Making a Living, Autonomy and Resilience

A short time ago I had the good fortune to spend a lazy morning with a friend. She told me the story of a childhood in a rural community in Germany amongst multiple generations of women. They had a little shop in the community but they would make use of it once a month- not once a week. The communal life was strong and active in this self-sustaining village perhaps in part due to the need to collaborate and pool resources; people meeting once a week to bake their bread together in the communal bakery and so on.

The conversation openend a window into memories I had from visits to my father´s village in the Jazeera region of the Sudan. In both the case of my friend´s village and that of my father there was a quick change over the course of one generation. In my friend´s case the car industry made it self more present and something in the dynamics changed with a shift to making a living through employment. In my Father´s village´s case many moved to the capital in pursuit of higher education and yes, employment. In both cases this shift had a debilitating effect on the community resilience. In the case of the German village the community more or less died and in the Sudanese case city life did not live up to it´s promise as the lack of employment opportunities, precarious work situation and extremely low pay casts doubt on whether they were really better off. There is Making a Living, and then there is making to live.

As I was re-reading the posts on Edgeryders about how those of us at the edges of change are making a living in Europe it struck me that at the core of any discussion about the activities that sustain us, it is essential to ask ourselves questions about resilience and autonomy. Why? because the old welfare model, the one we inherited from our parents is beginning to need an upgrade as we move away from the industrial society to one in which the status of the long term, full-time employee is no longer the norm.

What things can I do on my own to provide for my basic needs, i.e. put a food on the table, a roof over my head, and my body and mind in good health in an urban environment?

Let´s play with the thought of needing to do this entirely without money exchanging hands- how would we do this? In the place I live and amongst the people I know what are social resilience and protection mechanisms that I could rely on should my bank suddenly stop working tomorrow? What if all our banks were to shut down tomorrow? We are already seeing this unfold in Greece and Spain but above and beyond the recent developments we really need to look for alternatives for a growing number of people outside the job paradigm. But as I watch the interveiw of Elf Pavlik by@Cataspanglish, I realise it´s not just about subsituting one transaction with another, but exploring alternative ways of relating to each other.

I would really really like to try mapping this out with other Edgeryders between now and #LOTE. A good place to begin is by mapping the alternatives currently available to me personally. I am moving to Brussels (Forest/St Gilles) in July, will have time, and would like to find free or cheap ways of securing food maybe through participating in a community garden or setting up some kind of vegetable production at or near my home (St Gilles/Forest).

So I posted the above as a blogpost and am asking people to suggest people or places I could contact in Brussels for this. I´ll report back as a comment here when I get some replies!

I <3 the internet!

I tweeted: @Eurovilles I´m looking for a community garden and other urban agriculture alternatives in #Brussels, suggestions?

Within minutes I got the response from  ‏@CIRB_CIBG:

@ladyniasan Page de Bxl Gratuit consacrée aux jardins collectifs et participatifs Bon travail !

So there is a whole page on what looks an official website of the Region listing more than 10  “jardins collectifs et participatifs”  in the Brussels area. Next up: email each one and ask for information to find out how they work and hopefully the one for me :slight_smile:

Belgium Food

My partner is from Flanders so I’m often in Belgium and the country has special interst for me.

I’m not too sure of the details and guess it may not really be what you are asking for here (although maybe you can find some oppertunities to work for food?) but look to be doing some good work related to land, food and the commons

David Bollier mentions their work here-

Not sure what I’m looking for…generally easing into lifestyle

Yes working for food, or working on securing access to food for myself and others. What I do know is that I find there is something deeply unsettling about the ability to provide most of one´s basic needs being dependent on a “salary” or “paid invoice”. My threshold for getting excited about stuff is generally very high- since the thought of setting up or pitching in to something like urbanfarms in my home makes me happy, there is something there worth pursuing- :slight_smile:

I’m moving to Brussels so I thought I’d take the opportunity to start exploring some other alternatives- good way to meet people and get to know the place too. Then I am interested in the topics from a policy point of view- what, if any, are the implications of these developments on how we think about making a living from an institutional perspective- especially as concerns policy that supports or better enables initiatives that have a positive impact on our well being and sense of “togetherness”?

