This year in the U.S., corn and soybean crops were deeply affected by serious drought. Many popular processed foods are based on corn and soy. But those two products and other grains are also the foundation of commercial livestock feeds. Within weeks of the drought, a domino-effect had already begun, with meat and poultry operations downsizing and even shutting down in anticipation of unbearable feed price hikes.
According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, “Animal-based perishable foods will be hardest hit. The USDA projects that poultry products will rise 3 to 4 percent next year, compared to this year’s average. The biggest rises are seen in beef and veal, rising 4 to 5 percent from 2012 averages…Dairy products will take a hit too, rising up to 4.5 percent. (“Which foods will cost more because of the drought?” Grist.org)
In the coming months, availability and prices of many grain products, vegetables, and fruits will also be affected. The ultimate results of the strain on supply and distribution channels remains to be seen.
Late addition to this article: Last night I was checking our ground beef for recall UPCs. This morning it’s a jar of peanut butter that we just finished yesterday! Another crucial reason to raise our own food, buy from trusted local sources, and use fewer prepared foods: the food safety situation is getting ridiculous! –Marie
If you’ve been postponing starting or stepping up your own food production or storage, now is a good time to move it to the top of your “to-do” list.
>>Checkout our book “Getting Started on a Food Supply Plan: Sourcing, Preserving, and Storing Foods for Tomorrow’s Uncertain Times”
10 Realistic Ways to Overcome Food Crisis and How you can minimize the effect on your own family
Here are some ways you can prepare to weather rising food prices and potential shortages—starting right now.
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7 Reasons to Be Concerned About the Future
Planning Food Storage and Survival
Living Off the Grid Things to Consider can Extraordinary Experience
Make Prepping Survival Your Way of Life to be prepared for survival
Want to do Off-grid Living? Here is How You Can Do it
Building DIY Hydroponic PVC System
10 Realistic Ways to Overcome Food Crisis
Homesteading For Beginners Become Less Dependent
How I Built My DIY Hydroponics System
1. Grow some vegetables, herbs, and fruit.
Anyone can grow something to eat. Even if your soil is awful, you can grow some food. And if you don’t know how, you can learn! You don’t even have to wait till next spring to plant a garden or planter. No matter where you live—cold or warm climate, urban or rural setting, huge farm or small apartment—you can probably grow something green during the fall and winter.
If you’re new to gardening, ask a neighbor or your local extension office what can be grown in your area. Here in our four-season climate, we have been planting salad greens, root crops, and herbs for harvest throughout the fall and winter. For successful winter harvests, plants should be mature by the time of the first frosts.
Root crops can be mulched in place in the garden; other crops should be grown in hoop houses or cold frames for frost protection.
We talked about fall and winter gardening here on our Rural Living Today blog, and it’s been a topic of conversation on other blogs and in various magazines this fall.
Check and see what you can still do this fall. In a warm-winter area, many different veggies can be grown. Where winters are cold, you can probably at least still plant mâche/corn salad and claytonia/miners’ lettuce.
You can also build a DIY Hydroponic System
In most climates, garlic is best planted in the fall to get established over the winter. Buy seed garlic for your first planting; in subsequent years you can plant your own garlic cloves. Autumn is also a good time to plant fruit trees and berry bushes, till and amend next year’s garden plot, build raised beds for spring planting, or set up a seed starting system for winter use. Winter steps and preps:
- Request seed catalogs for winter browsing and seed orders so you’ll be ready for spring planting. Our favorites are Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Baker Creek Seeds.
- Learn all you can about gardening in general. Chat with your local extension or agricultural agents, pick the brains of friends and neighbors with admirable gardens, visit local nurseries that remain open in winter, scour the library and Internet.
- Find out what’s in your soil and what’s lacking–get a sampling of soil tested at a local lab or a mail-in lab like U of Massachusetts Soils Lab.
- Figure out what you’ll need in the way of growing beds, soil amendments, and irrigation. Be ready to buy supplies in late winter or early spring.
