I doubt many would disagree that food is one of the most important things that we are going to need to become reconnected to, in times to come. Without a reliable food source, much hardship can be predicted and even potentially losses of life. In the future, food security will probably rely much more on sources of our own creation, by producing food ourselves and establishing networks with others in our community.
We will also need to acquire the knowledge to put these food systems into practice. It’s one thing to have wheat seeds to plant, but wheat doesn’t grow and become bread by itself. We have to know, and become proficient in, the processes involved in whatever we plan to produce — preferably before there is an urgent necessity to do so!
The activities below will introduce your children (and you!) to some of the principles and practices of creating food resilience.
Do you know where your food comes from and how far it has to travel? The further it travels the more energy it will take and the more greenhouse gas will be produced. Freshness and quality are also affected.
Select a few items from your pantry and record where they are produced. Try to find out, or make an educated guess, about how the food might have travelled from where it was produced to your local supermarket. How many kilometres did it travel? What kinds of transport might have been used? If you can, get hold of a map of the world (or draw a basic one) and draw lines, or stick strings, to show the routes of various foods, from their country of origin to where you live.
Go to your supermarket or fruit & veg shop and see what you can find out about the fresh produce they stock. How much of it states it was grown locally? What about produce from overseas… where does it come from?
How could you help cut down the distance your food has to travel before it reaches you? Can you find more local producers, or grow or make it yourself?
Where does your bread come from — a plastic bag from your supermarket or the local bakery? Let’s pretend all the supermarkets and bakeries no longer stock bread…. How will you get bread? With a lot more work than just popping down the shop, but much more fun!
This activity is divided into steps, which can all be attempted, or you can begin at one of the further steps, depending on how fully you want to immerse yourself in the process.
Step One: Grow Your Wheat
Where does flour come from? If you want to skip the next couple of steps, you can buy a bag of flour from the supermarket. Or, you can begin by growing your own wheat. It may be difficult to grow as much as you need, but even growing some and combining with some bought flour, will give you a better idea of what is involved. Wheat is pretty easy to grow. You can even grow it in large pots, although the amount you can grow this way is limited. Plant in a good rich soil and keep adequate moisture to it as it grows.
There is lots of information on the internet with specifics of growing wheat and dealing with the diseases it may face, if you need it, however I’ve never found it difficult, with very little knowledge on the subject. Different climates may present different difficulties though. When you buy your wheat seeds, preferably buy food grade seed, as seeds sold specifically for planting may be already chemically treated.
Note: If you wish, you can also grow some sunflowers, etc., and harvest the seeds to sprinkle on top of your bread.
Step Two: Harvest Your Wheat
When your wheat is turning golden but still with streaks of green, cut off down along the stalks and hang it somewhere dry to finish drying out. When it is hard and no longer dents in when you press it, it’s ready to thresh. A large barrel is ideal for this, or some large container which you can work down into. Hold the wheat stalks and bash them against the side of the container, allowing the wheat berries to come off. The remaining stalks can be put on the compost heap, returning the nutrients to the soil.
Once all of the berries have separated from the stalks, it’s time to winnow. You can do this by simply pouring the wheat berries from one bucket to another, with some distance between them to allow air space. Do this either on a windy day, or using a fan. This allows the lighter material you want to get rid of to separate from the more solid wheat berries, and blow away.
You can store your wheat berries for quite some time, as long as they have dried properly and are kept in a cool, dry place, well protected from moisture and vermin.
Step Three: Grind Your Wheat
There are a couple of ways to grind your wheat into flour. One is using a mortar and pestle, or a couple of large flat stones (like they would have in much earlier times) and grinding until you have a fine powder. Another way is to put small quantities into your blender, and blending until the desired consistency is achieved. You can also get commercial flour grinders, but these probably aren’t worth the expense unless you plan to do this a lot.
You can also just buy wheat seeds and grind these. Make sure it’s edible wheat, not chemically treated seeds for growing.
The resulting product is your flour. You will notice it looks a bit different to traditional bought flour, as it hasn’t been refined. It’s also much healthier than white flour as it has all the fibre and more of the nutrients that are lost in the refining process. If you don’t want to use all of your ground flour at once, you can store some in the freezer in a well sealed container, for approximately 8 months.
Step Four: Make your bread!
Time to get baking! There’s not much that smells nicer than fresh bread baking in your oven! And it will probably seem even nicer, knowing the care and work you have put into getting it this far, and the pride of using ingredients you produced yourself.
The recipe below should make 2 small loaves.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices have been used throughout history to add flavour to foods, as well as being used as medicines and various other garden and household uses.
A herb garden is a great way for kids to enjoy growing something that is also very useful. One of the great things with herbs is that you can just pick off small amounts, even if the plant is fairly small, and add a dash of herbs to your food. You don’t have to wait many weeks, like is required with a lot of vegetables, while the plant grows and produces your harvest. As most parents are aware, kids are not immensely patient a lot of the time. They want to reap the rewards of their work sooner, rather than later. And who can blame them? Of course, you don’t want to over-harvest young herb plants, or you could cause them harm, however a light ‘prune’ can stimulate bushy luxuriant growth.
Herbs can be grown quite successfully in pots, as well as directly in the ground. You can be quite imaginative in what you grow things in — old tyres, barrel halves, cut down plastic bottles, even old shoes and handbags!
Harvest herbs fresh, or try drying some if you like. Hang in bunches in a dry place.
