This morning when I woke up, I had this blog post already written in my head. As I scanned it while thinking about it, I knew I had to get up and write it down immediately. This is a long post, but important and necessary. I also apologize to anyone who is a dedicated blog post reader and has heard this all before. I think I need to reiterate it to remind myself.
Ever since I was small, I loved nature. I don’t know why particularly, I just did. Growing up, I loved spending time in the country, around plants and animals and anything from the natural world. I took biology and ended up taking Agriculture in University.
Looking at career options, I was not pleased. A good paying job was most likely to be found in a province that I was not willing to live in (for several reasons), so I got sidetracked into a job that kept me in this location, but not really contributing to anything on the nature side of things. I had access to nature, but not a viable way to contribute to it’s health in the form of a career.
The main thing I didn’t want was a commute, which I had done previously for 2 years and which was draining and annoying and can take the life right out of you if done too long. Finally I was able to create a self-sustaining business right here where I lived.
So, now there was the time and energy for nature. I suspect this might have something to do with many people’s lack of interest or ability to contribute to the health of the planet – being tired and stressed from work. Change takes effort and when your effort is going into a job that is energy draining (as most are), you have little left after work for anything but the basics.
Anyway, this year we, Ernie and I, have decided to make a serious effort to live differently. We have been moving towards this for several years and refining our thinking and actions and have come up with many things that we feel will help move us and others towards living more kindly towards the planet. We are also now actively promoting this lifestyle to people (tactfully), hoping that they will make a few changes to their lifestyles to help out and make a difference. We do not lecture anyone, but simply mention things we and others can do in our daily conversations with people in our area.
The following are the things we ourselves are doing to feel that we are working towards the goal of protecting the health of our planet.
- Working towards growing all our own vegetables and fruits. We grow 80% of our veggies but only about 25% of our fruit. Producing our own fruit is more difficult but not impossible. We buy oranges, blueberries in season, cherries in season, and macintosh apples which we can’t grow here. We have our own apples, Saskatoons (Service berry), and raspberries. For veggies we buy cauliflower and radishes, both of which we can’t grow here successfully, and hothouse cucumbers from a different province and mushrooms grown locally. Everything else we grow ourselves and process for winter or do without.
- Reducing the amount we drive dramatically and walk as much as possible. This is easy to do especially in cities where you have public transit and can cycle most times of the year. In the country it is more difficult especially if you choose to live away from a larger centre where things need to be trucked in or you have to drive longer distances to get somewhere or buy something. As society moves towards more digital based commerce, it is likely that most things will be delivered which will save on individual car driving.
- Feed our pets as naturally and with as little waste as possible. Our dogs eat mostly raw meat, with some cooked foods such as sardines and tripe. Meat and eggs are obtained as much as possible from local ranchers/farmers. Sometimes we have to buy meat from the store, but if we do that, we save the plastic and styrofoam meat trays and reuse them for many things. There is almost no waste, where as if we fed dry dog food we would be throwing away big dog food bags, about three larges one a month. These are lined with aluminum and plastic for freshness and are not recyclable.
- Attempting to eliminate new purchases of plastic items and reduce the use of disposable plastics. This is a non-negotiable. I feel this is the most serious environmental issue that needs to be addressed currently. If we have some re-usable plastic, we won’t get rid of it just because we don’t want plastic around, but use it until it is not in good condition anymore. We don’t use shampoo anymore (water wash only) and very few store bought personal products so there is much less plastic waste. This is an area I’d like to reduce even more.
- We RE-USE EVERYTHING at least once. If it can’t be re-used, we will try not to buy it or find an alternative to it that is re-usable.
- Find new uses for most, if not all things that would normally be thrown out. This includes clothing, furniture, wood or any building material etc.
- Composting our waste. There is much that can be composted that people are not aware of, that would reduce the amount of garbage, maybe not useable for food plants, but compostable nevertheless. Cardboard is compostable by worms for instance.
