The Grading Scale



As I was making pancakes for breakfast this weekend, I realized that I was scoring myself on a subconscious grading scale:
Preparing a meal from scratch – Check.
Using homegrown products:
Eggs – check
Vanilla – check
Buttermilk – check
It thrilled me to no end that, out of eight ingredients, I managed to produce three of them right here on the farm. It means that I am still diligently working towards being as self-reliant as possible.

One of the hardest lessons I have learned is the fact that no one – no matter who you are or where you live – can be truly 100% self-reliant. On our 60 acres, there is just no way we can grow enough wheat to provide for our family, and still have enough land to garden, cut hay, and graze cattle. Last I checked, there isn’t a salt mine on our property, and I wouldn’t begin to know how to make baking powder and soda from scratch.



Many people refer back to when their grandmothers and great grandmothers were still alive, and call them ‘completely self-sufficient’. Well, guess again. Unless those greats and grands raised sheep, raised the food the sheep ate all year, knew how to spin, weave and sew, then more than likely they weren’t. And if they did all that, they may not have had room for chickens or other livestock that helped to prepare their meals, or grew enough corn and wheat, or had the room, time and energy to produce so many other things they needed to survive – like trees for the homes they lived in. No. Instead, they raised what they could, and used the excess to trade for other things they couldn’t. Fabric for their clothes came from the general store, with the money they received from selling eggs, butter, fresh chickens and other goods. Our ancestors knew their limits and abilities, and used them to their advantage.


I think the lesson that self-reliance isn’t possible came to me not only as a disappointment, but also as a huge relief. I no longer have to feel a twinge of guilt, thinking I am not doing everything. Instead, I can focus on the things I can do, learn new skills if they fit in with what we have – in terms of time, money and space – and improve the skills I already possess. I can grow a better garden, and work towards a better harvest. I can produce more and healthier egg and meat birds. I can get a better body scoring condition on my cattle. I can adjust the feed ratio to get enough milk from our Jersey. And then I can stand back and give myself a pat on the back for doing the best I can with what I have.


After five tries, I finally have a half-gallon of buttermilk in my refrigerator – part of which I used to make those pancakes this morning. I have learned that it is all in the temperature during incubation that makes the difference. I noted that I really need to order more vanilla beans, if I plan on using this for Christmas gifts this year. And I am doing a little happy dance that my pancakes turned out fluffy and delicious, even if I did get distracted and a few came out a bit misshapen, instead of as perfect circles.


I may not have made a perfect score on the pancakes, but I am perfectly comfortable with what I was able to accomplish. As far as self-reliance goes, I do know I will never reach 100%, but I also recognize that I am doing 100% of what I am capable of doing, on the land we have with the money we earn. And that is enough for me.  Besides, my cows love me, so what more could I ask for?
Do you ‘score’ yourself? How close do you come to your overall goals? Can you really do more, or are you at your limit as far as land, time and money go? Let me know how you feel you are faring – I would love to see how many of us are coming close. And who knows? One of you may introduce an idea of something else I can be doing – I am always up for another lesson!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.


  1. I have always had admiration for the settler/pioneer way of life! When my family was able to acquire our small acreage in the country, I decided that I wanted to learn for myself and to teach my children, how life once was….before electricity and TV and even cars…Self-sustained or pert near?. I’ve made it my life’s goal to get as close to that as feasibly possible and to teach the kids how to carry that forward in their own lives. I feel it’s important to balance it against the “disposable” society we live in today. We’ve only been in this place for 2 years so far, and as you are most certainly aware, the trial and error of living sustainably makes (me) feel less than perfect every single day.! But I have faith that we will only IMPROVE from season to season as long as we (me) stay diligent to the cause! Keep on keepin’ on!??‍?

    1. Author

      I agree, Emily. I love reading about the old ways, and trying many of them out myself. I often wonder if society would be a better place to live if we didn’t have as many technological advances. I applaud you for teaching your children these values as well. I am ‘virtually’ patting you on the back for your efforts, and in my book, you are already successful. My thoughts on failure: they are a good thing. They let us know we are on the right path to success!!

    2. Emily, you inspire me! The only thing that I would say to encourage you is: “Enjoy the journey!” All of us will never achieve all that we’ve set out to do, but it sure is fun to spend our lifetimes chasing after it!

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