Thoughts on country living and sustainability

During July, we put in a good bit of drive time in rural Missouri, driving back and forth to camp. One thing that stood out to Jonathan and I is that there are many people who live in rural areas just for the scenery, for the space, or for the feel of country living. And to be honest, ten years ago, when we were longing to move out of our little Kansas town of 1,100 people to a place in the country (yes, that was right before God moved us to a town house in South County StL), those were the reasons for our longing. So I’m not judgemental about folks who live in the country just for the space, but these days when I see multitudes of homes in rural areas with no evidence of efforts at self-sufficiency, it concerns me.

When I was growing up, we spent every summer going from Bible camp to Bible camp. Papa spoke, Mama often cooked, and Eric and I had a ball. It was an absolutely wonderful way to grow up and I am more thankful than I can express for those summers of learning, growing, making friends, serving, and having a fabulous time. (Thanks, Papa and Mama!)

There were activities that would not fit into our travelling summers. One was gardening. We had friends with gardens, and I viewed them as nifty but rather unattainable accomplishments. When I realized that a dear friend of mine loved the process of gardening, even when we were in high school/college, I thought she was a bit nuts. Another thing that our travelling and suburban location precluded was the care of “producing” animals. So, while I’ve always loved the country and have wanted for years to live “out-of-town,” I had no reference point for (and hence, no dreams of) sustainability/self-sufficiency.

Several years ago, we got to know a couple who had made some very deliberate choices toward a simple life. I think that their lifestyle is what began to open my mind to the benefits of living simply and becoming producers of some of the basics in life.

Likely as a result of our interactions with these friends, I began to read more about simple living and self-sufficiency, and one writer in particular made an impact on my thinking. Unfortunately, I don’t recall his name or website, which was full of practical tips for sustainable living, but one principle he shared has stuck with me and impacted our pursuits. He encouraged folks to make small do-able steps toward becoming more self-sufficient, because the tendency is to jump in with both feet… and then burn out. Instead of burning out, he said to find something small that you know you can handle, then build on it. That bit of advice has served us well.

Over the last five years, we’ve made quite a few baby steps and learned a great deal, as you’ve “witnessed” if you’ve been reading my blog for a while. Moving to our current location allowed for several larger steps that would have been too overwhelming without the preceding baby steps – a large (to us) heirloom garden, a variety of fowl, etc.

We want to continue to learn through experience about self-sufficient practices for a variety of reasons. We desire to:
~ Be better stewards of what God has given
~ Work together as a family more (cost of living down, more time as a family)
~ Live a less hectic lifestyle
~ More directly see the fruits of our labour; teach our children to enjoy the fruits of their labour
~ Gain a greater understanding of God’s creation and His plan in creation
~ Develop in ourselves and our children a clearer picture of personal responsibility
~ Have the ability to be a benefit to others instead of a drain, especially in time of crisis
~ Be prepared – The sky *is* falling

I’m not going to go into that last point much, but we do believe that things are going to get ugly here in the U.S. before long. If that thought is shocking to you, you need to do some reading (let me know if you want some suggestions). If it turns out that we’re wrong, we will have only benefitted (see above) from the pursuit of simplicity, sustainability, and self-sufficiency. We pray that those around us will benefit as well.

I do not intend in any way to sound like we have sustainable living figured out! We have a long way to go and much to learn. Sometimes I feel like we are such “newbies” to this, and compared to some, we are. But when I look at where we were five years ago, I’m thankful we began to take baby steps.

Whether you live in the city or out in the country, we’d like to encourage you to find some do-able step that you can take toward providing for some of your needs “on site.” Many cities allow backyard hens; square foot or container gardening is a workable option even in small spaces, etc. Consider what baby steps you can take!

So, what do you think?

P.S. – Mid September is the beginning of garlic-planting season. We’re planning to try it for the first time. Want to join us?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. smithlaurel
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 16:13:53

    3 comments I’m bringing over from blogspot (posted after my last import):

    Tracy Crowe Jones said…
    Mark Bittman, cook and author of the cookbook How to Cook Everything has a new book out on sustainable eating. It’s called Food Matters. You might want to check it out from the library. The first part is more of a book book and the second part are recipes.

    P.S. I’ve missed you bunches. My life has been so excessively crazy, but I see a light at the end of this very long maze.
    8/23/2010 4:06 PM

    Laurel said…
    Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds very interesting and I’ve already gotten myself on the reserve list at the library.

    I miss you, too! I hope we can get together soon. I considered a last minute dash to come to the Locust Day festivities, but we’re still fighting this virus and are continuing to quarantine ourselves. 🙂
    8/23/2010 7:20 PM

    Laurie said…
    Sweet Laurel-
    You wrote of specific dreams/goals/desires etc. that I’m rejoicing in for your family! They are similar to ones I’d held for so long- then when they were becoming real I had to let go. We moved out to 45 acres (finally) to be more “self-sustaining” and in the first year there, I was on a hill doing some landscape work and thought the Kansas winds were messing with my balance and strength! Later, more strange symptoms, a friend mentioning a likeness to her sister’s MS, a book checked out and read noting symptoms that I could check-mark as having, led to appointments with a few doctors and a diagnosis of MS!

    The mind of man plans his way,
    But the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

    Oh the bitter and disappointed tears I have shed at the death of MY dream!
    Pre-multiple sclerosis, I’d have been right with you! Things are different now…. This “ giving up the agrarian dream and ideal” is part of the grief I’ve experienced and at times it has been difficult to swallow.
    We built a one-level more handicap accessible home in town and moved away from the hilly 45 acres with the unbuilt, but planned and imagined barn on the north, backed into a protective hedge and opening to the shaded south toward the pond. The garden would have been closer to the house on the east, close to the garden shed I’d also built in my dreams. Everything close at hand: Shovels, spades, hoes, a place for rich potting soil and a place to start seeds. Mike thought a small greenhouse would be just the thing. I imagined trails through the property and as we explored I figured the best courses taken over and over would help decide the paths. I looked for the right tree envisioning a tree house project for hoped-for future grandchildren. Steps were built from the deck to the walk-out basement where the garden would be, steps that toward the end of our time there, I could not safely use. The hikes in the pasture were gone too. (Now my own steps are sometimes truly like “baby steps” as I falter or fall!)
    I don’t want pity! It is what it is in God’s hands for His glory and my good! I’m rejoicing with you and can celebrate these things without taking part full-scale! I simply wanted to share a perspective and say, “Praise God for His good gifts!”
    You ask good questions and bring up concerns that call for faith and balance.
    Press on in God-sustaining mercy and grace!
    I simply enjoy your family’s adventures! Blessings!
    8/27/2010 1:38 PM


  2. smithlaurel
    Aug 29, 2010 @ 16:19:15

    Oh Laurie,
    Thank you for being willing to share some of your journey. His plans are so often not our plans, often heart-breakingly so. But He is good and His love endures forever. Thank you for your open heart.


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