I'm Growing My Own Food?

You bet your tukas I am, as my grandma used to say (or someone's grandma, anyway.) When I started this garden journey a few months ago, I had very little experience. I raised a small container garden at a rental house a few years ago, but the groundhog ate most of it (I couldn't really blame her, she had a big family to feed), and I was pretty discouraged.

Over the past year or so, as this economy has really started to slide into ruin, I've become focused on how important it will be to be able to support ourselves in the future. A day when the local grocery store and big box store are no longer available is not beyond my imagining, and I want to be able to support my family when that time comes. It's a simple plan, really

Step one, find a protein source. Eggs for protein was my first choice, because chickens are much more affordable than a large farm animal. Eventually, I'd love to have a goat or cow, and I'm debating buying a butchered lamb from a local farm this year. For right now, however, we don't eat red meat (or pork), so poultry seemed the obvious choice. My original flock of 16 birds has been downsized to six, a managable amount for us. They don't cost an arm and a leg to feed, and when we start getting eggs, we'll be getting just as many as we need. Of course, friends keep asking for eggs, and many people assume we will have extra, but selling my farm-fresh eggs is not my goal. My goal is knowing, start to finish, where my food comes from - these girls.

Step two, grow a vegetable garden that can feed us for many months, not just through the summer. This year I started small, since I wanted to be successful. I don't know enough about eating from a garden to know how many tomato plants it takes to support a two person family, but I hope 18 is enough. I'll preserve what extras I have this year, monitor how long we eat from our produce, and plant accordingly next year. Of course, it's June, and I'm already freezing squash and zucchini from the garden, so I may find I've planted too much. It's a learning process.

Step three, learn to preserve the produce I grow or buy. Growing up as a suburban child, I don't remember eating much food out of a mason jar. Jams and jellies we purchased at the local farmer's market, but canned veggies were just that, canned and bought on aisle 4 of the grocery store. When I met POSSLQ, he had grown up canning and preserving food, and each year, MIL gives us lots of extras she has. I've slowly learned how to plan meals around what's already in the cabinet, but this year, I'll have to master that skill, plus learn how to use the pressure canner, and anticipate the flavors we'll crave come winter. Today, for example, I blanched and froze stir-fry bags, and watched as our freezer slowly fills up.

Step four, develop a good relationship with other people in the area who have what I need, but don't (or can't) produce myself. I've been stopping at the farmer's market every week, buying a little from each booth, chatting a few minutes with the farmers. I discovered that the nursery just down the street carries fresh, local produce of all varieties, so I'll be stopping there as well. MIL is over-burdened with cherries, so she's given me tons. I made some cherry jam, and I'm planning to try my hand at a cherry pie or cobbler this week.

Step five, further remove our household's dependance on products we have to buy in the store - plastic bags, paper products, soaps and shampoos, etc. This includes not only sewing cloth napkins and butt-wipes (no big deal, I've been using a sewing machine for years), but also learning how to make soaps and other products from scratch, a skill I've never even tried. So we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, I found a tutorial on using old plastic grocery bags to make water-resistant linings, so I've made a few lunch totes (and a pretty decent dent in our plastic bag stash) using that new skill. Next up, wet bags, handkerchiefs, and a few more canvas grocery totes (so POSSLQ will stop bringing home more plastic bags).

All in all, a pretty simple plan, I think. I'm sure I'll meet challenges along the way, but so far it's going well. Got to eat garden fresh squash for dinner tonight, and we have enough to have squash a few more times this week.


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