When I returned to my house in June, I spent the first two weeks tearing up sod. I planted a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, in ten new beds, 2400 sq ft of garden space, but mostly I planted potatoes. This fall I harvested approximately 250 pounds of potatoes. I built a root cellar in the basement, a small walled-in space enclosing a window, where the potatoes rest in a temperature of about 40 degrees. They will keep this way through the winter, and those I don't eat will be seed for the spring planting.
Why do I do this? One, I am in love with the potato. It is easy to grow, it is bulky, it is nutritious and tasty. Two, having those potatoes in the basement gives me a sense of security. I recently got caught at a woman's house during a blizzard, snowed in for two days, literally caught with my pants down. I had left the window in the root cellar open, and the sub-zero north wind found it's way in. I was concerned I lost my potatoes. The feeling was one of deep loss, and also an awareness that should the food supply be disrupted, the loss of my potatoes could make a very difficult winter painful. It's hard to imagine that, in this culture - empty grocery stores - but it's a reality the body remembers, as food shortages have been reality for most of the life of our species.
Three, I do this to teach myself about food. It's a broad subject. One might begin by understanding how the majority of food in this country is produced. That is, generally, by poisoning the field. Herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, artificial fertilizers by the million ton. Crops planted like military columns, the soil left bare after harvest, polluted soil by the billion ton washing into rivers. An intensive, fossil fuel driven process, exacerbated by arrogance, and a perception of the living Earth as raw material to be exploited (We are made of the same Earth, yes?) Much of that Agri-business dedicated to genetically modified corn and soybeans, the primary base material for a food supply for people, and commoditized animals who live in vast, sickly, concentrated housing, animals fed daily pharmaceuticals and antibiotics to keep them alive long enough to grow big enough to satisfy Wall Street expectations. Toxic shit accumulates and enters the water supply. Corn for people is alchemized into mysterious incarnations, including an addictive substance, High Fructose Corn Syrup. Industrial food-product of all kinds is transported many miles by fossil fuel, approximately 1500 miles per meal. Despite this poisonous, energy intensive process, and because of Government subsidies, the worst, most unhealthy food is the cheapest. Food which weakens people over time, which contributes to a Health Care Industry that is nearly 20% of the economy and growing.
In contrast, the best, healthiest food is always local, from small, organic, family and community producers, who care about the land, air and water. Food which, because of the twisted, unholy relationship between Government and Industry, is the most expensive by a wide margin. Two fine presentations on how this works are the documentaries Fresh (http://www.freshthemovie.com/) and Food INC (http://www.foodincmovie.com/).
I have long planted a garden. It was only after learning about our food supply that I began to take gardening seriously. I've learned that even here, in Minneapolis, I can grow fresh vegetables most of the year, some through the winter. I've learned about the importance of seed, the heirloom varieties that have been with us for many, many generations, and how important that is to freedom from companies like Monsanto, who actively pursue the control of the seed supply. Without seed, you can't grow your own food. Without seed you have to buy it from someone else. And when that someone else is a "person" that is a corporation with amoral, even pathological tendencies, that is an invitation to tyranny. A fully centralized food supply is not only the end of freedom, it is inevitable disaster. Because everything about the current industrial process is contrary to, inherently detrimental to, natural processes.
The future is almost all about local production, from backyard gardens, to city open space, to specialized small farms more like what we see in Italy. Some Americans will be aghast that I could compare America to Italy. But the Italian food supply is a fine model for an America where fossil fuels are no longer readily available. That time is coming. As it concerns food, we can prepare in three ways: learning to grow food, supporting local growers, and demanding the end of all subsidies for Industrial production. The first two parts are easy. The last part will be incredibly difficult. The Health Care Industry will fight it, for fear of losing market share (healthier people means less Health Care). Cargill and Archers-Daniels-Midland will fight it, for they are the greatest beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies. Industries of all kinds will fight it, though it be healthy of the Earth and people. And even if we succeed, if we aren't intentional about it, the Banks and Agri-Business will take over the land, farmers will become serfs, and nothing about the poisoning of the Earth and people will change.
No home should be without a food supply to last the winter. And the means to cook it. Because, if there is a disruption in the oil supply, there will be an immediate disruption in the food supply, and you don't want to be out in winter looking for food for your family if everyone else is, when that food is hard to find. And a word of warning: governments of all kinds know food can be used as a weapon, one far more powerful than any conventional weapon, if you can control it.
But really, learning about food is mostly about reconnecting to the Earth. Much of our sadness, despair, disconnection, alienation, etc, can be healed by an awareness of nature's rhythms. Planting food, tending to food, harvesting food, storing food, cooking food, eating seasonally, is reconnecting to the rhythms of the Earth, which is healing. And there is nothing the world needs more now than healing.
One who knows much more about food and food production than I do is John Michael Greer @ http://www.thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/ He has a fine recent post about saving and storing food. He's one of the more insightful writers working today on the end of the Age of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. A great resource.