Sue's Sustainability Blog

Some of you may know, I recently bought a small piece of property with what was a tiny vacation cabin that needs a LOT of work, building site for a home, pasture and a small barn. This is the first homestead I’ve actually owned by myself. I’m surrounded by apple and blueberry orchards. Actually my property was once an orchard itself. When I say small, I mean 3 acres, with the possibility of buying eleven acres of adjoining pasture/orchard and a caretaker’s cottage in the near future. Plenty for me. Now begins the long journey again, hopefully for the last time, to make a permanent homestead ‘for the duration’.. Live like I wont notice when ‘something’ happens…

Amid my overgrown honeysuckle and blackberry brambles (the true invaders of the South), there lies the great bone structure of a promising homestead. A roof, although small, that doesn’t leak . I have a water source, in addition to rainwater from the house and barn roofs for the animals and outdoor use. A pond stocked with brim, bass and catfish, which borders my property. A double dead-end road so that very few people know I even exist back here. I’m on a knoll with a lovely view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, that gets enough wind to keep a nice windmill going steadily, the project for this winter. Deer cross my yard on their way from the pines to the pond. Plenty of organic protein! The bear that a distant neighbor told me about, hasn’t shown up. So its just me and forty chickens, and soon to be a couple of goats, the true multipurpose homesteading animal. And the rabbit hutch when I can get it done.

So.. in this process of making this place livable, I wont get a garden put in this year but will spend a tremendous amount of time getting it ready for next year. Ok maybe a small one this year with the essential half dozen tomato plants and a zucchini and cucumber for lunch. Luckily I over-canned and dehydrated last year. But I’ve missed my fresh greens. Spring onions. Brussel Sprouts. Cabbage and cole crops. Squash and pumpkins. It takes time to get things going. There hasn’t been much of a garden here before me, so amending this flat soil is top priority in order to have a good harvest from next year’s garden. In goes a big compost pile very soon. Grass that is currently knee deep (who am I kidding, its almost waist high), will hopefully be cut down very soon to fill it. I purposely let it seed so the chickens again can help me take care of that, both for food and for bedding. That area will then be and tilled/layered with leaves and compost with some of the chickens in a mini chicken tractor over the beds. Ants are everywhere along with other creepy crawlies, for which the chickens are grateful and I’m grateful to them for built-in pest control! I have about fifteen apple trees that were in full bloom, and now have one inch sized apples on them. Its too late to prune them for a better harvest, so that will have to wait til winter. There should be plenty for me, just no extras. I wont get grape vines or muscadines in yet, although there’s a really nice stand of blackberries over to one corner that will be staked after the berries are picked. Cant stake them now for risk of knocking the blooms off and ruining the harvest, so I’ll have to ramble thru the brambles. So my fruit for this winter will be limited to blackberries and apples unless I barter at the farmer’s market, culling tomatoes and other fruits for a friend who runs a booth, in exchange for what I will can and dehydrate. This year I’ll take a lot of his soft and barely spoiled produce for my compost pile and let the chickens play in it. Already have nectarines, pecans and hardy kiwi planned for the orchard area near the blackberries.

Even though I”ve been prepping, sustaining and ‘putting by’ since I was a child, I’m at a new beginning and it definitely is a lot of work. I worry when I hear folks talk about how ‘someday they’ll start’. Someday never seems to get here because there’s a new bill to pay, or they want a new car this year, or there’s a vacation to take, or the kids are starting a new after school activity that takes all the extra money, and so forth. Its hard to get people like that to understand what challenges you and I are facing as we try to build a life now while things are plentiful so we can survive and sustain a disaster. It takes time to get a garden ready to the point of supporting a family. Sometimes years. Animals need tending now, and they need food in order to help feed the family and provide services like bug killing and fertilizing the garden. Other needs, even minimal, take time to prepare for. My windmill, for example. The expense of getting it will be worth it to pump water from the well and supply me with electricity. But it doesn’t happen overnight. Luckily it will only take one pair of domesticated rabbits to get me started again with the hutch and harvesting, because I have the knowledge to put it into practice. They are easy to find now. If I was just starting this process after TSHTF, it might not be so easy and would probably be a lot more expensive.

