We need five servings of fruits and vegetables every day to meet our need for vitamins, minerals and fiber. That’s hard enough for many, even supposing you ready access to a supermarket fill with foods form around the globe b ut what if you had to eat from home storage? How could you get that many servings. For a family of 4, that’s 140 servings a week.

It is first important to remember what a serving size is. It is only 1/2 cup for an adult. That is a really small amount. A 1 cup helping is two servings. Next, you must remember what counts. The juice with breakfast, the raisins in your oatmeal, that handful of dried kale in your soup, those carmelized onions are all considered a serving. Even canned pumpkin used in bread or a pie is a vegetable.

My first choice for meeting my vege needs is to grow and preserve my own or food I have purchased locally. I do buy some dried things, notably apple rings and raisins. Other than that, In September and October, I am a preserving fool. This is not a good year for wild fruit so I am having to scrounge a bit more and buy some things I would usually get for free. Still, with diligence, I will get a lot of fruits and vegetables canned.

We have a cold cellar now so a good deal will land there. If you have a space to put in a small, insulated from the exterior heat, room in your basement, you can put away carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, garlic and apples for months. Get a good book on the subject as there are particulars to storage that you need to know. The most important points are to keep apples away from vegetables as the ethylene gas apples give off with cause spoilage of other food and check your food every day or so. One bad apple as they say.

You can purchase freeze dried fruits and vegetable. I have a good deal in storage. They can look pricey but probably not bad if you only other option is to buy food on the open market and put it up yourself. Freeze dried food is light weight and the quality is excellent.

You can always fill a freezer with what you need but that leaves you at the mercy of the grid and the utility company. I do freeze some things we just don’t eat any other way like broccoli and string beans. I hope to move into more drying and fermentation and away from freezing in the future.

This week is the case lot sale at Big Y, our locally owned market. A case of any vegetable is $7.50. I usually do a stock up this week of the few things we eat canned on occasion. Corn and peas are all we are likely to run short of in April. While I don’t like them I could eat them if I had to. I also keep a couple of cases on hand for charity. When the time comes to rotate I can hide a canned vege in a soup or stew. I will stock up on tomatoes and canned soups. I will also buy a lot of canned fruit. A lot as in five or six cases. It has a long shelf life and is so versatile. I have made brandy from canned apricots, raisins, sugar, yeast and water with good results.

Not to be overlooked is the option of growing food year round in your house, a cold frame or small green house. Get a copy of Fresh Food From Small Spaces if you are thinking of doing this. There is a dandy self-watering container I plan to build. Don’t forget sprouts and mushrooms. Both are easy to grow and provide a good amount of food for the space required.

Finally, fermentation. I did a lot more pickling this year and I love it. Pickled vegetables have a lot of vitamin c and add such a festive fell to a meal. We are getting into the habit of pickled something at every meal. A copy of Wild fermentation is a good reference book as is the Joy of Pickling.

I am off today to get the meat for my food preservation class. I have a lot of folks signed up. I hope to learn as much as I teach. I will not be posting this weekend (really) as the class will chew up Saturday and I plan to go looking for apples after church on Sunday. Perfect weather is forecast.

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I got up early yesterday, planted some seeds for the fall garden, then got busy pulling all my onions and preparing the bed for next year. Bruce and I took a look at the corn and it hit  us at the same time. We need to get the new freezer! Right now as in we should have done this weeks ago.

I don’t care for canning corn. It takes a really long time and the result are only acceptable. Without electricity, I would but I have electricity so I don’t. I dry some and it actually tastes a lot better that way but again, it takes a lot of time and space and the corn all seems to be ready at once. Well, three at onces. We plant three varieties and have it over a long season but we have a lot in each season. The pigs will be ready soon too. I got on line and did the research to find the model I want and made some calls to find out who had one and would deliver within the next day or two.

We settled on the 24 cubic foot Kenmore. It’s huge and expensive but it has some features I wanted. It’s Energy Star and actually uses less power than some of the smaller models, has a quick freeze option so I can freeze large amounts at once and has a pop out lock and lighted interior.

This will give me three freezers. The one on the top of the refrigerator, the small upright in the mud room and now the huge chest in the basement. Bruce and I rearranged the food storage and he built a small freezer room yesterday. He framed in three walls and a floor and painted them up. The walls and flooring are insulated now and they will protect the freezer from some of the basement moisture. Eventually, the whole basement will be sealed from moisture and insulated but we won’t get to that until winter.

This whole project, as tough as it was on back, served the very useful purpose of making me take stock of my inventory. I went through a lot of food last year! I need to do a big shop this week and fill in around the edges. I have very little left in the way of canned juices and nearly no pineapple, the only canned fruit I purchase other than mandarin oranges when the are on sale. I got rid of some canned food that we are not going to eat like outdated green beans. The reason they were outdated is because nobody here can stand canned green beans. The pigs got those.

