May 5, 2015

The Question of Self-Sufficiency

Not too long ago we had an interesting discussion about the term sustainable. I'm interested in your opinions on something else, although my questions might not be what you'd assume. Let me use an example to explain.

When I used to homeschool, the predictable question by non-homeschoolers was, "What about socialization?" Not once, in the hundreds of times I was asked that question, did anyone mention academics. It was as though the number one reason for sending kids to school was "socialization," not learning and not life preparation. I put that term in quote marks because, properly, socialization is the acquisition of cultural norms, values, customs, ideologies, etc. I think what folk were really referring to was social interaction, with the assumption that homeschooling amounted to locking up one's kids in a closet.

My introduction to the term "self-sufficient" was in the 1970s during the back-to-the-land movement. It was one of the goals we hippies strove for in our communes. What we wanted was to not be dependent on The Establishment and all its failings. At the time I knew of several groups of young idealists, all working together as a commune to become self-sufficient. We would get together with other groups from time to time to help one another with things like wheat harvest, but that never negated each group's goal of self-sufficiency.

The back-to-the-land movement has long since faded away, but the homesteading movement has grown out of a similar concern. Most (not all) homesteaders seem to have a similar goal, i.e. to not be dependent on the consumer system or the government to meet needs. Their reasons vary and I discuss that in other posts. Yet, when the term self-sufficiency is now used to describe such goals, there is a rather overwhelming assumption that the term refers to isolationism. One of my questions is, why? Why do folks assume self-sufficiency refers to a social condition, when in fact it refers to an economic condition? The question is addresses is how are our needs being met? Are we dependent upon the industrialized consumer model to provide everything for us? Or are we knowledgeable and skillful enough to meet some or most of our needs ourselves? To put it another way, if someone or something pulled the plug today, how well off would we be?

I think the number of homesteaders who reject a community of like-minded folk are minute. Most of us would love to have a like-minded community network, and absolutely do not feel it's a contradiction to our goal of self-sufficiency.

The key is being truly like-minded. The most common points of division within groups are politics and religion, i.e. belief systems. A more insidious problem is work ethic. Some folks are givers, some are takers. More than one shared work agreement has failed because one party or the other does not hold up their end of the bargain. Another important agreement must be on values. Some of us are willing to trade and barter, even give things away, on a needs basis. For others, it's all about making a profit. Some of us are working toward material simplicity, while others love their technology.

What do we do if we cannot find this like-minded local community? Some may accuse us of being isolationists, but what is the alternative? Give up and follow the crowd because that's what everyone else is doing? Or do we have the courage to stand alone in our conviction in what we're doing? As my mother used to say, if everyone else jumped off a cliff and broke their necks would you? It does take courage and strength of character to stand alone, especially when there is criticism and pressure to conform. It's a risk, but are you willing to take it?

Okay, the floor is yours. Speak!

78 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post - I am in complete agreement with you here, and have experienced so much of what you've touched on. One thing that we get asked ad nauseum is, "When was the last time you went on vacation?!" Which carries the assumption that we are captives to our lifestyle. I see it (and the model of self-sufficiently that you've described) as just the opposite. The more time I spend at home providing for my and my family's basic needs, the more freedom I feel! I think the real question ought to be, Why are people so unsatisfied in their everyday lives that they feel the need to escape it?
    -Jaime

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    1. Jaime, that is an excellent point and I so agree with what you're saying. Rather begs the question of who are the ones who are feeling trapped?

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  2. I just finished reading the about the life of Laura Ingalls. It portrays a life of moving back and forth between farming and city living. It was interesting that many times they would move into town in the winter so the kids could walk to school easier or if the crop was a loss. They had to balance their money and food needs to meet the times of lack. I always assumed that they made it totally off the land but they couldn't predict locust outbreaks. I see in our area people who move to the country only to tire out from the daily demands to just make it and move back into town. I questioned this for our family and I know that city living with a garden and fruit trees are for us because of my health and our general aging concerns. Great question:)

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    1. Great answer:) The thing that always struck me with Laura Ingalls Wilder's books was how, in spite of the ups and downs, they loved the life and stuck with it. Several times in her books farming is equated with independence and freedom, while working for someone else is equated with dependence and loss of freedom. I pretty much feel the same way.

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  3. I guess I have a strict view of self-sufficiency and would say that there isn't anyone in the world who is self-sufficient. There are people such as yourself that reduce your efficiency on the rest of the world but can never be entirely self-sufficient. As long as you require a bank account, gas, phone, etc., you are always going to be dependent on someone else.

    Those whom aspire to be more self sufficient, I wouldn't call isolationists. Most seem well connected into the world around them even if they shun some of the conveniences. I think questions like that simply stem from a lack of knowledge on the subject or making small talk without really thinking about what they are saying.

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    1. Ed, one of the things I'm hoping to do with this series of posts is help people look beyond their assumptions (and in some cases their fears). I don't think anyone would disagree with you that self-sufficiency in the most literal sense is completely impossible. I like to use salt as an example. It's inexpensive, common, easy to obtain, and essential for life, yet not something I can produce for myself. Still, I use the term because of my background, and also because I'm not sure what other term to use. Self-sustaining? Self-reliant? Self-dependency? I daresay someone somewhere would criticize each one. :)

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    2. I can't come up with a word but I usually use the phrase of being 'less of a consumer'. By being more self-sufficient, you are consuming less from others in a very consumer oriented society. I think it is something we should all strive for as much as our lifestyles permit before we consume ourselves out of a home, i.e. third rock from the sun.

