26 steps to self sufficiency.
1. Plant a garden : This is the basic building block for anyone looking to walk a simpler path in life in the modern world. Especially with rising fuel costs and resulting food costs increases it is imperative to minimize the impact on a families financial situation. More and more of the average families monthly income is slowly being eroded by the cost of just putting food on the table. I understand a lot of people do not have a lot of land to totally grow their own food but there are many options available to grow in small footprint and help at least offset the cost of groceries. Besides it also helps develop ones skills for any future plans.
2. Learn how to can your own food : This goes hand in hand with planting a garden, a garden will produce way to much food at one time for any family to consume it all before it goes to waste. Having the skills to be able to preserve what you produce is imperative for a families long term self sufficiency. If your garden is to small at the moment to produce enough food to put away in the pantry there are other options available. Search out and visit farmers markets, talk to the farmers about buying in bulk which can save you some money. Ask the farmers about gleaning the fields after harvest time. A lot of farmers will allow people to harvest produce that has been leftover and missed after the commercial harvesting is done. Look into a local produce supplier for restaurants. Most of them have a walk in window where people can go in and buy bulk produce. You can buy a 25 pound case of tomatoes for about 18 dollars right now which is a huge cost savings over the grocery store and that would make quite a few jars of spaghetti sauce.
3. Plant a herb garden : Have you seen how much both fresh and dried herbs are at the grocery store are? It’s insane. The amount of space needed to raise a small herb garden is minimal and there is nothing like fresh herbs.
4. Get a dehydrator : Dehydrating Food and Canning go hand in hand. The options you have with a dehydrator is only limited by your imagination. You can make jerky, fruit roll ups, dehydrate eggs, etc. Fruits make a tasty healthy snack for young and old. Most locations in the country have local orchards that are a great place to buy fruits cheaply and dehydrated apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon last a long time on the pantry shelf and are delicious.
5. Plant Perennials you can eat : Growing up as a child in a small city in western New York we did not have a very large yard, but we did have a garden space and perennials that supplied a food source each year with no work on our part. Asparagus, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Jerusalem Artichokes. etc.
6. Plant soft fruits : Along with strawberries also plant raspberries, blackberries, blueberries etc.. They do no take up a lot of space and will produce fresh and tasty fruits year after year
7. Plant a few fruit trees : with modern day dwarf varieties that are available on the market today you can plant a few fruit trees that with pruning and training will be bountiful in several years without taking up much room at all.
8. Learn to save seeds : Buy heirloom open-pollinated seeds and learn to save the seeds from this years produce to be able to plant next year. I know of families that have been passing their seed stock down through the family for over 100 years and haven’t had to buy a seed ever.
9. Raise a few small backyard animals : The amount of space required by a small flock of chickens or rabbit hutch is minimal and is a great source for nutrients for you and your backyard farm. There is nothing better than making breakfast or a cake with eggs fresh from the source. Plus they are a great asset with help keeping bugs and insects in check and will gladly take care of any extra vegetables or fruit from the garden for you.
10. Compost everything : People think compost is smelly and disgusting. If your compost is creating a nuisance smell, you are doing it wrong. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of food Americans buy ends up in the trash heap. Any waste from leftovers either goes into to the compost pile by either being fed to the chickens and after working its way through the chickens ends up in the compost bin or we will put it directly in the piles. All raked leaves, newspaper, cardboard, weeds, grass clippings etc goes directly into our compost pile.
11. Waste not want not : Touching on the estimate of amount of food thrown out, learn to cook only what someone is able to eat. Unless you are making a big pot of chili to can and put in the pantry, why use all the time, energy and money to make something that you will end up throwing away.
12. Cook from scratch : The average American has lost touch with what food actually is. Most people think that food comes out of a box and sadly it usually does for a large percentage of Americans in today’s world. Pick up several basic cookbooks and experiment with turning your backyard bounty into healthy, nutritious and tasty meals for your family.
