The Desert Fathers and Mothers were essentially self-sufficient. Living in (relative) solitude in remote locations, it would have been all but impossible for them to engage in full-time paid employment. Some lived by trading (rather than selling) works they produced, most notably woven palm baskets. Many engaged in small scale agriculture to produce food, or gathered food from the countryside. Popular assumptions about the nature of the deserts in which they lived are generally inaccurate; from the records of the diets of the Hermits we know that they produced limited crops of vegetables and collected naturally occurring foods (notably dates and honey).

As Hermits moved from the desert, they found equivalent means of self-support. The general principle that emerged was that any labour must comply with the principles of the eremitical life, and must only minimally disrupt that life. Modern Hermits range from those who are self-supporting by producing their own food (and almost always obtaining those things that they cannot produce by trade or barter), to those who obtain a minimally sufficient income from work undertaken within their Hermitages (like calligraphy, iconography, writing, editing and proof-reading), to those who leave their Hermitages for limited periods to gain minimal income from paid work. Some modern Hermits live on savings accumulated throughout a working life prior to becoming Hermits (which might include superannuation). Some live on State pensions, although only where these are granted on the basis of age, for example, but not of unemployment since a Hermit is not “unemployed”, being fully occupied in work that happens not to result in income.

Hermits have traditionally placed an emphasis on self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and have therefore avoided support by gifts or donations.

In modern times there has been an increasing re-discovery of self-sufficiency by people around the world who are not living as, and do not think of themselves as, Hermits. It has resulted in an extraordinary interest in small scale self-sustaining agriculture, in “living off the grid”, and of “minimalism”. There is an increasing recognition that even within high-density urban environments it is possible to grow some food (even in pots on balconies of apartments), and that even a minimal involvement in such self-sufficiency has a positive psychological and spiritual effect.

For the Hermit, self-sufficiency is both about maintaining solitude, but also about maintaining personal responsibility for and direct involvement in meeting the needs of life. That which can be grown or collected, that which can be made, that which can be produced by the Hermit, should not be purchased or acquired by dependence on others. This places an emphasis on avoiding the commercialism of the secular world, on reducing the need for money, and a simplification of life. This includes growing, making, repairing and reusing, recycling, trading and bartering.

This relates, even for Hermits living in cities, to a desire to be “in the world but not of the world.”[John 17:16] But it has a long history in Christianity in communities, not only for individuals. It has been seen notably in communities like the Amish and other Christian communitarians. For Christians living in families, it has also been related to a desire to draw the family together as a mutually supportive and self-sufficient unit involving active cooperation between its members in meeting the needs of the whole family. There are clearly established benefits for children, and for the whole family, on learning to “some into contact with the earth” by growing food, and by working together to cook and eat that food.

Even where food self-sufficiency is not practically possible, encouraging others who engage in small-scale agriculture by purchasing (or trading for) their produce is a positive approach.

The Hermit, no less than the Christian more generally, seeks to be dependent on God and on himself or herself, rather than dependent on others.

Self-sufficiency is also related to simplicity, simple living, plain living and minimalism.

For reading on self-sufficiency, see:
For reading on simplicity, see:
For reading on minimalism, see:

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