As a child of the soil for 55 years—and the wife of a land-tiller for 37 of those years—I've had plenty of time to learn the dirt farmer's particular brand of conservation economics. Long-range plans are fundamental to a rural way of thinking and living, and back-to-the-landers who lack the vision and determination necessary to put such plans into practice soon return to their cities and towns ... where paychecks come once a week or a month instead of with the yearly harvest. On the other hand, folks who make long-range plans work can count on getting safely through most government-created—or natural—disasters.
The inflation fighting and conservation techniques that I'll describe will deal specifically with stockpiling food for the family food supply ... but the philosophy behind my methods can be applied to the way we handle all our earth's resources.
To begin at the beginning, I'd like to describe the time (and money) saving techniques I use when shopping:
Before considering bulk purchases, I read the local newspaper (which can be a first-rate tool for fighting inflation) to compare the prices at the area's supermarkets, keeping a special eye out for seasonal and house-brand sales. Then when the cost of a particular item is right, I buy as large a quantity of the bargain goods as my money and storage space will allow.
If inflation continues (as it surely will), stocking my shelves with adequate supplies of staple necessities will provide me with a great form of one-upmanship against the rising-price demon.
When soaring food costs attacked everyone's budget in 1973-'74, for example, I had already purchased supplies (varying from one to three years' worth, as determined by each item's perishability) of salad oil, shortening, syrups, honey, coffee, tea, milk powder, dried beans and lentils, and sugar for cooking and canning. I'd also bought stockpiles of canned foods that I can't satisfactorily process at home, such as evaporated milk, tuna, salmon, pineapple, whole and cream-style corn, and pork and beans.
In addition to food, I had accumulated—at sale prices—a number of household staples. I bought toilet and facial tissues, detergents, cleansers, bleaches, and paper towels by the case ... and soaps, shampoos, and other personal hygiene articles by the dozen, which meant that—on some such necessities—I was able to avoid inflated prices for as much as three years. (Remember, at its peak, the 1973-'74 inflation rate was 17% annually! So the money used for the basic items wouldn't have earned nearly as much interest in a savings account as it did on my pantry shelves!)
But even before inflation became a common topic of conversation, I always tried to keep at least a year's supply of regularly used provisions on hand ... since I'd found early on that the savings realized on products bought on sale always justified such a practice.
Since it takes no longer to buy a case than it does to purchase one item, I also save a tremendous amount of time by buying in quantity. Then too, since I live a good distance from the closest town, my large-scale purchasing eliminates many miles of travel and thus conserves gallons of gasoline. (I've never, in fact, made a special run for a few groceries ... since I have my own stockpiled supermarket at home!)
Beating Price Increases
When—through my local radio station—I heard that the federal government had made a price-increasing deal with sugar cane growers, I hurriedly stashed away quantities of sweetener before the price rise hit the supermarkets.
When disastrous weather destroyed a major portion of the cacao bean crop in South America, I replenished my supply of chocolate items. I'm still using some of the cocoa I bought then—not on sale—for 79¢ a pound. The last time I checked, the price was $2.15 for eight ounces. (The store has actually discontinued pound boxes because of the high cost! )
When a damaging freeze wiped out much of the world's coffee supply, I bought, as I usually do, two cases of instant coffee ... at $2.09 per eight-ounce jar. When I had to replenish my supply, the price was $4.77 for the same size and brand. At that time, world coffee supplies were reported to be moving up soon, so I was careful to purchase only a few jars ... hoping to ride the cost down before buying another case or two on sale.
The coffee price rise-and-fall just mentioned illustrates another important part of my money/time-saving strategy. If I'm caught short of a particular product between sales—or when prices are abnormally high—I buy just one or two of the needed items and wait to refill my shelves when increased supplies or sales lower the cost again.
There may be those who'll consider my method to be a selfish way of saving money. Hogwash! I can conceive of no better method of leveling out the wild swings (that seem to be mostly up!) in the marketplace. Volume buying allows me to purchase more carefully than I could if I were shopping day to day ... or even week to week. Mine is simply a year-to-year plan ... nothing more. Certainly, I don't use any more of the earth's resources than does a more conventional buyer. (I hope and believe that I use less.)
Cold Storage for Staples
I store most of my large-scale purchases on pantry or cellar shelves. In addition, my 1948 freezer contains any sales purchases that require low-storage temperatures, while my "spare" 1945-model refrigerator is now used to hold large quantities of crackers, flour, instant milk, margarine, cornmeal, and cracked wheat. (Airtight jars would serve to keep weevils out of such items, but the food would eventually go stale if stored on a pantry shelf.)
During the coldest months of the winter, our garage provides us with a marvelous walk-in cold-storage facility in which I keep cases of apples, grapefruit, and oranges. I also use the garage to store sacks of locally grown potatoes, yams, onions, and carrots: usually "unmarketables" that I've scrounged from friends (and from commercial growers) for little or no money.
No Money ... No Plan?
I expect that some—perhaps many—of you are thinking: "Hey, lady! You don't know what it's like out here'. How can we buy a year's supply of anything when we don't have money even for next week's groceries?"
