If you’ve ever said, “I’m going to start a garden,” and then proceeded to never start a garden, there could be a reason beyond laziness for your inaction.
Setting goals are an important aspect of a self-sufficient lifestyle because research shows that people who do it are more autonomous. Self-sufficient people rarely ask for permission; they experiment and test their way into independence.
Self-sufficient goals should be around the 6 pillars of self-sufficiency: water supply, shelter, food, energy sources, finances, and entertainment.
These are the elements of our lives where we rely most on outside sources to carry the burden of our consumption. To slowly chip at the chains connecting us to those outside sources, we must set goals that define where we want to become more free and how we might venture to do so.
In order for you to reach your self-sufficiency goals, they need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
For example, instead of proclaiming, “I’m going to start a garden,” reframe the statement as follows:
I want to start one planter bed in my backyard and grow three different types of vegetables to supplement some of my grocery store expenses.
Let’s try another angle. What if your goal is to find a place for you to live more independently? Maybe you’re tired of paying rent for an apartment in the city and your roommates aren’t on board with your desire to own chickens.
Whatever the case may be, getting your own piece of property with as few restrictions as possible is a huge step in any self-sufficiency plan, so a goal structured to help you achieve that would be wise to develop. Here’s how you could frame it:
I want to obtain land with cash and build a 2 bedroom home on it without going into debt to be financially free.
As most of us know, simply setting a goal is never enough. There is research, planning, and preparation behind every Instagrammable accomplishment.
But when you put a goal into specific terms, you can almost see yourself achieving it long before you ever realize it. A SMART goal defines direction and provides a sense of purpose even when you hit obstacles (which, no doubt, you will on this journey to self-sufficiency).
In addition, you’ll get a more accurate assessment of the time it might take and the resources that you’ll need to reach your goal.
If you’re ready to commit to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, download our free Self-Sufficiency Goal Starter below and build your self-sufficiency goals for each of the 6 pillars.
Share your dreams with us in the Finding Country Self-Sufficiency Challenge Facebook Group!
1. Grow food wherever you can.
Maybe you don't have your 40 acres and a mule yet, but do you have an apartment balcony? A back patio? A yard? Even a windowsill can produce a surprising amount of food if done properly. Food scarcity is a very real possibility, with supply chains collapsing globally and reckless government intervention destroying farms throughout the world. The current disruptions that we're seeing on grocery store shelves are likely only the beginning. A discussion of the food supply collapse is beyond the scope of this article, but it certainly is worth further research on your own. The growing inability of the system to deliver food to market will not only cause an inaccessibility of staple crops, but will quite possibly cause large-scale problems in nutrition as well.
If your growing space is limited to a window, growing a sufficient amount of food may not be possible, so focusing on high-nutrition foods may be a better fit. Popcorn microgreens can be grown anywhere from the dash of your car to a closet with a grow light. You can literally grab the popcorn kernels from your pantry, and grow a great protein-dense and delicious green in a matter of days with loads of vitamin A, C, B and E, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. You can also grow herbs like rosemary, oregano, and basil indoors, which are highly nutritious, easy, and a great flavor addition to basics such as rice and beans.
If you have a deck or patio with room for containers, there are a ton of options available to you. Dwarf/micro tomatoes, herbs, lettuce and other greens, and even potatoes do well in containers.
If you have backyard space, the list is endless. There are commercial farms on less than 1/10th of an acre growing over 5000 lbs of produce annually. If you are limited on space, consider space-efficient or nutrition-dense crops such as string beans, peas, and potatoes. (P.S, you can plant dried beans right out of the bag). As you get closer to the end of the growing season, consider crops such as turnips that may be left in the ground during the winter to store them for later.
Also, don't discount the power of community gardens! You may have a space within walking distance to plant for free, and you can also learn from and network with other gardeners. Gardening has a learning curve, and the more you can learn from others, the less mistakes you have to make on your own.
You may also consider chatting with neighbors who have large yards. You may be able to work out a trade exchanging a portion of your yields for growing space. As the food crisis worsens, people will be more receptive to such ideas.
