52 Weeks Down - Week 22 - Stock Up…Locally

Sharon September 24th, 2007

Now’s the time for us notherners to be putting things by for winter, and as I’ve written before, I get kind of “squirrely” this time of year, wanting to gather up my nuts. But while we’re filling our pantries, let us prioritize locally grown, small farm products whenever possible. That way, we support our community’s farmers and agricultural infrastructure and reduce the emissions that our food produces in production.

Now is the time to plan ahead. Do you eat apples until the rhubarb and strawberries come around in spring? Well, you’ll be needing a few bushels at least (we buy 10, but we eat a *lot* of apples, and there are six of us). Instead of buying a big sack of sugar, how about local honey, or sorghum or maple syrup, depending on where you live. Instead of 50lbs of generic white beans, how about local tepary beans or black soy beans or Jacob’s Cattle. If you eat meat, consider local lamb, beef, fish or poultry. What about wine or beer? Pick your own berries to be made into a winter’s jams and pie fillings?

Explore your local options, and if you can’t find something locally, at least buy direct from farmers whenever possible. It is often possible to encourage local farmers to grow something you want if possible. I’m working on this right now - a local farmer I know about 15 miles from me grows grains for mixing animal feeds. I’m trying to persuade him now that I could help him expand his markets (he grows soybeans, wheat, barley, corn and oats) if he would consider planting some grains next year for human consumption with no spraying. Right now I’m getting my oats from over the border in Montreal and my soybeans and wheat from PA, and only corn l
really locally, and if hard times ever hit, I’ll feel happier if our region produces more of its own grains.

Instead of grains as your primary staple, consider potatoes and other root crops if they grow well in your region. And again, consider adapting your diet to a truly regional one - that is, focus on the crops that grow well naturally in your area, not the ones that require greenhouses or extensive irrigation. In many places, it is not yet too late to plant cold weather crops that will mature in winter or early spring, so that you can be less dependent on the supermarket.

Storing may not be necessary if you live in easy walking distance of a year-round farmer’s market or coop that pays farmers fairly, but for the rest of us, it cuts down on driving trips to get local food, it saves us money to buy in bulk and when availability is greatest, it puts more dollars into the pockets of local farmers and in the local community, and it enables us to have a personal security, more to donate to local charities, and a freedom from the supermarket.

A lot of this is mostly just planning - figuring out what you will want and need through the long winter, and getting it now, from farmers who will make a decent profit on your purchases, rather than from a supermarket chain where most of the money will be taken by middlemen, and where your food will travel countless miles, producing emissions all the way.

Where do you put all this food? For those with tiny spaces, under the bed is great for buckets of dried food or squash and pumpkins (which like to live where we do), a cooler or old fridge in an unheated garage or shed will keep potatoes and other roots, apples (don’t store them together if possible - apples speed up rot in most root crops), or even a closet with a small vent cut into the wall. Many basements will work. If you rent, consider asking a friend or neighbor nearby with more space or more options to store your food for you. If you buy meat, perhaps you can barter some for space in a freezer if you haven’t got one.

Stored food can also beautify. I collect glass mason jars, and store much of my immediately accessible foods in them, an idea I stole from my step-mother. The jars, on wooden shelves built into the kitchen, look lovely, and everyone who sees them comments on them. I also use old large metal popcorn tins to store grains - these are often available at yard sales for a quarter. Consider building something to store potatoes and onions. A pantry is a beautiful thing, and should be treated as such. A house kept cool in the winter will store much food quite well in the spaces people live in.

Sharon

23 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 22 - Stock Up…Locally”

  1. BoysMomon 24 Sep 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I am just a little bit jealous. The only crop I’ve heard of locally is alfalfa hay. This is ranch country, so it’s easy to get local meat: we should have our goat and pig sometime in the next two weeks.
    We are too cold here for apples. The only local fruit I found this year were rose hips, but I did see chokecherry trees: I just have to learn when they ripen.
    I am so happy we have our greenhouse. I think a solar greenhouse is a valuable alternative to importing food, especially in our climate.
    I write this while watching the snow come down.