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    3. That is really my take on self sufficiency too. I mean we have modern plumbing. I didn't mine the ore for the pipes or make them. I have a refrigerator. Obviously I use a computer too. I'm very dependent on our greater world to provide me with things. Self sufficiency is not black and white. It is a very gray scale. And not linear either. For instance I grow most of my own vegetables for the year - hardly all but a lot. My dad never did that though they did have a garden. But he had a tig welder, a lathe and a mill. He could make just about anything. If he needed a part for something, he would just make it. I can't do that. He was a hunter which I don't do. So self sufficiency has branches.

      And as a reply to Leigh, for me self sufficiency has an added issue. I have a problem with my shoulder and when I drive I'm in a lot of pain. So I moved to the city where I could get around by walking, biking, and taking a bus. That way I wouldn't be reliant on others for transportation. In addition it takes less resources to not have a car (though my husband has a small car). And I had no trouble walking where I needed to go during the Boston blizzards, but you weren't allowed to park your car anywhere. All the streets in my town had parking bans for about two months.

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    4. Ed and Daphne, I think what's important is realizing that being completely dependent on our current system is neither healthy nor desirable. A simpler life seems to go hand in hand with that, as we try to be more content with less. So contrary to human nature! My sense of community encouragement comes from others who understand that. There is no one-size-fits-all, but it's more conscientious living as we are able that counts. Your comments encourage me.

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    5. leigh,
      do you read 'the contrary farmer'?
      gene logsdon's website.
      excellent posts about grazing sheep and about a hope for the reborning of small farming/large gardening.

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    6. Deborah, I'm aware of his website and have quite a few of his books. He's one of the best and will probably do a lot toward furthering the small farming / homesteading movement. I really need to be a more regular reader. :)

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  4. My second sentence should have read "reduce your sufficiency" not efficiency.

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  5. I'm going to have to go at this from the homeschooling point (although there are several other things I did that got similar questions). I think the biggest eyeopener for me was when I realized that I was getting questions not because they thought what I was doing was wrong, but instead they were worried that I thought that they were wrong for following the norm. One mom asked if I had heard negative things about the school so the question was really "should I not have my child attend that school because it is bad?" Once she learned that I didn't have any issue with the school (no experience at all) she was fine and let me alone.
    I then had a cause & effect issue...the man assumed that my daughter was "shy" (she's not, she's introverted) BECAUSE I homeschooled her. When I explained that no she had been introverted just like her dad from birth he stopped bothering me, but I'm not sure if he believed me...until he saw her in the church Christmas pageants.
    The thing is I feel that my daughter learned how to socialize BETTER because instead of being forced to sit with 30 of her age mates, she could slowly join society on her terms with all ages.
    I've read several books of pioneers and no one thought that they were all hermits because they lived out from town on their land...that's just the way it was. When they could they went to town or a neighbor's farm to help out and socialize and no one thought they were different. That was their norm.
    I bet that no one gives the big commercial farmers a hard time for staying home and tending to their fields when essentially they are doing the same thing as homesteaders but on a larger scale.

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    1. Renee you bring up a good point. I've had quite a few folk want to defend their choice to not homeschool, even though I never questioned their personal decisions. In fact, I believe each parent has both the right and responsibility to make their own choices for their children's education.

      I also have to agree in in general homeschooled kids are better socialized. Children educated in a classroom setting are often not comfortable with anyone other than their own peer group. Homeschooling offers community socialization, so that it's possible to carry on an interesting conversation rather than get grunts and nods. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but that's been my experience.

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    2. My experience as well. Like I mentioned, hubby is also introverted and he isn't as comfortable in new situations as Darly is...okay we all hate new situations, but he's the worst. He refuses to go anywhere where he has to meet my friends one on one. He begrudgingly goes to Darly's shows but wants to zip out asap so he doesn't have to talk to my friends...however, I have a few friends that insist on chatting with him. lol
      Darly on the other hand can go up to perfect strangers and chat with them...with a recharge later. ;)

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    3. I read somewhere that extroverts are energized by social interaction, whereas introverts are drained by them. Social interactions take a lot of effort and energy for me, being quite draining in the end. Probably much like your husband!

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  6. I am one of those, who had problems with home-schooling, because I thought my son needed interaction with kids of his age. being an only child and with barely any kids in his age group in the vicinity, I wouldn't have worried about him getting enough education (to take it to 3rd level education here, they'd have to sit the reg. leaving cert anyway - and homeschoolers are regularly supervised by the dept. of education!) - but that he'd mostly interact with us (aka adults). or maybe I thought that way, because I come from a country (germany), where school attendance is compulsory (no homeschooling allowed at all - apart from private schools, which have to be state approved)? also, how does one provide the necessary level of education in all subjects? I'd feel confident to teach some - but definitely not all of them! (higher maths - yuck:)

    nothing much to do with self-sufficiency I know:)

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    1. Well, I suppose homeschooling is educational independence. :) Sounds like you wanted to make the best decision for your son within your circumstances.

      Because of my circumstances, I would tell folks that socialization was the reason I homeschooled. When they gave me a puzzled look I would tell them I made the decision after product evaluation. I homeschooled because I didn't like what the government schools were turning out. I suggested that anyone questioning that should go sit in high school parking lot to listen and observe when school let out. The language, behavior, and what they talked about were not what I wanted to be exposed to let alone my kids. So did I want my children learning their social behavior and norms from their peer group. No way.

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    2. I wanted to mention about the higher levels of education, because that is one reason why many send their children back to a classroom setting when they get to high school.

      For myself, I just tried to stay a week or two ahead of my kids. But also, I considered that the ultimate goal of education should not be mastering facts and figures, because, let's face it, nobody remembers all those dates they had to memorize in high school world history. I think that they need to learn how to think and reason, how to find information they need and what to do with it after they've found it. As my kids got older, I turned more and more of their education over to them. I would create a basic lesson plan and schedule, but they would be responsible for budgeting their time and completing the assignments. I graduated both of them from high school right here at home. When my daughter was a freshman in college, she commented that the majority of kids who graduated from the school system, were really struggling with the work load. She had no trouble because she had learned how to organize and budget her time. She knew how to work independently. Her transition was so much smoother than many of her new friends and acquaintances.

