There are days that I wonder what I was thinking by trying to do this modern homesteading thing on my own.
Like this past week. There I was, having not been sick at all for at least a year, finally feeling human again after more than a week of being unable to walk more than about 10 feet without getting winded and collapsing in a coughing fit. This bug (Allergies? Sudden onset asthma? Bird flu?) had me by the throat, and it was awful. Not fun in the middle of summer.
So why am I telling you this? I’ve actually resisted writing this article for a long time. But as I sit here, looking out at the lawns that need cutting, a chicken coop that needs freshening, garden beds that haven’t seen attention for weeks, cedar shake blocks that need splitting, a house addition plan that’s clearly not finished, and a list of client projects as long as my arm that I need to catch up on, there’s more than my sink full of dirty dishes that needs to come clean…
… and I ask myself: “AGAIN, WHY AM I DOING ALL THIS??“
It Ain’t Easy Being Self-Sufficient (or even trying to be)
Building a business while building a homestead ain’t easy. It’s a lot of work – and even more so when you attempt it solo. With only 24 hours in a day, an active 8 year old, 6-plus acres, 15 chickens that are attracting a cast of wild creatures looking for a snack, a growing list of amazing clients I love serving, rural housekeeping tasks (curtains of spider webs, anyone?) and a to-do list as long as the cabin is tall, something’s got to give – and it’s almost always the list homesteading projects I wanted to get in the ground this year (…and the dishes in the sink).
So the question is, why put myself through this? Why not pack it in and go back to the city and take up yoga, or at least stop trying to build the homestead and just sit back and enjoy?
Let’s face it – the average person is winging their way through life assuming that the isles in the grocery store will always be full, that we’ll always be able to flip a switch and have light and heat (or cool), and that our access to all the goods and services we use daily will always be there. They figure those of us who think that may not always be the case are fearmongering, paranoid, or at best, mildly amusing.
“Honey, did you know what Darla and Steve are spending their money on now? A root cellar! Can you imagine? What would anyone need a root cellar for in this day and age? They should just go take a nice holiday – looks like they could use one!” (cue the laugh track…)
You get the picture.
So why would anyone change their lifestyle so dramatically, moving their family from a well bred city life to a homestead in the country in order to build a more self-sufficient life, and all the challenges that that brings? Why are so many currently making that choice? What’s the point?
Personally, I have a number of reasons – we’ll explore the biggest one here, and the rest (the ‘lighter’ ones) in Part II.
Reason #1: Emergency Preparedness
Our little cabin sits along a major fault line on the Pacific coast of North America, a part of the world that is apparently ‘overdue’ for a major earthquake (like a 9 on the Richter, the same magnitude as the big quake in Japan in March). That fact alone was reason enough to kick my butt into gear, especially after seeing the tragedies that unfolded in Japan, New Zealand, Haiti, Chile and so many other places this past couple of years.
Now, barring a tsunami that would wipe out everything, emergency officials say everyone should be prepped to look after themselves and their family for a minimum of 72 hours. That’s minimum. But when you do a little research and talk to those same emergency officials and first responders in person, the truth comes out: you’d likely be on your own for two or three weeks after a major event. That’s a very long time.
Ponder this: what are the chances that utility company staff, road crews, police, fire, ambulance, doctors and nurses, and other professionals who keep our communities rolling will be immune to a major disaster? Chances are they’ll be affected too, and as we’ve seen in other recent disasters, likely at home with their own families (if they make it through the initial event), making sure they are safe and sound – at least in the beginning. So where does that leave the rest of us? Scarily, completely on our own.
That was a big whack upside the head for me, as was the realization that very few people take this stuff seriously, thinking it will ‘never happen here’ or just being to freaked out to even entertain the possibility. But as we’ve seen numerous times the last while, it can happen and it does, with seemingly increasing frequency.
Just consider the number of major natural calamities we’ve had across the globe the last few years:
- massive earthquakes and tsunamis
- unprecedented tornado activity
- multi-nation drought and wildfires
- widespread flooding
- increased volcanic activity
- rising food costs (not a natural disaster, but being driven by crop failures and costs of conventional production)
- a resulting billions and billions of dollars in damages and huge loss of life
Now what does a solar flare have to do with emergency planning? Turns out, a lot.
