Daily Archives: January 6, 2011

The Theory and Practice of Self-reliance

The dictionary definition of “homesteading” harkens from pioneer days and the acquisition of land, usually from the government, on which to build a “homestead.” Back 150 years or so, if you didn’t live in the (much fewer and smaller) cities, you farmed crops and raised animals, first for your family’s food and comfort, and with luck, something extra to trade for the things you couldn’t raise, grow or make on your own.

Homesteading has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, and many in the American Outback are able to practice something close to the pure version of the art as reflected in the dictionary.

That’s certainly a worthy goal as far as I’m concerned. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.

As of 2008, about 82% of America’s 310 million people lived in cities and suburbs. Most of the people I know and interact with on a regular basis live in or near the vast suburban belts of Houston, Texas, or in Houston itself. I write for them, and for their counterparts in and around the other big cities of the South, and for myself. It’s hard to homestead, or to achieve anything close to the self-reliant spirit of homesteading, from the sterile homeowner-association-controlled master-planned confines of southern suburbia. I find it more difficult than it should be even to homestead here, on close to an acre in an older semi-rural area of tiny Richmond, Texas.

But it’s possible. And it’s fun, and somewhat satisfying, to try.

I write a lot about gardening and growing fruit trees, because those are among the easiest steps suburbanites can take toward providing for themselves. But not the only steps; the key to success, I believe, is to focus on self-reliance.

My belief in the need to learn to be more self-reliant springs from a theory I have which, coincidentally, is based in part upon the factors that led to the world in general and America in specific to morph from a rural to an urban society:

In the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century, the second round of the Industrial Revolution provided new jobs with wages high enough to woo a lot of people away from the country. Cities built up around the steel mills and other heavy industry of the Northeast. These workers made more cash than in the past, but everything else had to be provided for them – shelter, food, transportation. Thus were the underpinnings of an American consumer class cemented into place. Layers of service industries sprung up to provide things that the new workers couldn’t provide for themselves. Some of these services – legal, financial, cosmetic, communications, fast food – past generations would have considered useless. Yet here they were, providing not only services, but more new jobs, also with wages at least high enough to woo the boy away from the family farm. Continue reading »

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