Monday, January 18, 2016

A Self-Sufficient Life in 2016: Phase 3: Food

Every living person on this planet needs sustenance. Food is a critical component of not only energy and physical wellness but our cultural background, social experiences, creativity, and the communication of thoughts through taste, touch, smell, and sight.

Food is awesome. Food is life.

Unfortunately, food is expensive...even in rich upper-class countries like America. America's current economic mentality (work all the time) and culture (eating out is more enjoyable than cooking) doesn't allow much in the way of preparing our own food, nor does it allow us enough resources, education, or funds to purchase truly healthy, in-season items from our local farmers. We're left with a plethora of low-quality, manufactured choices that seem inexpensive, but are killing us in the long run with chronic conditions, medical bills, and widespread disease. Our sickness and aversion to spending $2 more on eggs inevitably lines the pockets of millionaires who, when given the chance, would do anything to keep things exactly they way they are...including lying the public, bribing government officials, and bankrupting American farmers.

These people, the people who build, buy, own, and manage your favorite grocery stores, want nothing more than a solid fiscal year. They do not care for you, your kids, your dog, your well-being. They care about money. 

Did you hear me? One of your greatest needs...the need to eat....is controlled by people who don't care the least bit about you. If they can make it for cheaper, they will, even if it means injecting human bodies with chemicals that make us infertile, autistic, and riddled with tumors. 

And that, my dear friends, is why having your own source of food is important. 

You can be self-sufficient without buying a farm, milking a cow, or making your own cheese. Although all of those things are incredible in their own right, they might not be realistic for you and that's ok. This entire journey is about finding what is applicable and doable for you, specifically. 

But that doesn't mean you can just sit back and wait for a food source to come to you. We're revolutionizing our lives here, right? Change is hard. You'll need to put in some effort. But don't worry....the things I'm going to suggest are pretty easy. Some are even ... *gasp!*....... fun :)


Start Small
This is critical. At one point in my life, yesterday, years ago, I imagined my yard overflowing with ornamental veggies, chickens, goats, an orchard, beehives, and an aquaponic rainwater system. Remember what I talked about in our goal-setting post? Set some specific, attainable goals. It's ok to have a vision of what you want in the end and it's ok to have a couple big goals on your list, but when creating your own food source, it's best to start small. Many of us have never created our own food before. It takes a good season or two to get the hang of it. Be patient and allow yourself to learn slowly. 

Garden
Growing something, anything, is my absolute favorite thing to recommend to those just starting their self-sufficiency journey. Anyone can pop a seed in a pot, honestly. If you have light, dirt, water, and a seed, you have a way to nourish yourself. And it doesn't need to be all work and hard labor and stuff. I was able to create a mostly maintenance-free food garden last year and it rocked my lazy socks off.

Everyone always recommends starting with tomatoes, but not me. I say pick your favorite vegetable and try to grow it. Does your family eat a lot of corn? Corn is the #1 most adulterated food on the planet. Grow some corn stalks. Don't let the size intimidate you. Like cucumbers? Grow cucumbers. I love sweet bell peppers, so I went big and grew two varieties last year. It was my first time growing peppers, ever, and you know what? They grew HUGE and beautiful and I had peppers for days up until the first frost.

If veggies are too intimidating, try herbs. Organic, fresh herbs can be yours at honestly 1% of the price of store-bought herbs. They can be used straight from the plant or dried on a windowsill and shoved into little glass shakers for use later. And some herbs will grow no matter how brown your thumb.....like mint! Or cilantro! Pretty much all the herbs I love to eat grow like weeds. Try making an outdoor herb spiral to make your herb garden even less time-consuming. Pretty, fun, and edible!

Watch where you buy your seeds. Some seed companies support the very corporations I referred to above. Others, like SeedSavers Exchange and Baker Creek, are heirloom seed companies that specialize in saving non-GMO, organic, "vintage" varieties of plants that would otherwise be pushed to extinction by our mechanized chemical food industry. The great thing about heirlooms is they tend to grow better in your specific climate -  I choose seeds from plants originating in Russia, or Minnesota, or Norway because I know they will live better in my super cold climate.

If you already have a garden, add to it. Try a new variety of your favorite veggie....or, if you really want to live on the self-sufficiency edge, vow to only eat whatever spinach (or kale, or tomatoes, or corn) you can grow yourself. That would be a good test of whether or not you need to expand your operation to truly feed your family all year long.

