5 things you can do to control your own food supply chain

food supply chain

There are five steps you can take right now to start controlling your own food supply. Friends across the country have been reaching out asking for advice because they know I’ve been working hard to secure my own food sources at home. We’ve all seen the news over the last few weeks and are getting nervous.

Some people are thinking about food security for the first time in their lives. Many of us have taken for granted that we can buy almost anything we want at any time. John Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods, one of the largest producers of chicken in the U.S., took out a full-page ad in the New York Times where he warns that the “food supply chain is breaking.”

Supply chain issues aren’t isolated to just meat. Even if the plants and animals that make up our food supply are out there right now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re making it to the store. The vast majority of our chain is reliant on specialists, so when one link breaks, so can the path to us consumers.

I’ve been thinking about my personal food supply chain for a long time. In fact, it’s turned into an entire project for me. But you don’t have to live on a little farm and milk your own goats to start thinking about steps you can take to care for yourself and your own family.

Here’s the good news: we have full faith in our farmers, ranchers, butchers, truckers, and processors. Hopefully, a silver lining of this global challenge is a renewed appreciation for those people who keep us fed every day.

There will be bumps in the road, though. If you think of our economy as a huge cruise liner on the ocean, it will take us some room to slow down in order to turn. This pandemic requires huge shifts in how we conduct the business of living.

Think of food like money that expires. If you want to control your own food supply you need to get more of it in the door, (like asking for a raise or starting a side hustle) but also get it into a state where it lasts longer (like putting it in the bank or an investment).

Luckily, there are a few steps you can take right now to secure your own personal food supply:

Buy a chest freezer

If you don’t have one, a chest freezer is one of the simplest ways to even out the ebbs and flows of an inconsistent food supply. If you can possibly swing it, get one to add to your capacity. Having a chest freezer will allow you to buy in bulk when it’s available. It offers the flexibility of storage for almost any food with minimal prep work.

As we see changes in what’s available and pricing over the upcoming months, it might become necessary to change buying habits. Were you going to the store every other day? Once a week? If you have more capacity you can go less often, buy more per trip, and ultimately save money.

The ability to freeze food when it’s available at a price you can afford gives you more flexibility in when and how you choose to buy it. It also will allow you to cut waste. You can take that half a roast and freeze it for soup later if you have space.

Chest freezers are available at big box stores and even your local hardware store – also check neighborhood postings and craigslist. It might seem like a huge outlay when finances are questionable, but it will more than pay for itself over the lifetime of the freezer. The way our family’s grocery bills are right now, if we can shave $20 – $50 off every few weeks, it will pay for itself within a year. This includes the (small) increase in the electric bill.

If you don’t have room in a basement or a garage consider painting the freezer fun color and make it furniture. It’s surprising how a little box can add so much peace of mind.

Start a relationship with your local butchers and farmers

For us, this relationship-building started long before we moved to the small-acreage farm. Years ago, a friend of mine put together a group of four families to all go in together to buy a cow from a rancher, Ron. Once a year Ron sends one of his cows to a small butcher in eastern Colorado. Each of the four families will talk to the butcher about our preferred cuts and we all split it up. Depending on the year or the size of the cow, the price varies, but it’s always much cheaper than if we did it piecemeal over the year.

One of the fun parts of buying a quarter beef instead of just getting meat at the store is that we have tried new and different cuts than we were getting before. Getting out of the steak and burger routine has been fun for us.

The cow started the train down the track of smaller meat producers. Another family friend, also coincidentally named Ron, raises hogs and introduced us to a small butcher two towns away where our pork now comes from.

If you don’t know someone who knows someone, try looking for small butchers and markets in your area. From veggies, to meats, and baked goods – often these places will have relationships directly with farmers.

Right now producers are posting livestock and butchering services for sale direct to consumers on social media and craigslist, too. Once you get out of the mentality that all your food has to come from the same big box store and look around, you’ll be shocked to see all the options available.

Incidentally, we can only buy a quarter beef, or get an entire butchered hog, because we have chest freezer space that allows us this flexibility.

Learn the basics of canning and preservation

If you’ve never done it before, I highly recommend using this time to preserve some fruits or veggies. Preserving gives you a new understanding and appreciation for your food that you may not have. It’s also a useful skill. During the zombie apocalypse, every rag-tag team needs at least one member with a basic understanding of what’s safe to eat.

Even if you’re in an apartment with a tiny kitchen, when you get berries or veggies – just try your own preserves or pickles. Preserving is just getting your food into a state where it inhibits bacteria growth and remains safe to eat for longer periods of time. I suggest starting with this book (Amazon affiliate link) and give it a try at least once. If it’s not your jam (pun intended) then you don’t ever have to do it again, but it might be the thing that sets you on the path to a full-blown home preserver.

Start a victory garden (even the windowsill kind)

I wrote a whole piece imploring people to start their own Victory Gardens. Especially now, this seems like a reasonable thing to do. Regardless of your level of expertise or the greenness of your thumb, give it a try. Just like preserving, it’s better to know the basics and not use it again, than be months down the road and wish you had tried it.

As an aside, if you do live in a place where all you can do is a tiny window herb garden, there are plenty of great savory herb preserved jellies that are VERY gourmet right now.

Get a dehydrator or smoker

When we think about preserving food for the future, we usually think about either freezing or canning it – but there are other methods too. Salt is the most basic food preserving agent. By the way, if you haven’t read the literal book on Salt, it’s a must-read.

Both smoking and dehydrating your food can also inhibit bacteria growth and make it last longer. Think: fruit leathers, veggie chips, meat jerkies. There’s a whole world of ways to take your basic foods and extend their lives. Once you get into advanced mode, we can start talking about fermentation and cultures. This is gonna get fun.

So, get that food for yourself and your family and take it to the bank.

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