159: The Truth about Growing Your Own Food
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Sometimes homesteaders will talk as if growing your own food is as easy as tossing some seeds in the ground, and if you’ve got the space there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t do it. Similarly, I’ll hear people say that if you’ve got space for chickens (or ducks or turkeys or goats or…) you should totally get them, there’s no reason not to!
Like some oddly edited version of “The Little Red Hen”, they skip from deciding to make the bread to suddenly having the bread and fail to mention the steps in between.
Which is funny, because sometimes homesteaders will go the other way—talking about how it’s so much work and “city people” just (dramatic sigh) won’t understand…
Today, because of a conversation with a gentleman who also happens to be fellow homesteader, I’m going to address the former situation, which is when homesteaders act like everyone can grow their own food, everyone should do it, there’s no reason not to, while they look down the end of their noses at anyone who isn’t doing it.
Growing your own food is a 6 step process.
When you decide to grow your own food, here is what you are committing to as the entire process.
1 . Choosing what to get/ordering/purchasing: While it would be great to choose whatever we wanted, knowing what’s going to work on your homestead takes time. Remembering to order, ordering on time, or finding things when they are available can sometimes be difficult, depending on the year.
2. Planting seeds/placing animals: When things arrive at your farm, whether that’s a packet of seeds, a shipment of chicks, a bunch of raspberry plants, or a pregnant goat, you’ve got to put them where they need to be. It’s important to research this perfect place and set-up before these things arrive, but let’s be honest — many of us have thought we knew where these things were going and then found out the sunlight wasn’t right, there was a low spot we weren’t aware of, the fence wasn’t strong enough, or the animal couldn’t be in the stall or coop we planned for them to go in.
3. Tending to the garden/animals: The longest part of the process is tending to the things we’ve added to our homestead. But sometimes we get busy and we can’t weed. We forget to water. Something else happens in life and we can’t give 100% of our attention to the pest, the predator, or the disease—or we do give 100% of our attention to the pest/predator/disease… and something else suffers because of it. Sometimes we can only do the bare minimum.
4. Harvesting: I know I’m not the only one whose harvesting of the garden has gotten away from them. And that doesn’t just refer to oh, there were only two zucchini under this plant yesterday and now there are six baseball bats. Also, depending on how the year goes, things may be ready to be harvested at a time you weren’t expecting, and you really have to flip-flop things around in order to make it work.
5. Processing: Growing your own food isn’t just about getting it to grow, it’s about getting it on your shelves or in your freezer. And processing sometimes takes place in a feast or famine sort of way. You’re waiting… waiting… and waiting… and then suddenly you’re buried in ripe tomatoes and you end up canning for days. Sometimes butchering takes longer than you thought it would. Sometimes butchering is earlier or later in the year than you planned. Processing takes time, manpower, and equipment—the more you have ready to go, the easier your processing will be.
6. Using: It seems like this would be the most obvious part, because growing your own food is for the purpose of being able to use/eat it later. Right? But I know I’m not the only person who has diced up that rhubarb and stuck it in the fridge and found it two weeks later because it got pushed to the back and I forgot about it because I had 5 other homegrown things I was supposed to be using up. And how many of us have canned alllll the things because it’s fun to can and canning is a thing homesteaders do and six years later you’ve only used one jar of that thing you made?
So as far as growing your own and raising your own, there are a lot of steps to the process to make it be successful. It’s not just about “having enough space to do it” or “tossing some seeds in the ground” or anything else we might think when we look at someone else’s life and make some estimation about what they should be growing with the space they have available.
The problem with how some homesteaders talk about growing your own food
The problem with all of this is it can show we are pretty prideful people. There are people out there who think they are better than someone else because they have put in the thought and the work and the sweat into growing their own food or raising their own meat.
Y’all. You are not better than someone else just because you grow tomatoes or raise chickens or bake a loaf of bread every week.
Can you imagine someone looking down the end of their nose at me because I have a sewing machine and I have totes of fabric but I’m not making my own clothes?
Can you imagine someone looking down the end of their nose at me because I have a one acre field behind me and I haven’t planted it with wheat so I don’t need to buy flour from the grocery store?
Can you imagine someone looking down the end of their nose at me because I don’t have a milk cow to provide the gobs of heavy whipping cream I use every week?
