Homegrown Food


This a preparedness site but obviously, I write about other things. One of my favorite topics is frugal living. I know a lot of people who think they can’t afford to buy food in bulk so there is one connection to preparedness. The other is that it is important to prepare for an uncertain economic future and living below your means is a necessary component of this. One thing I often hear when I talk about how it saves money to garden, preserve food, cook from scratch and mend our clothing is that I have not considered what my time is worth in my calculations. “If you factored in the hours you spend, you will probably find you are working for a couple of dollars an hour,” is the most common remark.

Silly! First, the implication is that if I wasn’t gardening or cooking I would be doing something that earned a wage. I might have to pick up a part time job to help make ends meet but I would probably be stuck doing something I didn’t enjoy to earn money so I didn’t have to do something I do enjoy. Anyone else see a problem with this logic? And if I was working, I would have expenses like taxes, clothing, meals out and transportaion.  Much of my productivity would be leaving me to benefit others. If I grow tomatoes, I feed my family and have excess product to donate to others if I chose but it won’t be taken from me.

The next problem I have is with the concept of worth. I am not sure why so many people can only think of worth as having a dollar sign attached to it. What is it worth to sit on my deck on a summer morning and sip tea made from the mint I grew and sweetened with honey from my own hives? What is it worth to knead a loaf of bread while listening to a Radio Free Earth CD and watching my kids dance around the kitchen? What is it worth for Bruce to present me with a cedar chest he has built himself? I suppose he could haved worked for several weeks to earn the money to buy an artisan chest and given that to me. Would that have been more valuable? What is time spent with friends worth? Time in nature? Time with each other?

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It started out so nice but the day has deteriorated into a more typical cold, wet April day. Still, I got out to the garden and pulled up a huge bowl of parsnips and carrots and found a couple of stray shallots I must have missed last fall. Then I got to the greenhouse and harvested a large bag of greens. All of this growing stuff got me motivated so I got busy planting. I started my early carrots in toilet paper tubes in a deep bin. As soon as we know frost is really past, I will put the tubes in the ground and we will be eating long, straight carrots in June. I will put in the storage carrots later. With some succession planting, I should have carrots all year with no problem. My goal is from the garden from early April until December with some protection and storage in the cellar for the four months the garden is under snow. I am wondering if I could do a row in the greenhouse too. The ground never freezes in there. Wouldn’t it be great to have a year round crop of something as useful as carrots?

I had to replant a lot of the tomatoes I had started because my stupid $250.00 gonad-less cat ate the darn things. I got 2 great books yesterday. Don’t Throw It, Grow It! is about growing house plants from kitchen scraps. Of course, my main interest is on the plants you can grow and eat. There were a lot of them. I just pine for an attached greenhouse. The other book is Growing Chinese Vegetables. It is an old book that Storey has re-released. I like Chinese veggies a lot and they grow well in my climate so this is a winner for me.

We are heading across the street for dinner with a neighbor later and then next door to the Community House for a concert. The musicians are local and really good. We never miss a chance to see them perform. Altogether, a satisfying day.

It is not a good news day. Between the auto industry and AIG the markets are getting hammered. I had a notion of writing a piece about small pieces of good news like my tomatoes popping up in their little greenhouses and the taste of a just pulled carrot but I just can’t pull it off. These are real people losing jobs and homes and dreams. The feds are going to send in disaster recovery teams to communities that will be decimated by the restructuring of the auto industry but, in spite of their best intentions, you can’t create any job without the demand for that product or service and people who are out of work don’t demand more than the bare essentials.

Most of us are familiar with Kubler/Ross’s work on the stages of grief. Essentially, we all go through a similar series of emotions when we have a major life loss. First there is denial followed by bargaining, then depression, then anger and finally acceptance. I hope that, as a country, we get through these stages very quickly and move on to acceptance. We need to accept that a life of credit funded consumption is over. The feds can make all the promises they like, but ultimately, we are going to have to take care of ourselves. That means prioritizing your needs.

You need shelter. You don’t need fancy shelter. You need a roof over your head, even if you have to share it with family or friends. The best shelter will have space to grow some food and be something you can keep warm. It will be in a place where you have the support of people who care about you.

You need food. When things are desperate, you need to treat the acquisition of food like a job. You will probably need to use multiple food sources rather than simply heading off to the grocery store. That may mean buying clubs, co-ops, farmer’s markets, the woods behind your house and the planter on your deck.

You need to be warm enough. Fleece jackets and wool socks, closing off rooms that don’t absolutely need to be heated, getting used to sleeping under quilts in cold bedrooms could  all be necessary.

You need a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose. Even if you don’t have a job to go to, get up and make a plan. Set up a neighborhood pot luck to discuss how you can work together to grow some food or work with your children. Start a scout troop of set up a 4-H program. It will take some doing to wean your kids from video games and structured programs and teach them to have fun and learn something without spending money.

Take care of you health. Take care of you marriage. Take care of your neighborhood. Take care of yourself.