- Support ethical and low-intensity animal farming for meat. We will never be vegan as veganism is not a diet but an ethical position that rejects using animals for food, clothing, entertainment and other reasons, like having pets. Yes, if you have a pet you cannot be vegan by definition. I would resort to calling yourself a “strict plant-based eater” instead. I consider myself a plant-based” eater because my diet is based on plants, but I also eat meat and eggs and a very small amount of artisan cheese. I will also not give up my connection with other species on this planet especially dogs. I feel it is a natural way for humans to live, interacting with animals. That said, I do not agree with factory or large scale animal farming. People can eat less meat and we can raise and slaughter food animals better and more humanely. We can live in harmony with animals in our lives and in domesticity. If I can’t have animals in my life because of the beliefs of a few radical people, I don’t want to be here at all.
- We save things from the garbage. There are so many things being thrown out in dumps and landfills that shouldn’t or don’t need to be thrown out. Ernie and other people we know have salvaged many, many things from being burned at the dump, and we have found ways to reuse these things.
- When we buy food, we make a great effort to buy products that are produced in this country, and even better, from within our community. All our meat and eggs come from local farmers and ranchers. It is not more expensive when you eat less. We also eat wild meat, specifically deer, which is low in fat as all wild meats are. For those of you who are opposed to hunting but still eat meat, unless you only purchase meat from animals that are dispatched on the farm and under no stress from transporting, then the meat is not at the highest quality. Wild deer are not terrorized by hunting anymore than they would be if they were being hunted by wolves or coyotes, whereas transporting animals to a slaughterhouse is very stressful on the animals.
- We don’t follow fashion trends. If something is not “trendy” or current in style we don’t get rid of it. Fashion is not really important. That being said, for some people it is important, but it is a throw-away culture. Furniture, knick-knacks, clothing, etc can be kept, saved, reused. Humans do need re-adjustment on the way we think about consuming things. We choose to buy good quality, and yes, more expensive items that last longer and do not give these things an expiry date based on what the current fashion or trends are. If something is in bad shape we simply find other uses for it until it is no more. I like the idea of finding one’s own style without the influence of consumerism. There are some amazing products in the marketplace that are high quality and unique and thoughtfully made. This is what I look for when thinking about a purchase (which isn’t often).
- Houseplants. Or how about just plants in general. Need I say more? OK, I will. I’m obsessed with plants. It’s what I studied in university. I love them. Tree, shrubs, flowers, food plants, houseplants. They are useful (in all kinds of ways) and houseplants bring nature into the home. The more I have the better I feel mentally. Having a few or several in your home is beneficial for you and your surroundings, reminding us even in snowy and cold winters (if you have them) that the plant, and planet, needs assistance to live.
- Writing about what we’re doing. This is a great way to spread information and ideas to assist others in changing perceptions about how we live. Ernie and I don’t presume to know what you do or can do in your own area, but where we live, since the community is small, we can come in contact easily with others to communicate information. Writing and posting on the internet is the same thing. Easy and convenient, and it works. If you think about it, I’ll bet there are several things you could do where you live now to spread the word.
I’m sure there are more things that you and I can and will come up with to contribute in your way to this planet project, which MUST be done now. There is now more fooling around and we cannot go back. We must do this together.
I’m going to address each of the things above in much more detail in regular blog posts starting today (well yesterday, May 1st 😉). It won’t be a daily post, but it will be posted!
Now that I have said all this, I want to emphasize, that this post is NOT a criticism list, to make people feel crappy about how little they are doing. This is a SUGGESTION list, describing mostly what we do ourselves and what CAN be done, and how important I feel this is. We want to encourage you ( I know most of you who read this are already doing this stuff) and show how easy it is to do some of these things, give ideas and to impress upon people how important it is to do these things. That’s it. We’re not saying how great we are, or that you’re a bad person for not doing what we are. Instead, I’m simply giving information. If you feel defensive or angry at some of these suggestions, that is not my fault. It is something for you to examine within yourself, why you feel that way.