The other thing I did since I was down there and cleaning anyway was to rearrange my canning supplies. I had way more rings than I will ever need as I remove them as soon as the jars cool. A lot were rusty too. I took a rubber band and a paper clip and made a kind of bungee cord that I slipped through canning rings in groups of seven (a full canner load). I did this for 6 sets of large and small rings. I put these and all of my canning equipment like jar lifters and funnels in one 6 gallon bucket with a gamma seal and twist off lid. Now I have everything I need in one place and none of it is cluttering up my kitchen drawers. It will stay clean in the bucket and I can stop searching for a good lid in a bag with hundreds of  lids. I love getting organized. Systems are our friends.

I will do a whole post on this later this week but Bruce questioned the number of jars I have. I see his point as there are many extra but here is my reasoning. I pick up jars at tag sales and occasionally when I get to the market. They don’t deteriorate, I have the space and they are one thing I would really need if the grid ever collapsed. I could set up an outdoor kitchen and can all of the meat and frozen vegetables. We would have to work round the clock and use both pressure canners and it would take days but we could do it. If I ended up with some of kids at home, we would have to enlarge the gardens and can a lot more produce as a matter of course. Jars are alos a great barter item. I keep a couple of new boxes on hand and donate one to the occasional raffle along with a copy of my book. I am also trying to rid myself of most of the plastic in my house. Now that I have the space, I will be freezing many vegetables and fruit in jars. I will be able to reuse the lids and extract the air with my my food saver. This will save the money I would have spent on plastic bags and keep those bags out of the landfill. Win, win.

The Wicked Witch of the West could not have been more evil than the forces that are out to get our gardens this year. I went to get some potatoes yesterday and a good many did not hold up to storage. Then Bruce went to check the Delcata Squash and found that some #%^@#*(%rodent, rabbit or woodchuck probably, had taken one bite of each. One bite! We think they will heal but today I have to go out and get some thigh high panty hose to protect the rest. Here’s the question. Does it make sense to spend more money on the hose than the squash is worth? Of course not. Am I still going to do it anyway? Naturally. I can keep the panty hose about indefinitely and I will learn whether or not an injured squash will recover.  Next year we will protect them as soon as they emerge. I had saved some tomatoes that looked okay and set them to ripen on the window sill. Every one developed blight and hit the garbage pail yesterday.

I stopped in the market yesterday to refill my canned pumpkin supplies. We eat a lot of canned pumpkin and, as we are not going to have any pumpkins this year (the kids are going to have to paint faces on old soccer balls for Halloween I guess) I thought I should have lots of Libbys on hand. Wrong. Seems like I am not the only one with a failed crop. There were six cans on the shelves and the grocery manager said he had heard they might not get any more for a while because of the crop failure. Yikes! I guess I will have to work on a recipe for carrot bread.

I did have some good news about my canner. I called Lehman’s and they are sending out a new one right away, along with a shipping label so I can return the damaged one. Their service is so good. There prices are a bit higher but you can count on the quality.

Have any of you found your state’s prepper network. You can google it. I am anxious to hook up with mine. I would really like to find a group that meets a couple of times a year for a day of skill building and connection. I am supposed to meet up with some folks from the Massachusetts Preppers Network soon. I am looking forward to it as long as I have the time to pull from garden work.

Now that I have a good idea about what to expect to put up from my garden (great, heaving sigh) I am working on my updated inventory and shopping list. I also put together a list for my un-prepped sister about how to begin a food storage program. I am getting the distinct impression that she did not read a certain book that one would have assumed she has sitting on her bookshelf.

I went to the city yesterday to participate in an upcoming docu-drama about the world after a pandemic decimates society. I was interviewed primarily about food, evacuation and community building. There are some pretty strange ideas out there about how one would get food if forced to leave one’s home on foot and unprepared. The reality of a man needing 3000 calories a day is hard to wrap your mind around. One thing for sure. You won’t get it by foraging wild greens. I don’t think it reasonable to expect that some city guy, who spends his day pushing paper is, all of the sudden, going to turn into Wilderness Jones and snare a couple of squirrels a day either. And water. Did you ever try to carry a gallon jug for any distance. Water is heavy and awkward and most ground water in the US is not safe to drink without being treated. I asked about things like shoes, shelter and security. The security is especially important because, in a real apocalyptic scenario, it won’t be just nice guys and theirfamilies on the road. It will be desperate, frightened people and many will not be nice.

Then there was talk about how much land a family would need to feed themselves. Again-plain silly to think a paper pusher becomes Mr. Green Jeans without any experience farming. Just this year, with the blight problems, a lot of us would be hungry if we were depending on that crop to feed us through a long winter.

