Contribution and Cooperation
The best step to take in your quest for greater self-reliance is to organize with other neighbors to create a garden spot and share the responsibilities of a garden. I gathered several friends from church to garden with me. I spent many more hours in the garden than anyone else did, but who’s counting? I didn’t mind a bit. I was grateful to have a place to garden and to have friends to share in the harvest.
I was teaching classes and trying to write this cookbook while also keeping up with all of the self-reliance cooking I was committed to. It was more than one person could do. After a strenuous year of trying to do both teach and keep up with my own home-making goals I found that I wasn’t able to do both. I had to choose one or the other. I had to choose my home and family, of course. That is the whole point of writing the book! I know that if I stop being a producer so that I can go to work to be a successful teacher and business woman promoting my book, I will not be living out the lifestyle I am preaching! So I switched my focus from teaching to filming home videos. This turns out to be a better way to demonstrate and teach anyway. I don’t have to advertise. I don’t have to drag all my pots and pans to a classroom. And I don’t have to supply samples!
Though I learned how to make all of the groceries on my shopping list and eliminated trips to the store, I found that it took great organizational skills to keep track of it all. The makings for each meal had to come together at one moment in time. When I make bread dough I usually don’t have the energy to also make my own pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese for pizza on the same day. I had to pace myself and just do what I can with the amount of time and energy I had. So I made a Production Schedule that divided all the tasks into projects and assigned them to specific days each week so that all the groceries would be ready in time for the meal they were intended for.
My Production Schedule begins Sunday with the soaking of the beans for the week. Then Monday I cook them up. I serve my rotating meals that circle around beans, grains, nuts and seeds for protein instead of meat. If I didn’t get the makings done in time for the meal coming up, we simply waited until the last minute and ran to the grocery store to get that one thing. This is a very low-pressure way to learn rather than waiting until we are in the middle of a food shortage to begin thinking about finding a cookbook and learning how to make our own food. Even if you already have the food stored, it still takes much effort to learn how to cook with them. It is not feasible that this learning curve could take place during a crisis. It is only logical to learn before the crisis comes.
Our lifestyle is getting easier, while our body, mind and spirit suffer. Our life, the only life we have been given, is “carelessly used up” with the task of earning a paycheck to buy the necessities of life, instead of creating the necessities of life with our own hands. The activities that once exercised the body and fulfilled the soul such as digging in the soil, carving wood or kneading bread have all been eliminated and replaced with activities that bring stress and emptiness such as telemarketing or bill collecting.
I made a commitment to myself that I would one day stop shopping at the local grocery store. I am committed to produce everything I am able; beans, cereal, snacks, cheese, butter and bread. I can grow my own vegetables and fruits. I can create foods to replace meat and dairy products. As I became more proficient at producing my own food and more committed to producing rather than consuming, I found that the big jobs could be broken down into smaller, more do-able chores and dispersed over the days of the week. Each time I did any baking or cooking, I multiplied my efforts by making enough for the whole week rather than just enough for one meal for one day.
Using My Rotating Menu, I knew exactly what I was going to make each week. Now, with My Production Schedule, in the Part 3 of this book, I filled my refrigerator and freezer with meals I made ahead. With a lot of planning and experimentation I was able to gather and store the foods I was using regularly, to eliminate time spent shopping each week. I was able to come up with dry mixes for anything that I made often, to eliminate the preparation time for each meal. I was able to make bread for the week knowing exactly what kind of bread I was going to need for each meal that week; pitas, pizza crust, subs, rolls, etc. I was able to plant a garden and produce fresh vegetables and fruits and even freeze and dehydrate some ahead for later in the season when the garden would be resting. I was able to make replacements for meat and dairy products for the week with plant sources by learning to make soy milk, almond milk and mega-meat. Each step I learned to do, gave me that much more variety to offer my family and improved my family’s health significantly.
As my life became more and more complicated with the expos I was attending and conferences I was offering and books I was writing, my husband took up the slack, taking the responsibility for all of the regular production schedule that I had been doing. The kids pitched in too. Then my husband landed a job out of state and had to be away. All of my food production came to a screeching halt. My garden needed watering. My beans weren’t getting cooked. My mail was stacking up and my emails were out of control. I had deadlines to meet and no one to help.
