Amish country is one of my favorite family day trips. I absolutely love seeing their big, beautiful market gardens, their Clydesdales working in the fields and the family-run stores dotting the landscape. What I admire most about the Amish is their culture of production rather than consumption. I love that they build their own homes, sew their own clothes, educate their own children, grow their own food. It’s hard to imagine, but only a few generations ago, America largely resembled the Amish in many respects. We were a nation of producers.
America’s economy for its first 200-300 years was largely based on tangible, useful items produced in family-owned small businesses. Yes, there were a few giant corporations out there but in large, skills were specialized, handed down and produced goods that provided fair livings. Businesses aside, homes were in the business of production too. Families utilized skills to produce what they needed and sold and traded within their community to other families producing other goods. Even the smallest city homes frequently had chicken coops, small gardens, and made income by selling handmade items or providing services such as sewing. Man alive, how different we live now! Even if we can’t go back to the days of family businesses and localized trading, we CAN shift the emphasis of our own family’s culture from consumption to production…and we can get started TODAY! Here are 8 simple things you can do to become a producer!
- Raise your own food. This can be as simple as a patio garden or as elaborate as large raised beds, fruit trees, berry bushes and raising livestock. You don’t have to grow acres and acres of crops in order for raising food to be worth your while. It’s possible to grow herbs, lettuces and greens in planters 8 months or more a year and their taste is incomparable to anything you’ll find at the grocery store.
- Learn to cook from scratch. I know this is a more difficult idea for many people, but think baby steps. Can you use fresh veggies instead of canned? Can you attempt a loaf of bread, a pie or a batch of biscuits instead of buying them from Walmart? Maybe try your hand at homemade condiments and salad dressings? Just think simple; it doesn’t have to be fancy!
- Make your own cleaning supplies. Vinegar, essential oils and baking soda are very effective cleaners, both non-toxic and inexpensive. Give it a try!
- Learn to fish. You know the old saying…if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day….but I want you to eat for a lifetime! It doesn’t take much equipment or skill to catch a fish, but it can enable you to provide your family with fresh, non-farmed protein that’s practically free after the initial investment in a fishing pole.
- If you’ve learned to garden, try your hand at seed saving. When you begin to practice seed-to-seed gardening, you effectively close the consumption loop. It’s entirely possible that you’ll never have to buy seed or plants again and that’s a valuable goal to pursue!
- Learn food preservation. Again, think baby steps. I know not everyone has the time or inclination to take up canning. That’s fair. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look into freezing seasonal produce. I have a freezer full of blackberries to turn into blackberry mead and jam later this winter. There are bags full of herbs, sliced green tomatoes to fry up, chopped up bell peppers…and most of this produce requires nothing beyond cleaning and chopping. Bonus!
- Line dry your clothes. Take advantage of a breezy day by hanging out those items that take forever in the dryer (denim, heavy knits, towels). They’ll smell wonderful, save hours of drying time and cut way down on electric consumption.
- Learn the art of foraging. This one takes time and expert help is a huge bonus…but foraging enables you to find the freshest, in-season, wild produce….and it will cost you nothing but your time. Depending on your location, you can find produce growing from March through November in the form of wild herbs, nuts, berries, fruits and roots. Freeze it for later and you have a skill that will continue to provide all year long.
Becoming a producer is nothing more than a change in mindset. I don’t expect I’ll ever reach the place where I can produce everything I need and I don’t expect you will either…but when you change your thinking about production and consumption, something funny happens: you’ll find yourself LOOKING for more opportunities to produce. Initially, you’ll find yourself satisfied with merely growing lettuce, but then you’ll decide it’s a real shame to dump store-bought dressing on your lovely greens so you’ll attempt a simple vinaigrette. When that’s a success, you’ll begin to investigate other areas in the home and kitchen that you can DIY, grow yourself, repair yourself, produce yourself. It snowballs, my sweet friends so be prepared! If you’re a producer, I’d love to know what you produce…and if you’re a consumer, what’s the first item you’d like to learn to produce yourself? Til next time!