A chain (as the old aphorism goes) is only as strong as its weakest link. In to-day’s global economy, the supply chain is practically irreducibly complex; weaken or remove one link and folks find themselves maddeningly inconvenienced at best or in the throes of intense suffering and deprivation at worst. One man may find the book he ordered from Amazon delayed a few days, while another is unable to obtain the insulin he needs to see the next day.
This chilling thought struck me several years ago as I stared off the balcony of the apartment I hated and rented in a mid-sized university town. What would I do if a flu pandemic struck down a significant portion of the population and I could not get groceries or medicine? Worse yet, what if a war in the homeland (civil or otherwise) disrupted the flow of goods and services? And, lest we forget how dependent we are on the Internet, something as common as severe weather or as catastrophic as a weaponised Electro-Magnetic Pulse, could thwart my ability to engage in commerce and possibly result in civil unrest. (People tend to lose their minds when the EBT system fails.)
It was at that moment that I decided to decrease my dependence on others as if my life depended on it. I began looking for acreage out in the country and, through no small amount of serendipity, soon entered the ranks of the landholding with the purchase of a small house on 10 wooded acres. A few months later, I married and my wife and I set about creating a homestead in our little corner of Texas.
Having been raised in a large city, I did not know the first thing about living off the land but, due to the aforementioned Internet, I had the benefit of having the knowledge and experience of countless others at my fingertips. Once I escaped the bounds of a severe case of analysis paralysis (overthinking resulting in inaction), I went to work clearing the property line, fencing the perimeter and clearing brush—all by hand. Like most folks, I work within the constraints of time (I work a full-time job in town) and money, so patience is essential. It took me five years to complete the fence—but, I completed it. On my own.
No homestead is complete without livestock and, from what I understand, it is holy writ than one begin with chickens, so we bought a dozen chicks from a local hatchery and found that raising chickens is one of the easiest—and most enjoyable—tasks on the homestead. They are an asset without equal—they provide food (eggs and meat), pest control, fertiliser, tillage and waste disposal (kitchen scraps and garden waste go to the birds, not the landfill!). The inputs are relatively small (feed, water and shelter), but can be decreased further by obtaining the proper breed(s) and allowing them to free range and forage. (That’s another article altogether.) Of course, costs can also be mitigated by selling extra eggs. City folks love farm eggs!
Our next large project was to install a family garden (ours is 3,000 sq. ft.). We didn’t expect to eradicate our food bill, but we have been able to decrease it at various levels over the years (Texas heat and drought are fierce competitors). One would be surprised just how much food can be grown in a small space—and it will be much more nutritious than what can be bought at a grocery store. Greater still, the time spent in the sun and working alongside one’s family is invaluable.
We tried our hand at raising meat sheep for several years with mixed results. We found they were even easier to raise than chickens and, in addition to having some lamb to put in our freezer periodically, we also sold quite a few to friends and co-workers via word of mouth. However, sheep are very hard on drought-ravaged pasture and tremendously susceptible to predation, so when a local dog killed our flock – we decided to cut our losses.
Currently, in addition to our chickens, we are raising miniature Jersey cows. Because they are smaller than standard Jerseys, they eat less and we are able to sustain them on our small plot. And though it is a niche market, these cows bring a nice price and are a joy to raise.
Homesteading has been quite the education for me and my family. This lifestyle is not for the faint-hearted. It requires a great deal of hard work and the ability to suffer through disappointment. For every egg we collect, for every basket of okra, for every calf that bounds across the pasture, we have suffered great disappointment due to severe weather conditions, predation, disease, injury, etc. (And don’t get me started on the money spent on fruit trees that wither and die in the Texas summers.)
But, I have also learnt a great deal about what it takes to unplug from the plastic, consumerist society we live in that could crumble at any moment. It is a difficult life to be sure. I stand amazed when I think of the skills and knowledge that our forefathers had—skills they needed not only to thrive, but to survive—that have been lost over the past few generations. No one can be completely self-sufficient but in times past, nearly everyone knew enough to provide the basics for themselves. They knew how to feed and clothe themselves without the conveniences of grocery stores or Wal-Mart. It was these skills in agriculture and animal husbandry that allowed them to survive economic depressions, war and drought. I believe it is essential that we recapture these skills. If I have proven anything, it is that a city boy with virtually none of the necessary skills and knowledge (not to mention very little money) can build a homestead from scratch. My family is not completely self-reliant, but we are constantly working in that direction—and, I encourage my fellow Southerners to consider following suit.
If the chain breaks, our lives could depend on it.
Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am; For this "Fair Land of Freedom" I do not give a damn! I'm glad I fit against it, I only wish we'd won, And I don't want no pardon for anything I done.