Lessons from our ancestors

I’m watching the BBC series Tales from the Green Valley, which follows a group of historians as they recreate life on a British farm in the 17th century. In an article on the series, Megan Lane of BBC News Magazine says participants came away with a list of things they would bring back to modern society: 


  1. Knowing your neighbors provides social contact, shared labor, skills and produce. If you’re willing to help others, then others are more likely to help you in times of need.
  2. Sharing the load with others is mandatory for running a farm.
  3. Growing your own food is healthier.
  4. Reusing and recycling was mandatory, with a use for everything.
  5. Dressing for practicality meant wearing the right clothes to keep warm and dry, or to prevent bites, stings, sunburn and scratches.
  6. Biodiversity protected against unforeseen calamity.
  7. Reliance on any one thing leaves you vulnerable.
  8. No pesticides meant a richer variety of birds, butterflies and other insects, many of which feast on pests.

John Seymour covers much of this wisdom in his book on self-sufficiency, and Dr. E.E. Schumacher writes in the book’s forward:

We can do things for ourselves or we can pay others to do them for us. These are the two “systems” that support us; we might call them the “self-reliance system” and the “organization system”. The former tends to breed self-reliant men and women; the latter tends to produce organization men and women.

We are an “organization” society, dependent on a vast and complex system to survive. In the U.S., the average grocery store’s produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and our refrigerators. The country grinds to a halt if oil supplies are interrupted. After Hurricane Katrina hit, oil refineries struggled to restore the pipelines that fed the entire east coast (electricity was out and facilities were flooded). The 2003 Blackout stopped subways, elevators and air conditioners as a record heatwave hit the northeast U.S. and Canada.

The point is, we are intricately tied together in this grid and few have the skills needed to survive when the “grid” goes down. My goal is to create a self-sufficient lifestyle (to whatever extent that is possible). It’s NOT about returning to an earlier age, but rather learning the lessons our ancestors left for us, while incorporating the best the 21st century has to offer.


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