1. Create a Food Bank
Everyone should have a back-up to the everyday food pantry. In this environment, you should consider your personal food bank far more valuable than a dollar savings account. Start by picking up extra canned goods, dried foods, and other essentials for storage each time you go to the store. Also, hunt for coupons and shop for deals when they come up. Devise a plan for FIFO (first in, first out) rotation for your food bank. It is advisable to acquire food-grade bins to store your bulk dried foods, and be sure to label and date everything. Besides the obvious store-able foods like rice and beans, or canned goods, some other important items to hoard are salt, peanut butter, cooking oils, sugar, coffee, and powdered milk. If you don’t believe the food crisis will be too severe, then buy items that you would eat on a normal daily basis. But if you believe the crisis will be sustained for some time, purchasing a grain mill to refine bulk wheat or corn may prove to be the most economical way to stretch your food bank. Some emergency MREs are also something to consider because they have a long shelf life.
2. Grow some vegetables, herbs, and fruit for Your Own Food
Anyone can grow something to eat. Even if your soil is awful, you can grow some food. And if you don’t know how, you can learn! You don’t even have to wait till next spring to plant a garden or planter. No matter where you live—cold or warm climate, urban or rural setting, huge farm or small apartment—you can probably grow something green during the fall and winter.
If you’re new to gardening, ask a neighbor or your local extension office what can be grown in your area. Here in our four-season climate, we have been planting salad greens, root crops, and herbs for harvest throughout the fall and winter. For successful winter harvests, plants should be mature by the time of the first frosts.
Root crops can be mulched in place in the garden; other crops should be grown in hoop houses or cold frames for frost protection.
We talked about fall and winter gardening here on our Rural Living Today blog, and it’s been a topic of conversation on other blogs and in various magazines this fall.
Check and see what you can still do this fall. In a warm-winter area, many different veggies can be grown. Where winters are cold, you can probably at least still plant mâche/corn salad and claytonia/miners’ lettuce.
You can also build a DIY Hydroponic System
In most climates, garlic is best planted in the fall to get established over the winter. Buy seed garlic for your first planting; in subsequent years you can plant your own garlic cloves. Autumn is also a good time to plant fruit trees and berry bushes, till and amend next year’s garden plot, build raised beds for spring planting, or set up a seed starting system for winter use. Winter steps and preps:
- Request seed catalogs for winter browsing and seed orders so you’ll be ready for spring planting. Our favorites are Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek Seeds.
- Learn all you can about gardening in general. Chat with your local extension or agricultural agents, pick the brains of friends and neighbors with admirable gardens, visit local nurseries that remain open in winter, scour the library and Internet.
- Find out what’s in your soil and what’s lacking–get a sampling of soil tested at a local lab or a mail-in lab like U of Massachusetts Soils Lab.
- Figure out what you’ll need in the way of growing beds, soil amendments, and irrigation. Be ready to buy supplies in late winter or early spring.
Be adventuresome…try growing some veggies indoors in a hydroponic system! Building DIY Hydroponic PVC System
3. Learn Food Preservation
Food preservation comes in many forms such as canning, pickling, and dehydrating. In every case some tools and materials are required along with a good deal of knowledge. If you can afford a dehydrator, they all usually come with a preparation guide for most foods. You can also purchase a vacuum sealer if you have the means. A good vacuum sealer should come with thorough instructions and storage tips, and will add months if not years to many food items. If you’re a beginner at canning, start with tomatoes first. It’s easy and very valuable when all your tomatoes ripen at the same time and you want fresh pasta sauce in the winter. A bigger ticket item that is nice to have for food preservation is a DC solar powered chest freezer. It is the ultimate treasure chest.
4. Store Seeds
The government and the elite have seed banks and so should you. Seeds have been a viable currency in many civilizations past and present. They represent food when scarcity hits. Before the rise of commercial seed giants like Monsanto, local gardeners were adept at selecting seeds from the healthiest plants, saving them, and introducing them to the harvest for the following year, thus strengthening the species. Through local adaptation to pests, genetic diversity was further ensured; it was long-term thinking at its finest. That is why it is important to find heirloom seed banks and learn to save seeds from each harvest.
5. Raise some eggs and meat.
From rabbits and chickens to beef and bison, there’s probably a source of meat or eggs that you can raise in your own backyard or small farm. We’ve even seen people raising rabbits in garages and basements. There’s still time to build a small winter-friendly chicken coop or rabbit hutch and bring home some laying hens or rabbits before deep winter sets in. Check out your local farm guide or Craigslist for meat rabbits or pullets (young hens) ready to lay. You can also start baby pullet chicks now and expect eggs about five months later. While most local feed stores do not have chicks available in fall, most mail order hatcheries ship chicks year-round or close to it. Most do require minimum orders of 25 chicks, so you might want to share an order with a friend. For ultimate sustainability, keep a rooster with your hens so you can hatch replacement chicks in an incubator or under a broody hen.
While usually raised outdoors during the summer, meat chickens can be grown out any time of year in a winter-safe coop. The chicks are usually available only from hatcheries at this time of year, as few individuals sell meat-breed chicks on a local level. However, locally you may find dual-purpose breed chicks, some of which grow out reasonably meaty. Another possibility is cull laying hens and roosters, which make awesome stewing birds that yield cooked meat and rich chicken stock. Raw chicken can be frozen or canned in a pressure canner. Or you can get everything set up and ready to start a chicken flock in the spring. Chickens are fairly low maintenance, with few stringent requirements.
They must have fresh water, nutritious feed, and sources of grit. Calcium is essential for laying hens. While mature chickens don’t require heated coops in winter, shelter from wet and windy weather is important. We have not yet raised rabbits ourselves but most people agree they are as low-maintenance as–or even more so than–a flock of chickens. Rabbits mature quickly, multiply easily (just as the jokes imply), and have a great feed to weight conversion rate. Rabbit meat tastes similar to chicken and can be used in recipes designed for poultry. We have seen some good rabbit raising info at Backyard Herds Rabbit Forum, Rudolph’s Rabbit Ranch, and Whisper’s Rabbitry.
6. Discover local sources of food products.
There are many reasons to buy local foods. Just-harvested locally grown foods are fresher than anything shipped in from elsewhere. When we shop locally our food dollars will stay in the local economy. And some products even have effective health benefits. Eating honey from bees that gather local pollens can help eradicate people’s allergies to the plants themselves.
But now we have to consider that local foods also may be the only foods readily available or affordable if our food supply chain is affected by transportation issues or high costs.
Many regions have local farmers markets where you can get to know your local food providers. Some areas have helpful farm guides listing places to buy various fresh products. Your local extension office or agricultural agency should be able to give you info. Another good resource for the U.S. is the directory at Local Harvest.
7. Buy a supply of freezer meat.
Every fall and winter, local livestock farmers have meat to sell. This year, due to expected high feed costs, many are culling their herds even more than usual. While a large quantity of freezer meat is a substantial financial investment, the cost per pound for many cuts is much lower than grocery store prices. Depending on your geographic area, you may find beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat available. Many farmers can sell meat by the whole or half carcass. Some local regulations allow for sales of quarter carcasses. If you’re not up for such a large amount of meat, consider splitting an order with another family. Wondering about grassfed vs. grain fed? Read this synopsis at Eat Wild.