Building Your Food Storage While You're Living On It
When you're living on your food storage, it can be unsettling, knowing that you're eating what you have and not knowing when you may have a chance to replace that food or to buy more food. Despite living primarily from our food storage for the last few years, we've been able to feed our family, and to restock our pantry shelves--even fuller than they were before. Here is how I've done it:
Let People Know
There are probably plenty of people in your life who would love to help you--if they only knew that you needed help. Let people know of your situation. When people know, they can help you. Keeping quiet because you're embarrassed won't keep your family fed. When people know, they can help you in more than one way--telling you of opportunities to get food, sharing what they have, sharing excess that comes their way, and telling other people of your need--other people who may be able to help you as well. Perhaps it's the friend of a friend who has an apple tree with more apples than they can eat. Your family could really use those apples, and because you've let someone know of your need, that friend of a friend might just call you to pick them. Because people know, they will think of you when they're moving and cleaning out their freezer and pantry. They might call you when they're going on vacation and have food in their fridge that would go bad while they're gone. They won't call if they don't know you need it, so speak up.
Accept Whatever Comes Your Way
We have a saying at our house--we always accept free food. People will call us and tell us that they have some extra of this or that, and they wonder if we'd like it. It might be leftover scrambled eggs and pancakes from a church breakfast, expired food from their pantry, extra zucchini from their garden, wedding leftovers, 160 pounds of bananas, bruised apples, etc. We always say yes, sure, we'd love that!
And we do love it. When I can't buy fresh eggs, a 10 x 13 container of leftover scrambled eggs is a huge blessing to my family. Half a gallon of milk is a great treat at my house, and it doesn't bother us if the Scouts already drank the other half at their activity. Bruised apples make great applesauce, once the bruised spots are cut out.
Expired food is rarely a problem, though many people are reluctant to keep food past the expirtation date. Read here for more information about the suggestion of expiration dates. Your food is good for a lot longer than you think!
When you say yes, people are willing to share with you again. When you say no, it's unlikely that you'll get offered food from that person again. When people know you'll take food, they'll think of you when they have extra.
And most importantly, be grateful for what you receive. Thank both the giver and God. God usually blesses us through other people. Rejoice in the blessings of food that come your way.
Gleaning involves work. It literally means to take what is left, after a harvest has been picked. There are many ways to glean, and you'll need to ask permission. It may be a farmer who has closed his fields for the fall, and yet there are still some green tomatoes in his field, and the frost hasn't come yet. If you ask, you may be able to pick them. You can let them slowly ripen inside your house, eat them as fried green tomatoes, and pickle them.
A few phone calls to those you know and even friends of friends, asking who has fruit trees that will go unpicked this year, may provide you with the opportunity for lots of fruit. Because I asked, I was able to pick pomegranates two years (from different places). It was a lot of work to deseed them all and get juice from them, but it made a wonderful jelly. Within a day of my picking, someone offered me some pectin that they no longer wanted (they were switching to a sugar-free kind and thought someone could use the regular kind). I had sugar, but absolutely no money for pectin. Do the work that you can, and God will bless you in your efforts.
Another way to find fruit to glean is to drive around. If you see trees that are ripe and overloaded with fruit, starting to drop their fruit on the sidewalk, knock on the door. Chances are the owners can't use all the fruit, don't can, or don't even like that particular kind of fruit. They might be thrilled that someone can use it, and that there won't be a big mess of dropped fruit for them to clean up that year. Go with a ladder, a friend, and boxes and baskets (or bags) for collecting and picking the fruit. Clean up any drops that you see as well, and you'll have food for your family as well as having served someone else. Frecycle and Craig's List are other places where you can find "fruit ripe for the picking."
Read Couponing Blogs
If you have absolutely no money to spend, couponing blogs can help you by letting you know about free samples that you can sign up to receive. Not all free samples are tiny; some are full-sized! My favorite couponing blog is Money Saving Mom; she covers stores across the U.S.
If you have a tiny amount money to spend, you can get free items (some require tax--but some don't!) with coupons, highlighted on many couponing blogs. You may be able to get a few very low cost items as well to feed your family. I have had free cheese, eggs, toothpaste and more this way.
And if you have $2 or a little more, potatoes are one of the least-expensive ways to feed you family. If you have $10, use it to restock something that you're out of (oil for baking, or tomato sauce for pasta) that will help you to make more meals with what you still have on the shelves.
Just because you don't have much, doesn't mean you can't trade. I've traded lettuce that went to seed, broccoli leaves, and carrot tops to a neighbor for eggs from her chickens. Perhaps you can trade a skill for food, like teaching lessons in exchange for bread. You can also offer to prune fruit trees and grape vines (during the dormant season) in exchange for picking from them when they're ripe. Think about what you can trade, and propose a trade to one or two people.
A garden is the best way to add to your food storage while you are living on it. Not only will it provide fresh food for your table, but depending on what you grow, you will also be able to add to your food storage by freezing, drying, and canning what you have. Lots of swiss chard? Cut it up and freeze it. More grapes than you can eat at once? Make grape juice and can it. Preserve all that you cannot eat while it's fresh. This will fill your pantry shelves and freezer with fruits and vegetables. You may have stored lots of grains and basic food supplies; a garden will round out the difference.
The meals on this site come from my pantry and my garden. It's a great blessing to be able to give my children grapes, peaches, apricots and apples, in season, from our garden. Fresh tomatoes, artichokes, and asparagus are wonderful additions to our meals.
Instead of going to the store, I go out to the garden.
A garden will help you to be self-reliant. You may have food for not just your own family, but enough to share with others who are in need. No money for seeds? See here for some ideas of growing plants from free seeds and from cuttings.
You may need to decide whether to spend $1.49 on a head of lettuce, or whether to spend that same money on a packet of lettuce seeds, which could yield 50-250 or more heads of lettuce. Ponder carefully which way will best serve your family.
Above all, remember that you stored food just for this time and season of your life. It is okay to see the pantry shelves get emptier. There will come a time to fill them again. It may be a long time from now. It may be just around the corner. You may only have a short time to do so. Keep making due with what you have, and look for unexpected opportunities to add to your storage and feed your family.