What are the roadblocks?

Aren’t there plenty of studies on community garden initiatives and low income households, or impact on health, etc.? I guess not…

It’s obvious that these have a high impact on well being and the sense of togetherness: promotion of food security, access to fresh food, greening and protection of biodiversity, reduction of pollution related to transport and promotion of a form of social interaction.

I saw people who did not speak any language of the community successfully engage with members of the community, and trade strange stuff, like leaves of zucchini.Things we would not even think that it can be eaten The mixture of cultures can be quite extraordinary in such projects. It also breaks bad urban patterns, such as not speaking to the neighbor. Everyone speaks to each other, in these gardens. Moreover, people often need to agree to participate to common tasks.

If these initiatives are so good, why do we see so few of them? What are the roadblocks?


Good question.

From where I’m sititng there appears to be more and more community gardens springing up,  which I’m very happy to see.  But I’m sure that there would be benefits from, and that there is probably apetite for, more.

The apetite may need some promotion.  I know quite a few people who want allotments - but wont go and grow at community gardens.  I think that the structures of our socities (speaking from a Eurpean - particularly UK perspective) have promoted an individualist mentality that leaves many people are unsure about engaging with collaborations.

Also I know that there are lots of people who turn up at community gardens, get very enthusiastic but then never, or seldom, return.   I’m not entirely sure why this is.  I guess some find it hard to find the time or energy to participate (work and / or children can leave little for anything else), others are maybe unsure about how many vegetables they will actually get for their efforts?  What else??

All the community food projects I attend dont actually provide a huge amount of produce (other than the 20 year old community permaculture forest garden which produces crazy amounts of fruit in autumn) they are more social projects - food is gathered and cooked, school children participate etc.  I’d really like to see more that focus on producing a substantial amount of food - so that people that participate can gain a significant proportion of their food requirements.

Having said that I think there are great gains from the interactions that do occur at these projects.

I like to think that focusing the projects on production (probably employing a professional grower) and opening up the governance of the project would give projects a wider appeal (or at least create appeal in different areas of the community)

I guess access to land is also an issue - particularly land that is close to communities.  I think that if a strong, coherant group forms then getting access to land should not be a problem.  Having land readily available for groups to use could however act to catalyse the creation of more community food projects - although I guess there may well be the issue of underuse that is seen with allotments - where people have the initial enthusiasm, but dont follow through.  Possibly project focus and governance structures could help overcome this?

Better management and greater involvement by local governments

I’m no expert in this field. so I will just stick to my own experience…

I lived in Montreal for many years. When I decided to become a member of a community garden, I had to stay on a waiting list for 2 years, before the City gave me access to a 10 x 20 feet piece of community garden land.

Hundreds of people on that waiting list probably did not have the patience to wait that long, became discouraged, and threw their dream to be part of this community in the trash.

Once one becomes a member, there are strict regulations to follow. There is a kind of ‘municipal police’ of community gardens, an employee of the City, who patrols the grounds every week. If someone does not deal well enough with his/her bit of land, that person receives a warning (in written form, from the City). After three official written warnings, this person is expelled from the community and is blacklisted for several years, he/she cannot re-enroll.

I found it a bit tedious, the management of the local police, when I assumed the presidency of the community garden. However, this system provides for engaged participants. It got on my nerves having to monitor members in this way, treat them like children. But there were always about a dozen, out of 70 members, who did not care about anything and did not even lift a finger. There were so few pieces of land available that we could not afford to have any disengaged members.

Collective tasks, such as weekly management of the compost, garbage, weeding of collective beds of medicinal herbs, etc. nobody bothered to take care of them, and the board of admins had to take full responsibility for most of what should in fact have been done by community members.