2. Store and harvest water.
As the current disease scare wreaks havoc on workplaces, essential utilities such as water, sewer, internet, and electricity are not immune from disruption, Access to water is the single most crucial element to survival, and often overlooked. If you are in an apartment, your water planning is probably going to be limited to storage. Should things get desperate, every receptacle becomes a water storage tank. I remember chatting with a friend who was a child in Iraq during the first Gulf War. He shared his memories of watching his parents do everything possible to store water as services failed. The bathtub, sinks, cups, and bowls, and even toilets we used to store water for drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, and plants. They even ripped apart their walls to access the water in the pipes.
Water is essential to both homesteading and survival. The good news is that there many not-so-draconian ways to capture water. You can get 5-gallon buckets at many stores, and save plastic soda or other bottles for storage.
If you're more interested in capturing water, rainwater collection is the single best addition to just about any living situation. A used 55 gallon food grade barrel can be bought for very little off of sites such as Craigslist or Facebook marketplace, or even a garbage can can act as a catchment device. Simply place it underneath a rain gutter for tons of free water! Where I live in Tennessee, a 1000 square foot roof can collect upwards of 35,000 gallons of water. I can boil it for drinking and cooking, clean with it, or use it on my garden for far better yields than I would get from my chemical-laden tap water.
3. Get your finances in order.
Time for some tough love. You are probably spending recklessly. At least, that's what the stats say. Americans have long pursued the illusion of wealth over reality. Our ego causes us to buy cars we can't afford and houses much larger than we need, and to rack up high-interest credit card debt for purchases that only serve to boost our status in the cult-like culture of obsessive materialism.
Only buy clothes to protect you from the elements and look decent for work
Only buy food that is nutritious and tastes decent.
Cancel Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. Read books and watch Youtube videos that educate you instead. Yes, entertainment is a necessity to some degree, but not to the extent to which we're used to. If you can't give up some entertainment, you simply don't possess the willpower to be a homesteader. Get your priorities in order.
If you have to buy a car, buy something used that still has a lot of life left. Never buy a brand new car. Never lease a car. There's no need to expound upon this, as every financial adviser worth their salt probably has a lot to say about getting deeply in debt over a car that is more luxurious than you need.
When you ask the question "Do I actually need it" every time you make a purchase, you'll embark on an incredible journey that is deeply personal, spiritual, and fulfilling. You'll start to explore what you truly value, and you'll be forced into creative pursuits to fill the void that mindless materialism brings.
Frugality and financial planning will change your life for the better. And land is expensive.
4. Educate yourself.
Homesteading is 90% learning. Nobody starts out life knowing how much water tomatoes like, or how to pick crusted poo from a baby chicken's bottom. Living a more agrarian lifestyle has an intense learning curve, much of which you find out by simply making mistakes. However, if you are unable to achieve a physical location to start on, it's actually a blessing in disguise. It means you can get a jump start on the learning process, by consuming every relevant book, Youtube video, and Finding Country article possible. It'll also help fill the time gap left by the previous step from cutting out unnecessary entertainment!
5. Build skills.
If your goal is a more holistic, self sufficient lifestyle, you may find that your current job is untenable in the long term. Rural land gets cheaper the farther you get from metropolitan centers, but employment opportunities decrease accordingly. There is a great argument to be made for self employment with an agrarian lifestyle, as you need to be on site constantly to manage crops and animals. It also cuts commute time and costs out of the equation. As we're all locked down at the moment, now is the time to explore broadening your interests as they apply to the business world. You can turn what is a personal tragedy for many into a life-altering opportunity by pursuing any number of educational goals that further your measurable value to society. This could range from obtaining a professional certification or learning how to sharpen tools.
6. Understand real estate.
If you truly want to own a homestead of your own, and you're on a budget, you need to be smarter than all of the other buyers. There are a plethora of alternative ways of obtaining land, including short sales, foreclosures, and owner financing options. Reading up on the basics of real estate transactions is invaluable, as is simply checking online listings every day to garner an intuitive sense of the market and to prepare yourself to recognize a great deal when you come across one. Understanding pricing can also help you set goals and budgets to get closer to ownership.
