To me, the heart of homesteading is regaining control over my life – control over what I consume, control over my impact on this planet, and control over how I spend my time. I’m 27 and I’m transitioning from a Standard American Lifestyle to a self-reliant lifestyle. I’ve been stuck in the middle for two years now, only an infant in this journey to retire early, live off the land, and teach others how to live simply, sustainably, and in sync with the environment. Days are long, full, and stressful, attempting to balance the lifestyle I want with the demands of my paid employment, relationship, and personal health. I’m still learning and having growing pains, and I hope to one day be able to stabilize the balance. Because the problem is, once you take up this lifestyle, there’s no going back. At least for me there’s not.
There’s a natural progression to this lifestyle, a progression that has no end goal or pinnacle. I want to talk about bread because I LOVE bread. I used to buy a loaf of store-bought bread every week and I didn’t dare read the ingredient label because ignorance is bliss. One Christmas, my mom gave me a bread machine. I started cranking out loaves of white bread on a regular basis. I loved my bread machine for a couple years – it was easy, no fuss, and I got to see the ingredients for myself. But the loaves always came out kinda misshapen and bland. I decided to venture into homemade bread, kneaded by hand and baked in the oven. I used the cheapest flour I could find, which usually came in $5/ 50 pound bags from Costco. As much as I wanted homemade bread for taste, I also wanted to save a buck.
We made bagels, pretzels, and loaves from the cheap all-purpose flour and it all tasted amazing. The difference between hand made and machine made bread blew my mind. I donated my bread machine to Goodwill and bought more loaf pans. Bread baking had become an interest of mine, so naturally I started reading and learning more. Health and whole-foods eating became a priority in my life around this time though, which made me reconsider white flour. Furthermore, sustainable farming took up residence as my principal moral issue, and I started questioning the insanely cheap flour we were using.
We used up the last of our Costco flour and vowed never to buy more. I did a lot of research on brands and it turned out sourcing our flour was not going to be easy. I’m still working on it, but currently we buy the organic line of King Arthur flours. The organic certification ensures we aren’t consuming genetically modified food. However, for cost-effectiveness I have the flour shipped direct from their website. The price-tag still makes me cringe, at $10/ 5 pound bag. But we are fortunate now to finally be at a point in our lives where we can ‘afford our morals,’ and for that I am grateful.
At the same time, I was phasing out of conventional breads as the fermentation bug hit our household. I started experimenting with sourdough, and once again my mind was blown not only by the taste, but by the simplicity and beauty of the process. I now only make sourdough breads. I began with the standard, white flour sourdough which I still love but rarely eat anymore. I now use whole wheat flour and only as much all-purpose as I need for a reasonably light bread. My favorite is spent grain bread. We’ve been brewing quite a bit recently, and I freeze all the spent grain. The recipe I’ve been making over the last couple weeks is whole wheat sourdough spent grain bread. I’m eating a piece as I type this.
There is so much else I am eager to try in this realm: different types of starters (wheat, rye, gluten free); using alternative flours in the actual bread such as amaranth and teff; baking shaped loaves instead of pan loaves; sourcing flour locally; purchasing a grain mill and grinding our own flours; and finally, growing our own grains! Even after all that, I know there’s a million more things to try, and ways to make this practice healthier and more sustainable.
Baking bread is just one thing I do to provide for our household. For every other practice, there is this natural progression of asking: how do I make this healthier? how do I localize my efforts? how do I minimize my environmental footprint? how do I do this less wastefully? For me, once I start asking these questions, I don’t stop and I never look back.
I hold myself to very high expectations and want to be perfect at all aspects of this lifestyle, right now. I want to do everything the best I can, and this creates a lot of stress because my time is simply maxed-out. I hate that I have to compromise right now because the other aspects of my life require my time and attention. To be honest, it makes me feel demoralized, because I feel like I am compromising my core values of health, sustainability, and self-reliance to go to my job and work on my relationships. I don’t want to feel that way, because my job provides me with the capital I need to eventually transition to this life full time. And I’m kind of a miserable person right now because I have so few friendships and relationships, because I simply don’t have time for them. I am working to change this and shift my mindset away from moral absolutism. It’s not easy.
You win battles by celebrating what you have accomplished, not how far you still have to go. That’s what I need right now. Instead of the guilt hanging over my head because I cannot source grain locally, I need to celebrate that we are healthier today than we were two years ago because we eat whole grain breads. I need to celebrate the middle finger I give to ConAgra every day because I no longer buy their GMO flour. And right now I’m going to relax, and share my homemade toast with homegrown tomatoes with my Andrew 🙂