It was extremely difficult to maintain an organized system of collective tasks that was effective throughout the season. Wnen Spring arrived, everyone was super enthusiastic for 2-3 weeks, and by autumn, the community garden was upside down and overrun by mountains of weeds and awful piles of garbage. Ahd the compost was ruined.

The closure of the garden, just before winter, was the most painful period of all. Most plots were abandoned and heavy work had to be borne by one or two members of the community (usually the president and another member of the board). So president = slave, ie the fool doing all the tasks that others neglect. I was elected president one year. It was so demanding that I quit the group, and I did not go back the following years.

Now I grow my garden on the grounds of my property. I generously feed my neighborhood. But no one feeds me in return!

I wish there existed a neighborly solidarity, so that I could share some strawberries or other products with neighbors (what I do not produce myself). But no one speaks to each other here. Those who have gardens plant 20 tomato plants and cucumber (how boring!).

There should be several kinds of community gardens. Those located on vacant lots, roof tops of highrise buildings, but also other types of cooperative support for suburban neighborhoods, with open door parties, hot dogs on the barbecue, so that neighbors could have the opportunity to actually learn the names of the people living on their street and go visit their backyards.

Competitions for the most beautiful gardens, the most original use of land, the most productive, the biggest tomato of the year, the weirdest shaped vegetable, the most exotic, the best food cooked from harvested products, the most friendly garden, the most dedicated communities, you name it! With an annual gala night, where everyone is invited, and lots of pics posted on the City website, Flickr group corresponding to each community, and on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Why is there not more political will to encourage diversity in the types of such projects? How is it that the benefits of such projects do not jump in the eyes of leaders, and that they do not seek to multiply them?

For community recreation, in the management of parcs and pools, for instance, there are lots of (cute sexy) lifeguards and numerous staff who ensure that everything rolls well. But when it comes to growing food which is rather a challenge, and a bit difficult citizens are left to themselves. One can be certain that no citizen can drown while planting carrots seeds! It is not the same type of attention that must be given to a community garden than a municipal pool. But still, everyone would benefit if there was a better management and greater involvement by local governments (and other levels as well).


Hello Lyne,

What you describe in Montreal is what we in England would call an allotment.  Allotments are quite widespread and much in demand.  Often owned by the local authority who rent out the plots of land.   Generally it is individuals or families who rent them, occasionally groups of people set up as community garden.

I’ve both rented an allotment for a few years and worked at community gardens and I found a big difference.  At the allotment site I generally worked alone - there were a few people who had their plots close to mine who would talk to me occassionally but most people kept themselves to themselves (I was the only young person on the whole site).  At the community gardens I normally work with someone else, often planning together.  I often meet new people. We share food and drinks.  A much different atmosphere.

Looking at the bigger picture I think society in my country (and from what I understand many others) has become very atomised.  Many people dont really talk to their neighbours and do little else except work, shop and watch TV.  I think this atomisation and closed individualist mindset is a big problem.

Growing concerns

I have never done garden planning with other people.

In the suburbs, people hire a contracter for mowing the grass and for removing their snow. I find there has been a generalized sloppiness over the years. Several properties no longer have an inch of green, everything turned yellow wall to wall, filled with dandelions and clover and everything else, except a blade of grass. Beforehand, people used harmful products to kill weeds. But since the regulations changed for the sake of environmental protection, they let grow anything, because it takes effort to uproot each undesirable plant. Therefore, the color yellow is gradually replacing the green. On public lands, it considerably changes the landscape. Am I the only one who thinks it looks sloppy? Long stems of dandelions 30, 40 cm high. On a large scale, it is not nice at all…! I suppose we must be in a kind of grass transition :)  These vast decorative public green spaces, instead of being disfigured by dandelions, could be redesigned for the production of food. We could planted mint, for instance: it’s as invasive as dandelions, it smells good and it can be eaten, at least.