Never take for granted the things you are doing, the plans you are making and the joy of being able to sustain your family. Its worth every moment and every penny.

Suzanne, Single Prepper and Survivalist.
Motivation for Prepping and Sustainability

I was talking with a coworker, she was making a shopping list for the store. She'd call out the ingredients for a dish, and list what she had to buy for it. I would say, 'Oh I dehydrated that'... 'well I canned that earlier this year'... 'I grew that so I don't have to buy it, got plenty'... 'no I don't buy eggs, I have them on the farm'. She finally said in a rather exasperated voice, 'Wow, what DO you buy at the grocery store??' I said, 'Well I guess I still buy milk when I cant get it raw (its illegal in my state and I have to drive 45 miles to get it for cheese), right now I buy pasta and flour because I didn’t have room to grow grain it this year, but will next year, and some vegetables I cant grow like avocados and bananas. That's about it.'

She was almost irritated that my grocery bill was in the tens of dollars, while hers was well over $100 just for this list. She says she doesnt have time to do any of 'that stuff' (canning, pickling, drying, gardening) and would rather just make a trip to the store. But she loves it when I bring in fresh snacks from the garden. Oh, and she's picking up medicines while at the grocery store. I'm on no meds whatsoever, my food is my medicine.

I keep the sustainability aspect in mind when I make my ‘preps’. Although I do have some long term storage foods for emergencies etc, most of my preps are sustainable foods. I know what my sources are. I know where my food comes from. I know what’s in it, how old it is, and how it was prepared. I prep and store what we like, with the variety that my family will eat. And most importantly, I know where and how to get more. A year’s supply of food is great, but you’ll be right back to square one on that 366th day, if you cant replace it or regrow it.

Tonight, for supper I’m making stew. I had the butcher to cut some of my soup bones into 3” pieces so that the marrow can be simmered out of the bone, and he leaves on a good hunk of beef. I added dehydrated mushrooms that I find growing nearby, dehydrated broccoli from the garden, and dehydrated celery that I got when it was on sale half price at last fall. Dried corn that my dad grew, I’ll grind some for corn meal and grits as needed and some for stews like tonight. I had a few tomatoes left from the garden that I wanted to dry for tomato powder, so I hand squeezed those to remove some of the liquid before placing the slices on my dehydrator trays. I browned the meat and bones, then let it simmer all afternoon in the tomato broth. I just added the dried vegetables and fresh carrots, cloves of garlic, and a couple chopped Tabasco and cayenne peppers (again, from the garden) and it will simmer for about another hour. Herbs from my herb garden and window sill, most for which I traded with other herb enthusiasts in the area. No packets of spices from the store. No seasoning in a jar. No cans of limp mushy vegetables. The house smells wonderful. And with a little rice and some baked pears, this healthy, vitamin and mineral rich meal cost me about a dollar per serving, max. And I didn’t have to go to the store!

That's motivation
By now you’ve probably seen the TV shows, heard stories about underground bunkers, 30 year buckets of wheat, saw a few ads for water filters, seen some wild-eyed gun-wielding ‘survivalists’ who ‘headed for the hills’ to sit and wait for a nuclear war to break out. Seems the media takes the most ‘out-there’ folks they could possibly find, to list all their supplies and what they plan on doing with them. But how many of us look at those folks and just shake our heads sadly?

Men seem to jump on this Prepper bandwagon more quickly than women. Maybe it’s a ‘man thing’, what with all the guns, knives, tools, gadgets, etc. Maybe it’s the provider instinct in men that lends itself more to prepping. Women do seem less inclined to be Preppers, maybe because it means the security we crave and visualize, might be compromised somehow?

