If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns have taught people, eco-conscious or not, it’s the value of self-sufficiency.
With many shops and businesses forced to close, some individuals losing their livelihoods and experiencing financial hardship and many forced to spend more time at home, people are once again cultivating skills of self-reliance: life skills, survival hacks and self-sufficiency activities are all making a comeback.
Whether for reasons of frugality or practicality, here are some self-sufficiency skills that all eco-conscious folks should learn:
1. Growing your own food
When people think survival and self-sufficiency, the first thing that comes to mind is having enough food in case supply chains fail. In fact, fearing food scarcity and food insecurity, people quickly stripped nurseries and hardware stores of herbs and edible plants as lockdown measures came into effect, forcing many retailers to place minimums on the purchase of plants and seed packets.
By growing your own herbs, fruit and vegetables, you are more independent of supermarkets and other external forces (such as a pandemic) that produce food shortages and price hikes.
It’s also a more sustainable approach since food isn’t travelling miles to reach you and you can control the chemicals and pesticides used in growing it (words of advice: just don’t use them). Learning to grow food is an essential survival and self-sufficiency skill.
If you’re renting your place or live in an apartment, you can still grow microgreens, sprouts and even herbs on a windowsill. Check out this guide to sustainable living for tenants for more info.
Check out these posts to learn more:
- 16 Herbs That An Amateur Green Thumb Can Easily Grow
- 5 Tips to Starting Your Own Veggie Garden From a Green- Fingered Blogger
- Essential Eco-Friendly Gardening Tools and Equipment for the Sustainable Gardener
Cooking a meal from scratch was once considered such an essential skill that in Australia, high school students were required to undertake the subject of Home Economics in order to learn such practical skills in the kitchen. However, with the removal of these subjects from school curriculums, and a focus on a modern life of convenience, there is now a large population of people who don’t know how to cook and rely on others – chefs, restaurants, fast food joints – to prepare their meals for them.
Cooking goes hand-in-hand with growing food. There is no point growing food if you don’t know what to do with it after you’ve produced it! Learning how to cook ensures that you’ll make the most of what you grow and keep food waste to an absolute minimum. You’ll also have more control over your health and nutrition in the process if you’re preparing your own meals.
Try out these recipes:
3. Preserving food
This is a natural follow-on from the last point since there will be times when you will have surplus crops and you physically won’t be able to cook it all before it starts to wilt and rot. Learning food preservation techniques means you are less likely to waste the produce you grow.
You can preserve food a number of ways, by pickling, dehydrating, canning, bottling, freezing, salting, fermenting or by making the following:
Reference books on preserving food are a handy resource to have in the kitchen. There’s also a plethora of homesteading sites online you can refer to for step-by-step details.
Gardening is the essential skill behind growing food, flowers and raising plants; from sowing seeds, to understanding soil composition and how to maintain healthy soil, to tackling plant problems and controlling ‘pests’, harvesting produce and saving seeds. Developing gardening skills and techniques makes growing food and flowers much easier.
Check out these posts to learn more:
- 10 Reasons to Mulch Your Organic Gardens
- An Eco-Conscious Gardener’s Basic Toolkit
- Keeping a Gardening Journal
- Gardening in a (Really) Tiny Apartment
5. Wild food foraging
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would likely turn in their graves if they could see how much plant knowledge we’ve lost over the centuries as people began specialising in fewer skills and outsourcing most to others in the name of capital efficiency. Indigenous peoples and tribes however, continue to keep this knowledge alive in their families and culture and their ability to identify edible plants and search for wild food resources is thus far superior in comparison.
If you are keen on foraging for wild food, seeds, weeds and even seaweed, remember that foraging in public spaces and footpaths is usually legal (you will need to check the council website on any fine print), but not on private property where you will need to seek permission from the property owner.
To learn the art of food foraging, attend foraging workshops or completing courses on the subject. There are also Facebook groups such as Edible Weeds, Wild Plants & Foraging in Australia, Foraging Australia and Foraging & Feasting where you can find a like-minded community of people keen to learn and share their knowledge about edible plants and wild food too.
6. Sewing, knitting and mending
In decades past, most women (and many men) knew how to sew, knit, crochet and repair garments as it was a skill passed on from generation to generation. Nowadays, it’s rare to find someone who can still mend a hole in a shirt or take up hems, let alone buy fabric, cut it into patterns and use a sewing machine to turn it into a dress or pair of trousers.
