How to start local eating (and avoid the grocery store)

Scrounged apples from one of 9 neglected trees on neighbor’s land:  spotty but delicious Jonathans

How to do it?  How to do ANY changing in terms of one’s habits?  Well, don’t jump in feet-first.  Start small.  Remember, this is what I am trying to do with the Eat Local Challenge:

My goal, again, in taking this challenge was not for me, but rather as a tool of conversion.  If others of you start gardening, or gardening more, or getting a greenhouse, or buying a freezer and starting to can stuff, I will feel so gratified!

Start gardening: it’s now autumn in this hemisphere.  Now’s the perfect time to bust some sod to build some garden beds!  Not so strong?  Well, you probably can lift newspapers or flatten old cardboard boxes, and rake up bags of leaves or lawn clippings.  Read up on lasagne gardening a la Ruth Stout.  Even if that’s not the way you envision yourself gardening (I don’t garden that way), it is a sure way to start making garden beds this fall.

Gardening more: Make new beds now!  Also, look at what it is you had been growing if you were a vegetable gardener.  Is there anything you LOVE that you hadn’t bothered to try this year, like broccoli or beets?  Make some space next year and promise yourself you’re going to grow what you know you will eat.  Chuck the things you wasted, like all those zucchini.  Consider the idea of succession planting, instead of that one back-breaking spring planting day you did this year (you know who you are).  Spring/summer/fall (and even /winter) is a lot of growing.  This could mean three crops of lettuce, two crops of summer squash, five crops of carrots…all in the same space in one “growing” season.

Buying a freezer: Well, this is a big step, financially.  However, if you are in the habit of shopping weekly and picking up, say, one cut-up chicken, one package of ground beef, and one package of bacon I have news for you.  You are wasting money.  Instead, you could hook up with a local farmer and buy 20 chickens (whole or cut-up), a quarter of beef and a half a hog and your meat needs would be met for most of the year.  Don’t think you can do half a hog?  Find a friend, or two!  Start a buyers’ club!  Again, this is another big bite in the wallet:  start small, save now, and consider all the gasoline and TIME you will save next year.  (Plus, learning what one can do with half a hog can be quite fun.)  Half of my freezer is devoted to frozen fruit, veggies, meat stock, and flour, so it ain’t just about the meat.  And chest freezers are a lot more energy-efficient than upright ones:  they don’t dump their cold air out every time you open the door.  Sears is the best nation-wide store that offers the most types.

Starting to can (or freeze) stuff:

  1. Sourcing: Your biggest friend in the world of preservation is your local farmer’s market or U-Pick farm.  For regular vegetable eating, you can also join a CSA (again, worried about “but that’s too much stuff for our house” then find a friend) and ask the CSA farmer if you can help them glean at the end of a crop’s season:  you can get the stuff they can’t give away (like spotty tomatoes).  Also, canning or freezing is usually the response one has to bounty.  Having a CSA share does not mean one will have “bounty,” but…do you know of any untended fruit or nut trees near you?  Ask the owner if they wouldn’t mind sharing.  Is there anything that your neck of the woods does comparatively well, like oranges or maple syrup or peaches or corn?  Then go nuts and get a bunch of it.
  2. Equipment: Go to Goodwill and pick up used canning equipment.  Garage sales are likewise great places to find things, especially the jars themselves.  Old-time hardware stores and even some grocery stores sell boiling-water bath kettles, and canning equipment like the jar lifter and jar funnel you’ll need.  Canning jars are easily found, luckily; but make sure you have lots of sealing lids; you will go through a lot.
  3. Great equipment: Really seriously consider purchasing a pressure canner (quite different from a pressure cooker):  unlike the pickles and jams and fruit your boiling-water bath can do, all low-acid stuff can be put by via the pressure canner.  Soup to nuts, I kid you not; you can even can milk, or meat!

Getting a greenhouse: This is a big step, but not if you are a gardener itching for a winter salad.  I had been dreaming about a greenhouse for YEARS before mine came to be.  Start small by doing a PVC hoop house or a cold frame with a bunch of used windows.  But if you really do want to dig in and get a big one, by all means DO IT.

SO get busy and start gratifying me!

