Until I began homesteading, and growing my own food, and learning about food practices, I had no idea what was involved in the commercial growth and processing and packaging of food. And when I heard that odd friend or family member go on about food, or misleading labels, I’d secretly think, “Agh, you whole foods proselytizer, you health nut, let me just enjoy my side of hormone-injected beef here!”
But as I began reading and listening to other homesteaders and farmers, I started to realize my crazy friends were on to something. And one evening, I was at a meeting where a local congressman was speaking, and an Amish man showed up in the crowd. Very unusual, but it turned out he was trying to enlist the help of our reps because the feds had slapped him with a $250,000 fine or face jail time, all connected to the fact that he refused to have a chemical sprayed on his organic meat (by the way, anybody know what the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says? “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.”). And just a week or two later, I heard some prominent homesteaders in another state talking about his case on their podcast, and it snagged my attention.
So, all that to say, over the course of the last couple years, through a variety of avenues, I’ve had a sustained, significant paradigm shift concerning food.
As one of my farmer friends only half joked, “When you start to realize what’s in your food, you might as well just suck on a bottle of bleach!”
It’s one thing to know that a lot of what’s being packaged and fed to the masses is garbage – in some instances even insidiously poisonous. It’s another to make the leap to changing your choices, your purchasing and your eating habits, and that of your family. Resistance can come in many forms. If you go too extreme too fast, you can easily get overwhelmed or discouraged if you can’t stay on track – or, you might have a rebellion on your hands from other family members!
For me, setting simple goals – along with thinking in terms of percentages – really helps. There are three main goals I’m aiming for from this: healthier eating, greater self-reliance, and the satisfaction that comes with raising food yourself.
Mapping out your Goals
Here’s a quick brainstorm I did for our family as I was reflecting on my food goals:
- What are the food items we eat consistently?
- How much/what percentage do we eat of each food per week?
- What nutritious food would I like us to eat more of? How will I incorporate that into my weekly meal planning?
So I wrote out some simple equations. I figure we eat a spinach salad three times a week. In spring, summer, and early fall, I grow my own spinach and top it with fresh berries from our yard. We usually have eggs three times a week as well, courtesy of our chickens, and we have potatoes at least once a week, usually more. Everything’s organic.
If I factor three meals a week with eggs, three meals a week with salad, and our own homegrown potatoes just once a week, and I can do that in our growing zone four months out of the year (spinach tends to bolt where I live during the summer months), I’m looking at seven food portions a week which I’m growing myself. During the hot months when salad might be scarcer, we can eat more of our garden-raised squash, corn, and beets. I estimate those items comprise roughly one-quarter of our weekly diet. So 1/4 of our intake I’m growing for about half the year. So that’s 1/8 of our annual intake, or about 13% of our food that we’re producing ourselves.
Add to that now beef and poultry, which we also raise ourselves. If we eat our pasture-raised beef twice in a seven day stretch and one of our broiler chickens once during that same week, now we’re adding another three meal portions. Now I’m looking at a ten to 14% jump in the overall amount of food I’m raising, landing me suddenly at about a quarter of our overall food that we’re presently producing ourselves.
And that’s my goal: to incrementally increase what we can produce on our own. What we can’t grow in our garden or raise on our homestead, I’m proactively looking to source at farmer’s markets, local produce stands, and from other sustainable farmsteads.
For example, we don’t eat much pork. For that and other reasons, we’ve not gotten a pig. But, I love supporting my friend whose children raise award-winning hogs. I can buy enough from their farm down the road to last us the year.
One of the great things about raising your own meat or purchasing it in halves or quarters locally is that it doesn’t go bad nearly as quickly as processed foods. Even store-bought bacon and sausage are recommended not to be kept in the freezer more than one to two months.
Don’t beat yourself up – just beat your old score
Now, there are other foods which we raise and can and I’ll incorporate them into my percentage goals over time. For example, making tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, and ketchup is much healthier than the heavy sugar and sodium-laden stuff served up in the grocery store. I also love to harvest our own apples and can the sauce in September. What I don’t want to do though is overwhelm myself with the thought that now I need to get into serious tomato production so I can add another five percentage points to my goal and if I don’t do that, I’m a homesteading failure because who can’t grow tomatoes?
In other words, I don’t want to get too complicated too fast in my goals, and I don’t want to pressure myself. I kind of see homesteading as a game that you play and continually try to improve on your score.
My theory is that as you begin to set some simple food goals for yourself this year, you’ll notice not only the health benefits and satisfaction that come from raising it yourself, but you’re also going to find that organizational benefits tie into this. When you get intentional about planning one aspect of your food, it lends itself to getting streamlined in others.
So how about you? What food staple are you looking to raise yourself this year? What goals are you setting for your family in terms of food sustainability? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you.