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    3. I agree that school education is not everything it should be! and they do learn a lot of stuff they'll never need again (unless they become specialists in certain areas, but then they could learn that when needed?) - but I would have had no choice in teaching all that stuff - because without it they couldn't do the state exams needed to go on to college/uni etc.! or they could sit it - but would most likely not get the points needed to go on. it's not an easy decision either way....

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    4. woolly bits,
      i nor husband are mathematically literate. gave child the books, she went on herself, was majoring in chemical engineering , got her two year degree summa cum laude, before illness stopped her.
      i let her go in her own directions and tried within budget to get what she needed to do her own exploring. library book sales are great for this.
      she was about 11 when i brought home a solid geometry book and a short while later she told me she had used the bookfor designing a quilt!!
      don't ask me, i don't know what solid geometry is. but she does.
      if she had had a more literary bent we would have gone that way.
      kids are not stupid. give them the tools and they will do the building, often with pleasantly surprising and pleasing results.
      don't worry about the damned examinations. encourage them in the here and now.
      as for high school, she just took the GED. simple.
      then one of her profs told her about CLEP exams. she took as many as allowed and saved us a bundle of bucks and herself a lot of hassle.
      there is always a way.
      what if your kids don't want to go to uni?
      there are other paths.

      we also got the socialization question, never about academics.

      as to self sufficiency, e all know it is an impossibility. we need specialists and we need supply of things not locally available. coffee, for instance, is a necessity to many, but is imported.
      if you knit you need wool but may not be able to raise and shear sheep.
      God gives each a gift. carpentry, music, medicine.
      this enriches all our lives without each of us having to conquer every mountain.
      to me, self sufficiency is doing what one is able and taking some of the burden off of society in general.
      also being able to help others who are lacking in some way.
      humans are tribal and clan creatures. the stresses of life today come from not having a clan or a real community. community-- not your area of abode, but your people network.

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    5. Deborah, put that way true community sounds just as idealistic as self-sufficiency. :) I agree that it all starts with the individual and that we should each do what we can to be responsible for ourselves and our needs, plus make a contribution for the sake of others, rather than being a burden.

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    6. thanks, Deborah, for taking the time to answer! for me the education problems are academic now - my son is 17 and in the last year of sec. education - and I hope we don't have to worry about grandchildren just yet:) but I do appreciate hearing about other people's views on this!

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  7. We always liken ourselves to the old fashioned mountain folk. We don't mind to help out the neighbors if they come ask, or if we see a need, but we aren't really the "visiting" type. We don't like to have folks over for a bbq and we don't like to just drive over to shoot the breeze. We like to work hard. It makes us happy. We are for sure "ants" living in a world of grasshoppers. As for the term self sufficient, I don't like to use that phrase anymore and instead choose to say God-reliant. As for folks thinking we are socially backwards, they do and sometimes they aren't shy about telling us so, but we consider that a compliment. I do not want to be lumped in with the societial norms of today. I'm happy to be the way we are. And as for why we live this life we do....for us it's just living. We try to be the very best stewards we can of the gifts God has given us. I milk goats because it makes me happy and garden for the same reason. We believe very strongly that the only hope any of us will have in a collapse of the world as we know it, is Jesus. Making sure we are as right with Him as we can be, and knowing without a doubt that no matter what happens to our bodies, our souls will be just fine! :)

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    1. Very well put. Dan and I have longed believed that the biblical model teaches agrarianism. It's one of the reasons we live as we do. Mankind is not capable of fixing the very problems they create, nor of saving the world from themselves. We strive to be the best stewards that we can, but must trust Him for the outcome.

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    2. Ah I love this! "Mankind is not capable of fixing the very problems they create, nor of saving the world from themselves." So very, very true, and The Man and I always get an irritated chuckle out of the conceit of the human race to think they can solve all of these problems. Only God can solve them, and in His time and His way, which if you believe the Bible, will NOT be in the fashion we humans think it should be! :)

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    3. Some folks think science will solve all of life's problems, but that is such an illusion. The trend to recreate and redefine 'natural' is particularly scary. We would end up destroying ourselves if it wasn't for divine intervention.

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    4. leigh,
      do you read 'the deliberate agrarian' by herrick kimball?
      one of my favorites.

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    5. Deborah, yes! He (and Gene Logsdon) have been great encouragements to us, especially when we began our journey. I'm glad you mentioned them both because it may direct others to read them too.

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  8. Because we are all creatures of different tastes and needs, it's unwise to believe everyone else is on the same wavelength as ourselves. There will be similarities but no identical ideals to carry us to the exact same goals. Therefore, we should search for generalities in similar goals because that's as close as it will come if you depend on others in any group. And most certainly, work ethic plays a major role in ideals. We've all become softies in our easier lifestyle thanks to electricity, and to do without it and the related luxuries will push many softies to the brink of depression or violence if life ever became one of extreme need. Simply put, few of us can work hard enough to survive demanding times. Ideals will have nothing to do with it.

    As for being self-sufficient, I learned years ago that this is a utopian and impossible term. Even the pioneers and aboriginal people traded for things they couldn't produce but needed such as salt, coffee, woven goods, ground flour, weapons, etc. I think a more realistic term is self-reliant, or specifically, being more self-reliant. This phrase more clearly relates what many of us hope to achieve, a better control over our own lives in producing more of what we need to sustain ourselves along with the sources and knowledge to barter or buy what we cannot provide. In that context, it's easier to manage the small monkey we'd carry on our own backs rather than a huge gorilla of true self-sufficiency.