Another of my concerns is the proliferation of lichens on trees. Grayish green spots that appear on all the barks of all trees. I was walking through the woods this winter, and I noticed that even the beautiful Canadian forests are spotted everywhere. 5 years ago, none of the trees around my house were infected. Now the whole neighborhood has these gray-green spots, on every single tree. In the medium term and long term, what effect will this proliferation of lichens have on the production of oxygen?

To which point is craft food production devoid of harmful products and pollution, if the air and the soil are polluted?

I carefully look at the air quality and uv rays levels every day. It has become increasingly common to have days where uv ranks 9. We never used to see these very high numbers before, except one or twice a year, near solstice. Now, it happens even before spring has arrived. It is better to use 50 sunscreen, a huge large hat that covers the head and ears, and long sleeved shirts for working outdoors. The days when the sky is obscured by smog, the air quality data is mysteriously not  available. I almost screamed in horror when I took a flight in Paris a few months ago, and the sky turned bright yellow orange in the evening, because of the extreme smog. When entering the airport, there was a sign warning: ‘Severe smog’.  I took pictures of this horror show and showed them to everyone I know back home! I was releaved to get back to my Canadian trees, and appreciated every bit of open landscape on the way back home. But seeing so much smog got me worried…

Another problem I’m having difficulties with: the seeds sold in stores are genetically modified and tend not to produce other seeds. It’s hard to be self-sufficient with these kinds of seeds. We constantly need to buy new seeds every year. They sell a few seeds per package, at exorbitant prices. One has to shop on the Internet to find decent quality seeds. It is difficult to find people with whom to group together to purchase seeds in bulk.

I am having a hard time, like you, at imagining how we could move from the current situation, to community involvement focused on food production.

It took years before the recycling habits were adopted by citizens. And even then, my neighbor does not recycle anything. There are still people who do not pay attention.

Those who make efforts seem to disturb others that are lazy. My neighbors, instead of congratulating me for the beauty of my garden, tell me, You’re a maniac!. Whenever there is a corner that has been forgotten, they point out: You have a small piece of burnt grass here, whereas their property looks like a deserted wasteland and dandelions farm.

Impact assessment of community supported agriculture

Lynn you asked about studies on community gardens.  I cant think of anything off the top of my head.  But there is a recent comrehensive study about CSAs

Does growing one’s own food lead to consume less (general)?

Thank you Darren. Very good paper! Wow, it’s good to see solidarity between farmers. Shared responsibility of risks, that’s awesome! If someone’s crop is ruined for a reason or another, everyone in the group gives a hand. This must produce fewer bankruptcies, and also insurance fees must be lower.

The sharing of equipment is something really makes a difference. The machines have crazy prices, that small farmers cannot afford.

Small farmers have almost been eradicated here (in Quebec), leaving only the block buster farmers.

There is Équiterre : they call themselves ‘farmers of families’. They have 6262 members and donors. (their brochure in English). This provides members with better quality products: instead of buying from the grocery store, they receive a basket a week (they can not choose what’s the basket).

But that does not teach people how to grow their own vegetables and fruits by themselves.

One does not know the true value of food and agriculture if he/she has not tried to grow something.

Does food production self-sufficiency teaches to waste less? Do you think that learning about how to grow one’s own food leads to consume less in general - in all areas of life?

Good question !!

Does growing food encourage people to become less of a consumer (of all things)?

I think that by being involved in the production process you get to appreciate more fully the effort/energy involved in the production and therefor are likely to value what is made more.  The ideas I explored in my mission ‘community agriculture’ are influenced by this thought.  I could see similar benefits by having similar structures for production of things other than food.

I think producing without the benefit of ‘cheap’ energy - the difference between huge machines producing our food and growing on a small scale gives a better feel of what is involved.

To briefly touch upon the erradication of small farms - I see this as a sympton of the market distortions of subsidies (some of them hidden) and the externalisation of the costs - the huge damage done by industrial agricultural production is not paid by the producers but is bourne by the rest of society and the planet.  I see the community agriculture model as a way of, to some degree, shifting food production out of these distorted markets + there are lots of other benefits.

