Living self-sufficiently – World events have forced many of us to start taking sustainability seriously.
The looming threats of further lockdowns and future pandemics. The (UK) government’s lack of action and funding on climate change – in fact, recent parliamentary actions are actively reducing food safety and security when we most need it! International lethargy when it comes to a real commitment to climate change and greening the global economy. Food prices increasing, loss of habitat and biodiversity and economic uncertainty… It makes for depressing reading.
Lots of Little Things
In a pledge to live self-sufficiently, we can make big sweeping statements like ‘ become vegan’ or ‘zero waste’.
We can say the single biggest thing we can do as an individual is ‘eat plant based’ or ‘don’t have children’ or ‘don’t fly’ – and while it’s true there are life changing decisions we can make, in reality, selling the things that people ‘can’t do’ as a panacea for reversing climate change can be counterproductive.
They can either leave people feeling powerless, or give them an excuse to say “fuck it” and then carry on regardless.
Living more self sufficiently is something we can all do. But it is not going to happen overnight with one massive sweeping change. Little and often, that’s how change happens.
A new revolution is quietly taking place.
It’s happening in back gardens, in community spaces, on windowsills and rooftops – multiple small things to live more self-sufficiently and sustainably. To bring back that biodiversity essential to our survival, even in a small way – urban green spaces and gardens are becoming more and more important.
Knowing we can’t rely on the powers that be to create the changes we need, it’s taking individual action to make a difference. We are taking matters into our own hands.
This article in The Guardian, inspired me to sum up my own sustainable swaps and to add to my ‘to do list’ of environmental aspirations.
Little Life Changes
We’ve all had our resilience and self reliance tested in 2020.
Living more sustainably and self-sufficiently has always fascinated me. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve always grown something edible – even if it’s just a few culinary herbs and potatoes!
But in 2009 my husband and I took it to a whole other level.
We sold everything and bought a property in Bulgaria.
We lived there for just under two years, trying to live as self-sufficiently as we could off the land. The trouble was, we had no real plan and no source of income, so inevitably, we ran out of money and had to return to the UK in 2010.
Making a massive life change was a radical, and ultimately foolhardy venture (but it was bloody good fun and life changing! So, no regrets).
We moved to Bristol. We started again. Eight years ago we finally got back on the property ladder in the UK and bought a house in South Bristol.
We have an urban garden. However, while both of us have been working full time and enjoying urban living, it wasn’t until lockdown that I realised how far away we had drifted from those self-sufficiency dreams we had shared in Bulgaria.
I have a veg plot in our little garden and grow a variety of produce with limited success, as well as a pear tree and an impressive raspberry hedge that gives me masses of gorgeous plump fruit from June to November.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but one regret of living in the city is not signing up for an allotment sooner. I’m on the list now, but it could be years before I get one. If only I’d done it 8 years ago? But at the time, I was worried I would never have the time, or motivation, to tend to it. So much for that!
I’m now planning my garden veg plot for next season and will taking back half of my front garden, too, to grow more. As we now only have one car, the rest of the driveway can be for plants.
My Living Self-Sufficiently List
I’m not trying to make out that I’m some sort of environmental saint, here. I’m not – that buzzword of the moment – ‘Virtue Signaling’.
There are things I have, will continue to and want to do to live more sustainably and self-sufficiently.
There are also things I’m not prepared to do. Compromises that are a step too far.
I’m never going to become a vegan. I’m just not. Especially while I have my own free range chickens giving me little gifts from their magic backsides on a daily basis! I am, however, committed to eating more plant based food and less meat.
I’m not giving up overseas holidays. I’m wishing and hoping that I can travel again next year. Travel is the best education any of us can ever have. There is so much wonder in the world, why would I spend my whole life stuck in one place?
In fact, I believe that everyone should live overseas at some point in their lives. Perhaps then they would accept and appreciate that everyone is different, but also similar in so many ways – and that’s a wonderful, glorious thing!
There are big things, too, that may be financially out of reach for me; like grey water recovery systems, my own farm and a wind turbine!
I’ll still buy food that isn’t organic or is wrapped in plastic because sometimes there isn’t a choice.
And I’ll still shop in the supermarket because sometimes it’s just easier and is often cheaper.
The point is, there are no absolutes here.
We all need to make choices for ourselves.
It’s OK to not do all the ‘right things’.
What’s not OK is to do nothing.
By listing a few of my ideas here I hope to give others ideas. I’m also looking for new ideas. Plus, the very act of listing these things helps me to not only see the progress I am making, but where to focus my energy in future.
One thing the calamitous nature of 2020 has gifted us is the opportunity to reflect on and rethink the way we live our lives.
These are some of the things I am doing, have done and plan to do in the future to live more sustainably and self-sufficiently.
What Am I Already Doing
Sustainable, Local Shopping
We’re fortunate to live in such a cosmopolitan, diverse and independently minded city. We already actively avoid eating and drinking out in corporate chains, preferring to support local food producers, brewers, bars and restaurants. We would have struggled to do this had we still been living in rural Somerset! I’m not being flippant when I say that supporting local business is important to me, it’s in the nature of the work I do mentoring start-ups and is core to my values. I want to see vibrant and healthy high streets and communities and that starts with using them!
