Independence Days - Year III

Sharon March 1st, 2010

Many of us need nothing in the world so much as more time.  Adding new projects is exhausting - and stressful.  And yet, we know that there are things we want to change - for example, most of us would like to grow a garden with our kids, or make sure that we know where our food comes from.  We’d like to live in communities with a greater measure of food security, we’d like to know more about what we’re eating.  We’d like to have more contact with nature, we’d like to be more self-sufficient.  We’d like to have better food at lower cost, we’d like to have a reserve for an emergency or to share.  We’d like to do more in our community and to eat with one another.  We’d like to sit down to a home cooked meal more often.

We want these things but we don’t know how to get them, in large part because when we think about growing a garden or preserving food, or working in our community, we imagine we must allot large chunks of our time.  We imagine it is impossible - because we know we can’t pull hours every day out of our frantic schedules. 

But what if we didn’t have to?  That’s what the Independence Days Challenge encourages all of us - busy working families and farmers, city dwellers and suburbanites and country folk - to remember.  That is, it isn’t all or nothing, we don’t have to wait until we have a whole afternoon free or are on vacation.  What if we could do it gradually, just a little bit every day or week - what if we only had to plant our few seeds today, and tomorrow, pull a couple of weeds and harvest two salads, and the next day make three jars of jam? 

What’s amazing about this is how fast it adds up - a few minutes here and there turn into a much greater degree of self-sufficiency.  I know this because I’ve been doing it for two years as part of the Independence Days challenge. And I know it works for people like me, who farm and for whom growing and canning and harvesting are part of everyday life, and I know it works for people in the city who may have no garden space at all but a few window boxes but can still preserve some of their own when it is plentiful, reduce their waste and work at community-level food security.  No matter how much you are able to do, doing a little when you’ve got a few minutes makes the critical difference.

Does this stuff really matter?  Is it worth your time?  I think so - as I wrote in my book _Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation_,

All of us need to devote some energy to fighting battles that will probably be lost, simply because we have an obligation to fight the good fight.  But most of us can’t live on a steady diet of tilting at windmills.  We also need to do work where we know we can accomplish something and where we know we matter.  That’s why I think food preservation and storage matter so much.  Ultimately, we are talking not only about the fairly manageable question of what to have for dinner, but also  about about transforming our society, our use of energy, our food culture, and, of course our culture as a whole.”

Today is March 1 and the beginning of a new year in Independence Days Challenges - my third time doing this challenge. I have a lot of new readers these days, a lot of people who are reluctant to join up in the middle, so it is time to start afresh. 

What is the Independence Days Challenge?  The name and the inspiration came from the late, great Carla Emery, who I was lucky enough to have as a friend.  She was the author of _The Encyclopedia of Country Living_ which was her way of preserving lost knowledge about how to grow, harvest, cook and preserve.  She saw the traditional ways disappearing, and she recorded them, and built upon them until by reading her book you can learn to make a BLT that starts with a piglet, a tomato seed and a field of wheat.

She wrote about Independence Days:

“All spring I try to plant something every day – from late February, when the early peas and spinach and garlic can go in, on up to midsummer, when the main potato crop and the late beans and lettuce go in.  Then I switch over and make it my rule to try and get something put away for the winter every single day.  That lastas until the pumpkins and sunflowers and late squash and green tomatoes are in.  Then comes the struggle to get the most out of the stored food – all winter long.  It has to be checked regularly, and you’ll need to add to that day’s menu anything that’s on the verge of spoiling, wilting or otherwise becoming useless. 


People have to choose what they are going to struggle for.  Life is always a struggle, whether or not you’re struggling for anything worthwhile, so it might as well be for something worthwhile.  Independence days are worth struggling for.  They’re good for me, good for the country and good for growing children.”

Carla reminded me that I don’t have to plan a weekend with my canning kettle to make jam, that I don’t have to spend all my time at the community food center to make a difference there.  And I found that when I sat down and tallied up everything I accomplished in each season of the year, I was doing more than I thought I was.  And you will too.

So how does it work?  Well, first of all, you can take that awesome image that Robj kindly made for us, and put it up on your blog or website to let people know about the challenge.  Second of all, all you have to do to sign up is to post in comments here that you are joining in - and if you can’t start today, well, join in later!

Then, just once a week (or when you get to it) commit to writing down what you’ve accomplished.  You can post it in comments here at the blog, or you can put it up on your blog and include a link.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.  The only rule is this - don’t tell us what you didn’t do.  Don’t compare yourself to everyone else.  Don’t look and say “but I never…”  Because the reality is that it is always easy to see where you didn’t do things, or to see where you haven’t done enough, and that blinds us to what we have accomplished. This is about our successes.

