|Ripened wheat "ears" the seed heads of one of the most |
popular grain crops grown in the US.
Lets have a simple meal like, oh... bread, cheese, and salami, for example. Easy to prep and eat, right? Just make a visit to the local deli, grab a plate, slice some stuff, serve. Presto! Easy meal. And if you run out, the grocery store is just down the road, isn't it?
Not so, however, if you're producing the same meal as a totally self sufficient person (the keyword here is 'totally'.) Google provides a straight forward definition of the term:
Self-sufficiency (also called self-containment) is the state of not requiring any aid, support, or interaction, for survival.That's a pretty hardcore concept when you consider how dependent so many of us are on the local and global economies, and the collective brainwashing of capitalism pushing us to buy, buy BUY! all the stuff we supposedly 'need' to survive daily life.
A totally self sufficient lifestyle is pretty impractical, and impossible for a large percentage of people these days, sadly. But when the world population was smaller, back before machines and other technology arose to do things for us, our ancestors did many of the same things that we do today, the big three being eating, drinking, and procreation (we'll just stick to eating for now).
So, we're totally self sufficient, and we want to bake a loaf of bread. What do we have to do? Bread at it's most basic is yeast, water, salt and flour.
This can be as simple as dipping a bucket in the local stream or other body of water. Or, it means someone has dug a well, or built a rain collection system, or has otherwise devised a system for water collection and/or storage, so that we can make our bread, wash our clothes, and quench our thirst. Water- easily done.
Salt is fun one. The most common source for salt is the ocean, right? So to get our salt, we have to collect sea water, which means we have to get to the ocean by some means, collect the water, and then find a way to evaporate it. We could leave it in the sun in shallow pans, or maybe boil it in a pot. Or, you could try extracting it from other sources, such as from hickory roots. Salt- sorted.
Our bread is sourdough bread, which uses wild yeasts, instead of dry, instant or fresh yeast bought commercially. It's pretty sustainable on its own, just flour and water, and can live for months or even years so long as you tend to it regularly to keep it alive. It is an easy to maintain resource for a self sufficient kitchen. Starter is simple to make: just a mix of flour and water set out for a few days until it starts to bubble and smell sour. Eventually, it'll collect enough wild yeast to create a colony, and will stabilize to a few strong local strains that make good tasty bread. Sourdough Starter- ready and waiting.
Oh, wait- to make the starter, we need the flour, don't we? That's the hard part.
Bread is commonly made from wheat flour, so for the sake of simplicity, I'm using that as our example. Wheat is a grass crop, one of the more popular grains grown industrially in the United States. I won't go into all the details that involve how much acreage to crop yield you need- lets just say you need a block of land large enough to grow a decent amount of wheat for the year (I assume you like daily bread). So: a piece of land.
Wheat needs to be able to grow without much competition from weeds, so you need to prepare the land; this means plowing some how. Since we're truly self sufficient in this example, this means we're not relying on petrol driven tractors (seeing as the tractors, the fuel and the gear associated with them have to come from outside our self containment). What are our options? We can plow the entire field with a foot plow (a huge amount of work for one or several persons, which would take days to accomplish) or an animal drawn plow, which would speed the process considerably, and take just one or two people to do in a few days. (Never mind that we also have to care for our horses, oxen or whatever animal is pulling the plow, and someone is needed who can make and maintain the plow, and so on.)
Now that we've plowed the field, we can plant. These days a massive tractor fitted with a special attachment can sow the seeds in perfect lines with computerized accuracy, but not so for us SS farmers. We have to sow the seeds in a less mechanized manner, either by using another animal drawn device meant for this job, or by broadcast sowing (basically, casting handfuls of grain leftover from last years crop over a wide spread area). There are small hand cranked devices that can scatter grain as well. That ideally wants a few people to pull it off in a reasonable amount of time, with plenty of grain, because we have to take into account that the birds will get at it even as we sow it. Now it's a matter of tending to it just enough to see that it grows well.
|Ripe wheat seeds|
The flour itself (finally) needs to be made. We have to grind it into a fine powder suitable for bread, and we have a few tools available to us. We can go the way of the native Americans or other tribal peoples around the world, and use a mortar and pestle, or a round, hand cranked grinding stone. This is extremely labor intensive, but was used to grind a small amount of grain or other food to create a daily allotment. Every day more was ground for that days ration of bread. If we want a larger quantity, for a bigger community, we can build a mill. A mill is, generally, two large grinding stones powered by a windmill, a waterwheel, or an animal, such as a donkey, horse or ox. Of course, this means people are needed to design and build such a mill, and the resulting large quantity of flour needs to be bagged and stored- which means someone making flour sacks; the fabric for flour sacks is also needed (never mind growing the fiber to make the fabric... see how much work this SS stuff is?)
Finally, though, we have our flour!
Baking the Bread
Oh yes, it's not over yet. We've mixed our ingredients, and now we have to bake the dough. We can do this in the coals of the fire in a cast iron pot- so someone has cut the wood and forged the metal- or in a bread oven, which would typically be constructed from brick or stone, with clay mortar.
Once we've baked the bread though, we can finally eat it! Let's get the cheese and the salami and -oh. We have to make those too, don't we?
A Lot Of Hard Work
Self Sufficiency is put on a pedestal as some kind of idealized lifestyle, but the reality is that being properly self sufficient is very much a community venture, because it's a lot of hard work. All that labor would be completely over whelming for a single person or a small family. This is not to say that you shouldn't strive for it; if you can pull it off, or at least as much as you can manage with your current situation, then more power to you! You have my respect and admiration.
I hope this blog worked to walk you through the exhaustive process of getting the loaf of bread that we so take for granted in this age of modern convenience, and hopefully I've even encouraged a few of you to think about how you too could be a little more self sufficient or self reliant.
As always, please continue to live, learn and love, and have a great time, no matter what you're doing!