Investing in Self-Sufficiency – Food Production

[The following is an excerpt from Prepper’s Financial Guide.]

Perhaps the single most important investment you can make towards a successful future is to become as self-sufficient as possible. The greater the number of your basic needs you can satisfy on your own, the less you will be impacted by some sort of societal breakdown. Think about it like this – back during the Great Depression, the folks who saw the least amount of trouble were the ones out in the sticks who had been raising their own food all along.

Food Production

Gardening

I firmly believe that no matter what your living arrangement is, you can grow something to feed your family. Even if it is only a couple of tomato plants and a barrel of potatoes, that’s a start. If you’ve never grown anything other than dandelions before (which, by the way, make for great salad greens), now’s the time to get moving. Make a list of the vegetables and fruits your family enjoys eating, then start doing some research on each of them. I mean, there’s little sense in investing time and energy growing asparagus if no one in your family will touch it, right? There are a ton of resources available to help you get started. Talk to neighbors and friends who are more experienced than you. Ask them for advice on what plants grow best in your area and climate. Heck, if you ask nicely, they might even toss you some seeds.

Go online and seek out your local county extension office. They have Master Gardeners who will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Many of these offices offer classes throughout the year as well, either for free or for a nominal fee.

I would advise you to start small if this is your first garden. Food production, even as a hobby, is rather labor intensive and if you try to do too much at once, you may quickly become overwhelmed. You might be surprised at just how much food you can grow in just one small garden bed.

If you are strapped for space, look into container gardening or square foot gardening. Container gardening, at its core, is simply growing plants in pots rather than in the ground. This is a great option for those who live in apartments or condos. While you won’t be able to grow a ton of food on your patio, something is better than nothing. Another option for urban dwellers who lack yard space is to seek out community gardens. Arrangements are made with the owners of vacant lots where individuals or families are allowed space to plant small gardens. Each person is responsible for their own garden plot. These community gardens can be a great way to network with other like-minded individuals as well as trade some of your excess produce.

Square foot gardening is another option for those with limited space. It is sort of a kissing cousin to container gardening in that all of your growing is limited to a defined area. Basically, you take your garden and divide it up boxes, each one being, you guessed it, a square foot. Truth be told, you aren’t actually making small boxes out of your garden but rather just using string to section off the space. Each square is devoted to one or more plants, with each one planned in advance so as to complement its neighbors. For example, a crop that grows best in partial shade would be planted next to something that grows tall and thus blocks the sunshine a bit.

Don’t overlook the possibility of adding a few fruit trees to the mix, either. While many varieties do require cross-pollination with one another, you can grow apples or pears in a far smaller area than you might realize.

Gardening and Homeowners Associations

If you live in an area governed by some sort of HOA, I would strongly advise you to research the bylaws and guidelines to ensure you abide by any restrictions when it comes to planting a garden. Urban and suburban dwellers should do the same with municipal ordinances as well. It would be horrible to invest considerable time, energy, and expense in a garden, only to learn it needs to be removed immediately lest you incur fines and such.

Personally, I would never want to live in an area where growing a garden was verboten, let alone someplace where others had a say in what color I painted my house or what kind of mailbox I wanted to put up. But, to each their own.

As you gain more experience with gardening, hopefully you’ll be able to expand your plots each year, growing more and more of your own food. Not only will this positively impact your wallet, homegrown food is generally much healthier, not to mention tastier, than what you’ll find at the grocery store.

Wild Edibles

All around us are plants that are not only tasty but nutritious and have tremendous health benefits. Dandelion greens, for example, have a ton of calcium, vitamins A, E, and K, as well as iron. And here you thought it was just a bothersome weed! If you want to get a huge bang for your buck with regards to investing in self-sufficiency, learn to identify and prepare wild edibles. Pick up a guide to edible plants at the bookstore or library and get outside. A couple of guides I wholeheartedly endorse:

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer

Concentrate on learning just a few local plants first. Learn to identify them in each stage of their development so if you run across them but they’re not quite ready for harvest, you can note the location and come back later. Gradually add them to your regular diet.

You should avoid harvesting wild edibles growing in areas that are treated with pesticides or that are subject to high amounts of pollution, such as on the side of a busy road. Also, be very wary of trespassing or harvesting plants in city, county, or state owned areas. They tend to frown upon that.

Meat Production

This is an area that is slightly less accepted among neighbors than gardening. I mean, it’s one thing to plant a few berry bushes along your back fence. Quite another to add a rabbit hutch and some free range chickens to the mix. But, producing at least some of your own meat is a big step toward self-reliance.

Many municipalities have begun enacting ordinances that allow for raising backyard chickens, as well as a few other critters. A simple phone call to City Hall should let you know if you’re in the clear to explore these options.

