Independence Days: My First Challenge

Sharon April 29th, 2008

I’ve quoted Carla Emery’s wonderful passage about Independence Days and how she plants on this blog before, but it bears repeating.  She wrote,

All spring I try to plant something every day – from late February, when the early peas and spinach and garlic can go in, on up to midsummer, when the main potato crop and the late beans and lettuce go in.  Then I switch over and make it my rule to try and get something put away for the winter every single day.  That lastas until the pumpkins and sunflowers and late squash and green tomatoes are in.  Then comes the struggle to get the most out of the stored food – all winter long.  It has to be checked regularly, and you’ll need to add to that day’s menu anything that’s on the verge of spoiling, wilting or otherwise becoming useless.   

That was Carla’s version of “Independence Days” – a world where every day was part of the food cycle.  She wrote more about this in one of my favorite

 People have to choose what they are going to struggle for.  Life is always a struggle, whether or not you’re struggling for anything worthwhile, so it might as well be for something worthwhile.  Independence days are worth struggling for.  they’re good for me, good for the country and good for growing children.

Now there’s a Declaration of Independence for you.  Or perhaps the Constitution of the United Food Sovereign People of the World.  It is so desperately needed that we do declare our independence from the globalizing, totalitarian, destructive, toxic, dangerous agriculture that destroys our future and our power and pays to destroy democracy.  And so, when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to divorce themselves from a system that has become destructive, and thus:

We the people, in order to form a more perfect union of human and nature, establish justice and ensure food sovreignty, provide for the common nutrition, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty, for ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this constitution for the United Food Sovereign People of the World.

I’ve never really run a challenge before on this blog, but I thought I’d start one – the Independence Days challenge!  We’re already sort of doing this over at the food storage group (if you want to subscribe send an email to [email protected]), but I thought I’d bring it here, because I think it is a thing worth struggling for.

I challenge myself and all of you to work on creating food Independence Days this year – that all of us try to do one thing every day  to create Food Independence.  That means in each day or week, we would try to:

1. Plant something.  Obviously, those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere and having spring are doing this anyway.  But the idea that you should plant all week and all year is a good reminder to those of us who sometimes don’t get our fall gardens or our succession plantings done regularly.  Remember, that beet you harvested left a space – maybe for the next one to get bigger, but maybe for a bit of arugula or a fall crop of peas, or a cover crop to enrich the soil.  Independence is the bounty of a single seed that creates an abundance of zucchini, and enough seeds to plant your own garden and your neighbor’s.

2. Harvest something. From the very first nettles and dandelions to the last leeks and parsnips I drag out of the frozen ground, harvest something from the garden or the wild every day you can.  I can’t think of a better way to be aware of the bounty around you to realize that there’s something – even if it is dandelions for tea or wild garlic for a salad – to be had every single day.  Independence is really appreciating and using the bounty that we have.

3. Preserve something.  Sometimes this will be a big project, but it doesn’t have to be.  It doesn’t take long to slice a couple of tomatoes and set them on a screen in the sun, or to hang up a bunch of sage for winter.  And it adds up fast.  The time you spend now is time you don’t have to spend hauling to the store and cooking later.  Independence is eating our own, and cutting the ties we have to agribusiness.

4. Prep something.  Hit a yard sale and pick up an extra blanket.  Purchase some extra legumes and oatmeal.  Sort out and inventory your pantry.  Make a list of tools you need.  Find a way to give what you don’t need to someone who does.  Fix your bike.  Fill that old soda bottle with water with a couple of drops of bleach in it.  Plan for next year’s edible landscaping.  Make back-road directions to your place and send it to family in case they ever need to come to you – or make ‘em for yourself for where you might have to go. Clean, mend, declutter, learn a new skill.  Independence is being ready for whatever comes.

5. Cook something.  Try and new recipe, or an old one with a new ingredient.  Sometimes it is hard to know what to do with all that stuff you are growing or making.  So experiment now.  Can you make a whole meal in your solar oven?  How are stir-fried pea shoots?  Stuffed squash blossoms?  Wild morels in pasta?  Independence is being able to eat and enjoy what is given to us.

