What Will You Eat This Winter?

We as Americans allow others to do our food planning for us and to provide the food we need during the winter months. Is that wise? For as long as many of us can remember, one has been able to go to the grocery store every week during the winter and find it full of all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, and buy whatever one wanted. Being able to buy food in the grocery store all winter has been so easy and reliable that most people do not have more than a few day’s supply of food in the house. We have gone from the self sufficiency of 100 years ago to almost total dependency on the grocery store.

This winter has the potential to be different. Mexico and central California, which provide much of our winter vegetables, are experiencing the worst drought in years. The Central Valley in California is a 400-mile-long, 18 county area. More than 260,000 of the 600,000 acres that grow tomatoes, lettuce and other crops have been taken out of production this year. When you think of how many tomatoes can be grown on one acre and realize that almost half of the land is sitting idle while the rest of the land is not producing as much because of the drought, there is potential for a food shortage. A link to the Wall Street Journal’s Sept. 2 article on the drought in California  – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125184765024077729.html?mod=rss_US_News
Note: We are not predicting that there will be a shortage of food this winter. It is possible that the food shortage will be made up from food from other parts of the world. We are just giving you a heads up.

The LA Times has a September 7, 2009 article "Mexico Water Shortage Becomes Crisis Amid Drought"

"A months-long drought has affected broad swaths of the country, from the U.S. border to the Yucatan Peninsula, leaving crop fields parched and many reservoirs low. The need for rain is so dire that water officials have been rooting openly for a hurricane or two to provide a good drenching.
"We really are in a difficult situation," said Felipe Arreguin Cortes, deputy technical director for Mexico’s National Water Commission.
"This is supposed to be Mexico’s wet season, when daily rains bathe farmland and top off rivers and reservoirs. But rainfall has been sporadic and unusually light — the result, officials say, of an El Niño effect this summer that has warmed Pacific Ocean waters and influenced distant weather patterns.
"Mexico’s hurricane season has been mild, with no major hits so far this summer, though a weak Hurricane Jimena dropped plenty of rain on parts of Baja California and the northwestern state of Sonora last week. The sparse rainfall nationwide has made 2009 the driest in 69 years of government record-keeping, Arreguin said…"
"Although no one wants to recognize it, there is a food crisis," said Cruz Lopez Aguilar…"

To read more – http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-mexico-drought7-2009sep07,0,6988447.story

One of the best savings accounts for an uncertain future is a freezer full of food. You always have to eat. Food and water are the most basic and important necessities of life. To rely totally on others to store up and provide food for us for when we need it is putting total of faith and trust in "the system".

There is one other aspect of "What will you eat this winter?". Will your food be from local sources or will it have logged many miles over land and sea from unknown (trusted?) sources to land on your plate? There is still a little time left to get a freezer and stock up on local food for this winter. We will have eggs available all winter, but our last chicken processing will be in November. We will not have any fresh chickens available after November until May of next year. The meat chickens are too young to handle the cold outside in the winter time. The "free-range" chickens that you will see in the grocery stores this winter will not be free-range! They are conventionally raised chickens, raised in big chicken houses with a deceptive title.

Eating Local All Year

Over the past number of years we have changed the type of foods that we eat as a family. We used to try to buy the cheapest food, thinking that nutritionally, all food was basically the same. That is probably more true than what most realize if you are talking about grocery store food. However, as we have learned about nutritious, nutrient dense foods, we realized that if we want to eat nutrient dense food, we have to grow it ourselves. It also means preserving the harvest so that we have it to eat all year, not just in the summer months.

It is hardly worth gardening if you are just trying to save money at the grocery store. For all the time, equipment, and work involved, it is probably cheaper and definitely easier to just buy it at the grocery store. However, like most things, the cost of grocery store food is much greater than what you pay at the register. The fact that health care is the number one industry in America is proof of the poor quality of foods in the grocery stores. I find it interesting watching the people purchasing cheap food at Walmart – observing what they are buying and looking at the people to see if they look healthy. A large percentage of the people do not have the picture of health.  The government’s idea of fixing health care does not address the real problem. True health care reform needs to start with the soil and adding in the nutrients and minerals that are necessary for human health (not just what is necessary to make a plant grow). The food that we eat is a big contributor to our health or lack thereof. We are what we eat.

