Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taking Stock

I'm taking a little time today to look over where I stand as far as food security goes. If I got snowed in today by the blizzard to end all blizzards and couldn't get to the store for weeks, how would I fare? And beyond that, if something equally catastrophic but more slowly unfolding were to happen, such as total economic collapse, how well would I be positioned to ride something like that out?

The short answer is that for a brief emergency I'd be in good shape. For anything lasting longer than a few weeks or months I'd come up short, but probably be in much better shape than most people.

From last year's garden I've still got pesto, chard, chard stalks, zucchini, green beans, tomato paste, butternut squash soup, butternut squash puree, pickles, zucchini pickles, beet preserves, hot sauce, tomato sauce, tomato juice, ketchup, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, sauerkraut, spinach pasta, dried oregano, and fresh rosemary. I've also got tons of dried beans and legumes. I haven't started buying those in bulk yet, but I've got two pounds of this, two pounds of that. Altogether probably about 12-15 pounds of beany things, and then 7 or 8 pounds of rice. I buy refined flour by the twenty-five pound sack and I've got perhaps 15 pounds of the current sack left. And then various smaller bags of other flours: whole wheat, graham, rye, teff, and cornmeal (I'm all out of semolina). I've got plenty of salt: sea salt, iodized salt, pickling salt, and coarse kosher salt. And a whole arsenal of dried herbs and spices. And plenty of seeds for sprouts. I've got a large can of olive oil and several tubs of lard, both of which keep fairly well (and lots of butter which is obviously more perishable). With all of that I could eat well for quite some time. I could make soups, pastas, beans, rice, all sorts of bread products, stir-fries and more. Where I'm weak is with meat and dairy and also, this time of year, fresh fruits and veggies. We'd run out fast. Especially of eggs, milk, and butter.

I also took stock of where I stand with seeds and plants for this year's garden--and that's actually looking really good. I've got seeds here for nearly fifty different types of fruits, veggies, beans, grains, seeds, and herbs (combined). Some of those are seeds leftover from previous years, so they're of questionable viability (although I typically have great luck with old seeds). All in all though it represents a huge variety of foods and a nice range of nutritional qualities. I still need to buy my seed potatoes for this year and I have a list of other seeds I still need or want. I ran out of seeds for some of my most favorite veggies, so I'll at least be getting those: beets, chard, spinach, peas, green beans, and butternut squash. But some items on the wish list will probably end up waiting for another year.

If a disaster were to strike today and be ongoing I think I could get through the rest of the winter with what I've got. Springtime would be rough, before the garden was in full swing, but from summertime on I'd be okay.

Doing this thought exercise reminds me just how desperately I'd love to start raising my own hens and meat rabbits. Maybe I need to focus on those priorities a little better. And also I realized that I'm extremely vulnerable if there were a sustained power outage, since electricity powers everything in my house: heat, lights, stove, etc. For cooking I'd just need to get a camping stove and lots of fuel. For heat I'd be up a creek. Fortunately I can always go to a friend's house where there's a wood stove for cooking and heating.

This year I want to make a concerted effort to start a food storage plan. Ideally I'd like to accumulate a two year supply. It just seems smart to be prepared for anything. I read an author the other day who said that the western home was like a person on life support, utterly dependent on things outside itself for survival. We have everything we need piped in from somewhere else (electricity, natural gas, water, food, etc.) and all of our wastes carried off for us (trash, recyclables, black water, gray water). That leaves us incredibly vulnerable. I think it's in every family's best interest to take back responsibility for all of these critical needs, or as many of them as possible.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dreaming of Lettuce

For the past two nights I've been dreaming about lettuce--if that isn't weird, I don't know what is! In the first dream I was in a large hall for some sort of celebration feast. There were these large tables set up with seed flats, row upon row of them, of young lettuce plants. The lettuces were all about 6 or 8 inches tall and there was every imaginable variety represented. It was beautiful, all the different leaf shapes and the shades of green and pink and red and purple. For your salad you just went up and picked whatever assortment of lettuce you preferred. In the second dream, last night, there was just one lettuce plant, about a foot tall, and I was plucking off leaves and eating them one by one. It was the most delicious lettuce I had ever tasted, very sweet and buttery.

I've been trying hard this winter to mostly eat from my preserved garden produce, without resorting to buying from the grocery store. This was the only option that was available to our ancestors and I've heard tales of how starved they were this time of the year, especially for greens. My body seems to be crying out too. It's not that I haven't eaten any greens, but apparently I haven't been eating enough. We still have some frozen chard that I've been using lately in stir-fries, and I've been growing sprouts too. But oh what I wouldn't give for a tender young lettuce plant right now, or even the first lamb's quarters of the season. I guess it's still a little early.

Maybe these dreams are telling me I should go ahead with my plans to plant some things (especially lettuce) ultra early. Soil temperatures as of a few days ago were hitting 35 degrees F for the first time this season. A small cold snap the past two days has brought nighttime lows down into the single digits, so the soil temperature has dropped again, but I imagine in the next week or so it'll reliably be hitting that 35 degree mark. That would allow lettuce to germinate. I'd have to put a little hoop tunnel up to protect the seedlings. I have the plastic--I just need to get rebar stakes and pvc tubing. Meanwhile, I might as well start some lettuce in the house.