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Ten Realistic Ways to Overcome a Food Crisis
Tue Oct 02, 2012 12:24 pmForum Host
This year in the U.S., corn and soybean crops were deeply affected by serious drought. Many popular processed foods are based on corn and soy. But, those two products and other grains are also the foundation of commercial livestock feeds.
Within weeks of the drought, a domino-effect had already begun, with meat and poultry operations downsizing and even shutting down in anticipation of unbearable feed price hikes. The pork industry has already made the news.
According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, “Animal-based perishable foods will be hardest hit. The USDA projects that poultry products will rise 3 to 4 percent next year, compared to this year’s average. The biggest rises are seen in beef and veal, rising 4 to 5 percent from 2012 average Dairy products will take a hit too, rising up to 4.5 percent.
In the coming months, availability and prices of many grain products, vegetables, and fruits will also be affected. The ultimate results of the strain on supply and distribution channels remains to be seen.
If you’ve been postponing starting or stepping up your own food production or storage, now is a good time to move it to the top of your “to-do” list.
How you can minimize the effect on your own family
Here are some ways you can prepare to weather rising food prices and potential shortages—starting right now.
1. Grow some vegetables, herbs, and fruit.
Anyone can grow something to eat. Even if your soil is awful, you can grow some food. And if you don’t know how, you can learn!
You don’t even have to wait till next spring to plant a garden or planter. No matter where you live—cold or warm climate, urban or rural setting, huge farm or small apartment—you can probably grow something green during the fall and winter.
If you’re new to gardening, ask a neighbor or your local extension office what can be grown in your area. Here in our four-season climate, we have been planting salad greens, root crops, and herbs for harvest throughout the fall and winter.
For successful winter harvests, plants should be mature by the time of the first frosts. Root crops can be mulched in place in the garden; other crops should be grown in hoop houses or cold frames for frost protection.
Check and see what you can still do this fall. In a warm-winter area, many different veggies can be grown. Where winters are cold, you can probably at least still plant mâche/corn salad and claytonia/miners’ lettuce.
In most climates, garlic is best planted in the fall to get established over the winter. Buy seed garlic for your first planting; in subsequent years you can plant your own garlic cloves.
Autumn is also a good time to plant fruit trees and berry bushes, to till and amend next year’s garden plot, build raised beds for spring planting, or set up a seed starting system for winter use.
Winter steps and preps:
■Request seed catalogs for winter browsing and seed orders so you’ll be ready for spring planting. Some good ones are Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek Seeds.
■Learn all you can about gardening in general. Chat with your local extension or agricultural agents, pick the brains of friends and neighbors with admirable gardens, visit local nurseries that remain open in winter, scour the library and Internet.
■Find out what’s in your soil and what’s lacking–get a sampling of soil tested at a local lab or a mail-in lab like U of Massachusetts Soils Lab.
■Figure out what you’ll need in the way of growing beds, soil amendments, and irrigation. Be ready to buy supplies in late winter or early spring.
■Be adventuresome…try growing some veggies indoors in a hydroponic system!
2. Raise some eggs and meat.
From rabbits and chickens to beef and bison, there’s probably a source of meat or eggs that you can raise in your own backyard or small farm. People even raise rabbits in garages and basements.
There’s still time to build a small winter-friendly chicken coop or rabbit hutch and bring home some laying hens or rabbits before deep winter sets in. Check out your local farm guide or Craigslist for meat rabbits or pullets (young hens) ready to lay.
You can also start baby pullet chicks now and expect eggs about five months later. While most local feed stores do not have chicks available in fall, most mail order hatcheries ship chicks year-round or close to it. Most do require minimum orders of 25 chicks, so you might want to share an order with a friend. For ultimate sustainability, keep a rooster with your hens so you can hatch replacement chicks in an incubator or under a broody hen.
While usually raised outdoors during the summer, meat chickens can be grown out any time of year in a winter-safe coop. The chicks are usually available only from hatcheries at this time of year, as few individuals sell meat-breed chicks on a local level. However, locally you may find dual-purpose breed chicks, some of which grow out reasonably meaty. Another possibility is cull laying hens and roosters, which make awesome stewing birds that yield cooked meat and rich chicken stock. Raw chicken can be frozen or canned in a pressure canner.