    I well recall those '70's back-to-the-landers, loads of ideals but scarcely any skills. It's truly a wonder that more of them didn't starve to death, yet not surprising that many went back to being yuppy professionals. The true hard work ethic and knowledge of our great grandparents died out with most of them because they too mistakenly believed their children should have an easier life than they did. All parents want this for their children, but it's a mistake because the knowledge to be quite self-reliant was taken from many and truly precious survival skills were lost along the way. We've only to look at the riots occurring these days in staggering numbers to see how self-reliance has been replaced with entitlement and maliciousness.

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    1. Gloria, very well said. It seems that in the end, terminology is often more of a detriment than a help. I have always stated our goal as becoming as self-sufficient as we are able, but then I was old school before I got to homesteading. That was my assumed meaning, and then I realized the negative assumptions about the term. I agree that self-reliant is a better choice, although I imagine it's only a matter of time before that comes under attack as well.

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  9. I think it's all tied together under the idea of sustainability. If our internal emotional health aspects are sustainable, we can find our own balance between solitude and company, and feel pretty free to seek out social interaction as needed. If our physical environment is sustainable, we can enjoy it long-term, through ups and downs and thicks and thin, and invite others to do the same when we choose.

    It's a sufficiency that we, ourselves, get to find... not that we do it all in total isolation, but that we feel productive and motivated, and have the emotional reserves (and physical reserves) to affect change when needed.

    We also homeschool, and I've noticed my kids are pretty self-sufficient, emotionally. They don't interact with other kids constantly, and really aren't too motivated by what other kids may think--worries about "being cool" or "popular" don't interfere with the topics they explore, projects they undertake, or people they interact with. Rather, they get their primary social transmission from emotionally healthy, fully-formed adults who support the notion of "go for it! Give it a whack!" They have freedom to try and fail utterly, and try some more, without penalty (beyond the natural consequences incident to their "try").

    Along the way, in our quest for sustainable lifestyles, my kids interact with, learn from, and work with people from all economic backgrounds. My son gets to visit with an international hotelier each January, takes care of the yards of six households, including those of a retired maths professor and an architect, who are both delighted to talk specialties with him while he works. My daughters have art and dance lessons with professionals across the world--via Skype!--, and operate the organic-gardening/planting side of the son's yard business, complete with hens to do the bug control. They enjoy helping out at the local community soup kitchen, and converse just as easily with the homeless and disadvantaged people as with the hotelier. They enjoy the company of little kids, same-age kids, and adults, without a problem, and can work in concert with others, or take a leading role, without hesitation or worry. To me, that's actual socialization, rather than peer-dependence and conformity.

    Our entire lifestyle is designed around long-term health and happiness, for ourselves and for those around us. It's sustainable, and self-motivated, and connected, and works pretty well so far! :D

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    1. You make some excellent points! Being comfortable with oneself is absolutely key. So is self-motivation! Those who have never learned to think and act independently (i.e. are peer dependent) will not be comfortable with either of those.

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  10. I have to laugh at this! My quest for self-suffiency has led me to more friends and socialization than I've had my whole life. For instance, when I first started beekeeping five years ago, I was talking to the man I bought my packages from. He had SO much information, and I and others needed that information, so he asked me to start a beekeepers' group. I did, and blammo--friends from all walks of life came out of the woodwork. When I got into goats, I met other folks with goats, and our spouses all complained about having to listen to us. We started a goat group, and blammo--even more friends. We've bonded over hard births, we've taught each other to draw blood and give shots; I think these are some of the best friends I've ever had. I needed more info on gardening--and now I'm the county coordinator for the Master Gardeners. Lovely people, good times, shared plants--blammo, more friends.
    Do you think self-sufficiency is really something more like community-building? We're community-sufficient, not self-sufficient?

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    1. Kat, I love that. And it is so true! What a joy to find folks with similar interests. Your comment is a good encouragement to find others in even only one area. Yours is more like agrarian economic model that I would love to see revived. (But probably won't be 'cuz some folks love their money too much).

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  11. Dang. I had a nice big response and then the power went out. That was part of my comment. I have to be prepared for when a tree knocks us offline. I have no like minded community here in this part of CT.

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    1. Talk about being dependent! That's a good example of being dependent on the modern technology of the internet for like-minded conversation. Not a criticism because I'm in the same boat! I'm sorry you lost the comment. You always have such good insights.

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  12. Well there are actual needs and then there are wants. I use the term sustainable myself these days and that is the real goal. Eventually everyone of us will have to deal with the outside world for something. Even in a complete grid down situation but the goal is to push that eventuality off as far and as long as possible when needed.

    Growing not only enough food for the people but the livestock as well is one example. The community is important too and even though we might not be surrounded by "like minded" types at the moment when the lights go out for a while we may all be amazed at just how like minded and happy to see us our neighbors will become.

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    1. Needs versus wants is a very good point. I learned a long time ago that if I didn't see it, I wouldn't want it. By that I mean I stopped looking at certain mail order catalogs because they always made me want to order something! The internet makes that a little easier to avoid, because (in order to save money) businesses have gone to online catalogs so that one has to be looking for something specific to buy it.

      It's after the lights go out that I have some concerns. I'd like to think that people would be willing to barter, trade, and learn. But the news media too often depicts these situations as times of rioting and mass looting. With the already mentioned sense of entitlement folks have nowadays, I can't help but expect people showing up, demanding, and taking what they neither worked for nor earned. I don't necessarily have survivalist leanings, but given the way folks can be nowadays, that's a realistic scenario, I think.

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    2. I think it all depends on just how far out you are when things come apart or stop as the case maybe. Large armies have tried for centuries to "live off the land" which really means just plundering the locals as they go, and it has never worked very well for any of them besides needing half their combatants to forage. The sheer size of the US would limit most of the organized looting and attrition would take care of the rest before they pushed out more than 100 miles I think.

