Path to sustainability, what does that mean? These days many people rely highly on packaged mixes, precooked dishes, ready-to-serve meals, and dining out.
Some don’t know how to prepare anything much from scratch.
It’s really not their fault, since our culture has veered in the direction of fast food and easy meals. Home economics classes are no longer required in many schools.
The majority of TV commercials for food are selling products wrapped in plastic and cardboard, not skin and peels.
Due to the economy and cost of living, grocery shopping is more likely to be Dad or Mom stopping on the way home from work than a family outing where kids see what fresh food looks like.
A basket of farm-fresh products, even honey from a local beekeeper, might baffle many people today.
But it’s not unlikely that we’ll all need to cook most of our meals from scratch at some point.
A key to sustainability when times get tough is the ability to prepare fresh foods and to preserve them for later use.
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Path to Sustainability is Preserving Fresh Food
In this discussion, we’re using the word “fresh” as opposed to processed or precooked foods.
Some foods like grains, rice, and dried beans may not be fresh from the field when we buy them, but they have been stored in their natural form and have not been previously cooked.
We’re not discouraging the use of canned, frozen, or dehydrated ingredients.
Especially in the wake of disasters, these are important to have on hand.
In our kitchen we use both commercially and home-preserved foods regularly and include them in our food storage system.
We also use mixes and quick fixes.
But there may come a day when it’s crucial to know how to prepare foods that have not been previously processed.
We may even have to rely on foods that have been grown in our own communities.
Preparing fresh food from scratch
Some of us already prefer cooking from scratch, using fresh ingredients and doing most or all of the preparation at home.
But for others, this means learning some new skills and a return to cooking like Grandma did in years gone by.
If you’re in the latter camp and want to learn how to cook like Granny, have hope!
There are oodles of books, magazines, websites, blogs, local classes and workshops out there to help you get started.
Better yet, find a cooking granny or a friend who cooks from scratch and ask for some co-cooking sessions, tips, and recipes.
Cooking with a friend can be lots of fun, and it’s hard to avoid learning something new while you’re at it.
If you hesitate to go whole hog from the start, you can ease into it, using a combination of prepared and fresh ingredients.
Gradually you can move toward using more and more fresh food.
Preserving fresh food for later use
For many of us, there’s something very satisfying about putting up summer’s bounty for the rest of the year. But it’s much more than just a pleasing activity.
Preserving food to last for several months or the entire year can save you money, frustration, and time.
And it may ultimately save you from doing without some of your favorite foods.
Who knows–“shopping” from your pantry instead of the grocery store may be a necessity at some point.
Some people use only one method, while others combine two or more.
Save glass jars for this.
We think it makes sense not to “have all our eggs in one basket,” so we freeze, can, and dehydrate.
While freezing is the best way to store raw meat and our preferred method of preserving most veggies, in the event of a power outage or freezer breakdown, we’ll be glad not everything is frozen.
Libraries, bookstores, and the Internet are full of resources for learning to preserve food.
We suggest starting at the National Center for Home Food Preservation and becoming familiar with food safety issues and various processing methods.
We’ve shared more info on food preservation in a previous Rural Living Today post, Beating Food Challenges: Storing and Preserving Foods.
A list of food preservation resources is included in our new book, Getting Started on a Food Supply Plan, which is part of a Real Food Storage & Preparedness eBook Bundle (see below) this week.
Getting Started on a Food Supply Plan will also be available for purchase at Amazon and Smashwords.com.
Continuing year after year
In order to prepare and preserve food for a period of years, it’s wise to accumulate a good supply of equipment and a stash of supplies.
While most of us have basic cookware and utensils in our kitchens, it’s not a bad idea to have extras available.
And when it comes to food preservation, it seems one can never have too many canning jars and rings, which are reusable, as well as one-use lids and storage containers for frozen and dehydrated foods.
Please add your ideas for food preparation and preservation sustainability in the comments section.
Path to Sustainability Is It Really Important
As the patriarch of my family, I’ve continued to think about this and believe that sustainability is a word that essentially defines for us whether we are living within our means and abilities or living outside them.
If we are living within specific parameters, we will be able to continue to do what we are doing indefinitely.
If not, we will ultimately crash and burn. And then we will need to start over.
There are a lot of ideas out there telling us this and that, and stressing that what we do must be sustainable.
While we may have thought of this as a new concept that will lead us to the promised land, perhaps it is just a new word for an old concept.
