At the risk of sounding like Swiss Toni from The Fast Show, self-sufficiency is a lot like perpetual motion. It seems like a lovely idea, is probably impossible, and almost completely useless. 

Considering impossibility

In Christmases past, I used to argue with a friend of mine’s dad about perpetual motion. “Alex,” he would say while shaking his head and re-filling his pipe. “You haven’t considered entropy.” (He’s a nuclear physicist – they say things like that.) And he was right. I only recently looked it up.

But fundamental laws of physics aside, I am happy to concede that if a perpetual motion machine was invented, it would serve no useful purpose. As soon as you started to draw power from it – and why else would you be building a machine – I suspect it would stop working.

So it is with self sufficiency.

Ignoring the grim reality of the self-sufficient life for a moment – the making of clothes from your own wool, the exposure of your crops and animals to the vagaries of the weather, the impossible number of skills you would need to master, the relentless work – as soon as you wanted to draw money from your labour (to pay property taxes, exchange for school meals etc), I’m sure your carefully woven life-support system would unravel.

What’s the point?

And what’s the use of self-sufficiency anyway – even if you did achieve it?

Sometimes I read that producing food for yourself and your family is a right-wing thing. It smarts because, although I’m nowhere near that end of the political spectrum, there’s more than one grain of truth to it. (Selfish sufficiency might be a better term.)

Like many people who have started working towards having control of their own food supply, of wresting control for their destinies from amoral corporate bodies and faceless bureaucracies, I could not happily feed myself if other people went without. Like the Ubuntu legend (you know – the one where African children all win a basket full of sweets by approaching it hand in hand), I could only be truly happy if everyone else was OK, too.

Which is why, in 2013, like God facing the irrefutable evidence of his own existence in the Hitchhiker’s Guide, self-sufficiency as a goal vanished in a puff of logic.

I have to say, it’s a bit of a relief.

A much better idea

No doubt following another fundamental law of physics, a new goal rushed into the aspirational vacuum in my head. This idea, which if it’s any good should need no explanation, I’m going to call: Community Sufficiency.

You’ll be reading more about this in 2014, and experiencing some of it if you come and stay in écovallée.

In the meantime, I hope you and yours have a wonderful, happy mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, or whatever else you choose to call the celebration of our hemisphere’s darkest day. After tomorrow, the light’s coming back, it’ll soon be spring, and the future is ripe with possibilities.