      A collapse would be a large scale disaster for almost everyone and culturally most rural people band together in such circumstances. Now if the government attempted to round up people and resources in a pre-crash model things could be very different.

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    3. I think what bothers me is that we are not really rural. We looked for rural but couldn't find anything in our price range. We're not urban, but we are right outside the city limits. Farm land has long since been parceled out to land developers, although quite a few folks have large riding lawn mowers for their acreage. We're the community oddballs, the ones where people say "If anything ever happens we're coming to your house (ha ha ha)". They sit and watch us, but do nothing themselves.

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    4. leigh,
      how about some high fences?
      sounds like you are sitting ducks.
      might want to aim some effort to a bit of concealment or similar this year.
      a lower profile.

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    5. Leigh - I understand your concerns. One thing many seem to discount when they fear looters is that time is on the side of the non-looters. At the point humans are so hungry or thirsty to throw off the yoke of civilized living and ignore laws that they were born and raised under a normal person would already be highly impaired. Simple things like putting poison in obvious offerings, hiding things in plain sight etc. just stuff that wouldn't normally fool a 4 year old will work when people are that impaired. The longer you can hide stores or supplies the stronger you get and the weaker the looters become.

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    6. Deborah, yes to fences; we've been putting up privacy fences or hedges for the last several years. This is primarily because I'm not a limelight person and don't want to be the neighbors' personal reality show, LOL

      PP, either I've been reading your mind or you've been reading mine. I think about this stuff daily. Worrying about it won't do any good! See, here's our community, across the miles but on the internet.

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  13. Its interesting you note that "self-sufficiency" is viewed as a socialisation issue, because I think it sums up the design of our species. Although we come in different flavours of personality, at heart, we are social creatures looking to belong to a tribe. Social conditioning is how we identify certain members. The more members, the more comfort is derived.

    Add any title: homeschooling, self-sufficiency, politics, religion and they are just the platforms we try to identify our tribes through, or where we feel most comfortable contributing. To the question, how do we find a like-minded community - I say, start with the basics. Respect.

    In my marriage, we have two flavours: Metropolitain, middle-class man, and Country, curtailed chic. To make it work we had to find the middle ground of respect, or the freedom to express ourselves without persecution. It meant I had to accept more technology than I was comfortable buying and being responsible for, and he had to accept more restraint on purchases than he was comfortable limiting.

    That middle ground is how two different worlds interact with respect. It's also where we have the potential to discern "value" of what's most important. For example, I don't have to ask him to exercise restraint any more, because it comes naturally to him now. He learned the value, or the freedom that comes from withholding purchases and using his personal creativity instead. And I learned the value in watching a person grow, by not placing my expectations on them fully. There was an expectation but I didn't enforced it. I had to live with giving a lot of leeway, without persecution.

    That was especially hard for me, because I come from a religious background that people should not squander, or disrespect God's creation. To sum up what I'm saying though, there is more common ground, more tribal community, than simply agreeing on the same terms of reference. Where we can all be bipartisan is through respect.

    I'm not suggesting people should abandon self-sufficiency or a model which is more removed from the mainstream. I'm still of the mind that any model we live by, should honour God's creation. People should stand up for those models, and be proud of what they can accomplish. But we also have to be mindful we don't, in our enthusiasm, close the door on potential tribal members, who are still looking for such value and purpose as our own.

    By the way, I'm not suggesting you're attempting to close any doors, I'm speaking more of my own personal insecurities in the past. You spoke of having the same values and I know this is extremely challenging when there are differing values. The way to proceed forwards then is learn to speak the language of respect, while also honouring the model of God's creation.

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    1. Chris, I think you are absolutely correct about the human species. I absolutely love how you've worked things out with your husband. That is true partnership.

      I also absolutely agree that any model should honor God's creation. Not in the sense of elevating it so as to be off limits for humans, but in understanding that we are it's stewards and there will be a day of reckoning. IMO, I think the industrialized consumer model is the most destructive. Hence the reaction toward self-sufficiency. it's truly all on an individual level that we can make a difference.

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    2. Partnership is ultimately all we have to work with. In all our relationships. Especially with God.

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  14. I never thought of self sufficient as being isolated. Instead I think of it as being friends with like minded. I think it would be really hard to be completely self sufficient. And with age and health it is even harder as one gets older. I like how the Amish have a "Daudi house" for the parents! We would not do well if the grid goes down! Nancy

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    1. Nancy, thank you for that! The Amish are a wonderful example of self-sufficiency.

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  15. A quote that has been credited to George Washington goes something like this. It is better to be alone than to be in the company of those without honor.

    Frank and I have always lived our lives differently from those around us. Therefore, we have never 'fit into' the expectations of those around us. So be it. We will not conform to others expectations. And while we view our way of life as the most desirable, we do not expect others to live the way we do just because we do. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same perspective. We have yet to find any 'like minded' people in our area. So, we continue to live as self-sufficient as possible, alone.

    Fern

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    1. I think Proverbs says something similar. :) You and Frank are in the same boat Dan and i are. It's not ideal, but I pray that in doing the best we can and learning contentment, it will be enough.

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  16. I really love your comments about homeschooling your kids. In my experience, just about every home schooled kid I have met was sharper than most of their peers by a factor or two. I was not home schooled and I struggled in school because I was always bored. My class could only progress as fast as the slowest mind. I filled my time by learning things they didn't teach in school. Now I'm in the same boat as a parent as my parents. I have tried to compromise with my kids by sending them to a small private school where they are more challenged. I am also sending my eight year old to college for a couple weeks this summer as part of a talented and gifted program, something I never had the option of doing as a kid. I guess at the end of the day, we all see things that we could be doing better but we just try to do the best we can with what we have. I think you said in one of your comments of trying to remain content in your life. So true. Wonderful discussion!