- Be adventuresome…try growing some veggies indoors in a hydroponic system! Building DIY Hydroponic PVC System
2. Raise some eggs and meat.
From rabbits and chickens to beef and bison, there’s probably a source of meat or eggs that you can raise in your own backyard or small farm. We’ve even seen people raising rabbits in garages and basements. There’s still time to build a small winter-friendly chicken coop or rabbit hutch and bring home some laying hens or rabbits before deep winter sets in. Check out your local farm guide or Craigslist for meat rabbits or pullets (young hens) ready to lay. You can also start baby pullet chicks now and expect eggs about five months later. While most local feed stores do not have chicks available in fall, most mail order hatcheries ship chicks year-round or close to it. Most do require minimum orders of 25 chicks, so you might want to share an order with a friend. For ultimate sustainability, keep a rooster with your hens so you can hatch replacement chicks in an incubator or under a broody hen.
While usually raised outdoors during the summer, meat chickens can be grown out any time of year in a winter-safe coop. The chicks are usually available only from hatcheries at this time of year, as few individuals sell meat-breed chicks on a local level. However, locally you may find dual-purpose breed chicks, some of which grow out reasonably meaty. Another possibility is cull laying hens and roosters, which make awesome stewing birds that yield cooked meat and rich chicken stock. Raw chicken can be frozen or canned in a pressure canner. Or you can get everything set up and ready to start a chicken flock in the spring. Chickens are fairly low maintenance, with few stringent requirements.
They must have fresh water, nutritious feed, and sources of grit. Calcium is essential for laying hens. While mature chickens don’t require heated coops in winter, shelter from wet and windy weather is important. We have not yet raised rabbits ourselves but most people agree they are as low-maintenance as–or even more so than–a flock of chickens. Rabbits mature quickly, multiply easily (just as the jokes imply), and have a great feed to weight conversion rate. Rabbit meat tastes similar to chicken and can be used in recipes designed for poultry. We have seen some good rabbit raising info at Backyard Herds Rabbit Forum, Rudolph’s Rabbit Ranch, and Whisper’s Rabbitry.
There are many reasons to buy local foods. Just-harvested locally grown foods are fresher than anything shipped in from elsewhere. When we shop locally our food dollars will stay in the local economy. And some products even have effective health benefits. Eating honey from bees that gather local pollens can help eradicate people’s allergies to the plants themselves.
But now we have to consider that local foods also may be the only foods readily available or affordable if our food supply chain is affected by transportation issues or high costs.
Many regions have local farmers markets where you can get to know your local food providers. Some areas have helpful farm guides listing places to buy various fresh products. Your local extension office or agricultural agency should be able to give you info. Another good resource for the U.S. is the directory at Local Harvest.
4. Start or add to a food storage program.
Even if you are planning to raise a lot of your own food, it’s wise to have a stash in case a drought or other situation limits your food production. Also include products that you can’t grow or make at home. Store foods you know your family will enjoy eating—don’t forget seasonings for bland foods like rice and beans. A storage program can include home canned and dehydrated foods as well as purchased groceries. Warehouse and restaurant supply stores often have great deals on large bags of grains, dry beans, sugar, salt, and other basics. You can buy multiple small packages and flats of canned goods when you find good deals at the local grocery store. Store your foods at cool temps, but above freezing. Liquids can freeze during winter, causing cans and jars to explode.
While a garage may be fine for storage in a mild climate, an indoor closet or storage room may be necessary for winter storage. While you’re at it, don’t forget to store water. We were glad to have gallons of our stored water when our well pump broke and when some pipes froze. For drinking and cooking, treatment with water purification tablets or bleach is recommended. Water for household use like toilet flushing and dish washing need not be treated. The blog Preparing Your Family has several posts on food and water storage.
5. Preserve some fresh food to enjoy later.
You can stretch out your enjoyment of homegrown or locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats throughout the year. Make the most of your own garden harvest, but look into other sources of fruits, vegetables, and herbs to preserve. Visit farmers’ markets, local orchards, and farm stands to buy produce by the bag or box. If you don’t have preserving equipment and know-how, get some now! Learn how to can, freeze, and dehydrate.
