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Reasons Why I Don't Grow My Own  RSS feed

 
Su Ba
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While I wish to grow most of my own food and plants, there are times where I can't or choose not to. I was chatting the other day with a person who was adamant that everyone should grow their own.

One reason I don't grow my own blueberries or walnuts is simply that I'm in the wrong climate zone.
 
Mike Jay
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I don't grow many things due to my climate (bananas, avocado, molasses, chocolate, lemons) and a couple things due to space and raccoons (sweet corn, grains).  I'm still dabbling with working up a field for grains but that hasn't make it high enough on my priority list.
 
James Freyr
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I desire to grow as much food as I can, but like you mentioned Su, I'm in the wrong zone for some things. I would love to have a mango and avocado tree. My wife and I just purchased some land to really go pursue our homesteading lifestyle, and I really hope to get to 90% growing/raising our own food by year 10. I feel ten years is a good amount of time to slowly incorporate new plants, trees, animals and grain crops etc.. I know it's gonna be a ton of work, but it's the life we desire. We'll still have to buy things like coffee, tea, salt and spices and such, or go without. And I don't want to go without salt or tea. :)
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Ah yes, the dream of growing all of ones food, while possible it is rarely practical if you like a diverse diet.
One thing we have found is just how much land such an undertaking would actually need.
Fruit trees take a fair amount of spacing between trees, you need trees you will be able to gather all or most of that fruit from then you have to store it for out of season use.
Some items need to be canned, others frozen is best then there are the ones that just need a root cellar type storage for best longevity.
Like eggs, then you need chickens, a coup, maybe a run and you have to lock them in at night and let them out in the morning.
Hogs, goats, ducks, turkey, cows, sheep, fish, all have needs and they are not exactly like any of these other animals.
So there are pastures to fence in, gates to build and set in place all so you can rotate your animals for all to get good food since you want them to be good food for you.
Time ends up a very relevant thing, I have not been able to stretch a day to 28 hours.
Then there is working away from home, more time (lost to the farm enterprise) if you still need that money coming in to make the dream workable.

I used to listen to my grandfather talk about his life in the mountains, how they had to start before daybreak and finished the day in the light of an oil lamp.
Fall was when you had to cut firewood, 10 chords to make it through the winter the next year (you were just replacing the already cut and dried wood that had been in the wood shed since the last fall).
Then you had to hunt for meat that you didn't raise so you would have enough for the winter.
Some times this meant going out in the cold to find an animal, who would give their life so you could have life.
It was very much like my other grandfather (pawpaw) except his youth was in a tipi instead of a small wood cabin.
Interestingly enough it was actually warmer inside the tipi than it was in the wood cabin, I have stayed in both and I much prefer the tipi my self.

I know many people who set out to live their dream of total self sufficiency, but I only know two that have achieved their goal and they did it by accepting the reality and making the adjustments to continue their chosen life style.

Wolf and I are currently making adjustments to our own goals and continue to live on our land comfortably, which is a good goal just the same, life happens to us all and sometimes we make adjustments around what the creator has seen fit to throw at us.
Success in the journey means keeping the horizon in clear view so you have as much happiness as possible.
Along the way it is nice to look back and know you made good choices and helped others along their journey, then turn your head to see where it is you might be going next.

Redhawk
 
Marco Banks
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The limitations are many:

1.  Climate.  As mentioned above, if you live in a northern climate, you will not be growing avocados, mangos, citrus and banana, unless you go to some kind of totally heroic unnatural system where you are growing them indoors and keeping them heated throughout the year.  It would be much cheaper to just buy a box of mangos every so often.  I don't get the chill hours to grow many of the fruit varieties I'd like to grow (apples, etc.).  We are all limited by the particular spot of the planet upon which we call home.  So I'll grow all the moringa that me and the chickens can eat, but will have to purchase Rainier cherries.

2.  Land.  Most grain crops are land intensive.  If I wanted to grow the amount of rice, for instance, that our family eats, I would have to buy my neighbors house, tear it dow, and convert it to a giant rice paddy.  (Assuming the city would be cool with that).  That would be about a $750,000 investment for $50 dollars worth of rice. Keeping livestock is land intensive.  One holstein milk-cow requires at least 3-4 acres.  If you could grow fodder year-round and had access to water for irrigation, you could cut that down a bit.  Do you have 4 acres?  I don't.  I'll have to buy my cheese at the store.

3.  Water.  I live in a desert.  We only get rain from Nov. to around March 1. Los Angeles imports our water from the Colorado river hundreds of miles away, or from the Owens Valley (which decimated that agricultural community 75 years ago when Mulhollend came in and stole the water right out from under those farmers) or other far-flung locations.  We pay some of the highest water bills in the world, as we should.  So while I try to make my garden and orchard completely free from external inputs, I can't get around the need to purchase water.  There is no way I could afford to, for example, keep a pasture irrigated so that I could keep livestock.  It's so much cheaper to go to Costco, buy my pork chops and a gallon of milk and a hunk of cheese, and unfortunately, be a part of the greater industrial food system.  I can raise chickens and bees, however.  I do what I can within the limits of water scarcity. 

