Expect the unexpected

More new from the Beira region of Portugal … Jemima blogs about the “good life” … and admits that self-sufficiency is not as easy as you might have thought.

Living in a city was exciting, being constantly surrounded by the vibrant hum of life going on all around you, but I think I always had a sense of dislocation. I worked all day doing things that had nothing directly to do with my own sustenance, and bought food each week in plastic packaging that was a mystery to me. Who picked this for me? What did the soil smell like? The sources of what fuels the city dweller are like the great unknown, but, thankfully, these days people are becoming more and more aware. They’re starting to ask questions! There is a great deal you can do as an urban consumer to support sustainability – your purchasing choices shape the supply chain more than you may realize. Choosing to buy locally produced, sustainably sourced and organic food, or to buy your electricity from a greener energy company, will contribute to shifting the industries of the future.

But back in my urban days I felt a bit more radical than that! I thought, why not go all out and get off the grid? I moved here to Portugal where I could afford to buy a 2.5 hectare smallholding and a small solar system. These days, most of my daily activity contributes directly to my survival, so any feeling of dislocation is long gone!

I had a vision of myself working in my idyllic vegetable garden and thought they must call it “the good life” for a reason! Don’t get me wrong, shedding the constraints of the 9-5 working week was certainly liberating, but I soon discovered that working towards self-sufficiency is not as easy as one might have imagined.

When you work in a pre-defined job role you usually have fairly tangible goals. There are certain things to achieve each day that lead towards longer-term targets, but out here on a farm that features livestock, vegetables and woodland, the to-do list tends to expand faster than you can tick things off, and prioritizing can become somewhat overwhelming. Each day’s tasks are moulded by unexpected circumstances, such as discovering your pig is in the neighbours’ vegetable garden – that throws your morning plans right out the window! Or the weather: this time last year it was mild enough for seedlings to be growing under the cover of a greenhouse or polytunnel, but this February the frosts are so heavy that a dripping tap in the polytunnel forms an ice sculpture overnight and tiny seeds trying to force their delicate contents out into the light would certainly not survive!

I have learned to expect the unexpected, and ultimately on any given day to just pick one task and get on with it, rather than allowing the 5 years’ worth of things I want to get done bog me down. With each year I spend here (I am entering my third now) I gain a little more experience and learn to hold myself accountable while remembering that this is trial and error – it’s OK if it doesn’t all go right, all the time.

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