13. Learn to make your own adult beverages : Cider, Wine and Beer. They are simple to make and you can make them for a fraction of what it costs to buy the mass produced product available in the stores today. I listed them in the order that I believe is the easiest to make in your own home. Wine you can make out of just about anything, even things that you would never think of such as tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin and dandelions. Experimenting is half the fun in my opinion.
14. Learn to hunt and fish : Wild game is a great way to add a healthy protein option into your home for not a lot of money. There is nothing I like better than a nice lean venison steak or a cornmeal battered catfish fish fry. You can easily can wild game as well in a pressure canner to make it shelf stable.
15. Start a small Apiary : This is one of the projects of the short list of things I want to do. From a sustainability stand point bees are the little helpers of the garden and orchard that most people despise out of fear. These little workers will pollinate your plants, produce fresh honey, create bees wax for soap making, candle making, furniture polish, etc..
16. Rainwater Collection: In a few hours you can quickly establish a rain water collection system. One inch of rain will give you .6 gallons of water per square foot of roof space. Depending on your space and average rain fall you can build a simple 50 gallon system up to several thousand gallons. We use our rainwater for watering the garden and animals and it costs us nothing except for the initial cost of the system.
17. Make your own dairy products : Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream are going through the roof right now and it is one of the simpler things to make in your kitchen. It is a fun project to get the kids involved with as well.
18. Grind your own flour and Bake your own bread : there are several grinders on the market today that will easily convert wheat berries into whole flour. The added benefit is wheat berries if properly stored will last much longer than flour in the pantry and you have the added benefit of capturing all the nutritional value of the wheat. Not the bleached product available on the market today that has been processed so much there is little if any nutritional value left in it. You can also grind your own cornmeal to make corn bread with. There is nothing better than a thick slab of homemade bread that you created from a raw product lathered with your own homemade butter.
19. Set up a clothes line : One of the largest electrical drains on a homes monthly electric bill is the electric dryer. The average consumer spends money on chemicals and products to mimic that fresh spring smell. Guess what, you can hang your clothes up on a clothes line, save money on electricity and get that fresh spring smell for free!
20. Make your own soaps: Hand soap. dish detergent and laundry detergent can be made for pennies on the dollar compared to the mass produced product available on the market today. There was a news report recently where Tide is becoming a hot commodity for theft by shoplifting because of the rise in prices.
21. Start a worm farm : Worms are another little helper around the homestead that are worth their weight in gold. They help compost and is one of the best ways to help enrich your soil. You can use them to create a fertilizer tea that is one of the best organic fertilizers you can use in your backyard. You could also start a worm business to sell to sporting good stores and fisherman to create a little extra cash flow.
22. Build a smoker : Smoking meats, vegetables and cheeses is a great hobby and adds a tremendous amount of flavor for next to nothing that will be a welcome addition to your recipes and meals.
23. Cut your own hair : For me this is simple, I have had a buzz cut since I was born and for the cost of a decent pair of clippers you can save the 20 dollars a month it costs to lower your ears.
24. Re-purpose Everything: I hate throwing things out. I don’t consider myself a pack rat but if I can use a item for another purpose I will do it. It saves on a trash bill and will save on the cost of purchasing something new.
25. Try and live debt free as much as possible: Debt is slavery. We as citizens spend way to much of our hard earned dollars on interest. This is more difficult than it sounds though. We were finally able to get rid of our credit cards 6 years ago and don’t buy something unless we can save the money to afford it.
26. Look into Alternative Energy Sources : This can be as expensive as someone is willing to spend. Most people think alternative energy sources as solar panels and this is one piece of the puzzle but something as simple as installing a wood stove which would have a huge impact on a persons heating bill and dependency on foreign oil. The nice thing about wood heat is it has the ability to heat you twice, the day you cut and split it and the day you burn it. You just can’t beat the heat from a wood stove in my opinion.
Here are some books and resources I can recommend from my personal library, Resources For Self-Sufficiency.