And this doesn’t just have to do with food. Can you imagine someone looking down the end of their nose at me because when my internet goes down I’m useless until someone else comes and fixes it?
We can feel pretty awesome that we grew our own lettuce or grew our own squash or have a few chickens for eggs, but do you make your own whiskey? Do you make your own ice cream? Did you have anything to do with making the phone you have in your pocket or the apps you use everyday? How about the pants you’re currently wearing?
People often say things like, l “I made my own vanilla!” Yeah, you did. But you did it by putting a vanilla bean someone else grew in some alcohol that someone else made. And while you didn’t have to go to the store to buy the vanilla (gasp) already made, I’m guessing you ordered the vanilla bean and went to the store for the vodka.
I understand the importance of putting in the effort when you can or when you want to or when you have the right set up, but none of us are completely self-sufficient. So to look down at someone because they aren’t using every square inch of their postage stamp lot (or their large country acreage) to grow random stuff for their family seems ironic and hypocritical and jerkish.
Come on. You know if someone showed up at your homestead to tell you what they thought you should be doing with your land (especially if that someone was from the government) you’d tell them to step off.
Some people in the homesteading community lean towards the libertarian/anarchist side of things and claim, “everyone should be able to do what they want as long as it’s not hurting anyone.” But I hear some of the same people freaking out about how much food people aren’t growing or what they aren’t doing with their land or how much time they are spending in the city, or what they are spending their money on, or…
Y’all, we can’t talk out of both sides of our mouth.
I’m all for being as self-reliant as you can or want to be. But other people not wanting to take part in the life I’m living has nothing to do with me. If you don’t want to plant 32 tomato plants in your garden, that has zero to do with me. In fact, why would it even be on my radar?
Self-reliance and entrepreneurs
When people don’t want to (or can’t) be self-reliant, it opens up a world of opportunity for entrepreneurs. Because here’s the thing: something that other people can’t or won’t do for themselves is an opportunity for someone else to make money at doing those things for them.
People grow food, and other people buy it.
People make clothing items, and other people buy them.
People clean houses or babysit pets or drive folks around or pick up groceries or mow lawns or do handyman projects and build side hustles or new businesses because of a number of things that other people won’t or can’t do for themselves.
Could I roast my own coffee? Probably.
Am I going to roast my own coffee? No. I’m going to pay Nicole at Holler Roast coffee to do that for me—because she enjoys doing it, and when I purchase her coffee, it helps support her in the things she wants to do.
Growing your own food? Heading for self-reliance? Community is still important.
The problem with self-reliance and self-sufficiency and thinking you can do all the things all by yourself is that when we get too far into it and mix it with a bit of pride, we forget about the importance of community.
I have a friend who doesn’t necessarily care about growing his own food. He’s never put a seed in the ground to feed himself on his own property, and to look at his place you would say wow, he’s got a lot of room! He could have a huge farm! But while he has no desire to plant a bunch of tomatoes or milk a cow, that guy is brilliant when it comes to vehicles and mechanical things and welding and building things and fixing things. He’s insanely generous and I’m glad to have him as part of my community. And you know what else? He’s always supporting people at the local farmer’s market and he’s always offering to buy stuff from me.
Community is important—it’s how we support each other—but we don’t all need to be doing the same exact things.
Homesteading is important, but the world didn’t get where it is because every single person had six chickens and a milk cow and a garden. We need each other. We need each other’s skills. And yes, there are some folks out there who are lazy and they’d rather curl up and die than lift a finger to do anything to help themselves in any way, but I don’t think that’s the majority. I think people who want to focus on all the slackers are taking the easy way out in an argument that’s way more complicated.
So grow your own if you want to and if you can. Raise your own if you want to and if you can. But resist the urge to think you’re better because you are raising and growing your own.
Additionally, resist the urge to think everyone can do it or that there is something wrong with them if they can’t or don’t want to. Because if everyone in your town has laying hens, it’s going to be impossible for you to sell your eggs. If everyone in your town has a market garden, no one is going to be selling their wares without traveling to a town where there aren’t market gardens. Let’s start thinking about the skills that people have and the interests that people have and how to use them to compliment each other in a community that flourishes because there is a diversity of skills and things that are offered.
— Amy Dingmann, 7-20-21
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