And that is to live, farm, and otherwise work with what you have. Or maybe to not consume more than you have. I think it is really that simple.
Consider what is not sustainable
Having an outgo that’s more than your income.
Debt is not sustainable on any scale, whether it is within our own family or on a global economic scale.
In fact, we are seeing the western global economic system crash before our eyes.
Governments need money for their banks, so they are taking it from people’s savings and checking accounts. Amazing.
Debt is not sustainable!
Running 20 head of cattle on one acre. What would happen? The cattle and the acre would just crash.
Cutting down the last of your trees for firewood and expecting there will be more for next winter.
Eating your seed corn and expecting a great crop in the garden next summer.
No seed, no crop…
Working 16-hour days with no days off.
It’s just not sustainable.
You all see where this is going. Doing obviously things for the wrong reason will end up in a crash.
These activities are not sustainable.
But we could adjust each of the five examples above so that the practice would be sustainable, right?
Recommended Sustainable Practices
1. I don’t buy anything I don’t have funds for.
As an example, even though I want it, I don’t buy that new tractor with zero down. I buy what I can afford.
2. Put animals only on land that can support them.
3. Don’t cut down the last of my trees; cut only what the forest can stand to lose.
4. Grow, harvest, and eat, saving seed for the following year.
That is sustainable.
5. Work 16-hour days for a short period of time only, with some substantial breaks.
So is it important to me what the word sustainability means? In my life probably not. But the concepts it highlights will help guide me—and my family–as we continue to live and work on the land.
I don’t want to be held hostage by ideas and methods that no longer make any sense to me. The most sustainable processes are SIMPLE ones — the ones I will be able to and want to continue.
I am thinking that sustainable processes are rooted in COMMON SENSE.
And I am now nearing the conclusion that sustainable processes help me get the very best bang for my HOUR (and buck) as well.
That in itself is very important to me, as I can be very lazy at times… looking for the easy way out.
To conclude, let me highlight my research journey into raising cattle.
This is something my son and I are looking into right now. It is active project and on my plate.
If you’ve read this far, please keep following me on this.
Raising cattle: the old way
Common wisdom has been that if I want to run cows, I need to revamp my existing pasture that hasn’t been used for decades.
I should kill what is on it, perhaps torch it, prepare a new seed bed, plant seed and let it sit fallow for a couple of years as the roots develop.
Oh my. And that is just a start.
Then, I should set up a haymaking operation. Cool.
Tractor trucks to move the hay. New barn for the hay. Grass cutter and then the whole works to fluff the grass, rake it, and get it ready for the bailer!!
Then I will need to fertilize the entire acreage each year as I am baling, thus removing the nutrients from the pasture.
What an investment!
And then comes the operation.
Put cows on half of the pasture and make hay on the rest. Cut the grass, rake the grass, put the grass in rows, bale the grass.
Move the grass to a central location. Store the grass in the barn.
The pasture I mowed really won’t work for cows now, so I had to move them to a central location.
Each day, I need to pull down one of the 80# bales of hay, open it, and spread it for the cows to eat.
Their manure is now a problem, as it is all in one spot. Another issue to consider.
After hearing about this process by talking to different folks, I almost just gave up.
I didn’t have the funds or energy, and it seemed so inefficient.
It really was not sustainable. No money to be made, as the system ate it all up. That is why so many people give up raising cattle this way.
A better way… a sustainable way
BUT THEN I learned about another way: rotational grazing.
This is a very different process for achieving the results I wanted.
I won’t go into detail here, but my “textbook”
What I found was that the simple, sustainable, and profitable way to raise cattle was to let the cattle do all the work instead of me!
Now why didn’t I think of that? But does this really work? What do the people who already do this say about it?
As I continued in my journey, I saw that many have been doing this very successfully–and it IS sustainable, with only minimal input.
Consider the difference of a sustainable practice compared to one that really isn’t as detailed above.
Here’s how it goes:
My existing pasture is left as it is. The cows are started on it and rotated once a day to a specific paddock.
They eat most of the forage and after they’re moved they won’t touch it again until they are rotated once more to it.
The grass grows much better, and the manure stays in place.
Instead of cutting grass for all my hay, I stockpile hay by letting it grow higher.
When late fall arrives, the cattle are put there to graze, even if there is an early snow. They will have all that they want or need.
There is no hay operation. The grass is left for the cattle to eat, in place.
The cows spread their manure throughout the pasture. They—not I–do all this work.
I will feed hay to them from the middle of winter till early spring.