4.  Expertise.  Right now, I've got a big mason jar sitting on my kitchen counter-top with a mash of red peppers fermenting away.  I'm making hot sauce.  Five years ago, I bought my hot sauce, but now I've learned how to grow the garlic and chilies for my hot sauce.  I've learned to safely preserve other veggies by fermentation and canning.  I can salsa verde by the bathtub full.  I pickle carrots and red onions.  I make my own kraut.  I dry figs, chilies and apple slices.  I grow and shell my own almonds.  But it's taken years of reading, learning and experimentation to figure out how to do this stuff.  What percentage of the population knows how to butcher a chicken anymore?  Heck, what percentage of the population even knows how to break a chicken down into wings, thighs, breasts, legs and back?  People just don't know how to do this stuff anymore, so they will be limited in how self-sufficient they can be.  And frankly, I have no interest in learning how to butcher a hog, build a smoke house, cure hams and bacon, and make my own sausage.  I'd rather remain ignorant and support the local butcher.

5.  Time.  Time is a commodity, just like land, water and warm summer days.  I just doesn't make sense for me to grow a small field of wheat when I can buy a 10 lb. sack of flour for $6.  Who has the time (and land and equipment) to plant wheat, let it grow, harvest it, thresh it, mill it, and then store it --- hoping that the bugs don't get into it and spoil it after I've committed half a year to the process.  Keeping animals takes a lot of time.  If you milk, you've got to dedicate at least a half hour to that once in the morning and then 12 hours later that night.  EVERY DAY.  Even my chickens require me to move the tractor, change out their water, feed them, etc.  When we go away for even just a couple of days, I've got to find someone to chicken sit and care for them.

6.  Strength.  We're all getting older.  Things we used to do easily don't come so easy any more.  I still love pruning my trees, but it takes it out of me.  One example: in order to get decent sized pomegranates, you've got to aggressively thin the blossom and baby fruit.  My tree is about 15 feet high.  It's a chore to get up on the ladder and snip away at all those beautiful red blossoms.  It takes me about 2 hours, and I'm sore the next day from that work.  The branches are pokey -- it's a pain.  A couple weeks later, I need to go out again and do it a second time -- another hour at least.  There will come a time when I'm not able to climb that ladder safely.  Keeping livestock like cattle or hogs requires strength.  Even turning the compost pile will someday be about all I'll be able to manage.  So stamina is a diminishing resource.  As much as the founders of Permaculture promised that a correctly designed food forest would be self-sustaining requiring only 2 hours a week of light work, I've found that to be nothing close to my reality.  To grow the food and maintain the system I want, I've got to put in at least 2 hours a day.  Cows won't milk themselves, and even if they did, cheese or yogurt don't make themselves.  So we will all be limited by the strength we have to complete certain tasks. 

7,  Money.  This has been touched upon in the points above but let me make it explicit.  It costs money to buy, for example, a wood splitter for firewood.  So I split my wood with a maul and wedges, and frankly, that sucks.  I don't heat the house with firewood --- I pay the gas bill monthly for the furnace to keep things warm in the winter.  It costs money for land, for equipment, for maintenance, for transportation, refrigeration, wells, buildings, solar panels, and a thousand other things.  If you inherit land, some equipment and some livestock, it is STILL very difficult to make a living and be self-sufficient.  My observation is that when people start with an undercapitalized farm, they tend to struggle for decades to get to a point where they can live a lifestyle they want to live.  Sending kids through college costs a lot of money.  Saving for retirement is difficult.  Should I buy a new tractor or fund my Roth IRA for the next 20 years?  Many people do not have the money to capitalize a self-sustaining system, including many farmers who inherited half a section to farm.  So they work in town 40 hours a week and try to keep expenses low, but they still are not completely self-sufficient in their food and energy production.  Over a billion people in this world are substance farmers, eeking out a living on the side of hill somewhere in the global south.  In response to the original question: why don't we grow everything we want/need, it's because we have higher aspirations than mere subsistence.  I want decent shoes, a laptop computer, to be able to pay the electric and phone bill, and continue to keep my kiddos in college where they are thriving.  So I work a 50 hour a week job and buy my bananas at Costco rather than try to grow them myself.

So we do what we can do WELL and we try to add a bit to our food system every passing year.  My goal was never to be self-sufficient, but rather, with each passing year, to eat more and more (by percentage and calorie) from my garden/food forest/chickens/bees, and less and less from the store. 
 
Nicole Alderman
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Marco, I think you did an amazing job of summing up many of the reasons I also don't grow certain foods!

