The new greenhouse at dawn: it’s a fun in-between season in here. New lettuces transplanted from outdoors in the foreground beds, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes in the back yet to be harvested, and hot peppers, beans and corn hung from the purlin to dry
Another October 1st is here: 2010 makes it six years since we purchased our house and started down the road of food self-sufficiency. A seventh growing season, likewise, has come and (nearly) gone.
Would I say that complete freedom from the grocery store was my goal way back when we bought the farm? I would say no, it was not: I had the small goal of simply having a big garden and (eventually) eggs. Let’s just say we’ve come a long way from my initial modest goals.* But last Thursday morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I could be found…trolling the aisles of a grocery store! What’s up with that?
Listen, I am not what anyone would consider “an average American food consumer,” and never have been. Sure, I love to cook, and I love to eat good food. I have never, however, been a fan of what clogs the shelves of your average grocery store. For most of my adult life, I was a car-less vegetarian city dweller who shopped at walkable specialty food stores, food co-ops, and, later, got my vegetables from a CSA. I also loved to garden and spent part of each season canning big purchases from the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market. I am not saying this to toot my own horn but instead to point out the obvious: if anyone, I was probably more prone to the Grow Your Own (name your item of choice) than not.
But fast-forward to last Thursday morning. Yes, we do use the grocery store on occasion, for cow milk, butter, and the occasional bag of sugar (and indeed, local sugar and canning lids were my reason for stopping). If we don’t grow it, we buy it in bulk (coffee, tea, fish, beef/pork, flour, grain, oil, etc.)…and truth be told, it’s Tom who does the non-bulk shopping. As I zipped through the huge long aisles, I thought about all the sections of that store that I have completely written off over these last six years, and it’s here that I think my experience will be relevant to you who endeavor to do the same.
Perhaps, next year, you can try to make one or two items home-produced ones too. And after six years of adding one or two more home-produced items, you might have whole sections of the grocery store that are worthless to you too!
- It’s fall, even though I am in denial: fall is a perfect time to get new garden beds made. If you do it now, you will have all winter to read up on tomato varieties so you can make as much salsa, say, or ketchup/barbecue sauce, or just plain tomato paste, to last you a year.
- It’s fall: if you own land, why not plant a few fruit trees? Some larger trees, though you’ll pay more for them, will reward you with a harvest in just a year or two. Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries likewise can be transplanted in the fall.
- If you build a greenhouse, or even a low tunnel, you can easily be self-sufficient year-round in salad stuff. Plant some herbs and a couple of rows of shallots and onion plants next spring, you can be self-sufficient in the basics for salad dressing. (But as I have repeatedly said, greenhouses are wonderful for more than just salads.)
- If you build a coop, you can easily have three hens to supply you with at least a dozen eggs a week.
- If you buy a milk goat and make cheese, my goodness, you will make a lot of new friends. Even if you only make yogurt and kefir, believe me, you will have more than you can consume…thus, more for those friends. You’ll also be self-sufficient yourself in dairy, making everything from buttermilk to creme fraiche to chevre to cream- and cottage cheese: in other words, even if you don’t like to drink straight goat milk you won’t need to.
- If you make a very small initial investment, you can have a three-compartment hutch, a breeding doe and buck, and all the rabbit meat you can consume by this time next year…and you can feed them very inexpensively, or even free, with your garden scraps.
- If you learn how to make decent bread, you will never be satisfied with store-bought again.
- And if you buy a chest freezer, the world is your oyster. You can stock it with fruits as you pick them for winter eating; you can find a local grass-fed meat farmer and buy yourself whole, halves or quarters of cow, pig, lamb or goat; you can likewise stock up on chicken by buying your yearly needs, cut them up yourself, and freeze portions and whole birds. Freezers are also great places to stash bulk grains and flours.
Listen. I know it’s hard to start from zero, and I also know that not everyone has the cash to just go out and make huge bulk purchases of things or buy chest freezers, fruit trees, chicken coops and the like…and land most of all! But gardening is seriously one of the cheapest pleasures in life, one that yields the biggest returns, and fortunately you don’t always need to own land to garden it. A shovel, a fork, a hand tool or two and a few packets of seeds…these can be had for under $100, and the library has scores of vegetable-growing-how-to books. You don’t need a fancy compost bin; a pile on the ground will do…or put it in a pit if you’re worried about what it looks like. And once you find a friend who gardens, you will be trading know-how and zucchini in no time.
You can do it, I know you can. And: I think you want to.
*Major steps by years: 2004, house and land, first fruit trees planted. 2005, garden, canning, first chest freezer. 2006, egg chickens, pressure canner, blog!. 2007, greenhouse, guineas. 2008, 2nd greenhouse, meat chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese. 2009, home-hatched turkeys and geese, milk goat, rabbits. 2010, home-hatched chickens, winemaking, outdoor kitchen (masonry oven/rocket stove) and mini-CSA. 2011: who knows?