Food for the Soul
One Family’s Journey Towards Whole Healthy Nutritious Food
As full time farmers in Michigan, growing, making and providing most of our own food is a standard part of each and every day. We have a small herd of Nubian dairy goats and a large apple orchard. Still, it is expensive for us to buy groceries. You can only eat so many apples during apple harvest season, even though we can, freeze, and store, many bushels of apples for our own use all year.
Here are some ideas that might help you to get started growing, finding and saving your own food, some alternatives to the unhealthy and expensive foods in the store. Some of these are ideas I’ve had, and am thinking of implementing, such as boxes made out of recycled windows and lumber to put in the cellar or upstairs during the colder winter months with a grow light, if necessary, to grow fresh lettuce during the off winter months. The cost of the electricity versus the lettuce is an issue, yes, but hey, it will be organic and picked by my own hands!
I have been making simple cheeses and freezing them. Mozzarella is very quick and simple to make if you have whole milk on hand that has not been ultra-pasteurized. You can freeze milk, too. I dry apple slices next to our woodstove, freeze applesauce, air dry dandelion greens when they are fresh and young, and put them in half-gallon mason jars in the pantry to reconstitute during the winter. I do the same for dried nettles, spearmint leaves, and any edible wild or herb of which I am knowledgeable.
For the very first time, this past autumn, I processed our own deer that our teenage son harvested. We have hundreds of deer that eat our apple trees and crops. They come in droves to eat the food from our land. That being said, we have never traditionally been huge fans of venison meat, but I thanked the doe for giving us her meat, an important thing for me and one that I feel very strongly about is the energy and cycle of food. I processed all of the meat myself and put it in the freezer. I understand this is excessive and not feasible for vegetarians, but if your family eats meat, this just makes sense. I want to know how to provide meat for my family if I can’t get it in the store. And, while we do have cattle and pigs and sheep and chickens, I like to know that I am now able to feed my family from the wild as well.
What else can I tell you? I rotate foods in the cellar like peanut butter, soy nut butter for myself, bags of rice, beans, spaghetti sauce (store bought and homemade). I use a sharpie marker to mark the month/year that I buy things (on sale) and then I use the oldest first. If something is on sale that is a staple, I will be one or two extra of them, (or more if it is an excellent price) and store them. This saves each time I go shopping, as I have one less item at ‘cost’ to purchase.
I trade chevre for spinach from a friend’s garden, honey for plants, and strawberries for butter. You get the idea. You can get into a group of like minded individuals and really do well. Someone always has something extra if you look around and find your tribe.
Still, we have a huge grocery bill. And, I noticed today that things REALLY took a price hike! We also gather wild hickory nuts and black walnuts and crack them as a family in the fall evenings. We put them in the freezer in jars and bags. You can also can them in a pressure cooker and they will seal air tight like freeze dried nuts in the jar at the store. Asparagus is gathered every single day in the spring and I freeze the stalks for soup all year. I use this method with all edibles, wild and domestic.
In the garden, we grow sweet corn to freeze. You can freeze it on the ear by blanching it for several minutes, and the kids love it this way. Excess kale is made into kale chips. Tomatoes are canned for sauces and soups and cucumbers are grown for pickles and relishes.
Sometimes, though, it is just cheaper to buy frozen veggies on sale, such as peas and green beans. But then again, it is a trade off, organic for price, and vice versa. We have not whittled our grocery bill down to where we want to be. Everything climbs higher and higher it seems. We buy organic wheat berries and put them in the freezer and grind them with a grinder, the Komo that our son saved up for and bought. Our hopes are to build a clay oven outside someday to bake soulful loaves of bread.
Really, we just try to balance everything. It is not reasonable for us to live without potato chips and homemade cookies. My husband works long hard hours and needs plenty of calories in addition to three hot meals a day. So, we have a mixture of whole homegrown organic food, store food and wild food.
The greatest cost seems to be things like breakfast cereals and the snack items that each person prefers, in addition to good cuts of organic meat.
We have our own chickens and eggs, but the cost of corn/grain is so high that this is hard to justify unless you have customers to buy your eggs. You could raise six week Cornish broilers, they are a touchy group to raise, but friends of ours do so with a portable chicken coop that they move every day on the pasture/grass. They have their own roast chicken year round, only. No store meat.
We grow our own grain, but, it is getting to the point where I will be doing nothing but food planning, growing, thinking, planning, and prep 24/7. I am thinking that perhaps we are heading back to an agrarian society. In spite of everything, it is kind of nice if you think of it that way.
The best tip I can give you is this: When something is in season, store it away like crazy. Freeze it, dry it, can it, pickle it. Whatever you need to do, just get it in there and move on to the next thing. After a year, you will have everything you need. For example, we are ready to use up the last of our asparagus in the freezer and it is just ready to start growing again. And, while we live in a farming community and have a bit more resources for food and food production, remember that we are just outside ofAnn Arbor, so it is not the boonies either.
The joy of providing good clean food for yourself and your family with your own two hands is something that cannot be equaled, and before long, you will be doing it naturally, without even thinking about it. The most beautiful part of self-sufficient food preparation is that it returns us to the naturally soothing seasonal world of how we were originally meant to live.
Amy Lesser is full time farm wife, mama to two children, soap maker and freelance writer living in Dexter, Michigan. Their family lives on a 5th generation farm and works out of their 1830’s farm house. Amy is currently working on a book of our soulful connection to the food we buy, grow, prepare and eat. Amy blogs at Happy Peasant.