The next question was about bunker living versus finding a community. Here is the truth of it. Man is a herd animal. We are not designed to live in isolation. We need each other. None of us can do everything. In a community, the soap maker will swap her wares for honey and the bee man swap his honey for milk. The dairy farmer will swap for wine and the vinier swap for shoes. The shoemaker will give a pair of boots for help with birthing his first born and the midwife swap for soap.  Pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents will matter less than a real thing that you need to keep warm or fed.

I  came away from interview with a renewed commitmant to some preparedness principles.

Bloom where you are planted as long as you are not planted in the middle of a big city with rampant crime. If you are, start today to make plans to get out.  Make your home the place you escape to. Get it paid for ASAP and spend the money to get it energy efficient. Know it, love it and care for it.

Know where your food comes from and keep enough stored to get you through a time when leaving might not be safe or wise. Learn now how to grow and preserve what you harvest. Store seeds and tools and plant perennial food plants like berry bushes and fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb.

Make community service a priority. Know your neighbors and treat them like family. You don’t have to love them. You have care about them. Those are two very different ideas.

Get a skill. Practice until you become expert. Don’t expect to make a living as a potter or winemaker. But do learn all you can and build a customer base as your skills improve. Offer a quality service and be honest. The best investments you can make are in yourself, your home and your community.

I had to take one of my girls in for some minor toe surgery yesterday. I was sitting in the office, chatting with the podiatrist when I happened to glance down at my hands. The fingernails were grubby all around and the nails themselves broken off. I always think I am going to wear my gloves when I work outside but I never do. I think I will be just picking a couple of beans for dinner when I end up pulling all the weeds in the beet patch. The nest thing I know I am up to my wrists in dirt. Real farmer’s don’t get manicures.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my physician asked me if I got any exercise, especially weight bearing. Have you ever lifted a full canning kettle. I will have to weigh one some day. Then there’s the pig food and the buckets of compost. I tote and carry all day. Cardio? Bruce and I spent the morning pulling off the potato tops and stuffing them into black plastic bags. It took 3 hours with a couple of breaks for running back and forth to the house to refill the water jug. I was up and down the cellar stair 6 times, back and forth to the pigs and the garden and up and down the house stairs with laundry. Real farmers don’t join gyms.

My doc also had questions about my diet. She hoped I was watching my consumption of eggs, bacon and cheese and bread. Sure. I raise pigs, have great, local free range eggs, make my own cheese from local whole milk and bake bread. Of course I don’t eat any of that. I eat nothing but lettuce and tomatoes. Oh wait a minute. I DON’T HAVE ANY TOMATOES. I guess that means I will have to eat the pork. Real farmers love great food.

My pants all have dirt stains on the knees. I know the value of a broad brimmed hat. I watch the weather forcast religiously but have no idea what’s going on in the lives of celebrities. My kids know better than to complain over beets for dinner.

I am actually not much of a farmer. I have a small place, less than three acres. I grow a lot but by no means all or even most of what we eat. But, after this week, I am feeling like a farmer in a community of farmers. That we are all interested in preparedness and none to optimistic about the economic future of our country is often lost in the forest of our love for our land and our food. We have commiserated in our misery, given freely of support and information. I have mourned with you. I have said this often. The reason I don’t keep my preparedness private is that I could not eat while my neighbors were hungry. If there is that silver lining to dark cloud of blight it is this. We are in this together. Our extra produce gets sent to our food share. If one of use has just put up apple sauce, there will be sauce to share as well as store. There are plans to get to a local orchard this weekend to pick peaches. I hope we will share in the canning of those peaches and in the joy of the cobbler this winter. We are strong. We are invincible. We are together. We are farmers.

We have talked a lot about the terrible growing season this year and about food security on this blog but until I spent a day pulling out my tomato plants and bagging then in black plastic until they are dry enough to burn,until I wept over the black and grey splotches on the leaves of my potato plants, until I spent an hour on the phone in search of 3 bushels of local, organic tomatoes only to be told that such a thing may not exist for any amount of money, I did not comprehend the true fragility of our food security.

The tomatoes were started from seed in my upstairs spare bedroom. They were lovingly cared for and, when strong enough, transferred to the greenhouse, a small model that was purchased with money that could have been spent many other ways. Then they were watched and fussed over until big enough to be transplanted to the garden, into soil that has been nurtured with the manure we got from neighbor’s cows and the remnant of many happy meals that had turned into compost over the course of months. The potatoes were heirloom varieties. I remember how excited we were when our good friend, Sheri, called to tell me she had them, how we anticipated eating them as she suggested, baked in olive oil and rosemary and sprinkled with coarse salt.

