“What can I do to start living more sustainably right now? How do I feel like I’m making progress without turning my life upside down?”
“We want to have more control over where our family’s food comes from, but how?”
“I need more peace of mind, but how do I get it?”
“My husband & I want to understand our place in this world and how to work with the land instead of against it.”
“We need to start finding ways to better manage our family’s finances and bring in a little extra, but where do I start?”
“We don’t have a ton of extra time, but we want to live a little more responsibly while still being comfortable, what should I do?”
I remember asking all of these questions when we first began our journey towards living more sustainably. Many of them I’ll still find myself asking! That’s the wonderful thing about this way of life, we never truly get it all figured out. We just get to advance to the next level. The next challenge. And then we get to ask the same questions to ourselves all over again and find new and deeper answers.
But today I want to talk to those of you who are just beginning. Maybe everything going on with COVID-19 has you feeling unsure and wishing you had a couple back up plans in place. Or maybe you just crave a healthier lifestyle that nourishes your body, mind, and soul. Whichever it is, this post is for you.
It was four years ago when my husband and I began our journey towards more sustainably and we had NO clue what we were doing! We bought two 3 week old baby goats when I was 6 months pregnant with our first child and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. But through all the ups and downs we’ve learned a lot, and there’s a lot of things I would have done a little differently had I had someone to talk to about what we were doing.
So if that’s you right now, here’s 6 things I wish someone had suggested to me as we were getting started.
#1 Living sustainably takes time
For so long we put off doing anything because we didn’t have the space. We didn’t have land to raise cows or goats on, so we couldn’t start our journey till we did. Boy how I wish someone had told us that wasn’t the case!
Self-sufficiency takes time and a lot of adjustments. Not necessarily sacrifices, but definitely changes and some new skill sets. A lot of those are imperative to learn before you start developing a piece of land.
For one, personal discipline plays a big role in how successful you are towards your goals. So start practicing. Start getting up in the morning and exercising. Read personal development books. Practice a new skill. Developing those personal disciplines will make living sustainably a joy rather than a burden.
And like all good things, it takes time. It takes time to learn how to grow tomatoes. How to recognize when it’s getting too cold and your young veggies need to be covered up at night. How to cultivate your garden’s soil so it produces abundant food for you. Time to develop good livestock management.
The wonderful thing about nature is it can’t be rushed. Winter will come at its own good time every year, and no matter what you do, spring will come at her own time the following year. Nothing you do can hurry that up.
And just as you can’t rush the seasons, you can’t rush the lessons you need to learn before you can live sustainably. It’s a life-long journey, but it’s one that you can start now. You don’t have to wait.
So how do you start learning those lessons?
#2 Start a garden
Yes, yes, I know. You’ve heard this a million times.
But you don’t have the space. Or you don’t know where to put it. Or you don’t have raised beds yet.
Your garden doesn’t have to be permanent and it doesn’t even have to produce fruit! You will learn the most during years of famine (per say). It’s when your crops don’t produce that you get to learn why. It’s when you lose a plant to lack of water that you start getting creative on how you can insure that doesn’t happen again.
And most of all, a garden teaches patience. It teaches you about the many things that are outside your control. Like an early frost. Or the changing of seasons. Or a swarm of squash bugs that appear over night. And it teaches you how to roll with the punches. Plant a new crop. Start over. Pick yourself up off the ground and prove that you’re made of tougher stuff than that.
A garden is one of the first things I would suggest you start with. Get creative. Use pots. Use flower boxes. Build raised beds. Whatever you have.
But whatever you do – make sure you plant food your family loves to eat!
The first year we planted a garden we went to Lowes and bought pretty much 4 of every start they had. We had a huge garden, but we didn’t eat anything off of it. And because we didn’t eat anything it produced we didn’t have a lot of interest in it and it became overrun with weeds and unharvested veggies. Which brought pests and disease to our plants. Boy did we learn our lesson!
Contrast that with our garden last year which was overflowing with fruits and vegetables our family LOVES. Tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peas, bell peppers, blueberries, onions, carrots, and spinach. My daughters and I spent every spare minute we had out in the garden sampling the produce and pulling up weeds.
There’s nothing quite like a garden to help us feel like we’re making progress towards our goals of living more sustainably.