I will buy local hay, and the nutrients in that will replace any chemical fertilizer I would normally have bought.
My efforts during the summer consist of moving the cattle from one paddock to the next each day–maybe 30 minutes.
The result of living sustainably?
Using this rotational grazing method, there’s a profit at the end of the road. A profit is made without equipment, with no fertilizer.
Just healthy grass and the cattle doing their thing and improving the pasture each year. Some say that using this method allows you to double the carrying capacity of the pasture.
Now that is only a quick example, and not intended to be an education on cattle.
But I wanted to contrast the difference between a sustainable operation and an unsustainable one.
This type of system could work for any operation you are considering.
I will bet you will find ways to do things outside of the mainstream box that will make your projects very sustainable.
So, is sustainability important.? Yes it is.
It leads us to simplicity. It leads us to common sense. And in the process, our time and our wallets become much more sustainable as well.
The Path to Sustainability: What Does It Mean to You?
Path to Sustainability: Have you ever noticed how words in the English language get hijacked and take on new lives with different definitions?
It’s like the game of Gossip or Telephone where a whispered message goes around a large circle of people and ends up way off from how it originated.
Passing time has the same effect, gradually altering the use of words and even their meaning.
Think back to your childhood. Weren’t there a few words that had different meanings then?
Radical once meant ‘really out there’ rather than ‘amazing.’
Money used to be green bills and coins; now it can mean something is really awesome.
And don’t get me started about innocently-used words that draw giggles and looks of shock from the younger crowd.
Many a plain old word of my youth has now taken on a new connotation.
I can’t even play a game of Scrabble without using a word that means something entirely different to my kids in their 20s.
Here in our world of homesteading and self-sufficient living, we’ve seen a few words fall victim to the buzzword syndrome.
Some examples are organic and natural. Those words can’t be taken at face value anymore.
Another hijacked word is sustainable. We sometimes see it used very loosely to describe ways of saving money, time, or energy.
Even using prepackaged ingredients and other items purchased at stores.
While we do buy manufactured and prepared products, we don’t consider using them to be sustainable.
A big question is: if shipping, processing, or manufacturing suddenly stopped, would we be able to provide for ourselves?
Several years ago our family established a goal of becoming more self-sufficient and living a more sustainable lifestyle. Our plans were based on the old standard definition of sustainability.
To us, sustainable living involves developing systems that can be upheld…kept going…maintained…supported…and continued year after year.
Systems that endure.
We could add these words to our description:
Key concepts of sustainability
Some involve being wise stewards of the earth and its natural resources.
Others focus on the health, care, and feeding of our human bodies and those of our pets and livestock.
Raising plants and animals, procuring fresh locally-produced food, preserving it for long-term storage, and cooking with nutrition in mind are all part of the equation.
Then there are the sensible use of fossil fuels and non-renewable resources–and for many people, the downsizing of dependency or weaning from heavy use.
A gift that keeps on giving
As an extended family, our personal sustainability goal is to create a lifestyle of systems that would allow us to thrive year after year without relying on outside sources that may become unavailable or unreachable due to financial or logistical restraints.
So now you know what we mean at Rural Living Today when we talk about sustainability.
A few things we’re working on at our farm:
- Not just using purchased products, but replacing some with reusables and homemade.
- In addition to growing veggies, we are saving seeds and making compost.
- We are raising livestock as well as reproducing some and having sources for others.
- We aren’t just owning equipment and machinery, but being able to repair it
Because ultimately, we would like to be able to live our life without depending on any source beyond walking distance for:
- Groceries, household supplies
- Garden seeds, planting supplies, soil amendments
- Replacement livestock, livestock feed
That doesn’t mean we won’t purchase these things when they’re readily available and affordable. Today that may be the best use of our time and money.
Right now, we’re still building up our sustainability level, and we still do need to rely on outside sources.
And frankly, there are a few manufactured products — toilet paper comes to mind — that will be the last outside conveniences we give up.
Always a work in progress
The fact is, we’re not yet where we ultimately want to end up on the sustainability scale.
But if the world came crashing down on us tomorrow–if transportation of goods ceased, or prices became exorbitant, or we were suddenly unable to procure goods and services for any reason–we would be able to move forward.
We couldn’t have said that five years ago, but since then we’ve been steadily developing and fortifying our lifestyle of sustainability.
Some time ago we borrowed a mantra from an episode of the TV show “Doomsday Preppers.”
While most of the households featured on that show do not have full-scope long-term sustainability covered, a few do.