This situation made it so real to me that if we were ever going to be able to keep this up, we need a community to work with. We can’t do it all. If we are going to go back in time, so to speak, to make our own bread and our own cheese, milk our own cows or raise our own chickens, we must also go back in time to an interdependent lifestyle where everyone worked together. We must have support and assistance. If the cow needs to be milked and I have to be teaching a conference in another state, I must have neighbors and friends who are equally invested in the cow who will milk the cow!
This is when my mind went to work designing and planning a community that would work together and pool all the skills, energy and resources they have for the good of all. It’s not a new idea. It’s an old idea that has been lost because we don’t need each other anymore. We can go in and out of our homes and never say hello to our next door neighbor. Everything we need it at the superstores. We can go in and out of a superstore and never run into anyone we know. With automated check-out stands we do the whole thing without speaking to another soul.
I wrote a plan that I hope will start the conversations going about creating a more interdependent lifestyle. I know I need people in my life, and I can’t be the only one that does. As I talk to people about the ideas I have been kicking around, every one of them have said they thought about the same thing. It is on the hearts and minds of the thinkers of our society. We know that some parts of our society are changing drastically. Our cities, as they are designed today, may not be the best place to be if and when food shortages begin and civil unrest arises.
In the midst of this revelation about community that was coming to me, the city was doing some repairs on a water main in our neighborhood and our water had to be turned off the whole day. The whole street had its water turned off. I couldn’t run next door, establish a friendship with a stranger, to use his bathroom or to wash my face or brush my teeth, because his water was off too. It suddenly occurred to me that a crisis could come at any moment that cut the water off for a period of time and if everyone in the neighborhood has their water off at the same time, we would all be in a lot of trouble. Water is the one thing that you cannot do without—even for a short time. I bought four 50-gallon barrels several years before this when I first started learning about self-reliance. They are full of water and ready to use in my garage. I was the only one on my block that had water for this minor reality check.
I began to gather with other families to experiment with an interdependent lifestyle. My garden buddies and I worked together to make meals straight out of the garden. My friend made zucchini relish enough for both of us. I made salsa and tomato sauce for both families. This greatly increased what we could do with our own time and productivity. This is when life starts to get interesting. This is the secret to world hunger. Not mass producing for the entire planet so that they don’t have to do anything but shop, but instead increasing individual self-reliance and interdependent production to assist each other to have more time and energy for greater things than just eating!
There is nothing more therapeutic than digging in the soil, breathing in fresh air, getting sun on your face and eating fresh produce from your own garden. This is the exercise that improves health in body, mind and spirit. This is the well-being that you can’t bottle and sell as a medical cure even though it is more effective. Combine this with the sense of community that fills the soul when many people work together, nothing else can compare. This is what we were intended to do with our time, our energy and our strength.
I worked together with my neighbors in a community garden. We found an elderly gardener who could no longer continue to keep up with her beautiful garden and yard. She was an extraordinary gardener with all the tools we could ever want. She had planted and nurtured grapes, figs, apricots, mulberries, pomegranates and a large, well fertilized garden spot. When she went to live with her daughter, a few families helped her by taking care of her yard and keeping it watered. She in return allowed us to garden in her garden spot and reap the fruits of her years of labor that went into preparing and establishing that little piece of ground. It was a win/win partnership.
By working as a group we added even more therapy to the garden experience by learning to work together, sharing and being generous with the riches that come from the sweat of our brow. I loved it! Look around your neighborhood. There may be a situation close by where you can garden with a community of like-minded people or bring new life and vitality to an elderly neighbor’s yard. Or if you have plenty of garden space, why not invite neighbors and friends to work with you to create something far more spectacular than you would be able to do by yourself. There are those around you who have no land to work with and would love an opportunity to learn how to garden.
We found another spot of ground that was up to our waist in weeds and seemed to be abandoned. My friend, Deborah Curtis, said this little spot of ground “called to her” every time she walked her children to school. With a little detective work she was able to contact the owner of the abandoned property and get permission to garden there. They had access to irrigation water that came every five days for a yearly fee.
We paid the fee, cleaned up the yard and dug ditches to distribute the water as it came into the yard. Many families worked together to dig the long ditch that took the water from one end of the yard to the other. A community filmmaker stopped by to film what we were doing and ended up putting his camera down and grabbing a shovel. There is something contagious about gardening!
