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With all the food and financial insecurity in the world more and more people are wanting to learn how to secure their own food systems.
Food security can have many forms, it may be what you grow in your garden, the livestock you have in your paddocks, what you can forage from the wider surrounds. It could include trading with others or amassing a store of bought foods. The storing of these foods can also take many forms, from preserves, bottling and pressure canning to freezing, cold storage(cellaring) and dehydrating.
No matter what methods of food preservation you use, figuring out just how much to store is an important part of establishing your food security. But this can be influenced by many factors and each household will have their own individual needs. There is no one size fits all answer to this question, it comes down to what you eat, how much of it you eat and how much room do you have to store it. But also, personal abilities and knowledge, what resources you have and what time frame you want these stores to be able to feed you for. For that reason, I have put together some points to consider, especially for those new to the concept of food security.
- The first step is to look at what your household actually eats. There is no point preserving 20 jars of beetroot if no one eats it or you might only eat a couple of jars in a year. But this doesn’t mean you have to record what you eat for a year. Perhaps look at a week or two, what types of meals you like and cook often. Think about the seasons and how your diet may change over the year. What foods are more likely to be eaten freshly harvested than bottled, dried or frozen. This also can work to influence what you plant in your garden or what animals you raise. Write a list of all the foods you would like to have stored, but also consider forming an individual ingredients list especially if you are planning on storing purchased foods too.
- Once you have assessed what you eat estimate the quantity needed to feed your household for your chosen length of time. This can involve thinking about how long you would like each source of food to last before it needs replenishing. Some people aim to preserve/store enough of their summer crops to last until next summer and so on with each season. Other foods might be stored only until the next crops are due such as plums preserved early summer which make way for apples in the autumn. You might aim to only have three months of stored foods and replenish regularly with seasonal foods. Or mixture of yearly and seasonal foods. Also look at whether some of your requirements can be ‘stored’ on the land. Livestock can be carried for longer if enough feed is available. Some crops will ‘hold’ in the ground or garden over the winter months and some fruits can stay on the tree to ripen further therefore extending the harvest.
- How much room you have to store your foods will have a huge influence on the quantity stored. If you only have a small freezer this will impact on how much meat can be harvested at any given time, however utilising other sources of preservation like pressure canning, curing or drying will allow for a greater harvest. Storage space for the many jars of preserves needed to feed your household will need to be considered and the weight of those preserves. A one litre jar of fruit can weigh 1.4 kg, it soon adds up. The same with buckets of bulk dried goods, a large bucket can easily weigh 20 to 25 kg.
- Time, just how much time do you have to process and store food. Are there ways in which you can spread the processing, such as storing apples in a cool place or freezing tomatoes until you have time to process them. Preserving food can be very time consuming, finding methods which make it easier for you can help get more achieved faster.
- Making the most of a glut might mean you preserve more than you need but this can be a blessing if the crop fails the following year. A late frost, drought, excess rain or hail can do a lot of damage and wipe out a crop. Another year and you may be inundated again. Finding the balance between making the most of it and doing too much also comes down to the space factor again. Some people work on having two or more years of stored food to help balance bad years with abundant years. If you have surplus crops there is usually someone willing to take it, even if it is just fed to livestock. Otherwise just let nature reabsorb it.
- Gifting and trading should be factored in if this is what you like to do. You do not want to find yourself missing out due to giving too much away. Perhaps having separate store of nicely labelled foods for gifting might work if you do tend to run yourself short.
- Resources, knowledge and abilities will all impact on your accumulation of stores. However, working with others can help to develop these, or just working as a team to get more done and share the load and resources. Building a community focused on food security can also help with the sharing of harvests and gluts. It widens the knowledge and resource web which grows food security around us. The more people around us who are secure in their own food the less people we may need to provide for in times of need.
- What are the best methods of preservation for your circumstances is worth considering. If you are off grid low power solutions might be best, but with all the power outages we have experienced across our country recently perhaps this is something we all should consider. Dehydrating might suit you better if space is limited. Pressure canning can provide you with quick ready to eat shelf stored meals. If you’re learning preserving start with jams, chutneys or sauces to help build your confidence.
But above all else store what you will actually eat!