“I’m thankful my grandma taught me the basics,” says eco stylist and Australian Salvos Store Ambassador Faye De Lanty. “Definitely check out YouTube for tutorials or also investigate in your circle who might have the skills to teach you.”
Sewing and mending workshops are another great way to learn these skills – and you’ll make new friends too (once lockdown restrictions are lifted that is).
7. Baking a loaf of bread
Whether you make fresh bread the good old fashioned way by combining high-quality organic ingredients such as flour, yeast, water and (vegan) butter and manually kneading the dough and popping into the oven to bake, or just pop ingredients into your bread maker and set the timer, self-sufficiency doesn’t get any more basic than making and enjoying your own loaf of fresh bread. It’s guaranteed to be tastier and better for your (depending on your choice of ingredients of course) than generic brands of bread you buy at the supermarket.
8. Making compost
Whether you’ve got a tiny balcony garden or multiple veggie patches in your backyard, your garden will benefit from soil-enriching compost. This also helps in the fight against climate change since rotting food scraps and waste in landfills contributes greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in the form of methane.
To make good compost requires a mix of the following organic materials:
- ‘greens‘ such as lawn clippings, weeds, food scraps, vegetable peelings, general food waste, and
- ‘browns’ such as straw, newspapers, cardboard, wood chips, brown leaves, crushed egg shells and leaves.
Air, moisture and nitrogen must all be present so that bacteria can do the work of breaking down the raw elements. Too much ‘green’ and the mixture will be too moist and turn into slime; too much ‘brown’ and it’ll dry out and won’t break down. Either way, it won’t rot as it should so you must always keen an eye on it and add what it needs for decomposition.
Good compost is dark, crumbly and its odor is pleasant. As it is nutrient-rich it should be added back to your garden beds to improve the soil structure, reducing the need for synthetic fertilisers and helping your plants grow.
Don’t have space for an outdoor compost bin? Bokashi composting bins fit in small kitchens and ideal for tiny apartments.
9. Harvesting your own water
As climate change brings longer periods of drought, threatening water shortages and water scarcity across many areas of the world, and some municipalities already forcing water restrictions on their residents, harvesting your own water is crucial to living a self-sufficient and eco-friendly life.
You can set up rain barrels to capture water for your gardens, pets and everyday household use. Just observe where water naturally collects on your property and place the barrel there.
You can even collect your own cooking and drinking water doing it this way (just make sure to purify it first with a filter). Keeping a bucket in the shower also helps you capture any water runoff which you can then use for your gardens.
If your home has a backyard, consider installing rainwater tanks so you have an available water supply. This is also a great way to reduce your water bill.
10. Keeping chickens
If you enjoy eating eggs or keen to add organic fertiliser to your gardens, keeping chickens will provide another element of self-reliance. Chickens are the easiest and most adaptable form of livestock you can keep, though this is dependent on how much time you have to care for them and how much land you have available to raise them. Free range chickens, where chickens have access to the outdoors and have ample space to wander, take dust baths etc. is the way to go as caged hens with little space to live is just plain cruel.
If you’re keen to get some chickens, there are plenty of YouTube videos that will run through the entire process of keeping chickens, from how to build a pen to identifying a suitable breed. You can also visit permaculture sites for articles on the subject and self-sufficiency-focused groups on Facebook to learn from other chicken owners.
The key to having chickens is to enjoy them as you would any pet. With love and attention, they will flourish, laying fresh eggs, helping to improve the soil with their poo and their cheeky personalities make they a loveable part of the family too.
When most people think of self-sufficient living, they often think of people living off-the-grid in the middle of nowhere, but the fact is, self-sufficiency is really an environmentally-friendly approach to living that incorporates useful skills that will enable you to live a more independent and low impact life– just as your grandparents once did.
- 7 Reasons Why Your Veggie Scraps Won’t Regrow
- A Guide to Sustainable Living for Renters and Tenants
- 20 Steps to Plastic-Free Living
- Daily Sustainable Habits: 7 Ways You Can Reduce Your Waste
- Bringing Frugality Back: Why Living Frugally is More Sustainable
- Sustainable Living Is Expensive – Ending the Myth
- #Plantstagram: 10 Green Instagram Accounts to Follow for Plant Inspiration
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