Regular readers may recall my recent announcement about a fabulous book called The Self Sufficient-ish Bible. It's a great read and is very inspiring for anyone who wants to live a more frugal lifestyle.
I recently caught up with Andy Hamilton, one of the co-authors and founders of the Selfsufficient-ish website to find out more about the site, their recent stardom as well as their rubbish. I hope you enjoy the insight that Andy has so kindly provided.
"Selfsufficientish.com was set up in 2004 as a place for us (Dave and I) to share our increasing knowledge of growing herbs and veg."
Why did you choose a website instead of a blog?
"We chose a website instead of a blog as neither of us knew much about the Internet as we were not big surfers. We did not even think about setting up a blog. They were pretty alien to us. In fact after reading an article in one of the Sunday papers years ago, I thought that blogs were run by 14 year old American girls and not many more people."
"Obviously times have changed but we are very happy with the decision that we have made. It has meant that the site is no longer just ours but it (especially the web forum) now belongs to an ever-increasing membership from all over the world."
"It was a huge learning curve for me, learning how to code the website and how to get us noticed by search engines. I was working full-time in a psychiatric hospital, studying for a psychology degree and working 16 hours on the site. Looking back I am surprised that I managed to do all that and still keep my girlfriend and a social life."
Of course you must be dead-chuffed with the book but what have been the other highlights in the Selfsufficient-ish journey?
"There have been a number of highlights. Perhaps the biggest one was when Dave telephoned me one Saturday morning urging me to look at our stats. We had gone from 30-ish hits a day to over 10,000 a day."
"A month previously I had sent an email to Click Online (now simply called Click) a BBC news program aired on BBC Worldwide and News 24. It immediately gave us a global audience."
"The first time we were mentioned in The Times was another big moment. As was first getting our agent, hearing we had got a book deal, giving a talk (to 24 people) at the Oxford literary festival and just recently meeting up with a crew and doing some filming for the Paul O'Grady Show."
"It has been a strange old time over the last couple of years. Aside from media interest, everyday things can really mean a lot. We occasionally get thanked by people or get what I guess would be called 'fan email'. As the Selfsufficientish journey has not always been a fruitful one, these emails have made all the difference."
"There have been occasions where running the site has caused nothing but stress and these emails have been the ray of hope needed to carry on. It is also fantastic to find out that we have helped people not only in giving them advice on how to be more Selfsufficientish but also giving some a place to make friends."
How do you and Dave share your work responsibilities?
"With the book, it was easy we split the work load in half, taking the subjects that we felt more passionately about. For example, Dave wrote about the soil, as he is forever trying to improve his and I guess I am more of a hippy and so wrote the Nature's Medicine chapter."
"The website is a different matter that has mostly been down to me to deal with. It is changing and we have taken on board a web designer to do up the site. When we launch the new-look site, we will both be updating with a whole load of new articles."
What was it like to be on the BBC Breakfast red sofa?
"Very, very nerve wracking. But not as scary as the Radio 4 Today program, which we did an hour previously. At one point I was feeling sick and turned to look at Dave hoping he would cover for me , but he was whiter than the driven snow! We got through it and I heard it back once on listen again but it made me cringe a little."
"When we did the BBC Breakfast, later that day, Dan Cruickshank was also in the Green Room (more of a cupboard) and he seemed very nervous, so I chatted to him to help calm HIS nerves."
"The whole studio does not look anything like it does when you watch it. There is a stain on the sofa and no cameramen. In fact it looks like two people talking to themselves. The big screen behind them is just a brick wall painted white with whatever is projected onto it. The whole thing was over in seconds."
How are you coping with the media interest?
"Well to be fair we are hardly A list or even X,Y or Z list celebs. Mind you, we had a white van man (in a claret van) pull up shouting, 'Oi you!'. Worriedly we both looked up, and he just said 'how's your allotment?' Some of the local folk seem to recognise me and I have now gone from a customer in the local green grocers to becoming a friend."
Have you ever met up with forum members or are you planning to?
"Well yes a few. Indeed we are meeting up with some on Saturday to celebrate the launch of the book. The famous Nev Sweeny, our site guru from Australia, will be in the country and we are really looking forward to spending time with him."
So what's in your recycling bins?
"Over the summer months we have hardly any packaging in the bins as most of what we eat is home grown. However, as we are self sufficientish and not self sufficient, we have never professed to being totally self reliant and aim to be realistic. Tinned beans, apple juice cartons, chick pea cans seem to make up the bulk of what is in the recycling bin...really just stuff that we can't make or grow or that would take a long time to produce."
How big is your regular landfill bin?
"As I live with my girlfriend and Dave lives in a shared house, it is hard to really say how little we do throw away. Even so, here in Bristol the collection is fortnightly and we have been known to miss it on more than one consecutive fortnight. This has meant 6 weeks worth of rubbish building up, to be fair we could probably go 8 weeks without having our rubbish collected. If I lived on my own I think I could easily go almost waste-free."
What's your top tip for minimising waste?
"I have twice taken a plastic-free challenge, not buying any plastic for 2 weeks. My waste was minimal during this time. I would say that I was perhaps cheating a little as during both times I was growing a lot of my own stuff. It is much easier to be waste-free when the only packaging that you use is mud! It is possible to make almost everything and using our book and the Internet could set you in good stead to become waste-free!"
Many thanks go to Andy for his patience in answering my various questions. I certainly don't think he was cheating by using his own produce during the plastic-free challenge and it's something that I would love to be able to do, if only I could find the time and energy to stop those slugs from eating my lettuce.
Anyway, I am certainly inspired to try to become more self sufficient-ish and hope that you are too. For more tips and advice, pop along to Andy and Dave's website www.selfsufficientish.com, where there is even an active forum to hand which includes topics as varied as growing your own right produce through to eco-parenting as well as reducing waste.