There is something satisfying about improving the quality of the soil, producing nutrient dense vegetables for our family, and storing up all that good food for the months ahead. It puts gardening in a totally different perspective. For us it is no longer about saving money. It is not about keeping a weed free garden – a few weeds won’t change the nutrient density of the food. It is about giving my family the health care they need from the ground up.

I looked at our calendar and saw what Cathy had written down over the past month of what she and the girls had harvested and stored away for us to eat until the garden produce comes in again next summer. I thought you might be interested in peeking over my shoulder at what she had written there. This, of course, does not include the other varieties of vegetables that are yet to be harvested as they ripen over the next several months.

Everything, except for the peaches, was raised here on our farm.

July  1   Made 6 pints of butter
        4   Picked and froze 42 1/2 quarts of green beans
        6   Froze 30 quarts of green beans and 5 pints of sugar peas
        8   Made 45 pints of wineberry jam(wild red raspberry) plus 12 pints
             frozen raspberries
        10 Froze 20 quarts of green beans
        13 Froze 12 quarts of green beans
        14 Canned 92 quarts of dill pickles
        15 Made 13 1/2 pints of butter (Put in the freezer)
        18 Froze 18 quarts of green beans
        21 Made 6 gallons of cucumber juice and froze to later make into V8
            juice when the tomatoes are ripe
        22 Processed and froze 21 quarts of corn. The corn was husked, silked,
            blanched, and cut off the cob.
        23 Made 9 pints of butter and froze
        25 Froze 11 quarts of green beans
        27 Froze 17 quarts of corn.
        28 Froze 14 1/2 quarts of beans
        29 Made 2 gallons of cucumber juice
             Canned 20 pints of zucchini relish
             Canned 36 pints of dill pickle slices
Aug  1  Froze 10 quarts of peaches and 18 quarts of corn
         3  Froze 17 quarts of beans
         4  Canned 70 quarts of  peaches, 5 quarts of peach nectar, and 22
             pints of zucchini relish
         6  Canned 40 pints of cucumber relish

Pictures of Processing Corn For Freezing

Cutting Corn
Cathy and Joel trimming the corn after it was husked.

Silking Corn
Daniel and Nathan taking the silk off of the corn. The spinning brush on the motor takes the silk off.

Creaming Corn
Cathy, Kara, and Daniel cutting the corn off the cob to get it ready for the freezer.
The corn was 28 brix, and the best corn we have ever eaten!

The Principle of Preparing For Winter

In these times of economic uncertainty, the principle of preparing for winter helps us understand how to prepare for the uncertainty of the economic future. If you want to be self-sufficient in raising your own food, how many months’ supply of food do you need to store up for the winter? Three months’ supply? Four months’ supply? Six months’ supply? Our ancestors understood the importance of raising food and storing it up for the winter when they couldn’t grow food, and neither could anyone else around them. We have lost touch with what it means to store up food for the winter.

As a boy in the 1970’s I loved to explore my grandma’s basement. There were so many things to look at. It was so full of stuff that there were only paths to get around the basement. In one corner there were shelves that went from floor to ceiling, full of jars of canned fruits and vegetables from her garden. Plus there were boxes stacked on the floor that had more jars of canned food. The lid of each jar had on it the year when it was canned. I quickly discovered that she had at least two years’ supply of food from her garden in that corner. She used the oldest jars first, so she was always eating from what she had grown two or more years before. There were two freezers and they were always stuffed full of food year round. It was just her and my one single uncle that lived in the house, and yet every year she still planted two large gardens, one on either side of the house.

