To have true food self-sufficiency, you need to incorporate 3 very specific components into your plan: Food Storage, Food Production, and Food Preservation. This guide covers each of these areas in detail, plus a few others!
Feel free to read it in it’s entirety, or use the jump links to quickly refer to a specific section.
Your food storage begins by establishing a 30-day grocery store in your house. This is so easy, it’s not even funny. It doesn’t involve you buying a bunch of expensive buckets from Mountain House, or space food that you’re never going to eat. All you have to do is buy 1 more of whatever you’re already buying at the store. If you’re getting 2 cans of tomato sauce already, buy 3 and put one in the home grocery store. If you’re buying 1 bag of dog food, buy 2. Turn 4 boxes of cereal into 5. That simple.
Now obviously, there are things that can’t be stored like produce. Or if you don’t have a stand-alone freezer, it could be tough to store more than 2 pot roasts.
That’s fine. Don’t do anything about these foods for right now. Once you have a 30-day supply of everything that you CAN store, make notes of where the holes are, and then see what substitutes you can come up with. Buy canned food substitutes in lieu of fresh/frozen offerings for everything possible.
There are PLENTY of produce and meats available in canned varieties. Dairy can be another tough one, but there are soy milks, and evaporated milks that can last months or even years on the shelf. There are also some pretty decent tasting powdered milks these days that will keep for a REALLY long time.
As a smaller sub-section of this, you’ll also want to keep a 30-day supply of some key non-food hygiene items as well. Toilet paper, soap (dish soap, bath soap, etc.), feminine supplies, paper towels, trash bags, and Clorox wipes. These are things that just keep the house running (and become critically important in emergency situations).
For ALL the answers you need to get going today, refer to this long term food storage guide.
Expand Your Food Storage: 3-6 Months
In Phase 1, you began your own “grocery store”, by purchasing duplicates of the food you normally get for an additional 30 days.
Now it’s time to continue that same pattern until you have enough for 3-6 months. If you have already been in the system enough to build up 30 days’ worth of food, it should be relatively easy to keep doing this.
Once you have a 3-6 month supply of food, you should be replenishing your pantry with it. Then when you go to the store, you simply tally the missing food from your storage, and replenish that.
Remember, even as somebody that produces part of what they eat, the importance of food storage still cannot be overstated. The reality is that no matter how much you produce, there will always be SOME gaps to be filled by stored food.
The tri-fecta of food self-sufficiency is equal parts:
- Learning to produce the things you like to eat
- Learning to like to eat the things you produce
- Taking some stress out of the production by building a significant reserve of stored food
A location appropriate vegetable garden is a great way to dip a toe into the world of food production. Obviously, saying it is the easy part, and doing it is the hard part! If this is your first garden, DO NOT attempt to garden a large area. Create 1-3 small beds that you can grow some tasty edibles in. Look at things that grow well in your area. Square foot gardening is a great way to get going. Planting a couple fruit or nut trees is also a great way to begin producing some food (and more permanent).
As you begin trying to produce food, you will quickly find that there are a million different little sub-groups of people trying different methods with different labels, which are essentially focused on the same goal:
- Urban farming
- Square foot gardening
- Mittleider gardening
- Organic gardening
- And many more!
It’s not important what you call it, or exactly how you do it–the most important thing right now is that in some form or fashion, you begin producing food.
There are several awesome resources to help you get going on this journey, but one of the best is a video library called “Growing Your Own Groceries.”
Begin Your Foray Into Livestock With 2-3 Egg-Laying Chickens
Having a pair of good laying hens is an AWESOME way to ramp up your self-sufficiency. Chickens vary by the breed, but on the whole, they are low maintenance, and offer a long-lasting source of protein. Chickens give you multiple outputs–eggs, meat, and fertilizer. They’re also good for pest control, and working your land.
As you get more into permaculture, you will find out that chickens are also a great agent for working the land. They eat bugs, fertilize, and cycle the existing vegetation to speed up the nutrient cycle, and increase soil production.
Increase the Permanent Food Systems on Your Property
As a food producer, in order to be able to come close to sustaining yourself, you need to slant your efforts towards incorporating trees and other permanent systems whenever possible. Perennial shrubs, vines, fruit and nut orchards, food forests, and other permanent elements increase in value and yield every season. With these systems, time is the biggest determining factor. The sooner you get them in place, the quicker you get bigger yields.
This is what permaculture is all about. Figuring out how to design your land for maximum productivity with minimal inputs. Or to use a business term, the highest ROI (return on investment).
With this in mind, you should invest in a permaculture design course (PDC), dedicated to teaching you how to do exactly this. PDCs are offered in many shapes and sizes, ranging from 10 day on-site experiences, to internet webinar classes that can be taken from the comfort of your home and on your own time schedule.
There are some great free videos on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet that will give you a good basic understanding of what permaculture is.
If you are going to take a PDC, I would highly recommend going in person to a course in your area. There are some great courses available digitally, but there is no substitute for getting your hands dirty, and getting some quality face time in with the instructor and the other attendees. Many of the nuances and small talk that happen in a physical setting are lost in the digital translation. And you can’t come close to building the friendships that you would in person.
Lest anybody get the wrong idea, it’s still a good idea to grow vegetables and other more traditional “annuals”, but they will never come close to having near the ROI that permanent elements have, because by very definition, you have to re-establish them every year. Permanent elements are the “set it and forget it” of food production.
Ramp Up The Livestock Component On Your Homestead
Animals play a critical part in being truly self-sufficient, both for their outputs, and their ability to work the land. In addition to chickens, there are some great upsides to incorporating:
- And cattle
Each has an accompanying cost/benefit analysis, and a space requirement. Rabbits or aquaponically-grown fish can be done in just a few square feet, whereas something like a goat would require greater area, ducks require pond(s), and cattle require even more space still.
One animal that isn’t usually considered livestock in the traditional sense, but is nevertheless still really important to incorporate on your property is the honeybee. Bees are tremendous pollinators, and will do a lot to help you get earlier production, more production, and just overall better plant health. In addition to the pollination benefits, you get the added benefit of having their honey and wax that you can use for a variety of products.
While the real goal of food self-sufficiency is to be able to produce a majority of your calorie consumption, it’s a difficult thing to put into practice, simply because we like to eat! By the time we’re old enough to tie our shoes, we have developed palettes that are acutely aware of all kinds of wonderful and far off foods, with special ingredients, processing (a whole separate topic), and high dependence on monoculture farming. Food independence is an exercise in both learning to produce more varieties of food, and eat fewer.
It also takes time to get food yields that will sustain you. A fruit and nut orchard isn’t exactly something that you can flip the switch on. But by combining area-intensive permaculture practices, with intelligent site and home design, you really can get close.
One thing that you can do to close the loop between your food storage and the food you are producing on your property, is to learn some food production methods (particularly canning and drying).
While there are a variety of ways to do this, canning and dehydrating are 2 of the more easy and low tech ways to do this. Learning to do these will allow you to preserve some of your own harvest till later in the year, when food wouldn’t otherwise have been able to be grown.
Hot water bath canning will allow you to bottle up and preserve things with a high acid content, such as tomatoes, apricots, salsa, and many other fruits. Pressure canning allows you to store meats, vegetables, and pretty much everything else (contingent upon how long the food itself will stay good for).
Dehydration of certain foods can be super low tech—like putting fruit on screens in the sun to naturally dry. You can also find a bunch of commercially available food dehydrators, which will give you greater control over the process and shorter dry times.
My Videos About Food Self Sufficiency:
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