Why I Chose the Self-Sufficient Life

farm-fieldsIt’s almost become cliché now, the city dweller who packed it up and moved to the country to become a homesteader. So you’ve probably heard this story before. But maybe these stories inspire you, and that inspiration is needed, because it’s not as if society is going to celebrate you cutting yourself off or severely limiting your participation in it. People don’t like that. The government especially doesn’t like that.

My story starts some time in the late aughts, in 2007 or 2008 – I really don’t remember exactly when. I was a waiter in an Atlantic City casino, and I had gotten sucked into the cash on-demand lifestyle I was living. I had no trade, no college education, no plan “B.” I didn’t need one. After all, this was the boom era, perpetual prosperity was more or less guaranteed, and I always had the cash I needed to live relatively comfortably.

Then the bust happened, and I didn’t know anything about busts, or why they occur. Previous downturns hadn’t really ever hit my industry particularly hard, but this one was different. This one was earth-shattering. I had been in the industry for almost a decade and a half, and for the first time, in my mid-30’s, there was no cash coming in.

I am an information junkie, someone who always considered himself “in the know,” but one thing I didn’t know about was economics. There just never seemed to be any need to understand it. You watch the news, and you see people talk about economics, and it’s all sunshine and roses all the time. But here I was, living with my dad, not paying rent, and still struggling to even put gas in my car. I was panicked. I ordered some used economics textbooks from Amazon. I searched extensively online. Somehow all of my searching brought me into contact with people known as Austrian economists. These aren’t necessarily people of Austrian descent; it’s a school of economics (there are others, such as the Chicago school, Keynesian school, etc). I realized that there were people who predicted the crash not long before it happened, so naturally these were people I took seriously as I tried to figure out what was going on.

These prescient figures – people like Peter Schiff and Ron Paul, introduced me to the Mises Institute, which features more economists who had the answers I was seeking. All had a more or less common theme: that what had just happened, which was absolutely catastrophic, was like a trip to Disneyland compared to what was to come, because everything the central planners and banks had done to cause the crash in the first place was still being done as a remedy to the problem, only they were doing it with even more vigor and enthusiasm. It was like they were trying to put a fire out by dousing it with gasoline.

Even more panicked, now knowing that an economic apocalypse was almost a certainty, I had two choices – choices of which I hadn’t really been conscious of before this time. I say this because I know many people who are aware of how bad the economic situation is, but have chosen to ignore it and pretend that it’s not happening. It’s an unsettling reality, and maybe if we ignore it then it will go away. I am certain this thought never entered my mind. The other option, which I chose, was to take stock of every essential aspect of my life which I did not currently control, and work towards taking control of those.

What would happen if a Weimar Republic-esque hyperinflation struck this country, and our currency became so worthless that people were using it to light their fireplaces, or wheel-barreling it to the store to buy a loaf of bread? “You don’t have to wait in a bread line when you have your own bread.” So I took to learning everything I could absorb about how to produce my own food. Not coincidentally, this was also a time when I was coming to learn about the horrors of the industrial food machine, and I was determined to make sure my food was clean and nutritious.

Living in New Jersey, I was horrified by the ramifications of such a collapse occurring while living in an area with such a high population density. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union, but even scarier, one-fifth of the state is a protected forest known as the Pine Barrens, where hardly anyone lives! So the rest of the state is just crammed in like a sardine, with even the lighter populated areas being pure suburbia. And these people are, to put it mildly, not aware, not awake, and many of them do not care to be. I don’t want to say they are more asleep than anywhere else, but, wow, with a few exceptions, I am sure they are largely clueless. What would happen in such a situation, an economic collapse, where the shelves are empty and people can’t feed themselves? I can only imagine the barbarity. It’s would be biblical.

I knew I had to get out of New Jersey, and as far away from significant population centers, as soon as possible. How I could possibly do this, I had no idea. I grew up there, my family was there, I was a divorced father of two children who, at the time, were not even teenagers yet. I knew that if I left I couldn’t take them with me. I would have to leave everything I’ve ever known.