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    1. Ed, you bring up a very good point about any classroom setting - that there is no way to accommodate all the different learning styles, teaching styles, and paces at which kids learn. That's not meant as a criticism, but rather an acknowledgement of a huge challenge in this kind of educational setting. it's interesting that (around here anyway) tutoring services have popped up like crazy. If a parent complains to a teacher about their child's learning struggles, the recommendation is to get a tutor. In other words, the solution is one-on-one teaching, which is what homeschooling is all about! As far as social activities, we really had too many to choose from: homeschool group, homeschool play day, homeschool rec day, 4-H, community sports programs, and a myriad of church groups and activities.

      That said, I think you're doing what every concerned parent does - tries to help their children grow and learn. Everybody makes the best choices they can with what they have available.Being dependent on one school and school teacher to do everything and teach everything isn't realistic for the reasons we're just discussing.

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  17. Great Discussion Leigh! We need to do the best we can with what we have. We need to teach the next generation to be self-reliant and caring of others. Being alone can be challenging, but can also be a selfish state - getting on with others and seeing (not necessarily agreeing) with their view is a mature way to live a life and essential for survival of our species.
    This discussion has made feel very "different" from your readers across the pond from me, but I respect those differences.
    Gill

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    1. Gill, I think you're hitting the nail on the head. It does take maturity to be responsible for oneself, care about others, and yet feel comfortable with one's own lifestyle choices. On this side of the pond, at least, there is a lot of insecurity about many things in life. Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma uses food to illustrate that beautifully. I think that insecurity is what causes folks to criticize others' choices. As Renee pointed out above, people worry about doing things "wrong" if others do them differently.

      The most lamentable problem I see with this insecurity is that it makes folks vulnerable to manipulation. Take trending, for example; how easy for a big company to use social media to whip up a "trend" as a marketing tool. Or as an attack against something that threatens their profits. It's true humans are social animals, but they need to learn how to think and analyze rather than follow the pack blindly.

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  18. Well, the Amish are pretty self sufficient and they are a highly organized community. I guess there's an entire spectrum of thought on that subject, from communal efforts to the lone homesteader way out in the forest.

    We have always been keep to yourself people. We home-schooled our kids, using curriculum from Texas Tech , and it didn't do them any harm. They got a better education than they would have in a hive school, and they are best friends to this day, closer than most kids remain to siblings.

    I like communicating with people who have the same bent of mind on self sufficiency, but I wouldn't make a good neighbor or member of a full time community I don't think. I'm far too individualistic, and I'm not much on compromising.

    I guess it just depends on where you fall on the line between lone wolf and communal dweller.

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    1. Harry, you make an important point about individual personality. Honestly, I'm more like you. I'm content with myself and work better alone. I've always been willing to help others, and used to do that quite a bit before I had a place of my own. Some folks feel a need for other people, however, and for them community would be a must. A homesteading or prepper lifestyle would be much more difficult for them if they didn't have that community. I reckon I feel fortunate to be able to press on in spite of what others think.

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  19. I'm an elementary librarian in a high poverty urban school. I have seen both sides, or several, on this topic. I think it's great for well-rounded people to school their kids at home, BUT they may miss out on valuable screenings, and services. I have seen K/1st graders come in with all kinds of ADD, speech and processing/hearing issues. Parents are either in denial, too poor and uneducated to recognize the problems, or little to no insurance. There are religious groups who home school to teach their religious views of history (not accurate) to have control over what their kids are taught. I've seen parents remove their behavior challenged kids from school, to home school as we were to blame. Six months later they're back, kids still out of control. I think it's good to go either way, depending on the needs, perceived needs, and what the long term goal is? Do you want your kids to be able to go to college, trade school, farm or? I view self-sufficiency as a real curve and it varies. Even the Amish aren't truly self sufficient if they are working in factories because land in their areas are just too expensive... Nancy @Little Homestead in Boise

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    1. Nancy, I can understand why you feel that way since you work for the system. That's a challenging group to work with for sure, much more challenging than most school situations. Because of that, however, I don't think it's possible to accurately extrapolate a comprehensive view of homeschooling from your experience. I could likely go toe-to-toe with you on classroom disasters becoming homeschool success stories. However, it wasn't my intention to make you or anyone else feel defensive about choosing the government education system. I'm just telling my story and my choices. I think the bottom line with education is that parents should have the right to make a choice. I feel the same way about our modern economic consumer system. I think folks should have the right to partake or not as they choose. People will always choose what best meets their own needs. We aren't all the same so we won't choose the same things. I agree that self-sufficiency varies and that there is no one size fits all. The comments for this post have given some wonderful examples of the choices folks have made in regards to their own situations. I find it inspiring.

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    2. Hi Nancy, a small quibble about history being accurate. All history is written according to bias, even mainstream curriculum history. Its simply not possible to record every single version of history experienced by every group in society - let alone teach it to children. So you will often see conflicting data in different resources.

      Just because it doesn't fit the limited means of the mainstream though, doesn't make it inaccurate. It just means it hasn't been recorded where your resources are gleaned.

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    3. Chris, I have to agree. Mortimer Adler, author of How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, suggests that the only way to study history is by reading it from all points of view, in hopes of piecing together an roughly accurate understanding. It's been especially difficult in this country, because the concept of separation of church and state has resulted in censoring much information. While I'm sure the authors of such materials would say they were attempting to write a neutral history, critics would say they've tried to revise history in order to be politically correct.