6. Manage your reserves.  Check those apples and take out the ones starting to go bad and make sauce with it.  Label those cans.  Clean out the freezer.  Ration the pickles, so you’ll have enough to last to next season.  Use up those lentils before you take the next ones out of the bag.  Find some use for that can of whatever it is that’s been in the pantry forever.  Sort out what you can donate, and give it to the food pantry.  Make sure the squash are holding out.  Independence means not wasting the bounty we have.

7. Work on local food systems.  This could be as simple as buying something you don’t grow or make from a local grower, or finding a new local source.  It could be as complex as starting a coop or a farmer’s market, creating a CSA or a bulk store.  You might give seeds or plants or divisions to a neighbor, or solicit donations for your food pantry.  Maybe you’ll start a guerilla garden or help a homeschool coop incubate some chicks.  Maybe you’ll invite people over to your garden, or your neighbors in for a homegrown meal, or sing the praises of your local CSA.  Maybe you can get your town to plant fruit or nut producing street trees or get a manual water pump or a garden put in at your local school.  Whatever it is, our Independence days come when our neighbors and the people we love are food secure too. 

I’m not suggesting you should do all these things on any day (heck that’ s impossible) - but every day try and do one of them – or every week, or every weekend, if that’s what your schedule allows.  It takes practice to live and grow and eat this way – so let’s do it now while we’ve got the time and energy and each other for support. 

I’m going to try to do this, starting now, and running all year long.  If you sign up in the comments section, I’ll try and set up a cool sidebar thingie, like all the funky challengers do.   We’ll do weekly updates, and I want to hear how you are doing too!  Who’s in for in Independence Days?


145 Responses to “Independence Days: My First Challenge”

  1. I’m on the list already (and in!) but this discussion has given me a lot of new ideas … thanks!

    Oh, and people dye cloth with dandelion … makes some beautiful dyes.

  2. Danielle says:

    I’m in for every day, though I’d selfishly like to add “tend something” to the plant/ harvest list since weeding and hand pest control take up so much of time.

    Or maybe I’m just grumpy for being on high slug alert these days… and losing. *sigh*

    On a brighter note, your post got me motivated to get out there and clear out a couple of bolting beds and prep them for planting and I got several more things in the ground that have been needing to get planted for various reasons. So, I think I’m going to enjoy this challenge immensely!

  3. Denise says:

    I’m in too! I’m already doing some of these but this will keep me moving!!!

  4. Deb G says:

    Me too! I really like your list of things to aim for and it supports what I’ve been trying to do.

  5. Clay says:

    I’m in, but want to make it sustainable over the long haul. I have a tendency to be a great initiator, but lack the motivation over time. My life has to change a bit to allow me to focus. I’d love to jump in with both feet, but time and money make it difficult.

    I’ll commit to doing something on Saturday and Sunday, reading as much as I can, and helping prepare my family and extended community for the future.

  6. Theresa says:

    I am so in. I have so many things to learn and practice! I will commit to once a week at this point, since there are a few days a week when I’m barely home at all, unfortunately.

  7. Suz says:

    I am in. I have printed your list for our fridge. By the way, we in the southern hemisphere are still planting – some of us anyway. We are subtropical here (Brisbane, Australia) and winter is our best growing time, in fact.

    I like the idea of a little everyday.

  8. Liz in Australia says:

    I’m in. I’ve just come in from planting out some herbs in pots by my front door, in fact :) I can pretty much plant through winter here too, AFAIK.

    My Dad and his rototiller are coming to dig up most of our very large, sad, compacted front yard this weekend. I’m looking forward to really feeling like I’m getting something done!

  9. M. Craft says:

    I’ll sign on with this; I’m starting my own 3R behavior around my home, rebuilding and preparing.

  10. clive in "remote" tropical Oz says:

    Wow Sharon, this is like the best blog ever. I can’t believe you’ve been on for four years and I only found you last week.

    Yep, I’ll take the challenge.

    Maybe we should write a food constitution and a food bill of rights.

    Going to pick some basil, some rocquette, and an eggplant.

    Going to plant a paw-paw tree.

