Modern society is extremely complex. It relies completely upon a massive network of interrelationships between individuals and groups. Each part of society supports each other part. To live in such a world usually involves finding a niche for yourself, giving your contribution to the whole machine, and in return the machine supports you.

This system does have it's advantages:

a) It allows for efficiencies of scale. When something is made in large quantities, it can be produced more efficiently.

b) It allows for specialised development of skills (i.e. if a person is able to concentrate on one job they can become more proficient at that job).

c) It buffers the effect of a mistake (i.e. if someone has an accident, the system supports the person until they recover ‑ through an insurance scheme or government welfare, the expense of the accident is shared by many).

Modern society also has its disadvantages:

a) It is impersonal ‑ It only guarantees the material needs of a person. The impersonal way in which goods and services are provided can increase the likelihood of emotional problems.

b) It does not tolerate anything which does not fit the system. People who deviate from what is considered the 'norm' are 'labelled' and rejected by society in the main as being odd or different.

c) Everyone is so dependant on everyone else that they are frequently affected by things they have no control over, for example, industrial disputes.

d) If the system collapses, everything collapses.

People do not have a broad enough range of skills to survive if thrown into unusual situations such as war, economic collapse, massive power plant breakdown or natural catastrophes.

The concept of self sufficiency is all too often bandied around without people properly understanding what it all means. Consider the following statements:

  • To be self sufficient, is to produce the things which you need to survive without the assistance of outside people.
  • You can produce some of your needs and be partly self sufficient, or produce all of your needs and be completely self sufficient.
  • An individual person can be self sufficient, a small group (eg. a family) can be self sufficient, or a large group can be self sufficient (you might think in terms of a whole society, city or nation).
  • To become self sufficient usually involves making certain compromises or concessions in your lifestyle. You might have to wear different types of clothing, adapt to a different level of mobility, reduce or no longer use modern consumer goods, or change your diet. The degree to which you can achieve self sufficiency is usually related to the degree to which you are willing to make compromises.
  • Large areas of land are not necessary to become self sufficient. Depending on what you produce and how you produce it, you can become relatively self sufficient, in terms of food production, on even a standard suburban houseblock.
  • Bartering or swapping goods and/or services is a way of living often adopted by the person interested in self sufficient living. This is not self sufficiency strictly, but like self sufficiency, the barter system offers an escape from a dependence on the monetary system. Many communities have set up barter groups which work on a point system for goods/services supplied, which are then traded throughout the group.

Making Decisions

To be self sufficient requires a blend of three things:

a) Practical knowledge and skills.

b) Management or organisational skills.

c) A readiness to compromise. You may need to compromise to achieve a balance between the things you would like to have and the things you are able to provide yourself with. A self sufficient lifestyle might make you less dependent on society, but this might only be possible at the expense of giving up some of societies luxuries.

To become self sufficient, you must be selective in the goods and services you choose to supply for yourself. It involves doing those things which yield greatest benefit in relation to the time, money and materials you need to spend on producing the goods or service (e.g. if you spend $20 on fertilizer and seed in order to grow $10 worth of vegetables, you would have been better to not grow the vegetables at could have bought them instead and still had $10 in pocket to spend on another more worthwhile project).

The way you physically organise your property and living space (both inside and out) as well as the way you organise your time, are vital factors in improving your level of self sufficiency.

The basic essentials

The first items to which one must look at for self sufficiency are food, clothing and shelter. Once these are either satisfied or a plan is organised on how to meet your requirements of further areas of self sufficiency can be explored.


Food is essential in order to survive. It is perhaps the single most important consideration if you are trying to become self sufficient. It should be possible for any family to become relatively self sufficient for food on as little as 1/4 acre (0.1 ha) of land. You cannot do this by simply growing anything which you might be able to eat. It is essential that you plan the food you produce, to ensure a steady and regular supply of a variety foods needed to maintain good health.

Vegetables and Fruit: In most climates it is relatively easy for the farmer to maintain some cropping. Variables such as drought, floods, etc can play havoc with crops as can voracious animals. A constant supply of a variety of fresh vegetables is important for health. Many fruits can store well as can some vegetables - which make important food reserves.

Meat: Stocking animals which can be slaughtered on farm and eaten reduces costs and improves self sufficiency. To ensure the health of individuals, a range of animals is recommended such as cattle, pigs and poultry. Other by-products such as milk and eggs are also important for self sufficiency.


Consider farm animals capable of yielding useable fleece e.g. sheep, goats, alpacas, etc. Another by-product, the hide, is essential for leather production.

