One of my local heroes and sources of inspiration is Brandy Parker, creator of Pastoralist – a beautiful site dedicated to the concept of self-sufficiency. Brandy graciously granted me an interview – and I’m truly excited to share her insights, honesty, and goings-on with you this week!
So, in a nutshell, what prompted you to start blogging?
At first it was just a way to catalogue everything I was doing. My projects had gotten broader in scope, and I realized I couldn’t remember what I had just done, or how I’d done it. Then friends and family were asking for recipes, advice, and pictures, so that finally pushed me over the edge.
How do you define self-sufficiency?
It’s funny that you’re asking this, because it’s been on my mind since I created Pastoralist. The tag-line is “self-sufficient living,” because most of my work focuses on learning how to do something yourself—stepping away from a dependence on buying things, and into a deeper understanding of the processes that sustain us.
But even from very the beginning, I started realizing how important community was to the success of any project I worked on. Whether it’s knowing the right place to get wood, using a friend’s cider press, getting a kombucha starter from someone I know—almost everything I do is supported by a community around me. It almost seems counter-intuitive that the more I focus on self-sufficiency, the more connected I become—but when you’re trying to do something yourself, you need better access to knowledge and resources, which drives you to the community directly surrounding you.
So self-sufficiency, to me, definitely does not mean isolation, or not needing anyone. It does mean taking responsibility for yourself, your health, your home, your finances, your world. It means opening your eyes to where things come from, how they are made, and why it might be a better idea to do it yourself. I don’t pretend to be an expert, or claim to be totally self-sufficient—our home still gets power from the electric company, I still buy stuff from grocery stores and Ikea. I hope people look to me not as an expert, but as someone who is sharing her struggles and insights as she learns.
What do you think has been the most eye-opening lesson you’ve gained so far?
To continue on a similar thread, it’s probably how interconnected everything is. Earlier this year I tried to make a ginger bug and a beet kvass with produce from a grocery store, and it didn’t work very well. That’s likely because they were irradiated, a method of preserving shelf-life that kills surface bacteria. Those natural bacterias, yeasts, and nutrients are what activates fermentation. So I need to shop local farms. Or grow it myself! Everything is connected. And one project leads to another project leads to another.
What, if anything, has surprised, stumped, or bested you?
I had a huge learning curve in the design of the site—I’m not super tech savvy, but I was frustrated by lack of choices in basic templates, so I had to look up how to do everything myself. So I basically accidentally taught myself basic web design. It’s funny—you couldn’t have dragged me into a CSS class in college, but now I love it. I guess stubbornness is my preferred motivator of choice!
What do you hope to learn or conquer next?
I have a few very ambitious project ideas. Like, I want to help create more effective alternative economies. I’ve been really inspired by all the “swap” events that have been cropping up lately, and it’s pushed me to think about how to create a more centralized and organized Chicago-area bartering community. I’m partnering with a friend on this project and we have some exciting ideas.
Tell me about your upcoming workshops!
Yes, it’s very exciting! Later this winter I’ll be partnering with Rebuilding Exchange, which just won DailyCandy’s “best workshops” category. Until then, I’ll be in my ‘hood. The next one is Sunday, January 5th. It’s on live-culture vegetables, so we’ll be talking specifically about sauerkraut and kimchi, but I’ll also get into how to apply the same principles to other veggies, like pickles or green tomatoes (or anything really). You can sign up here. I plan to do a live beverages workshop as well, where participants will learn how to make kombucha, kvass, and sodas. It will probably be January 19th. Save the date! You can see my schedule of upcoming workshops here.
If people could walk away from Pastoralist with one grand epiphany, what would you hope it might be?
I hope they see how easy and fulfilling it is to become more deeply involved in your own life. I think we live in a world where it feels like a lot of things have gotten beyond our control—we feel like we have to eat whatever low-quality produce is available at the local grocery store, we have to take the pill the doctor offers as the only solution to our health problems, we have to buy whatever clothing or home furnishings the major stores try to sell us. But you don’t have take what’s being offered to you as your only options. You can make (and remake) your world without them. I’d hope people visiting my site feel like there is another choice—they can regain a sense of agency over their health, their home, their purchases, their world.
Brandy is a blogger, woodworker, and fermentation nut based in Chicago. She leads live-foods workshops to teach people how to safely ferment foods at home. You can visit her website at www.thepastoralist.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter. A list of her upcoming workshops can be found here.