16 March 2011

Be Prepared

One of the ways that we have learned to "sway" when the economic winds blow,is to be prepared for hard times by putting up and putting by when times are good so that life goes on fairly normally even if our finances or life situations are in flux.
  My husband was a Boy Scout scoutmaster for many years, so the motto"Be Prepared" was frequently heard around our house. My maternal grandmother was also fond of the motto and her daily life was an expression of its practical application.The thin years of the depression and the challenges of raising four kids on a coal miner's salary taught her the prudence of preparation.
 From time to time throughout my childhood, my brother and I ended up living at my grandparent's house. At my grandmother's knee I learned that preparation was the secret to sustainable living. Much of daily life was spent trying to assure that there would be food on the table, not only for today, but for the future. There was a large garden that supplied a steady stream of fresh vegetables for the table and to fill rows of jars in the root cellar for the winter. My father and both my uncles hunted deer and game, which was canned in the pressure canner or smoked and dried. My grandmother's efforts to make sure there was food in the larder was a big help in keeping the family on even ground, no matter what their economic situation might be.
  Once I had a place where I could grow our food, I followed my grandmother's example. I gardened and made most of our food from scratch, I learned to can and made jellies and preserves from seasonal fruit. As time went by we had more growing space and I had more kitchen experience,  so I started to put up produce from the garden. But it wasn't until the 90's that I started seeing that some canned goods and frozen produce from the garden weren't enough, I needed to plan farther ahead.
  I read on the internet about the Mormon's practice of having a years supply of food on hand and started thinking about how we might be able to do something similar. The logistics of such an endeavor required serious consideration. In order to have a years worth of food on hand I would need to have storage space that I didn't have at the time, I would need to do some research on how to store the food so that it wouldn't be lost to bugs, moisture or rancidity. There was much to think about and careful planning would be necessary to see our goals met.
  I started out by just keeping track of what we purchased most at the grocery store. I kept all my grocery receipts together and then spent some quiet time with the receipts and a notebook, making lists of things that were consistantly purchased. Then to this I added what staples I knew that I regularly keep on hand; things like flour, salt, honey, sugar, oils, rice, coffee, and the like. With this step well documented I moved on to charting how often I used these items.
   I kept a composition notebook and pen in a drawer in the kitchen so that I could make note of the things I used as I used them. For example: Monday I made challah french toast for breakfast, I used eggs, milk, bread, nutmeg, cinnamon, mexican vanilla, Loran hazelnut syrup and spray on vegetable oil to make the french toast. At the table to dress the french toast, there was honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, and some home made jelly, plus coffee, tea and juice to drink. Each of the ingredients, the condiments and drinks were marked in my notebook. This went for each meal and snack for a week. During this time, if I used something up and had to replace it I made note of it. At the end of the week some patterns were beginning to emerge, but I still had a way to go before I could have a clear idea of what things I would store in my pantry.
  While I was gathering information I also started looking for places that I could store extra food supplies. Our house is by design compact, so most of our storage space is already in service. There were a couple of places where I could put items that weren't needed to be immediately available, but not enough room for what I was intending. We don't have a garage and there is no basement, just a small crawl space. The attic is out of the question since it is way too hot up there for food storage, so some creative thought would be necessary.
  I decided at that point the year of food idea needed to be taken on in increments. I would start with three months of staples and common daily use items and work from there. I should be able to store most of three months of food supply within the storage areas I had in the house. So I began Phase #1: Staples and basic daily use items for 3 months. I calculated how much of these staple and daily use items we would use in 3 months, example: spaghetti noodles would be used in some capacity probably twice a month so for a three month supply I would need 6 lbs. of organic pasta. *[ As a side note Traders Joes has the best organic semolina pasta I have found and it is cheaper than I can get it from my wholesale or Co-op sources.] When I went to the store with my list, I purchased what I needed for meals this payday and then if the item was *starred* as a 3 month supply item I would buy one for immediate use and one for stockpiling, (unless it was on sale then I might get two!). I really didn't end up spending more than my food budget even with the extra purchases, I just planned simplier meals that use less expensive ingredients or cut out the meat in a meal or two and it made up the difference, (at this point anyway...).
  Before long I was storing my extra staples in snap top storage containers under my bed. I keep a kitchen ledger as a record of my menu plans, shopping lists, and recipes I make up along the way, so I just started at the back and worked forward to keep track of what we had in our storage and where I put it. Before long under my bed was full so I moved on to my son's bed and then I cleaned out one of our homeschool cabinets that just had "stuff" in it...egg cartons and paper towel tubes we were going to use for projects, misc. art supplies that we really didn't use, last years unfinished school projects (what? you actaully finish all your school projects!? Please do tell how you manage!), and we expanded to that cabinet. In no time we had a stock pile of our family's basics: pasta, rice, honey, sugar, salt, flour, vanilla, yeast, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bouillon, tea, coffee, these were just the foundational things that we always need to have on hand.
  Once I was satisfied that we had the basics under control I moved on to Phase Two, filling in the blanks with storable vegetables and proteins, seasonings and condiments that would finish out meals. This took a little more planning financially, so we started looking for areas of our budget where we could cut out some fat. We have lived pretty lean over the years so there wasn't much fat, especially when the kids were going through groceries and clothes like wild fire, but we found some extra that everyone agreed to give up in the entertainment budget. We played games instead of renting movies, packed lunches when we were out running errands so that if we got hungry we didn't spend on expensive fast food, cut out our "I'm too tired to cook" unplanned restaurant visits and cut down on the planned meals out. We also made granola instead of eating boxed cereal, consolidated trips out to save on gas...of course we did most of these things already to some degree, but during our stocking time we were just more diligent. That got us our three month stock of protein, veggies and fill-ins.
  At this point, we had been focused on building our pantry for 3-4 months. The kids were tired of staying home so much and I really needed to be able to say "I'm too tired to cook" on occasion, so we gave ourselves a break and added some fat back into the budget. It was very satisfying to all of us to see our food supplies grow and know that if things got tough, for at least three months we could live off of our pantry stock. Now the problem was just to keep our 3 month stock maintained and then plan for the next step. 
  I am going in to more detail than may seem necessary at the moment, but there is much to consider when taking on this project, so I figure more detail may be helpful to some. But for now I will end with the admonishment that on practically any budget you can put aside some food for a rainy day, it may take awhile but it gives such peace to see the fruits of your labor! The next time I write on this subject I will talk about the long game and what it takes to go from a three month supply of food to 6 then 12 and give you some tips and trick on making your grocery dollars go further.
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