I thought at the time that my grandma was excessive in having so much food stored in her basement. However, in reflecting back on her food storage method, I learned an important lesson about how much food needs to be stored for food self-sufficiency. Just enough food to make it through the winter is not enough. If a person wants to be self-sufficient as much as possible food wise, you need to have more than just one years supply of food. In gardening, you never know how much of a particular vegetable will be produced each year. One year you will get a great crop and the next year little or nothing. If you only have enough to last one year, you will be without that particular vegetable until the next year.

There is another reason for storing several years worth of food. Grandma lived through the Great Depression and raised 12 children. She understood the importance of having food on hand. A two years’ supply of food enables a person to have time to adapt to whatever happens. A person with only a one week supply of food is quickly in an emergency crisis if something happens and they are not able to purchase food. There are a lot of things a person can live without. If a person can’t afford to live in a house, it is possible to live in a tent. However, if a person can’t purchase food, sawdust will not substitute!

My grandfather used to tell the story of a man who wanted to cut the cost of feeding his horse. So he started gradually converting the horse over to eating sawdust. He slowly increased the amount of sawdust that he added to the feed. Everything was going well and he almost had the horse converted over to eating all sawdust, when the horse died! 🙂

The principle of preparing for winter for self-sufficiency is, that a person needs at least one year’s supply of food and preferably two years’ worth. In preparing for economic uncertainty, if we have shelves full of food, and the clothes we need for the next year or two, it gives a satisfaction and comfort that having $10,000 in the bank does not give. You feel like a squirrel that has stored up its nuts for the winter.

Preserving the Harvest

People today do not have time to preserve the harvest nor do they need to. At least that is what most people think. However, if we are going to eat local, or if we have a good source of healthy nutrient dense food this summer, we need a way to store the food so that we have it to eat this winter. Of any season of the year, the winter is when we need good nutrient dense food the most. Winter time is when we tend to get sick the most. Many advocate eating fresh fruits and veggies to keep healthy. But in the middle of winter those fresh fruits and veggies come from the other side of the earth where it is warm. They are probably picked green so that they will ripen during the long trip. It is probably a variety that is bred for its ability to ship well rather than for its nutrition quality. What is it sprayed with to keep it fresh, even if it is organic? Michael Pollen in The Omnivore’s Dilemma mentions that organic salad greens are sealed in plastic bags with inert gases that keep them fresh for 14 days. What are those inert gases? That organic "freerange" chicken in the grocery store in February never saw a blade of grass. It was raised in a big dusty ammonia filled chicken house just like a Purdue or Tyson chicken except it received organic feed.

There is something satisfying about having a supply of food stored away for the winter. One of the easiest ways of storing food is in a freezer. For our family of eight we have four large freezers that we use just for our family. In addition, Cathy likes to can pickles, tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, apple pie filling, apple sauce, jelly, etc. Several of our boys are going to design and build a root cellar as a school project where we can store the potatoes, squash, pumpkins, carrots etc.

If any of you have a suggestion of how to make preserving the harvest easier, we would enjoy hearing about it, especially about doing a large quantity at a time. Doing larger batches at a time is most efficient. Many canned items will keep for two years, so canning a large quantity one year frees up time the next year to can something different. One idea we have to share with you is using a deep bowl kitchen sink propped up on concrete blocks to do the canning, rather than canning on the stove.  You could also use a large galvanized tub. Put a wire rack in the bottom to keep the jars off the bottom. It keeps the heat out of the kitchen, and is much faster than doing 7 jars at a time in a conventional canner. We were able to can two batches of tomato sauce in about an hour. The sink we used holds 20 quart jars at a time. We used a large weed burning type propane torch under the sink as the heat source.  A 90 degree pipe elbow was put on the torch head to direct the flame upwards and a vise grip pliers clamped on to the torch keeps the torch head from falling over. Attached is a picture of the canning setup. The large galvanized tub in the picture would hold about 19 quart jars. Whatever container you use for canning, it needs to be deep enough for the water to fully cover the jars.

A Big Canner