One man at an operating farm said something like this: “If the world falls apart, I’ll just go out in the morning and feed my chickens like I always do.”
Come what may, life will go on. Sustainable.
Need some inspiration as you find your own definition? Check out The Lexicon of Sustainability and see what others have to say!
It’s a cool interactive resource, and you can add your own definitions for all sorts of terms related to sustainability.
The Path to Sustainability: Building Community
Have you been thinking that now is a good time to increase the sustainability of your lifestyle?
It’s time for all of us to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on outside sources of food, household products, and other goods and services.
Why the emphasis on sustainability and self-sufficiency? After all, many of us live where there is still plenty of everything.
In previous posts we’ve talked about the meaning of sustainability and why sustainability is important.
And recently, some of us have noticed some empty store shelves, had to wait for stores to resupply, or cringed at the price of products we used to buy without blinking an eye.
Others are just reading the writing on the wall. Our family is moving forward in preparing ourselves to be less dependent on outside sources.
We’re working toward a more sustainable life.
What does that mean?
This means we are building community. We’re learning to raise our own food, do our own repairs, make more things from scratch.
In addition to some garden beds, we are growing pistachio trees, hazelnut trees, several types of oranges, and a mulberry tree. These enable us to have food sources throughout the year. Once established, trees are easier to care for than tending a garden.
In addition, we are stocking up on some things we’d like to have if they later become unavailable.
We’re evaluating our options for nearby sources of other items and services. Several in our community have started learning about how to start beekeeping for a secure source of honey.
We have written before about how important community is to us.
Community is key to our rural living experience. What is community?
We see it as a group of people with something in common, whether it’s location, purpose, or ethics.
In a sustainable living situation, ideally a community will share goals and values that involve working–sometimes pretty hard–to develop self-sufficiency, decrease dependence on outside sources, and build a system that will perpetuate and reproduce year after year.
In our case, our sustainability community includes our extended family of 20-some adults and children, some close neighbors, and some friends living within 20 miles of us.
It includes faraway friends we’ve never met in person, available for encouragement as long as the Internet still functions!
We have no formal structure defining us as a community, but we act as one. We collaborate and brainstorm and help each other out.
If times got tough, we would share skills and resources. Obviously, parts of this community could become unreachable at some point.
Without the Internet or computer power, we wouldn’t be able to connect with people who live far away.
Travel challenges like fuel shortages might prevent us from working side by side with people just 20 miles away.
But for now, we are able to support each other in our quest for sustainability.
Our goal for our community:
Everyone should know something about everything. Everyone should know everything about something.
That way, everyone can step in to help with any situation, and everyone can take the lead in one or more areas.
Our community members contribute an interesting and very useful variety of expertise. We have most everything covered except engine mechanics.
Some of us will be learning more about that and hopefully someone will learn all about it.
From nearby neighbors to faraway kindred spirits, who’s in your community?
Household, Farm, and Personal Items
The one-year plan to The Path to Sustainability, we suggest that you do some brainstorming using a one-year plan.
This will make a potentially overwhelming project much less daunting.
As you go through the coming season, make note of everything that you consider necessary or very beneficial.
This includes foods (especially those you can’t easily raise), household goods, fuel, spare parts, etc.
Find a way to keep your lists in a composition book, binder, file system, or computer spreadsheet.
When you buy something, think about possible natural or DIY substitutes.
What if you couldn’t buy this product? Look into other solutions.
- What basic supplies are needed for DIY laundry detergent and household soaps?
- Could you make a wasp trap?
- How about wool dryer balls for softening laundry?
Make an attempt to collect as many of those crucial products and supplies as you can for future use.
For some long-lasting things this means one or two, and for others like consumables, it’s good to build up a supply.
Repeat this throughout the year.
The end of each season is usually a good time to find items on sale in retail stores or used in classified ads.
By the end of a year, you will be much further ahead in your planning and will make some progress in your preparations.
Most likely you won’t be able to collect everything you need in one year.
But if you consider it an ongoing project that will take some time, each item you add to your stash and supply will represent a step in the right direction.
Please add your ideas for household, farm, and personal sustainability in the comments section.
Supporting a Sustainable Lifestyle Through Couponing
Whether you are beginning a homesteading lifestyle or have been practicing it for decades, there may be financial advantages through couponing that you are missing out on.
While sustainable living is based on the concept of growing and making your own food and goods, there will still be times where it is necessary to purchase essentials from a supermarket or hardware store.