    It’s great to know that others are out there who think about what’s going on at ground level, and are doing something about this. Still looked on like I’m out of left field. People just talk about what’s on the TV. We threw ours out, which automatically excludes me from many conversations. When I start talking about food shortages/oil prices/etc. etc. people just roll their eyes “there he goes again”.

    Stephen B from MA, I couldn’t agree more with you on the “brainwashing” tip. The truth is, a weed is only a plant where you don’t want it. Since the dandelion is prolific, we don’t want them for some reason. Never mind that they are beautifully coloured, provide a good source of fiber and vitamin C, and help to bring minerals and carbon to ground level in soil that would otherwise wither away.

    My philosophy on “weeds”: mow em, prune em or cut ‘em, but don’t pull ‘em out if you don’t have to. They keep the compost bin full and ensure that the compost is chockers of carbon and has some mineral content.
    Weeds? Future food as far as I’m concerned.

    Got some more potting mix whilst I wait for the compost to mature.

    Also got a couple small bags of sugar and a bag of flour that I won’t really need to use for a couple of months. The total
    total extra calories: sugar + flour = 8100 + 3700 = 11,800 calories.

    11,800 divided by 5,500 calories per day for both of us = just over 2 days extra supply of calories for the two of us. Of course I don’t talk in these terms to my SO, at least not yet. However, she’s has turned the corner on PO, I believe.

    P.S. food price update there are bags of rice up here; 10 kg long grain for $25.69 or 1 kg of jasmine for $4.69
    1 kg whole wheat flour for $3.99;
    2 kg white sugar for $4.09
    1/2 gallon 2% milk (2 Litre) $3.50 on special (expires in 3 days)

    Thank you again for sharin’ Sharon.

    Peace in our communities.

  11. Mary says:

    I’m gonna try.

  12. Robyn M. says:

    I’m in. Heck, what with chairing the steering committee for creating a local co-op, I don’t think it’s currently possible for me not to. ;-)

    I’ll repost this for the benefit of others.

  13. Heather Gray says:

    I’m in! Might be daily, or might be two+ things on one day and none the next… (I actually have work to do on the computer from time to time, plus I’m drawing for a book project — draw by hand, thanks, but computers come in later in the process for scanning/cleanup).

    Just mended a pile of stuff night before last, including darning a pair of ski socks L will need next winter/spring for sugaring season. Last night we were watching some shows we’d recorded (yes, using some electricity…), but with only one light on in the apartment, and I was working on handsewing a dress. Will probably work on that some more in daylight today…

    Hm, thanks for the reminder on the dandelions — must get some greens today!

    I haven’t harvested green nettles before… someone told me they’re good for people with allergies, so I’m doubly interested in trying to pick them (with gloves!) and cook them somehow.

    We are also going to learn to identify more plants in the wild this year.

  14. Robbie says:

    Count me in, though we’re still not consistently warm enough for planting here!

  15. Susan in NJ says:

    I’m in more or less already, but I might as well make it offically more. I’m adding to my list as a definite daily goal, appreciate something new about the natural world every day, preferably by direct observation.

  16. Shira says:

    OK, I’m in from Bellingham, Washington. I need to work on being more organized about gardening daily for real, not just leaning over to pull a few weeds on my way out the door. I really need to work on preparation.

  17. alan bauer says:

    Yes, I have a victory garden, compost heap, panty and food storage management, and currently working on community.



  18. Jordis says:

    I love challenges – as long as they are wonderful ones like this!

    Count me in, even though I already know I’ll have to come up with extra ideas to make it work while living in a 3 room flat, not even a balcony, three stairs up, in an inner city area, no garden and the next farmers market is probably an hour away by public transport. But as NoImpactMan showed: There’s always a way *g*

    Jordis in the City

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m in too! We have some wonderful local food opportunities as well as the challenges of living in a place with looong winters. I’m going to start thinking about storing food for the winter now, and see what I can manage by fall!

  20. Carlin says:

    That last comment was from me!


  21. [...] This is what I’ve been talking about all along. I am so in this challenge: each day, do something that promotes independence (I like to call it self-sufficiency) – 1. Plant something…. 2. Harvest something…. 3. Preserve something…. 4. Prep something…. 5. Cook something…. 6. Manage your reserves…. 7. Work on local food systems…. [...]

