Food Security in the Age of COVID-19: The First Harvest of the Season’s Bounty

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Earlier this year, I wrote about what I as doing to help my mother and one of my sisters improve their food security: plant individual Victory Gardens (Tend Your Own Garden: Personal Food Security During the Age of COVID-19). I did the easy part. I called a local, family -owned North Carolina garden center and ordered some plants to be delivered. And they did the hard part, the planting, watering, and tending. Now, they’re beginning to reap the rewards.

Food security is on my mind, as I’m finishing up an article for a new journal, the Eastern Review, comparing the availability, of sufficient food, at normal prices, in Calcutta so far during the pandemic, to the terrible wartime Bengal famine, when the British shipped food that Indians had produced to other parts of the Empire, to be stored, while 4 million Indians starved (see Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread: Coronavirus and Food Security, for further details).

So far, the issue has yet to rise to widespread starvation – at least in richer countries – although India has badly managed the situation for its migrant workers, locking down the country, and leaving many of them far from home, excluded from their daily work for hire, and with little recourse but to try and make it home to their villages. Some died en route (see Saving Citizens, Killing the Poor: India and COVID-19).

Nonetheless, the UN warned in June that many people would be vulnerable to food shortages as the pandemic continues (Food Security: UN Warns People Are Vulnerable to Shortages as the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues).

For those fortunate enough to live in richer countries, the problem so far has been of shortages of particular items, rather than outright want, as shoppers cleared shelves of popular foodstuffs when countries went into lockdown. Yet other, similar food items remained available. Outbreaks of COVID-19, particularly in meatpacking plants, have made the situation a bit more precarious, not only in the US, but in places such as Germany.

Today’s Wall Street Journal wrote about pressures on food supplies, From Flour to Canned Soup, Coronavirus Surge Pressures Food Supplies, focusing on food produced by large food companies:

Grocers are having trouble staying stocked with goods from flour to soups as climbing coronavirus case numbers and continued lockdowns pressure production and bolster customer demand.

Manufacturers including General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and Conagra Brands Inc. say they are pumping out food as fast as they can, but can’t replenish inventories. Popular items such as flour, canned soup, pasta and rice remain in short supply.

As of July 5, 10% of packaged foods, beverages and household goods were out of stock, up from 5% to 7% before the pandemic, according to market-research firm IRI.

“We are running flat out,” said Conagra’s Chief Executive Sean Connolly. He said Conagra won’t be able to build up inventory of certain brands, such as Chef Boyardee and Healthy Choice, unless demand slows or it further increases manufacturing capacity.

Food makers and grocers expect prolonged shelter-in-place orders and restrictions on restaurants, as well as the battered economy, to result in a longer stretch of eating at home. Added safety measures at plants are slowing operations, too. There is enough food in the U.S. to keep people fed, executives say, but every product might not be available everywhere while inventories are strained.

Some suppliers have had to resort to rationing of certain items, such as paper products:

Many retailers in states where cases are surging, including Texas-based H-E-B LP, are reinstating rationing on high-demand items including paper products. They say their distributors are still capping the amount of fast-selling products that can be ordered at one time.

Alas, I only expect the problem to worsen, as the pandemic is far from under control in much if not most of the United States; cases are spiking in many places and there seems to be no consensus let alone a coordinated national response as to what to do,

The Journal article concentrated on measures food behemoths are making to tweak their supply chains and improving their manufacturing systems. But it did not address whether some more far-reaching reorganization of national food production and distribution was necessary – particularly, as now looks obvious, COVID-19 looks likely to be with us for some time.

I note that just because the WSJ fail to outline  a possible solution, does not mean it’s not apparent to others. Capital & Main wrote about the problem in May, and championed a return to more local food supplies, Growing Local is Key to Providing Food Security in Times of Crisis, To be sure, this is an easier case to be made by a publication based in California, where much of the country’s food is grown (at least that proportion that is still produced domestically):

In kitchens all over Los Angeles, we’re riding out this pandemic by asking: What’s to eat? It’s not an easy question anymore. It can take hours to get into a grocery store, and it might still be short on pasta or bacon or flour. This novel coronavirus has shown us that eating together is at the core of our humanity, but empty shelves have also revealed the mad fragility of our industrialized food system. It’s just too big, too centralized, and too easy to disrupt.

The fact that the president has used a wartime law to keep meat-processing plants open, at the risk of worker health and safety, is case in point. The plants are so huge that each one represents a significant percentage of the nation’s meat supply. Distribution problems have dairies in Wisconsin and Ohio pouring millions of gallons of milk into ditches, and California farmers – including friends of mine – plowing finished crops back into the ground.

The solution is to diversify and build regional farming, storage, processing and distribution systems. The first step is to shore up our food security with small, local farms. We need community gardens and backyard tomato patches, urban mini-farms and basil on the balcony. To break the corporate grip on our food, we need to stop looking to fields far away and look closer to home.

After a short historical account of how the US got into this fix,  basically by replacing since the Second World War a diversified system based on small scale farms with a centralized corporate system, Capital & Main concludes:

Now is the time to implement a more diversified, less toxic and more human-scaled agriculture, and to keep it close to home. Local food production is a key to surviving a pandemic — as well as adapting to climate change and other acts of resiliency. Recognizing this, California passed Assembly Bill 551 (AB551), the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, in 2013. It gives tax breaks to city landowners growing food on their vacant lots. Los Angeles passed its own version of that law in 2017, but of the thousands of eligible sites identified, only six applications have been approved. Six! Creating programs to install irrigation or deliver city-made compost or organic seedlings would remove some barriers.

