It doesn’t take a lot of land to grow enough vegetables for one family and maybe even fit in a chicken coop. Many towns have farm-friendly policies that allow a small number of hens only (for the uninformed, you don’t need a rooster unless you want the eggs to be fertile). There is no piece of ground so small that it can’t be brought into production.
Beautiful soil is the result of composting, which also reduces our waste. Keep that bucket on the sink and throw in your peelings, coffee grounds, apple cores, etc. until it smells enough that you must toss it in the pile. We could also use more community gardens where experienced growers could guide others wanting to learn through the seasons. Because I’ve done the farming thing, I often forget how few people still know how to grow food. Scary.
There are many websites that offer help and guidance when it comes to learning the homely arts. For someone like me, who poured (and still does) over hard copies of magazines like Countryside & Small Stock Journal, Grit, and Backwoods Home Magazine, there are articles that instruct on every phase of homesteading. The mother of them all, Mother Earth News, keeps an extensive archive on its website, free to browse and use.
The Foxfire website describes the series that originated in 1972 with the original “The Foxfire Book,” a collection of articles from the magazine that was begun in 1966 by children of the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Georgia. The name chosen for the title is a reference to the glow emitted by bioluminescent lichen that grows on decaying logs in the Southern woods, noticeable on dark nights. Since that time the magazine has been published uninterrupted, a museum has been established, and the core principles, based on self-centered learning and community-based education, have been adopted by families and educators who favor the Foxfire Approach to Teaching and Learning that “promotes a sense of place and appreciation of local people, community and culture as essential educational tools.”
Beginning more than four decades ago, the students interviewed the elders of their area, documenting their lives and skills, and in doing so they became aware of the close relationships and sharing that were an integral part of creating a strong community. We need more of that–relationships with neighbors and an appreciation of lost culture, not only in Appalachia, but in the urban, exurban, and suburban communities where most of us live.
There are now twelve books in the series that began as a sociological work, and millions of copies of individual volumes have been sold. I bought the first six books in the 1970s. I was a city girl learning how to establish a homestead. I had no experience with farming but was a believer, part of the back-to-the-land movement.
It is in these first collections that most of the practical information can be found. You may not plan on butchering a hog anytime soon, but you will certainly want to plan a garden. The original book has sections on planting by signs, building a log cabin, basket weaving and preserving food, as well as making butter, soap and moonshine. For the religious, there’s information on faith healing and snake handling. The next five volumes offer instructions on spinning and weaving, animal care, tanning hides and logging, as well as making cheese, apple butter, wagons, kilns, tools and shoes. And for “when the work’s all done and the sun’s gettin low” (thanks John Denver), you can also learn how to make old-fashioned toys, corn husk dolls and primitive dulcimers, banjos and fiddles–just in case you can’t power up the tv.
The books are available through the Foxfire website, which is a great place to begin if you’d like to secure your future in small ways, and possibly in bigger ones. And remember the Boy Scout motto.
Interested in the prepper movement? Check out this video by the New Yorker shared on Facebook a few days ago!
Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.