If you live in the northeast as I do, inspiration is a must. I can look out my window and see great mounds of dirty snow and the kids still trudge off to school in parkas, boots, hats and mittens. The calendar may say spring but my yard says no way. So, I have been looking for things to get me motivated and I found it in a couple of places. First, I stuck a stick down deep in my garden and found that the ground is soft down as much as six inches. That means I will will be pulling parsnips and carrots next week. Then I pulled some of the mulch off my herb bed and found green growing stuff. I will have to get out my herb book to identify everything but it sure looked pretty. My next stop was at our hives. The bees were busy as, well, bees and looking healthy. My final stop was at the bookstore. I was just looking as I had some time before picking a kid up at driver’s ed and what did I find but Carleen Madigan’s new book, The Backyard Homestead. Carla is a friend of mine, an editor at Storey, my publishing house, and a neighbor. This is one of those “gotta have it books”. It reminds me of a scaled down version of Carla Emery’s book, An Encyclopedia Of Country Living. Carla’s book was my first homesteading book. It looks like it has been through two wars. The spine is duct-taped together and the pages all dog-eared. When I found out Carla had died, I wept. I never met her but I felt like I knew her.

A new generation of backyard homesteaders will still want Carla’s book but I hope they find a place for Carleen’s too. The illustrations show these fabulous, tidy layouts for yards of different sizes. I love those pictures. Of course, they bear no resemblance to the reality of a small scale homestead. Chickens and rabbits, gardens and tools, honey and canning stuff are not neat things. The creativity required to grow and nurture food stuff is messy by nature. I would not trust too neat a farmer. But the idea of that perfection feeds my soul.

I got the tomatoes started last night. I have 72 starts going. Now I just have to keep the cat out of them. I got the broccoli, cabbage, leeks, and lots of peppers going to. I am worse than a woman expecting her first baby when it comes to my seeds. I will be checking them constantly, waiting for the first green shoot that signals life. The carrots and beets will get started today. The rest of the seeds sit there, little packs of possibility.

I made one other purchase at the book store. A kind reader suggested I read Dies The Fire by S.M. Stirling. I know I crab about all of us spending too much money but as a writer, I depend on people plunking down hard cash so I can make a living doing what I love so I do but books when I can. I love the book. We are going away for the weekend (no post until Monday) and Dies The Fire is going with me. It’s crazy but I love post-apocalyptic fiction.

We are nearly ready for our first harvest of greens. Our greenhouse is small but we get quite a bit of food from it. Like everything else, there’s a learning curve. We are learning the intracacies of insulating it, planting schedules, appropriate plants and timing as well as insect control (aphids love the asian greens) and fertilizing. A greenhouse may be a good place to put your income tax refund. We are looking to put any extra cash into tangibles like food sources and energy efficiency. I hope we get enough of a thaw to pull some of the carrots and parsnips we left in the ground last fall.

Bruce is going skiing today and I plan to spend the day getting my early seeds planted. We have been so diligent about eating up the stuff in the cellar. I now have a list of what I ran short on and what I am giving away because I put up more than we ate. That list will help with my garden plan.

I put an ad in our little paper looking for greenhouse frames. I see a lot of them cluttering up backyards. If I could find a frame for free, I could reskin it for not to much and come up with more winter food space. I am wondering if I could keep it warmer if I raised rabbits or chickens inside. I fear that when inflation hits, it will impact food prices hard. The more I can raise, the better I eat and the more I have to share.

I made chicken and dumplings last night. It was so good. I can make dumplings in my sleep. They are one of those things that everybody loves. I am going to make more tonight, add some sugar and cook them on top of some stewed peaches. I plan to put together a bunch of my favorite recipes for my girls. I do so much by memory and feel but a hard copy is needed if I’m out of commission.

Dumplings

2 cups flour

4teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

You can whiz all this in a food processor but then you have to wash it. I think it takes less time to use a hand-held pastry cutter.

Add a cup of cold milk and mix lightly with a fork. Cook in barely simmering liquid for about 20 minutes. Keep the pot covered the whole time so the dumpling steams.I stick a skewer in mine. When the skewer come out clean, the dumpling is done.

Sharon Astyk has one of the best blogs on the internet and I never miss it. She has mentioned me a couple of times (thank you! thank you ! thank you!) but this past week she spoke of me as one of the woman Peak Oil writers. I had this surreal moment of wondering which Kathy Harrison she was referring to. I think of woman like Sharon and Carolyn Baker as being in an entirely different league than the one I play the game for. I am going to make a really uncomfortable confession here. There are lot of really deep and original thinkers out there and I certainly never started out thinking I would be one of them. Rawles at survivalblog knows more than I ever will about most aspects of preparedness. Go to Sharon at Casaubon’s Book if you want to know about peak oil and agriculture. Head over to Life After The Oil Crash with Matt Savanar for the blow by blow of peak oil/economic collapse. Ole Remus at the  Woodpile report, George Ure at Urban Survival, the list goes on of people who get this stuff. A lot of it is so complicated that you need multiple Phd’s in geology, biology, agriculture, and economics to even begin to understand the intricacies.  Orlov, Kunstler and Harrison? I don’t think so.