An additional reason I don't grow certain foods is because the grocery stores sell that food cheaper than I could grow it, and it's of reasonably good quality. I try to grow food that is hard to find or expensive to buy... well as is easy to grow on my land. Apples, berries, herbs all grow well and can be expensive. So, I spend time growing them rather than growing beets to turn into sugar or grain to mill into flour.
 
Wes Hunter
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"Grow" might be the wrong verb here, but I'll throw in a big one for us: comparative quality.

We've tried making butter multiple times, and though it's pretty much always been fine, it's never been really good.  I know that raw, grassfed butter would be the best thing for us, but it's difficult to justify when (1) we already eat a good diet, (2) it takes a fair bit of time and effort, (3) we can buy great quality butter at the store, and (4) we can sell our extra milk/cream for enough to pay for that butter.

So when I can buy a better (in some ways, at least) product and save time, energy, and money, it's difficult to justify making it myself.
 
Cd Greier
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Another reason not to produce everything yourself is having neighbours with whom you can trade goods (and services). Our slice if paradise is too sandy for most gardening but many of our neighbours are cattlemen and others are grain farmers so I plan to source them for manure and straw for long-term soil amendment instead of giving money to chemical companies for their short-term fertilizers. Happy neighbourhood, happy local economy.
 
Gordon Shephard
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I find it curious that everyone is talking about eating stuff that requires a global food system.  Mangos?  Bananas?  How about learning to eat locally?  I mean REALLY locally.  Mangos won't grow?  How about persimmons?  (Ever seen a picture of persimmon trees in the snow?) Can't grow walnuts?  How about chestnuts?  (Did you know that chestnut trees once grew from the Mississippi to the east coast, from Georgia to Maine.  Did you know there has been  a 20+ year effort to breed a blight resistant American Chestnut?)  Wanna try some dandelion root coffee?  (Maybe it hasn't any cafeine, but it is hot, bitter and brown.) 

Hunter-gatherers ate from hundreds of different food sources.  The average western-culturally-deprived citizen eats, what, less than 50.  They also fattened up in the summer, and semi-starved in the winter (at least, in the colder northern climates). 

Blueberries?  How about saskatoons, or huckleberries.  Do you know how nutritious dandelion leaves are?  Ever leached and ate acorn meal?  Did you know that chia is a native of the western US.

Time to get out of the (packaged food) box!
 
Cd Greier
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Hunter-gatherers ate from hundreds of different food sources.  The average western-culturally-deprived citizen eats, what, less than 50.  They also fattened up in the summer, and semi-starved in the winter (at least, in the colder northern climates). 


Absolutely, Bryant and Gordon. My family had home-grown frozen vegetables and home-canned fruit most of the winter but my husband grew up eating "fresh" produce all year round so that's a bit of a problem. I plan to grow plenty of good "keepers" like root vegetables and squash when we can tend the garden regularly (we don't live on-site yet) and hopefully we'll compromise

As for varied diet, my dad grew up on deer they could hunt all year, potatoes, cabbage and a couple hundred jars of saskatoons (serviceberries) his mom put up every summer. (That was a family outing for them: G'pa, G'ma and nine kids out berry picking.) My mom was even more limited: fat-beef broth on Sundays and milk sauce (flade) all week.  They were too poor to even start a garden (!) and she said that in spring, the siblings foraged greens and ate them in the field like the goats. But they turned out to be the smartest, most resourceful people I know.

We all have to do what we can and make our way without the can'ts.
 
Mike Jay
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Gordon Shephard wrote:How about learning to eat locally?  I mean REALLY locally. 


I agree but I have limits that I can't easily overcome.  The only nut that is hardy here is hazelnuts and a few spotty butternuts.  I picked 50 gallons of hazelnuts in the husk this fall.  That's turning out to convert into 3.5 gallons of nuts in the shell which will develop into 3.5 quarts of nut meat.  I bet we'll eat through that in a month or two.  It took hours to collect and process those nuts and despite them being very local, there is no local source to purchase them.  I believe amending our diet with almonds and walnuts is nutritionally important so we have to import them.  I do have some butternut seedlings in the ground but it will be a while before they give a crop.

We can't grow coconuts but yet we use a lot of coconut oil.  Apparently it's good to keep dementia away (I can't remember why but that's what the missus tells me).  We use olive oil, ghee and butter as our other oils/fats.  We get butter (and thus ghee) locally but the others are not locally grown.  I could look into local sunflower oil but I haven't done that yet (my bad).  I could grow sunflowers and camelina and press them for oil but I'd need to create a field and make an oil press.  I could do that but it's not high on my priority list.

I'm all for eating locally and growing your own.  Moving everyone in that direction really is a great thing.  I don't want to discourage people who can only eat locally 25% of the time by saying that's not good enough. 
 
