Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Food Prices, Grocery Budgets, and Self-Sustainability

This weekend I watched a series of videos about the coming food crisis on Backyard Food Production which I found very fascinating. Besides discussing various reasons why our grocery bills will be going up this year, Marjory Wildcraft lectured on gardening solutions to help reduce food costs. Let me say here and now, I will not be able to do all that she does anytime soon and I just about passed out when I saw the number of gardening beds required to be 100% self sustaining, but I did glean some terrific ideas and was encouraged that I'm on the right track!

For one thing, she didn't say you must be 100% self sustaining or else. Instead, she encouraged listeners to consider trimming 50% of their food costs by producing it themselves. Now that's a challenge I might be up to meeting fairly soon!

Photo Credit: Triskay86

Since I keep an online budget (and have for several years), I decided to go back and look at the percentage I spent on food for the last few years and I found that as my garden grew, the percentage I spent on food dropped. And if I take into account the fact that food prices have been rising, the percentage I saved would have been even greater. 

What my figures didn't reflect was the dollar amount I spent on seed and equipment. True, gardening is not free, but once you've purchased a few necessities, you can be more frugal and get more bang for your buck. And if you save seeds... well, that's even better! Now you're making steps toward sustainability!

Gathering one's own food can be daunting if you try to swallow the whole thing in one bite. But taken in small portions, it's not only possible, it's life changing! The problem is that as a society as a whole, we don't take the attitude that producing our own food is a worthy goal or even necessary. While considering what I had seen and heard on Marjory's video clips, I recalled an interview I did with Wendy at The Local Cook some time back where I commented on some historical statistics I had found regarding food acquisitions and budgets...

"Gathering one’s food and sustenance was just about an all-consuming struggle for survival. Everyday eating was a means of survival, with occasional feasts that were highly anticipated. And even when the industrial revolution took place during the 18th and 19th centuries, many still spent a large portion of their income on obtaining food.  

By the early 1900’s a family spent about 43 percent of their budget on groceries, but by the late 1980’s they only spent about 19 percent. Some of this was due to greater farming technology that resulted in falling food prices, but regardless, the results has meant that most families now can spend less on food and more on wants and desires. And with this new affluent lifestyle we have more disposable income to eat out and purchase “treats” that once were rare occasions." 

Photo Credit: Roadsidepictures

Hmmm... Historically speaking, that's a lot of work to get food for the family! Now contrast that with the fact that last year my family only spent 11% of our budget on food. That doesn't count what we ate out, but we don't eat out much, so I doubt it would change that figure significantly. I'd like to think I did a terrific job gardening and producing our own food! But it's more likely that food prices in the States have been fairly cheap in recent years. 

Until now.

It definitely feels like we are entering into a period of rising food costs. We've become accustomed to food being inexpensive and readily available. You've seen it yourself, I'm sure. 

Rather than get discouraged, let me suggest that you get proactive! Here's some thoughts to consider...

Moving Toward A Mindset of Food Self-Sustainability

• Our ancestors, recent and from way back, struggled to put food on the table in ways that we can't even imagine.

• We've become a bit soft; expecting food to be on the store shelves and always cheap.

• We do have options if we will choose to have a paradigm shift in how we acquire food.

• It's okay to work for food! Literally. In fact, it's probably good for us. We'd eat a lot less junk if we did!

Photo Credit: Urbanwild

• Urbanites and country folks alike can participate in reducing their commercial food consumption. It just takes some creativity and making different choices. For example, how much lawn does one really need? Seriously, as a kid we played ball in the street and had a great time! Remember the victory gardens of WW I and II ?

Photo Credit: chickenofeathers

• Consider changing just one thing you do to acquire food this year. For example, if you always buy tomatoes at the store, try growing some of your own, either in pots or the ground. How about herbs this year? Their easy and fun!

• If you've been growing your own food for a while, plan to add one thing to your garden this year that you purchase from the store. Or try one new method of food preservation to extend the bounty into the winter.

• Learn a new skill to be more self sustainable, such as composting or raising feed crops for your animals.

Photo Credit: net_efekt

• Besides a garden, consider one other food item that you could add to your existing homestead. Marjory raised meat rabbits. Many have added chickens for eggs, goats for milk, or a pig for meat. 

• Get your gun permit and hunting license this year or your fishing license and add to your deep freeze.

• Make a friend and start bartering food items. If you raise chickens and have eggs, trade with someone who has goats and milk. Marjory mentioned that she trades beef with her neighbor and in exchange receives milk (if I remember correctly!). 

Want the ultimate challenge? Do something this year to reduce your consumption of municipal water: collect rainwater and use it for watering your garden. (Be sure to check if this is allowed in your area - it varies by location). 

This year, my family will expand our garden by 1/4 again. We will double some of our crops and Lord willing, have more food than last year. Also, we will raise our first batch of meat chickens and start our first hive of bees. Little by little, it all adds up. When I look back at just 3 years ago, it's really amazing what has been accomplished over time. I just have to remember to be patient and recognize how far we've come!

What will you do that's new at your homestead this year in order to be more sustainable in terms of food production?


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