The problems of scale and location are only a few of the issues with conventional farming, of course, but this is where we can start. Growing local food is how we take our lives back. Let’s plant our way to food security.

The Harvest Arrives

The problem is serious and will persist, and I encourage all readers to give it some attention, to think about what you can do either to encourage or undertake local food production. But this is not going to be a downer post, as I like so many others, am suffering from COVID-19 fatigue.  And I wanted today to find something to be positive about.

So, I thought I would share with readers how it cheered me to no end to receive photos from both mother and sister as they are beginning  to reap the 2020 harvest. They pick the vegetables and then send me photographs.

Mom has had the earliest results. She’s already eaten all her spinach, and her broccoli plants have produced their crop – more than she could consume at the time, so she blanched the excess, and has frozen it.

She’s chomping on cucumbers and her summer squash and zucchini plants have gone into overdrive – so much so that I sent her a simple recipe for what I do when I find myself with extra squash – the summer variety  as well as many of what Americans, following the Italian, call zucchini, and the British, following the French, call courgettes. These are vegetables I confess I don’t go out of my my way to prepare. I guess I’m not what you call a squash lover, although I do like the Bengali dish, pur bhara doi Potol, parwal- pointed gourd-  stuffed with coconut, poppy seed, and mustard and cooked in a mustard gravy; I like the way the seeds pop when eaten. For all I know, parwal may not actually be a squash, but it sure is tasty and I had some for dinner last night.

My zucchini dish is nonetheless a good way to use extra squash.I hesitate to call it a recipe, because every time I make something, it’s different, and uses whatever I have on hand. And as vegetable gardeners know, once your squash start to appear that summer, it just keeps coming. Anyway, cut some into matchsticks, saute those in a bit of butter or olive oil (or both) and a bit of garlic,if you so choose, then add  with some prawns or fish thrown and cooked lightly. Maybe a splash of wine or a touch of stock or cream, and then toss over some pasta, perhaps with a handful chopped scallions, or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand , and perhaps some halved cherry tomatoes as well). (British readers may detect the influence of Elizabeth David in how I provide vague instructions rather than a hard and fast recipe. More guidelines or suggestions than a formula, which drives some people crazy.)

Mom has eaten some blueberries, although she was not expecting much on the bushes during their first year in her garden and she has harvested fewer than a couple of dozen. The only thing that’s not thrived has been the cauliflower plants, although I understand that vegetable is a bit  difficult to grow successfully. A pity, because I love cauliflower cheese – not the school cafeteria version, but  a gratin of just cooked vegetable, in a bit of cream or white sauce, laced with good cheddar and perhaps with a sprinkle of toasted homemade bread crumbs on top. I love vegetable gratins.and  have experimented with many varieties of cheese  – gruyere, cheddar, parmesan, manchego, even leftover blue varieties.

Mom has a ton of tomatoes, too, although none is yet ripe; I sent her four plants each of a modern beefsteak variety, German Johnson, and cherry tomatoes. Last summer, when I visited for her birthday and ended up staying the month, I made lots of tomato soup, and tomato sauce, and she froze that to last the winter, as well as lots and lots of fruit freezer jam (see Summertime and the Living is Easy: In Praise of Farmers Markets).

As for my sister, she harvested her first crop last week: cucumbers, and zucchini – although the picture wasn’t quite clear, and some of what I thought were zucchini may actually be peppers. Not the bell variety, although I sent her some of those, but some long lean ones that I thought would be perfect if stuffed. Over the weekend, she sent a lovely picture of her first tomato, a pink Brandywine, looking large and luscious and perfectly ripe. I also sent her some Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, and cherry tomato plants, some aubergine plants, and some blueberry bushes. Just now, I cannot  remember what else.

So thus far, this experiment in enhancing family personal gardens is shaping up nicely. It’s also inspired another sister and her family to plant their own garden.

The last time I wrote about this topic, many readers shared their gardening plans for the 2020 summer.

How’s it going?

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  1. vlade

    Zuccchini (or courgettes :) ), new potatoes (we could probably survive the next few months on new potatoes and zucchinis alone, and that’s after planting way less this year than the last one) new carrots, green peas, garlic should be probably harvested (I’m told). Plenty of berries although for strawberries it’s now only the forest ones, which this year are very water (June was double the average rainfall. My newly planted vines started to get mouldy even though it’s meant to be resistant variety. Salads rotted in the ground :( ). Squash, parsnips, onions, peppers and sweet corn are all doing well so far. Tomatoes are late, so we’ll see. Beans not so great so far, nor are aubergines even though our neighbors seem to be lucky with them.

    No large fruit this year (or close to nothing), mostly because it all got frozen when it flowered in March, April as we had a jump from +15C to three days of -8C (worse yet, it was >+10C during the day, -8C overnight).

