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Seeking Self-Sufficiency

updated october 2002

We seek to be self-sufficient within our present means and have lofty dreams for the future. Therefore we want to be realistic about our capabilities and be open to compromises. We want to find a middle ground between frivilous luxuries and bare necessities. Living in the jungle, it is surprising how easily we have become accustomed to what some might consider unbearable hardships, such as sleeping in a tent. But on the other hand we have found it hard to be satisfied without some of the comforts with which we grew up, such as paths and roads that don't get muddy when it rains. We want a simple life which is comfortable enough for us to maintain it and to which visitors and potential members can easily adapt.

We want to learn the necessary skills for achieving self-sufficiency such as how to grow and process cotton and other fibers into cloth, but in the world at present there is so much waste that in some areas such as clothing, other textile items, glass jars, etc. it is ecologically a better choice (and less time consuming) to re-use what already exists.

It is beautiful to live in a natural environment: a kitchen without plastic or even metal is less practical but certainly more aesthetically appealing; food that is harvested fresh is not only more nourishing but there are no crinkling plastic bags piling up in a tucked-away spot; a plastic pipe is useful, but a bamboo pipe is both beautiful and useful; a zinc roof does a good job at keeping a building dry, but a thatch roof does that as well as blend in beautifully with the jungle surrounding it.

Already we are able to support ourselves in the production of hot peppers, chaya and tropical pumpkins; in the collection of wild soap berries (used for laundry, dishes, our bodies and hair), cohune nuts and hearts, maya breadnuts, firewood, some medicinal herbs and all of our construction materials.

As carbohydrates are the largest area from which humans obtain food energy, achieving self-sufficiency in a carbohydrate-rich food will be a very significant step toward self-sufficiency. We currently have 84 banana plants growing, the first due to bear fruit in early 2003. Banana production from this many plants is expected to be about 9000 lbs per year. We also have small areas planted in other carbohydrate-rich foods such as cassava, sweet potato, coco, yam, air potato, and arrowroot. Corn (maize) is expected to be the most significant contributor to carbohydrates among the cereals. We have no areas suitable for much rice production.

Grain amaranth has done well for us in trials and it, like corn, awaits the further pushing back of the jungle's edge as both of these plants are sun lovers and we currently do not have a very large area where plants can get enough hours of direct sunlight.

Protein and/or fat-rich foods are also under management at a garden. Perhaps 12 or so coconuts are underway and due to bear fruit in ~2006. We want to have about 30 coconut palms planted at a garden. Pigeon peas of 2 or 3 varieties are soon going to produce and we have a variety trial planned for 2003. If you are unfamiliar with the pigeon pea it is a short lived perennial producing a decent amount of high quality food on a small tree. 4 grafted avocados are well underway and several more seedling trees are showing healthy growth. One breadnut tree is doing well, and another, still overly shaded is hoping for some sun soon. Breadnuts have been perhaps the most important protein source for another family we know who have been living in the jungle in Belize for about 10 years. Breadnuts are delicious, their preparation encourages people to sit together and visit, they produce generously, they fall to the ground when ripe and the tree requires little care once established. We include various kinds of dry beans in our system but do not yet produce the volume needed to supply our present needs. We hope to plant sesame, a crop that does well for our neighbors, in Nov 2002.

As for our home-production of foods rich in vitamens and minerals, we have many fruits and edible greens planted. The greens are already producing well, giving us lots of diversity in those nutrients, but the fruits, of course won't start to appear for a few years.

What's It Like Now

"The spinning wheel is a symbol not of commercial war but of commercial peace. It bears not a message of ill-will towards the nations of the earth but good-will and self-help. It will not need the protection of a navy threatening a world's peace and exploiting its resourses, but it needs the religious detemination of millions to spin their yarn in their own homes as today they cook food in their own homes. I may desreve the curses of posterity for many mistakes of omission and commission, but I am confident of earning its blessings for suggesting a revival of the spinning wheel. I stake my all on it. For every revolution of the wheel spins peace, goodwill and love." -- Mohandas K. Gandhi