  22. homebrewlibrarian says:

    This challenge is making me evaluate what the heck I’m doing with my time. I’m going to print out the list and pull out my calendar. It was rather depressing to figure out that on weekdays I’ve only got about 5 1/2 hours of awake time that isn’t dedicated to something I’m required to be doing (feeding my cats, feeding myself, working, getting to and from work, etc.). But I am very good at following lists so I’m cautiously hopeful.

    Thanks, Sharon, for the kick in the behind I needed!

    Kerri in AK
    PS to Danielle about slugs – Diatomaceous earth or wood ash sprinkled around plants will deter slugs. They don’t like to crawl over that stuff. Rain will wash it away so you’ll have to reapply after every rain storm.

  23. Wendy says:

    I debated back and forth with myself about whether I would be able to commit the time to this challenge. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough things I wanted to plant. Then, last night, one of my husband’s colleagues sent some seed garlic home with my husband, and today, I found a bunch of potatoes that look like they should be planted. In addition, I have two lists of perrennials I’m planning to add to my suburban homestead. I think I do have plenty of time … and ambition … for the challenge, and since I did some early planting, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of planting and harvesting going on all at the same time.

    To kick things off, I prepared an all “Maine” lunch consisting of hamburgers (from the Maine-raised, grass-fed cow we purchased last fall) and homemade french fries from Maine-grown potatoes.

    Thanks for the challenge. I’m in!

  24. Bat-Zion says:

    I say that we can do a lot of these every day if we live simpler and need less money. Then we have time. Unless you are in debt, having the time to work on these things every day is more important than having money, in many cases.
    I spent the last two years doing this kind of stuff every day, on a new farm, and by now the accumulated results have become tremendously satisfying and also attractive to other people, who come and give their energy, and the whole thing begins to snowball. Very terrific feeling. Notice the accumulated energy and material. And the children–they love living in a world of abundant, ready stuff that they can pick and choose from. And if tomorrow I have no money, I am still quite rich.

  25. Lisa Z says:

    To those harvesting wild nettles–I was taught to harvest them by hand without gloves. Gloves are for sissies! (ha ha) Anyway, the way to do it is to approach the plant with kindness and good thoughts:-), not fear, and to pinch the top off very firmly between your thumb and forefinger. You may get a few stings, and it could bother for a few days, but it is actually the medicine at work on you so you can be grateful. People have cured their arthritis by walking in nettles patches, purposely getting stung. And yes, I’ve seen nettles relieve hayfever and other allergy problems, including my kids’ occassional hives outbreaks, in many many people. Plus they’re delicious when cooked as a green or in soup!

    The rule of three for wildcrafting–pick no more than 1/3 of a plant, from 1/3 of the patch, from 1/3 of the entire area. This always leaves more for someone else, and for the plants to keep growing.

    Lisa in MN

  26. [...] love me a good challenge, even though I tend to fizzle out after a few days or weeks. That used to make me feel like a [...]

  27. Great, great challenge. I’m up north, so I started my seedlings but won’t plant them for another month. I joined a local CSA. I just bought extra sugar, flour, and rice. I’ll work on preserving and managing my reserves.

  28. I’m in.

    1. Sheeyat, woman, I gots more seeds than soil. Good thing I was able to get all the moisture out of the basement after our big “flood” last fall otherwise I’d be planting down there too. Gotta love moist Seattle!

    2. Harvesting is not a problem – eating it all is. How many zucchini plants do I really need? And, based on our dandelion population in the backyard, I may not need to plant anything else.

    3. Preserving – I am a complete canning hussy. Obsessive compulsive even. Except I like to add liquor to everything I can. Is there a CAA (canning alcoholics anonymous) group I can join? Add to that, my friend has an orchard in Central WA, so I’ll be begging him to pick me some organic fruit. Or, rather, saving him from his surplus.

    4. Prep something – this I’ll have to work a bit on. I’ll be selling my racing bike and getting something a little more practical since I, um, ain’t exactly in racing shape since I delivered those two hominids a few years back. Anyone interested in a fire sale on a relatively unused Klein?

    5. Cook something – cooking is my middle name. I’ll be experimenting with a variety of solar ovens this summer, doing reviews on my blog. If I can cook something in a solar oven in Seattle, then the rest of yous have absolutely no excuse.

