On this Independence Day, I'm celebrating the ways my family's lifestyle is becoming more independent from the mainstream. This means our lifestyle is becoming more independent from oil for long-distance transport of goods, more independent from carbon emissions, more independent from the Industrial Growth Paradigm, demanding less earth resources, and thus much more resilient.
VEGETABLES & FRUITS
My family is independent from those lifeless items in the supermarket produce aisle. We are gradually becoming independent from industrialized agribusiness. We buy mostly all of our produce fresh from the local farmer's market, and when I am there, I buy predominantly from two vendors whose farms are 45 miles and 125 miles from my home respectively (here in Los Angeles, that's pretty close!). A considerable portion of our leafy greens are homegrown, and in some summer months, 100% of our fruit. I no longer purchase thyme, oregano, bay leaf, mint, rosemary, basil, cilantro, because I grow our year's supply. I'm working on tea herbs next, so that we can declare our independence in that arena. And our team of gardeners is working to grow the number of food gardens in our local area.
We're well on our way toward becoming independent from mainstream eggs. Our city chicks are growing, and I expect them to begin laying within the next two months or so.
We declared our independence from processed foods a few years ago. Our diet contains a far higher percentage of vegetables than most Americans, and I make most meals from scratch with whole food ingredients.
"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." - Michael Pollan
We don't have a lawn anymore. We do have some remaining scrappy grass underfoot in the pathways between the growing beds, but it certainly doesn't qualify as "lawn." Our front yard isn't watered at all during our dry season, which means the plants (xeriscape and native plants) go from about May to November with no water. We were one of the first in our neighborhood to make this dramatic change in aesthetic, but now several neighbors have followed suit. You can tell our yard - it's the one with all the tumbling flocks of chirping birds, the one about which a neighborhood kid said with awe, "you live in the WILDLIFE HABITAT!?" It's hard to see from the street, but our back yard is an edible landscape. (Edible landscaping resources)
We are on our way to becoming much more independent with respect to our water supply. The local water company says that more than half of the water for most homes goes to the landscaping. At our home, that statistic is turned on its ear. As I said before, our front yard doesn't get watered. Period. A good portion of the water used on the back yard edible landscape is harvested rainwater. And the side yard is watered with greywater, reused from indoors. We recently taught a session about Greywater, including the recently legalized "laundry to greywater" system, and the session was full so I know there will soon be lots more of these systems in our area. (Water Wisdom and Greywater resources)
We're independent from lawn chemicals and chem-gardening. Our earthworms are thriving, our soil life is too. We have a three-bin compost system, and our kitchen waste goes through an elaborate matrix of chickens/worm bin/compost bin/garden soil. I can see the increased soil fertility in my vegetable health. Not exactly a soil issue, but we also have intentionally cultivated a full range of beneficial insects from hoverflies to resident breeding ladybugs, and have recently reintroduced native lizards and frogs. Down at our local community garden, Gene just built huge new compost piles - we should have photos up soon. (Great book about soil life for young and old)
We are quite independent from "the politically dominant medical system" (as one very wise book I read calls it). The kids and I don't use much allopathic medicine, we use a range of wise practitioners: an alternative medicine general practitioner (nutrition, chiropractics, and more), a homeopath, an acupuncturist. I've learned a lot about garden-to-medicine herbal care (skip the herbal pills), and grow or know where to harvest many of the plants we use: aloe vera, mint, yarrow, plantain. In the Transition Mar Vista group, they have started a Community Wellness Project where practitioners gather weekly to offer alternative health modalities to the community. (Understanding health care)
Personally, I have become pretty independent from the mainstream clothing race. That means independent from malls and hours spent shopping, independent from fashion merchandising and peer pressure. It is a slow process since I don't replace much in my wardrobe over the course of the year; I wear everything until it fades and wears out. I knit a lot of my own tops and sweaters, my sister makes many of my skirts, and I buy fair-trade or U.S. made clothing for the few additional items that aren't homemade. (Jeans are still a problem, as are shoes.) My daughter and I make some of her clothes, but it is difficult to stay on top of all that a growing young body needs. When my kids were younger, all was from consignment and thrift stores, but they are in a "between" size range right now where that is not possible. My husband and son do buy mainstream clothing, but they practice the "reduce" part of the equation. (Unshopping)