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  20. I love this post! My thought for being more self-sufficient is along the same lines as yours. Where will we be if someone pulls the plug? That's part of why I garden and can so much. The other part is just a love of gardening. I figure as for those who are like-minded or building a support network diversity is key. If everyone in the group thinks the same then there will be no new innovations and diversity is healthy within a group. As for different morals and ethics or beliefs I figure as long as we can agree to disagree but still be good neighbors the rest can sort itself out later. There is always going to be someone looking out for their own skin or just in it for the money and I figure as long as we can co-exist peacefully and help out when someone needs help what does it matter their motivation? But then I am very laid back and tend to let things roll off my back too much instead of standing up for myself.

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    1. I absolutely agree it's completely possible to be very good neighbors with those who have different goals and belief systems. I agree with the others who have said respect is key, and it must be mutual respect. Sadly, it seems we've somewhat lost that these days, with the misconception that respect must be "earned." I would say that respect is everyone's god-given right and responsibility. Trust, on the other hand, is what must be earned.

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  21. I've really enjoyed this discussion (shared it on my Facebook page- hope you don't mind). To be totally self sufficient in everything is unrealistic and I love the idea of having a community of like minded individuals. Take seed saving as an example, to a good genetic pool to save seeds from many plants require seeds to be save from around twenty specimens. So that's twenty leeks, carrots, parsnips etc, I'm not sure I could do that each and every year even with my large garden (some plants require much less lime tomatoes). So instead it's much easier to find like minded people and split up the task of saving these seeds and then share them amoungst us all. In my mind that's still being self sufficient as we're removing ourself as much as possible from the "big machine", no money is changing hands and we're responsible for producing those seeds and those plants we'd eat the next year. Finding the like minded people you can trust is the tricky bit although with the Internet its become much easier.
    As for homeschooling I have to say I'm against it in the UK. My wife is a teacher so I have to believe in the education system that we have. I do believe that parents should pull up the slack rather than moaning to the teacher, some skills like budgetting should be taught at home. Learning to socialise with their peirs is essential to getting on in life s is learning to deal with difficult and awkward people, I'm just not sure they get this interaction when homeschoolded and learn to behave like adults too soon.

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    1. Sorry about all the typos I wrote this on my phone and I've just read it back and cringed!

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    2. Kev, I've often lamented that Blogger doesn't have an edit button!

      Those who choose to work in the educational system are to be applauded and supported. It's especially interesting to note the differences between the systems from one side of the pond to the other.

      Even though Dan and I have no local like-minded community, I always hope that we are at least setting an example, and that folks may think, "hey, we can do that too." The internet offers our true support system, in terms of information and encouragement.

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    3. I meant to say I don't mind at all that you shared this discussion. It's interesting to note the different takes on self-sufficiency, and I think it helps us all to not try to put the definition in a strict box.

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  22. I've always gone off in my own direction... as I've grown older I've heard less criticsm and more "oh that is so cool!" or "I wish I could do that". I'm probably one of the least 'isolationist' folks in the history of, well, ever, lol.
    I also homeschooled my daughter for a couple of years because I was intensely dissatisfied with the quality of the education she was receiving at her public 'herd' school. Her entire 2nd grade class required a remedial English teacher because the prior teacher hadn't even taught them the basics of reading... other than what was required for standardised testing. Ummm, nope. Not happening. I used the classic Calvert School curriculum and allowed her to move as quickly through the lessons as she wished.
    When I allowed her to return to public school, she was at least two years ahead in every subject, and was moved ahead a grade.

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    1. Jacqueline, your story reminds me of a neighbor I had when I lived in Texas. She knew we homeschooled and one day she came over to ask about reading. She told me her daughter was in 4th grade but still could not read. She was a very bright girl, but stumbled over reading even the simplest material. The mother had been to the child's teacher about it but was only told, "Oh, she'll catch on." No help was offered. This mom hadn't even graduated from high school herself and wanted to make sure her daughter had an education. She asked me for help and I gave her materials to work with. She taught her own daughter how to read.

      The beauty of one-on-one education is that there is no peer group watching and make a kid feel embarrassed. The bright ones can be challenged with harder material, the slower ones can have the time and space to thoroughly master the material as well.

      I think teaching the tests is becomingly increasingly common. The entire Atlanta school system was caught doing just that several years ago.

      Funny how this got off so much on homeschooling! I only used it it illustrate what I was trying to say, but really, it is part of self-sufficiency, I suppose. :)

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  23. I hear you loud and clear Leigh. The push-back against the notion of self-sufficiency can be maddening to me. I started using the term "self reliance" to try to avoid that, but I recently used it in a post and got comments complaining that I was suggesting isolation and that isolation is a bad thing, even though the context of the quote I shared was plainly about self-reliant families and communities, not self-sufficient individuals.

    My theory is that we've been so indoctrinated to dependency that it has now become the new social norm. So much so even though self-reliance was once a principal virtue the importance of which would be undisputed, now it is perceived as selfish or anti-social. Better to live as a dependent of the state, or of exploited societies elsewhere, than to live sustainably. Of course to survive while continually consuming more than we produce will in time necessarily make us into beggars, borrowers or thieves.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post and your inspirational example!

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    1. Bill, I figured it was only a matter of time before "self-reliance" would come under criticism as well. So will any other term we try to replace it with.

      I agree with you about indoctrination and the perception of social norms. The tendency to try to push (intimidate) everyone into the same mold, however, is absolutely beyond me. I figure it can only come from be a desire to control others or intense insecurity.

      If we want to look at what really isolates folks, it's the computer. It's enabled an entire automated system of dealing with people that requires no human interaction. Trying to get help with something, for example. Hundreds of FAQ pages later and still no answers. No human to talk to, at best an email contact page with an automated response. Trying to contact someone by telephone often encounters another automated, computerized system. Machines are increasingly being used to do jobs so that only a few maintenance folks are required. Or try talking to someone out in the marketplace; they're so busy talking on the phone that the real live person in front of them is practically invisible. I could go on and on with that one.

