BeyondConsumerism

Providing tools and support to families, citizens, and activists to counter our consumerist culture and to create new social norms about how to have a high quality of life and a reduced ecological footprint.

The Great Reskilling of America 

 "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Robert A. Heinlein

man buildingMany of us, having been born and raised in a consumer culture, have few basic skills. But relearning these skills—from cooking and gardening to carpentry and sewing—can be fun and rewarding. Diversifying your talents also can provide valuable insurance against economic downturn or environmental disruption.

Below you'll find some resources to get started in the areas of food cultivation and preparation, DIY and homesteading, and primitive skills.

Harvesting, Preparing, and Storing Food

One of the most important and easiest ways to become more self-reliant is to start producing or harvesting your own food, whether by growing it yourself, foraging it from the wild, or even gleaning it from local orchards. For information on how to get started, check out our pages on Strengthening Food Systems in our Collaborative Communities section. Here, you'll find tips on producing food (including getting access to a neighbor's backyard if you don't have one), how to organize community gardens, how to locate public fruit trees in your communities, and much more.

Along with growing food, being able to prepare, cook, and store food is a very useful set of skills to have. With the demise of home economics classes, you can now now turn to a plethora of websites for guidance and video walk-throughs.

For training in permaculture farming, check out this global directory of ecovillages to see if there's an ecovillage near you that offers training classes. For more on developing freegan skills, visit freegan.info.

DIY and Homesteading

The boom in home reno­vation is leading many Americans to brush up on practical DIY knowledge. For a fun take on things you can do with wood, electronics, and a little ingenuity, explore the projects featured in Make magazine. Matthew Crawford's 2009 book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, also offers a compelling case for learning practical "shop" skills and working with your hands. Watch this video interview with Crawford about the many benefits of DIY work, both for your bottom line and for your mental well-being.

For a wide array of tips and information on homesteading, check out websites like The Modern Homestead and Day Creek.com, magazines like Backwoods Home, and books like The Foxfire Series or The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook.

Primitive Skills

Other very valuable skills to have are those that offer complete self-reliance, from primitive shelter building and wild food foraging to hunting, fishing, and trapping skills. The leading expert on primitive skills is Tom Brown, who has developed a wide range of well-respected books and trainings. Although based in New Jersey, Tom also holds classes in California and Florida. There may also be other primitive skills-training organizations in your area. The Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Group, for example, offers retreats and workshops in everything from mushroom hunting to bow-making.

Related Resources

  • Plenitude. Author Juliet Schor points to a future for Americans that's not "back-to-the land," but forward to a technologically advanced, knowledge-intensive way of life that is providing security, community, and true well-being.
  • Farewell My Subaru. Author Doug Fine vows to grow as much of his own food as he can, use only the sun to generate power, and consume little-to-no fossil fuel for an entire year—never mind that he’d never raised so much as a chicken or a bean.
  • The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. An eye-opening documentary that illuminates Cuba's transition to a sustainable and small-scale farming system.
  • Back to the Simple Life, With Needle and Thread, by Liz Robbins