Or you can get everything set up and ready to start a chicken flock in the spring. Chickens are fairly low maintenance, with few stringent requirements. They must have fresh water, nutritious feed, and sources of grit. Calcium is essential for laying hens. While mature chickens don’t require heated coops in winter, shelter from wet and windy weather is important.
You can learn a lot about chickens and their care on many forums and blogs including Backyard Chickens, The Chicken Chick, and Fresh Eggs Daily.
Most people agree rabbits are as low-maintenance as–or even more so than–a flock of chickens. Rabbits mature quickly, multiply easily (just as the jokes imply), and have a great feed to weight conversion rate. Rabbit meat tastes similar to chicken and can be used in recipes designed for poultry. You can find some good rabbit raising info at Backyard Herds Rabbit Forum, Rudolph’s Rabbit Ranch, and Whisper’s Rabbitry (online sites).
3. Discover local sources of food products.
There are many reasons to buy local foods. Just-harvested locally grown foods are fresher than anything shipped in from elsewhere. When we shop locally our food dollars will stay in the local economy. And some products even have effective health benefits. Eating honey from bees that gather local pollens can help eradicate people’s allergies to the plants themselves.
But now you have to consider that local foods also may be the only foods readily available or affordable if our food supply chain is affected by transportation issues or high costs.
Many regions have local farmers markets where you can get to know your local food providers. Some areas have helpful farm guides listing places to buy various fresh products. Your local extension office or agricultural agency should be able to give you info. Another good resource for the U.S. is the directory at Local Harvest.
Community Supported Agriculture
4. Start or add to a food storage program.
Even if you are planning to raise a lot of your own food, it’s wise to have a stash in case a drought or other situation limits your food production. Also include products that you can’t grow or make at home. Store foods you know your family will enjoy eating—don’t forget seasonings for bland foods like rice and beans.
A storage program can include home canned and dehydrated foods as well as purchased groceries. Warehouse and restaurant supply stores often have great deals on large bags of grains, dry beans, sugar, salt, and other basics. You can buy multiple small packages and flats of canned goods when you find good deals at the local grocery store.
Store your foods at cool temps, but above freezing. Liquids can freeze during winter, causing cans and jars to explode. While a garage may be fine for storage in a mild climate, an indoor closet or storage room may be necessary for winter storage.
Where To Store Home-Canned Goods
While you’re at it, don’t forget to store water. We were glad to have gallons of our stored water when our well pump broke and when some pipes froze. For drinking and cooking, treatment with water purification tablets or bleach is recommended. Water for household use like toilet flushing and dishwashing need not be treated.
5. Preserve some fresh food to enjoy later.
You can stretch out your enjoyment of homegrown or locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats throughout the year. Make the most of your own garden harvest, but look into other sources of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to preserve. Visit farmers’ markets, local orchards, and farm stands to buy produce by the bag or box.
If you don’t have preserving equipment and know-how, get some now! Learn how to can, freeze, and dehydrate.
Getting Started ~ Checking Equipment ~ Stocking Up
How Canning Preserves Food ~ US Cooperative Extension Service
USDA 2009 Guide To Home Canning
Food Preservation by Dehydrating
Fermentation ~ Pickles, Sauerkraut and Vegetables
Curing of Meats, Hams and Sausages
Make sure you understand food safety guidelines, avoiding botulism and other potential food poisoning by proper preservation. The major food safety rule is to use a pressure canner for all meats and almost all vegetables. A pressure canner is different from both a pressure cooker and a water bath canner.
Pressure Canner v. Pressure Cooker
Testing Pressure Canner Gauges
When we have questions about food preservation, we rely heavily on university and scientific research info including county extension publications. An excellent guide is the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Snatch up canning and freezing supplies and containers. In the late summer and fall you might find them on sale in retail stores. Look for them year-round at thrift shops and yard sales–just beware of cracked or chipped jars, and have any used pressure canners checked by a food safety agent. Many local extension and ag agents can do this, often for free; only the pressure canner lid is needed for testing.
