Self-sufficiency and the revival of the local economy:
with particular reference to the Clare Valley


This page created 2006/08/24, minor editing 2021/02/10
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Sheep and dams
Sheep and dams in the Clare Valley
Neither of the big political parties will do much about greenhouse/climate change, vote smart.

Our society has moved away from self-sufficiency

A generation or two ago our society had vegetable gardens and fruit orchards in our back yards. Now many of us don't have significant back yards, and what gardens we do have are planted with lawns and ornamental plants. We have lost the ability to produce any substantial part of our own food. I am sixty years old. Throughout my lifetime people have tended to become more and more specialised and less and less self-reliant. The numbers producing a significant part of their own fruit and vegetables in the back garden has declined - it has become cheaper to buy everything at the supermarket. You need only look at a retail plant nursery to see that the great majority of plants traded are ornamental rather than productive.

In the future the transportation of 'low-value' goods, things that have low prices per kilogram, over long distances will become less economically viable. But the world has become addicted to cheap fuel, cheap transport and cheap imports. Consider a common household item like the refrigerator. Its steel is mined using methods that consume large amounts of diesel, its plastics are made from petroleum, it is most likely manufactured in a factory overseas somewhere that relies on cheap energy, then it is imported on a ship that uses bunkering oil. The costs of every step in the chain will increase as petroleum becomes scarcer and more expensive. Finally, the refrigerator uses electricity which is probably either generated in a coal fired power station (and coal mining uses huge amounts of diesel powered machinery) or from an oil or gas fired power station.

As all costs go up what will the cumulative effects be on national economies? I think we will be lucky if they are no worse than the depression of the 1930s.

For the good of all, we should work toward increasing our self-sufficiency. We should try to develop the ability to provide our communities with essential survival goods.

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes grown at Clare
I didn't know until recently that sweet potatoes would grow well in a cool climate.

Why try to be more self-sufficient?

The price of petroleum will continue to rise and this will have an unknown, but generally detrimental, effect on the world's economy. The level of indebtedness in Australia is at an all-time high; banks would suffer badly if, for whatever reason, some change to the economy made it impossible for substantial numbers of borrowers to service their mortgages. Climate change is causing unprecedented changes to our water supply, reducing the viability of irrigation in the all-important Murray-Darling basin, and seems to be bringing more violent storms and making exceptional weather evens (such as floods, droughts and exceptional fire-danger days) more common.

The USA has enormous debts to other nations. Should these debts be called in, or should the US dollar fail, the effect on the US economy would be disastrous. There is a saying that 'if the US sneezes the rest of the world catches cold'.

China's and India's economies are growing rapidly and at exponential rates, but can they keep it up with the disruption to their societies and the equally steeply rising rates of pollution and other environmental problems? If the economies of these two countries suffers a serious set-back the price of raw materials will crash and this, in turn, will hit Australia's economy very hard.

Considering all of these factors it seems to me wise to start moving toward some degree of self-sufficiency.

Hot water without fossil fuels
Solar and wood water heater
Hot water comes from this solar panel in the warmer half of the year and from the wood-fuelled heater in the background when the sun is not shining.

Personal self-sufficiency

Complete self-sufficiency at the level of the individual is as difficult as it is undesirable - we are social creatures and we should work together with our neighbours - but I believe the days when we can all buy whatever we need, as we need it, may well be coming to an end. Perhaps self-sufficiency is not quite the right term at all. What we, as a society, are going to have to do is change back from a global economy to a local economy. The local society will have to go back to being self-sufficient. The increasing price of fuel will make imports steadily more expensive compared to local produce.

Some of the steps that I have taken toward self-sufficiency can be found on Clare Trees (my experiences in growing trees, particularly trees for food production in the Clare Valley) and Clare Plants (my experiences in growing smaller plants, including garden vegetables, in the Clare Valley). My pages on a cellar and firewood are also relevant.

Community self-sufficiency

Perhaps the rise in 'country markets' (or 'farmers markets') is a step toward greater community self-sufficiency. There are monthly country/farmer's markets in the Clare Valley at:
2nd Saturday each month at the showgrounds. Contact Fay Jones, phone 08 8842 3184
Seven Hill
Last Saturday of the month (not held in January). Information is available from Clare Valley Cuisine, or phone Phil or Amanda on 08 8843 4360
Has a market sometimes?
We, in the Clare Valley, are well placed to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency. Most of us at least have the space for a vegetable garden and a few fruit and nut trees. Many of us have a few hectares and room for substantial gardens or moderate orchards.

Not only will an increased level of community self-sufficiency insulate the local people to some extent from the worst effects of a possible economic down-turn or depression, but it will also increase the interactivity and cohesiveness of the Clare region's society.