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Mom said her spring was very wet and that has helped most of the plants. She’s expecting a bumper crop of tomatoes. As I said, the only thing that hasn’t produced has been the cauliflower. Shes grown vegetables many times before, but her positive experience this time, and the greater variety of things I sent along, has made her want to get even more ambitious later in this year and next. She’s going to be 85 next month and the distraction from this larger garden is keeping her busy,filling the time that she might have been otherwise occupied with social, family, or church activities she has curtailed as she’s locked herself down.

      1. c_heale

        Wouldn’t worry too much about the cauliflower. Every year some plants grow well and others not so well. As long as you have enough variety something will do well.

      2. jackiebass

        Tomatoes often look great early. If it is wet then both early and late blight destroys tomatoes. You need to spray with an organic copper based solution. This helps control the blight. The same is true for squash and cucumbers. Unless you can or freeze the excess crop , what are you going to do in the winter? Even if you live in a frost free part of the country it is tough to raise vegetables in the winter. Vegetables need sun. In the winter the sun isn’t out long enough and isn’t strong. That makes gardening in the winter months tough.

  2. Oso

    great article. we haven’t started yet, although we’ve been harvesting dandelions throughout the neighborhood (nobody here sprays) and verdolaga, which is great in stews and used a lot in Mexico. Purslane in English.
    there are quite a few gardening projects here in Oakland, harvests always shared in the hood. really picked up since the lockdown. Glad to hear of your family’s experience.

  3. Samuel Conner

    This might be over-cautious, but I got some heirloom/open-pollinated varieties this year in the interest of saving seeds. I will discover how edible monstrous zucchini are this week; hope it is no worse than pumpkin.

    The local garden center, when I visited in mid April, seemed to be slower than usual — perhaps the effects of the stay-at-home order were out-weighing anxieties about food security, which one would think would have driven up traffic.

    OTOH, I have had no difficulty giving away surplus food (and some decorative) plants (up into multiple hundreds at this point — I went overboard on starts this year; am desperate to get rid of them at this point as the watering has been a real burden) to all and sundry.

    My guess is that by Spring 2021, “the Pandemic Garden” will be a widespread thing.

    Veggies are relatively easy. What worries me is “calories and protein”. I’m thinking that I may need to try potatoes again. First effort, a decade ago, was ruined by a plague of potato bugs.

    Perhaps the old “The Victory Garden” series will be revived as re-runs, or even re-filmed. The media companies seem to be running out of ideas, and this is one that would attract great interest and be a valuable public service.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      IIRC, someone commented on the post I wrote last summer that you can save seeds from both pink Brandywine tomatoes and Cherokee Purples – two of my favourite varieties, although I’ve not grown either myself,

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      if you pick the Zuke when it’s big, but still hard, you might be able to dry it…seeds save better that way, but it takes pretty low humidity(we are currently enjoying about 10%, at the moment, at 105 degrees(cowboy pool, man!)
      otherwise, slice that dude up and scoop out the seeds(the following obtains for just about every vegetable that has internal seeds), put them on a paper towel, on a plate(i use the black plastic end of the clear plastic boxes that things like croissants come in(clear parts make great cloches( -put a rock on top,lol)))—-and set that plate somewhere cool, dry and dark.
      when it’s all dried out, put the seeds, and whatever bits of paper towel, into a jar(you obsessively save little jars, don’t you?)
      and put that jar in a dark, cool cubbard.(weird: i have no idea how to spell that, and neither does spellcheck)
      I’ve got a ships ladder in the shady spot in the kitchen, for roof access, and with big shelves behind it…that’s currently where all this seed saving happens. There’s a room, on the west side of the library/trailerhouse(used to be the “New Bathroom”) that will one day be a drying and seed room.
      I’m pretty OCD about saving seed, but i’m anything but OCD about labeling them,lol.===”pepper”,lol.
      a lot of other squashes and pumpkins will keep over winter, and whenever you open them, just scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff and plant it somewhere…kushaws are particularly good for this…as are the ordinary yellow spaghetti squash.
      none of my peeps like squash at all…except for grilled pumpkin slices with cayenne and brown sugar(!!)
      so i usually sneak them into things by dicing them real small, and making them a part of the sauce…it’s a thickener, just like File or Roux.
      squash is a superfood…loaded with vitamins and trace minerals.

      1. Samuel Conner

        Thanks! This is my first time saving zucchini seed. My unfinished attic is very arid — hot and low relative humidity. Perhaps it could function as a drying room.

        Yes, my home is full of saved containers, mostly glass but a lot of plastic, too. I think that I must look like a hoarder to most people, but I really don’t like to discard into the waste stream things that still have some use. It’s a mentality that seemed kind of dysfunctional 6 months ago but which may become more widespread, depending on how long it takes us to adapt our ways of making things to the new realities.

        I’m afraid my zucchini is probably not very super-foody this year; grown in containers in commercial growing medium supplemented with some natural fertilizer. hopefully the seeds will not be impaired. I need to start digging and weeding in March, and it is always hard to get to it on time, and by the time the weather is pleasant, I am overwhelmed with looking after starts.

        1. jr

          I like to use little mustard jars, jam jars etc. for cold pickling. I basically make vinaigrette dressing, whatever you like, minus the oil. I use wine, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, herbs, salt, peppercorns. Then add sliced cukes, peppers, onion, roasted garlic cloves…whatever veges you like. Add sugars and spices for sweet ones.