Introduce your kids to what spices look like in their whole form. You can buy unground spices in supermarkets, markets, etc. Use a mortar and pestle to freshly grind them when you need them.
Get your kids to do a ‘spice map’, like they did for foods, showing where spices are grown and how far they must travel to reach you. What can you source more locally, or grow yourselves? Ginger, turmeric, star anise, chilli peppers and seeds such as mustard, cardamom, coriander, cumin and fennel are some you might like to try. Climate will determine what spices may grow successfully in your area, and some are harder to grow than others, but you can have fun experimenting and finding out what will be practical for you to produce.
My article Creating a Resilience Garden gives some more ideas for using gardens to help create resilience.
Home Grown Fruits and Veggies
Get your kids involved with planning and growing a veggie garden and putting in some fruit and nut trees and vines, etc.
Growing your own fruits and veggies has several advantages:
- Fruits and veggies should form the basis for any healthy diet, so you are producing one of the most important aspects of your food resilience.
- You are not relying on an outside source for them, which means you won’t be as affected by fluctuating availability and prices due to oil shortages or other disruptions. That’s not to say that your crops will always succeed, but at least you have some control over what you are growing and in trying to create a successful healthy harvest. You have your family’s best interest at heart here, unlike mass commercial producers whose main focus is the dollar.
- You know what goes onto your plants and soil and can make sure they are free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and have all the nutrients they need.
- You are in a much better position to give individual attention to your plants, to notice things and take steps to correct problems and supply needs to plants on a more individual basis. You can nurture them and this will show in the vibrancy, health and taste of the produce.
- Kids are more likely to eat what they have grown. Even some fussy eaters who don’t usually like veggies will often graze as they work in the garden. It’s often hard to resist a sun warmed fresh tomato on the vine, or tender baby peas in their pod!
Here are some of the things that you can involve your children in revolving around their veggie garden:
Designing, Preparing and Planting The Garden
Research permaculture principles and see if you can design your garden along these lines. Where is the best location for each type of thing? Can you make an area into a small food forest? Create swales? How can you make everything part of a cycle and follow the principle of ‘there is no waste in nature’?
Find out what grows well in your particular area. Climate and soil type should be taken into account. Of course, you can give a bit of help in these areas, such as using a glasshouse, providing shelter, adding suitable soil or building the soil you have, or growing in containers containing the right type of soil. However, generally speaking, plants which naturally grow well in your conditions will be easier to grow and remain healthier and more pest free. Often, noticing what weeds grow well, or what other people have success with will help you determine what kind of conditions you may have and help you find suitable plants that will flourish.
Observation is an important preliminary to planting. What path does the sun take throughout the year and therefore where will your sunniest and shadiest spots be? What will grow best in these conditions? Where is sheltered and where does the wind rush through? Do you need to erect some kind of windbreaks or plant things that will provide more wind shelter in the future? Is your current garden thriving? What might it be lacking? What about beneficial creatures or pests? Your garden would probably benefit from more plants that attract things such as bees and butterflies, so consider them in your planting plans. See my article Creating a Butterfly Garden for more on that.
It’s time to get down to planning what you will plant, and where. Graph paper can be useful for this. Don’t forget to consider other things, such as water sources for insects and birds and old logs and stones for lizards. These are all part of a healthy garden ecosystem. Will you plant directly in the ground, create raised beds, plant some things in pots and other containers? Where will your fruit and nut trees go, if you are having them?
What about watering? Will you be installing some kind of watering system or hand watering with a hose or watering can? A watering system may need to be put into the plan and laid out prior to planting. This article talks about a very interesting innovative automatic watering system which, unlike most automated systems, can run on non-mains water and does not use mains power. This idea could be useful to those who either don’t have access to mains services or want to lessen their reliance on public supply and become even more resilient.
Once you have worked out what goes where, make any necessary preparations, such as preparing the soil. This article talks about creating healthy soils. If your intended plants have different needs, such as pH, soil type, drainage, nutrients, etc., make sure you do whatever is needed to achieve this, using natural organic methods, preferably. You don’t want to semi-defeat the purpose of growing your own food by adding toxicity to it.
Some preparations may need to be carried out well in advance of planting. One such thing is growing a green manure crop, such as a legume, which is then chopped down and worked into the soil. This adds important nutrients, such as nitrogen, to the soil and can be well worth the wait… even though you may wear your children’s patience thin!
Next comes the fun part of planting your seeds, seedlings and other plants. Your children should research how each should be planted, and what care they need, prior to planting. It’s then part of their job to water and otherwise care for these plants as they grow. Then they get the fun of harvesting and eating!
Specific Theme Gardens
You can create your garden, or segments of the garden, along specific themes.
Here are a few ideas:
A Pizza garden — Grow veggies and herbs that your family like on pizzas. This could include tomatoes (make your own sauce), onions, garlic, capsicum, chillies, mushrooms (need special conditions), basil, oregano… even pineapple, if you have the right conditions.
A herb garden — The herb garden is often traditionally located near the kitchen/back door for ease of access. Containers are also popular for herbs. A herb spiral garden is also a nice way of growing them. Herbs are planted in various locations in the raised spiral, depending on their sunlight, heat and moisture needs, using the mound height and other herbs planted to throw shade, depending on the path of the sun; rocks to provide thermal mass which puts warmth into the soil; and moisture sources and water retention to create areas of more, or less, moisture. Observation and proper location are important in this process.
The video below shows the creation of quite an easy to make herb spiral.