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The Misunderstanding Around "Self-sustaining"

I saw a post recently where someone (who oddly enough raised and sold chickens) was making fun of those who wanted to raise chickens because "you buy your grain, so you aren't self sustaining." When many said they fed mostly forage and kitchen scraps, the argument was made that - unless every kitchen scrap was raised in their garden - they still weren't self-sufficient.

First, don't be a jerk.

Socially, it has been a common trope to make fun of "preppers" including people who are simply doing all the things our grandparents did because they enjoy it. No one should be taunted for attempting to live their life in a more sustainable, or even just a more satisfying, way. That being said, self-sustaining can mean different things to different people. Yes, technically the definition is "able to continue in a healthy state without outside assistance." And, as a side note, even Google's sentence-example of the term is pretty derogatory.

The problem is "self-sustaining" for most homesteaders is a bit of a misnomer. Few people have ever truly been self-sustaining. Instead, we are community sustaining. No one person can do everything needed for survival, so we divide the labor and work together to get everything we need.

Not only does this build a more closely-knit community, but it helps to keep social bonds with individuals stable. If your local grocery store in a small rural town is a jerk to its customers, they have no choice but to continue shopping there. In a community-sustaining environment, if Farmer John is a jerk you don't HAVE to get your milk from him. You may like his Jersey milk better, but Farmer Dave has great Holsteins too. Hence, John has a lot more motivation to be a good neighbor. And John's neighbors have motivation to be kind back because they have a personal connection with the man who provides their milk, rather than being a faceless person the stores buy from.

Additionally, community sufficiency has the potential to reduce food waste. If farmers don't sell or barter their produce they will be used by the farmer in their own business, or traded to someone else for compost of animal feed. Grocery stores often throw out hundreds of pounds of food. In fact, the US is the largest waster of food and our landfills contain more food than any other form of waste. Most of that is either at the grocery store level (they are estimated to discard about 30% of the produce they bring in) or the personal level. Very little of that is at the farm level, as long as the farmers have a market.

Community sufficiency also means a helping hand when someone needs it. If you are and have been a valued member of the community, when your barn burns down there will people there to help. If you find yourself needing to have 400 feet of fencing run yesterday people will show up. And, when they need the garden watered while they are away for the weekend, the social expectation is that you will help them out in return.

Are their downsides to this kind of community? Of course. The main one being that the community needs to learn to eat at a more local level. The primarily diet becomes seasonally available foods - no oranges in January here! For a society that has become accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it, living more in tune with nature again can be a big shift. But it can also have a lot of rewards for communities: nutritional, social and environmental.

It is also important to remember that those moving towards a different lifestyle will never finish the journey if they are scolded for not moving fast enough. People have different reasons for changing their lives - a desire to eat more locally, trying to overcome food insecurity or a desire to love completely off the land are all possible reasons, and will get there there at different speeds.

So don't be a jerk.

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