Todd Parr
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Gordon Shephard wrote:I find it curious that everyone is talking about eating stuff that requires a global food system.  Mangos?  Bananas?  How about learning to eat locally?  I mean REALLY locally.  Mangos won't grow?  How about persimmons?  (Ever seen a picture of persimmon trees in the snow?) Can't grow walnuts?  How about chestnuts?  (Did you know that chestnut trees once grew from the Mississippi to the east coast, from Georgia to Maine.  Did you know there has been  a 20+ year effort to breed a blight resistant American Chestnut?)  Wanna try some dandelion root coffee?  (Maybe it hasn't any cafeine, but it is hot, bitter and brown.) 

Hunter-gatherers ate from hundreds of different food sources.  The average western-culturally-deprived citizen eats, what, less than 50.  They also fattened up in the summer, and semi-starved in the winter (at least, in the colder northern climates). 

Blueberries?  How about saskatoons, or huckleberries.  Do you know how nutritious dandelion leaves are?  Ever leached and ate acorn meal?  Did you know that chia is a native of the western US.

Time to get out of the (packaged food) box!


Su Ba was asking why people don't grow their own _________.  A very good reason not to grow your own _____________ is not being able to due to the climate.  Most people on a permaculture forum are already on-board with the idea of eating locally I would think.  So what is your reason for not growing your own ________ ?
 
Marco Banks
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Gordon Shephard wrote:I find it curious that everyone is talking about eating stuff that requires a global food system.  Mangos?  Bananas?  How about learning to eat locally?


How far are you willing to go with that?  Where do you draw the "ring", outside of which you will not buy or consume any product that comes from there? 

For hunter-gatherers, they didn't consume anything that was outside of their walking range.  Yet they traded with people who were outside of their ring, perhaps for a tool, or salt, or some other entity that they couldn't readily hunt or gather.  Their ring of gathering was, at most, 50 square miles.  For the vast majority of their calories, it was more likely 5 square miles.

Once livestock were domesticated, the horse made it much easier to travel, and the "ring" got exponentially larger.  Now I can both gather for myself as well as trade with others in a much much larger ring.  How large does the ring become?  300 square mile?  Trading specialists made it their vocation to connect these rings, and currency (gold and silver) made the transactions much easier.  Buying with money commoditized the trade industry: now you could put a value on a tool or animal. 

Technology continued to widen the ring.  Sailing ships were built with greater and greater technological expertise, allowing people to push the ring out further and further, now across oceans.  Trading posts and the commerce specialists who ran them extended the range of the ring exponentially.  Now beaver pelts were traded for steel tools, the pelts becoming hats for European gentry, while the tools made life significantly easier for the user.  Guns, medicines, manufactured clothing made of cotton, wool or flax grown a thousand miles away . . . the ring got larger and larger.  Columbus sailed the ocean blue in pursuit of salt and pepper to satisfy the noble taste.  Along with this technology, the exploitation of people and natural resources crossed continents, but really, it was not much of a qualitative difference than what had been happening from the earliest civilizations that brought us "globalization"—the Greeks and the Romans.  Globalization has been with us for 4000 years.  This isn't a new thing.

The steam engine, the internal combustion engine, the airplane, and on and on it goes . . . till today, there is only one ring -- the globe.  If you want coffee grown on the other end of the world, Starbucks is more than willing to provide it for you.  For a price.  Globalization is the intensification and acceleration of interaction between people, nations, and commercial entities.  It is fueled by the transmission of goods, ideas and cultural values from one place to another.  It has been with us for 4000 years, but technology has enabled its widespread adaptation.  The very internet that you are reading this on is only its latest manifestation.

So, how tightly do you want to draw the circle?

Only eat fruit that is grown in your backyard?  Can I enjoy a banana if it's transported by horseback up the mountain to the village my people live in (where bananas will not grow), or is there some sort of rule that governs these things?  Can I eat dried fish, even if they are produced hundreds of miles away at the ocean that I may never see in my lifetime?

Should I only drink beverages that are native to my immediate environment, or can I have a big mug of coffee or a dainty cup of tea with my homegrown stoneground whole grain bread that I baked myself in my cob oven?  Or screw that --- I'll buy my loaf of bread at Panera and draw the ring just outside the drive-thu window.  My local Panera is less than a mile from my house.  Driving my Toyota Rav 4 (made in Japan), fueled by gas pumped from the north slope of Alaska, I promise to drive no further than the Panera. 

Is it cool to take a prescription drug manufactured in Ireland or Germany if it extends the quality and quantity of my years for another decade or two?  Or should I limit myself to the local apothecary who mixes up his magic potions in the kitchen sink?

I agree that there are all sorts of things that people could grow right in their back yard that are native to their environment and not only would provide them the calories they need for survival, but would also be restorative to the land.  But I like a stout cup of coffee and a bottle of red on occasion.  I grow my own greens but rely on others to provide for my dairy needs.  So where do you draw the ring, outside of which is "too far"?