I wanted to have enough tomatoes to bottle salsa for the year. For our family that would be 24 pints. In order to have so many ripe tomatoes at one moment in time you have to plant 20 tomato plants or more—way more than one family would need. If there are more families involved, they can plant 20 tomato plants together and then harvest them in turns to make all the salsa or tomato sauce they want at one time.
I made a goal for my family to eat out of the garden entirely as long as it was producing a bountiful harvest. I allowed myself absolutely no trips to the store to buy produce. We ate gourmet meals every day of the week. I abandoned all my food production such as making bread and cooking beans. We didn’t need so much food. We were able to create meals from the garden without much else added; chili rellenos, colorful salads, stir fry, spaghetti squash, or pizza topped with tomato sauce made from garden tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil and oregano. It was food heaven.
I planted new seeds as soon as my plants were done producing. This keeps the garden at its maximum production at all times. Next, I made a goal for myself to keep things growing in the garden during the winter months. Potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, onions, garlic, spinach and bok choy are able to live and survive mild winters. I also found out that Winter Wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the Spring. I have so much Winter Wheat in my food storage, I felt like I had to try planting some. After all, if one grain of wheat produces 20 grains, then one bucket produces 20 buckets. Where will you find better increase from any other investment? If I could plant the whole foods I had stored, I could replenish my stores without spending any money in the years to come. That sounded very intelligent to me. I wanted to try it.
My trips to the store were diminishing significantly. We were down to a few grocery items that we were not able to produce; eggs, milk, ice cream, butter, cheese, honey and chips! I realized that in the Old Testament God promised a land “flowing with milk and honey.” That means a land that had cows and bees. I began to wonder, though I lived in a city and didn’t own land, how I could reap the benefits of a “land flowing with milk and honey.” I decided that our garden area would have to expand to produce some of these products. I fenced off a small area in a shady corner of the yard where we gardened and got three chickens about half grown. In a few months we have more eggs than we could keep up with. Next, I have my eyes on a bee hive set up as soon as we got the money. I want that ¾ cup of honey for my bread each week and 1¼ c honey for my granola once a month or so.
Finally, I talked around to people in my community to see if anyone else wanted to own a milk cow with me. People thought I was crazy. I looked into boarding a cow at the nearest horse boarding stables. My plan was to split up the boarding costs, the feeding costs and the milking chores. A cow has to be milked and fed twice a day. That is 14 cow chores a week. If 14 people owned the cow with me, we could decide which milking we wanted each week and be satisfied with the amount of milk that came from that one milking. If there was a larger family, they might want to buy two shares of the cow and milk twice a week.
I chose to set my sights on a cow instead of an easier animal such as a goat or sheep because I wanted the cream more than I wanted milk. I believe dairy products—especially cream, have gotten a bum rap in the last few decades. If God blesses us by giving us a land flowing with milk and honey, then milk can’t be detrimental to my health in moderation. As with anything, it is the over-indulgence that causes health problems, along with the lack of exercise and the lack of fresh produce in our diet.
I felt sure that I would find a way to have a warm, giving milk cow and I know it will add so much to our lives. Not only will she supply milk and cream, but she will bring us self-reliance to a much greater degree. One of the students that came to my cooking class, Harmony, knew someone who had a milk cow about 20 minutes out of town. She arranged for us to go out to meet the cow and see if we wanted to buy her. We decided to visit her and milk her once or twice a week and get a feel for how much milk or how many “milkings” we would actually need for our families. We planned to make all of our own dairy products and no longer purchase these items at the store. This would eliminate from our diet the denatured dairy products full of harmful antibiotics and hormones that we find at the store. We love the cream that rises to the top and the smooth sweet flavor of unpasteurized, un-homogenized, fresh, whole cow’s milk. We learned that some people who were allergic to store-bought milk could drink fresh milk without symptoms.
As my vision for the community cow expanded, I started to see why our country is not doing well on so many levels. The economy is slowly declining because we are not doing what we always did before. We are not owning land and providing for our basic needs from the land. Instead we are paying rent or mortgage payments that require cash currency. You can’t pay your rent with the extra tomatoes from your garden anymore.
This is when I saw for the first time that we need to reform our economy to take a few steps back in time. As we began to create automation and transportation we won the race but went sailing past the finish line and didn’t stop. The finish line must be where maximum human health and happiness lies and where there is abundance for all. If we automate ourselves out of having a garden, we lose more than we gain: sunlight, soil, fresh foods, camaraderie, self-reliance and satisfaction.
