This time last year we had moved into our little pocket of paradise on the edge of Mt Macedon. Thankfully 2019 brings a quieter and slower January, and I’ve had a chance to reflect on the last 12 months and ponder where we might like to be in another. My feet are deeply rooted in this soil and the place speaks to me like no other place I’ve lived. We’ve worked hard to breathe our life into it over the last 12 months. So much has been achieved and yet I still feel like we’re on the edge of a big adventure. There’s so much to learn and do and I swing between feeling inspired at the possibilities and overwhelmed by their enormity.
I’d like to share a photo update soon. There’s plenty to show, but for now I can tell you there are pumpkins and tomatoes coming along and beans winding their way up trellises. I have jars filled with dried lemon balm, comfrey and chamomile and today I’ve nibbled on wild strawberries, red currants and blueberries straight from the bush. On the other hand I just lost two new lavender plants, I’ve killed more cucumbers and zucchinis than I’ve kept alive and I can’t get a radish to fruit for the life of me. But we can swim in the dam when it’s hot, there’s a perfect spot to sit for every time of day and the chook pen is ready except for a door. On balance I think we’re winning.
I’m pretty well too. Christmas took it’s toll, because of course I did too much, took on too much, ate all the inflammatory things. But I’m bouncing back and I feel like there are new possibilities in 2019. We’ve been chatting in the last few weeks about the best way for our family to have everything we need. This is a conversation that would have been mostly about money in the past, but the shape of things is changing. It’s felt weird not to be earning an income, but honestly I can no longer imagine giving my valuable time and energy to anything that doesn’t nourish my soul or make a difference in the world. Life’s too short and I have too much to offer. Also, the world is changing around us, and I just can’t see the point in going on as we have previously.
The fact is, we’re on a collision course with ecological disaster, and I personally think it’ll hit us far, far sooner than most people expect. Recent reports suggest changes to the global climate could lead to societal collapse within 10 years, driven primarily by failing agriculture and financial systems. I don’t know if that’s realistic, but I don’t think it’s impossible. I certainly think that our children will grow up in a very different world to the one we did. None of us have any experience in making decisions to create happy, healthy and resilient families with this kind of future ahead. I don’t think we can assume previous wisdom will guide us well in the big decisions we make about savings, jobs, mortgages, education or retirement. We’re making it up as we go along and I imagine it’ll look different for everyone. For us in recent years, it looked like focussing on our health, reducing our mortgage and having more time together. In a marvellous turn of events, it also looked like a few acres of land! In 2019 I want to delve deeper into what we might be able create here, in light of where I think we’re headed as a society.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of the home being a centre of production, rather than a centre of consumption. This is how it’s mostly been for human beings, up until not so long ago, and I’m drawn to make it so again. Obviously I’m not alone in this thinking. Plenty of folks have worked themselves to the bone finding out that self-sufficiency ‘aint all it’s cracked up to be. But, I think it’s a mistake to aim for individual or family self-sufficiency today. To begin with, we would each need more land than is available, and most of us are unwilling or unable to embrace the level of hard work and simplicity that true land based living requires. Besides, other some of the early European settlers in this and other lands, most of our ancestors were far from self-sufficient (unless you descend from one of our nation’s first peoples, in which case we’ll have to come back to that, cos I’m trying not to write essays anymore!). Generally, our European, Celtic and Northern ancestors lived in communities, and they were self-sufficient within the broader community. Food, clothing and tools were mostly produced at home rather than purchased from a store, but no one family produced all that they needed. Everybody worked hard within the home and the neighbourhood to produce what they could, and people specialised. That way they could share, trade and help each other out so that everyone had what they needed. Money may still have changed hands, but earning a wage was nowhere near as important for survival as it is today.