What should be done to encourage these practices?

Other productions, besides food! I never really thought about it… Wow, that’s quite an idea! Production of hand-made clothing, or hand-made furniture, wine or vinegar, handbags, toys, etc.

In department stores, sewing products have almost been completely eliminated. A zipper costs a ridiculously exorbitant price. It costs more money to buy a spool of thread, zipper and accessories, not including the fabric, than buying a garment made in China. To find fabrics and other accessories, one must shop on the Internet.

The fabrics of ready to wear clothing have become so thin that we can see thought them, and any minor accident makes them fall apart. The other day, I barely had time to run home before the sole of my shoe was completely detached. I had bought it the month before!

It does not make sense anymore. The quality of almost everything deteriorates, while the prices climb.

I receive 2 inches thick of store prospectus every week. I throw it all in the recycling in disgust, thinking about the trees that are destroyed to make the monstrous machine of consumption continue to run.

People have become so superficial, they think only about going out to see concerts or go have a drink somewhere, play video games, or some other leisure activity. For many people, their conversations relate only to what they buy, their latest acquisitions, the bargains they got, or the outrageous rip off, etc.

Those who have a production, they often do it as a hobby. There are some people who make a small production of wine. Grandmothers sew pajamas for their grandchildren, knit slippers and scarves. Many skills were lost over the decades. Cooking, sewing, canning, embroidering, gardening, etc. Everybody used to know how to do this before. And life was so much slower and simpler, too!

Production of some kind, be it as simple as turning the tiny balcony into a mini-garden, it must help to become aware of many issues.

What should be done to encourage these practices?

The was a recent publicity campaign launched by Éduc’Alcool recently. The goal was to raise awareness about the effects of alcohol, by trying to persuade people to limit their number of glasses of wine to 3 per day for men and 2 for women. This unfortunately turned out to be an advertising campaign that created absolutely the opposite effect that was desired! Should we consent to public awareness which can cause undesirable side effects? I wonder what would be the best ways to promote different lifestyles focused on production rather than consumption.

Production in your community

I can see lots more production happening locally.  With energy prices constantly increasing transporting stuff about is going to become increasingly unattractive.

There is the growing maker movement  and I see lots of projects/movements like The Transition Network and Open Source Ecology which each in their own way aim to catalyse communities to become more self sufficient/resilient.

There is much excitement around the growing availability of technologies that allow very small scale industrial production.  This localised production has all kinds of benefits compared to existing models of mass production.

As with the community agriculture model I can see numerous benefits from people co-operating in productive enterprises on a community level - where people are, in part producing for themselves but also making products available for the wider commmunity.

Make friends with people growing different things than you

I cannot be of any assistance to help you with Brussels, but I’ve been a member of a community garden, and it has been a wonderful experience. Ever since then, I never missed a single year in making a garden.

I start to harvest early in the year. First the chives, rhubarb and other herbs. As I harvest, I distributed 10 times more in the neighborhood and family members. Nature is very generous!

I freeze everything. I make small packets of herbs, individual size, that are very easy to grab when I cook.

A good way to maximize on harvest is to make friends with people who grow different things than you, and trade with them. 3 tomatoes for a melon…

Have you done this before? Do you know how to distinguish garden plants from weeds? How close to plant the seeds? Which plants go with which other? Do you know how to make compost? Do you know about the herbs that help repel insects? Do you know which plants have medicinal properties?

It’s a lot of work. it requires discipline and organization. But I already see you talk with people in between rows of the community garden. You’ll want to spend all your days there, I’m sure! And your salads and soups will taste better than everything.

Helpful advice

thanks Lyne this is really useful, practical input. No I have nooo idea about what any of this involved. I did however spend part of my youth around horses mucking stables. Uh ok, so really no relevant experiences :))

I knew nothing too. It’s a fun learning experience

Don’t worry, I knew nothing as well. The community members showed me everything. They taught me which plant is a weed. I went to special night classes organized at the community garden, It is not really complicated. You’ll find everything you need to know (the practical stuff) in 2-3 books.