Its my personal belief that permaculture is not at odds with the globalized world we live in, accepting the truth that we can do so much more locally, yet the economy and consumption patterns will never be reduced to the small ring that once governed our existence.  Permaculture is a glocal movement.  Both and. 
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Gordon Shephard wrote:I find it curious that everyone is talking about eating stuff that requires a global food system.  Mangos?  Bananas?  How about learning to eat locally?  I mean REALLY locally.  Mangos won't grow?  How about persimmons?  (Ever seen a picture of persimmon trees in the snow?) Can't grow walnuts?  How about chestnuts?  (Did you know that chestnut trees once grew from the Mississippi to the east coast, from Georgia to Maine.  Did you know there has been  a 20+ year effort to breed a blight resistant American Chestnut?)  Wanna try some dandelion root coffee?  (Maybe it hasn't any cafeine, but it is hot, bitter and brown.)  ....

I feel like you are right, but still ... I love bananas very much. I even thought of moving to a tropical climate to be able to grow my own tropical fruits. But ... at the moment that isn't possible. So that's one reason why ...
While living here I have another reason: my garden is not large enough to grow all I need for food. Moving to a larger piece of land also isn't possible (if I ever move, it will be to the tropical climate ... for more reasons than only growing tropical fruits )
 
Michael Jay Anthony
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agreed. this is why market gardening, at least under capitalism, can be more sustainable and efficient. growing a limitted diversity of produce focusing on things you like but also make money, rather than just things you like, can save you both time, money, and burden on the land. god bless those with the passion and patience to breed foods for different climates though. if you are doing this, props to you.
 
Skandi Rogers
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I'm in the would love to but won't catorgary, we have enough land to do it for two people, no need to get a cow, get a goat instead more than enough milk and doesn't need the space, no need to grow grains, grow potatos much less space and work (yes yes it's digging I know I work on a farm as well) Up here I can fairly easily grow everything needed to survive, we can turn out two broods of ducklings a year so that's a duck a week almost, the chickens produce more eggs than we can eat, and last year they were fed on potatos and random things. BUT and it's a big but, I'm not about to not have tomatos (greenhouse only crop), not have spices, no chocolate, no sugar (sugar beet would be possible but a lot of work) No bread. Look back in history at what the peasants were eating, it's horribly boring back to 1700's (in the UK for this) before then there were a lot more wild plants eaten and more variety, but again not in winter, then you are stuck for 6months of the year on root vegetables and the occasional cabbage.
Tree fruit here is apples, pears, plums and cherries, that is it We have planted a walnut, they do fruit here, but they take 10 years to get there, so going to be hungry for a while. Chestnuts do not manage, hazelnuts do.  While if everything went horribly wrong we would not starve here, it is not a diet I wish to have to eat.
 
Stacy Witscher
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I'm in the spot of I would like to know how to grow enough to survive, if need be. But, until then, I prefer to buy some things. Currently, I'm in a holding pattern. I live in the SF Bay Area suburbs, and plan to put the house on the market in the summer of 2019, when my youngest graduates college. I'm playing around with some new things to see how it goes, this year it's lentils. If I were planning on staying in the suburbs or were urban, I would concentrate on unusual and/or expensive crops, I've always said, think persimmons, not carrots.

Over the years, one of the things that has surprised me, is what a pain some commodity crops are vs. the less typical aka more pricey crops. Carrots are a pain, squash - super easy.

Some things I look for perennial substitutes. I don't grow green onions, chives work fine. Between lovage and celery root, I don't need celery.

I love chocolate, and would not like to live anywhere you can grow it. If I had to do without, so be it, but until then I will indulge.
 
Dado Scooter
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Location: San Martin, CA
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We are so spoiled having so many choices at the supermarket.  We are able to buy produce out of season and from different climates from us.  It is a choice.  We could live perfectly fine with what we grow on a homestead.  All the vegetables, along with egg laying poultry for meat and eggs, rabbits for meat, and maybe one is lucky enough to have a fishing hole nearby for fish, along with wildlife hunting.  Our ancestors did just that, and learned to preserve what they grew and gathered.  So it can be done.

I want to drink milk, but since I'm only one in the household, a dairy animal makes absolutely no sense even if I make butter and cheese from the excess.  Likewise having it as a beef animal... there is no way I could eat a cow or steer over the course of a year.  Same for a hog.  But I could and will eventually have chickens.  I plan to buy straight runs of several breeds and cull the roos for meat, keep a few pullets and sell the rest.   I might eventually also do rabbits.  The only thing holding me back on chickens and rabbits is building infrastructure for them.

I have mature black walnut and pecan trees on my property that produce nuts every year, but there is no way that I'm going to totally harvest what they give me because it is so time consuming.  I like eating fish but I have no fishing hole nearby.  I don't have a rice paddy, and I eat a lot of rice.  Not interested in growing and producing wheat, soy or flint corn, though I do consume them.  I might try growing some amaranth and/or quinoa, but haven't found those to be a stable part of my diet (yet).