Then, once you have done that, take action and do something great for your city/town, province/state, community, and most importantly for yourself and your family!
Last month I told you about how we are attempting to spend less money on food. The result of our February experiment was that we spent $280 for the month which ended up being $109 less than February last year (2017). It’s also consistent with the $10 a day spending experiment that I have been doing to see if it is possible to eat well for $10 per day for two people. It IS possible.
The main things that made this possible were the following:
Eating in season. We bought blueberries when they were in season in the summer at a great price and then froze them for use now. We also froze most of our own fruit, including currants, raspberries and apples.
Not buying convenience foods. This is an obvious one. Convenience foods may look cheaper to start with but they are used up faster because the quality is poor. You end up spending more because you have to repurchase more often.
Eating a bit less. There is nothing wrong with eating less. I found this quite liberating. We were eating better quality food, and therefore not needing to eat as much because there were no cravings.
Cooking everything for ourselves. This is a must. I have found that eating at restaurants is actually not that fun for me. It’s really for convenience. I prefer the food that we make for ourselves, for the taste, the control of the quality, and time spent together. I know where the food is coming from and what goes in it.
Having a garden. Naturally, growing your own food is going to save you a bundle. It is more work for sure, but the quality of the food, at least in our case, is superior to anything we’d buy from the store.
The Coming Months
We are continuing our spending freeze on food for the next two months at least to see if it can be kept up. We are definitely going to run out of potatoes this year but that should be about it and not sure if we’ll buy from the store when we do. We’d only buy if they are locally grown potatoes so we can’t predict if there will be many or any to buy in the spring.
Our source for meat is local, which provides us with grass fed beef, humanely slaughtered on farm, so we don’t need to buy meat at the store. This also saves us money. Even though we don’t eat much meat, I eat it for the energy it provides me. Not every one needs to do this but by the same token, not everyone can be healthy by eating only plants.
As an aside, but following the nutritional topic, our dogs eat a raw meat and whole food diet (no kibble or canned dog food). We are able to keep their meal costs to $100 per dog per month (more or less, as the dogs are different sizes and eat accordingly) which is extremely good.
So, all in all, our experiment is providing us with an interesting and useful pastime with a very good result so far.
I am currently experiencing extreme burnout at work. So much so that I have to stop working and shut down my business. My job and business – grooming, training and boarding dogs, has for years ( 9 years) made it so that there is no time away from dogs. I work from home and I have my own dogs here as well as other people’s as part of the business. The whole thing was part of my plan to be an urban homesteader: working from home at something I love to help support the homestead lifestyle.
Most people enjoy going home from work to be away from work. For me, there is no such thing. When I board dogs, the dogs live here with us so I am on edge 24 hours a day thinking about the boarding dogs.
Don’t get me wrong here, I appreciate being able to even HAVE a job that I can do at home and not have to commute. I know there are people who don’t have jobs. However, in my enthusiasm to work from home, I picked a career that was too similar to my home life and therefore had no separation.
Because we live in a lowly populated area, I am forced to take most if not all clients at the risk of not making enough money that year or losing clients. Sometimes there is overlap of clients so that I don’t have any days off for weeks and weeks. We can’t go anywhere or really do anything as there is always someone’s dog to consider, even if it is just one dog staying with us.
As a business owner, I also am in charge of promotion of the business in real life, and on social media. As well, I took on some extra work as a social media manager for several other businesses. These were not pet businesses, but added to the workload.
I discussed this with Ernie, and we both agree that the burnout is in part because of the long hours and no breaks, but I also believe that at some point my heart was not really into it. I feel that I may have been pursuing the pet professional business because I had something to prove. This, however, is a subject for a completely different post so I won’t elaborate here.
