Recently, I watched as a squirrel carefully selected the perfect location to bury his stash for winter. As I’ve been busily canning, pickling, freezing, dehydrating and otherwise preserving my winter stash, I realized the squirrel and I share a similar objective. Although, the squirrel has much more at stake in this game. If I should deplete my stash of frozen berries, canned tomatoes, or pickled peppers too quickly before the soil begins to warm and it’s time to plant again, I can make a trip to the grocery store. However, for the squirrel the consequences of mismanaging the summer bounty are much more grim.
Only recently have I begun to get serious about preserving my own food. I’m motivated by a number of factors, but mainly the idea that I can harvest produce at the very peak of freshness, full of vitamins and nutrients, and a few hours later, turn this mound of tomatoes, row of beets or wheelbarrow of carrots into something that I can store in my pantry through the winter. This just plain feels good. It’s empowering to be able to provide for yourself. Ultimately, I believe I am taking back some measure of control. By growing and preserving my own food, not only am I paying a fraction of what I would at the grocery store, but I can control what goes into the food, and into my body. I don’t have to wonder about the addition of GMOs, high fructose corn syrup or refined oils. With the ballooning cost of oil and the real risk of outbreaks from mass produced, contaminated food, one day soon learning to feed ourselves may not be a luxury but a necessity.
Not so long ago, growing, cooking and preserving your own food was common knowledge, passed down from generation to generation. Why was this information lost in the first place? It’s hard to believe that the industrialization and centralization of our food system wasn’t largely responsible for this shift. Cheap to buy, and easy to get. A shift towards replacing real food with food like substances that are artificially cheap, high in calories but low in nutrition, and tasteless. I grew up in the midwest thinking that tomatoes were naturally mushy and white in the center. Little did I know at the time, this was a result of being picked before they’re ripe, artificially ripened and shipped halfway across the country. Suddenly it seems, there has been a resurgence in the desire to learn this old knowledge. You don’t have to look far to find a canning/fermenting/preserving class. In fact, it seems almost trendy at times, with some places offering food preservation classes for as much as $125 per person. What grandma’s mom taught her as a kid, we’re now having to pay top dollar to re-learn.
While I do believe relearning skills around gardening, cooking and food preservation is critical, I don’t believe it’s necessary to pay to learn them. There are enough people, with enough skills to offer, it seems that we should be able to teach each other. To address earlier posts and discussions, I know this may not directly target reducing crime in Watsonville, however, I believe that a community can grow stronger around the unifying power of food. Everyone has to eat. One potential way to bring community members together and benefit from each other’s knowledge, is to create what could be called a “Teach and Trade.” Let me explain this idea a bit. One of the perks for venders at farmers markets is the ability to trade among themselves. Let’s say you have an abundance of apples for sale. You might swap your extra fruit for a dozen eggs, or fresh veggies from another farmer. Neighbors may already do this informally. Recently, I took some pumpkins and freshly dug potatoes to a neighbor who happened to be harvesting his grapes, which he gave me in return. I believe we could establish a more formal means of trading with neighbors and others, creating an increasingly self sustainable community in the process. Self sustaining in the sense that by relying on our own food growing skills, and each other, people in the community would be able to sufficiently feed themselves and their families, without having to pay top dollar for fresh, healthy food. This would be available to anyone who is interested in learning to grow food (whether it be on a 1/2 acre, in containers, a community garden plot or anything in between), and trading skills.
I recognize that it’s nearing the end of the growing season. Even so, it would be great to launch this and have at least one meeting to get a sense of who is interested, what knowledge/product they might have to offer in the future, and what they would like trade for, and or learn. Perhaps the skill you offer isn’t directly related to food- for example, you may knit sweaters, grow flowers or make candles with beeswax. You’re welcome as well! If you’re interested, send a response with a bit about yourself to email@example.com.