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SUSTAINABILITY Taking the ‘self’ out of self-sufficiency

Outdoor Living
Taking the ‘self’ out of self-sufficiency

Organic Living
Hans Wieland

I came across ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’, by John Seymour in 1975 as a student in Germany. Some of my friends had moved to the countryside and started growing vegetables, keeping hens, goats and horses, renovating old farm buildings, making yoghurt and baking their own bread and even killing pigs for sausages and bacon. John Seymour’s book became their ‘self-sufficiency bible’, providing answers and some guidance on how to do it.
When I moved to Ireland from Germany in 1985, John Seymour’s book became a reference book for me and my family, and it was with great pleasure that I finally met the man himself in May 2001 at The Organic Centre in Leitrim, where I work.
In the 2001 reprint of the book, now titled ‘The NEW complete book of Self-Sufficiency’, he wrote in the foreword: “Would I advise people to follow this lifestyle? I wouldn’t advise anybody to do anything. The purpose of this book is not to shape other people’s lives but simply to help people to do things if they decide to. This way of life suits me … and it has prevented me from doing too much harm to our poor planet.”
The concept of self-sufficiency, so central in the debate about the future of our planet, is as rich and complex as the debate itself and evolves all the time.
For my student friends in 1976 it was the movement from the city to the country side, for I and my family in 1985 it meant producing food for the family and selling some surplus to buy what we could not produce. For today’s students at the Organic Centre it means being able to produce some of their own food.
But first of all, it involves people. The family that makes it a point to buy only local food helps local farmers and growers and promotes the self-sufficiency of its community. The shopper who chooses not to buy an imported product, supports the self-sufficiency of his country.
The new GIY (Grow It Yourself) movement, according to its founder, Michael Kelly, wants to take the ‘self’ out of ‘self-sufficiency’ and supports local growing networks. It could be the new self-sufficiency movement, as it already includes people keeping some livestock, preserving food for the winter and discovering wild foods for free.
The debate about self-sufficiency and the GIY always centre on balance: Finding the right balance between self-sufficiency or ‘growing it yourself’ on the one hand, and supporting  producers and supermarkets or shops on the other, will allow me, my community, my country and the world to continue existing?
It won’t be 100 per cent self-sufficiency for everyone, it won’t be 0 per cent self-sufficiency for everyone, but something in between.
Many of these questions will be discussed at the Self-Sufficiency Day at The Organic Centre on Sunday, August 22, with guest speakers Will Sutherland from the John Seymour School and Michael Kelly from GIY.

Hans Wieland
is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information in organic growing, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit, e-mail or phone 071 9854338. Questions or comments? Contact Hans at