I am a Sustainer. I rarely use the term ‘Prepper’ to describe myself. Maybe this is why ‘Sustainer’ fits me better. I am a single mid 40’s woman with grown children and parents who are still healthy enough to live a viable productive life. My parents raised four children on a modest salary, along with a varying yard full of dogs, cats, rabbits, and gardens. And more gardens. My goodness, there were always gardens! So much food in the summertime, all through the fall. I remember being about eight years old with a chair pulled up to the sink, peeling blanched tomatoes for my mom to can, jar after jar of tomatoes for soup and stews with okra, corn, cabbage, whatever sounded good and ‘came in’ at the same time the tomatoes were ready. Sitting on the front porch with a lonely elderly neighbor who would very slowly walk the path to our house to come watch us kids play and eventually stay for supper and break bushels of beans. Sometimes Daddy would pick a couple bushels of beans before he went to work, and she would be there in the afternoon, stringing beans without even asking if it needed to be done. She would string and I would break the beans, and listen to stories about ‘hard times’. Daddy always ‘killed a cow and a pig’ every year. The local commercial cattle farmer/butcher had special deals for neighbors, pay monthly installments for whatever amount of meat you wanted come butchering time. This made it easier on the customers to have good meat and also helped him run his farm. Two freezers full of beef and pork kept us fed all year long. Kitchen and pantry shelves groaning with the weight of canned staples and dried goods and home canned items that found their way to the table at every meal. Learning to take simple ingredients Mom always stocked, and make really good meals from it. This is my idea of sustainability. This is my idea of ‘prepping’.

Being able to sustain myself is just a way of life for me. For my parents, it was a necessity for a large family. But growing up in that environment instilled a sense of preparedness, of being responsible for my own needs as well as the needs of others in my closest circle. We pulled together. We worked together. And we shared the benefits of that work. Of course we grumbled a little when it came time to pull weeds. Or pick beans. But we sure enjoyed those fresh meals at suppertime.

There is a simple satisfaction in knowing my pantry is full and my meals will be healthy and delicious. Of not having to stop in the middle of cooking to run to the store to get an ingredient. There’s also a satisfaction in knowing what is on my shelf, knowing where it came from, and also knowing that I will be able to replenish that item in the near future as I need to.

I plan my gardens for recipes like red salsa, salsa verde and tomato soups by growing lots of tomatoes, tomatillas, onions, carrots, celery, and herbs. Corn and tomato soup and tomato and cabbage soup are my favorites, so there is definitely room for all of those as well. Fruit trees and vines as well as vegetables for variety. I tried growing cowpeas and black eye peas for the first time this year, because I eat a lot of beans for protein. I’d always bought dried beans and didn’t think much about where they came from. I was doing something good by buying in bulk, which meant I was saving money. Then it hit me that a commercial source is not sustainable. And even though bulk is cheaper than grocery store prices, it was more expensive than growing them myself. Not counting the initial expense of starting a garden and getting soil beds ready, it only cost me the price of one pound of beans to have a year’s supply of beans that I grew myself. Any food in my garden is heirloom and sustainable. I plan on making garden beds for oats and grains next year, so that my breads and pasta will be sustainable. I have chickens for eggs. My next venture is rabbits for meat and a joint venture with a local grower for beef, since I don’t have space for a cow and I don’t use that much milk. Stevia grows in my yard for sweetener. Bees are on the list, not only for honey, but to pollinate my garden. And on it goes….

As I shelled my dried ‘seed beans’ this morning for next year’s crop, I coudn’t help but smile. That one pound of bean seed I invested in earlier this spring, with a little care, will feed me for the rest of my life. And I can share the seeds and produce with others too. My sustainability is always evolving and adapting. Sustaining means planning ahead. Prepping means planning ahead. Sustainability and prepping are security to me. It’s a quiet life, simple and efficient. And I’m happy and much less burdened because of it.

Suzanne is a native southerner, homesteader and sustainer with a desire to show others how to simplify and live a more sustainable life.