I have planted citrus trees that aren't producing yet, as well as persimmon, apples, pears, apricot, peach, olive and cherry trees.   I have planted pretty productive blackberry and raspberry plants, but havent' been able to save most of the crop from stink bugs.  I barely got my fence done against my maurauding Aussie pup in time to plant late tomatoes, egg plants and pumpkins so I have some, but I could have put it out a couple of months earlier for better results.  I'm planting more apples and pomegranates this winter and will experiment with carob.  I found a good frost free microclimate sweet spot to plant avocado trees... just need to prep it for good drainage.  I even found a good spot for a banana plant, which apparently could grow in Zone 9b with protection. but I need to prep for that also.

The reality is that I'm retired so I have time to futz around.  There is no way I could have planted and tended to it while I was working full time.   That's just me, I know others have managed, but I enjoy spending time with my hayburner horses.  At least they produce fertilzier.   I could have been a lot more productive in food growing than I have been, but I feel that I'm doing more than most people about food production.  I feel that in bad times, I have the knowledge to be able to feed myself if I'm physically capable of doing so, which I am so far.  I wouldn't maybe have the variety of stuff to eat, but I could eat healthy good stuff.  I live in a somewhat agricultural area with cattle, goats, chickens, sheep all around me with other hobby farmers, so there is possiblity of barter. 
 
Gordon Shephard
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"Time is a commodity." 

I agree that my time has a value.  But, then, Jamie Dimon's time is worth a whole lot more than mine.  By that logic I should be out selling Consolidated Debt Obligations to pension funds instead of dinking around growing food.  I bet Jamie Dimon can afford to hire someone to wipe his butt for him when he poops.

I think that "self sufficiency" (aside from being impossible) is wrong headed.  I'd go for something more like "tribal sufficiency."  It is true that ten people each raising ten acres of wheat would be pretty inefficient -  ten people getting together to raise 100 acres of wheat cooperatively would be a lot more efficient, and 100 people getting together to raise 1000 acres of wheat could afford to buy their own (used) combine.  Of course, then, you'd have to trust the folks you are cooperating with - something that seems pretty difficult for folks these days.

For the mango and banana people, I forgot to mention pawpaws - a tropical (tasting) fruit that is native to these latitudes.
 
Travis Johnson
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We grow a lot of our own food simply because we are full-time farmers and have the time, equipment and know how too, but you will never hear me condemn others who do not as I know how tough it is.

Our biggest problem is not actually in growing the food itself, but rather preserving it. Here in Maine anyway, where we have a very short growing season, our food seems to come all at once. So harvesting it, then preserving it can be a challenge; time wise. Even then there are other issues. We have considered building a root cellar, but I know even in our cold mud room we have lost plenty of food to rot. I have known others who have lost a years worth of food from root cellar losses too.

I am not saying a persons own food should not be a goal, but I think for a lot of people, growing the food is the exciting part, but for us preserving what we grow is a bigger challenge.

When I think of my forefathers before me, that is what amazes me; food preservation. I have a book written by my Great-Uncle written in 1838 and he tells of a frost that hit which killed all their crops leaving them to near starvation for the winter...and that was just (1) early frost!!
 
Mick Fisch
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Marco, you hit the nail on the head.  Lots of reasons not to try to produce everything.  We tend to idealize the past, but there's usually a reason we (or our ancestors) left that situation.  The goal of permaculture (in my mind) is to do things in a sensible, long term, planned way for the benefit of both humans and the environment.  The question is, what is a benefit.

By our nature, most humans have an emotional and/or physical need to belong to a herd or a pack.  There's almost always some level of diversification of work and production within the group.  Different members of the group produce and supply different stuff.  At the minimum and most basic, men generally hunted and women gathered, old folks might watch kids while young mothers did something more physically demanding.  Nearby groups produced some excess stuff we like and we trade for it, some stuff comes from far away and if we value it enough and it's cheap enough, we trade for it.   This is the historical norm.  We (the pack) provide most of our needs, but we try to produce something to trade for stuff we either can't , or we would rather not produce for ourselves. There were few groups that weren't part of a trade network and that was usually because they were too isolated and/or they were so desperately poor that they didn't have anything anyone else wanted.  At one time we bartered, now we often use money.  Same principal.  We've just taken the principal to the extreme in our modern age.  The problem is that most virtues taken to extremes, can become vices.

If a group in the tropics produces extra luxury items like coffee or cinnamon and someone wants to take that and trade for something produced in abundance elsewhere like dried fish, salt or manufactured products, that benefits everyone.  The problem is when EVERYTHING, or something really essential, comes from far away, and/or the system is set up taking advantage of a non-renewable resource, then I see a problem.  In the best scenario, you have set up a system that will become more and more expensive as the non-renewable resource is used up.