          In the fridge and in two days they have marinated nicely. It’s will save you a fortune on decent store bought pickles. I use the glass because the liquid will make plastic smell strongly. No canning required!

      2. Skip Intro

        Cupboard – a board for cups!

        Also, disposing of big amounts of zucchini can be accomplished by sneaking it into lasagna. If you can use a mandolin and keep all your fingers, you make thin flat sheets and surround or replace the (uncooked!) pasta with the sheets of squash. Apparently the big ones get more bitter, but that can be mitigated by peeling.

        1. TimH

          Extra-large zucchini can be whizzed up in a food processor to a pulp, and used instead of water when making bread (any sort). Freeze the xtra. Adds a little bit of oil so improves the texture, and improves the flavour a little. Does not make the braed taste of zucchini.

          Useful when you find that hidden one that has become a marrow overnight.

  4. Noel Nospamington

    What about the many people living in urban apartments with small balconies that often are shaded from the sun for most of the day, or have strata regulations which prevent gardening on anything larger than a flower pot? Not everyone has a big back yard available to them, especially in many cities which are experiencing a housing crisis.

    And how about those still working full-time who may not have the spare time, those with physical limitations, or even those without a car that can take them to gardening centres the closest of which can be too far away?

    There are too many practical considerations which would limit widespread gardening from being able to offset the current losses from typically food production.

    1. Samuel Conner

      It’s something for the un- and under-employed and retired to do on whatever patch of sunny ground is available. All that suburban sprawl may suddenly find some use. It won’t make a meaningful contribution to aggregate food security unless it becomes widespread.

      OTOH, home growing did make a meaningful contribution to population health in both world wars, under conditions of labor capacity utilization that probably greatly exceed the current situation.

      Obviously, not everyone can do this, but those who can probably should.

      1. Noel Nospamington

        Since the 2nd world war, currently a much larger percentage of people in western countries live in apartments/condos.

        One cannot ignore that the population of countries such as the USA and Canada have tripled since the 1940s and population density in most major cities have also greatly increased by an even larger factor.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          purchase a bunch of seed appropriate for your area(there’s this thing, it’s called the Web)
          if necessary…ie: if things are insane by whenever spring happens at your place…get with your neighbors and commandeer a vacant patch of ground and grow a frelling garden, and dare anyone to stop you.
          post guards if necessary.
          Then share the produce with all the people around you, whether they helped with this endeavor or not.(it really does take a village…frelling build one)
          If you’re in the USA, it sure looks like a Collapse Scenario from where i’m standing.
          get ready.
          Be the Ant, not the Grasshopper.

          and do the seed ordering now…i expect shortages come normal seed catalog time.
          “Collapse first! Avoid the Rush!”-Archdruid.

          1. kareninca

            I live in a condo in Silicon Valley. There is no place to garden. I do have a patio area, but it is sprayed with Roundup by the management (I haven’t been able to prevent that). I used to have a tiny community garden plot in the city of Palo Alto, but that land was turned into a vacant lot, and it is still a vacant lot; no-one is allowed to grow things there. Also water is extremely expensive. Commandeering land where a crapshack costs 2.5 million is just going to get you arrested.

            If things go insane here we will be eating one another; there will be no time for planting. I guess the people who bought at the Gun Vault will have first dibs on the tastiest body parts, until their ammo runs out.

            1. Samuel Conner

              More than a decade ago I read an online novel called “American Apocalypse” that, in its initial versions (it got woo-woo later on with a Norse spirit being showing up to side with the most effective “tribe”) portrayed a disturbingly plausible collapse scenario.

              In the first chapters, one meets bike-people (no auto transport), car-people (homeless but with an auto) and tree-people (homeless without an auto).

              We seem to be moving in that direction. And yes, later on, cannibalism becomes a feature of the “economy”. Of course, PE types have been cannibalizing corporations for a long time, and corporations are persons (or, as Mitt R has eloquently put it, “people”).

    2. Steve

      There are nice grow lights, like Agrobrite, in sizes suitable for an apartment. You can also go the cheap route with something like Yescom on ebay; the ones I have work nicely, but no telling their longevity.

      1. thoughtful person

        Grow lights. Good point for urban dwellers

        Also, sprouting is a good way to get many vitamins and minerals found in veggies if you have limited space (even very limited).

  5. Wukchumni

    We’re into the 100 days of 100 degrees and most of the veggies in the greenhouse are post peak with peas suffering from the heat the most, and truth be said I don’t want to have to deal with it in the middle of summer, i’d rather go hiking. We had 5 different types of tomatoes, peas, carrots, strawberries, red onions and watermelons that resisted going beyond being merely plants-no fruit for you!

    My emphasis is and will always be more along the lines of tree fruit where instead of planting a carrot and then 73 days later pulling it out alive from the ground and eating it, the relationship of an orchard is more akin to having kids who will disappoint you for a number of reasons and sometimes commit suicide or with the help of a gopher, rodent-assisted dirtinasia, or in a best case scenario grow like mad and produce a nice amount of food. Every one of the 88 trees in the orchard fits somewhere in between, not dissimilar to the disposition of 88 kids, I suppose.

    2 apple trees died on me in the past 6 weeks, one was a 2 year old hard cider Dabinett tree and the other a Gala tree 4 or 5 years old that was good for 50-60 orbs the past few years, but no more-game over.