7. Work on a farm.
Now is the perfect time to get outside of your comfort zone and begin the process of understanding agriculture. Due to labor disruptions, many farmers are actually desperate for help right now. You can make connections to free or cheap supplies, learn invaluable skills, and literally save lives by helping bring food to market. You may even make a little money. If you're unsure of where to start, you may research smaller organic or permaculture farms in your area, or start a WWOOF account, which links farmers to laborers seeking educational opportunities. It's truly a win-win.
8. Find your community.
It may be counterintuitive to try to build or find your community of like-minded people in a world of social distancing, but in a way it's a more viable opportunity than ever before. This is a great time to reach out to fellow gardeners in your neighborhood, help the elderly person near you get supplies, or chat with your prepper friend about survival. Community and networking is crucial to surviving hard times and is definitely an essential (And often overlooked) part of homesteading.
9. Learn to forage
There is so much around you that is edible! From dandelions to oak trees, nature is full of abundance that can not only feed you, but also offer vital immune system-boosting nutrition as well as medicine. Your local library likely has a ton of great foraging books, and a quick search of Youtube and Google will reveal a wealth of information that is specific to your region. This is also a great family activity for virtually anywhere with access to an outdoor area such as a park, yard, or forest.
10. Make your homesteading plan.
You can buy land. You can build a homestead. There is viable land for sale for as little as $500 in the United States. It may require any number of sacrifices, such as changing your employability, moving to a new area, or living on rice and beans for a time, but almost anyone can draft a plan to buy a place of their own, and then achieve it. Take time to sit down and define your homesteading goals, and develop a 5-year plan to get there. If you need a starting point, check out our 30 Day Self Sufficiency Challenge.
.There can be no doubt about it, homesteading is going mainstream. With healthcare facilities becoming overwhelmed, food shortages looming, and the economy in free fall, more and more families are seeking to build the kind of self sufficiency that is central to the burgeoning homesteading movement. Unfortunately, "Getting back to the land" appears out of reach for many, particularly as unemployment skyrockets and economists say the word "Depression" for the first time in about a century.
Never has the been a better time, or a harder time, to build your garden and cabin in the country.
However, I think I can offer some encouragement from my own life. About a year ago, I was living in a cramped low-income apartment in Nashville, Tennessee. As a full-time musician, my income tended to be unreliable at best, roughly averaging out around the state's minimum wage. Living from a tip jar makes saving money very difficult, and the low revenue stream coupled with my self employment status made any kind or mortgage impossible.
But I couldn't shake my dream of owning a little land in the country where I could grow real food, hunt game, and leave the frenetic superficiality of the city behind. Though it seemed hopelessly out of reach, I ogled real estate on online sites every night, flipping through endless pages of farms and wooded lots.
Then one day I found it. Out of the blue I stumbled across one of the roughest properties I'd ever seen. It was a bank foreclosure, and was listed for a mere $11,000 for very good reason. It had two decrepit mobile homes, one of which was placed on the property illegally, and was literally cut in half. It had tipped back and slid down the hill, somewhat resembling the almost vertical Titanic, except instead of the ocean, it was sinking into massive mounds of garbage, tires, and waste. For decades, drug-addicted tenants had trashed the 1.2 acre property in spectacular fashion.
But underneath the rubble, I saw my homestead. There was a good south-facing slope, a seasonal stream, and mature forest. I began to cobble together what money I could. Fortunately, my parents raised me with an extreme degree of frugality, and I had a bit saved. I sold off every possession I possibly could, and made up the difference with a credit card (Not a method I would recommend, as it took nearly a year of stark poverty to pay it off, but it was really the only possible way for me to enter into home ownership at that time)
It's been an incredibly difficult journey, but with endless trips to the dump and many thousands of garbage bags later, a working small-acreage permaculture farm has begun to emerge from the abused property. Soil has been amended, invasive plants cleared, the Titanic-esque mobile home removed, debt paid off, fruit trees planted, ponds started, and floors finished.
As I plant my second garden, I've been reflecting on how this property began as a massive liability, and has turned into a financial asset for me. When they shut down the venues and touring over the recent health concerns, myself and all of my musician friends lost virtually all of our income overnight. The entire industry we've spent our lives building our skills in is suddenly gone. But I've been weathering it just fine, thanks to my homesteading lifestyle. I have no rent or mortgage, no water bill, very little electricity usage, and all of the food I can harvest.