Here are some basic food preservation needs and helpful accessories:
■For canning of high acid foods (most fruit products): water bath canner
■For canning of low acid foods (anything containing meats or most vegetables and herbs): pressure canner (not a pressure cooker, which works differently) with accurate pressure gauge. It’s wise to have a dial gauge checked annually for accuracy. Most county extension offices offer this service for free, especially during summer and fall peak canning times. Only the lid is needed for the test; leave the heavy pot at home.
■For all canning: jar rack, canning tongs, canning funnel, glass canning jars (no cracks or chips on rims), lids, rings
■For dehydrating: dehydrating unit (electric dehydrator, kitchen oven, outdoor solar oven/racks), storage containers
■For freezing: pot and strainer for blanching, storage containers, vacuum sealer to avoid freezer burn
6. Buy a supply of freezer meat.
Every fall and winter, local livestock farmers have meat to sell. This year, due to expected high feed costs, many are culling their herds even more than usual. While a large quantity of freezer meat is a substantial financial investment, the cost per pound for many cuts is much lower than grocery store prices.
Depending on your geographic area, you may find beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat available. Many farmers can sell meat by the whole or half carcass. Some local regulations allow for sales of quarter carcasses. If you’re not up for such a large amount of meat, consider splitting an order with another family.
Food Preservation by Freezing & Freezer Organization
7. Sprout seeds and legumes.
A fairly simple way to grow nutritious greens is to sprout legumes, grains, and vegetable seeds right in your kitchen. Little is required in the way of equipment, space, or time. Sprouters can be purchased or made from canning jars or strainers. Sprouting seeds can be purchased online or at local health food stores. Unless they’ve been treated, food-grade legumes and grains from any source can usually be sprouted.
Sprouts can be added to salads, sandwiches, omelets, breads, and many other dishes and recipes. While sprouts are a delicious addition to human diets, they’re also wonderful for livestock. Sprout a small batch now and then as a treat for your chickens. Large mats can also be grown for larger livestock.
To find out more about sprouting, visit the Sprout People, who can tell you everything you need to know!
8. Forage for edibles.
Most areas left to native growth contain a number of plants with edible parts. A stroll around our own farmstead reveals an assortment of wild edibles including lamb’s quarters, purslane, dandelion, Oregon grape, elderberry, and wild rose hips.
Foraged Foods ~ Foods From The Wild
Once you are familiar with your own native plants and aware of which ones are toxic, you may find numerous types of salad greens and berries.
A great source of info on edible weeds is Weekly Weeder at Common Sense Homesteading.
9. Become a barterer.
The practice of bartering, common in days gone by, is coming back into vogue! The idea is that goods or services of equal value are swapped, with no money involved. Whether it’s knowledge, skills, or tangible products, everyone has something that someone else can use.
Think about what you have to offer: skills, expertise, products, time. Put a value on it—either monetary or number of hours. Then consider what you need, find a good match, and make a trade.
Some areas have bartering groups, but it’s usually fairly easy to make a bartering arrangement. When you want or need something, ask potential providers—friends, neighbors, farms, even other small businesses–if they’d be willing to make a trade. You might swap fresh eggs for fresh veggies, firewood for boxes of apples, sewing lessons for cast iron cookware.
10. Learn, learn, learn.
Don’t know how to grow a garden, raise chickens, grind wheat, bake bread, make homemade soup? There’s no reason you can’t learn it now!
There’s tons of info on the Internet and in books and magazines. Your local library may have what you need, or might even order a new book you request. Used bookstores, thrift shops, and yard sales are all good places to find books for your own library.
Books recommended in some of the links above:
What's On Your Preservation Library Bookshelf ~ 2010?
What's On Your Preservation Library Bookshelf ~ 2011?
All comments, suggestions or personal stories welcome!
Tue Oct 02, 2012 5:39 pmFood.com Groupie
WOW! Mary, this is awesome. I have recently stepped in the world of being a "prepper". Thanks for a wealth of information in just one post!
Tue Oct 02, 2012 7:17 pmForum Host
I'm happy you find it useful, DEEP.
Those links are from the topics of the month and threads of interest in the Canning/Preserving/Dehydrating forum.
Please feel free to comment in any of them.
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