Is it possible to be truly self-sufficient? I talked with Tracy from the YouTube channel Our Smallholding Adventure about this recently. And invited her to share her ideas in this blog post.
What does self sufficiency mean to you?
Do you like bananas? We do. In the 5 years we have lived here on our North East smallholding, I didn’t think I’d be giving bananas much thought. Let me introduce myself and explain a little as to why I’m asking this question!
My name is Tracy, wife to Steven and we have 2 children. All of us were born and raised here in the North East of England. I am writing this sat at my kitchen table, living on our modest smallholding where we raise animals, fruit and vegetables, plus the odd glass of hedgerow wine.
Neither Steven or I grew up in a farming community. Nor did we have people around us who were passionate about the countryside or growing your own. My Grandad grew a few leeks and onions in later life. And my Dad also, which is pretty much where it stopped. I think there were a few surprised faces when we upped and left our happy street house and moved to a semi-remote farmhouse.
Recording our journey to self-sufficiency
Late in 2015 I started our blog, closely followed by an Instagram page. And finally in the late 2020, we embarked on our own YouTube channel, Our Smallholding Adventure! It is early days, but we are passionate and dedicated. These are two qualities I believe we need as smallholders, which have seen us through some ups and downs. We have had plenty!
So back to the bananas. No, lockdown hasn’t sent me crazy. No more than I was anyway. I have noticed a phrase often mentioned in the homesteading and smallholder community is “self-sufficient”. Totally different to self-reliant, which is a whole other topic. Recently, I made the bold and not so uncommon decision that I want us to be self-sufficient. Then I realised I didn’t actually know what I meant by “I want us to be self sufficient”.
We are already frugal, have no debt other than our mortgage, live simply and make do and mend. I know I want to move away from buying everything from the supermarkets. And to stop spending far too much money on impulse buys. Or food that my hips love that little bit too much. Not to mention the stress of going to a supermarket (let alone being able to buy toilet roll during 2020, but I digress).
Wants v capacity to grow
The question then becomes ‘what do you WANT to be self-sufficient in?’ Closely followed by ‘what CAN you be self sufficient in?’, given growing conditions, land available, machinery required and so on. How can we ever be self-sufficient here in the North East, if we keep on eating these blinking bananas? We have them for breakfast, as snacks, desserts with yoghurt. I make banana bread, muffins and dehydrate them. That’s what had me sat scratching my head at the kitchen table. If you are contemplating this path and want to grow all your fruit and veg, you will need to consider what restrictions you would face that you don’t currently face. Are you prepared never to consume imported fruit and veg whilst on your self-sufficient challenge?
I am more than happy with the fruit that we do grow here. It’s comes in abundance, starting with the very early rhubarb right through until the very late raspberries. We have plums which seems to reproduce under our noses and a whole variety of currants, white, black and red. Apples and pears have abundant years and quieter ones, blueberries are youthful and beginning to thrive.
Eating what we grow
If we HAD to, we would be happy and healthy living on this produce alone. But we don’t WANT to and that’s the difference. Not yet anyway. Alongside this, we don’t have enough space, time or money to grow our own animal feed right now either, so we won’t be self-sufficient in that any time soon. With that in mind, it didn’t take long for me to come round to the fact that we won’t to stop buying bananas, or oranges or any other imported fruits and we will continue to buy our animals’ feed. However, I’m more than happy, downright ecstatic in fact, at the thought of living solely on the vegetables and meat that we can produce ourselves.
Our next steps
Armed with 4 years’ experience and the excitement of what could be, this will be the first year of attempting to grow enough veg to consume throughout the year and put a years’ worth in our pantry and freezers. I’ve already set about writing down all of the types of vegetables that we eat in a normal year. And working out approximately how many we would consume and therefore will need to grow. This blog post is all about potatoes and how many I think we’ll need to sustain us for a year.
For tomatoes I can easily go through 2 or 3 tins a week, so we’re going to need plenty of tomato plants to reach that goal. We will be canning them as quickly as they can grow and I can’t wait to see our shelves full to the brim with homegrown, nutritious produce. What an exciting thought! Every step of the way will be documented on our YouTube channel as well as the grocery challenge, we have set ourselves. It’s going to be a huge learning curve of a year and I really hope you join us for the ride.
I’d like to thank Liz for the support and inspiration she has shown to her community including me, along with the opportunity to write as a guest blogger on her blog! Thank you Liz and take care everyone! I hope to see you on our social media soon.
Listen to Liz Zorab on Epic Gardening podcast talking about becoming more self-reliant and self-sufficient in food.