A less positive scenario is the 'disaster' scenario.  Most folks I knew when I lived in Alaska had at least a few months food put aside, along with extra fuel and usually an alternate heat source.  There was a general awareness that we were on the end of a long supply line and that it could be cut.  War, natural disaster, plague, revolution, embargos, union strikes could all effect our supply lines.  We also knew that if things ever went really bad and it was a choice between taking care of Seattle, L.A. or Anchorage, well, Anchorage could go whistle.  I remember the first oil embargo in the 70's.  For material to go from one side of the world to the other, everything in between has to work.  As Scotty says in one of the Star Trek movies, after he has sabatoged another star ship's systems.  "The more complicated they make it, the easier it is to mess up the plumbing."  If it all goes down, even for a while, you need to be able to provide the essentials.

The biggest, problem I see with too much dependance on something coming from afar is a moral issue, with real world effects on everyone.  If you are really DEPENDANT on something supplied by someone else, you are like a junky.  You are, to at least some degree, under the control of your dealer.  If either of you realizes this, it tends to destroy the morals of both the dealer and the junky.  The dealer has an almost irrisistable temptation to put extra demands on the junky, (charge more, ask for favors).  The junky fears his 'fix' will be cut off and that fear will often force him to do immoral things to try to secure his 'fix', either by going along with his dealer or as a way of trying to bypass/replace the dealer.  An obvious example is the problems that have come because of the western worlds dependance on middle eastern oil.  Our dependance forces us to get involved with things we would really do better to stay away from, either at the demand of our dealer, or to try to control or replace our dealer.  This is not a good situation of anyone, as can be seen in our recent history.  If there was no oil in the middle east, how would that have changed our last hundred and especially our last 50 years.  If Russia didn't control the gas supplies for much of Europe, it might be better for both in the end.  (I'm not slamming Russia, anytime you have too much power over someone else, be it due to politics, military, social or economic reasons, the temptation to take advantage of it is almost irresistable for mere humans, this is a principal that works on both the macro and micro level).

Over time I've learned how to do a lot of things.  I continue to become more self sufficient and finding ways of producing, preserving and eating things I like.  Over time I will get more and more from my property or glean from the local area, but I'll probably never end up 100%, nor do I see a need to. 

I see the goal as being able to provide for myself and mine on my own property if I need to.  I only forsee this happening either in a fairly short term emergency or as a means to maintain my independance from what I view as immoral demands put upon me.

The problem is, I'm spoiled.  I grew up eating things from all over, and while my goal is to become more and more a localavore, I don't really want to get too strict about it if I don't need to.  Man does not live by bread alone.... he also needs some jam to flavor it.  I figure the 'extras' are the things I'm willing to trade for.  I could give up salt and pepper if I had to, but I would do it with all the willingness of a cat being drug across the carpet by it's tail.  If someone else wants to go there, fine," it's just not my thing, man".

I've eaten some truly horrific traditional foods , I believe some were developed mainly from the overwhelming needed to eat "something different".  I grew up in Alaska.  Lots of folks I grew up there who aren't real enthuesiastic about salmon because they ate too much of it growing up.  Imagine salmon for six months straight.  I had a buddy who's family lived off salmon pretty much exclusively for 2 years because his father was injured and couldn't work.  He would get this weird look on his face if he thought salmon was on the menu and declare, "I'm not feeling well today, I'm going to skip this meal."

Reminds me of the dumb old joke about a guy who pulls a gun on another guy and forces him to drink rotgut whiskey, then he hands the gun to his victim and says "Here, now you make me take a drink."  The joke being that the stuff is so nasty that no one would willingly drink it.

As Bryant noted, a really self sufficient lifestyle IS a full time job.  My uncle told me one time, talking about his childhood in rural arizona with a wistful, reminiscent look in his eye.  "We didn't have much.  Most folks were living in tar paper shanties on 40 acre farms.  We worked from before dawn till dark, or beyond.  Most of the time all we had to eat was milk gravy and bread, but were we happy?"  At this point he paused dramatically, looked me sternly in the eye and announced "Hell no, we weren't happy!  That's why we got out of that situation as quick as we could!"  

We each want to live the best life we can, and as far as I can see, permaculture is a major part of it, but each person will have a slightly different balance that he/she finds fits their situation best.





 
Elizabeth Van Pelt
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Su Ba wrote:While I wish to grow most of my own food and plants, there are times where I can't or choose not to. I was chatting the other day with a person who was adamant that everyone should grow their own.

One reason I don't grow my own blueberries or walnuts is simply that I'm in the wrong climate zone.


Everyone should? No. "Everyone should" mind their own business, and not be telling other folks what they need to do. Advise and ideas, great, Pressure to conform to someone else's ideal?, No.

