It’s a funny thing, this idea of self-sufficiency. Occasionally, people assume I’m trying to be self-sufficient. So let’s look at what I aim to do, compared to actually being self-sufficient.
22 Feb 2011 - 12:33 PM  UPDATED 24 Sep 2013 - 1:53 PM

I want to grow as much of my own food as possible. So, if I can rear my own lambs, fatten my own pigs, grow my own alpine strawberries, I will. The implication that I will only eat my own food, however, isn’t true. I don’t, as it happens, grow any pinot noir grapes, but I do adore a good bottle of red, so I buy wine, usually from a vineyard that I have some knowledge of. In the netted garden there’s not enough room for a full summer and winter garden (in Tasmania they overlap, so you need huge spaces to plant your brassicas, which need to be in the ground before the tomatoes have ripened or the corn has been harvested). So I buy in vegies or get them from neighbours or friends. I don’t have olives, so I get olive oil from the good folk at Penna and other groves around the state.

Self-sufficiency, on the other hand, requires you to grow and rear all your own food. So if you only have kale and broccoli in the garden, that’s all you can eat (unless the pantry is full of preserved veg and the freezer’s full, too). If you don’t have a milking cow, you don’t have any dairy products. If you run out of pork from your last baconers, then you go without.

My philosophy isn’t anywhere near as taxing, or as pure, and I like to think anybody – from a flat dweller in our biggest cities to the broad-acre farmer in Western Australia – can follow the same path. Grow what you can, taking into consideration your lifestyle, the space, the climate and your ability. Then make conscious decisions about the rest that you purchase. Is the milk homogenised? Is it from a single herd? Has it been pulled into constituent parts before it’s reassembled in the bottle, or is it as it comes from the cow (albeit heat treated, ie pasteurised)? Does the pork come from a pig that has been allowed the joy of the open air, the sun on its back, the feel of mud against its snout? Has the chicken that laid the egg ever been in natural light, able to pick green grass and scratch for grubs?

If you can only grow a couple of herbs, then do that. If you have pasture enough for fat lambs, do that. Then try to know where your food has been, and who has grown it, what it has been sprayed with, and when and how it has been killed or harvested.

I get most of my food from close to home. But I like mangoes, so I bought some in December. My son loves bananas, and so do I, so we get “ungassed” organic ones every couple of weeks. I drink coffee (too much, some may say), like eating pineapple, adore chocolate, and am not immune to the charms of European wines. None of which I can grow myself. I would like to be more conscientious, but I am used to the wonderful luxury of variety. Some things, like tinned tomatoes, are a reality of life in a temperate climate.

We need to extend the vegie garden, perhaps putting some garlic, onions and more spuds outside the net this year. Maybe we need a hot house to help propagate seedlings, or ripen tomatoes earlier than March. It could be that we have to build another netted area using wire (the orchard netting cuts our precious sunlight by about 10 per cent, which slows things down considerably).

But, in the meantime, I’ve done a quick count of what’s in the garden at the moment. We have five types of animal protein from the farm. There are 21 varieties of fruit trees and plants; 15 types of vegetable that grow above ground; eight types of root vegetable; nine varieties of tomato; seven herbs; and a couple of tomatillo plants because they make the most incredible salsa ever (and they grow inside these Chinese lantern-like paper skins). Could we do better? Of course we could, but there’s no use beating ourselves up over it because who couldn’t do a little better?