Going to the supermarket, in this time of pandemic, has increasingly begun to look more like a game of Russian roulette. While the odds may still seem to be considerably better than 1 in 6, the stakes keep increasing and the likelihood of COVID-19 coming to a house near you (or, at least, me… in the USA) inevitable. But, we have to eat, and food has to come from somewhere. Most folks out there are accustomed to figuring it out on a day-to-day basis.
I used to laugh at my dad because he was a connoisseur of store-bought canned goods and always had a pantry bursting at the seams with okra in stewed tomatoes, beef tamales, and anything that had recently been on special. It was as if he were preparing for the end of times, though he had no other prepper tendency about him. Stacks of vegetables could easily be three high and five deep, with a couple of dozen rows per shelf. The man loved to eat.
He passed away a little over a year ago, and when messaging with my surviving stepmother recently, we had another giggle because he’d be laughing to himself now. We all poked fun at him for decades, but he never faltered. If he’d use a can of corn, he’d buy two to replace it. I’m not sure where the compulsion came from, but fourteen months later, she hasn’t even made a dent in the stockpile.
Food from Storage: Provision
I seemed to have carried with me (and my wife Emma along for the ride) a penchant for the prepared pantry, only with a love of dried goods rather than canned goods. We always have a minimum of three weeks’ worth of dried pulses (that’s if we ate a pound everyday) in the cupboard, with a complimentary side of rice for each one, as well as oats, grits, barley, flour, pasta, popcorn, and so on.
From the permaculture point of view, we just aren’t to a state where we can produce these things ourselves, so we buy them in bulk, organic, and keep enough that we could easily make it a month without restocking. Obviously, this is not sufficient for doomsday survival scenarios, but our diet isn’t wholly based on dried goods either, nor are we panicked about the next meal just yet.
Even so, it has become apparent that, when things return to normal, we can better prepare ourselves. Normally, rice and beans aren’t in high demand here in the US, but pandemics can bring out strange cravings in people. The supermarket shelves have been stripped of them for about a month now, even though most people don’t normally eat this way. Ideally, we’ll get to producing some of this ourselves in the next couple of years, as well as adjust our diet more to what we do produce.
Food from the Garden: Practice
As our gardens have become more productive, we have added plenty more to the pantry. Home-canned goods, such as yellow squash relish, diced tomatoes, and mushed apples, are on the shelves. We make sauerkraut. We have delved into jams but don’t yet have the fruit and berry production to match our consumption (coming soon). Our freezer is filled with green beans, foraged mushrooms, peaches, and various other goodies.
And, here in North Carolina, our gardens are just waking up again. We started planting a couple of weeks ago, and that has ramped up as the temperature rises. We supplied all of our fresh vegetables during the season last year, and we expect to do better this year, with more area prepared and more maturity in the no-till beds. At the moment, collards, carrots, and garlic greens are in ready supply from autumn plantings.
As for fruit and nuts, we aren’t quite there yet, particularly with the emergency rations of home-grown produce, but that, too, is finally underway. We’ve got lots of trees in the ground—peach, cherry, apple, fig, chinquapin, and hazelnut—as well as borders of berry bushes on the go—blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, and strawberries.
In addition, there are plenty of other perennials already in place. Asparagus beds are in their second year, and the rhubarb we planted last year is already enormous. We’ve got grapes vines hopefully rooting. Herbs—oregano and mint, especially—are running rampant. We’ve also cultivated shiitake (last year and already producing regularly), oyster (this spring), and wine caps (this spring).
Food from the Forest: Perception
In addition, we continue to increase our knowledge about collecting the food that is just there for the taking. Each year, our list of foraged fungi grows, as do our harvests. We become more accustomed to greens and flowers from the yard featuring in meals, building up a list of nutritious and tasty options. We are fortunate to have settled in Appalachia, where forests and fields are wrought with treats.
We’ve been foraging spring greens—chickweed, dandelion, sweet violet (leaves and flowers), plantain, wild onions, sorrel—on a daily basis since near the beginning of March. Lately, my wife Emma has been monitoring a patch of lambsquarter (our favourite) that’s sprouting where she dropped last year’s supply, reseeding it. Unfortunately, we’ve not found a good spot for foraging ramps (wild leeks) yet. It’s a local superstar. This year, we’ve also started adding forsythia flowers, a sort of naturalised ornamental, to our salads.
Of course, the forest offers much more than greens. We can’t wait for mushrooms to start popping. Morels should be coming up right about now, though we’ve only found a handful in three years, and we usually start finding chanterelles (and lots of them) in June. The list ultimately expands to about a dozen from there, with giants like chicken of the woods and maitake adding to our provisions for later.
Wild nuts—hickory, walnut, acorn—are also there to be foraged if we need to do so. We’ve danced with idea but not fully committed just yet. Now seems like a really good time to start.
Seeing the situation getting steeper, I become ever more grateful for having stumbled into permaculture a few years ago. Though we haven’t yet gotten our homestead fully assembled, we are well on the way and already seeing benefits. We know the food we need to buy. We know the food we can grow (for immediate use and future stability). We know food we can find in a pinch. If the situation really goes south with the food supply, we have some solutions, and those solutions are tied to what we already do anyway. In short, we haven’t prepped ourselves for the end of times; rather, it’s just another benefit of striving to be self-reliant.