Tuesday, 17 February 2009

My Top Ten Books About Self-Reliance

by Melinda Briana Epler
One Green Generation

This list is an “if I were stranded on a desert island what would I bring?” top ten list. Of course I don’t plan on being stranded on a desert island....

Why I Think It’s Important to Have These Books.

I am not a fatalist. However, I do believe harder times are before us. It looks like the world economy is still going to get worse before it gets better.

Our oil supply isn’t going to last forever. I believe we’re going to feel increasing economic pressure, as it becomes increasingly expensive to extract oil. I don’t think the world will end in a big kaboom. However, slowly but surely... our world will change. When I think about everything in our infrastructure that relies on oil, it seems clear to me that we’re not going to continue living as we do forever.

And I believe we probably won’t have a big world-ending crash due to climate change either. But we are already beginning to see increasing amounts of extreme weather patterns. Extreme weather leads to crop failures, fires, floods, and much more.

What climate change means for me locally is that I need to prepare for the fact that our road might flood and we’ll be stuck here home for several days. Or we have a terrible drought and I need to keep my garden going despite it. Or our local climate begins to get warmer, and I need to know enough about gardening to adapt to that change. Our local economy will suffer if the weather changes abruptly and local crops fail, in which case we may have to get by with a lot less.

I know there are some readers here who think I’m crazy at this point. Please don’t click away. Because even if you believe none of this, there are reasons to become more sustainable, more self-sufficient. Your personal income ebbs and flows, jobs come and go, medical issues occur from time to time... When you are down economically, it’s important to know how to feed, clothe, and house your family.

Plus, I can tell you quite honestly that living more sustainably is very fulfilling. I am happier, healthier, and I enjoy food more. I enjoy life more.

My Top Ten Books About Self-Reliance:

1. Joy of Cooking.

Surprise! I’m not kidding. It’s my #1 choice. In it you will find just about everything you need to cook and preserve food. There are several editions, and they’re not the same. I’ve had each of the last three. I prefer the 2006 edition, as it has more about preserving and less about microwaving. There are even recipes for preserving here, though if this list were longer I would include the Blue Ball Book of Preserving as well.

2. Seed To Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth.

Not just about seeds, this is a page-turner of a gardening book. I love it - read it all in one night! Extremely valuable.

3. Back to Basics, by Reader’s Digest.

I did not expect Reader’s Digest to have such a book, but it’s great! From making candles and bread, to beekeeping and metal working, to making cheese and building a stone house. And everything in between! Fascinating stuff.

4. Storey’s Basic Country Skills.

The subtitle is: “A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance.” Whatever isn’t in Back to Basics is probably here. It includes farm and ranch animals, water supplies, basic plumbing and electrical skills, and more.

5. Four-Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman.

So little winter gardening is done in the U.S., and it’s too bad. There is so much you can grow and eat when it’s cold. Eliot Coleman lives in Maine, and walks you through how to create and maintain a productive garden year-round without a heated greenhouse. I’ve benefitted greatly by reading this book, and we’ve had loads of veggies this winter.

6. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway.

Another book that has helped me a great deal in learning how to create a sustainable garden. Toby Hemenway writes about seeing the garden as a whole, and taking into account how each plant will relate with one another. He spends time talking about perennial fruits and vegetables, capitalizing on the water supplied by nature, and making the garden work for you so you don’t have to work as hard. After you learn how to garden, I think it’s important to move to the next level of learning how to garden sustainably. It’s cheaper, better for the environment, and you don’t have to rely on outside sources for soil amendments, seeds, and water.

7. Home Cheese Making, by Ricki Carroll.

Learn how to keep a goat or cow in Basic Country Skills, and then make cheese to preserve it. This is Matt’s favorite - he has made several recipes from it, and they’ve all been delicious, and far less intimidating than we feared. I plan to tackle some more recipes soon.

8. Artisan Baking, by Maggie Glezer.

Well, this was a tough one. Matt is the bread maker in the family - basically, I follow his recipe whenever I make it. And our daily bread is actually made from a starter we grew using Breads from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton. But, Artisan Baking is a great introduction to bread making, and it has amazing recipes. If we could only pick one, this would be it. (Though did you see how I sort of picked two? Yes, I cheated.)

9. Complete Guide to Sewing, by Reader’s Digest.

I found this at an antique store in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona last Thanksgiving. As Back to Basics is to simple skills, this book is to sewing. I’m not much of a sewer (big understatement), but if I had to sew, this book would walk me through whatever I needed to make.

10. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, by Andrew Chevallier.

If you couldn’t go to the doctor... This book synthesizes current research and traditional healing, and walks you through different herbs, how to prepare them, and what they are used for. I keep it around just in case. Plus there are a lot of common foods and herbs here (including lemons!), and it’s interesting to see what they’re used for in traditional medicine.

Where to Find these Books.


You can probably find most of these books in your local library. However, in this particular case you might want these reference books in your home for easy access. I find myself going to them often.

Antique Stores, Thrift Stores & Used Bookstores.

I have found a couple of these used. I love that they have a history, that someone else used them and they’re passing them on to me. Try this particularly for the Reader’s Digest books and Joy of Cooking.

Your Local Bookstore.

Get to know your local book seller - they are generally lovely people who will order these books for you if they don’t have them. Support that local infrastructure, and keep it open for business.

What Is on Your Bookshelf?

There are many other books on our bookshelf (as you can see in the photo above!), but these are my top 10. However, I know it's incomplete. For instance, I would like to include a knitting/crocheting book, but I'm not versed in these areas yet.... any ideas?

What would you add to this list?