Why 'Self-Sufficiency' is Not a Sufficient Description for Homesteading


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“All right,” says my six-year-old, clearly taking charge of today’s operation, “you take this stick and when the crushed apples start to come out of the grinder you scrape them down into the bucket, ok?”  Turning to his other friend, he explains, “You take the apples from that basket and put them into the grinder and I’ll turn the wheel. I might need a little help if it gets stuck.”  The adults sit back and watch with joy at the self-sufficiency of these friends on a beautiful fall day.

A few minutes later, our son is explaining how to press the cider from the crushed apples and yells excitedly, “here it comes!”  He turns to us to request jars so that he can share some fresh cider with his friends. We are happy to oblige. After all, this is why we bought this property, with its overgrown apple trees and grapevines, untamed wild raspberries, and open fields just waiting to be turned into gardens.

Our little homestead was a dream for 10 years before we found it. When the children came along the dream was amplified. Not only did we want to raise most of our own food, we wanted our children to grow up running barefoot around a beautiful property. We wanted them to connect with nature, appreciate its gifts, and grow to love our little corner of the world. Days like this, when our son is literally dripping with joy at what he can do on our land, are the reason we took a risk on buying a property that wasn’t perfect but had the perfect potential.

Homesteading is sometimes described as a journey toward self-sufficiency. To some extent that is true for us — we want to grow our own food instead of buying it at the store and we love the idea of cutting our own firewood for the wood stove in order to decrease our dependence on oil. But in so many other ways, self-sufficiency seems an ill-fitting word for our pursuit.

Self-sufficiency somehow entails that a person or a family could live on their own without interaction with others — that we could stay on our homestead and ignore the outside world. To be certain, there are some for whom this is the very purpose of a homestead — hunkering down in anticipation of a coming apocalypse. But this is not our purpose.

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