Depending on where you live, there may be food shortages as we head into summer. Now is a perfect time to stock up on fresh local produce as the growing season bursts forth.
Most of us don’t think twice about going to the store when we need groceries. We are used to buying what we need and not much more. With the possibility of an impending food shortage, you may have to look further than your local supermarket or big box store.
Here are several ways to preserve summer’s surplus for any shortages that lie ahead.
Support Your Local Farmers’ Markets
Most cities and towns have at least one farmers’ market and sometimes more during summer. Visiting a farmer’s market is a great way to get acquainted with your local farmers. They are very knowledgeable and can explain varieties, growing conditions, what’s in season, and even where to find food they don’t grow themselves. By supporting them, you are helping preserve sustainable agriculture and your local food supply.
Farmers’ markets should be easy to find if you are unfamiliar with where they are. One of the best resources is the National Farmers Market Directory on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, where you will find market names in your location, directions, hours, and what they sell. This site also has information on nationally certified organic farms, programs for dairy, grains, livestock, poultry, and much more. Finding local sources for these and other food products may help you buy direct from farmers and rethink your family food storage. In most cases, buying directly from the farmer will save you money compared to store prices.
Join a CSA Program
When you become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, you become an essential link between farm and table. CSAs help the farmer save money and guarantees you fresh farm produce weekly. Ordering and paying for fresh farm produce at the beginning of the growing season allows the farmer to better plan his crops because he already knows he has buyers for most of what he grows. You may have to do a work exchange as part of your membership, but this can be a rewarding experience as you work on the farm pulling weeds or harvesting or getting member food boxes ready for pickup.
How to Store Your Surplus
Freezing as much as possible is the best way to preserve the freshness, flavor, and nutrition of many vegetables and fruits. If you live in an apartment or small residence, your refrigerator/freezer is probably not large enough to hold much. What to do?
- Share space with another person who has a larger freezer.
- If someone you know has a chest freezer, ask to share or rent some space.
- Buy a community freezer and keep it at a place or home where there is room.
- Rent space in a meat locker.
Our grandparents knew all about communal freezers. Raised during the 1940s and ’50s, when folks often didn’t have freezer space at home, the local meat locker became popular.
The meat locker is a walk-in freezer where people can rent bin space to store locally raised meat or frozen produce packages. As people realize the cost savings of buying produce and meat in bulk, freezer lockers are starting to appear again. Cornell University has been involved in the Meat Locker Project since 2014 as a commitment to helping local farmers and their customers.
Butchering whole animals such as cows or pigs and having the butcher prepare, wrap, and freeze the meat for you is cheaper by the pound than what you will find in most food stores. If that’s too much meat, buy half an animal and split it with someone.
In addition, if you know the farm, you will see the quality of the meat, if it was grass-fed, and other vital factors. Buying a whole animal is cost-effective as you will save over store-bought meats for which you pay for shipping, marketing, store overhead, and store profits.
Yearly costs for meat locker rental are often very reasonable. For example, a drawer holding 200 pounds of frozen items can cost as little as $25 a month. Sometimes, if you have the meat locker butcher your meat, the rental cost may be included.
Best Foods for Freezing
The best vegetables to consider are corn (not on the cob), peas, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, peppers, celery, carrots, green beans, squash, and winter greens such as spinach, kale, chard, collards, and most herbs. Forget veggies with high water content like lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers as they will be mushy and water logged when thawed.
The best fruits for freezing are berries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, grapes, bananas, apples, oranges, pineapple, kiwi, mango, peaches, and nectarines. Even berries and stone fruit, if frozen properly, will be fine for pies and baked goods. Frozen fruit is especially great for smoothies, where texture won’t be an issue. It helps to prep and freeze whole berries or sliced fruit on baking sheets before putting them in freezer containers. That way they won’t clump together in one giant frozen fruit-sicle.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a good resource for freezing food.
Older generations knew the value of “putting up fruit” to preserve them for the winter. With the introduction of home freezers in the 1940s, home canning began to decline. There is still value to this form of food preservation. Fruit, in particular, cans well. Canned foods don’t need to be frozen and are therefore cheaper to store. If you have or can find the equipment and jars, this can be a rewarding experience, especially if done as a collaborative project. Also, you can add canned products to your frozen food stores to expand your variety of choices.
Best Foods for Canning
Large fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, plums and nectarines, oranges, cherries, and mangos all can well. So do sturdy berries, such as strawberries and blueberries. Vegetables for canning include asparagus, corn, peppers, cucumbers, beets, carrots, green beans, okra, and tomatoes. Some meats can be canned, but freezing is a much better and safer option. The USDA has a complete guide for canning.
Root cellars are an easy and often overlooked preservation option. A root cellar or cold storage area maintains the quality of your produce by slowing the ripening process and keeping moisture from evaporating so your vegetables don’t wither. Temperatures must remain between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 85 to 95 percent.
If you have the space, a root cellar can expand your food storage, especially for root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions, garlic, beets, and parsnips. The Farmer’s Almanac has good information on where and how to build a root cellar, even if you don’t have a basement.
Plant a Garden
If you have space where you live, consider growing a garden. Gardens can be a huge undertaking if it’s your first garden but once established, you can reap the benefits for years. If you already have a garden, even better. Maybe it’s time to expand what you plant, so you have plenty to freeze for the future. You can always supplement your harvest by buying from local farmers’ markets.
If you lack enough space for a garden, look for a community garden space in your area. Wherever your garden is, make sure it is organic. You can do this by starting a compost to provide all the nutrients your plants need or find a good source of local composted manure from a local organic dairy or poultry farm. You can also use natural insect control like certain plants, vinegar, or ladybugs.
If you are going to plant, use the best seeds available. Heirloom seeds have several advantages over many of the common seeds you find. Heirloom seeds can offer a greater variety and nutrition as well as better taste, and even reduced cost. Heirloom seeds should also be certified organic so that residual chemical and pesticide products are not part of their genetic makeup.
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated by the wind, insects, birds, or other natural means. This retains the plant’s original traits from one generation to the next. To be classified as an heirloom, seeds must be traced back at least 50 years before the invention of hybrid seeds after World War II.
Heirloom seeds saved from some of your plants can be used for next year’s garden, thus preserving their quality, taste, and vigor. Hybrid seeds don’t reproduce well as they will give mixed results from the original breeds used to create the hybrid. Seed Savers Exchange has helpful tips on how to save your garden seeds.
Today’s conventional seeds are mostly hybrids bred for high yields resulting in lower nutritional value per plant. Hybrids usually cost more because they take longer to develop and are more trouble to produce. They are often less vigorous, succumbing to insects, disease, and other stressful growing conditions.
Some conventional seeds are from GMO plants, genetically modified organisms, meaning their DNA has been laboratory altered to resist some pesticides and other chemicals. The main concern about GMO seeds and the food they produce is the adverse effects on our health through the transfer of antibiotic resistance, toxicity, and allergic sensitivities.