Make sure you understand food safety guidelines, avoiding botulism and other potential food poisoning by proper preservation.
The major food safety rule is to use a pressure canner for all meats and almost all vegetables. A pressure canner is different from both a pressure cooker and a water bath canner. When we have questions about food preservation, we rely heavily on university and scientific research info including county extension publications. An excellent guide is the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Snatch up canning and freezing supplies and containers.
In the late summer and fall you might find them on sale in retail stores. Look for them year-round at thrift shops and yard sales–just beware of cracked or chipped jars, and have any used pressure canners checked by a food safety agent. Many local extension and ag agents can do this, often for free; only the pressure canner lid is needed for testing. Here are some basic food preservation needs and helpful accessories:
- For canning of high acid foods (most fruit products): water bath canner
- For canning of low acid foods (anything containing meats or most vegetables and herbs): pressure canner (not a pressure cooker, which works differently) with accurate pressure gauge. It’s wise to have a dial gauge checked annually for accuracy. Most county extension offices offer this service for free, especially during summer and fall peak canning times. Only the lid is needed for the test; leave the heavy pot at home.
- For all canning: jar rack, canning tongs, canning funnel, glass canning jars (no cracks or chips on rims), lids, rings
- For dehydrating: dehydrating unit (electric dehydrator, kitchen oven, outdoor solar oven/racks), storage containers
- For freezing: pot and strainer for blanching, storage containers, vacuum sealer to avoid freezer burn
6. Buy a supply of freezer meat.
Every fall and winter, local livestock farmers have meat to sell. This year, due to expected high feed costs, many are culling their herds even more than usual. While a large quantity of freezer meat is a substantial financial investment, the cost per pound for many cuts is much lower than grocery store prices. Depending on your geographic area, you may find beef, pork, lamb, and goat meat available. Many farmers can sell meat by the whole or half carcass. Some local regulations allow for sales of quarter carcasses. If you’re not up for such a large amount of meat, consider splitting an order with another family. Wondering about grassfed vs. grain fed? Read this synopsis at Eat Wild.
7. Sprout seeds and legumes.
A fairly simple way to grow nutritious greens is to sprout legumes, grains, and vegetable seeds right in your kitchen. Little is required in the way of equipment, space, or time. Sprouters can be purchased or made from canning jars or strainers. Sprouting seeds can be purchased online or at local health food stores. Unless they’ve been treated, food-grade legumes and grains from any source can usually be sprouted. Sprouts can be added to salads, sandwiches, omelets, breads, and many other dishes and recipes. While sprouts are a delicious addition to human diets, they’re also wonderful for livestock. Sprout a small batch now and then as a treat for your chickens. Large mats can also be grown for larger livestock. To find out more about sprouting, visit the Sprout People, who can tell you everything you need to know!
8. Forage for edibles.
Most areas left to native growth contain a number of plants with edible parts. A stroll around our own farmstead reveals an assortment of wild edibles including lamb’s quarters, purslane, dandelion, Oregon grape, elderberry, and wild rose hips.
Once you are familiar with your own native plants and aware of which ones are toxic, you may find numerous types of salad greens and berries. A great source of info on edible weeds is Weekly Weeder at Common Sense Homesteading.
9. Become a barterer.
The practice of bartering, common in days gone by, is coming back into vogue! The idea is that goods or services of equal value are swapped, with no money involved. Whether it’s knowledge, skills, or tangible products, everyone has something that someone else can use. Think about what you have to offer: skills, expertise, products, time. Put a value on it—either monetary or number of hours.
Then consider what you need, find a good match, and make a trade. Some areas have bartering groups, but it’s usually fairly easy to make a bartering arrangement. When you want or need something, ask potential providers—friends, neighbors, farms, even other small businesses–if they’d be willing to make a trade. You might swap fresh eggs for fresh veggies, firewood for boxes of apples, sewing lessons for cast iron cookware.