What actions count?  Well, we’ve got seven categories here, and anything you deem to fit counts as an accomplishment.  Here are the categories:

1. Plant something – This is obviously something that many of us are doing now anyway, but it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” – most of us can grow over a longer season than we do,  and enjoy fresh foods grown through spring, summer and fall, and even into or through winter in many places.  Even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds.  So keep on planting!

2. Harvest something - Folks in the Southern Hemisphere are doing this full swing, but as soon as you pick the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or preserved it.  Don’t forget to include food you forage – whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).

3. Preserve something – For me this starts as soon as the asparagus, nettles and rhubarb are up.  Canning looks like a big scary project if you have to can a truckload of green beans on a hot day in July.  Dehydrating seems overwhelming if you have to pick the pits out of 4 bushels of plums in a single afternoon when you’d rather be doing something else.  And yes, sometimes everything comes ripe at once, some big jobs can’t be avoided, and you just put on the loud rock and roll and go at it.  But a little at a time is possible, you can be canning corn relish while you are washing up from dinner, or stick the strawberries in the sun to dry on your way out the door.  Natural cool storage can take two minutes.  Starting a batch of pickles takes five.  It doesn’t have to be overwhelming - and it is a way to preserve what is plentiful, inexpensive, delicious and healthy for a time when there is less of it.

4. Waste Not–  Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it - we waste nearly half of all food, much of it in our homes.  In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage – everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft.  BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy – stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy.  These are things that are good for the planet and good for all of us.

5.  Want Not – This is the category where you report the stuff you’ve done to get ready that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food.  That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path.  Did you get a good deal at goodwill?  Biu om bulk or with coupons?  Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project?  Share with a neighbor?  Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away?  Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful?  Tell us!  The reality is that every nation, every government agency concerned with the security of its citizens, assumes that most people will be able to handle a short term emergency or service disruption themselves - but most of us can’t.  There are people who simply can’t prepare - they lack the ability to do so.  But if you aren’t one of them - if you can do even a little, you can make sure that when help is offered, it goes to the people who truly need it. Moreover, you can make sure you are there and able to help others when it is needed. 

6. Build Community Food Systems – Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home.  But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important.  Did you talk about your victory garden at your kid’s school?  Offer to share space with a neighbor in your sunny yard?  
Pick up some groceries for a neighbor who doesn’t drive anymore?  Bring a casserole over to the family that lost their job or moved in?  Donate to your food pantry?  Teach the neighbor kids to make yogurt?  Offer to teach a canning class?  Show someone else where the nettles are growing wild?  Talk about your food storage or gardening plans?  Share a plant division or seeds? Help out with the food pantry garden?  Give a talk about the importance of small local farms?  Run for your zoning board?  The first line of security for all of us is each other - we are all enriched by a more food-secure community.

7. Eat the Food – Sometimes I think people have more trouble actually eating their garden produce or CSA shares than they do growing or buying them.  Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know – farmers can’t necessarily lead the way – they have to sell what eaters want.  So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system.  This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale. 

Welcome to year three!!!!


56 Responses to “Independence Days - Year III”

  1. kclower says:

    Finally, like minded people. I’m in! Love this….

  2. Angie says:

    I had Carla Emery’s book a few years back and pored over the entries. I recently picked it up in B&N and have been kicking myself for not buying it again.

    My fiance and I have been having serious discussions about slowly learning more sustainable lifestyle practices, other than the recycling and repurposing we already do.

    I am going to present the challenge to him and see what we can do.

  3. OrganicFarmer says:

    I am joining in and am going to encourage a friend to so as well.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Under the “waste not” heading, I’m finding that my birds like all those little pieces of wilty green things that I had been putting in the compost all winter. So it’s not exactly not wasting, because compost is a wonderful thing. But it’s fun watching my guinea hens run around in the snow chasing each other with little pieces of wilty parsley hanging out of their beaks. Thawed ground, and planting, won’t happen here for another month or so, unless you’re lucky and smart enough to have a greenhouse. We’re enjoying a little bit of the greens that come out of my friend Dean’s greenhouse, and that’s a real treat. I thawed a bag of the wild raspberries we picked last summer, and peaches frozen when they were cheap and sweet at the co-op, to put into something nummy for supper. Our seeds just came from Seed Savers. Dean’s sharing part of his greenhouse so we can start our seeds earlier this year. Ah, spring.

  5. Anisa says:

    Here’s my first week’s report!
    I added the pic to my blog and I am hoping a reader or two will join as well. We’re going to be ordering some seeds soon so I am excited to get into full swing!

  6. joan says:

    i’m in! i’ll link from my blog.

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