It has been said, that no man is an island…and neither is a family. Many people believe that being self-reliant means meeting all your family’s needs from what you produce on your property. Our family believes that being self -reliant means meeting the needs of our family in the most sustainable ways possible.
We have come to believe that the way for our family to be prepared for whatever the future brings is to invest in our community. There are several benefits to this. First of all, we don’t have to wear ourselves out trying to to provide for all of our needs by ourselves. And we can spend time doing the things we enjoy and relying on our community for the other things we need.
It also helps to ensure that we can provide for our needs, should something unexpected happen. If my garden gets hit with squash vine borers and wipes out my squash harvest, I can rely on gardening friends or local farmers to fill that need, either through bartering or purchasing. If we believed the common definition of being self reliant, we would have to just go without squash that year. But since we don’t believe that being self-reliant means producing everything ourselves, we are free to meet our needs through our community.
But here’s the deal, you can’t wait until some tragedy strikes to rely on the community. You have to invest in it before you need it.
Investing in your community can be as simple as building a community garden in the parking strip (the grassy area between the sidewalk and street) in front of your home. Amy from Tenth Acre Farm did this and had some unexpected results. She readily shares her struggles, triumphs and the journey it will take to build community.
You can also invest in your community by teaching your skills to others. When a community is full of producers and not just consumers, the entire community benefits. I’ve often heard preppers worry about how people in their community will be too dependent on them if there is huge economic downturn. But what if preppers started teaching those in the community how to grow and preserve food, how to sew or make soap, or how to do basic auto repairs? Kathie from Homespun Seasonal Living teaches canning classes through her local community college. She’s investing in her community and in return her community will help share the burden if things go south.
Last fall, our 17 year old son damaged his truck helping a friend move. Through a series of contacts he met an older man who fixes automobiles. This gentleman taught our son how to fix his truck, loaned him tools and shared his wisdom. The $1100 repair turned into a $100 repair plus time. His willingness to help and teach a young man whom he doesn’t even know spoke volumes to us. If this man is ever in need, you can be assured we’ll do whatever is needed to help meet his needs. And we’re not the only ones who feel this way towards him.
Education is an important part of any community. Many times, students learn how to operate the latest technology yet have no clue that cheese comes from milk or carrots grow underground. If you enjoy growing food, maybe the schools in your community would benefit from you leading a junior master’s gardener program? If you have a farm (or even a homestead) maybe giving a farm tour field trip is how you invest in the education of your community? As we become a society that is more and more disconnected from our food supply, we owe it to the children in our community to rebuild that connection. We all benefit from living in a well educated community and children who actually know where their food comes from are well educated children.
Bartering is another great way to build community. Bartering is really just a fancy name for trading. I have something (or a skill) that I don’t need but you need. And you have something that you don’t need but I need. We decide to trade and be both benefit from the trade. This could be a formal thing and the trade involves high ticket items. Or an informal thing, like my pecans didn’t make this year and yours did, so you share your excess and I give you eggs because I have excess. We don’t really keep score we just know that when it’s all said and done, we both come out ahead.
Skills can also be bartered, maybe I need a couple of cabinets built and you are a cabinet maker, but you hate the painting part. I’m a pretty good painter so I paint the cabinets that you built for me and several other ones to “pay” you for building my cabinets. Bartering takes a certain level of trust and that trust needs to be built over time. It’s important to begin building a network of bartering friends and professionals before something huge happens and you have to rely on bartering to survive.
Sharing goes beyond sharing our skills or knowledge, we can also share our tools that make our lives easier. It’s called collaborative consumption and it goes something like this, I own a lawnmower but only use it once a week so I allow my neighbors to use it on the other days of the week. A neighbor has a snow blower but it doesn’t get used every day, so he allows me to use his snowblower when I need it. Another neighbor has a pressure canner and allows us to use it when we need to can low acid foods. This way, every family doesn’t have to have a lawn mower, snow blower and pressure canner. Again, this takes a certain level or trust, responsibility and respect.
The idea of being community reliant is nothing new, for thousands of years this is how people lived. In fact, much of the world still lives this way. I have friends who were raised in small villages in Kenya, they have shared with me that the within the village the people look out for one another to make sure everyone has the food that they need. So, if someone is out of flour and needs to borrow some, a neighbor will loan them some. The borrower will just pay it back when she gets more flour. When I asked if there were people who just always borrowed and never repaid, they said, “Occasionally that will happen but there is shame in that. You never want to be the one who is always taking and never giving. The village cannot survive if people do that.”
This kind of community reliant life is more complicated than a self-reliant life but it’s worth it. Working with others can get messy and sometimes there is conflict. But part of living in a healthy community is learning how to resolve (not avoid) conflict. The ability to resolve conflict is another way of building trust in a community.
As we live out this community reliant life, we won’t have to worry as much about people raiding our supplies, stealing our vegetables from our garden, or taking advantage of our hard work. If we have a big economic downturn, we’ll have a community or network of people who are prepared, educated and trustworthy because we invested in them before there was the need.