  2. Maeveon 24 Sep 2007 at 5:40 pm

    To boysmom:
    You sound farther North than I am (south-central Montana). I think the chokecherries an hour or two from where I live tend to ripen near the end of summer, about the same time as huckleberries and wild blueberries. Don’t know if that helps you any.

    My grandmother made jelly and syrup out of them. I tried it one summer… and my tip is when you’ve got the cooked berries in the jelly bag to drip over the pan? Don’t squeeze the jelly bag in hopes of getting out every last drop. You will end up with a gritty, cloudy, jelly. ugh. I learned the hard way why it was that grandma never squeezed the jelly bag!!

  3. Anonymouson 24 Sep 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Wondering about grain storage in the popcorn tins- no trouble with bugs, moths, etc getting in those? Thought I had heard you needed screw tops for sure protection? Is that unnecessary? Would love to try the tins and also hear more ideas about non-plastic storage, both food and otherwise!

  4. jewishfarmeron 24 Sep 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Boysmom, where are you? There are some apples that are hardy to zone 2 - St. Lawrence Nursery and Fedco both sell them. Also, there are some super-hardy exotic berries and some nuts that are hardy to quite cold climates.

    The other reality is that some places will have broader definitions of “local” than others by necessity.

    We’re having a freak heat wave - it is 78 here, very unusual for this time of year.

    Sharon

  5. Anonymouson 24 Sep 2007 at 8:23 pm

    There is a very pretty book, called The Glass Pantry about presevering, which I had never really bothered with b/c it seemed to make minute quanties of luxery items. I read the author’s afterward yesterday, and discovered it was inspired by her stay in France in (I think) the 60s or 70s where, in the country side, people were still putting up treats to be served on special occasions.

    It’s rather like (though with less fuss) my little bags of backgarden raspberies and local blackberries in the freezer.

    MEA

  6. feonixrifton 24 Sep 2007 at 8:43 pm

    Storing food is also good if you tend to get winter flus. No-one wants to drive to the store when sick.

  7. jewishfarmeron 24 Sep 2007 at 8:52 pm

    Anonymous, we’ve not had any trouble with the popcorn tins, which are quite airtight - at least as good as the 5 gallon buckets with regular lids. If there are bugs in your grain before you get it, they will come out and be disgusting there, but we’ve not had much problem with that. You can freeze your grains for a few days first to kill insect eggs.

    I use these mostly for “easy access” quantities - we store much more of most things than will fit in these tins. The only problem with them is that if they get dropped and dented, they are never quite the same. My kids end up using them for toys after that ;-).

    Sharon

  8. Ameliaon 24 Sep 2007 at 9:11 pm

    We got the grapes into the press Wednesday; Saturday the skies opened up and we’re expecting a frost in some areas tonight. The wine’s happily blooping away downstairs in the cold storage.

    I’m glad to find someone else who likes glass jars! Wire bail jars are a constant on the shelves of a local church-run thrift store, at a tenth of the price offered at kitchen supply shops: I’ve never had to do more than wash them thoroughly and change the rubber gaskets, and it’s cheering on a bad day to look at the kitchen cupboards and see that there’s plenty to eat, if I’ll put in the time to cook.

  9. BoysMomon 25 Sep 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Maeve, you are north of me, actually, I am likely just at a higher elevation. We are at 7100 feet in western Wyoming, a little south of Jackson Hole. I have a juicer (Meia Maja, I think) that I use for chokecherries. It gives a lovely clear juice, not at all bitter. Are the wolves troubling folks in your area yet?
    Sharon, would you like some snow? I’ve got some to spare! :-)
    I think the problem for most fruits, aside from the -30 and lower winters, is the very short growing season and the likelyhood of frosts/snow any day of the year. I’m planning to get some raspberries to plant next year, and if I can find some very short season potatos, those too. On the bright side, there’s lots of fishing, plenty of fresh air, and rhubarb all summer long.

  10. Grandma Mision 25 Sep 2007 at 10:13 pm

    Sharon, I “collect” Mason jars too, can’t pass them up when I see them on Freecycle or at yard sales!!! and my family all think I’m a nutty grandma.