Consider what percentage of our material needs are met by our own efforts of production today? What do you produce rather than consume? For our ancestors it would have been maybe 80 – 90%. If we go far enough back, it’s probably 100%. A few years ago I could safely say that I produced nothing. Zip. Zero. I was 100% on the consumption side. Today, the scales are tipping; just a touch, but definitely tipping. I now produce some of my own fruit, vegetables and herbs. I’ve started making tea and medicines and simple home remedies. I make gifts of seedlings and herbs and home cooked meals. We also consume less in the leisure category now, given much of our fun and entertainment is sourced from the land and our imagination. I’d like to see that balance tip a little further. Could we produce 30% of what we need? What about 50%? More?
With the land that we have, we could certainly produce most of the fruit and vegetables our family needs. We could also probably produce things like honey, olive oil, mushrooms, medicines, teas and herbs. By buying in materials from local producers we could also theoretically make soaps and cleaning products, baskets, tools, and even some of our linen and clothes. None of it is particularly complex – no more so than the professional work I used to be paid for. It just takes time and effort. So what if this became my work? Instead of being paid to leave my home and work to buy what we need, why couldn’t I put the time into the production of those goods? If it were possible, surely this would make us happier, healthier and more resilient. We would have less money it’s true, but we’d enjoy doing this work. We’d be stronger, fitter and spend more time outdoors in nature. We’d eat more home grown organic produce, and spend time together producing it. Would it be the best of use of my time? That’s a tough question. I mean, I could certainly earn more money than the value of what I’d produce, but what would I buy with that money, and would it benefit us or the planet to have those additional goods?
In the end, our family needs at least one income. We may never be able to produce or acquire all our basic food needs without money, and then there are bills and train tickets and medical costs and school fees and various luxuries and consumables that we (currently) choose not to let go of. The ideal arrangement would be to share the earning between Scott and I however, so that we can both spend time on production in the home. Right now Scott can’t do as much on the property as he’d like because he works five days a week out of the home. Given I’m here all the time, I’m the best person to focus on production, but my limitations are different. I’m held back by strength, practical skills and at the moment my health. Truth is, Scott could probably contribute more than I in terms of pure production. He’s stronger, fitter, and he can dig and lift and cart heavy wheelbarrows all day. He can also build structures with power tools, repair pumps and install irrigation systems. But he’s quite happy earning an income for now, and I’m the one stuck at home with a barrowload of enthusiasm, fewer practical skills, and limited energy!
The answer of course is to simply begin. We are in a great position to work towards the ideal, in which we’d both bring in income and both work on the land. For now though, Scott has a great job that he enjoys, and that covers the consumption side of the equation. I have the time and enough spare energy to put some of it production, and we get to spend weekends together as a family. That’s a pretty good start. My biggest job this year will be food production and practical skills development, but there are other dreams bubbling away in the background too. I want to work more with herbs over this next phase of my life. I’m embracing my inner witch, with tonics and salves and strings of drying herbs everywhere. I’ve been deeply immersed in reading, learning and playing with ideas around connection to land and place, and how this plays into the feminine mysteries, working with nature’s cycles and stepping into our power as women. One day I will work with women and herbs and stories and ancient wisdom. Marrying the mythology and stories of our ancestors with the indigenous wisdom of this land is a thread I tugged on in 2018, and the more I pull, the more magic it reveals. Who knows where the unravelling will end. I hope one day to have something to share, though what format it will take remains a delicious mystery for now.
These mysteries may one day translate to paid work but in the meantime I’d like to start shifting the money responsibility away from Scott so that I can get his skills (and company) at home a few more hours a week! I’ll never go back to corporate work, and for the moment I’ll need something flexible and pretty low key, but I think 2019 might be the year to step back out into the world. I feel ready to give it a shot. The tricky thing will be finding something that’s both meaningful and low stress, and ideally that I can do from home! I wouldn’t dare risk my newly recovered health on a long commute and high pressure deadlines that push me back over the edge. I’m sure it’s not impossible and I’ve already started having some conversations – who knows where that might lead. I’ll keep you posted. I’m excited by all of these projects and explorations. Summer is in full swing and there’s food to harvest and winter crops to plan. The wheel of the year rolls on and as much as I’m enjoying the abundance that sunshine brings, there’s a part of me that’s already secretly longing for winter to roll back around so I can sit by the fire and knit again!