"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back It Up!!

The other day, I made a poorly considered assertion in a comment on another blog ( Casaubon's Book): I said I produced about 50% of my family's food on this farm.

A reader followed my link and wrote to me, asking me to elaborate on how exactly I do that. Panicking, I backpedaled as fast as I could and admitted that I was including in that total food that I traded for, but that I considered that fair because I traded for it with products of this farm. I have other caveats: I'm only talking about the food we eat at home. Like many people, we eat out about once a week, and restaurant food is not included in my calculations. Also, I'm averaging across the entire year. In the winter, we buy more food. In the spring, summer, and fall, we buy a lot less food and eat more home produced food.

Then I spent a little time (not too much because I was busy with newborn triplet goatlings) thinking about that 50% figure. What did I actually mean by that?

There are plenty of ways to measure food consumption - volume, calories, dollars, etc. I really wasn't thinking of any of these ways in particular when I made the comment. Depending on how you measure it, my comment is either pretty close to the truth or a rank lie.

By volume, I'm a liar. If I open up my cupboards and look at what is taking up the most space, it isn't food I produced myself - at least, not this time of year. Right now, I just went and looked in my pantry and I saw:

25 pounds of white rice
10 pounds of brown rice
20 pounds of store bought potatoes
sack of onions, ditto
10 pounds of pasta, varied types
case of Annie's mac'n'cheese
5 pound bag of quinoa
5 pound sack of bulgar wheat
2 pounds steel cut oats
about a half-gallon each of dried lentils, split peas, black beans, garbanzo beans, and pinto beans
case of canned tomato products
twelve cans of tuna
ten cans beans, various types
big jar of olives
big jar of pepperocini
lots of spices and numerous tins of this and that too varied to mention. Stuff like rolled anchovy filets and capers and baby clams.

In the fridge, I find:
two pound loaf of Tillamook cheddar
ditto pepper jack
fresh veggies - carrots, chard, cabbage, chiles, herbs, etc
condiments of all stripes

None of the above was produced here. The items in the cupboard and fridge that were produced here include:

several pints of rhubarb sauce
3 quarts pickled beets
3 quarts pickled beans
2 pints homemade ketchup
3 quarts tomato sauce
2 pints raspberry jam
(there was a lot more last fall - this is the lean time of year as far as home preserves go. We've been eating it all winter.)

Then there are items that I'm not sure how to categorize: I bought the raw materials but then produced them here - i.e., a gallon of kim chee. I assume that the person who asked the question would consider this category "not" produced here, and I can't really argue the point, but submit the consideration that the ingredients for the kim chee cost me about $2.50, whereas that same volume of finished kim chee would have cost me about $20.00. So later on, when I measure by dollars, I expect this to be considered.

Clearly, by volume, I am a big fat liar.

However, by other measures, I am telling the stellar truth. Let's talk cash. Not counting restaurants, what are the big ticket items in most people's grocery carts? Meat and other animal products, right? Processed foods - but we eat very little of those. The boxed mac'n'cheese and the occasional frozen pizza are about the extant of it.

With the exception of seafood (which is an occasional treat), I buy almost no animal products at all - except in the dead of winter. In the past twelve months, I have bought three or four dozen eggs, three or four gallons of milk, and perhaps six chickens. I do buy butter. I do buy cheese in my off-season. However, home produced animal products vastly dwarf store bought ones, averaged year-round.

Here's what we produce ourselves in a typical year:

-200 pounds of pork products, including ham, bacon, and lard
-60 dozen eggs
-270 gallons goat's milk, of which perhaps 100 gallons is processed into
- 75 pounds cheese
- 25 gallons yogurt
- four or five chickens (we don't really like tough, free range birds, so we only eat excess roosters)
- 60 to 120 pounds of chevon (young goat meat - depends on how many kids were born in a given year and how many we decide to keep or sell)
-Garden produce - not, by any means, a lot, but enough for salads and herbs and a few meals here and there.

The bulk of our vegetable food in the spring, summer, and fall is procured through trade. I trade eggs and goat cheese all summer long at the farmer's market. I don't deny I have some extremely generous trade partners. Feel free to click on "trade" on the sidebar and you will find all kinds of heavily-weighted-in-my-favor trades I've finagled. Any given week, I might give a trade partner two or three dozen eggs and a half-pound of goat cheese, and get back enough produce to feed the family all week and some to freeze, can, or dehydrate besides.

Also, I realize now that I was counting in my head foods that we paid for, but gathered ourselves - in season, we ALWAYS hit the U-pick farms for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc. This is an extremely economical way to get a lot of food fast. I might pack a picnic lunch, bring the wind-up radio, and make a family outing out of picking enough blueberries to last us through the winter. Maybe it costs $30.

Then there are wild foods. On my own property, I have an unlimited supply of blackberries. Seriously - unlimited. Or, limited only by the amount of blood I'm willing to shed. Also we have a pretty large amount of wild mushrooms in the fall. Not enough to dry, but enough for several seasonal pots of mushroom soup. There's chamomile, watercress, wild strawberries, and all kinds of herbs.

There's children clamoring for my attention. I'll finish this post tomorrow.


AnyEdge said...

Wait, you eat the children?

polly's path said...

that was very, very good. It caused me to look at my own pantry and fridge and evaluate my own supplies and their origin. So glad you wrote this!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Aimee, this is a tough one, we get asked to put a percentage on what we produce too, and I can't always come up with an answer. I grew the chicken but not the grain it eats, however our beef and dairy is almost 100% produced here because I only feed a little grain to the milk cow during lactation.

I try to break down each meal, it seems easier to comprehend how much of our food comes from our farm that way.

It's tough though, I baked a cake yesterday, the applesauce, butter, and eggs came from here - the flour, sugar and spices did not. So I have no idea how to categorize that one - except to say the apples, grassfed butter and eggs are the most expensive items and I was able to produce those. Any percentage produced at home is better than buying most things at the store.

AnyEdge said...

And I hate to be a stickler, sis, but I don't think you can count the Kim Chee at all. I mean, I bake bread at home, but I buy the flour, yeast and salt. It's cheaper than buying bread, sure, but it's 0% produced at home. Now, you keep a starter, so that counts for something.

I make my own alfredo sauce too, from milk, cream, garlic and parmesan, way cheaper than buying a jar of it. Still 0% produced at home.

Aimee said...

Bro you are right - if I were trying to put a monetary value on my work the kim chee would count, but that's not the question. However I haven't finished the post. Later today I'll try to quantify a rough percentage of home produced food based on dollars and then based on calories. I don't have time or inclination to get super detailed about it but I'm pretty sure ghat by those measures j hit the 50% mark. And surely the Kim chee has some value there - what about opportunity cost?

WeekendFarmer said...

wow...you DO produce a LOT! Congrats on the babies!