    This was the summer for the Liberty apple to really grow and it’s 10 feet tall with 60 apples which will ripen in a month or so.

    The Sierra Beauty apple had around 135 last year and bears heavily every other year, so it has but 2 apples this summer, a year to grow and not bear the burden of bringing up offspring.

    Next year’s planting will be mostly of variants such as pluots, apriums, plumcots and the like. I’d like to get things to an even 100 trees and then relax for a spell before going even deeper into my version of the outdoors Winchester Mystery House.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I envy you your orchard. I once traveled overland from Istanbul to Kathmandu during soft fruit season, and ate some wonderful peaches, apricots, plums, and various crosses. When I was a child, we had a pear tree. And then later, we lived near two decent small orchards, which spoiled me with the quality of their peaches and apples.

      1. Wukchumni

        Its fun to have investments that pay regular dividends stemming from your labor & love, and eventually will provide shade down the road a piece.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          but for the grasshoppers!!!
          this is the first year since moving back out to the farm that we’ve actually had tree fruit. peaches, plums and nectarines…figs look ready for next year.
          i planted another apple tree this late spring…solely because it was $15…and the hoppers ate the leaves and bark….just like all the rest of the apples i’ve tried to grow.
          this year, they hatched out later than the last few years, and left all the rest of the fruit and nut trees alone(although i doubt we’ll get any pecans or acorns or mesquite beans this year, again.
          regardless…like you say, there’s something different about a perennial food source,lol.
          hoppers don’t appear to care for blackberry foliage…so i’ll be trainig those next year onto the fence i built/replaced for that purpose.
          That will also be additional shade for those beds…all along the west fence.
          105 on the front porch.
          in the deep shade.

          1. Wukchumni

            We’re lucky to be able to grow most anything from citrus, stone fruit and in particular apples.

            I get something to eat from the orchard every month except April, i’ll have to work on that.

            Never an issue with pollination or pests for the most part…

            It isn’t as if I haven’t been thinking about a plague of locusts around these parts though, as our orb has a comes around goes around vibe.

        2. kareninca

          I really don’t know you you manage the gophers. I planted a lot of fruit trees at a community orchard in Silicon Valley, and despite underground boxes they all ultimately succumbed. I think the underground mesh rotted away enough that the gophers could eat through to the roots. The only fruit trees that I’ve planted that have held up are in my condo complex, because it is so heavily pavemented that gophers don’t live here.

          1. Amfortas the hippie

            a stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum in the gopher hole.
            IDK how it works, but it does.

            1. kareninca

              But does it work long term? These trees get eaten a year or two or three after planting. And you don’t see the gopher hole; they dig up to the trees underground. Still, I will keep that in mind.

  6. William Hunter Duncan

    We have 20 fruit trees and 200 species of plants on our 1/6 acre in Minneapolis. I built a greenhouse years ago, from reclaimed wood and sliding glass doors. We are growing a lot of food, but not nearly as much as I would like to. I would feel safer with a 6 acre garden and food forest.

    We started a non-profit to turn old golf courses and industrial land into a food forest, farm and restaurant. The noise around racism and covid has drowned out our messaging, to the point that we stopped blogging because there was literrally no one reading. We are trying to reevaluate, as we are thinking of selling our food forest in the city, to escape to the rural.

    1. cocomaan

      Getting any traction right now with a blog is tough. Podcasts and videos seem to get more traction these days. Although podcasts have been hurt because commuters are staying at home!

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      That’s Y’all?!
      I think that’s awesome.
      almost exactly what i intended/sketched out 20 years ago..
      (mom has all the $, and is something of a control freak/sociopath…so what’s been accomplished has been done in spite of her nonsense)
      without tourism, a no-go, tho.
      I’m pretty much locked in instead, onto the autarky/subsistence/eat all i can and give away the rest model.

  7. Keith

    Since buying my new home, I have tried growing food two years in a row now. Sadly, I possess a black thumb of death for plants. That being said, I purchased two fig trees through the mail that are doing nicely and may even bare fruit next season. On the meat side, I have been doing well raising ducks and two guardian geese (French Touloose, which are big and fearless- even challenging my big black German Shepard). I attempted to expand my flock by going halfies on an order, but we lost half of the birds in shipping, so I let my neighbor have the rest. My goal for next year is to expand my flock with some potential meat producers with a plan to try and sell meat to local markets, looking at duck and goose meat, preferably broken down to make it more approachable for people. To assist in this, I plan to pair my ability to grow weeds (really awesome at that) so that the ducks and geese can graze. Moving to locally and humanley (birds are free ranged within portable electric fencing to keep the dogs and coyotes honest) sources foods has been a trend for a bit, so hopefully COVID can accelerate tit.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      more geese, and you won’t have the predator problem.
      we have about 30, and i’ve watched them gang up on coons and foxes a number of times.
      Mom’s numerous cats are terrified of them…especially when they’re nesting.
      They’re a herd animal…and let them have a night light.
      one or two will always be awake and on guard.
      free range, they’ll be even greasier than usual, and rather lean…for optimal meat production, one must confine them and feed them a lot of fresh grass and grains(lawns and weeds are cools)
      they also need a pool—i use several 6′ wide, 2′ deep galvanized water troughs under trees(i pump/bucket them into the garden beds, and scoop out and compost the poop/sand muck))
      put a concrete block both in and out, for steps…especially when you have babies…they’ll drown!
      (same for ducks)
      we haven’t eaten a goose in years, and mainly keep them around for mowing and compost material and guard duty. once the toms and peppers and such are up and tall, i let them into the beds to weed for me…and fertilise,lol.(and eat the dern grasshoppers!)
      they ain’t interested in anything but grass and sometimes lettuce…but they will trample smaller plants.