16 responses to “How to start local eating (and avoid the grocery store)

  1. Here’s a little something for you. You have inspired me to take another step away from the grocery store; they won’t miss me. I’m shopping for a freezer, because my needs are growing beyond my side-by-side. I’m going upright, though because my kids are all out of town, and my peeps don’t want to sleep in the freezer. And next week–the expanded garden takes shape. See what you did.
    Good girl.

  2. i am trying my hand at canning for the first time! thanks!

  3. you inspired me to buy a freezer : ). You want to name it ?

  4. I bought a greenhouse because last April, I saw your pics and was crushed by the weight of *want* in my soul. 🙂

  5. The freezer’s in place and nearly 1/4 full of corn, tomatoes and green beans from my in-laws, peaches from the farmers’ market, and tomatoes from our garden. We bought an upright due to a lack of floor space, but we do try to consolidate our openings and closings to keep cold-loss issues to a minimum. Thanks for the thought about filling up the freezer with meat by buying 1/2 hog – I’ll start working on my husband about that…

    I’m working on creating a second veggie bed so I can grow excess veggies for storage next year. So far, I’ve laid down straw, one week of grass clippings, one raking of leaves, and some coffee grounds. I’ll need to add several more layers (including newspaper), but at least I’ve made a start.

    Oh, and I’m starting to develop a spreadsheet for planning successional planting – with a limited amount of garden space, I need to figure out which crops will rotate into which spots as the year goes on…

  6. Great post! This fall, my husband and I have come a long way: we bought a freezer, bought lots of storage crops in bulk at the farmer’s market, and today we are going to pick up a dozen freshly dispatched chickens. By the end of the month, we hope to have two or three new raised beds in front of our house, ready to fill up in the spring. We are participating in the October Eat Local Challenge, which has been very interesting; we have found a lot of local foods that we had not thought of buying! Maybe next year we can venture into canning.

  7. I’ve been checking in here for a while. Mid summer I read animal-vegetable-miracle. I’ve always liked gardening, but this year, for a lot of reasons, I kicked it into high gear. I had a nice size veggie garden, dried my own herbs, and canned and canned and canned. Next year, I’ll do a lot more, but I have a baby and a toddler to keep my busy too! My husband is happy because the more garden I have, the less yard he has to mow!!

  8. I recently found your blog and read through the entire archives over a couple of days. I’m in the midst of preparations for the coming year, laying out garden beds and pulling out old plants and adding compost and mulching and the like. I have a tiny, tiny urban yard, and don’t think there’s much I can hope to grow, but thanks for this post– it puts a lot of things I’d been half-considering in one place so I can think them over better.
    I grew up barefoot and sunburnt on 50 acres of ravines and rocky clay, which my father used to teach us forestry and carpentry, and my mother used to raise all the vegetables that fed us (we had egg chickens, too). So it’s been hard, being here in the suburbs. Maybe I can make a little lean-to mini-greenhouse, or at least a biggish cold frame. We’ll see how many times my neighbor calls the authorities on me; the compost pile alone generated about three different inspections by different authorities, and she still harangues me over the fence about “putting trash out by the curb”. (She absolutely hates the earth, it seems! She’s about a zillion years old so what does she care if the icecaps melt? Put those grass clippings in a plastic bag and have someone truck them away!)

    Anyway, I finally was inspired to comment (and came back to find this wonderful post!) by finding an interesting poultry-yard tip in a 1910 manual on handy farm devices. (The full text of the book is available here:

    “Scare Away Crows and Hawks

    For keeping hawks and crows away from the poultry yards, get a few bright tin shingles, link them together with wire, and hang upon an arm extending from the top of a high pole, where sun and wind strike fairly. The jingle and glitter is sufficient to keep these pests at a safe distance. You will also find them useful in the corn and melon fields where crows are troublesome.”

    Have you tried anything like that, or is your current solution adequate? Reading about your various poultry losses took me back to my childhood– all those chickens had names, and I was so young it was my first experience with death. The family dog killed my favorite hen right in front of me. A fox took our friendliest rooster, in broad daylight (which was, at least, interesting.) Then weasels got into the coop and slaughtered all 14 of the remaining flock, and only ate the heads, leaving the bodies to rot. That was a really, really, really hard lesson for us kids: sometimes, Nature is as cruel and wasteful as humans are. (Raccoons would get into the coop now and then, but never took more than two or three– which they would actually eat. Weasels, however, kill for sport.)

