The Value of Self-Sustenance


By Ray Gilmore

I was taught at a very young age not to rely on others for much.  I think that is why I am such an independent, innovative person and can do much of what I put my mind too.  My parents taught me how to do things that people now just don’t teach their children.  I was taught to fix a car, work on lawn mowers, repair bike chains, even weld junk pieces of metal together to make something useful.  I hunt, fish, grow crops, and can camp in the wilderness.  These are important aspects of my life that I cherish.  Pride is taken that I can do things on my own and don’t have to buy things from corporate stores.  This saves me money and there is a certain satisfaction that comes when looking at a finished product I have built with my own hands.  Chris Carlsson delves on this DIY attitude in his book, NOWTOPIA How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists, and Vacant Lot Gardeners are Inventing the Future Today.  Although some of his methods I abhor, his reasoning is sound.  Self sustenance is an appealing aspect of life that I believe all should strive to achieve.

Being a lover of woodworking and nature, I am naturally a lover of the permaculture[1] concept.  This is one of the few things that Carlsson and I can completely agree on.  The establishment of self-sustaining ecosystems betters the future and extends the limits of precious resources on the planet.  Although some see it as helping the planet produce oxygen or helping to prevent ozone layer depletion, I look at it from a more practical viewpoint.  As a woodworker I want to see my hobby thrive in the future, even in death when I am helping nurture the earth with nutrients.  One of my favorite woods to work with is bamboo.  Bamboo is a self-sufficient tree that has a rapid growth rate.  It can be cut one season and return within two to three years to be harvested again for woodworking use.  Solar energy is a passion of mine that I think should be involved in every person’s house.  The sun is the ultimate source of energy.  If the sun goes out we will not care; the planet will be dead anyway.  With advancements in electrical storage capacitors solar energy could be used as a sole provider in the housing industry.  Products like these are what I like about the permaculture concept.

Carlsson describes vacant lot gardeners as rebels fighting against the tyranny of government, when in reality many vacant lot gardeners are generally poor people from inner cities that have found a way to nourish their neighborhoods while bringing the community together for a common cause.  They do not fight against government but they work with it in order to get the rights to plant on city owned property.  Carlsson states that “city governments tend to look supportively on community gardening initiatives” (91).  There is a reason for this since it increases community involvement and restores abandoned and wrecked plots into bountiful and beautiful properties.  Although these plots are still owned by the city, both the community and government have plentiful gains from the hard work of its people.  The truth is that government has supported gardening since World War I, where they promoted programs to help fund the war (Miller, 396). Some of these programs were “Plant for Freedom” and “Hoe for Liberty” (Carlsson, 82); this is one time that the Government learned from the immigrant and poor community.

“Outlaw” Bicycling is another subject that Carlsson seemed to have warped in his “anarchist” way of thinking.  Being a firm supporter, it seems, of extremist bicyclists he talks about those who oppose the use of automobiles and rebel against laws instated by government, such as helmets, in order to protest things such as the Peak Oil arguments.  I know from personal experience that helmets are a good thing.  My own child was hit by a car on his bike and thankfully his helmet saved his head from a concussion.  He was still in the hospital for 3 days; it could have been more or worse.  It is insane to assume that protesting laws that are instated to protect the human being from harm will help in the fight against pollution and oil shortage.  Megulon-5, of Portland’s C.H.U.N.K. 666 group, says in Carlsson’s NOWTOPIA “We are preparing for a post apocalyptic future with different laws of Physics” (115).  If this doesn’t sound a little warped to you, how about facts of the Peak Oil argument?  The Peak oil argument “is not about running out of oil” (Graefe, 1).  It is about the start of the decline of oil production.  To be factual, we do not know when the supply of oil will be depleted so it seems to me that these extremists are protesting just to get noticed.  Carlsson also does not recognize the advancement of science to improve on alternate sources of energy such as solar and hybrid fuels.

One of the best things to come out of the outlaw biking scene is the development of DIY bike shops.  This I truly agree is needed in communities.  I am an avid D.I.Y. supporter and believe that anything you do should be maintained by you.  Places such as the Bike Kitchen, Sopo Bicycle Cooperative, and Bicas provide a great service to communities by teaching people, for a very small membership “fee” or free, how to repair bikes, freely sharing knowledge from everyone in the shops.  These shops also support and provide other community services to help keep children out of gangs and away from crime, such as Earn-a-Bike programs that give adolescent children a sense of accomplishment by having them build bikes for themselves, learning bike safety along the way.  This is surprising Carlsson would support these bike shops after supporting the outlaw bicyclist who does not support safety.  Places like this bring honor to the bicycling community.


[1] a system of agriculture that uses a mix of trees, bushes, other perennial plants, and livestock to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that yields crops and other products

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