    Will be working more on filling up those empty jars this coming next year when I find a place to store them (don’t have a kitchen per se, or storage places, in a 20 ft 5th wheel, lol) All the jars are in my daughter’s garage…

    Oh, the beauty of stored foods you mentioned is sooooooo true! When we used to can every fall (coming again soon) we just had to take pictures of the first batches of gleaming jars of “sunset” colored nectarines and stuffed jars of pears. Just like we always took a picture of our first blackberry upside down cake each year. It was just so beautiful and “homey”

    Loved this blog post btw.
    Misi

  11. Ameliaon 26 Sep 2007 at 12:48 am

    I would like to suggest, too, that those unsure of what’s available in their area can search on Local Harvest.

  12. Maeveon 26 Sep 2007 at 1:13 am

    Boysmom,

    well, the elevation explains everything *grin* We’re at about 3100′ here. I think the latest update of the USDA Zone Map showed most of our area at Zone 5.

    I haven’t paid much attention to articles about wolves, mostly because I live in town and it doesn’t affect me in an obvious daily manner.

    I have several books on my shelf that I love (some just for looking at, LOL) but a couple of useful ones for people living in the general chunk of globe we’re on:

    Organic Gardening in Cold Climates by Sandra Perrin. Things I like about it are her charts showing when to start seeds indoors; as well as a nice section on specific varieties of plants that do well in cold climates. The ISBN on the copy I have is 0-87842-451-2

    And the other one I purchased at Zoo Montana in Billings. It’s called Gardening in the Northern High Plains by Alice O. Hamilton (it was printed locally, so no ISBN).

    She covers everything from lawns to trees to flowers to vegetables to fruits, propagation & pruning, and so on. The advice is relevant for a swath running from North-east Montana to the Four Corners area in Utah and Colorado.

  13. Aubreyon 28 Sep 2007 at 2:58 am

    Learning new things every day here…what, exactly do you do with 10 bushels of apples? I mean, how do you keep them? Obviously you can’t set ‘em in a basket on the table. I understand how daft I sound and can only hope you aren’t laughing to hard…

  14. homebrewlibrarianon 29 Sep 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Aubrey,
    Keeping 10 bushels of apples means that you have apples until the apple harvest is available again next year. Meaning that there is a seasonability to local apples so that to have them through the months when they aren’t fresh off the tree, you have to store them somehow. Root cellars (in practically all permutations from garbage cans buried in the yard, to trenches, to full structures) have been the way to store hardier fruits and vegies in their natural state until they need to be used later on. Without artificial refrigeration I might add.

    Root cellaring has been a casual interest of mine in the past but has now moved up in the priority list. What makes it challenging is that I live in a third floor apartment in a building with no crawl space or basement. However, a friend of mine owns a duplex with yard (with family members only living there) so now we’re discussing how to keep 10 bushels of apples (or beets or turnips or whatever).

    Choosing to put up food in a root cellar indicates a radical shift in modern thinking about food. You no longer consider running to the store in the dead of winter to buy tomatoes an option. As everything becomes more scarse and expensive, putting up your own food starts to look like the best option. It’s what all those folks who pioneered new lands had to do. There was no store to go to therefore you had to make sure there was enough food stored up until the next harvest season.

    It’s that self reliance and seasonability sense we modern folks seem to have lost and now need to relearn. We’re so used to having peaches in December and winter squash in May because our groceries can get them from all over the world. Planting a garden, even a small one, helps you to regain a sense of seasonability. Even with starting tomato plants in February in the house under a gro-light, you’re not going to have tomatoes before July (in Wisconsin) and then you’ll have wads until it freezes. Then that’s it for tomatoes until next July. So if you want tomatoes to eat when you’re starting the next batch, you have to put them up somehow. Same thing with salads. Lettuce is not something most gardens in temperate areas will have after the first freeze. Even with gro-lights, you’ll need a bunch of plants to even get baby greens salads in the middle of winter. Personally, I don’t eat salad between October and May because salad greens can’t be harvested during that time locally (and now I live in Alaska so the growing season is even shorter).

    For the best book on root cellars I’ve ever run across, check out _Root Cellaring: natural cold storage of fruits and vegetables_ by Mike and Nancy Bubel. It was first published in 1979 and a second edition came out in 1991. And, of course, the Internet has tons more information. Just type “root cellars” into your favorite search engine and read away.

    Kerri

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