  9. Great advice! This is what I need from a real-life gardener in the action.

    Thanks for the greenhouse info too, got it.

  10. Oh, and I would love to hear more about your experience with composting…mine isn’t doing so well..or maybe it is and I’m a nervous gardener.

  11. In a bit of great timing the whole Sunday NYTimes magazine for Oct. 12th is on food and the growing of it.Michael Pollan has his usual interesting article in it.

  12. Pamela, good girl back at you! I would love to take credit but how about just being a bit of a nudge? (Or a nag, as my husband would say.) But truth be told our peeps probably wouldn’t want to be in the freezer either…

    Yay Amanda! You’ll be quite surprised how much work it is at first but really you do get into the swing of it after a few tries.

    WF! Hah. Well: is there anything in the Koran about “beautiful frozen bounty machine” or just plain “good machine”? I am glad you like it.

    Emily! Hwhahahwah! yay. You get to inspire others now too! Yay.

    Lori, attagirl. You know spread sheets do help in terms of really trying to figure out how long things grow. If you are good enough with them, you can input things like days-til-harvest (straight off the seed packets) to kinda understand what overlaps with what. Of course I say this and I have NEVER been so organized as that 😉

    Annika, yep: the Eat Local Challenge really does help you to suss out what might be growing near you that you’d never even thought about: I got locally-made sorghum molasses that way (to. die. for. in ginger cookies). But yes: baby steps: you have all of next winter and most of spring to think about canning. Strawberry jam season then is not too far off!

    Ohmigosh Meg you have a DREAM in a husband then: so many hubbies I know would never yield grass space to garden space. (My husband doesn’t care but then we’ve got 4 acres he could–but doesn’t–mow.) But I do understand how busy one can get with little ones. I remember, when pregnant, leaning over my sink skinning beets; my gosh I thought I would collapse my back hurt so much afterward. Backrub time.

    Hiya B. Thanks for the link! Yeah, your neighbor: how about a taller fence, like 6′ or so? I ended up having to go that route with my kook of a neighbor in the city. Nutjob neighbors can make your home hell. I suppose educating her isn’t helping, is it: the inspectors surely can tell you that composting is not WRONG, and is actually a good thing. Sometimes people respond positively to what authority figures have to say. But as to the hawks: vigilance is what helps me so far, that, and locking up all my biddies. Thank Jah we have no weasels, how horrible to ponder. But yes farm life does have a lot of death attached to it.

    Jennifer, you are welcome! And yeah, I have another compost post floating around. For the most part, if you ignore it completely, it will do fine. I’m not one to ignore mine though so I will definitely go into some tips.

    John, thanks. I saw it on Friday and spent a good part of my work day reading it!

  13. I’m seeking a little advice from one who freezes veggies and things. I bought a bunch of fresh green beans from a local farmer and decided to freeze them. I washed them and cut the ends off but I did not cook them before sticking them in freezer bags and later found out I should have blanched them. Do you think they are still edible? Can I just take them out of the freezer and cook them?

  14. Hi Lindsay. If you just froze them recently, I would give it a try: bring them out and thaw them, then boil a big pot of water. You just want to boil them for about a minute, not to cook but to kill the enzymes which plain-old freezing won’t quite stop. Then, dunk your drained beans right in some ice water to stop them from cooking further. You should be able to freeze them again and they should keep without too much harm.

    For what it’s worth, I did notice a package of beans I forgot to blanch (the wrong (blanched) bag made it into the fridge and the unblanced into the basement freezer) and ick. Rather slimy. The chickens appreciated them though.

  15. Do you think two weeks is recent enough to redeem the frozen green beans? I will definitely try to boil and blanch them. Thank you so much for the advice. I had no idea that the enzymes would still continue to break down the beans, even when frozen. Thank you!

  16. Yeah, Lindsay, I would say give it a try: two weeks isn’t so long!

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