#3 Get an animal before you have the barn
Now, take this tip with a grain of salt. But I think one of the best things we did starting off was getting those two baby goats before we had a barn or land to put them on.
They lived in our pantry and roamed the house wearing diapers while I worked from home on the couch. I tell you what, we learned more about goats in the first two months we had them than we bargained for!
But something else, once you have the animal, you’ll find a home for it. Having those goats in our pantry drove us crazy! So much so, that within a month we had found 4 acres selling for cheap and built a barn for the two little girls out of leftover tin that was on the land.
That swampy, overgrown 4 acres is now a beautiful piece of acreage complete with a 3,600 sq foot house, 2 cows, 12 goats, and 6 chickens. All because I needed to get those two baby goats out of my pantry.
You are more resourceful than you think. Push yourself into a corner and you’ll be amazed to see what kind of miracles happen.
#4 Don’t wait till you have it all figured out to start living sustainably
You will miss out on so many wonderful opportunities by waiting till you feel you have it all figured out to try something new.
Chances are, whatever you’re wanting to try won’t die overnight. If you want to try chickens but don’t know anything about them. Buy the chickens and then do the research. It’s a lot easier to know what to type into google once you have the birds rather than before.
Before getting ducks I was searching for things like “Neat Duck Coop Ideas”. After I got ducklings I was searching for things like, “can ducks eat chicken feed?” and “how to raise people friendly ducks”. It’s a lot easier to know what you need to learn when you’re staring the problem right in the face.
Start somewhere. Start with something. After you take that first step, the next one will be a whole lot easier to see, I promise.
#5 Find a mentor
When we first thought about getting goats I did all the typical google searching and pinterest pinning. But I didn’t think about reaching & finding someone who actually owned some.
Are goats fun? Absolutely!
Are they adorable as heck? Of course!
Can they be a great stepping stone towards living more sustainably? Definitely!
But are they fool proof? No.
Goats are extremely susceptible to disease, especially worms. You can lose a young goat in 24 hours if you don’t recognize the signs. Not only that, but they have specific dietary needs in order to stay healthy and keep weight on. They also have a tendency to be so curious that they hurt themselves.
Moral of the story – find someone (online or in your area) who has the animal you’re looking into buying and make sure you’re on speaking terms. Because you are going to have LOTS of questions that google just can’t answer. Like, “My chickens suddenly stopped laying eggs, what do I do?” Or, “My goat is in labor, but something looks wrong, is _____ normal?”
You’ll have a lot less trial and error if you have someone you can talk to and explain what’s going on with your particular animal (or plant) versus googling it. And if you have multiple areas of living sustainably you’re working on, you can have a different mentor for each thing! It doesn’t have to be a one person fits all.
#6 Have fun with living sustainably
Living sustainably doesn’t have to happen all at once.
Don’t rush yourself.
Learn to enjoy the journey and have fun with it. All the screw ups and mistakes included.
One day you’ll look back and they will make for some great stories.
You’re not meant to be perfect at this right away. It is a very natural way of life, but that doesn’t mean it’ll come to you naturally.
Just like motherhood. It’s the most natural thing in the world, but that doesn’t mean you immediately know exactly what to do in ever situation right away! There’s a learning curve. There always is.
So don’t take things so seriously. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the livestock. Even if you aren’t to where you want to be, be proud of how much further you are now compared to where you were.
Bonus Tip: Start a farm journal
This one is SO important!
If there’s one thing I regret more than anything else it’s not keeping good records from the very beginning.
So go to the store, grab a $5 journal and write “FARM” across the front. Stick it somewhere it’s easy to grab and rubberband a pencil to it. Keep track of when you plant your seeds. What variety you plant. What type of soil you put in the pots. When you fertilize. The day you bought your animals. When you sold them. When you gave them medicine. How much you’re feeding them. The name and number of the guy you bought hay from this year.
Every little thing. Because everything you write down now is one potential mistake you can avoid next year. And that information is invaluable. If you don’t write down what soil you put in the garden and everything ends up dying, you’ll have to wait another whole year before you get a second shot, and by then you might forget the soil you bought the previous year and buy the same thing again!
Lessons are important, but even more important is that you learn from them so you only have to experience them once.
And there you have it! Our seven tips for getting started on one of the most rewarding and satisfying journeys you’ll ever go on.
What steps have you taken already? What are some things you have in the works?