If you sauce comes form a jar with a picture of a fake Italian chef on the label, if your potatoes are limp, greasy strings you get at some drive-in window, it may be hard to understand the depth of my grief. Perhaps I am overreacting. It is, after all, only some produce. My kids won’t go hungry. I can afford to go to the market and write a check and bring home a year’s worth of sauce but it feels like more to me. Somehow I am channeling the fear and anguish an Irish farmer who saw her crops die before her eyes and knew that she was witnessing the death of her children, her culture, her homeland.

This is why I prepare. Even if I could not afford to lay down the money for sauce,  having food in storage means that I can get through a bad harvest and not be destroyed by it. I see the cans of seed I have as insurance against a bleak day when that heirloom seed may be priceless to me.

My children humor me about all of this. I don’t think the real vulnerability of our agricultural system is real to them. They think of our gardening as a kind of intense hobby that pays off in some mighty good dinners. They can not imagine that I am doing this, not just for fun but because I don’t ever want to wonder how I will feed them or their children. Henry will turn 2 next week. I bought him a child sized wheel barrow and some garden tools. They are tiny but they are sturdy and made for real work. When he comes here I will take him to the garden and show him how to rake and hoe and pull a potato from the ground with more reverence than if he had just discovered a diamond. We will cook the potato and eat it and talk about what a miracle it is.

I must add something. In the midst of my misery yesterday, I took a break from the arm numbing work of pulling out all those plants and looked over my mail. I found a catalog from Richters Herbs and a gift certificate. It was a belated birthday gift from Heather and her family. There is no word for my gratitude, not just for the gift but for the promise of the gift. I spent the evening looking over the pictures and imagining next year’s herb garden. I could smell the oregano and taste the lemon balm. Thank you Heather. What magic was afoot that I should recieve that gift a week after my birthday on the very afternoon I needed it most?

I have gotten a couple of private emails directing me to an article that is linked at the survivalblog website about a family on unemployment in Elkhart, Indiana. I suppose it could make you angry (it did a lot of people) because this family is losing their rental home while still purchasing beer, soda and cigarettes but it just made me sad. These guys thought they had a contract with America for a specific kind of life and somebody broke the contract. Pointing fingers won’t help.

This got me to thinking about a couple of other emails I have received asking where I thought families should begin in starting a preparedness program. These were people less concerned with big disasters and more concerned with recession depriving them of their livelihood. Yesterday, I spent some time looking over what I have and trying to prioritize  in terms of real usefulness. For instance, I have a bottle capper because I like to make soda but I would not give that a high rating. Making soda is fun but not necessary for survival. What follows is my “gotta have it list” for preparing to live on less.

Water bath canner: I start here because water bath canning allows you to glean and gather fruit and process it with very little effort. You can buy a couple of bushels of tomatoes and put up quarts and quarts of sauce. If you have some land, and by some I mean ripping out the roses if necessary, you can grow tomatoes and your sauce will be nearly free.

Pressure canner: Meat in bulk is a lot less expensive but you need to be able to preserve it. Freezers and electricity cost a lot more than a quality canner and the meat is there, able to be turned into easy, stove top or outdoor cooked meals. I would start by learning to can hamburger, chicken and stew beef.

Dehydrator: Today, I am buying bags of frozen vegetables at the big box store and drying them for long term storage. They are cheap right now and I want to avoid buying another freezer so drying is the way to go. Drying herbs and fruit is easy and requires less electricity than any other method of preservation.

Food Saver: Having a vacuum sealer makes it possible to keep dried food in optimal condition. I dry larger vegetables and grind them up for soup base.

Canning jars: You can never have too many. Check out yard sales and Craig’s List for the best buys but if you must pay cash, consider them an investment.

Weather proofing: check out every program that is available to help you reduce your energy consumption. Sell the big screen TV to buy insulation.

One good, basic cookbook: You need to know how to prepare real food. Every time you are tempted to buy fast food, put those dollars away and make biscuits and gravy and a simple vegetable dish. Follow up with a fruit cobbler.

Community: Got friends? If you have friends, you have people to share expenses with and people to learn with. That canner is less expensive if you buy it with your sister or your best friend. You half the cost and double the fun. Instead of spending money going out to eat or to the movies, pick a couple of bushels of apples and put up apple sauce. You will have so much fun and be eating great food in January when the stuff in stores is expensive and shipped in from Chili

Land: By land, I mean garden space. Maybe your church or synagogue will put in a garden if you get the ball rolling. We have a garden on our school grounds this summer. Families are taking turns caring for it. Go to the library and check out books on self sufficiency on small spaces. There are lots to chose from and they are full of ideas. Check out books on thrifty living. The Tightwad Gazette books are a good place to start. I have all of them and read them often for inspiration.

This recession is far from over. The people in Elkhart would call it a depression. If only they had prepared for this time, there lives would be so much better, so much healthier. We all need to be preparing for a life of less. It is up to us to make decisions now that will keep our families healthy and happy, no matter the economy does.