The people who’ve fared the best thus far under the government’s coronavirus shutdown are the people who were the best prepared, the ones who are the most self-reliant.
That’s not going to change.
It won’t be stimulus money that gets you through, or a box of staples from the food cupboard. It will be you. Yes, people will lend a hand, both ways, but the responsibility for taking care of you is yours.
And the best way to be squared away tomorrow is to prepare today.
One area in which that is true is in your family’s food supply.
With the United Nations warning of a doubling of world famine because of the coronavirus, and with American supermarkets still rationing food six weeks into the lockdown, the 70-year American expectation of ample and affordable food at convenient grocery stores might not be something we can rely upon going forward.
And so we should prepare, the same way our predecessors prepared as they faced challenges like the First Great Depression and the Second World War. They put in vegetable gardens. They raised chickens and pigs and cows. They canned and preserved their own food to prepare a larder against hard times.
And that wasn’t paranoia, it was essential. And it might become essential again.
The government-ordered shutdown of so many American businesses has shattered the supply chains that brought products to the American consumer – and that includes food. As restaurants have closed, the system that supplied them with food – all the way back to the farm – has come to a crashing halt. That means that cash flow to that system, the fuel that makes it all possible, is gone. That means the system is in danger of crashing.
That means life’s going to get a little more complicated than ordering chicken nuggets at the drive-thru when you get hungry.
Which gets us to your garden and to the unfolding calendar.
Every bit of food you raise is a bit of food you don’t have to buy – and won’t take away from others in a potentially over-strained food-supply. In the best scenario, you will have delicious, wholesome, inexpensive food for your family and friends. In the worst scenario, you won’t starve. Either way, a vegetable garden is a good idea.
And now is the time to start.
Look at your yard, find a sunny spot, put the garden there. You can buy, rent or borrow a garden tiller, or you can get out a spade and work up a sweat. What you want is broken ground free of grass and weeds and plants. Just basic dirt.
If you don’t have a yard, get a container, save up your milk jugs, find someplace in the sun to put some pots.
You’ll also need seeds, or seedlings to transplant. Usually, you get the seedlings at the garden store in May. Most garden stores, anticipating heightened need, have started extra vegetables this spring. But depending on them to get your plants started is not self-reliance.
To make sure you can plant what you want when you want, you should start your seeds inside now. There are still seeds at hardware stores and at Walmart, but your neighbors are thinking the way you are and the seeds are starting to look picked over. So go get some now. And get some of those little seed starting pots or pellets. For things like tomatoes, peppers and broccoli, you’ll want to start them in their pots right away.
Some will also start squash and cucumbers inside, but many don’t and come out just fine.
What vegetables should you plant? Well, the vegetables you will eat. Also, since we’re doing this in case things go south, you may want to give thought to vegetables that will bring you calories and nutrients – the reasons people eat food.
There are a bunch of free online resources to tell you how to grow what. There are also books and, if you can raise them on the phone, your county’s Cooperative Extension office.
Prepare the soil, make your plan, and then plant, water and weed, and nature will take its course.
You will find that things will come ripe in quantity. Meaning that you may have more than you can eat at the time. Which is good. The excess you will want to preserve, or share or barter with others. The way to preserve this produce is by canning it or freezing it. Look up online now how to do that, and if you are going to need supplies – Mason jars or freezer bags – get them now, before demand clears them from the shelves.
If you’ve not canned before, practice before your harvest comes in. Do it once or twice on some store-bought vegetables just so you know how to do it.
Another provident thing to do is, as the harvest seasons arrive, look for ways to buy produce inexpensively in bulk, to take home and preserve. Sometimes public markets or farmers will give you good prices. Farmers markets, though, are often more of a “boutique” experience charging premium prices.
As spring arrives, your opportunity to provide for yourself is significant – if you hop on it. If you delay, well, you’ve got to hope they start letting you buy more than two cans of corn at the grocery store.
The best way to know you’ll have food on your plate is to produce that food yourself. The best way to help a world that’s expecting a famine is to do everything you can to leave the produce of the farm to other hungry people.
So plant a vegetable garden. A big vegetable garden.
And if you’re feeling adventurous, get some chickens. And maybe make a friend in the country and go in on a beef. And get your hunting license. Or put in a hive of bees before the flowers start to bloom.
Everything’s probably going to be fine.
But it’s not always smart to trust “probably.”
Our country is in an economic situation worse by some metrics than the worst year of the Depression. And many parts of the world are in financial collapse. Who knows where all that will go.
But if ever there was a year to put in a big vegetable garden, this is that year.