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Prioritizing food to grow/preserve at home  RSS feed

 
Dayna Williams
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Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Eeek, I'm so excited to see that your book is out, Erica...I'm a big fan of your blog. So, this question is coming from a relative newbie who grew up eating absolutely everything from Safeway grocery stores.

If you were just starting out (or if you could go back and redo), what would you focus on growing or producing first? I feel like a lot of people in the like...30 and under crowd grew up cooking Hot Pockets in the microwave and find the thought self-sufficiency to be completely overwhelming. So, if you were going to break it down into baby steps, what would you recommend starting with for people who want to change their lifestyle to be more sustainable?
 
Erica Strauss
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Dayna Williams wrote:Eeek, I'm so excited to see that your book is out, Erica...I'm a big fan of your blog. So, this question is coming from a relative newbie who grew up eating absolutely everything from Safeway grocery stores.

If you were just starting out (or if you could go back and redo), what would you focus on growing or producing first? I feel like a lot of people in the like...30 and under crowd grew up cooking Hot Pockets in the microwave and find the thought self-sufficiency to be completely overwhelming. So, if you were going to break it down into baby steps, what would you recommend starting with for people who want to change their lifestyle to be more sustainable?

Hi Dayna, thanks so much! I appreciate you reading.

So, I don't wanna go all Permie on ya, but the answer here is....it depends. I know, I know! I'm sorry. But that's the truth.

Look, totally let go of this idea of self-sufficiency. That's not the goal. At least, I don't think it should be for probably 99% of folks. What do YOU value? That's the question. Let's take gardening as an example. I value really great food - I'm a cook, at my heart - so for me it's really important that food quality and flavor be excellent. Certain things are, to be blunt, not worth eating unless they are fresh - I mean REALLY fresh, like a few hours old. Snap peas come to mind. Snap peas at the store are a sad, sad thing. Cherry tomatoes are another. Strawberries. These are foods that I started growing right away because the culinary difference was huge to me.

These are not necessarily the choices I'd make if my goal was to be as calorically independant as possible. In that case, I'd grow potatoes and winter squash and almost nothing else. If my goal were to maximize the dollar per square foot equivalency of my garden, it would be baby root vegetables and baby greens and herbs and very little else.

So honestly, my suggestion is - don't "begin with the end in mind" at least, not REALLY. Because sometimes we can't even picture the end until we've begun and worked through a few seasons in our own garden or home, and if we try to it's just overwhelming. Begin with your VALUES in mind. What's most important to you? What do you care about? What most speaks to YOU? What's the payoff that will make it worth the effort to learn and occasionally stumble?

That's the key thing. Answering that kind of thing is how you know where to begin. And please know that it's ok NOT to try to do it all. I mean, if you want to, by all means try everything, but don't feel like you MUST do everything yourself all the time - pick and choose what turns you on.
 
Dayna Williams
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Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Thanks, Erica! That is good food for thought. Starting out (especially as a home gardener, where I don't have a specific cash crop in mind), it feels like everyone is telling you to grow something different. This year, I really wanted to can my own tomatoes, so I focused on that. But, really, mine taste about the same as the ones I buy at the store, and we always prepare them with strong-flavored seasonings anyway, so it might not be worth the caging hassle and long growing season next year. But it was worth a try! Next year I think I'll focus more on fun things for the kids to eat straight out of the garden, and on trying to get a fall garden going.
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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If my goal were to maximize the dollar per square foot equivalency of my garden...

In that category, I would select asparagus also. An asparagus bed should last 30 years without replanting.
It is a high value crop that requires very little attention.

...my own tomatoes, so I focused on that. But, really, mine taste about the same as
the ones I buy at the store, and we always prepare them with strong-flavored seasonings
anyway, so it might not be worth the caging hassle and long growing season next year.


That is a common problem here west of the Cascades. We usually don't get enough summer heat hours to produce large, flavorful tomatoes. I have found that the patio (cherry) tomatoes do much better that the full sized ones.

Territorial Seeds (in Oregon) specializes in west-of-the-Cascades varieties. Their Sweet Millions, and Sun Gold patio tomatoes have performed excellently for me in the Seattle area. With 4 plants of each, they were producing more than my daughter and I could eat...I ended up taking the days pickings to my daughter's volley-ball games, and feeding the whole team.

 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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What I've discovered is that a minimally-skilled gardener, what I want to grow and what I can grow are not usually the same. I got started because I love tomatoes and there's simply no store equivalent to a good garden tomato. It took years to learn how but I now grow all the tomatoes I need from July through October. Meanwhile, I've tried a bunch of other things, and most of them don't thrive on the minimal amounts of care and skill I am able to provide. But a few things -- not necessarily things I was formerly eating much of -- just produce explosively in my conditions. Okra is the biggest example; when I first planted it, I didn't even like it. But it grows easily and produces massively, so I've learned to work with it in my cooking. Likewise fresh basil -- other than as dried flakes, it was never part of my foodways, but when it grows by the armload, I've had to learn to do pestos and chutneys and things that use a lot of it. Another one is mustard greens, of which I'm not a fan -- but they make a good pesto also, it turns out.

So my notion is: do try everything, in order to learn what grows easily, effortlessly, and in volume. Then grow a bunch of those things for groceries, and figure out how to eat and like them even if they weren't formerly familiar foods.
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
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Location: northern California
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I agree with Dan. Just about everywhere on earth supports a few plants and animals that grow and thrive and produce reliably with minimal attention, and where humans have been living there too, a bit of research will turn up traditional foods and cuisines based around these things. So one good starting point for the newbie might be to look at what people in your area ate in the remote past.....Native American past, and then settler past, and so on. What do people in similar climates elsewhere in the world base their diets on, such that the respective plants and animals could be easily grown where you are. And from there, start your trials and experiments! Just about everywhere, a very few things will come pretty quickly to the top of the sorting pile. Where I used to live in GA, it was sweet potatoes. My did I ever eat a lot of them, and I ate the greens too. Here in CA, it's acorns. I eat them daily, and so do my chickens and my sheep. Now I grew up in suburban Detroit, and neither of these things, or their associates for the most part, was a common part of my diet, so there's a learning curve, but I took it as a positive learning challenge. And for spices and seasonings and ideas, I definitely access the whole world. A bit of cinnamon helps those sweet potatoes a lot, and acorn polenta is a lot better with curry than without.....
 
Dayna Williams
Posts: 79
Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Thank you for the tip, John. I will certainly try the Territorial seeds. We are farther south and have hotter summers than Portland and Seattle, so I think there's potential for good canning tomatoes. Maybe Territorial also has some more drought-tolerant varieties, since that's our biggest issue during the summer.

 
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