I declared my independence from "news" and TV about 25 years ago and have never looked back. We don't subscribe to a newspaper, we don't turn on the TV hardly at all, and there is a lot of live acoustic music in our home daily. I will glance at some online news nowdays (for many years I did not), simply because my public speaking schedule demands that I be on top of certain issues. I have a steady stream of favorite sources of "the good news stories" which daily remind me that things are indeed changing for the better. The remarkable thing is, this intentional path of media abstention means we're exposed to far less advertising, which helps considerably to reduce the "I want"s. But overall, not having a lot of media around leaves my head quite clear to think and form my own opinions about the direction society needs to go, opinions formed with observations through all the other things on this page. (Positive News)
Oh, I wish I could be independent of laundry (doesn't every mom) ... nope, can't say that. But I am independent of a dryer. We don't own one anymore. I got drying racks and began using them pretty seriously about 3 years ago. The kids and I put a sticker on the front of the dryer appliance with a date of the last time it had been used. When it sat one full year unused, my husband finally sold it. We've freed up space in our home (and I calculated that the greenhouse gas emissions saved each year by our not using a dryer are the equivalent of taking one car off the road for a half year!). (My solar-powered, wind-powered clothes dryer)
Now that we are independent from heavy soaps and cleansers, we really notice how badly other people smell: like walking chemical bottles. Perfumes, hair sprays, shampoos ... ugh! Buildings smell bad too, like bleach and industrial "cleansers." Who are they kidding? Clean doesn't smell like that. We clean our home with vinegar and water and a reusable microfiber cloth. Now that we have so many greywater appliances, we have had to change to biocompatable soaps, most of which are completely unscented. (Greywater soaps and shampoos)
We are independent from paper plates, styro cups, plastic water bottles. It makes my young teens squirm sometimes but we even take our own reuseable dishes to potlucks. (Honest, it was another mom, not me, who got the Boy Scout troop to begin implementing a bring-your-own plate policy!) We don't use paper towels or paper napkins, we use real (soft) reuseable cloth. Now the sites where our local Transition groups meet are adopting similar practices. (Dispense with disposables)
I wish I could say I was more car-free. My husband is the most independent of automobile transportation of all of us since he bicycles the full 9 miles to work 1 to 2 times per week. Other days he bicycles part of the way. We aspire to have one car-free day per week, but this aspect of reforming our lifestyle certainly needs more work.
Our family is independent from the mainstream school system, its more-more-more paradigm, its "preparation for the globalized economy," the corporate merchandising, and the training to be complacent consumers. (quotation is what Jack O'Connell, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, sees as his ultimate objective) We homeschool, and my kids are learning the skills they will really need for the decades ahead: community leadership, public service, how to grow vegetables and raise chickens, how to do fairly sophisticated first aid, how to harvest rainwater and clean out a greywater drain, how to cook meals from scratch, and how to think analytically and independently. I'm candid with them about what we in the Transition movement understand is the real direction of the future, and my kids assist and co-teach at many of our local Transition reskilling sessions. (Homeschooling in Los Angeles)
Within our Los Angeles neighborhood, we've recently begun a LETSystem, a local bartering system. There are also many other ways of sharing available within our neighborhood. Within our community we try to keep each other informed about these blossoming new tools, and to encourage each other to use them. It isn't independence, but it is a baby step to be celebrated.
Joyfully, we are NOT independent of community! The circle of like-minded people around us is growing and growing! Despite this lengthy list of lifestyle habits where it might seem that we are departing from the mainstream, we are not lone survivalists: we have lots of company. Some of our friends begin with the alternative medicine track. Others have begun with the edible garden. But after initial entrance into the new ways, people tend to embrace more and more of this stuff: purging the prepared foods leads to alternative health and to organic gardening. And as we swap eggs and compost and vegetable starts and extra zucchini and stories about our lives, our community in the heart of Los Angeles is growing and thriving. (Transition Los Angeles) In fact, I leave this post to escort my daughter in the local parade, and then join an afternoon full of gatherings with friends ... most of whom have city chickens and vegetable gardens!
IT'S YOUR TURN
This Independence Day, take a moment to count the ways you are becoming independent from the old, crumbling systems. Count the ways you are becoming independent from carbon emissions and from fossil fuels. Count the ways you are being more respectful to the earth, and living in closer harmony with its ecosystems. Count the ways you are becoming more connected to your neighbors. Take a moment to celebrate what you have achieved.