Solutions for Self-Reliance

2 Lessons from 40 Years of Self-Reliance on a Half-Acre Homestead


If you’re into homesteading and self-reliance you’ll find two very valuable lessons in this video, as well as tons of inspiration!

In the video you’ll get to follow along Kirsten Dirksen as she tours the homestead of alternative housing icon Lloyd Kahn and his wife Lesley Creed.

Lloyd got started in publishing as the shelter editor for the Whole Earth Catalog, and he has also published the books Domebook One and Two, the classic Shelter, Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter and Builders of the Pacific Coast.

In the video Kahn will show you his wild-caught pigeons, his seaweed harvest, well-fermented sauerkraut, home-cured olives, oatmeal grinder and workshop (where he still keeps his father’s “nuts and bolts box”). You’ll also see Creed baking her sourdough bread (from her kitchen-harvested starter) and drying “bread seed” poppies.

Years ago the couple were pushing the boundaries of self-sufficiency to include goats and harvests of wheat, but Kahn found his limits.

“With self-sufficiency you never get there, you never become self-sufficient. I mean we tried back in the seventies. We had goats and chickens and bees and I was trying to raise grain. Pretty soon I realized that if I want to raise enough wheat for the bread for a year here, it’s better left to a specialist, like I can’t be my own dentist. So you do, it’s a direction self-sufficiency. You do what you can do as much of it as you can.”

And this is lesson #1 on how to approach self-reliance (while keeping your sanity).

Lesson #1

Don’t try to do it all. Take small steps and find the thing(s) you enjoy doing, then do that and network for the rest.

Let’s remember that back in the days of true self-reliance in America and Europe (and in many parts of the world still today) where you were either self-reliant or dead, you did not do all the work alone. You had a whole extended family spanning multiple generations that worked together to stay alive.

Not only that, but many tasks were also done on a tribe or community level, for example hunting big game, harvesting, and so on.

Today on the other hand, the tribal and family units have been fragmented and we’re pretty much all on our own. We put our parents in homes and our children in daycare while we spend most of our waking time at work, and it’s not unusual today to not even know the names of your neighbors. And that’s why complete self-reliance is hard today.

Lloyd goes on saying:

“I want to use what I can from the past but I think you’ve got to hit the right balance. I don’t want to plow the field with horses. You have to find the line between the modern world and craftsmanship. You can’t take forever, but at the same time some things from the past can be useful today.”

And in this we find lesson #2…

Lesson #2

Modern technology is neither good nor evil, it’s all about how and why you use it. If a technology can aid your personal liberation, then use it!

I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s completely fine to use unsustainable technologies and fossil fuel to take that initial leap to a more self-reliant and regenerative lifestyle.

Case in point: If you have a big property you can spend months digging swales / dams with a shovel, or you can hire an excavator and do the same job in a few days. The result will last for generations, so if it takes burning some fossil fuel to get it done then that’s what you should do. Posterity will thank you.

Of course, there are some technologies that are more appropriate for self-reliance than others. You can read more about appropriate technology here.

Lesley also gives a wonderful example of the use of technology in self-reliance:

“Sure there’s lots of backbreaking work [but] we don’t really need to beat our clothes on the rocks. A washing machine is a wonderful thing. There’s lots of other areas where you lose so much, like food. To take salt, flour and water, and that’s bread.”

The washing machine is such a perfect example of a technology most of us wouldn’t want to be without. It just saves so much precious time.

And it’s so easy to start right now and bake your own delicious and nutritious bread from scratch instead of buying mass-produced bread in the supermarket. All it takes is a slower and more mindful approach to food.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think about using modern technology for self-reliance?

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