Well ... I do know what it's like. During the first year of my marriage, I spent $1.68 a week for food and household items. Even if you add the results of 37 years of inflation, I'll bet you'll find that your budget isn't any more stringent than mine was then.
When money is a problem, I suggest you simply start small. Instead of buying a case on sale, buy two or three cans, boxes, or packages. When there's extra money (and there will be if you plan to have it), you can buy a sale-priced case. Gradually, a little cash should become available to buy a case of some other sale item, and so on. You'll soon be well on your way to supporting a full-scale year-to-year plan ... with all its conservation of time, money, and resources.
It's surely evident to nearly all of you that the list of supermarket commodities I provided above is rather limited. That's because our garden and fruit trees fulfill most of the balance of my family's food needs. Our North Texas farm is blessed with a climate that's beneficial to nearly all summer vegetables and fruit ... so an important part of our food supply planning involves crop production.
However, since growing food can demand an almost unlimited amount of time, I plan very carefully to conserve that valued and finite resource. First, I plant late ... around May 15th or even later. More eager neighbors start seedlings in February and March, and plant in early April. My late garden, however, avoids competition from early weed species and much violent spring weather (including hailstones, sandstorms, tornadoes, etc.) ... therefore, the plants grow with less stress.
Nor do I buy any plants. My cabbage, tomatoes, and peppers are seed-sown in the same space they'll occupy during the entire growing season. Thus, I save money and time, and I know exactly what variety I'll harvest ... which is often not the case with purchased seedlings.
Because the late-planted vegetables encounter less damaging weather, they're healthier, more prolific, and produce longer. I don't mind, therefore, that my first crop is a week or two later than that of my neighbors.
In addition to the cultivated garden, I have several perennial vegetables set out in protected and/or slightly shaded spots around the edges of our lawn. A very limited amount of hand weeding takes care of our beds of garlic, chives, onion, poke, asparagus, spearmint, and rhubarb ... while New Zealand spinach, leaf lettuce, dill weed, and wild lamb's quarters spring up—voluntarily—from unharvested seed in sheltered areas.
Peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, apples, and a grapevine are also distributed around the yard. The garden and orchard represent my own style of minimum-effort gardening. In fact, very few of my precious spring and summer hours are used to produce the fruits and vegetables we depend on.
Time Spent Extravagantly?
All the bounty harvested from our garden and orchard is either eaten fresh or preserved for later use. The fruits are canned for salads and desserts ... or made into preserves and jellies, delicious pancake syrups, and fillings for fruit pies (which are frozen and baked later). Any vitamin-rich fresh fruits that are still around late in the season are either dried or turned into fruit leathers.
Our tomatoes are canned whole or as juice, used to provide a base for meat-rich spaghetti sauce, or processed with hamburger for meatballs and sauce. Homemade soup combinations such as tomato, zucchini, and onion—or tomato, okra, and onion—are prepared to stock our pantry shelves, too ... as well as cream-of-tomato soup, ranch-style beans (a combination of mature, shelled—not dried—pinto beans and tomatoes, with some chili blend thrown in), and even tomato preserves and marmalade.
We also process supplies of various relishes and sauces that use tomatoes—ripe or green—as a base. Caliente sauce—a Tex-Mex distillation of liquid fire made with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppers—is one of my specialties. And when time permits, I put up a few bottles of' ketchup and barbecue sauce and tomato sauce. (This year I plan to dry some slices of these luscious globes, which I'll later pulverize for instant additions to soups and casseroles.)
Many of our other crops are as versatile as are tomatoes, so my pantry is a true storehouse of nature's resources. However—even at today's inflated prices—if I measured the value of the home-processed food in money only, there might be no way to justify the lavish amount of time I spend on it. But I use another measurement: the quality of the finished products.
My stored food's excellence is assured in a number of ways: For one thing, chemicals are never applied to our soil or to the plants that produce our fruits and vegetables. All of the crops are harvested at peak perfection and immediately processed to preserve as much of their natural nutrition as possible. Furthermore, the preservation itself meets my demanding requirements for sanitation, and even more important, I use no artificial preservatives. Therefore, I know what our family and friends are eating when they dine at our table. So, I balance that knowledge along with the cash and time invested ... and consider my hours well-spent.
The ultimate test of a year-to-year food plan is using the goods in an economical manner. It's always possible, of course, to "throw more out the back door than can be brought in the front," unless you continue to plan carefully after you buy.
When you serve a roast, for instance, remember the proverbial hog butcher who uses everything but the squeal. Leftover meat and drippings can provide a head start in creating a delicious, nutritious, stomach-filling casserole ... and the leftover casserole can serve as a basis for a tasty, full-bodied soup. Even after that you can store the remaining soup in the freezer, then—on a time short, busy day—-take it from its arctic repository and serve it up with hot corn bread. No one will notice that you've used, reused, and used again the original roast. Now if you'd like to know what to do with the remaining leftovers of the leftovers of the leftovers, use your imagination before adding them finally to the diets of your miscellaneous animals.
So you see, only your vision and determination need limit your conservative use of food ... which is, after all, 'one of the earth's scarcest resources. (The same limits, of course, apply to the wise use of the world's entire natural wealth.)
And, on a personal basis, commonsense planning means money in your pocket, food on the table, and security in the pantry for whatever hard times may come.