Here’s the truth of who I really am. I am a mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, cousin and niece. I am a neighbor, friend, student and teacher. I love a lot of people and I don’t want to see anybody I care about (or even somebody I don’t really like) go hungry. I love the little corner of the planet I live on with a fierce and abiding passion.  I am sometimes moved to weeping by the way the light sits on my front steps at 4:00 on a summer, evening.  The crunch of January snow under my feet while I walk to the back field to watch a full moon rise is such a pure, clear, rich sound.  Every blade of grass belongs to me the way my children belong to me. Not through ownership but stewardship.

When I first began reading the folks I just listed, the ones who knew their stuff, it occurred to me that something serious was afoot, that it was going to change things I didn’t want changed and I needed to pay attention.

It worries me a bit to think that anyone out there thinks of me as an activist. I hope the only choice isn’t between activist and uninformed. I want this movement to belong to everybody with a stake in this planet.

Bruce and I took the kids for long walk this afternoon. We came home, famished and aware that the dinner fairy had failed to stop by again. Not to worry. I had dinner on the table in a 1/2 hour. As usual, I evaluated it based on what we had grown or foraged, what we had purchased in bulk and stored, and determined what substitutes could be made should the trucks stop running. Here’s the menu.

Chicken and carrots in gravy, biscuits, canned peaches and rice pudding.  I canned the chicken last summer. It is energy intensive to can meat but once you have it, you have it. I have lost a freezer full of meat before and it’s terrible. Canned chicken only needs to be heated up. I canned the carrots too. I use cold storage for carrots usually but it is a good idea to have some canned ones for the nights you are in a hurry. I store corn starch to thicken the gravy but I could use flour if I didn’t have it. I grow and store lots of herbs. The salt and pepper are stored. I would miss salt so I store a lot. The biscuits required flour, butter, baking powder salt and milk. I would make sour dough biscuits if I didn’t have baking powder. We used to grow wheat in Massachusetts. I assume we could again. The peaches were from a neighbor’s orchard. I canned quarts and quarts last summer.

When I wrote about loving my people and my place, I should have added food. I adore good food, lovingly prepared and shared with my family and friends. Peak oil hits me, as it ultimately will everyone,right where I live. Maybe this is where all activists are born-from the heart and the soul of who we are. If so, then I am honored to be in such good company. Thanks again, Sharon.

One of the more enduring pictures of the depression is that of bread lines. I fear that we are beginning to see a different incantation of modern day bread lines. Food stamps applications have soared and what are food stamps but invisible soup kitchens and bread lines. Private donors are handing out food in places like Elkhart where unemployment has reached 20%. My husband volunteers at our food pantry where donations are down but usage is up. The demand for subsidized lunches and breakfast at my daughter’s high school has surged to the point that they can no longer afford to offer a hot breakfast and have switched to a selection of cold, presweetened cereals and milk.

We all need to think about food security, not in the abstract, isn’t it awful what is happening in other places and to other people, but in the sense of personal security. What will you do if food becomes too expensive for your budget?

I looked over several years of checkbook ledgers last night, pulling out what I spent for food. The numbers are difficult to figure as, at times, I have had a houseful of teenage boys to feed and other times when it has been just me, Bruce and the three girls. Still. I think I have a pretty good idea of where my food money has gone and why we seem to be eating a lot better for a lot less money today.

I rarely go grocery shopping any more and I almost never shop for the ingredients for a meal.  Rather, I shop to restock my pantry. One week, I will put in a co-op order for dried fruit and nuts and maybe a fifty pound sack of grain. Another week, I might buy a bulk order of chicken. I take a trip to a big box store 6 times a year and get things like sugar and case lots of the fruits that I can’t get locally. I hit a buy one get two free sale to restock my juice supply. If I didn’t get to the market for a month, I might have to pick up local milk or cheese and maybe a bit of fresh produce at the the general store here in town but I could manage quite well  even if I couldn’t get there as I have a large supply of dried milk and all the supplies for making cheese. My goal is to use at least 2 jars of something I preserved last summer every day. Last night, we ate a ham and scalloped potato casserole. The potatoes and onions were from our garden and the ham was local. The milk was local and the salt from storage. We also had canned applesauce (ours) and bread and butter pickles (ours). I made canned green beans which no one likes but they ate them because they could smell the rhubarb/blueberry crisp in the oven.

Not everyone has the space to grow as much as we do but I think we shortchange our ability to grow something. There is a terrific web site called path to freedom you should check out if you think you can’t grow food in you back yard.

Put out the word that you are interested in growing and foraging more food. I got 50 pounds of peaches last year from a woman who was swamped with them just through word of mouth. We are still eating those peaches and will have them until the new crop comes in. If the crop fails, I have cases of canned peaches in storage to hold me over until the next harvest.

Food has been rationed by price for many years. If you had money, you could afford fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and good bread. Poor people ate peanut butter, white pasta, and kool-aid. I see food rationing by price as something that will get a lot worse. Prepare for that time by figuring how and where to grow food. Learn how to preserve it and cook it. Plan to enjoy it during the lean times that are already here.

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