Preserve
My growing season is short. Things get warm in late May and frost is circling by October. That means I have less than 4-5 months to get my food from seed to big, giant vegetable. It also means that unless I'm willing to eat nothing all winter, I need to figure out how to store the food I grow.

So how do we preserve what we grow?

Well, we can can (hehheh). Canning is no joke. I am going to dedicate an entire post in this series to canning - you're welcome to check out my bone broth post for a sneak-peak at my process (get it? process? You process jars when you can? Get it? No? Ehhh).

We can dry our food. Yep, even tomatoes and peppers. I would love a dehydrator, but I've dried herbs by just placing them on counter. The hardest part? Keeping the cat from laying on top of my herbs.

We can freeze our food. Oh yes, I love to freeze my food. I've frozen pureed zucchini, peppers, onion tops for stock, squash, and sweet corn. The only down side to freezing is the need for electricity - if you are trying to save energy or if you're worried about power outages, you might want to try a different preservation method.

My favorite way to preserve the harvest? Grow foods that will live outside in the winter or stay fresh in storage. Potatoes. Onions. Garlic. Carrots. You can grow these things and then leave them in a cold, dry place for months before they'll rot. Did you know that? I didn't know that for a long time. I always thought I needed to refrigerate my onions and taters. I also love my kale - it grows outside in the snow for months. I know if I need something to eat and am truly out of food, kale has my back. It may not taste like ice cream but its nutritional density and cold-hearty nature makes it a most sustainable little source of sustenance.


Consider Chickens
I know. I know most of you think this is so far beyond the stretch of suburban capacity. This is next-level self-sufficiency, here. But I beg you, if you can have chickens, do it. I am telling you. They are the most fun, most exciting, most resourceful little creatures on the planet. They are, compared to dogs, cats, and other animals who provide companionship, but no food, easy to care for.

Yes, there is a learning curve (I'm still nowhere near pro level). Yes, you will need to feed them and figure out what to do when they stop laying eggs. Yes, baby chicks are too adorable to ever consider eating. Yes, you need to build them a home. Yes, they poop. But I swear, dear readers, they are the greatest way to get your feet wet as a self-sufficient omnivore.

Their swift uptick in popularity has gifted us with some incredible chicken resources that will break down the ins and outs of chicken care. We are in the age of instant knowledge - what better way to go big and try something you'd never considered before?

Cook
You gotta learn how to prepare those things you're growing, right? Even if you don't grow your own ingredients, cooking from healthy, well-sourced ingredients saves money, calories, and chemicals from entering your body.

One of the first things I ever cooked "from scratch" was a pumpkin pie. I bought a pre-made crust, a can of pumpkin, some evaporated milk, some sugar, and all the other things the back of the pumpkin can told me to get. I remember getting confused in the sugar isle. I saw "confectioners sugar" and assumed it was the right stuff - after all, aren't confections, like, little cakes and pies and shit? So I grabbed the confectioners sugar and baked these two pies. They were, of course, horrific. Nothing sweet or nostalgic about them whatsoever.

I share this story because I think it's important to point out we all start from nothing. The only Aunt Jemima I had in my kitchen growing up was the stationary, printed kind on my syrup bottle. I had to start from the bottom, from the sad, sad bottom of ignorance, and work my way up.

Since the Punkin Pie Episode of 2007, I've learned not only the difference between confectioners sugar and real sugar, but also the difference between fresh pumpkin and canned pumpkin, jack-o-lantern pumpkin plants and sugar pumpkin plants, and of course, how to make a real, authentic, top-notch pumpkin pie from the crust to the delicious, velvety-smooth center.

Cooking can be a pain in the ass at first. Once you get some tried-and-true recipes under your belt, cooking can also be fun. Relaxing, even. No, I know. Who woulda thunk it. My #1 favorite thing to do in the kitchen? Knead dough. I love kneading dough so, so much. And you know, if I hadn't tried to make my own pizza crust once on a whim, I would've never found something I've truly come to love. Take the time and the risk and cook!

Find Food Elsewhere
So here's the deal. To be truly self-sufficient, you've gotta do some of this stuff yourself. But, and this is a huge but, sometimes things like gardens and chickens and pressure canners aren't realistic. Normally I'd say tough, deal with it, do it, grow it, cook it....but I'm willing to make an exception. One exception.