In these cases, there are ways to help save on cost or ways to make extra money when funds are tight.
Sustainable living can be quite cost effective for families and with the additional help of coupons available, the cost of living can be even lower.
Improved Lifestyle through Couponing
As a homesteader, it is always best to plan and prepare food storage so you will be ready to face a disaster.
If there is no water, gas or food available through the usual means, what items will you have to back you up in the time of crisis?
With just a bit of thinking ahead you can avoid problems later. Of course, one needs to build up a budget for stockpiling food and survival stores.
While it’s not expensive, the larger the family, the larger the cost will be to build up sufficient stores.
Don’t let cost be a deterrent when beginning to stock up on supplies. When calamity strikes, the last thing you will care about is how much the materials cost.
Start by keeping a lookout for items you can purchase with the assistance of coupons.
Coupons for bulk items
Coupons can be especially helpful for buying bulk storage foods such as corn, pasta, dried milk, honey and oats.
These items are regularly couponed at most major supermarkets.
Look for foods that have a high fat content and can be stored for long periods of time. Foods like these are essential for supplying calories needed to sustain life when food is scarce.
It is essential to build up food stores that can be preserved for a long time.
Think canned foods or freeze dried foods that have long expiration dates.
Even though you are making a one-time purchase for your food stores, the savings on these items can add up, especially for larger families.
Coupons for non-perishables
Also look for coupons for other non-perishables such as yeast, soda, baking powder and vinegar.
Many of these common household items are regularly discounted through coupons and can be stored for up to 25 years.
Savings on these items could equate to large sums of money over time.
Another great reason to think ahead and buy bulk items in advance with coupons is because they are the first thing to go from stores in cases of emergency.
In addition, consider stocking spare tools that you will need to cook the food. Can openers, pots, pans, and utensils will all be helpful if your original tool is lost for any reason. You may want to consider a small outdoor stove or solar oven.
Better to be over-prepared, especially when you can efficiently buy spares with the help of coupons.
Using coupons to build a surplus
It is also important to think about creating stores of supplies for any livestock operations that you may be running as well.
If you are raising any type of farm animals, ask yourself what tools you use regularly to help take care of the animals.
Any feed supply, even for the short term, can make the difference when sustaining life.
Consider also using coupons to purchase additional spare parts for generators or filtration systems.
It’s not only supermarkets that issue coupons, though that may be the most popular place to use them.
Hardware stores also regularly print coupons. You can use them to stock up on materials you may not think of when you are creating an emergency supply.
Duct tape, rope, additional sizes of nuts and bolts can all come in handy even when you least expect it.
At the end of the day, it is important to plan and prepare for the worst situations. Think of those materials that you will need most to sustain life in a disastrous situation.
Start by watching for coupons for those items, mostly food and water. From there, consider cleaning and preserving substances.
Think of things you can safely preserve and store for long periods.
Who uses coupons?
If you are not enthusiastic about couponing and question how much it will save you, consider these facts.
In 2013, each person was offered an average of $1,617 in coupons. Still, non-coupon users are in the majority.
While $516 billion worth of coupons are offered each year, $512 billion of those savings go un-redeemed.
Statistics show that those who do use coupons are having the last laugh.
42% of those who utilize coupons save $30 each week and 21% save more than $50 each week.
A big misconception about coupons is that they are for the poor.
Most people report not using coupons because they don’t want people to think they are cheap or poor.
However, the 1% of the population that uses coupons are those who are wealthier and better educated, uprooting those stereotypes.
Easy ways to use coupons
Another common excuse for not using coupons is that it can be time-consuming to hunt for deals.
There are ways to make it easy.
Not only are there an ever-growing number of mobile couponing apps, there are other apps that will comb through your inbox and make sure you’re automatically taking advantage of any cashback or price drop deals.
At the end of the day, homesteading is a rewarding lifestyle that takes advanced preparation and planning.
While it will help you save costs in some areas of life, there are additional means to be able to cut down on the costs of materials that allow you to sustain a homesteading lifestyle.
The vast majority of the population does not utilize coupons.
The average family could be saving thousands of dollars a year with couponing.
Luckily for homesteaders, most of the materials we need are available to purchase with coupons.
This is extra convenient for those who may be beginning to build food and supply stores for disastrous situations.
When looking to build a sustainable lifestyle, couponing is key.
Building these stores can be costly but with the help of coupons, a percentage of the cost can be reduced.
For more information on the savings that can be earned through couponing, check out this infographic that breaks down the average savings lost per person.
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