What you grow, and how much is no ones' business but yours. Me? I grow a lot of my own fruits, nuts and vegetables because I want to. I would never dream of telling others that my way is the only way. We all have different needs, wants and capabilities.

I believe in societal rules for health and safety, but there is no way I'm going to let someone tell me what I should and shouldn't be growing in my yard (OK, so yeah, I listen to the Ag Dept, and don't grow invasives/disease carriers, but ya know, that health and safety thing...).
 
Marco Banks
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Mick Fisch wrote:My uncle told me one time, "We didn't have much . . . but were we happy?" 

"Hell no, we weren't happy!  That's why we got out of that situation as quick as we could!"  


That's the bottom line for a huge majority of the rural poor around the world.  Permaculture offers a better way of life and greater food security.  But if they could, they would move to the city and work a job that didn't require them to be so tied to the whims of weather and other occupational hazards of living completely dependent upon the rocky soil they farm.  Frankly, I don't blame them.
 
Wes Hunter
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Marco Banks wrote:That's the bottom line for a huge majority of the rural poor around the world.  Permaculture offers a better way of life and greater food security.  But if they could, they would move to the city and work a job that didn't require them to be so tied to the whims of weather and other occupational hazards of living completely dependent upon the rocky soil they farm.  Frankly, I don't blame them.


This seems like a rather bold statement, and I'm wondering how it can so easily be claimed what a "huge majority" of a certain (rather large) group want.

By American standards, at least, I am a member of the "rural poor."  And I love it, and would never trade it for more money and a so-called easier life in a city.  I know I'm not alone, but perhaps I am a small minority after all.

Not everyone who lacks cash wants it.  Not everyone who lives a hard life wants an 'easy' one.  Hard work is not always drudgery. 

I'm thinking, for example, of the individuals highlighted in the Foxfire book series.  Many (most?) of them lived on hardscrabble rocky farms, and they had to work hard.  They had to deal with crop failures, predators, livestock disease, and any number of things.  But they seemed to genuinely enjoy their lives.  I'm thinking, too, of the hoards of back-to-the-land-ers who have decidedly gone in the other direction, realizing they'd rather take their chances on a rocky farm than deal with everything that comes from the "easy life" in a city.  Maybe that's invalid, being a too America-centric view, but I suspect that people across the world are probably more alike than different.

There is no denying that there are great stressors involved in living rurally, and probably more so when extra cash is hard to come by, whether or not one actually lives from the land.  But there is great freedom and enjoyment as well.  And of course, one does not escape stress and difficulty by escaping a rural situation; one only trades one set of stressors for another.
 
William James
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Cd Greier wrote:Another reason not to produce everything yourself is having neighbours with whom you can trade goods (and services).


Exactly. I truly do not believe that people were made to be self-reliant on some basic level. We are social animals, we need other people, period.

So while the pitfalls and realities of not being able to produce everything for yourself, perhaps we should be asking why we are assuming people should aspire to being Robert Redford in a bad imitation of a backwoods do-everything-for-yourself Jeremiah Johnson?

Traditional cultures banded together and were able to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves. Individuals were never expected to be able to "do it all" and it really says something about us that we even want that brand of dis-attachment, but I digress...

And yes, as others have said, we want or "need" things beyond self-sufficiency and we'll gleefully wait until the shit hits the proverbial fan before we ever try to figure things out, by which time it will most likely be too late most of us reading.

So, if your at all interested in the concept of "growing your own" whatever, you should really start at the root, which is being a part of a functioning and supportive tribe that figures out most of this stuff for you.
In this new scenario, all you're expected to do is play the part you need to play to be a part of that community.

-William
 
C. Letellier
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Point to remember is that even if we don't grow all our own food the closer we are to that point the better our ability to ride out problems.  If we have trees planted now or garden ground fenced and ready even if we are not using all of it we are better prepared into the future.

Thing is this is all about balance and wise use of our resources.  Maybe it is Building a home and going passive solar so we don't need that 10 cords of wood a year.  Maybe it is building a combination of swales and hugelkulture so we can grow a bit of garden in a desert.  There is no one right answer or set of answers.

As for time and energy being limited can you trade your other resources to get what you need.  It might be trading garden space with a young family that can't afford it.  It might be your twenty year old apple trees that you are trading part of the crop for picking the whole crop. 

Another piece of this is designing everything for the long haul to save labor over the long.  Plan now for what you will need when you are old and gray.(or older and grayer)  In many ways we have more knowledge to work with than any previous generation so we should be able to do things smarter.  And don't forget automation.  While it may not be truly permaculture things like drip irrigation making better use of water combined with automatic watering can save some of that labor.
 
The moustache of a titan! The ad of a flea:
Permaculture Playing Cards by Paul Wheaton and Alexander Ojeda
https://permies.com/wiki/57503/digital-market/digital-market/Permaculture-Playing-Cards-Paul-Wheaton
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