      1. Keith

        Thanks for the tips. The geese were a last minute thing, but I am glad I got them. After seeing the two I have manage their flock of ducks when dealing with the dog, I can believe it. My main focus for the geese were protection and eggs (my gander supposed to produce around forty). I will be taking your advise for adding more geese, perhaps more than originally thought, if they will gang up on predators, as I need it out where I am. Right now, I have a cement mixing tub I used when I they were ducklings and goslings, and recently bought a cheapo kiddie pool. I hope to get the steel tubs next year, but they are a little too rich for my blood right now, especially as I get ready to buy some more fencing. I absolutely want them running around, plus they are way more entertaining when they have room to be their goofy selves. Thanks again!

  8. Chris Cook

    Read your article with great interest, and wonder if you’d be interested in appearing on my public affairs show to discuss this, your forthcoming book, and life in India in a time of Corona?
    Gorilla Radio has broad/webcast from the University of Victoria, Canada since 1999.
    Please let me know if you’re interested.

  9. cocomaan

    For preserving food, people should keep in mind dehydration. It’s easy as hell, creates a shelf stable product that can last a long time, and it’s pretty fun. We have had two Nesco brand dehydrators that are great little machines.

    There is a learning curve when it comes to taste and cooking with the preserved food. But sometimes the taste changes for the better. Dehydrated watermelon is like eating slices of candy.

    I also made a solar dehydrator that can be used outside on days like today. It’s a little inaccurate and can result in burning or little dehydration at all, but it’s simple to set up. Lots of designs online.

    Canning and freezing both rely on a lot of technology and materials and fuel, and when it comes to canning, there’s a lot that can go wrong. I always get people into dehydration first.

  10. carl

    Our winter kale has mostly survived, even though it’s been unseasonably hot in south Texas. We have a huge Black Diamond watermelon still growing, alongside some Malabar spinach. The mixed greens I bought at the nursery last year apparently seeded themselves all over the garden. The San Marzano and cherry tomatoes are exploding; we get at least 5-10 every day. Pomodoro sauce frozen for winter will take care of some. Also, some surprising green beans. Along with the four hens, we are comfortable in growing quite a bit of our own food. Can’t imagine eating any products from industrial food conglomerates like Conagra.

  11. Copeland

    I’ve been food gardening in Cascadia since 2006. Each year up until 2017 the food garden grew larger. I’m a horticulture professional, so gardening was natural to me, no real hardship at all. By 2017 we were producing an incredible amount of food on our 10,000 sf lot. My health took a nosedive early in 2017, so the garden has shrunk every year since then due to inability to do the work. Our production included potatoes, carrots, all three types of peas, dry and green beans, flour corn, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, okra, several winter squashes, melons, cucumbers, lettuces and arugulas, cabbage, broccoli, kale, onions, garlic, many herbs, apples, pears, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, red , and black currant, serviceberry, cherry, hardy kiwi and others I’ve forgotten.

    This years drastically scaled back garden still includes most of those but a lot less of everything. The weather this year has been atypical: cooler than normal with more clouds and more regular rain showers (so far) whereas usually we have more heat and sun, and relentless drought every summer. Everything is doing well and producing with the exception of the tomatoes. The plants are healthy and huge as they always are but there is no fruit setting. I would expect the odd weather to delay fruit but it is totally absent so far, save one cherry-tomato plant.

    Growing plants has always been second nature to me, and there really is no other job that I’ve wanted to do, but even I was shocked by how much food we produced by 2017. We processed (canned) as much as we could, and stored a lot of dry beans and corn but we have no root cellar or semi-heated space, so keeping much of our production through the winter was problematic, and was our biggest barrier to producing even more. If someone was set up to store a lot of potatoes, corn and beans, as well as squash, there really is no reason that hyper-local, self-sufficient food production couldn’t be realized. Of course plenty of sunlight and water is necessary. Some properties just don’t have the right aspect to receive sunlight, but every property gets about 40″ of rain, mostly in winter, and this could be stored with the proper infrastructure, like they do in Australia and many other parts of the world.

