The System is Broken
Our food system is broken. Industrial farms are euthanizing animals because they can’t process them and they have no other avenue to move that many animals. Large scale farms are dumping crops and letting them rot because the co-op or vendor they sell to caters to the restaurant industry which is currently shut down and they don’t have the resources to comply with the labeling and packing requirements for retail sales.
Personal food security is more critical than ever. My last visit to Costco they had absolutely no chicken except wings, and the only frozen vegetable they had was riced cauliflower. This is not all just because of COVID19. Last year’s devastating floods in the Midwest along with the fires and drought in California caused major crop failures and livestock losses. I don’t bring all this up to scare you, but to empower you. If you have control over even just the smallest bit of your food supply, you can improve food security.
Buy in Bulk and In Season
Probably the easiest thing you can do to improve food security is to buy in bulk and buy in season. This has little to no learning curve involved and even if you have “no” storage space in your home, you can always find some room if you’re creative. One acquaintance didn’t use her dining room often, so she stuck a small chest freezer in there.
Store canned food under the bed or the back of a closet. Clean out your cupboards and designate one just for the bulk. As long as you are keeping track of your inventory, you’re less likely to run out and can go weeks or months without having to worry about resupplying. Set a threshold so you know when you need to restock. We like to keep about 5 lbs of oats in the house and the rest is in a food-safe bucket in the garage. Five pounds is about a month’s worth, so when I think I only have 1 more fill from the bucket, I know it is time to order more.
I like Azure Standard for many of our bulk foods. I buy 25 lb bags of wheat berries, oats, and beans as well as cases of canned olives and coconut milk. They deliver by truck once a month to a local “drop”. The great thing is I can buy 1 can of coconut milk or 12 (and get better pricing the more I buy). Unfortunately, they do not offer service for the entire country but you can see if there is a drop in your area from their website.
Buy Meat By the Quarter or Half
No matter where you live, or what skills you have, you can grow some of your own food. Soil, water, light, and seeds are all you need to grow something. Or forget the soil and try your hand at hydroponics or sprouting. Using the Kratky method, you can grow a head of lettuce in a canning jar with no soil. In the words of Justin Rhodes, “Just Plant!” The first time you eat something you grew yourself, you’ll be hooked.
Do you live in an apartment or condo? Trust me, you can grow food. Will you be able to grow all the things? Probably not. Getting started is half the battle. If you have big dreams of a homestead and lots of space, the time to start learning how to fill that homestead with a garden is now. If you are a city dweller and like it that way, you can still enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of eating something you grew yourself. Grow a tomato plant on your balcony. Grow herbs on your counter. Having plants in your living space also helps clean the air. Bonus!
Do you live on a small suburban lot? Add herbs and vegetables to your flower beds. Carve up some of that grass. Even people with a strict Home Owners Association have managed to grow food in their front yard and the neighbors were none the wiser.
Hide your food in plain sight
Mix chard and kale (if that is what you like to eat) with your calendula and chrysanthemums. Additionally, plant strawberries as a ground cover around perennials. Food-producing plants come in a wide variety of textures and colors that can be an asset to any ornamental garden.
Need more space? Join a community garden. Ask your neighbors, your friends, your family for some. Many people would be thrilled to have you garden in a corner of their yard if you shared the bounty with them.
Preserving to Improve Food Security
There are 2 primary ways to can food; water bath canning and pressure canning. Water bath canning is for high acid foods such as jams and pickles while low acid foods, including meat and vegetables, must be pressure canned for safety.
Botulism is a deadly illness caused by botulinum bacteria that grows in a low-acid anaerobic environment. Pressure canning allows the temperature of low-acid food to get high enough to kill the bacteria. Therefore, is important to follow tested and trusted recipes for canning, especially if you are just learning. My favorite beginner (and intermediate) canning book is the Ball book. I taught myself to can using this book; the recipes and directions are straightforward and easy to follow.
Freezing is a simple and straight forward way to preserve food if you have the freezer space. Freezing fruit is so easy. I just wash it, put it in a bag, and throw it in the freezer (Don’t forget to label it!). Berries can be frozen on a cookie sheet first, then put into bags. This will keep the berries from freezing in a big lump; therefore, you can take out only what you need. Sometimes I vacuum seal them to prevent freezer burn, especially if they are likely to be in the freezer all winter. Vegetables are a little more work to freeze as they often require blanching, but still faster than canning. I always vacuum seal vegetables as they seem to get freezer burned rather quickly.
Dehydrating is another easy way to preserve the harvest. You can dehydrate sliced fruits and vegetables, dry herbs, make fruit leather, and beef jerky. I love my Excalibur dehydrator but it is not a requirement to dehydrate most things. Hang herbs in bundles anyplace they will not get direct sunlight and will get some airflow. Other foods can be dried in your oven on the lowest possible setting, though it is probably hotter than ideal. You have to watch food very closely if you use the oven. You can even dehydrate food in your car! Try putting a pan with a layer of sliced fruit on your dash and park your car in the sun.
Finally, fermenting is another option for preserving food. It is not as stable as canning or freezing but offers a variety of health benefits above and beyond the food itself. I love Sandor Katz’s books on fermentation because his instructions are easy to follow and he has some recipes for things I never would have thought to ferment.
Bonus idea… ferment that fruit into wine! Peach, apricot, rhubarb, or cranberry wine are some of our favorites. First Steps in Winemaking by CJJ Berry is my favorite book on winemaking because the book is organized by month and what is in season.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. There are so many skills you can learn and things you can grow to improve food security for your family no matter where you live and no matter what stage of life you are in. Get the kids involved! Get your significant other involved. Just Plant!
Don’t forget to continue to part 3 of this series too!
Do any of these things strike you as something you want to try? Let me know in the comments!