Photos by Lois Hoffman
The other day, a friend asked a question that I haven’t really thought about before: “With all your gardening and preserving foods, would you have enough to last a year if you had to?”
With the uncertainty in today’s world and the fragility of the food chain, this is a question that has been on a lot of folks’ minds as of late. I consider myself a middle-of-the-roader, I am not inclined to live entirely off the grid, but neither do I ever intend to rely fully on grocery stores and supermarkets for my food needs. I believe that, for most of us, there is a happy medium.
So, back to the question. It forced me to really sit down and examine how stable and efficient our personal food supply was in regard to the main food groups; vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy and grain. I decided to lay out a plan that was not only sensible and doable for a homesteader to have enough food for a year, but also to have it within reason in regards to what items to grow and raise and what items to have in stock by other means.
I grow a fairly versatile garden, with different kinds of vegetables and different varieties within each species. Naturally, summer and fall months are not problem as we eat all we can fresh. As far as preserving for winter months, one method doesn’t fit all. I employ a mixture between canning, freezing, fermenting and drying.
Canning. Whenever possible, I can vegetables because they tend to have a longer shelf life than frozen foods and if frees up freezer space. On top of that, they are actually more sustainable since power outages don’t affect them like an outage could cause all frozen produce to spoil. Some vegetables taste just as good whichever way they are preserved and for others, one method is superior. Some folks freeze green beans but we don’t care for the texture or taste of them, so all green beans are canned at our house.
Fermenting. I used to think of fermentation only for cabbage, turning it into delectable sauerkraut (I know, some of you would beg to differ with me on this one—you are either a fan or not!). However, just about any vegetable can be fermented, either solely or as a mixture of different ones, with each one lending its own flavor to the mix. On top of that, various herbs and spices can be added to give a unique flavor to each blend.
Drying is one of the easiest methods of preservation. Besides herbs lending themselves to this method, many beans are great candidates also. This method basically requires no special equipment and very little time.
Cellaring. Fruit cellars are best for keeping produce fresh as long as possible. Unlike most people who make applesauce in the fall, I store apples in the fruit cellar and use them for eating, baking and cooking until they lose their crisp texture. Then I make applesauce, usually in late winter, when I have plenty of time. The same is true for onions and winter squash. I use them fresh from the fruit cellar as long as I can and when their quality begins to fade, I then chop the onions and put in the freezer to use in any cooked dish and freeze the squash. The same goes for carrots, turnips and other root vegetables.
I have also started raising the herbs that I use the most and drying them myself. There is a great satisfaction in raising your own and the freshness can’t be beat.
I do not raise many of my own fruits. Tree-bearing fruits take a lot of time and space. Trees need to be pruned, sprayed and require a fair amount of land. It also seems to never fail that we have a killing frost just when they are blossoming in the spring. Instead of investing in all of the equipment to raise my own fruit and protect it, I find it is easier to pick my own at local U-pick orchards and farms.
Notice that I did not say to just buy them at a supermarket. Picking your own means that you get fresher produce and can choose the varieties that you want. Even strawberries require a large area of the garden since they tend to sprawl. The only fruit that I raise is black raspberries and rhubarb. Staked, raspberries they can grow vertical and use little space. Having only a couple plants of rhubarb provide more than enough for our yearly supply.
I try to go at the very beginning of the season for each fruit variety, thus making sure that I get the freshest and best fruit. I bring home enough to preserve what we will need for the year. I also make sure to get enough for our jams and jellies and freeze that quantity also. Making jams and jellies in the winter also saves a lot of time during the busy spring and summer seasons.
Meats are a different story. I remember when I was a youngster, we always raised our own chickens and pigs and did our own butchering. This included having a smokehouse to smoke our own hams and bacon. It required a lot of time and effort because, when you have animals, they pretty much tie you down every day.
Instead, I prefer to find a local producer and buy directly from them. This way, I still know where the meat is coming from and how it was raised without having to worry about vet bills, fencing and being tied down for feeding and caring for the animals.
Here again, I buy in quantity usually a couple times a year and either freeze or can enough for our consumption.
Dairy is a whole other story also. Here is where I am definitely dependent on food stores. Without having my own cow and milking every day, there is no way I can have a direct supply of milk, butter and cheese. However, I have found products have been raised and processed without preservatives, GMOs and antibiotics. I frequent stores that sell those products.
Grains are kind of on the line. I don’t grind my own flour, but I do purchase an organic Red Fife flour, which is a heritage grain, and mix it in with King Arthur flour, a personal favorite. I am not discounting other flours in any way but King Arthur is milled from hard red wheat kernels, is ground fine and is milled to a specific protein count which ensures that baked goods come out more consistent.
By accident, we left a loaf of bread on the counter for a couple weeks and it did not mold. So, we left it to see how long it would take and after a year it was dried out but not molded. Too many preservatives for me! So, I now bake our own bread and baked goods except for the occasional sandwich loaf.
So, in retrospect, I would have to say that we have 80 percent of our food supply for the year. Some of the canned goods, like tomatoes and green beans, we probably have a two-year supply.
Because of fluctuating supplies and prices, this is a good feeling to have nearly all the food, or vittles as we country folks like to refer to our food, we need for the year. It definitely saves money at the grocery store and I know what the quality is. However, I must add that this is a passion of mine. I could not, or perhaps would not, put this much work into preserving our own food if it weren’t a labor of love.
Each has to decide for themselves what is best. As for us, for as long as we can, we will be ensuring our food supply by preserving ourselves.
Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
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