Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can We Recover Lost Skills?

Many years ago, I found my great-grandmother's old sewing basket. Inside were various items she had used, but the one that intrigued me the most was snippets of lace she had tatted along with her tatting shuttle. At the time I was curious to learn this skill and I sought out the older women at church (most were about 75 -80 years old at the time) thinking surely they would know how to tat. (Keep in mind that there was no internet at this time and living in a small town left few other resources to seek out on the subject.) I was shocked to find that not one single woman knew how to tat! Oh, they remembered their mothers doing it, but they confessed they had never learned how.

The more I homestead, the more I realize how many skills we've really lost in the last couple of generations. And it can seem overwhelming at moments. Especially when things on the homestead aren't going very well. Now would be a good time to reflect and consider if we can really recover what we've lost.

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Some of you may be thinking, what's the big deal? Why do we need to recover homesteading skills such as gardening, canning, fermentation, dehydrating, sewing, and so on, when we can go to the store and get food and dry goods from anywhere in the world and often at a cheaper price? Why have chickens, goats, cows, bees, and any other animal when all that they produce can be picked up at the local market with less time and effort? Who needs to know how to use medicinal herbs, midwife skills, or first aid since even small towns have doctors? Who has time to learn all this and do it?

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has brought us all together and serves to pass along some of this valuable information. But such a system is extremely fragile and one little glitch can cause the whole thing to topple. What's the old saying? "The bigger the ________, the bigger the fall" (fill in the blank with whatever you like!). 

Technology is like putting all your eggs in one basket. Homesteading is more like spreading it around.

Technology is mostly global. Homesteading is mostly local (the benefit of which would make things easier to obtain if necessary through bartering, etc.)

Technology is not very people oriented. Homesteading is very people oriented.

Both require the "user" to rely on something other than just themselves, and God is the one who allows for both in His economy, but since He originally established the concept of "living off the land", I'll go out on a limb here and say I think He kind of likes this model. (Since my purpose here is not to write a post on why Homesteading is so great, I'm going to leave this part of the discussion and move back to the point: Can we recover lost skills? For more on the why, please read my post "Why Do You Homestead?".)

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So, can we recover the many skills lost in the last two generations? I've wondered a lot about it the last couple of weeks. And honestly, I'm not sure one generation can learn it all. There's just so much to absorb! 

Raising chickens is fairly simple and an excellent place to start. Beekeeping is not. Gardening? That depends. But if you want to raise organic produce with a high nutrient content despite weather conditions and pest infestations, it's going to take some time. You can't expect to have a bumper crop of everything you plant each year. Learning to can pickles is fun and not overly challenging. However, learning to ferment pickles is much trickier. You get the point.

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Here's a few bullet point thoughts that might answer the question at hand...

Recovering Lost Skills

• Looking ahead to a goal is a must, but at some point, we need to be able to step back and look at what we've already learned and be encouraged. With each skill gained we have reclaimed some lost ground. 

• We need to realize that as each year comes and goes, we've learned to deal with a few "what ifs" in regards to what we think we already know. In other words, while raising chickens is pretty basic and easy, little things come up in regards to poultry over a long period of time which a person learns to address through book knowledge and hands on experience.

• Sometimes it's better to learn one skill really well rather than several skills with a cursory level of knowledge. If one ever needs to barter, being an expert on a subject will allow you to be in high demand for your skill.

• We didn't lose these skills overnight. We won't gain them back overnight. 

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• Having one big goal a year is good. Or just a few smaller goals. Having too many may become overwhelming.

• God is a god of order, patience, and time. If we're feeling rushed to learn everything at once, it's probably not God's plan, but our own. Remember the story of the Tortoise and the Hare! Slow and steady wins the race!

• We need to keep an eye to the future as a long term perspective, teaching what we've learned to our children. And it's more important that we do so with a winsome attitude, helping them to love homesteading rather than making it a burden so they grow up wanting to homestead! That's not to say they'll love everything about it or that work is always fun, but we should seek to help each child find things that appeal to him or her as well as making the process enjoyable as possible. 

• Think in terms of a lifestyle change. Something that you will do from now on, making it a part of your everyday life. And talk about it to your children! Think of the principal from Deuteronomy 6 where you teach as you go about your day in everything you do.

• Do not be discouraged if the younger generation doesn't get as excited as you are. When we were in our teens and twenties, most of us did not appreciate these things either (but there are always exceptions). Not until we were often older... and wiser... and more humble. Do not grow weary passing on skills to your children and whoever else will listen. In time, they very well may return to the lessons you tried to impart. 

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Can we recover lost skills? Yes, most certainly. Can we recover them all in one generation? Perhaps not. But we will have been a part of a new generation of pioneers who set in motion a revival that could spread over time, reclaiming that which was once lost. We will have given the next generation a precious gift and it will be their turn to carry the torch.


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