Fibre from plant sources will provide the farmer with a more diverse range of materials to work with. Cotton, flax and silk are well known fibre plants. Hemp, although presently illegal in Australia, produces a popular well wearing strong cloth.

It may be difficult to become self sufficient in terms of clothing based on these products, but they may become valuable as barter commodities.


Most farmers already have their dwelling, so at this point, we will presume that this basic essential is catered for.


It is almost impossible for you to become self sufficient in the area of health care; however measures may be taken to minimize the amount you need to rely on the medical profession.

There are two things which you can do to reduce your dependence:

#Keep healthy!

If you are fit and healthy, you are more likely to be able to resist infection when you come in contact with it. Sleep is essential to good health. People have different requirements, however most need at least seven hours.

#Learn the basics about medicine for yourself!

Everyone should know some basic first aid. If you know the basics, you will then know when to seek professional help. Organisations such as, the Red Cross and St Johns Ambulance Society regularly hold courses in first aid.

The practice of preventative medicine, which incorporates an overall healthy lifestyle, may reduce the need for medical consultations. However, it is important to recognise there are many reasons to see a medical expert which are warranted.

A wide variety of alternative medicine practices have seen a resurgence in recent times. Many have a solid scientific foundation while others do not. You should approach alternative medicine with caution and make up your own mind after thorough investigation of all the available facts.


Not many people would like to go back to the days before electricity was supplied to every home. The thought of living a contemporary life-style without flicking a switch can seem daunting. However there are ways in which the energy needs for the modern family can be met by those who are looking towards self sufficiency; Sun, wind and water all readily available, can be harnessed to provide us with our daily energy needs, while reducing long term costs.

Basic non-essentials

These are items people can either use substitutes for, or in some cases can live without.

For the self sufficient person, it is the items used within the house that are the first to be replaced with more natural or basic alternatives.

Soaps, cleaning solutions, shampoos, etc can be made at home with a few basic ingredients. Once the making process is understood, expensive named brands will no longer need to be purchased.

For the farm, it is wise to look at items used and try to determine how to make alternatives or do without.

Growing food

Although farmers are in the business of producing crops/goods for others they often overlook the fact that they can save money by using a relatively small portion of their land to produce crops for their own consumption. To achieve this the farmer does not have to plough up half of his best paddock. By using the "No-Dig" method the most marginal piece of land can be a productive garden. To be self sufficient in most of your daily food requirements takes up less land than most people imagine. Even a small suburban back yard can produce enough to sustain an average sized family.

A productive vegetable garden needn't take up a lot of time either, by using the "No-Dig" method of gardening a vegetable garden of generous size could be assembled in a mornings work.

The method used in this type of garden is quite simple, layers of material are placed on top of the ground and seedlings are planted with a handful of soil. The materials needed would be found on most farms: Old hay, straw, newspapers, manure and some fertiliser such as blood and bone are all that is needed. If the ground is very hard or rocky it is advisable to put down a thick layer of old hay (about 20cm) first and then build your layers up from there, kitchen scraps can be incorporated into the mixed layers alternating with manure, spoilt hay blood and bone etc. It is advisable to water it all as you go along and top it with wet overlapped newspapers and a layer of old straw to keep it all in place. Holes are punched into the paper through the straw and the seedlings planted with a handful of soil. No weeding required. This method also requires less water as the mulch is extremely water retentive. Most vegetables thrive in this method. Crops that need seed to be sown directly into the soil such as carrots and onions could be planted in a conventional patch on their own.

Seeds are very cheap, a few packet of seeds such as cabbage lettuce etc. has potentially hundreds of plants in them. It is well worth the effort to grow your own seedlings as well. A lot of farm produce stores also sell seeds such as corn, peas and seed potatoes (tubers) and onion sets in bulk, translating into a further cost reduction.

Once your garden is established and producing vegetables you will most certainly find yourself with a glut. This produce could be traded with neighbours or relatives for other goods or services or sold off the farm. Local shops could also be interested in good quality organically produced produce if you haven't used chemicals in their production, this produce also attracts premium prices.

Of course to be relatively self sufficient a lot of the produce you can't consume immediately could be preserved for use later. Fruits such as strawberries, blackberries etc can be turned into jams and jellies for later use or for sale. Corn freezes well as do beans and peas. Potatoes can be stored in the ground for as long as possible, just lift up the mulch and take what you need on a daily basis. Towards the end of winter remove the top mulch and store the remaining potatoes in a cool dry place. Tomatoes can be turned into sauce, paste, or bottled for use over the winter months. Eat what is in season. 

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