All this to say, it's possible. There are few people making less than a traveling fiddle player in Tennessee. But with time, careful planning, frugality, and lots of sacrifice, a self-sufficient lifestyle is not beyond your grasp. If you're determined to get started regardless of budget, check out our article: 10 Ways to Start Homesteading on a Low (Or No) Budget.
It’s been one week. One week since I moved from the suburbs of Nashville to Hickman County, Tennessee.
I’ve moved many times and into various types of places, but this move was the most drastic. I used to occupy a 10 x 9 extra bedroom in the house my cousin and her husband bought a year and a half ago in La Vergne.
Now, I’m living in a roughly 500 square foot A frame cabin that was probably around when Indians killed Edwin Hickman, whom the county is named after, at Defeated Creek in the early 1800s (trust me, the irony isn’t lost on me).
With a space to call my own, it’s like I’ve unlocked a new level of a game. All of the projects I yearned to do can actually be done, starting with gardening.
Let’s be clear, I have no experience gardening. I’m from Indiana, so I grew up on casseroles and pies sourced from the finest canned ingredients you could find half price on a Kroger shelf. During the summer, my brothers and I survived on Spaghettios and grilled cheeses made with the holy grail of dairy blocks: Velveeta.
It wasn’t until I graduated college and moved back home for a year that I got into a health kick which would change my perception of food forever. Every day, I drove straight home from my internship in Indianapolis to the gym where I ran 3 to 6 miles and lifted weights. Then, I went home, showered, and made the family dinner. You could say it was my rent.
I started buying ingredients from the outer aisles of the grocery store, avoiding the inner shelves like the former high school classmates I didn’t want to bump carts with. Whole grains, vegetables representing every shade on the color wheel, and fruits for dessert.
Such is the tale told in every Weight Watchers commercial; I felt better than ever. Processed foods weren’t weighing me down like an anchor tossed over the side of a ship anymore. I felt free.
A year later, I received a job two states south in Tennessee. I met a guy on Tinder who is every bit as weird and health-obsessed as me, and he introduced me to permaculture principles like the Ruth Stout method and silvo farming.
So when I finally got out of the city and into the country, the first order of business was to try this gardening thing out for myself. I’d be lying if I said it was easy.
One weekend in the sun, and I can already say with complete confidence that gardening will test the limits of my personality. Instead of taking a begrudging outlook on it, I’m accepting it as the stage of life I need to be in; the lessons the universe believes I need to learn right now.
1. Patience is your friend.
Building a planter bed is a process. As my shovel grappled with the rocks scattered within the ground, I learned quickly to abandon all hope that this project would be complete in one day.
I’m used to the corporate pace. I’ve sat in many conference rooms while men in tan slacks and women in sharp blazers preached the benefits of “minimum viable” execution. So, I can create something from nothing in a day without too much trouble.
But this planter bed was different. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to show my friend (and the world on social media) that I could build not just any planter bed, but a Sistine Chapel, masterpiece of a plantar bed.
My hope faded as the tip of the shovel met sturdy roots from the trees on the outskirts of the planter bed. I didn’t know any better, so I took a saw to them, carving a path for my soon-to-be-planted vegetables to sprout. Or so I thought… I learned afterwards that 1) I could have damaged the tree (duh) and 2) the roots actually provide the planter bed with wood that will eventually deteriorate, producing a richer, healthier soil.
2. Perfectionism is the enemy.
I didn’t know while I was building the planter bed that I had already made a mistake with the tree roots. I still believed I was on track for the perfect bed that would knock everyone off their feet.
But, the light was fading fast. The sun was three quarters of the way crested across the tree line. A screen door screeched as my neighbor across the street descended from his mobile home.
“You look confused,” he shouted in my direction.
How did he know? Was I that obvious? Hovered over my iPhone scrolling through the directions my friend gave me in Facebook Messenger, which should have been straightforward, but might as well have been calculus in that moment.
“1st layer sticks, grass, and leaves
2nd layer sod (Upside down)
3rd layer is crumbled up original dirt mixed with some sand (Not too much), peat moss, and compost/manure
Then a thick mulch layer of leaves”
The industrial-sized refrigerator hole in the ground tainted me. “Find the derivative of this patch!”
