January starts a new year, and since it falls in the dead of winter, it gives me an awful lot of time to think about how I can challenge myself to grow. I make it a point every year to sit down and find a way to come up with something special and exciting that I can do to improve myself or my world. I think it is human nature for us to like the idea of a new year being a new start, a chance to right all our wrongs and move on in a better light.
This year, I was led in an unexpected direction. I decided that I no longer want to depend on the grocery store for my source of food. Yes, I could just decide to “only go to the store when I absolutely need it” but that is just the kind of wording that would have me a month later saying that of course the chocolate I so desperately want qualifies as necessary.
I decided that we were going to try banning visits to the grocery store for the month of January. This also means no bakery, no Saturday market, no eating out, no outside food provisions allowed at all, period (ok, except for the CSA from our local organic vegetable farmers).
I considered the idea impossible and crazy until I really started to look at it and think about it, and it suddenly seemed to be an interesting and exciting challenge. The effects have been very interesting and very positive so far.
Money- Our grocery food budget is one of the largest items in our family budget. As a family of four, there is nothing wrong with that, but what if we could find a way to eat well and reduce our food costs at the same time.
Time- I usually go to the grocery store two times a week, that’s eight times a month. Since I’m the primary care taker for our two children, that means I would have to bring the kids with me. We’d have to buckle and unbuckle two kids from the car, fight over who goes where in the shopping cart, explain why we are not buying candy, stop the baby from stepping on the food, etc. All of this is gone. The time I used to spend fighting to shop, buy and bag our food is now time I’m spending doing a fun activity with the kids.
Eating down the pantry- I make a LOT of food from scratch, which means that we have a pretty considerable dry food storage. In many cases, we have 25-50 pounds of different grains, beans etc. These are the raw foods that start almost every meal. A little bit goes a long way, and as I was looking at these foods, I was realizing that we could and should eat through our current stores so that they can be replaced with the fresh beans and grains of the upcoming year.
Our freezer was full to the brim, even overflowing at the beginning of January. There was home-grown chicken, rabbit, beef and venison (shot on our property). I used to try to “save” the meat for a special time and it would never get eaten. Now, we’ve been eating down our stores so that we can fill our freezer again with the upcoming animal harvests.
I also spent a considerable amount of time canning fruits and vegetables during the fall harvest. The truth is that we have been happily eating like kings from the stores that we have.
Some people care a lot about buying organic, locally grown ingredients for their pantries. I’ve realized that it is just a natural part of my life. I’d venture to say that about 90% of the foods we are eating have been harvested within a 20 mile radius of my house. Even more so, 80% of that food was either raised or picked and processed by the kids an I.
I must also say that having a cow in milk is also very helpful. We are rolling in milk, cream, butter, cheese, whey, etc. There is nothing like a bit of raw dairy product to add richness to a meal.
Being creative in the kitchen- This project has led me in some interesting directions in the kitchen. Since I am not able to bring in new provisions, this has required me to make some thing I would never consider making. I wanted to get around to using some of the miso we had in the fridge. I started craving miso soup, but we didn’t have any tofu. Rather that decide to try to make something else or do without, I got out my organic soybeans and my computer and I learned how to make tofu. You know what, I am so proud of myself for doing it too. That’s just the kind of growing I’ve been talking about. I will never buy tofu again.
Being thankful- The month is quickly drawing to a close, it sounds like it has been easy. Well, there have been some drawbacks. I ran out of coca powder on about day 2, and well, you can imagine the torture that has been. Jared is graciously living without raisins and we’ve got no honey in the house for my tea. I also ran out of butter at some point and had to figure out how to live without until I could get the cream together to make more. I do have a list of provisions that we need to stock up on eventually.
I’m learning to navigate around the little bumps along the way and to do without in some cases. During the times that I find I am really missing something, I just consider myself lucky. We live in country where we have what we need at our fingertips, and there is assistance if we are unfortunate enough to not be able to pay. There are so many people in this world that do no have the same access to the beautiful foods that I get to cook and experience every day, and I’m just so darned thankful, that I think I just might make it the rest of the month without coca powder.
I hope that this little experiment makes me a better chef, mother, farmer and homesteader. I’m more determined to produce more of the food products that our family needs. I’m also resolved to buy the products that I can’t make myself from another farmer like me who cares, who has a relationship with their plants and animals and who puts my health over making a profit. Win-Win-WIN!