“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton
Many people start homesteading because they want to increase self-sufficiency, and decrease dependence on systems that seem fragile or likely to fail. Should The Big One strike (referring to the devastating and periodic earthquake along the Cascade Fault of western Washington that’s 300 years overdue), public utilities, cell phone towers, roads, and railways may become unreliable or fail altogether. The systems our modern society has designed to keep us clothed, warm, and fed could fall apart. There’s a fine line between homesteaders and preppers, and for some people there’s no line at all.
While I do think it’s valuable to recapture the knowledge of the “old ways”–ways that didn’t depend on electricity, refrigeration, and rapid transportation–self-sufficiency has never been a primary reason I wanted to homestead.
I think self-sufficiency is a misnomer. Since we moved to the farm and started raising a large amount of our own meat, fats, and vegetables, I’ve become more dependent on my community than I ever was as a town-dweller.
Even if we produce 100% of our own food someday, we will never be self-sufficient. We rely on my dad to tell us how to fix pretty much everything that breaks. We rely on the farming listservs and Facebook groups in our county for information, resources, networking, and supplies. We rely on friends to help us tackle difficult projects, like butchering chickens and moving fencing. We rely on YouTube to teach us how to do obscure stuff, like proper scything technique and piglet castration. The more “self-sufficient” we become, the more reliant and embedded we become in our community.
The Internet is invaluable in this regard, and is perhaps the achilles heel for all of us homesteaders and preppers. If the Internet ever fails, I’ll be in a pickle. Through an ad for hay on Craigslist, we met Bridget, who is managing a homestead single-handedly and efficiently, and quickly became a mentor to us.
I also met Brianne on Facebook through a local farmers group. She was selling AGH piglets, and after a few exchanges I learned that she and her husband did their own butchering. Awed and a little afraid, I asked if they’d ever let us watch. She agreed and invited us over last weekend, where I got to watch a hog butchering from start to finish. I learned a ton, and I met a smart, innovative, and tough couple as a result. And to our surprise, Bridget was there when we showed up for the hog butchering, because we live in the kind of place where everyone you know is just one step removed.
On Facebook groups, I’ve also met experienced farmers who dole out advice and wisdom whenever greenhorns like me need it. One particular old-timer farmer on my American Guinea Hog Facebook group is extremely knowledgable about these unusual pigs, and he regularly chimes in with sage advice on nearly every thread. His experience (and willingness to share it) is gold, and in a recent online conversation I told him so. His response? “I stand on the shoulders of Giants.”
I couldn’t agree more. I hope I can someday be a giant for the next generation of small-time farmers, but for now I’m the one perched atop, and very, very grateful for the expansive view and their support.