In the meantime, being an information junkie, I accumulated as much knowledge as I could on becoming self-sufficient. Of course, search long enough for such information, and you’ll come across Marjory Wildcraft, and her Grow Your Own Groceries program. That was a huge start. Living in my basement apartment in Ventnor, New Jersey, with a ten square foot concrete slab for a “yard,” I could only watch her DVDs and fantasize about a life I had no idea I was actually going to build.

Through social networking, I met a woman from Mississippi who was sort of a kindred spirit. It turned out that we were more like soulmates. We dated long distance for some time, before it became obvious to me that, this wasn’t a coincidence. This was providence. I needed to leave New Jersey, and this woman lived in a low population area, and she also happens to be an amazing match for me. I don’t recommend soulmate searching on the internet, but I was lucky enough to find mine there.

I moved here permanently in 2011, and the next year we bought our own house. The property we found was also like providence, as it is almost cloistered in its location, with just enough land to start a food production system. As a housewarming gift, a friend of ours gave us five chicks – four Australorp and one barred Plymouth Rock – so, ready or not, we had to get started.

Four years later, the crash I anticipated has not yet arrived, but the downward economic spiral continues. This makes it harder and harder to build that self-sufficient life, since there is no doubt a significant investment needed to cut the cord. We now have a viable food production system – thirteen laying hens, and a garden approximately 500 square feet total, which I am always expanding. Growing food is a challenge, and a reality check, especially if you’re like me and you got caught up in that survival seed frenzy, which sells you enough seeds to feed your family in a crisis but doesn’t put a lot of stress on the significant amount of knowledge and, more importantly, experience necessary to grow a viable garden. Fortunately I didn’t wait for the crisis to begin. I have had many disheartening failures, but each season increases my experience, and I am finally starting to see some encouraging results.

Pursuing a self-sufficient life has been the most challenging and rewarding endeavor I have and will ever undertake. There is no turning back, and I would never go back to my old life, even if it turned out we were all wrong and the economy returned to perpetual prosperity. In the coming months and years, I will expand my growing capacity, which I hope will include growing fodder for my livestock, learn to raise chicks from my own eggs to replenish my flock (I have a rooster for this purpose), adding rabbits for meat production, adding solar panels and possibly a wind turbine for power, digging a well, and installing a rain collection system to shore up my water supply. No matter what happens in the outside world, I want to be in control of my life. I want my destiny to be in my own hands.


Thanks to Steve Curtin for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

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8 Comments
  • Christina Migda

    Steve
    That is my dream you are describing. I had the same awakening back around 2007 and devoured every bit of info I found. I am here in Denver and got out of debt 3 years ago. Now am saving for a property up in Northern MI (very cheap properties). Thanks for sharing and inspiring me further (and I hope faster!).

  • Hey Steve,

    I am also native to Gloucester County NJ. My roots date back to the late 1680’s. I agree with you it is a nice place to leave, I now live in the mountains of WV. NJ definitely is no longer the garden state of vegetables but a garden state of pollution. I have been in Ventnor several times and it sure has become a very crowded place. I wish you the best on your new path in homesteading.

  • Good for you, Steve! More power to you and your soulmate and I hope you continue to thrive in your new home.

  • Vicki

    I totally understand getting away from the Rat Race, I can’t stand it either.
    Considering I am retired, still have to deal with that situation I hate so much but no other choice.
    Growing ones vegetables does help, have you thought of Goats for milk,cheese and butter and a black skin Pig ,bacon and ham along with lard. Black skin do not get sun burned and allowing them to range fed instead of the mash fed let homesteaders back to pioneer days.
    Good Luck.

    Staying away from process foods makes

  • Steve

    Thanks for the kind words!

  • Eileen "Lee"

    I would love to do this but still have 2 adult children living at home and my husband is very sick with progressive heart disease. We have been struggling with growing some of our own produce but have been side-tracked many times with disease, pestilence and storms here in SWFL. Anyone have any helpful, practical suggestions, would greatly appreciate it!

  • Cora

    Inspiring! Keep up the great work!

  • Patty

    Great story! I have many of the same concerns but have only mentally walked thru them…(chronic procrastinator) monetary and survivalist, hats off to you for actually doing something and finding happiness in the process! I look forward to reaping the benefits of your hard work and advice!!!

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