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  24. Wow, so many great comments. It might be just me, but I have a problem with labeling and being labeled. My own mom tried to call me a prepper last year when I was canning corn. I told her I wasn't a prepper. I don't believe an alien is going to zap our house - or whatever. I just want enough corn in the pantry to last until next years harvest. It used to be called 'life' or maybe stocking the larder. I have found those who like labels are either 1 of 2 sorts - those who are ignorant of where their food comes from (or their dog's food, etc) or those who want to be part of a group - he's a prepper, I'm a prepper too... We just live; however, we probably spend less, are healthier, and more knowledgeable (in certain realms) than many others.
    As far as children, our system as is produces fully grown children. Usually rural &/or home-schooled children are raised to become adults. Evidence: a 12 yr. old farm child can start and move a rig for whatever reason & see work to be done. A 20 yr. old child still wants to play video games rather than work.
    You have such a knack for asking thought provoking questions:)

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    1. Lady Locust, hello and welcome! You bring up some excellent points. I have often considered that we were raising adults, not children. :)

      I also have to agree about labels. It's especially difficult when folks not only want to label others, but have a strict definition of those labels, like "self-sufficiency." It's amazing how, in just a couple of generations, things have been so twisted around so that what was once normal and good, is now abnormal and bad. Where in the world did that mindset come from in the first place?????

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  25. I just spent a fascinating half hour or so reading through all of these comments and mini-discussions. I've been out of the blogging world lately (I was just running in our provincial election!) so my last post was the one that you commented on in early April that touched on my feelings about this issue.

    I wonder if maybe it is the "self" part of self-sufficient or self-reliant that gives the wrong impression and leads some to think of it as isolationism? Perhaps it follows a bit of a synapse path to "selfish" or "self-absorbed" or something in their minds and as such gives rise to a negative connotation... I don't know.

    I find it interesting, just on my facebook feed, to see the huge variety of ideals that people in my network have. The vast majority lead the traditional North American life, so utterly dependent on government, markets, other people, etc. Some thrive on it, to the point of having personal cooks that prepare their meals weekly and do their grocery shopping for them (!), some want to find their way to more self-reliant living.

    I'm blessed to live in a lovely place with traditional values, and deep farming roots. Because of this, I think that while not exactly mainstream, my hopes for our lifestyle are a lot like that lived by many on our island just two generations ago, so although it might illicit a smile, most people I speak to think it's interesting. Perhaps quirky, but fun and a smart idea.

    As for homeschooling, it's something that I feel a bit torn about. Only our oldest is school age, and he's in kindergarten. He's in our public system, and I'm a newly graduated teacher (last year, before I went on mat leave). I think we have a lot of problems in our school system, but I think there are so many wonderful aspects to it as well. And I LOVE teaching. So while we've decided that they'll go to school in a school building, I'm mindful of the challenges that this will pose, and I am hoping to make sure that they develop practical skills, a true love of reading, and a connection to their community and the landscape upon which they depend.

    At the same time, I'm trying to be as involved in our community as I can (hence the craziness of running for government while parenting three small kids) so that I can be involved in making changes that will bring our province toward a more self (or community) reliant lifestyle. I want our children to be ready so that they, with God's strength and will, can handle whatever the world throws at them.

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    1. Rosalyn, i was hoping you'd weigh in because I know you've been thinking about this a lot. That is an interesting observation on your part about the "self" in the words "self-sufficient" and "self-reliant." I can see how it would very much color perceptions about it and think it very plausible that it would lead to assumptions.

      Having a like minded community is indeed a blessing and will greatly benefit you and your family in attaining your goals. Ideally it's the community that is self-reliant, but as you've read in the comments, not all of us enjoy the same like-mindedness with our neighbors. It feels like an up-hill battle to go it alone, but I don't think we have a choice. The dependent way of living creates more problems than it solves.

      I think, too, that community makes a difference in the kind of schools and schooling one finds. If you choose to be a part of that system in your own community, you can most certainly make a difference.

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    2. I just had to stop back because I cannot believe I wrote "illicit" instead of "elicit". Please pardon my shame!

      The like-minded community that you mention is a real godsend. Now, there are a lot of people where I live that wouldn't necessarily understand a homesteading lifestyle (particularly one focussing on spray-free gardening/agriculture), but overall, I think the sense is that we love our island and our connection to it and so it wouldn't seem quite so hard to understand. I'm currently working with my town to allow chickens and dairy goats and they have been surprisingly enthusiastic about it. I'm not sure how they'll end up implementing it (or if, really, but I'm optimistic) but they seem to think that it is a great path forward and they certainly want to support our family's endeavours.

      Thank you, also, for the positive comments on schooling. It's so hard to know what is best for our kids, but I do love being a part of it. I would like to actually start a sort of in-class/co-op program in our school where we take kids from all academic areas and put them together to learn about producing their own food, tending the land, alternative energy sources, environmental stewardship, etc. It's nowhere in the curriculum, but it's sort of a dream that I'd like to work toward. :)

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    3. ARRGH! One of my cats just walked across the keyboard and wiped out my reply! Rats! Trying again ...

      I think your local government's response and openness to your request speaks volumes in regards to your community. What a blessing! Very much hoping for success for you there.

      In regards to schooling, I am a huge advocate and supporter of homeschooling, because no one loves or wants the best for children like parents do. Because of that I think they (not the government) should have the right (and responsibility) for making decisions regarding things like their education. To have a school system and teachers that imparted the same values as the parents would be ideal and worth being involved in. In that kind of situation, educating children ought to be a partnership between parents and teachers. It sounds idealistic because it is! Too often it becomes adversarial, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. :)

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