10. Learn, learn, learn.
Don’t know how to grow a garden, raise chickens, grind wheat, bake bread, make homemade soup? There’s no reason you can’t learn it now! There’s tons of info on the Internet and in books and magazines. Your local library may have what you need, or might even order a new book you request. Used bookstores, thrift shops, and yard sales are all good places to find books for your own library. We’ve reviewed a number of helpful publications here at Rural Living Today. We read Extension publications as well as articles and blogs at GRIT and Mother Earth News. Storey Publishing produces some great books about gardening, livestock, food preservation, and other homesteading topics. Lots of bloggers post ideas and tutorials for doing all sorts of things. Some of our favorite blogs are listed on our Resources page.
Many of our readers want to know more about how to prepare for upcoming food supply challenges.
So we’ll keep pointing you to other valuable resources–books, websites, blogs, and articles– for each of our ten points. Today we’ll start with some general info. Before we get right to the resources we recommend, we want to explain briefly how we all may be affected by food shortages and high prices.
Fallout from the drought
One newsworthy event of the past several months was a drought in North America that affected the growth of some of the continent’s basic food crops. This had a twofold effect on consumers.
First, there will be less soy, corn, and wheat available for human consumption. Yes, that means a smaller supply of grains, flour, and other ingredients for home cooking. But more North Americans will be affected by a different ramification: the strain on production of processed foods like breads, cereals, prepared dishes, and snack foods.
A secondary effect is the shortage of grains for livestock feed. This will have a domino effect on supplies of commercially-produced meat, eggs, and dairy products. But high feed prices and shortages will also hit small producers and farm families raising their own livestock. The majority of them rely on commercial livestock feeds. Farms of all sizes–commercial and local small producers–have already been selling off stock early to avoid feeding extra animals all winter. That means less finished meat next year.
Shortages lead to lower supplies for each community and price hikes for the products that are available. If we rely on more imports to fill the gaps, those products may be even more costly.
Fuel price rises
We’ve seen gas prices fluctuate at our neighborhood gas pumps. It can cost a small fortune to fill a large gas tank in a family vehicle. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless of what type of fuel we feed the cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs we drive, we’re paying for higher diesel prices as well. Our food chain relies on international and cross-country transportation via diesel-fueled trucks. Shipping costs more, and the costs are absorbed into prices of consumer goods. Here’s a good explanation of the process:
Trucks need diesel, which is also around $6/gallon in many parts of California. As the cost of diesel ramps up, that expense gets passed on to customers buying the things that those trucks are transporting.
You can see where that will take prices for just about everything, since just about everything gets where it’s going on an eighteen wheeler.
About 30% of shipping containers that come to the United States come through California. Those containers leave ports on trucks and trains, and get moved around those ports using heavy equipment.
Which run on gas and diesel.
Guess where the extra cost for that goes?
Oh yeah, to the rest of us, through the supply chain that feeds our consumption.
From Preparing Your Family. Read the entire post here.
The global economy
It’s scary out there, folks! Most of us who have lived several decades have never seen anything like this. Even many who have endured their nations’ major financial crises haven’t experienced such economic turmoil. There’s no telling what will happen in the coming years. But the writing is on the wall: “Times they are achanging, and it ain’t gonna be pretty!”
The good news
There’s hope for all of us: it is possible to soften the blow on our own families and communities. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already on a path toward smoothing the way and rounding off some of the bumps in the road.
Where to look for help
We’re not talking about public assistance or financial aid. We’re talking about learning to provide more for ourselves and rely less on international and national sources. Here are some resources that provide info on self-sufficiency and sustainable living– the ability to provide food from year to year.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery
Storey’s Basic Country Skills by John and Martha Storey
The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan
Family Friendly Farming by Joel Salatin
You Can Farm by Joel Salatin
Joybilee Farm: daily list of free Kindle books of interest to homesteaders