This is true in so many aspects of modern life. When we have transportation, we no longer walk long distances and then suffer the health consequences of inactivity. When life is so easy, we no longer need each other to survive and therefore lose the relationships that are built on interdependence. If we are separated from everyone else and no longer believe it is any of our business if people on the other side of town go hungry or in some distant land people are suffering from starvation, what did all of our automation and advancement gain for us?
Interdependence is my plan for a community that is self-sustaining, off-the-grid, humanitarian with the one and only goal of ABUNDANCE FOR ALL. When you set your sites on abundance for all and not just abundance for your own household your decisions and choices change drastically. I loved writing this book as much as people seem to love reading it, because it is my proposal to an intelligent society to create a better life for ALL, not just for ourselves. In so doing, life becomes better for ourselves as well. Do you prefer living on a planet where everyone is doing well or where some are starving and some are obese? All of us would be much happier living in a world where there is abundance for all. (See 3DCommunity.Us to order the book Interdependence).
My first year of community gardening, since I was just learning, I took one section of the garden and my neighbors took the other sections. My second year, however, in a new situation with new garden buddies, I persuaded them to garden as a community rather than in separate individual sections. This gave us more space to work with to be able to plant a greater variety of plants and eliminated the duplicates of the same plant. If everyone is assigned their own area, they each have to plant their own zucchini when one bush of zucchini is more than enough to feed several families. They each have to plant a cherry tomato when one bush is enough to feed several families. This makes sense to me. Why work separately and repeat the same effort over and over again when you can work together and divide the harvest?
Another reason I wanted to join the garden into one instead of separate sections is because they told me a story about one of the families who dropped out mid-season for personal reasons last year and didn’t weed their area. It became an eyesore and didn’t produce because it didn’t get necessary water or attention. This family didn’t say why they weren’t coming, but made excuses and apologies. Because they had established separate areas, no one felt they had the right to step in and take that part of the garden. It was awkward and resulted in a lack of productivity of that part of the garden. When this same family wanted to be involved again the next garden season the others warned me that this family would not do the work, though they seem to have an interest in being part of the group.
To me the answer was simple, and luckily they all agreed. If we all plan the garden together and combine finances to pay for the seeds, plants and supplies, and work together to put it all in the ground then about the time some families lost interest is when the biggest part of the work has been accomplished. I saw that as a plus rather than a minus. If the family drops out again mid-season then there will be more for us! It turned out to be just that way and there was plenty to share with the family who lost interest come harvest time.
I believe we have to get out of the mentality that there is not enough to go around. The garden vividly demonstrates that there is so much to go around. The harvest is always enough to create abundance for all. We ended up giving beautiful, colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables to neighbors and friends that didn’t help at all. So what difference does it make how much time one puts in more than another? Everyone benefits no matter how it all plays out. It’s true that many families will “dig in” and help at the beginning and then lose interest. I always put more hours into weeding and maintaining the garden than anyone else, but that is because I wanted to. I loved every minute. I was grateful for the garden spot because where I lived didn’t have a garden spot. I was grateful for any help I got. What is the alternative? Get fed up with people for not helping and go garden by myself? What did I gain? I have to do the whole thing myself and will still end up giving much of it away to people who didn’t take part in any of the work. But now I have to pay for all the supplies, prepare the spot myself, do all the planting, watering, weeding and reap an abundant harvest and give much of it away. Yet so many people feel better about this plan than giving their harvest to people who didn’t help “enough”. It is all about letting go of expectations and letting people do what they want. And feeling free to spend the time you want in the garden without feeling obligated to do more than you are able. If you can’t keep up with it all, then there will be more weeds than you want. It’s not life or death. Maybe it will motivate one of the other families to “dig in” and help.
The following year my own life and priorities changed while I was writing the book, Interdependence, and I was the slacker that didn’t come to the garden much. But I didn’t feel a bit guilty because I had helped to pay for the water and supplies. I tried to get there more often, but I was immersed in creativity and loving it. My focus had to shift that year in order to progress in my own life. Life is always changing. The trick is to cooperate and support people during their shifts and let them support you during yours. If enough people are working together it won’t have such a huge impact if one person is not focused for a period of time.