Oh, to be self-reliant. To live off the land and provide for yourself, hunting game and foraging for berries in your Carhartt and flannel so you can stock your solar-powered, off-grid home for the winter – but somebody made all that stuff and it wasn’t you. That’s not self-reliance. While going solo might be a sweet fantasy, obtaining complete self-reliance falls somewhere near the realm of impossibility. However, if we learn to strive for self-reliance in our community, we can support our own independence by making conscious and informed choices about where we spend our energy and our money.
The idea of living in the woods may have ever-growing curb appeal in today’s world, but the reality of being self-sufficient, without the need for outside resources, is idealistic at best. Even Jeremiah Johnson traded for flour and coffee that he couldn’t grow himself, and the kid whose remains were found in a bus in the wilds of Alaska probably regretted the lack of a kind neighbor at some point. Although we don’t equate self-reliance with dependency on others, the fact is that we need other people – even in the quest for our own self-reliance. Allowing that you could produce everything you need on your own land, using nothing but your bare blistered hands, you would still be affected by your environment and the community around you.
Fortunately, by cultivating self-reliance in your community, you can support your own self-reliance. Because we cannot produce everything we need to live comfortably, we must look to others. Our choices are ordering online from faceless behemoths like Amazon, venturing to community-smothering big box stores, or shopping locally and supporting local retailers. Only one of these options supports our personal health and well-being. Only one will, at least, offer us the illusion that we are self-sufficient.
Supporting your local farmers is an excellent place to start. Purchasing local produce, meat and dairy ensures that our community, and therefore ourselves, have food security. Before COVID, empty shelves in grocery stores were unimaginable – scenes from post-apocalyptic B-movies starring Dennis Quaid. But we’ve all seen the rough edges of the breakdown of commerce and the perils of panic. The certainty of knowing that our basic survival needs are covered is priceless. Supporting local artists, services and businesses is just as important for all the same reasons.
Volunteering and sharing skills also promotes self-reliance in the community. When our neighbors become more self-reliant, we support our own security because more capable and contributing people join our circle. And when others teach us new skills, we further our own self-sufficiency – teach a person to fish and all that. The simple act of getting to know your neighbors opens doors and fosters more connections for trading goods and knowledge. Neighbors are an invaluable resource and small towns are notorious for keeping the barter system alive. One only needs to look as far as the High Country Shopper.
The irony is that to achieve self-reliance, we must rely on others in our community. Our co-dependence (it’s really not a bad word) with our neighbors and local businesses will eventually allow us to become independent from the ties that bind us from doing things our own way.