    We never had a chance to start producing meat/eggs due to my health issues, but many of our neighbors produce eggs, and if the rules were to change anyone with the inclination could produce pork, milk, goat, rabbit, etc.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      sorry about your health thing keeping you from the garden.
      perhaps there’s workarounds?
      I’ve got pretty terrible arthritis…all my joints…especially in winter, and whenever there’s a hurricane in the gulf…but i’ve learned how to pace myself….and not feel all guilty when i have to take a day off(or 5) to just lay around.
      Infrastructure is my thing…raised beds with lots of manure and composting like a madman….faucets strategically placed so i don’t have to drag a bunch of hose around…
      and cover crops, to keep the weeds at bay.
      “French Intensive”…very dense, unrowed plantings…no bare ground.
      geese and ducks and chickens and guinneas to do a lot of the weeding and especially wintertime weedseed collection and tilling. I pay them in mostly bugs and grass and vetch.
      But i also have two football playing boys for a time(13 and 18)…to do the hard stuff i can’t do any more…as well as their buddies, who work for food and $10 and hour when i can afford it(older ones obtain me as a beer getter, too, if i deem them responsible enough)

      it’s often a delicate dance to make all that happen…all the parts balance out…and thus, save me from too much labor…but it’s possible…and i am driven(to say the least).
      and i often bury chicken bones in the compost piles so the possums will do the turning/tossing for me.
      good luck with your illness, and try not to lay around too much. the rule of thumb is 1 day in the bed takes 3 days to recover from.
      even just getting up and moving over there for a while is conducive to health and mobility.
      force yourself if necessary
      this house was built as physical therapy, after almost 7 years of increasing pain and lessened ability…and far too much time just laying there… until i finally got a hip…and all this crazy gardening(1/4 acre of raised beds) is so i don’t fall back into the bed, again.( i am kind of a nut, too…which might help)

  12. Shiloh1

    All is well. The government will simply cook the CPI numbers on the food component. Problem solved!

  13. freedomny

    My zucchinis did really well and the cucumbers are just starting to come in as well as the tomatoes. Tons of herbs! My blueberry bushes haven’t produced anything but it is their first year. Luckily I found a patch of wild blackberries in the woods behind me and some black cherrys which I plan on making jam with. I’ve been expanding my foraging knowledge which has been really fun! For recipes, a great site is Il Rifugio Perfetto on YouTube. It’s recipes by an Italian woman who makes very quick & healthy meals with just a few ingredients.

  14. rd

    This article on King arthur Flour is a pretty good summary of some ofthe changes that have hit the food industry and how they have had to be very nimble:

    Lots of food out there. Getting it from the farmer through production and out to consumers is the part that has been breaking down, often for reasons as simple as machinery that is specific to consumer vs. commercial sized containers.

  15. dougie

    I wish I could send a picture of the portable dog kennel panels with we enclosed our sweet corn patch. We even covered the top, all to keep raccoons out. The corn tasseled right up through the chain link across the top, and kept growing.

    Last year the crop was destroyed two days before we were going to harvest! This year, I channeled my inner Bill Murray in “Caddyshack” to outsmart them. About another week to go before harvest. Wish me luck!

    I would love to buy from local growers, but all they sell in our area is Silver Queen white corn. I prefer yellow corn. I need to check QAnon to see if there is a white corn conspiracy, as I suspect. I kid, I kid…..

  16. Tom Stone

    I live in the redwoods and don’t get enough sun for vegetables or fruit.
    However I do have access to an enormous amount of redwood duff, wonderful compost.
    So, I supplied friends with as much as they wanted which varied from one yard to five cubic yards and in return I have been getting kale, lettuce and squash with tomatoes forthcoming.
    For protein it’s mostly fish, trout from the Russian river and salmon from a friend who is an avid fisherman.
    If things get bad enough there are plenty of turkeys and rabbits, a .22 doesn’t make a lot of noise…and I have a very accurate target pistol.

  17. GERMO

    Well NC has a lot of veg gardening posts so I will mention what I’ve observed as my significant other tries yearly to grow food. This is in the pacific NW. The weather is not cooperating this year, too sunless. I recommend good lettuce — amazing stuff, not like supermarket lettuce at all. We have luck with peppers and tomatoes but the sun better get moving for that to continue. Blueberries after a couple years are fantastic, we’re eating pints and pints of them. Raspberry jam is great and we can’t pick them fast enough. Peas are a treat, string beans we’ve avoided because they’re too easy to let get tough. Harvesting the food is a real chore for working people I would say, as well as the cultivating and all.
    We do a little squash but not the zukes — they are simply too productive. You need a big family and friends to share if you do zukes, I think. Or eat them daily for weeks on end.
    Covid fears this year led us to grow onions and potatoes, actually. Normally they’re so cheap and who cares, it’s a potato, right? But you never know these days.
    It’s a backyard plot, six typical-size raised beds. Lots of work, and it’s never actually cheaper than going to the supermarket. But you do get fresh, and it’s not the commercial product, it’s real food.
    In addition to hoarding supermarket stuff lately I grabbed lots of canning supplies. I can just see those being hard to find in a month or so. And it’s been impossible to buy a freezer here since April.
    Thanks to all here on NC for the various tips and ideas on this subject.

  18. Kaleberg

    Some friends of mine run a family farm, and they immediately sell out all the beef they can produce. They has dropped USDA certification and gone for state Dept of Ag certification instead since the bottleneck is certified slaughterers and cutters. They have put in a 1000 sf or so garden and are now selling vegetables. Several small local farms have been running unmanned farm stands with payment online, and at least a dozen households are now selling eggs.

  19. Tom Bradford

    Glad that many are ‘getting out into the garden’ but the title of the piece is ‘food security’ and I’m afraid a few tomatoes or zucchini falls a long way short of that.

    When younger I had a 10-acre plot, milked a cow seven days a week and we ate our way through her bi-annual calf over the same period. We had chickens for eggs and meat, a vegetable garden and orchard plus fish from the bay and mussels from the aquafarm that paid for it all. Had civilisation fallen apart we could probably survived on it all – as long as we could also have defended it against the desperate, starving hordes who would have wanted to share it. We also had no grains, so no bread, and the meat was dependent on power to keep the freezer running.