Before you think I’ve turned into a doomsday theorist and am secretly building a bunker in the forest, I’ll assure you I have not and am not (no disrespect intended to anyone who actually has built a bunker – more power to ya if that’s your choice). But frankly, I think economic and political uncertainty and the internet have created a lot of fear – and I’ll just leave it at that… That said, this solar-maximum-wreaking-havoc-on-’modern’-society thing actually has some legs. Have a look:
- NASA Warns Solar Flares from ‘Huge Space Storm’ Will Cause Devastation
- Solar Shield – Protecting the North American Power Grid
- High-Impact, Low-Frequency Event Risk to the North American Bulk Power System – A Jointly-Commissioned Summary Report of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s November 2009 Workshop”
- Getting Ready for the Next Big Solar Storm
- A Super Solar Flare
- Severe Space Weather – Social and Economic Impacts
And in case you don’t have time to read all that, here’s the short version:
“A contemporary repetition of the Carrington Event would cause … extensive social and economic disruptions,” the report warns. Power outages would be accompanied by radio blackouts and satellite malfunctions; telecommunications, GPS navigation, banking and finance, and transportation would all be affected. Some problems would correct themselves with the fading of the storm: radio and GPS transmissions could come back online fairly quickly. Other problems would be lasting: a burnt-out multi-ton transformer, for instance, can take weeks or months to repair. The total economic impact in the first year alone could reach $2 trillion, some 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina or, to use a timelier example, a few TARPs.” science.nasa.gov (System Collapse Diagram source: NASA.gov)
If you’re remotely intrigued, I invite you to spend a half hour and read through some of the articles above, then decide for yourself. I think the argument is pretty compelling, should we have the type of solar activity outlined in the NASA scenarios.
Now this whole solar maximum thing might sound totally nutty (it’s not a fun thing to contemplate), and it’s also not my intention to try to scare you. Rather, it’s my job to bring this stuff to you so you can take it, study it and apply it (or not) to your own situation.
Bottom line? It never hurts to err on the side of caution and make an investment in your future comfort and safety. You buy insurance for fires and illness – why not create an insurance policy in extra food, water and basic necessities? Makes a lot of sense to me. Our grandparents and all those who came before us lived this to the very core of their being – they preserved food and knew how to care for a cold or flu without a doctor. They made their own clothing and their own soap. They raised and dispatched their own animals for meat, hides and fat, and knew how to catch a meal if they had to. If they weren’t prepared to care for themselves and their families, through good times and bad, they simply didn’t make it. Somehow in the last few decades, we’ve lost that sensibility.
What if Nothing Ever Happens?
If you never experience an earthquake or a job loss or a month-long power outage, be thankful! You’ve faired a lot better than millions of others. And as a bonus, you’ll have some super camping food, and not have to worry if a snowstorm or illness keeps you at home for a few days.
There really is no downside to this sort of basic-level prepping. If you are ready for a big event, then you can likely handle any other calamity or inconvenience that might come your way, from a short-term power outage in the winter to a job loss or illness that would take you away from work and eliminate your income. At the very least, you’ve invested in your family’s future nutritional needs at a price much less than will likely be the case in the not-too-distant future. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of safety-net (especially for those of us who work for ourselves and have no such thing as employment insurance or banked sick time).
In my opinion, it’s a smart and dare I say, responsible, thing to do – to be able to care for yourself and your family, regardless of what is going on around you. And it’s good for the whole community to have as many people as self-sufficient as possible – it means that those who are in dire straits with their health or otherwise unable to care for themselves will have access to medical and emergency care should any big event happen where you live. It’s the neighbourly thing to do.
So as I sit here, finally feeling better after a week of being pretty much incapacitated and facing a stack of client projects to get through by the end of the day, I’m confident that my ‘why’ is still the driving force behind my choice to stay here and continue building our little self-sufficiency haven. And of course, now that we’re here, I’m finding all sorts of new ‘why’s’ (we’ll explore the lighter side of why we chose this modern homesteading lifestyle in Part II). I’m more committed than ever to making it work – discomfort, challenges and all. You can’t put a price tag on the peace of mind that comes with this sort of preparation.
Once you know your “why”, it’s all worth it (yes, even having to look at a sink full of dirty dishes for one more day because the garden needs tending NOW…).
What’s your why? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below… and if you haven’t grabbed your copy of ‘Emergency Food Storage: Why Bother?‘, be sure to do that before you leave today… you’ll be glad you did! Plus, it’s free…