by Christine Patton
Growing up in America, my generation was taught that any and every need could be met by a particular product or service, all of which were just waiting to be purchased. To afford these purchases as part of a “lifestyle,” the proper career path for middle class people was to attend college, learn an intricately detailed specialization in order to make a salary, and buy whatever we might need or desire, from childcare to lawn services to fast food to psychiatric services.
While specialization can certainly make economic sense, the pendulum swung too far. We grew up to be thoroughly knowledgeable in a very narrow field, yet helpless and unempowered in every other walk of life, at the mercy of a cheap-energy growth economy supported by underpaid or slave labor and ongoing environmental destruction. While we grew up believing that having the money to purchase all of our needs equaled independence, many of us have learned that we’ve inherited a thinly-disguised dependence on the vast, complicated systems needed to support us.
In order to reclaim skills once lost, regain a sense of control over the process of your life, and withdraw your support from the often-immoral, often-unsatisfying industrial economy, consider becoming a producer of the things you want and need – in your home, your garage, your workshop and your garden.
If you’d like to produce a few things of your own, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Gardening and Farming
Grow your own food! From peaches to tomatoes, some things just taste better when home-grown. And when you can measure the age of your produce in minutes rather than weeks, you are sure to retain more nutrition. Not only that, but you can grow your food organically for cheaper than Whole Foods prices, while forgoing the wasted packaging that comes with commercially-purchased products.
You don’t have to move to the country to start growing plants. A few semi-dwarf fruit trees in your yard can yield you hundreds of pounds of fruit. And once you become a gardener, you’ll also gain automatic entrance to a community that loves to talk about plants, soil, weather…while slipping each other some canned peaches and fresh chard.
2. Growing Medicinal Herbs
Western medicine and pharmaceutical companies depend on a distributed, just-in-time supply chain with manufacturing facilities around the world, along with an insurance industry dependent on denying care in order to increase profits. Many pharmaceuticals have never proven to be better than placebos, and are often laced with under-communicated side effects. Alternatively, many herbs have been shown to be highly effective in treating problems and supporting health. Consider learning how to grow and preserve the medicinal plants that do well in your climate. Yet don’t make the mistake of believing that all ‘natural’ drugs are harmless – consider the toxic effects of nightshade, hemlock and yew, for instance.
3. Home brewing
Brewing your own wine, beer, or cider makes sense because you can save some money, learn a skill, create a superior unique product, all while helping the environment. If you brew your own, you can reuse the same bottles over and over while not needing to spend gas and carbon transporting the full weight of the liquid. You can start with commercial brewing kits while learning how to grow hops, grapes, grain, and other raw materials for your brew.
4. Preserving food – freezing, canning, dehydrating, pickling
You don’t have to purchase industrial jam and sugar-laden dried fruit – you can preserve ingredients purchased in-season, picked at the height of flavor, from local farmers who use ethical and sustainable methods to grow food. You can start small with the excess from your garden, with vegetables like home-grown tomatoes, or with your favorite fruits and vegetables like peaches and blackberries.
5. Cooking & Baking
The decline of the home-cooked meal is a sad byproduct of the specialty age, a lack of cooking skills, two-income families with over-scheduled children, and a plethora of cheap and easy alternatives such as fast food and frozen meals. As a result, child nutrition and health have withered along with family connectedness and communication.
Yet cooking a simple, nutritious meal is no harder than driving to a fast food outlet. With practice, that is. If whole foods are unfamiliar, start with easy stuff. If fresh foods seem expensive, try cutting down the meat, or grow a few pots of herbs and a cherry tomato plant. Save money, improve your health, and hang out with the family while you cook -or while the kids cook. If you have to pick just one, this might be the place to start.
6. Health services
So-called “alternative” medicines are usually practices that have been in use for thousands of years, and need little energy, materials, or infrastructure. These types of health-supporting modalities include massage therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, mindfulness meditation and physical therapy. If you have the time and ability to learn these healing arts, they can easily be practiced in a spare room of your home. Not only can these skills benefit you and your family, but they can be an income source when many “jobs” are gone.
7. Small crafts
Whether you make trellises from grapevines, sew clothes, craft soaps and candles, weld tools and frames, or build custom carpentry, you can make your workshop work for you. Consider adding simple, repairable hand tools to your arsenal of complex, battery powered tools, and think about finding local sources for your materials.
8. Repair work
Sewing and mending, re-upholstering, shoe repair, fixing bikes and small appliances. Repair work will be a growth industry, as we turn from a throw-away to a fix-it economy. When it becomes more expensive to purchase, or unreliable to find, new products, repair work will return to being a profitable profession.
9. Garden support
Plenty of gardeners don’t know how to save seeds, grow transplants or plant a garden. There is money to be made in providing seeds, transplants, compost and fertilizer to gardeners, along with consulting services such as permaculture design and labor services like constructing raised beds.
10. Small livestock
Bees, chickens, ducks and rabbits provide a plethora of benefits to your home ecosystem. Aside from the obvious edible products of honey, meat and eggs, small livestock can consume scraps, patrol for insects, provide pollination, and produce fertilizer. And if you don’t want to eat them, they make fun (and educational) pets.
So choose your favorites, and get started on an adventure! Each skill will have a learning curve, and you may not have success at every turn. Don’t be afraid of failure – occasional mistakes are better than the alternative of forever continuing to consume, consume, consume.