The Golden Mean of Self-Sufficiency

None of us are “self-sufficient”.  Let’s get that out of the way.  If you’re reading this post, you’re making use of a million things that you do not produce yourself.  By “self-sufficient” we don’t mean capable of living without other human beings.  When we use the term “self-sufficient”, we mean free from avoidable problems caused by making ourselves dependent on others for things we don’t need.  That’s real-world self-sufficiency.

This is not a modern idea or some social fad.  The idea of self-sufficiency is fundamental to true religion, and is preached throughout the Bible and Church history.  St. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:

Study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;  That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

When we consider our station in life, our social responsibilities, our material resources, etc., we quickly learn that not everyone can head out to the field with a hoe and “live off the land”–nor is it necessarily good for one to do so.  We have, as you know, different gifts given to us by God for the edification of the body of Christ, and service of our neighbor, and it would be selfish for a man gifted in some area beneficial to all to “hide his talent in the sand” and go weed potatoes for the rest of his life.   Such a man is more like Esau, who preferred a bowl of soup to salvation, than John the Baptist, whose simplicity served a spiritual mission for which he was killed at age 30.  St. Paul said “Be content with food and clothing.”–to people who were preaching the Gospel in cities, not to people living in isolation and making a life’s work of that food and clothing.  We have more to do than feed and clothe ourselves and it was these “things which the Gentiles seek” that Our Lord taught us not to seek.  We are human beings, made in the image of God for eternal happiness with God, the angels and the saints, not temporal comfort by ourselves.

There is, then, a “golden mean” or balance between being an indiscriminate consumer, whose short-sighted shopping contributes to the evils around us, and the selfish “back to the land” person who abandons the Great Commission for his aversion to the strenuous life modern society demands.

I teach a simple rule to families that I believe is very helpful, and allows for this balance to be struck.  It is this:

          USE WHAT YOU CAN PRODUCE, AND PRODUCE WHAT YOU USE.

I’d like to unpack this a little bit to show you how helpful it is.   Then, I’d like to conclude by explaining how we can help you do this well.

USE WHAT YOU CAN PRODUCE…

You may live in a 12’x12′ apartment in New York City, but there’s still no excuse for managing your life in an irresponsible way.  There’s no reason a man needs to eat tomatoes in January, or wear clothes made from petroleum industry by-products.  No family’s spare room needs to be kept at 72F in late January, no man needs a 45 minute shower with 95F water, and no child reading a book needs every wall and corner in the room fully lit to do so.  This is irresponsible and wasteful living–and there’s  no limit to that kind of luxury once one welcomes it into his life.  If we need to buy our life’s supplies, we can still do so in a way that keeps us tied to the natural world.  We can still eat natural foods like wheat bread, seasonal fruits and vegetables, healthy soups and lean meats.  We can still put a sweater on to make the house warmer.  We can learn that our eyes adjust to lower light levels, and that a candle lights a page very well.   We can learn that a wood stove in the den make a few rooms plenty warm in mid-winter and can boil the tea water for us.  The first principle of self-sufficiency to use products that we could produce.

On the farm, we do things a lot more simply than people do in the city and suburbs because on the farm, the pantry doesn’t look like a grocery store.  Our vegetable are outside in the ground and our meat is walking around in the fields.  For dinner (midday meal), we usually eat home-made bread and soups made with farm-grown vegetables and meat.  By “meat” we don’t mean steaks.  On the farm, meat usually means stew meat, ground beef, or sausage.  There’s fresh farm milk served at every meal and, yes, water.  For dinner, we normally eat leftovers from dinner, with an occasional egg night to make use of the farm eggs.  If you’re still hungry in the evening, have some leftover bread and cup of tea.  Farm eating is very simple and we learn how to do things simply.  My neighbor, for example, makes delicious berry wines with nothing but a 5 gallon pot, a glass carboy and a latex glove.  You won’t make any better wine than he does, spending hundreds of dollars on brewing equipment, because he knows what’s essential for good wine and can make it efficiently.  Tastier meals which require more time for preparation are saved for Sundays or special events–not ordinary days when there’s work to do.

We eat what we produce on the farm, and that provides us with variety that is controlled by nature, not what we pick up at the store.  Variety means we eat a lot of broccoli in the Spring and Fall, spinach and squash in the Summer, meat, nuts and cold greens in the winter.  Milk is available from December through October and eggs from March until November. Fruits come in at different times of the year, and wise farmers organize these things to keep the kitchen in supply.  There is variety, but it is not artificial.  Use what you could produce.

…PRODUCE WHAT YOU USE

Once you establish the principle of using what you could produce, you will have a simple menu and grocery list.  This allows you to buy in bulk, which allows you to save money or afford better quality foods for the same price.  You should be able to do your grocery shopping in one large monthly trip, with only perishable products (milk, eggs, fresh produce) picked up weekly.

More importantly, when you begin to use what you could produce, you can begin to produce what you use.  No, you don’t have to grow your own wheat–that’s not where you begin.  Grains and dried beans are the cheapest products, so it’s fine to let someone else grow them for you.  The expensive products are fresh super-vegetables, fruits, dairy products, beverages, etc.. You can begin buying basic foods such as wheat and raw milk and make your own flour, butter, cheese and yogurt.  Rather than mastering the management of microwaves and prepared foods, learn the arts of natural food preparation–milling, dairying, baking, brewing, etc..  You can begin to produce the foods you use, starting with strawberries or onions and working your way up to eggs and potatoes, maybe even raising a feeder pig or a dairy goat.

The bottom line is that self-sufficiency is not an either/or issue.  It’s a matter of responsible balance in the midst of our real-life duties.

HOW WE CAN HELP

Beatitudes Farm & Market was designed to support families who wish to seek this balance and, no, we absolutely do not believe that anyone who doesn’t milk their own cows is a loser.  We’re happy to see boys learning to grow vegetables and girls learning to make bread and cheese.  However, if you allow salesmen to tell you “what you need”, you’re going to get fleeced.  “Self-sufficiency” has become an easy market for salesmen because the people interested in getting started usually have cash to spend and no clue what they’re doing.  We can help you find affordable and satisfying solutions to your goals based on your circumstances, and we can get you quality supplies that you’ll enjoy using.  Don’t take up the “Hobby Farm” or “Mother Earth News” magazines–they are 90% advertisements.  Don’t do to Tractor Supply or Home Depot–they’re selling items they can turn easy profits on, not the supplies you should use.  We respect the goals of the small-timer and we can help you have some fun as you become more self-sufficient–we’ll also remind you that you need to pray for God’s blessing on your animals’ feed, on your fertilizing just as much as on your own food at the table.  This is God’s world, and the more our lives are in harmony with it, the more we’ll enjoy it and see God’s goodness in it.

God bless,
William Michael, owner
Beatitudes Farm & Market

P.S.  I am pressed for time and hope to post helpful ideas, and don’t have time to proofread and edit everything that’s posted.    Therefore, your patience with typos is appreciated.

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