My burnout is so extreme, that I have even stopped going to dog shows which I used to enjoy, training my own dogs, and have completely changed my hobby interests. I am now painting.
Strangely, I am OK with all this, especially the painting part. Yes, I am a beginner, but this is something that I am using to relax my mind as I recover from the burnout and is purely for the love of the process. I don’t care if it ever gets me anywhere. It is FUN.
So, I am a little depressed and sad about closing down my business that I have pursued for so many years, and leaving behind the clients that I enjoyed meeting and interacting with. But I think that I will be able to do more in another area of work when I find it because I learned what I did wrong with the previous one.
Last year I started a project in which I was trying to figure out, if you start with NOTHING, and spend only $10 a day (and you live in the city and don’t have a garden) can you eat well?
In the documentary “Food Inc” there was a family that believed they couldn’t eat well because good food was too expensive, yet they went to a fast food restaurant for supper. They spent time at the grocery store lamenting how expensive everything was, but yet had money to buy ONE meal for each person in the family. I would think that taking $15 or $20 that they spent on fast food for the family ($5 per person) and putting it towards actual food would be more productive and cheaper in the long run.
This is what I am trying to show with my experiment: to demonstrate that it can be done, that two adults CAN eat well on $10 a day, and likely even less.
How To Start
I used the local Co-op food store and their sales flyer each week for 4 weeks. The food at the co-op here is more expensive than larger grocery chains in the big city, but my point is to be able to shop where you are and still eat well. The food had to be non-processed (food that has multiple ingredients but could be canned or frozen if it only has one ingredient.), and thus good food. Some was on sale and some wasn’t.
The daily food purchases for Day One and Day Two are as follows:
Day 1: Eggs, Butter, Pasta (made from white flour, not great but that is what we used for now), Salt.
From this you could eat for the day and if you did have some condiments left over from previous purchases of food (ketchup, mustard, oregano, basil, garlic, etc) you could use those to spruce things up.
At our food store, this all cost $9.54 cents. At other stores you could get it for less, I’m sure, but that is not part of the project. The point is use what is available. The belief is often that you can’t eat well and cheap, locally.
Day 2: Carrots, Bananas, Potatoes, Onion, Barley. Cost: $10.00
With the ingredients from these two days, I made a vegetable soup that was unbelieveably good. I expect that some people don’t know how to make soup from scratch, and therefore think that they have to buy canned and therefore can’t eat well. We figured out that our soup cost us 38 cents a serving while a store brand, canned, cream of mushroom soup cost about 24 cents. However the nutritional content of the canned soup is clearly lower.
One may wonder how this food can sustain you for days but what actually happens is that you build up your stock of food over the week and then weeks, and you are able to continue eating well day after day. Maybe the first day or two isn’t ideal, but when you are considering eating nothing as opposed to this, it looks ok. And fast food always costs more.
So the point of all this is to, again, show that you can eat well for little money IF you can use your creativity and figure out how to use the food that is available to purchase. I figure it is often the lack of knowledge in how to cook real food that contributes to eating poorly. Just my thoughts.
Our kitchen renovation is complete.
We chose an expensive sink and tap. The reason was, that it was the best quality we could get in the style that we wanted. We splurged on these two things because they are important to making our daily homestead lives comfortable. We don’t splurge on everything – obviously – but this helps to make it feel like we are living well (which we are) but still saving money.
The sink will last forever and the tap is really the best tap for us because we don’t have to touch the handle with dirty working hands (that were cutting meat or other yuck) to turn on the water. We can use our arm or elbow. This makes cleaning easier and makes things more sanitary really.
The counter top and cupboards are not conventional but I will have to leave that for another post.
Spending more money on certain things that you need helps to offset the times you don’t spend, especially on frivolous stuff. You will end up with awesome useful things you need that are incredible to use and nice to look at and still be saving money because you aren’t spending money on everything you want. And you won’t feel deprived in the process. This is a key to homestead spending.