    6. Manage your reserves – already doing that with Project Nowaste.

    7. Work on local food systems – I’m already all over that. I work for the Puget Sound Fresh program at work.

    Thanks for hosting the challenge! I’ll be expecting some funky little sidebar graphic.

  29. Susan says:

    I’m in too!

  30. [...] has presented a challenge she is calling the Independence Days Challenge.  You can read about it here.  The bottom line of the challenge is to do something each day for one year that forwards your [...]

  31. Nellie says:

    I’m in for steps each day!
    I had been thinking about all this, and now have accountability to act on all those great ideas you have shared. I recently read the book Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. It is full a good ideas that increase food independence and reconnection with the earth and communities.

  32. [...] 1, 2008 at 7:00 am (Uncategorized) I’m starting this blog in response to Sharon Astyk’s Independence Days Challenge and I’m setting my goal of doing one thing for food independence every day that I’m at [...]

  33. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this challenge. Just what I need!

  34. Beaweezil says:

    Hi Sharon, Count me in. I’m going to be urban for a couple of weeks, so I’ll see what kind of change I can bring about while I’m there as well. Take care!

  35. Sarah says:

    I’m in!

  36. Patrice says:

    Count me in too! I will try to do at least 2 things each week from the list. I am inspiring to try many new things thanks to you. Thanks for issuing this challenge, it’s just what I needed.

  37. Kathie says:

    I want to join in too!

  38. Verde says:

    This is exactly the challenge up my ally and kind of what I have been thinking of but havn’t put it so clearly.

    Yes, we will still practice, energy reduction, waste reduction, plastic reduction, water saving but this is my focus challenge toward self-sufficiency. These are the reasons I can’t to the no-buy anything

    Besides I’m excited to have your company on the journey.

  39. Lise says:

    I’m in, Sharon. You’ve challenged me all along with your blog, but I like the concrete examples here. Makes me feel less overwhelmed. :-) Lise in Western MA

  40. Starwatcher says:

    Great challenge! I’m in – I can do each of these once a week – and it will help keep me focused on what i want to be doing anyway. I just got a greenhouse since living on the Oregon coast does not allow enough heat really to grown much without one. (Last year I couldn’t even get zuchini to grow!) I’m looking forward to a greater degree of self sufficiency – thanks for all your encouragement and ideas!

  41. Christy O says:

    I’d like to sign up. I think I’ll try to do 1 think a week for now since our house is on the market and we are moving soon. After we move, I’ll up the ante a lot!

  42. [...] We hope that you will join the challenge too! Stumble it! [...]

  43. we’re in!

    this year we are really focussing on where we fail in our attempts to be self-sufficient so your challenge will be a great help i think.

    but not sure how much time we’ll have to write updates …

  44. jayedee says:

    i am soooooooo in!
    i suck at writing updates but i do blog about what i’m doing.

  45. ctdaffodil says:

    I accept your challange! We wont be able to grow all that we eat this year, but should at least put a dent in my grocery and gas bills by giving up some lawn.

    I have rototilled the garden and its now bigger, the kids and I have planned what will grow where (using a rotation method in a 12′x24′ space is easy), We’ll be fencing it in this weekend, and planting the pole beans. The bush cukes and squashes are started and I’ll have to buy tomato plants – skipping peppers. I even have space for lettuce and spinach left. Mint patch will be in the Front yard – far away from most other plants – and getting some rhubarb plants :) Now if I can only talk my hubby into raised beds for the mint and other herbs I’ll be all set…..

  46. rhonda jean says:

    I think this question of independence is such an important one. Carla was a true visionary. Regaining independence has enabled me to live the life I always hoped was possible. I won’t be part of your challenge as I live like this every day but I will be watching and encouraging from the side lines. Good luck everyone.

  47. [...] Days To You! Jump to Comments Sharon is running a Independence Days Challenge Independence Day Challenge which is very inspiring to me. It entails to each day try to do one of the [...]

  48. [...] going to half assedly participate in Sharon’s Independence Day’s challenge. I say half assedly because I’m already two weeks behind and I’m doing this mostly [...]

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