Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Porous borders


In my college studies to be a civil engineer, we were taught how to solve for the forces and resulting stresses by drawing a boundary around the item or area in question, and then systematically identifying and accounting for all forces that crossed this boundary. This was called a"free body diagram". 

This is a tool to break down complex systems so individual elements can be analyzed and quantified. It is also a tool that doesn't work well with a good bit of the real world. A beam connecting to a column is laughably simple compared to ecosystems.

This famous quote by John Muir is more like how things interact:

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

I was thinking about this as I wondered just how far we've come on our journey to self reliance here on our homestead.

Not very far. 

Now, I realize that to be completely self reliant is impossible and a very unrealistic, even counterproductive goal. But, ever striving to reduce dependance on the fossil fuel enabled economy and logistical chains is I think prudent.

So here is a rough first cut at defining the "free body diagram" for our home, and acknowledging all the dependencies that remain.

Crossing the boundary:

Sunshine, air and rain are givens of course.

Food from the grocery store as there are still many things we don't grow ourselves.

electricity- We generate a fair portion here, but the grid is the 24/7 backup and supplement. 

Feed for the chickens- It's organic, and they forage a certain amount, but the majority of their calories are still from the feed store.

Building materials for the various projects and regular maintenance.

Information from the internet that would otherwise be very difficult to find so quickly.

Seeds- We do some seed saving, but more than half our garden, and all the tree seedlings are from suppliers.

Chickens- We haven't pushed the incubating and hatching like we could, so still buy chicks every so often.

Gasoline- to run the brush mower, tiller, chain saw, and of course the cars that get us to town and haul things for us.

Money- Our savings and income leave the home in exchange for the above purchased items.

All manner of personal goods- Clothes, cleaning supplies, medicine, all the "normal" household goods we so easily acquire today, coming from hundreds and thousands of miles away.

I'll even count water, as the domestic water is from our deep well. It would be inaccessible if not for electricity and the well pump. Till now, we are only capturing a small percentage of rain from the roof, to use for watering trees. So much more to be had.

Just pausing to think about losing one or more of these connections should make one deeply appreciative of the flows across our boundaries that sustain us.

So where do we fit in here?