In the early to mid 1970’s, a back to the land movement crept across America. It encompassed a desire to leave behind the crowded cities and regain a measure of human dignity with a simpler and more self-sufficient lifestyle. The Whole Earth Catalog and Mother Earth News fueled the movement with tips and tools.
Back to the land movement – an inspiration for self-sufficiency
Although I didn’t ditch the suburbs and move onto a farm, I was inspired by the movement to learn about historical ways of self-sufficiency.
My Grandma, living history demonstrations, re-constructed towns and a book called Foxfire 3 helped me do so. I loved the idea of learning how to churn butter, weave, make candles, and use the bounty of nature as our forefathers and mothers did. I wanted to show my boys that they didn’t actually have to go to the store to fill all their needs, that they could put together everyday items from materials at hand.
To this day, I love to experiment with using alternative methods and products – and nature’s bounty, to help supply our needs.
Using nature’s bounty
One of the important advantages our ancestors had on the American continent was that the wilderness provided an abundance of food and material which allowed the pioneers to live off the land. Food and materials for shelter and warmth were there for the taking. The wagon trains westward would never have endured if that abundance had been lacking.
Today, the wilderness does not provide our food and material, but there are still ways to increase your knowledge and practice of self-sufficiency and use the bounty of nature, should you desire to do so.
Examples of using nature’s bounty
Even living in a crowded subdivision, you can find ways to use the bounty of nature.I have used wildflowers for decoration, dried red clover flowers to make tea, dandelion greens in salads and black walnuts in sweet bread. My boys and I made lye from ashes and soap from the lye and bacon grease.
In my youth, on Grandma’s farm, my cousins and I caught frogs, which Grandma fried up into frog leg meals. We hunted squirrels. She cooked them. I recently found a letter my Dad had written to my Mom during World War II in which he was longing for his Mom’s fried squirrel for breakfast! Grandma had a milk cow and she let me churn the cream into butter. Latter I let my boys do that as well (with store bought cream as Grandma had died by then).
Mom had a garden and raised corn, I made corn shuck dolls and played with them. She looked for wild asparagus and cooked it and we picked the wild gooseberries for her to make pies. We picked and ate fat wild dewberries and tiny wild cherries. There were sassafras trees – to make great smelling tea.
We currently live in the suburbs of a large metropolitan area, but we have 6+ acres of Midwest land. We have chestnut trees (soup) , persimmons trees (makes a pumpkin like pudding), black walnut trees (nuts) , wild onions (for flavoring), polk weed (steamed vegetables) , Osage orange (pretty in a basket but poisonous – also used to repel bugs), mayapples (careful! everything except the fruit is poisonous – eat raw or make jelly), wild raspberries (jelly) and gooseberries (pie), sumac (lemonade like drink or jelly) and paw-paw (eat like a banana or put in bread) and morel mushrooms. There are also cattails, which I personally have never used, but understand that you can eat any part of the plant, including the root. My Firefox book has recipes.
There are squirrels, possums, racoons, deer and turkey – as well as geese, snakes, frogs and other critters which could be killed and eaten. We don’t hunt now – but some of our neighbors do during the specified season. We enjoy watching the wildlife, as it was rare when we grew up.
Remember to always be careful when using wild plants or animals to eat. Make sure they are not contaminated by our poisons and make sure you vet the edibility of the item carefully, then prepare it well.
Is this survival-ism?
The abundance of wild life in our area is due solely to re-population efforts and strict hunting control. Using nature’s bounty once in a while is not survival-ism. If we all tried to live off the land, it would soon be stripped bare. It is not a sustainable model.
Knowing how to make use of nature’s bounty, keeping alive the knowledge, tools and skills needed for self-sufficiency and occasionally using wild fruits, nuts and animals for food is a way of honoring our history and culture.
Honoring culture and history
The founders of the Foxfire magazine in Georgia in 1966 were teachers and students of a local school in the Appalachian mountains. They used the magazine and subsequent books as a learning and teaching tool. The foundation of the success of the tool is based on: student decisions directing the process; using the local community as a resource for learning, and providing an audience beyond the classroom for the students’ work. The class, magazine, books and other products are still being student produced today. The students used and continue to use, their community of elders as resources – to learn, document and honor the culture and history of their area.
So, how do you use nature’s bounty?
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We are currently designing plans with our house to expand the composting we do, add rainwater collection and more. I have a black thumb, so we don’t garden (better for the plants that way), but I’m a huge fan of buying locally made candles and produce.
We don’t collect rainwater,, but we do have a gravel driveway instead of a concrete one. This helps the rainwater stay in place instead of flooding runs, creeks and city streets.
Many people have forgotten how to live off the land or just never learnt it in the first place, so it is a rare skill. I don’t think many people would see much value in it and won’t until the day they are in a survival situation and need it. A friend of mine was recently showing me how to make a bow drill to start a fire without propellant which I thought was a great skill to have. I can barely start a fire with a match 🙂
Me too, I’m lost without my scripto!
We’re fortunate to have neatly packed into our quite small back yard two apple trees, a cherry tree, a peach tree, an Italian plum tree, a raspberry bed, a fig tree, and a couple of huge grapevines and kiwi. We’re thinking of adding a very small greenhouse for tomatoes, etc. Fun!
Kiwi! Are they hard to grow?
I agree, it makes no sense to drive for miles. Something closer to home might work if you were interested though – farmers market, coop garden or a patio plant…
I used to water my garden with a hose. Now I collect rainwater in a large barrel. I have cut down on 90% of the hose water I needed for the garden.
I love the concept of living off the land, and being more self-sufficient. It’s sad that we’ve substituted this for more traditional 21st century methods for living. However, as you pointed out, we can still learn to live like our early ancestors did by first reading more about their history, and becoming less reliant on modern day technology and conveniences. Also, this is a creative and effective way to teach children on how to exercise self-sufficiency.