For the past year, I had been watching my friend amend his soil, construct siding from fallen down branches, and follow the Ruth Stout method like the Ten Commandments. When it came time for me to practice what I had only been participating in the past 12 months, I stumbled over the steps more than I had imagined I would.
Not many factors are consistent in gardening, but failure is a definite outcome. More often than not, you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Building a planter bed gives you the opportunity to bask in your ignorance. It’s not everyday that you get paid to learn, so don’t allow failures to hold you back in the garden. You’ll earn so much more in knowledge about your land and understanding of nature’s processes the more you fail that it’s worth any feelings of inadequacy.
3. Accept help from strangers.
After I laid down the layer of sod, it was time to pack on some compost and manure. The day before I stopped by Walmart. You can get several pounds for just under $3.
I also bought two 25-pound bags of potting soil from the local co-op, which slouched over the compost and manure bags. As I lifted one bag of potting soil with the underside of both arms, I exhaled loudly, forcing oxygen into my lungs like a baker frosting icing onto a cake.
My neighbor took notice, and he asked if he could help. This is the same neighbor who was chopping wood at 9 p.m. the night before, which I remember thinking was strange at the time.
At first, I declined his offer to help. Then I realized I was in “ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar” country. This new town I moved to was immune to cutthroat commutes and ticking clocks hanging over metal-framed cubicles. Preferred currency was whatever a person might need at any given time: meat, money, or manual labor.
I decided it would be rude of me to reject him.
“Wait one second, I’ll grab my wheelbarrow from the back yard,” he said.
Whether you’re in the country, a suburb, or city, let people who express an interest in helping you, help. If you aren’t going to be the superhero who builds the perfect planter bed in one day anyway, then what do you really have to lose? It would do you well to gain an ally in your neighborhood who might be willing to barter with you, especially when you have perky seedlings growing on your back deck.
4. Systems are nice in theory, but harder in practice.
Have you ever heard the joke that we pack for the people we want to be on vacation, not the people we are? As it relates to your garden, make sure you plan your garden for the gardener you are, not the gardener you want to be.
With gardening, there is a system for everyone: the lazy gardeners who don’t want to do or spend too much, the traditionalists who want to grow as their ancestors grew, and the enthusiasts whose dreams are bigger than the space they have.
Whether you choose a permaculture setup, raised beds, or a traditional tilled vegetable garden, the nature of your garden and lot location will likely dictate for you which systems will work for your conditions.
With gardening, you learn to make sacrifices. Should you use the system that proves most successful according to nature? Or should you tend your land to meet your lifestyle needs and take a few hits to your productivity as a result?
You’ll learn in the first few hours of building a planter bed that systems break down often, and the idea you started with is usually not the product you end up with.
Get Out There and Garden
The journey from planning a planter bed to putting seeds in the soil is daunting to the beginner. As a beginner gardener myself, I recommend disassociating yourself to the outcome and immersing yourself in the process, no matter how long it takes. Erase the limiting belief from your mind that “you don’t have a green thumb.” No one does if they never put their thumb in the ground.
Writer, runner, baker...in that order. On a personal quest to become as self-sufficient as possible. Join me @marathonacres!
LIQUID PIZZA SOUP
- One can of tomato soup
- One can of pasta sauce
- Parmesan cheese (As much as you like. I add a ridiculous amount of cheese)
- Italian spices (Basil, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, rosemary, parsley, garlic, etc)
- Italian sausage (Or whatever meat you need to use up!)
- Veggies (Anything you'd put on a pizza works. I like onions, peppers, and tomatoes)
- Pizza crust (I use the dollar store pre-made crust, but you can replace with bread, crackers, or chips, or just make your own!)
Fry up the sausage if it's not pre-cooked (I recommend a cast iron skillet to avoid the health problems associated with non-stick pans)
Blend all of the other ingredients (Except the bread) and heat until the cheese is melted and the vegetables are a fairly soft texture.
Rip the crust into bite sized pieces and sprinkle them into the bowl. I also toss more cheese on top for a garnish. Basically, you can't add too much cheese.
It's ready to eat! Pro tip: You can use the name "Pizza soup" to sneak just about any leftovers past sneaky eaters.