AME guest blogger Rory Groves lives with his wife and five children on a farm in southern Minnesota where they grow food, raise livestock, and host educational workshops on traditional skills. He is the author of the forthcoming book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Front Porch Republic).
By Rory Groves
As we are all presently discovering, there are inherent risks built into the industrialized food system with its just-in-time delivery. In the last 150 years we have migrated away from growing our own food to relying on distant production facilities and long supply chains. This arrangement is highly efficient and profitable when times are good. But it leaves little room for disruption: redundancies are expensive, and therefore avoided.
There is a big disconnect between the way food has been historically produced and the way it is currently consumed. We are used to buying food the week (or minute) we plan to eat it. But food doesn’t just happen; it takes many months to make the trip from seed to table. When someone orders a lamb share from us, it takes 9 months to grow to maturity, with plenty of care along the way. If the seeds are not planted in April, there will be no harvest in August.
Nothing is more stable than a winter’s supply of food in the basement. And that’s how most humans lived for all of recorded history. Our forebearers had larders, root cellars, smoke houses, and attics where they stored vegetables and meat for the winter. Many of us remember grandparents who stored shelves of canned produce from their gardens. They had lived through disruptions and understood the importance of dedicating a small fraction of their house to stored food.
The most critical step in building our own supply chains is finding suppliers. Unfortunately, few Americans ever meet the farmers who feed them. Today’s farmers are buried behind layers of distribution, warehousing, and transportation.
Michael Pollan (Omnivore’s Dilemma) suggests that we “shake the hand that feeds you.” Despite the fact that less than 2% of Americans feed the other 98%, there are still plenty of small-scale local farmers who would be glad to have your business. Get to know them. Search for local farms on Instagram and Facebook and start commenting and asking questions. Develop a relationship before you need to eat.
Keep in mind there are many small family farms (like ours) who would be happy to hatch an extra dozen chicks or raise another hog for your enjoyment. Look for opportunities to be part of the process, to have a hand in raising your own food.
Of course the most resilient food supply is the one you grow yourself. Gardening is fun but it’s not just a hobby. Humans were actually created to be gardeners—it’s in our DNA. It’s not too late to start a garden this year, even if only a few container pots on an apartment balcony (that’s how I started). Add to your gardening a little bit each year. Then add chickens (but not in the apartment).
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