I forget sometimes just how blessed I am to live in a home with enough land to make it possible to grow a good deal of what we eat. That’s not the case for most people. The 1/4 acre lot may provide the space for some gardening but maintaining soil fertility is a problem when you garden that intensively. Most people who find themselves trapped in the suburbs or in a city neighborhood just assume that they are doomed to eating from a can or buying expensive, fresh produce shipped from 3000 miles away. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Actually, the problem is not with acquiring food but storing it that keeps people from eating local year round. Now I am speaking from a bias here. I live in the Northeast and this is the food system I know. If you live in Southwest Texas, the opportunities will be very different and I can’t reliably address them.
What is necessary for storing food are specific conditions; cold and moist and cool and dry. I have a basement with a root cellar and a spare bedroom that meets both criteria. If I could not garden, here is what I would buy and store.
potatoes: We eat a ton of potatoes. In the fall, spuds are available in bulk bags for far less than what it costs to buy a 5 pound bag each week. I store my potatoes in a bin right on the dirt floor of the root cellar. In those cold, damp conditions, they still look great 7 months after I dug them. A year’s worth take up surprisingly little space.
carrots: Ditto on carrots. Bought straight from the farm, this is one inexpensive vegetable, packed with flavor and nutrition. I store mine in big plastic bins filled with damp sawdust. They are just now getting some black spots but they are still crispy and delicious. I just cut the bad parts off. Carrots are so versatile. We love them raw, candied, steamed and in soups and cake. Two big bins will store a lot of carrots.
beets: I store my beets like my carrots although they got soft quicker. That doesn’t matter as we prefer our beets pickled anyway. A day in the kitchen and you can pickle enough to have beets once a week for year.
Other things I store in the root cellar are turnips, cabbage and rutabagas. I know you are not supposed to store apples with your potatoes because the gas that the apples release will cause the potatoes to sprout. I have heard that keeping the apples covered with a towel and stored higher than potatoes will prevent this but I am too much of a coward to risk my potatoes with trying. I keep my apples in the bulkhead of the basement.
I keep onions and garlic in the main basement with no problem. It is cool and damp there.
In the spare bedroom I store bulk purchased grains, dried beans, flours and sugars as well as other packaged foods. My winter squash holds pretty well in this dry, cool space.
I can fruits, jams and tomato and apple sauce and store those in the basement. It is too damp to be ideal but it works. I keep a lot of pickles and sauerkraut in the kitchen and in the basement. I do my sauce over many weeks but a marathon session will provide a lot of sauce.
I dry a good deal of produce. Dried food takes up very little space. I keep that in a separate cabinet in the kitchen. I also store sprouting seeds. I have two #10 cans of mixes sprouting seeds.
If I could not garden, I would make a couple of trips to the country, buy my produce in bulk and store it or preserve it where I live. It would take some time and forethought but it could be done.
Now what about space? Root cellars went out with zoot suits but there are alternatives. Could you put the word out and maybe share a space with friends? An old refrigerator can be repurposed to store food that requires a cold spot. Bins, barrels and even dead freezers can be sunk in the ground and protected from snowfall. Basement bulkheads often have the right conditions. This is about getting creative when you’re desperate. I used old coolers before I had a root cellar. I would swap out a jug of ice every day to keep it cold enough. A pain for sure but doable.
In addition to what I could store, I would also manage to find space for a couple of self watering containers to grow some greens indoors and I would grow some potted herbs too.
If storing fresh food is just not an option, consider investing in a dehydrater and watching the youtube videos from dehydrate2store. Dried food takes up much less space than fresh and, as long as you have water, is a good alternative.
A final word is about freezers. I have three of them and they keep us in things I like a lot like meat, vegetables that don’t store well any other way, berries and cider. Having so much space also makes it possible to buy butter in bulk and store lard. A shared freezer could work if you had a really good relationship with someone. There is also no law that says freezers must be in basements or garages. You can always put one in a spare bedroom if you need to. The big problem with the freezer is the need to tie it to the grid. If the worst happened, I do have enough jars to can most of what I have in the freezer although I would eventually lose the hams.