Stockpiling Food for a Year

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ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS
You don't have to be a squirrel to reap benefits from stockpiling food.

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.

Year-to-Year Shopping

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 accumulatedat sale pricesa
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 thaton some
such necessitiesI 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

Whenthrough my local radio stationI 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 thennot on salefor 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 salesor
when prices are abnormally highI 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 someperhaps manyof 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.

Time/Money-Saving Gardening

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 upvoluntarilyfrom 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 onionor tomato,
okra, and onionare prepared to stock our pantry shelves,
too … as well as cream-of-tomato soup, ranch-style
beans (a combination of mature, shellednot driedpinto
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 tomatoesripe or greenas a base. Caliente
saucea Tex-Mex distillation of liquid fire made with
tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppersis 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.
Howevereven at today’s inflated pricesif 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.

Economical Consumption

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, thenon 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.