Years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about how popular it was becoming for people to “recycle.” Some towns had even gone so far as to arrange for separate curbside pick-up of refuse and re-cycled materials. We mused that though many young people considered this a “new” movement, that our grandparents saw recycling as a part of everyday life.
Over the weekend my bride and I were in the checkout line at the local Wal-Mart. The young register clerk ran the scanner wand over our boxes of new Ball jars and commented “I don’t understand why all these people are coming in to buy empty glass jars. What in the world do you do with them?”
As briefly as possible I told him that they were used in “canning.” He had no idea what I was talking about. I told him that it was garden season and people were picking fresh vegetables and preserving them in jars to have for winter. He just looked at me blinking. Obviously this was a concept which had never penetrated his brain. I would have loved to excite his mind with a longer discussion, but a line of customers behind me prevented that conversation.
Look around the Internet today and there are any number of websites devoted to sharing tips for everything from growing tomatoes in a plastic bag to milking your own goats. You will find people who are just interested in having a healthier food source to people making the move to full scale farming.
Some people are motivated by the doomsday scenarios. In fact a recently developed television series focused on the far out plans of “Doomsday Preppers” who built everything from hydroponic gardens in their abandoned in-ground swimming pool, to installing huge bomb shelter bunkers with years of food and water storage hidden underground.
All of these folks are engaged in a lifestyle which involves a varying degree of “homesteading.” The desire to live off of the land, become self-sufficient, live “off the grid” and prepare for an economic collapse are separate motivations but lead to some of the same behaviors.
My family has been canning vegetables, freezing fruits, harvesting our own wild game, putting up hogs, raising our own beef, heating with wood and raising our own fish for nearly 30 years now. In fact, this coming Sunday our daughter-in-law is coming over so we can show her how to pressure can tomatoes and beans.
I’ve recently developed an interest in fermentation as a method of preserving food. Our orchard is over 20 years old now and produces a nice variety of apples. We freeze a bunch, make several gallons of delicious applesauce every year but end up with a lot of wasted apples. I’m in the market for a cider press. Yes, I plan to freeze lots of fresh squeezed juice, but I also plan to ferment some into cider.
I’ve recently tried my hand at doing the same with grape juice and this past week I took a class on pickling. In addition to hanging sugar cured hams in the barn, smoking bacons, freezing meat, fish and fruit, canning venison and vegetables, the process of fermentation is just one more skill I want to develop so I can enjoy the harvest all winter long.
You do not need to have a farm in order to enjoy the homesteading lifestyle. It is my experience that most farmers raise more than they can consume and preserve and thus plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and farm raised products are readily available at farmers markets all across Kentucky this time of year.
The University of Kentucky Extension service has a number of very informative pamphlets on how to grow, pick, can, freeze, pickle and ferment food safely preserving great taste. The manufacturers of Ball type jars have tons of tips as do the manufacturers of pressure canners and hot water bath canners. There is a whole library of information out there on how you too can become self-sufficient, provide healthier food for your family and, from my perspective, keep some of the great traditions and lessons of the past alive.
I would encourage you to develop a curiosity about such things. Learning new skills will enrich your life in many ways. And like the young man as Wal-Mart, there is always room to learn something new every day.
If you want to get with the newest fad, or just keep tradition alive, why not learn to homestead? I think you will be glad you did.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.