What Should I Do? The Basics of Resilience (Part 4 – Growing & Preserving Food)
Note: This article is part of a series on personal preparation to help you answer the question, "What should I do?" Our goal is to provide a safe, rational, relatively comfortable experience for those who are just coming to the realization that it would be prudent to take precautionary steps against an uncertain future. Those who have already taken these basic steps (and more) are invited to help us improve what is offered here by contributing comments, as this content is meant to be dynamic and improve over time.
Increasing Your Local Food Sources
For us, the next step after getting some food stored away was to increase our local sources of food. Our primary local sources include the farmers who produce our meat and raw milk and the community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable operation to which we belong. Our local demand translates into more local food—a worthy outcome by itself, but we also happen to get superior food as part of the bargain.
And there's more. Our CSA is run by two fabulous young farmers whom we adore, it employs a crew of young local people, and they grow everything organically. We are getting tastier and healthier food, increasing demand for local food, and supporting our local community, all in one fell swoop. If you do not yet belong to a CSA and have the opportunity, it is well worth pursuing. And if a CSA is not available or affordable to you, then at the very least, make connections with local farmers and food producers and purchase food from them directly whenever possible.
You can find CSAs in your local area within seconds at LocalHarvest.org. It can also help you find nearby farmer’s’ markets, farms, and grocery co-ops.
For the past six years, we've also been growing a vegetable garden at what can only be termed "hobby level," and our learning process has been steep. While we enjoy and preserve the fruits of our labors, it seems that each year brings new challenges to surmount. The spring of 2009 here in the U.S. Northeast was the wettest and coldest in living memory, leading to all sorts of problems and plant diseases. The year before that it was extremely dry and hot.
When I asked a local organic farmer if there was some book or internship that could accelerate my learning process, he laughed and remarked, "Nope. It's ten years for everybody." By this he meant that there is no substitute for experience. One must live through the wettest year and the driest year and the year with funny yellow bugs and so on. We’ll be honest: Gardening takes time. It also takes a lot of learning, most of which comes from trial-and-error. So the important thing is just to get started. As you realize how rewarding and empowering it is to grow fresh food for your table, your efforts begin to feel a lot less like ‘work’ and more like a passion.
You can get most everything you need, as well as hand-held guidance if you want it, from your local garden store. We advise buying your tools and initial seeds locally, but we also recommend that you consider obtaining a backup supply of seeds for a complete vegetable garden as an insurance policy.
There are many good books and various approaches to home gardening. One method that is particularly popular among PeakProsperity.com members is Square Foot Gardening. Taking the time to read up and discuss tips with more experienced gardeners will save you a lot of time by avoiding the most common rookie mistakes.
For gardening, we recommend:
Local garden stores
- Use Google or Yelp to find ones near you (type in “garden” and your zip code, then search)
- Ask for personal guidance in planning your garden and buying tools & supplies
- Meet other gardeners in your community to learn from and share with
- Sign up for the "Introduction to Sustainable Gardening" class
- PeakProsperity.com enrolled members receive a 20% discount using promotional code "CM Enroll." (Enrollment status will be verified before discount is awarded.)
- A good backup ‘insurance policy’ for growing a complete vegetable garden
- 21 individual seed varieties (25,000 seeds in all)
- Plants 1-acre
- 5-year shelf life
All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
- Complete guide for growing a hi-yielding garden within minimum space
- Much simpler process than traditional techniques
Preparing & Storing Food
Whether the food is grown by us or by our CSA, our family has developed a practical plan for food storage. We have fashioned a workable root-storage cellar out of our basement bulkhead for use over the late fall and winter months. All of our various root crops (potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, etc.) are stored there until we use them. Effective storage in a root cellar requires a bit of learning and experimenting, with the variables being the method of storage, varieties being stored, temperature and humidity control, and culling to ensure minimal spoilage.
We keep chickens (link to forum discussion), which handily convert our kitchen waste into eggs and fertilizer. We also raise a few turkeys for the freezer every year. Over the years, we have gained increasing experience with butchering and processing our own birds, and now people come to us to learn this skill. This, too, has become a point of community for us.
After several years of practice, Becca has become a master canner (link to forum discussion) and works throughout the fall to can many different kinds of fruits and vegetables. As with our informal food-storage and butchering outreach, I often find her sharing the kitchen with friends as they work side by side. This kind of sharing has the benefit of nurturing relationships within our community. It also introduces local friends to new skills that may be useful to them on their own path toward personal preparation and increased food independence.
In addition to canning our food (which has a sizable learning curve), we also dehydrate a fair portion of it (which does not). Dehydrating preserves more of the nutrients in your food, and dried food requires substantially less space to store. Dried food keeps for an exceptionally long time, as most bacteria die or become completely inactive when dried.
For dehydrating food, we highly recommend the Excalibur 9000 Deluxe Series 9 Food Tray Dehydrator
- Dries all fruits, vegetables, and meats
- Handles heavy volumes and around-the-clock use
- 10-year warranty
Setting a Goal
Each of these areas represents a more direct relationship with our food, and each requires a different set of skills and knowledge. I wish I could tell you that a smart and dedicated person could pick these skills up more rapidly than others, should the need arise, but it turns out that there really isn't any shortcut to becoming a gardener, or a canner, or a butcher, or a food preservationist. The vagaries of each growing season and the environmental variations of each year ensure that your food-production education will be anything but dull.
Wherever you live, do what you can to learn about the specific growing conditions and the varieties of food plants that particularly thrive in your area. You may want to start by adjusting your eating habits and expectations to match what is easy to grow and obtain locally.
Our family's goals from this point forward are to plant a wide variety of hardy, semi-dwarf fruit trees—apples, pears, plums, peaches, and cherries, along with hardy kiwis and grapes (on trellises). Further, we intend to work with local permaculture experts to design a system of growing food on our land that will require the least amount of energy to produce the largest possible gains (link to forum discussion).
Our goal is to produce as much food as we can on our plot of land using the least amount of our personal energy. If everybody did this, think how much more resilient we'd be, and probably healthier too.
Whether you can begin to grow your own food or not, I highly recommend that you figure out how to obtain as much of your food locally as you can while it's in season, and then learn how to store it so that it lasts as long as possible.
Set a goal.
How about ten percent?
If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series on resilience, you can find them here:
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