During lockdown, this was a lifeline for us. Since lockdown, we now get regular fruit and veg boxes from local producers and use local shops. What I can’t grow myself, I source locally where I can. I know when it’s been a while since I visited the local corner shop as a the owner asks after me and comments he’s not seen me in a while, it always makes me feel guilty for taking my eye off the ball!
That’s not to say I don’t use bigger retailers, but I am mindful of my choices. Even Amazon, although they are huge, can only supply as many products as they do by opening up their fulfilment practices to millions of independent sellers around the world.
Milk deliveries – we have milk and fruit juice delivered to our door in returnable reusable glass bottles three times a week. We also top up our regular deliveries with local butter, cheese, cream and other sundries from Milk And More.
There is less plastic, it’s sourced locally and it’s convenient. An all round win! I’m so glad we were using the service before lockdown as they were so swamped with enquiries they couldn’t take on any new customers, we could even get compost delivered when the shops had run out.
By getting non perishables for the pantry in bulk we save on waste. While the upfront cost is higher, the price per kilo is less and there is less packaging. By getting a sack of rice, for example, we only have one large bag to dispose of instead of several small pieces of cellophane. I recently discovered Real Food Source. Brilliant for kitchen cupboard items like nuts and seeds. Good value, delivered to your door and minimal packaging.
The bigger plastic bags are also easier to reuse.
Avoid Buying The Plastic Packaged Version
Where possible, I will always try to buy things packed in anything other than plastic.
Watching ‘War On Plastic’ blew my mind. Seriously, if you can watch any of it, do. It will radically change your perspective. It’s shocking stuff!
I was horrified that when we think we are ‘recycling’ our plastic waste, in reality much of it is being shipped off to be dumped. It ends up polluting the environment. The whole production, transportation, energy needed, supply chain and disposal of plastics is arguably the biggest planet killing industry out there. It’s used in and included in almost everything, polymers are even used in clothing.
Everything wrong with our global economy is built on plastic!
“It’s Only Single Use If You Use It Once”
I’m quoting Monty Don, there! Inevitably, try as you might, you will always end up with some plastic waste. If I think I can find a use for some plastic I’ll store it instead of binning it. For example, larger bags (i.e. from bulk buying) are much easier to reuse than smaller ones, even if it is just as a bin liner! It always seems slightly mad to me to buy bin bags – buying a roll of plastic simply for the purpose of throwing it away?!
The Bemmie Brood
In July we adopted three rescue chickens. Because they are retired battery hens, they’re scruffy little girls. They seem happy enough with us, even though our garden is small, it’s still much bigger than a cage!
We live in Bedminster, a district of Bristol affectionally known by locals as ‘Bemmie’. Our little brood run free around our garden and produce 2 to 3 eggs every day – We are easily self sufficient in eggs!
It’s not enough to sell the surplus but our friends and neighbours get regular boxes given to them!
Their hutch was built out of scraps of old wood and pallets and their bedding is cardboard from deliveries and packaging; our waste paper gets shredded and added to their straw.
The hutch is even insulated with polystyrene from packaging.
Their favourite food is canned sweetcorn and cold rice or pasta, they get given layers pellets and chicken feed, although they would much rather eat our leftovers!
- Making my own cosmetics – read my blog on Homemade natural Deodorant, HERE
Making my own bread
- Both with my bread machine and experimenting with sourdough. A basic bread mix is flour, water and salt – plus yeast, if it’s not a sourdough. Read my blog on breadmaking HERE
I buy flour and salt in bulk. Not only is breadmaking simple, satisfying, delicious and often cheaper than buying bread, it also reduces plastic waste, food miles and you can get creative and experimental with your bread, using up leftovers etc.
What I Will Do Next
Try out more ways to make my own cosmetics
I’ll share my recipes and successes and failures. For what I don’t make myself, where possible I will buy from another maker.
I love these shampoo bars made and sold locally.
I bought them directly from the maker at the Tobacco Factory Sunday Market.
But they also sell direct from the website…
Diligent Avoidance of Plastic
It’s hard to avoid plastic, it’s everywhere, but I am determined to persevere at avoiding the single use stuff!
What Are My Aspirations
I’ve looked into it previously, I need to look again to see what incentives and deals there are to be had.
We don’t use our car much as it is, preferring our feet or public transport where possible. One of the perks of living close to the city centre. However, we have family in rural areas and when it’s not possible to get public transport for an activity or event, or if we are buying bulky items – when our little car does go to the great-scrap-yard-in-the-sky, I want our next vehicle to be electric, or at least hybrid.
I’m reading ‘Beekeeping for Dummies‘. I have no idea where I could put a bee hive but it’s something that has fascinated me for a while. I’d like to learn apiary skills and keep my own bees.
Land or an Allotment
I’d love to have more space to grow. My own small urban space quickly fills from spring onwards. If I am going to grow any meaningful amounts of food I need more land to do it. An allotment would be a good place to start and I’m on the list. But I am also working on a business idea to re-green a brownfield site and turn it into a community market garden project where I can grow produce and also employ myself by helping others with their ‘green enterprise’.
On Reflection & Conclusion
It’s been interesting writing this. Simply forcing myself to sit and think about how much I am already doing, and what more I can do has been a real eye opener. It’s all a little overwhelming, which is why I’ll keep plugging away making little changes and doing it often.
I hope this inspires you to make some sustainable swaps and be more creative in how you live more self-sufficiently.
I’d love to know what things you would or have added to these lists!
Tell me in the comments, what have you done to live more self-sufficiently?