Sustain… Able

One of the more naive things I have done in my life was move to a temperant climate thinking it would somehow magically propagate self-sustainability. I ignorantly thought (though I had a read a couple of books and raised a couple of gardens) you get some land, a couple a chickens, throw some seeds in the ground, plant some fruit trees, and in a few years you have  a self-seeding food forest, orchards, eggs, and meat. Maybe it won’t provide for every meal, but it should be pretty solid foundation.


Perhaps if we had invested the 50,000 dollars we arrived in Mexico with in: a greenhouse, good animal facilities, and traveling Mexico to find access to decent seeds and organic gardening products, we would have food now–but we’d be living in a tent.

What we have learned is self-sustainability is not romantic. It requires strong fences and safe facilities for your animals, like say, a chicken house for example. Seems like a no brainer, right? But when Felipe was growing up his family let their chickens run, they hand weeded all their crops, they provided the majority of their own food without the use of fancy row covers and organic pest deterrent. Why can’t we?

Well–there were ten of them. Felipe’s parents, brothers and sisters worked from pre-dawn into the darkness most every day. Something not even superman Felipe is willing to do, for which I am thankful.

A year ago, five years into our Mexican life, we reassessed our position here. Our stipend was to run out at the end of 2012, and we still had very little consistent food production, no consistent cash flow outside of the dwindling 500 peso a week payment, and no funds to improve our farms production.

We decided on a route that was uncharacteristic for us, we diversified. Meaning, we decided to pursue individual projects to make money with the long term goal of investing in a real self-sustainable farm, unlike the play farm we have now, built of sticks, mud, and garbage strung together with barbed wire–and those are the high tech parts.

So I made a commitment to write like a person that plans to make a living at it (Felipe was relieved, I am a much better writer than gardener), and he started raising pigs. He has also, miraculously, has had a job for nine months now!  I don’t know if you heard this or not but it’s kinda hard to find work down here. If I could type in a whisper I would, for fear that saying he has a job aloud will somehow create bad juju and this most amazing state of affairs will cease.

To date, we have a prolific native lime tree we grew from seed, nopales,  native sorrel and basil, a fabulous multi-purpose passion flower ( it provides shade both and fruit)sundry herbs and foraged produce and when we’re lucky a native tomato plant will pop up. We also grow enough corn and sorghum for ourselves and our animals.

In terms of animals, this week we’re getting about 6 eggs when the dogs or skunks don’t beat us to them, we have 3 drakes that can be eaten if we can bring ourselves to do it, and 5 roosters that will be ready soon, if we could ever catch them. And we will have a Christmas pig this year, which will mean a store of lard and maybe some smoked meats if we can get a smoker assembled.

So for now our version of sustainable is this; the ability to sustain the effort, to work toward the dream of a self sustainable life. Not Simple, Not Easy, but the feeling we get when something works—like picking limes, or harvesting eggs, is Very, Very Good.

3 thoughts on “Sustain… Able

  1. Another excellent, thought-provoking post. It made me wonder if you’ve read Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth.” It’s an uneven but ultimately inspiring book and what made me think of it here is its chronicling of her very similar efforts to wrest a living from the land. Hard work under any circumstances, and without a “village” to do it almost impossible. No accident then that the original lifestyle in México as elsewhere was hunter/gatherer/forager, not tiller. Here’s hoping that your dazzling prose earns you the money and time you need.

    • No I haven’t read The Veg. Myth, I would like to. I’ll look for it the next time I am near a book store. thank you for the suggestion, and reading and your thoughtful interactions, I am happy to read your happy in your new digs! and congrats on your vehical. paz, abby

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