    ‘Food-security’ at an individual level is very difficult – we had a home cow die unexpectedly which disrupted everything for weeks, and a stoat in the chicken-yard overnight nearly wiped the flock out. We were able to replace both as times were normal. If normality collapsed….?

    ‘Food-security’ is only possible at the village level – a community of 200-300 people. Any smaller and there isn’t the demand to maintain the sizes of herds and flocks needed to be resilient against unexpected losses and the man/woman power to control them while attending to the agriculture, and to provide the specialist services such as butchery. In a community that size everyone knows everyone else – much bigger and you start getting cliques, people you don’t really know and thus power-struggles and mistrust. 2-300 inhabitants was the size of most rural communities that were largely self-sufficient in food for most of history, and that’s not an accident.

    With the overcrowded, concrete-covered world we now live on returning to that condition of mankind is impossible, but even if Covid assumed Black Death proportions and reduced the population by 50% how many would have the knowledge and resources to reinstate such a system?

    Fingers-crossed this thing will burn itself out like the 1919 flu epidemic did, and indeed as the great medieval plagues did, leaving behind a sadder, chastened and wiser world to move on.

    1. dougie

      I got about halfway through a similar post yesterday, but deleted it. I thought it might discourage people just beginning to discover gardening. You are correct, though…..For example, I have 24ish tomato plants, but I will buy 2-300 pounds of canning tomatoes at the farmers market for us to home can, which will give us several quarts a week, year round. One can add a lot of quality and variety to their diets making small batches of jams, jellies, pickles, etc. But dietary mainstays? The quantities needed to produce ‘food security” are far beyond the reach of most.

      I gave it a go back in my early twenties, and found it was just too much work. Four and a half decades later? Fuhgeddabout it!

    2. freedomny

      “Food security at an individual level is very difficult” – is a very subjective statement. I barely eat meat and as an experiment one winter grew tomatoes & greens in my old apartment with an aerogarden. I also did hydroponics with mason jars and did tons of sprouts. I had enough dried beans, rice & pasta in my pantry. The only thing I bought at the supermarket was chicken for my dog, bread, frozen fruit for smoothies, peanut butter and seltzer water. I was pretty food secure.

  20. Kfish

    I’ve got my first zucchini surge coming (planted 14 plants) and have started giving them away to neighbours. The 5 chickens are laying well and occasionally I have eggs to give away there as well. I didn’t prune the mulberry tree soon enough, so it’s covered in buds and I will wait for next year to propagate another batch. The rosemary cuttings rooted well enough, the lavender cuttings set flowers but no roots. Strange plants.

    Curtis Stone on Youtube has a lot of videos about raising large quantities of food in small areas, and of getting to farm other peoples’ land. Epic Gardening, Nature’s Always Right and Neversink Farm are also good channels to follow for practical advice. I used Neversink Farm’s method of pruning tomatoes for maximum yield, and there will indeed be maximum yield in a month’s time.

  21. Carl

    Easy fruit trees: Use your mind, not your wallet or your back. Work with nature.

    Find a mature plum, peach or apricot tree that has dropped its fruit. Pick up, the dried out, fruit with the stones, or pits (seeds) inside each patty. You can get buckefulls of this under a large tree.
    Plant around ten of these patties a couple inches deep where you want trees along a fence line or wherever. If you have bad soil, place a bunch of the windfall in compost or rich soil pockets. Mark with a flag that will last several years.
    The following spring, some of these will sprout into trees that grow in place and don’t need to be translplanted, thus are healthy. You may get fruit in several years, or can graft onto them. See Youtube for all the free knowledge you could ever want.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      “Use your mind, not your wallet or your back. Work with nature. ”
      that’s the ticket, right there.
      as mentioned above…the hard truth is that it’s exceedingly difficult to feed your family on your own…it’s simply too much work.
      That’s why Markets developed in the first place…I have tomatoes and peppers and such, you gave grain, he has chickens and eggs, and she has a cow that she can’t eat by herself.
      The ideal time to begin cultivating your relationships with those nearest to you for these kinds of endeavors is not during a pandemic,lol…although it will do, and the current chaos and shortages and fear, uncertainty and doubt do provide a serious conversation starter.
      even all you folks who live in big cities really still live in a bunch of connected villages…we are just not conditioned to see it thataway any more.
      but look at a map of…say …san antonio…and alamo hights and lackland and all the other little placenames that constitute San Antonio Metropolitan Area were once little towns, that themselves were once little villages, carved out of wilderness…or taken from the others who lived there before.
      as one of our gardening gurus out here says, “bloom where you’re planted”.
      I don’t see the global supply lines coming back any time soon, at least for food…and the idiotic and ultimately counterproductive “industrial ag” may have been dealt a fatal blow by all this…certainly in the minds of numerous random people i’ve talked to in grocery stores.
      Google searches for “local ag”….the recent panic buying of seeds and chicks and frelling goats(!)…and just the wholesale upending of “how we do things”…all point to big changes.
      Best to try and get out ahead of it…endeavor to produce more of what we need, as well as get to know the people around you…while the smoke is still in the air.

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