Buy local.

Yep. If you can't make your own milk, find out who can. Ask your town's Facebook group. Ask your neighbor. Ask someone at your local farmers market. Take the time to scout out the best local source of meat, cheese, fruits, breads, and vegetables.

I am going out on a limb here by venturing to say you can be self-sufficient by proxy, meaning you can distance yourself from the sticky, poisoned web of lies spun by our commercial food industry simply by forming a community of growers around you. You become self-sufficient through the relationships you form with your friends, your neighbors, your community.

If you can't physically do it, find someone who can and pay them to. It still takes effort, but hey. Change requires time. And effort. And trying new things.

Give this a try: instead of heading to your local farmers market to get a few little fun things, bring your entire grocery list. What can you cross off? What do you have trouble finding? Do you really need those things? Joel Salatin once said something along the lines of: if those who shopped at farmers markets actually went to buy groceries instead of participating in them like a social event, our food system would be fixed.

You don't need to do it all yourself. You can find others who do it for a living and pay them to do it. It will cost you more, but will require less effort on your part.

Still cook, though. Just give it a try. 

How about you, dear readers? Do you have any food-related goals for the year? Which one of my suggestions seems the most realistic to you? What are your challenges related to self-sufficiency with food? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so, so much for reading :)

Did you miss a Self-Sufficient Life series post? Don't worry! Here's what we've covered so far:

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)

Jen


6 comments:

  1. I actually found it way easier to grow my own food/find the options I preferred/pick from local farms/pick from wild bushes (oh we had the most glorious wild black raspberry patch and wild apples and pears in the forest behind our house) in America versus either China or Malaysia. Of course, it's probably less the country itself than the living conditions--we lived in farmville, in the middle of nowhere, on 7 acres, near amily who had been canning for decades and had hundreds of dollars worth of jars chilling in the basement. Here, there's no basement, there's no yards, there's just an efficiently designed apartment. I do cook from scratch and we do shop at the outdoor wet market, where small family businesses sell meat and produce and the rats scamper in the gutters and the dogs try to steal chicken off the counter, instead of the new modern supermarket.

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    1. Truth, Rach! I love that you forage for your food - I would give anything to learn how to mushroom hunt! Unfortunately most of the good mushroom hunters are secret-who would want to give up their best hunting spots?? I also love that you shop local no matter where you're living. What an awesome way to experience the culture around you while supporting local farmers and producers! HAHA and even with the rats and dogs, I feel like you're getting the better end of the deal. Thank you Rach! :)

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  2. "Did you hear me? One of your greatest needs...the need to eat....is controlled by people who don't care the least bit about you. If they can make it for cheaper, they will, even if it means injecting human bodies with chemicals that make us infertile, autistic, and riddled with tumors. "

    I HEAR YOU! Sounds like we are on the same path this year. I'm trying to rid our home of processed foods, and make as much as I can. But TIME? Can you please stop time? How does one do this when you have to work, and kids, and just LIFE! I LOVE THIS! Thank you for writing it.

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    1. Thank you Kristen!! Don't worry - time management is definitely one of the post titles in this series!! It is a killer for everyone, especially those trying to be self-sufficient!!!! Stay tuned ;)

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  3. I put in a garden the first year we were married and had our own home. I planted everything I loved from the garden I enjoyed growing up including strawberries and sweet corn. The chipmunks got ate all the strawberries and a raccoon got all the sweet corn while destroying our fence. After three years we got rid of the garden because I couldn't find the time to care for it.

    Last summer my now retired husband planted one again. He grew herbs, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and leeks. We are still harvesting the leeks. Next year he plans to expand it - I can't wait.

    Also agree about our food source being controlled by people that only care about money - in their pockets.

    Instead of setting a goal to diet this year, I've decided to eat as healthy as possible. Growing our own food is a great way to start.

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    1. Ahhh I love strawberries :) Unfortunately the chipmunks got all of mine last year, too. I saw a really neat idea using rain gutters that I might try! I hate raccoon!

      I love that your husband got planting again. Fresh food just cannot be beat in terms of taste and shelf-life, not to mention nutrition and the benefits to our environment. I am so excited for your eat healthy challenge this year Savvy! I just know you're going to rock it!

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