Living on the road

I’ve always been looking for resilience.

When there’s something i’m afraid of, I face it, study about it, think about it to fight the fear.

Lately, I got a huge interest about survivalism.

This movement is interesting because it was an answer to the fear of a global apocalypse and lead people to learn and share about their environment, and to find solutions to adapt to any global or local danger.

I’ve learned a lot from Vol West and David Manise websites and it helped me understand the way i wanna live, and how to prepare myself.

Fear comes from the unknown, and the more you know about yourself and your environment, the more you are strong and able to survive.

I’m actually preparing at my pace to absolute autonomy and resilience. It means physical preparation and equipment, and i’m far from ready, but this goal is just a sight, every step means less fear and more strenght.

I’m looking for a semi-nomadic and autonomous lifestyle and survivalism prepares me for that, but i also think that this knowledge is the clue for a resilient and autonomous lifestyle.

In this society, we count on cops to defend ourselves, farmers to grow food, industries to provide materials and technologies… Everyone is supposed to be specialised and provide one service or product. So we depend on so many things we know nothing about. And it causes fear and dependency.

The simple fact to understand our environment and its dangers (towns or nature), releases a lot of fear and allows to be more autonomous and less dependant from others.

How are you preparing?

Hi Nirgal,

What steps are you taking more specifically, and is there a cost to this? For example with the physical preparation…how are you doing it?                                                                                                                           I’m researching community gardens in the city where I am now moving and hopefully will join one that is near where will be living. In the long run I would like to set up something like urbanfarms but need to know more about what it involves, how much crop and fish it yields etc. I also plan on learning to cook and gettting some kind of professional food handling certification as well as to learn more about nutrition and the kinds of crops that can be grown sustainably in the city so see if it is feasible to shift diet without compromising on taste :slight_smile: All of these require some kind of investment, not much but still there’sa cost involved…

How about you?


I did a lot of hiking and climbing when i was younger, but didn’t do any sport besides snowboard since a while, so i need to accomodate again my body with long walks.

I’ve started physical preparation a week ago by walking everyday while listening to my body carefully to be sure i don’t go beyond its capacities (it already happened to me to hurt myself seriously just because i asked too much from my body). Lately i walked more than 25 kilometers in one day.

Next steps are survival stages (220-300€), raids that are quite cheap, you just need equipment, maps, and enough food and water.

The idea is to enstrenght the body and soul step by step without forcing too much.

Concerning equipment cost, i already have a few things, and each month, I invest depending on my budget.

To equip myself, i take a lot of inspiration from Vol West, he made a series of videos about evacuation bag.

As i’m not fully equiped i can’t tell what it will be at the end, but i can tell what i bought last month.

I mostly buy from decathlon, it’s cheap and good equipment.

Sleeping bag (40€), hiking towel (10€), hiking shoes as i just destroyed my old shoes (130€).

I also invested on hygiene and health (soap, etc).

I invest little by little, depending on my needs and my budget. I already intend to make a full inventory when it will be self sufficient. Maybe in a few months.

I don’t know much about community farms or urban farms, but there are jardins de cocagne in my town.

They produce a wide variety of bio vegetables, every week you get a basket with some cooking advices. My parents have used this to get vegetables for years and it was pretty cool. Every week season vegetables, and often uncommon ones. It’s local, cheap, and one more thing, the jardins de cocagne are a reintegration center. So the workers are oftenly long time unemployed people, or suffering people.

Bio, local and humanist !

I also have some interest about indoor gardening.

Actually, we plan to try indoor permaculture on our open university project to get a self sufficient indoor eco-system in case of urban integration. Can’t say much more about it, i need to make some stages to learn permaculture, and try it before i can tell more about it, but it could be a mix of technology and permaculture technics, maybe using a bit of hydroponic systems, it will depend on the place, the budget…