Transitioning to homestead-style food production is no small undertaking. Making this change requires the combined labor of a family, or even a community, working together to make a sustainable locally-grown diet possible.
I’m not the gardener in my relationship, my wife is the one with the green thumb. She has spent much of our three year marriage building a food forest. I have contributed by building durable structures like cold frames and large trellises. I have the benefit of some technical skills my father taught me. My wife is learning about building and I am learning about gardening, but our early gender socialization usually gives one of us an edge and we tend towards certain ‘traditional’ competencies. When I think about division of labor on a day to day basis, however, things don’t often play out along ‘traditional’ lines. We are both very competent cooks, and I think there is something to be said for intentionally picking up the slack when someone else has put the food on the table. What I mean is, if she has grown most of the food, I should do the peeling, washing, slicing, and dicing to make that food palatable.
In many cases people fall naturally into doing those household jobs that align with their competencies and preferences. While I am certainly not averse to gardening (I have enjoyed gardening greatly in the past), my wife is passionate about it and can produce a huge amount of food when she has a supporting partner to help with the time-consuming tasks like preparation, preservation, and fermentation. During the more hectic times of the growing season food has sometimes gone to waste, even though it was already picked and sorted in baskets on the patio, because my wife did not have a any helping hands in the kitchen.
Ideally, every person in the family or community should be familiar with every part of the essential aspects of running the homestead, but in reality some degree of task specialization is necessary in order to allow people to devote the most time to the tasks they are best at.
For example, I am a skilled ham radio operator. It is a passion of mine and a hobby to which I happily commit many hours. If we were ever in a situation where other lines of communication were unavailable, I have the skills to propagate radio signals. While my wife has probably learned enough about ham radio from me to accomplish some communication in an emergency, it is not her skill set or her passion. Similarly, I could easily grow a vegetable garden but it would take me years of trial and error to figure out some of the more complex forest soil science and fungal cultivation she has going on in her gardens. With that in mind, I think it’s important for the non-gardeners in any homestead to pick up the vegetable peeler so that the gardeners can do their thing and do it well!
Note: This article was an entry in our October – December 2014 writing contest. Click here to find out about our current writing contest.