The Winner of Our Discontent

I never expected that we’d be the ones receiving the church “charity” Christmas basket. Every year we contributed to our church gift baskets with dried and canned foods, baked goods, and also helped to collect second-hand clothes, games and toys. And every Christmas without fail we drove to houses in our neighborhood to give these baskets out to families who needed help.

In the spring of 1978 my dad had a major stroke, and by late autumn the sick pay from his job had run out and we began to realize that he may never work full-time again (he never did). A year ago my dad beat me to a race around the block and I owed him One Pound. Today he needed assistance to walk anywhere.

I was scared and things felt bleak, then just before Christmas my mum left a whole week’s food shopping on the bus. We ate a lot of potatoes that week!

A couple of days before Christmas the doorbell rang, and we received two gift baskets from our church plus a bag with some second-hand clothes for us. I felt a combination of cold and warm at the same time. Cold that we needed the help…after all, we’d always been the ones who gave to others. But warm that I didn’t feel so isolated and alone any more and that someone cared.

I remember that Christmas as one of the best ever. Although we had few material gifts, all that mattered was the simple pleasure of all being together. Nothing else came close because we had each other.

Simple 2.0

Part of the personal journey everyone makes on their path to greater self sufficiency means evaluating how we spend our time…at home, at work and at play. For example today it’s a bright, frosty winter day. If I fancy a nice salad and need decent organic lettuce and salad leaves, I can drive to the store or I can walk out into our greenhouse and pick what I like.

Somewhere in early-2012 we stopped watching television. Or that is, we dropped cable TV in favor of movies we chose to watch via DVD and some streaming TV.

Not having the distraction of TV frees-up an immense amount of time but an added benefit is that this Christmas our children didn’t repeat the “For Christmas we want…” mantra, because they weren’t being bombarded by advertisements selling them toys they needed to feel happy.

And so once again, this Christmas we simply enjoyed being a close family and the darkness outside was brightened by the warmth, lights and joy in our home. What mattered this year was the magic of family, and of simply enjoying our time spent together.

Getting Started on Your Self-Sufficient Path

People ask me with increasingly regularity how they can get started growing their own food, moving into the countryside or any of the other things we do, such as rearing our own meat, hunting, fishing, making cheese or – like today – brewing beer and making sausages.

One of my favorite chefs and food writers is Michael Ruhlman, and his book Charcuterie is a joy to read and to use. In the FAQs at his blog he answers – simply and straightforwardly – the oft-posed question of, “I want to be a food writer–can you give me any advice?” His response is:

“Write. That’s all there is to it. In my opinion you have to be able to write first–about anything. Once you can write, then you can turn your writing toward your passions for food.”

To borrow the same response, “How can I get started growing my own food/moving to the countryside/rearing my own meat/fishing/hunting/{insert your question here}?” then yes, I’d certainly recommend “Get Started/Just Do It!” but I know that there is much more to it than that.

My goal here is to share with you our own journey of what happened after we “just started” but also to give you, if not a path, then at least a fairly decent trail of breadcrumbs you may use as a helpful indication of which direction to head.

“Just start” is prescriptive. Yes, please do get started. Now. Today. “Just Do It!

This blog, however, is descriptive. There’s no point in me prescribing that you grow avocados if you live in Alaska nor suggest that you plant garlic in mid-summer in Phoenix. But hopefully I will share enough to allow you to take larger and larger steps in the right direction.

And at the start of your journey the biggest thing I learned that you’ll need is one, simple ingredient…


Without the time, you will never do any of this and in future you’ll look back over time and wonder why you never started. But time is also about priorities, and about what is important to you and in making time for that.

I’ve always found the phrase “making time” amusing…as if you can just create more time out of thin air, and create more hours than there are in a day.

But I believe that you can create new time by deciding what is important to you and working toward that.

Be honest with yourself. You know how much time you spend watching TV, visiting social media sites, driving to and from the office, reading the news or in catching up on gossip with acquaintances. Mashable’s article from November 2012 shows how much time is spent on social media sites – the average person spends a whopping 6.75 hours a month on Facebook alone – and you probably have a good idea of how much new time you could create by readjusting some of the similar time hogs in your life.

Clearing the Weeds

Here’s the magical thing about freeing-up time…about making time: if you can find just one hour a day, that’s four, eight-hour days a month and that is enough time to grow food to feed your family. My friend Vanessa realized that now she works at home four days a week, the time she saves not having to commute to the office (two hours round trip) is all she needs to get started.

Wherever you are in your journey – and I know if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you are at the start – the first thing to do is free up time to get started.

In my next blog post I’ll share some ideas of how to start using the time you’ve freed-up. Until then, make time


  1. David-
    I have been following you and your father-in-law for years and am committed to learning from both of you.

    It’s interesting that we both live in Oregon, that I, just as you and Gary, have lived all over the world.

    I teach middle school, write and dream.

    If you need a poem to celebrate life, feel free to pick one from site and publish or print; just include link to place where you found it.

    I look forward to watching your journey on Water the Roots.


  2. I find your writing very interesting and quite eloquent. You must have some education in that respect? I applaude your efforst for being mostly self sustaining, and organic. God speed on continued efforst and sucess. I will enjoy following your efforts. I live in NE corner of Ohio, and my wife ( of 48 yrs. in August ) and I have raised a family of -9- children on our “little farm- homestead “. We began our venture in 1968 on five acres, adding 10 more , mostly woods for heating our large older farm house. There were no out buildings left on the lot when we moved in. I had to build a small pole barn and chicken coop. We had a miling cow for over 23 years, goats, pigs, chickens,turkeys, ducks,rabbits, dog and cats. Everyone shared in the chores including milking the cow by hand. Lots of canning, freezing, drying and fresh food.
    We have been sustainable of sorts and organic all during this period of time. No Chemicals or sprayes, mostly animal manure and cover cropping with winter wheat. I became self employed in 1987 after a layoff, and stated paint signs. After several years of the sign work ( which I still do computer vinly graphics ) I began tail gate farmers marketing my vegs. I have just completed my 18th year of marketing and work approx. 1-1/2 acres . Several gardens of sorts and different sizes. I work mostly with a group of small garden tractors ( 8-16 hp ) called Speedex made here in Ohio from 1935 thru 1999, ( i do repro-decals for them ) and a Troy Bilt roto tiller. I am rich in that I at 69 still have relitavily good health and farming in my blood. The call of the earth comes each Spring with the warming weather, and the rest you already know. My wife and I have 26 Grand children and we are always busy celebrating something in birthdays or anniversarys, or graduations, school events etc. I especially enjoy the comments of my faithful market clients in how good and different my vegs. and eggs are. Our markets here focuse on Local grown and Organic. I was certified Organic for 10 years and dropped away as the large corporate farms took over the word Organic,. I now say I am Sustainable -Beyound Organic. My market is approx. 60 miles from me in an upscale area that tends to support good prices for my crops. I will eventually have to size down to more local in my hometown. The cost of traveling, market fees and time is getting more and more tasking. Over all I have enjoyed the veg. farming and marketing good food for good people. Sort of long , sorry , for now Mike

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