WORDS & IMAGES: ERICA NEAL
One of my favorite quotes about self-sufficiency is from plant breeder and author, Carol Deppe. In her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, she addresses the conundrum of human nature and the goal of self-sufficiency. The conundrum is that humanity thrives in community but pursuing sufficiency can sometimes push people to extremes of striving for independence from community. As a healthier alternative, Carol proposes interdependence:
In ordinary and good times, we don’t really seek true independence, but rather enough knowledge and skills so the we can build and hold up our end of honorable interdependence. … [W]e need the kinds of skills that allow us to be valuable and contributing participants in honorable interdependence in both good and bad times.
The beautiful thing about this goal of mutual reliance is that it requires differentiation. In the sufficiency movement, we often find comfort and strength in communities of like-minded individuals. However, in our most immediate communities – our partners, roommates, and families – we can’t always bank on equally shared passion. While that might seem like an obstacle, I think it could be fertile ground for cultivating resilience.
My immediate community is a family of five. Myself, husband, and three boys, age 6.5 and younger. I could paint an image of my entire family sitting around the dinner table, enjoying completely organic meals, having thoughtful discussions about our sustainability efforts. I could tell you that we so profoundly influence our boys' ideas, that they are growing into little conservationist clones of us. But that would be a fat lie, and of no use to anyone. In reality, our kids – even the toddler – are already so distinctly themselves, and they assert that individuality on a daily basis. They have favorite things, preferred pastimes and particular dislikes. Most of our meals are spent negotiating vegetable consumption and trying not to laugh while reminding them that we don’t tell potty jokes at the table. They are the riotous rhythm of our family.
My partner and husband is also a part of this circus. And while we’re in this together, we do not have equal investment in every aspect of sufficiency. He is a city boy through and through, loves technology, and thinks in pixels. I’ve always had one foot in the woods, loved books and think in a tangle of stories about the past and future. Admittedly, the idea of connectedness with nature, urban homesteading or building resilience was mine before it was his. However, we found our common ground in compassion, a desire to be good stewards, and a conviction to place value in creating good things vs. constant consumption. Once we agreed on the heart of our mission, we made space to learn together. As simple as it sounds, communication, listening and openly accepting each other’s differences is what enables us to build.
What has evolved from this open and patient exchange, is interest-based involvement. Rather than trying to get all of us on the same page at the same pace, we explore the entire book of opportunities and hone in on our favorite chapters. I’m passionate about food, natural wellness, and building. Mr. Pixels is fascinated by beekeeping, finding ways to reduce waste, and the potential for critters. Big Brother doesn’t love dirt; but he’s our captain of water conservation and recycling. Little Brother is my garden helper. He loves checking on the plants, watering and almost anything involving cooking. As for Baby Brother, we’re just happy that the he eats more vegetables than he tears out of the ground. At this stage of life, this is our honorable interdependence – flexible and unifying.
Could your work or journey benefit from more inclusion and latitude; more minds and helping hands? For those of us who are used to getting things done on our own, who’ve gotten where we are because of our determined independence, it can be difficult to trust others with our vision. A vision is its own kind of baby. While they’re still in infancy, we guard them closely. Though at some point, if we want to see them growing out in the world, we will have to rely on the help and wisdom of others. At some point, we all need the village.
In the work of building resilience and sufficiency, this principle of necessary connection and valued differentiation eliminates the sense that we and our households need to be completely self-sustaining. Everyone isn’t going to be able to keep livestock or grow all of their groceries (and everyone shouldn’t). No single person or micro-community will possess all of the knowledge and experience needed to be entirely self-sufficient. So the only true means to achieve resilience in our homes and communities is to do it together – with a mutual respect for our strengths, patience with our weaknesses and supportive reminders that we’re all working towards a shared goal.
With the elements of open communication, interest-based involvement, flexibility, and staying centered on the heart of the mission, we can all lay the groundwork for a stronger, resilient network of interdependent individuals, families, organizations etc.. We can engage younger generations in ways that foster their unique skills and inspire their own conviction. We can reach out to older generations with their wealth of knowledge and experience. We can collaborate with our peers in ways that makes room for differing life paths and scheduling conflicts. A simple tweak in the language – inter- vs. in- – suddenly alleviates the pressure and the weight of complete self-reliance. There’s nothing to prove by doing it alone and everything to gain by including others. The best way forward is all together.