part of living life really. Yesterday at our local organic grocery I noted that a bunch of chard that left the field several days previously (and possibly traveled hundreds of miles) was $2.99. If we took our chard to the store and sold it to the produce manager, we’d be lucky to get a fraction of that amount. That is not the way to self sufficiency!

First, our bundle of chard is a lot fresher and has more nutrients. Second, we didn’t have to get into a vehicle to go get it. Add the vehicle costs to our chard bundle’s value to me. Third, in this household, the chickens could end up eating some percentage of the store bought greens because they only keep for a short time. Fourth, the immediate availability and unsurpassed flavor add value to my humble bunch of chard. I must confess to being unable to put a dollar value on growing chard for our personal use, but I know it is much more than just the money not spent at the store. I’m just using chard as an example, of course.

The same cost/value accounting applies to our dearly beloved chickens. Yes, they do have names, but they are much more than pets. Our ladies are an integral part of the household economy. At the moment we have six laying hens, five young hens and a magnificent rooster. (Here I must sadly note that while I was writing this blog, a coyote reduced our layers by one) We do eat a lot of eggs, (often over sautéd chard), and they are far beyond any store bought egg in flavor and freshness. Even with eating eggs regularly, there is a surplus. Finding people who appreciate real eggs is no problem, but trading the eggs for home cooked food magnifies the value of the eggs much beyond their cash value. We have a friend who loves to bake. Our current rate of exchange is twelve bagels for a dozen eggs. The values in this exchange go way beyond the monetary value, it is a relationship web involving me, my partner, the chickens, my baker friend and his partner. 

The chickens involve some cost, but since they are pastured and fed household food “waste,” the money costs are minimal. (A word about food waste: there is no such thing in nature as waste, the food that we feed the chickens is magically transformed from “waste” to eggs and pre-composted garden fertilizer).

The most important element of this economic plan is scale. More is not always better, and in this case does not apply to this strategy of self sufficiency. One hundred chickens and half an acre of chard would be a disaster! We would have to work dawn to dusk, have unaffordable costs, lots of risks and liabilities, we would just become rural wage slaves. The sweet spot in self sufficiency is to have just enough…with just a bit of surplus to meet your needs and a few friends and neighbors. My last post was about how we started an internet business – it does make money, not a lot of money but it is a home based cottage industry. ( Again, the goal is to reduce cash costs while providing an enhanced quality of life as a result of reducing ones participation in the cash economy. Let me say right up front: THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT – as is all of life. After spending more than 50 years working a job, this route to self sufficiency is a lot more enjoyable and offers us a level of security at least as great as most jobs do today.

Chickens, chard and home businesses are obviously not the only way to get control of your economic affairs. The element I would stress is that your security should be composed of as many small parts that mesh in some way. These economic parts should be built up one at a time, like stones in a foundation. The indivual elements should be a reflection of who you are, your talents and skills, in order to develop a life enhancing economic plan. Finding a nourishing geographic location and surrounding yourself with a like minded group of friends will enhance your life plan. Certainly reading The Mother Earth News is a good start.

What I am suggesting here is that now is none too soon to begin seeking an exit ramp off the main stream highway which increasingly looking looks like it is headed for a cliff straight ahead. At some point soon, the average main streamer will find the need to radically reduce expectations and find alternative life skills…the longer you wait the more difficult that will be. The only way you are assured of failure is not to try. Good Luck!  

Lee Bentley blogs about life on Magpie Farm, located in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Check our cottage industry product at