Both chickens and rabbits offer a great return on minimal investment. Chickens, of course, offer both meat and eggs, the latter of which could occasionally be gifted to neighbors which may serve to help offset any negative opinions on your new hobby. Other animals to consider include ducks, turkey, and goats. If you live a bit further out from city limits, you might look at pigs as well.

As with gardening, when you’re starting out with raising animals, you need to be careful to not overextend yourself. Even just a few chickens involves a lot of work with feeding, cleaning, and protecting them from predators. But, I think you’ll find the taste of homegrown meat far superior than what you’ve purchased in the past.

Speaking of which, the whole point here is to raise animals you plan to eat. In other words, you might want to refrain from naming your dinner. This also means you need to learn how to properly butcher the animals. And this is where many people turn away from the prospect of raising meat animals. Killing and processing a chicken is a whole lot different than heading out to the garden and picking a few tomatoes. If you’ve never done it before, you’re naturally going to feel at least a bit apprehensive. That’s normal, it just means you’re human. But, that said, it isn’t as difficult as you may think and it does get easier the more often you do it.

Wild Fish and Game

Hunting, fishing, and trapping have all been putting meat on the dinner table for millennia. While there aren’t many of us who could afford to spend hours each and every day pursuing these time-honored activities, they are each methods of food production you should consider learning.

First and foremost, research the applicable laws in your area and obtain the proper licenses to engage in these activities. Faithfully observe all rules and regulations that apply. I cannot stress that enough. You may not agree with all of those laws and, in fact, I can almost guarantee there will be at least a few that really bug you. But, rather than thumb your nose at them and risk ending up spending hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars in fines, work to change the laws that don’t make sense to you. In a true SHTF scenario, the DNR probably won’t be out enforcing all their various statutes and such. But, practice makes perfect with these activities and you’ll need to be licensed and permitted in order to do so.

Fishing is probably the least energy-intensive of the three methods for procuring wild meat. What could be more relaxing than sitting on shore or in a boat drowning worms all afternoon? Here’s the thing, though. The successful fishermen (male and female) are successful for a reason – they know what the hell they are doing. They know how to “read” the water and accurately predict where they’ll find the most fish. They know what bait to use and when to use it (your bait should change based on weather, lighting conditions, and a host of other factors). They’ve been at it a long time and much of what they do is sort of second nature at this point. The only way you’ll ever get to that point is to get out on the water regularly. Talk to the more experienced folks and learn from them. Spend some time hanging around the local bait shop. As long as you’re not asking them to divulge their secret spots, most of them will be happy to lend advice.

Where I grew up, deer hunting is treated almost religiously. There are so many kids who go off hunting during deer season, school districts darn near shut down. Of course, the percentage of hunters who bag one or more deer each season is fairly small. But, those that do will have meat to last quite some time. There is more to hunting than just going after the big game like deer or moose. Small game will more consistently put meat on the table and the season for it lasts a lot longer than a week or two. Heck, a 12 year old with a little practice and a used .22 rifle will be able to bring home at least a squirrel or two with almost every outing.

As for trapping, back in the day, many an enterprising young lad made a few extra bucks running a trap line before and after school. That said, this is probably the hardest skill set to learn. There’s an awful lot that goes into trapping, from knowing different sets to determining the best locations. There’s a fair amount of luck involved, as well, truth be told. Out of the entire forest, you need for the critter to hit this one exact location. But, by studying the craft you can learn to make your own luck, at least to a degree. Traps are nice in that they work by themselves. While you’re doing other things, the traps are (hopefully) bringing in the meat. But, there’s a lot of work involved in running a successful trap line. The more traps you set, the better your odds of success, of course. You also need to check those traps regularly, preferably daily. The only thing worse than finding an empty trap is finding one that wasn’t empty but is now.

Again, though, as with raising meat, you need to learn how to process wild game and fish. Letting the meat go to waste is just foolish. Practice makes perfect. If you know a hunter, ask them to teach you how to handle this chore.

Beekeeping

While man cannot live by honey alone, it can darn sure make things a bit easier to swallow. Honey has been prized for ages and commands a high price, whether sold for cash or bartered. Beekeeping is one of those homesteading type of activities that doesn’t involve a lot of daily work. The bees handle most of the heavy lifting. As with anything else, though, there is more to it than it may appear. The hives cost money, whether you buy or build them. Location of the hives is important and can mean the difference between success and failure. Harvesting the honey isn’t a walk in the park, either.

All that said, the benefits of producing your own honey are huge. If you have an area that would be suitable for a hive, I’d highly encourage you to explore this option.

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