Farming,  Gardening

The Road To Self-Sufficiency: Food

Homesteading revolves around the idea of becoming more self-sufficient, and a big part of being self-sufficient is the food.  Not relying on the grocery stores to provide you with your food is often one of the driving forces behind deciding to become more self-sufficient; they are deeply linked.  There are many aspects of wanting to homestead, but we’re going to talk about the link between food and money and how your food can affect your independence in the long run.

At our house, we grow our own food because we like that we know what goes into it and where it comes from,  we like the security that comes with knowing how to grow your own food, and it’s enjoyable to us.  Enjoying the process of growing our own food is important, if we didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth the time and energy that we spend on growing and storing it.

But there’s something else we need to consider, and that’s money.  The idea of being self-sufficient is great, but you still can’t do it without some income.  Self-sufficiency requires a lack of debt, the ability to still pay bills, and having enough to be able to take care of needs like paying to fix your vehicle or to buy a new rake if the old one breaks.  Sure, you can dig out a little hole in the woods and live without communication and with very little money, but still, that’s not what all homesteaders want.  We (homesteaders) don’t necessarily seek out the ability to hide away.  We still have varied reasons for being in contact with the outside world.  However, if the goal is to be self-sufficient, that probably means that you’re looking for the ability to live off of the land without major bills and to bring in any income you need to survive off of your skills and talents, or from the excess you produce on your land.

One of the biggest ways we can make progress on those goals is to look at how much money we spend on food every month.  If you haven’t taken a real, hard look at your finances before, I suggest that you do.  Our second largest monthly expense (after our mortgage) is on food, and I cut that number down drastically in the last two years.  Eventually I want that number to be even lower.  I’m not saying we plan to be able to raise or harvest all of our own food because I’ve got to get things like salt somewhere, but I know that we can still reduce those numbers significantly more.

Making pickles at 5 a.m.

So what kind of changes have we made?

If you’ve read the articles online about how to cut back your grocery bills, I probably don’t have anything new or profound to share with you. There are a few things that you can do to lower your bills, and short of winning the lottery or somebody giving you all of your food, I don’t think there is a way to get around making these changes

We started by looking in our cupboards.  Laziness had gotten the best of us, and we had a surprising amount of food in our freezer and cupboards, so I started to look for new recipes to help us use what we already had.  Just by doing that I was able to lower our bills by quiet a bit.  Once you use up what you have, there is less potential for savings, but it will get you in the habit of shopping for what you will actually use, trying new recipes, and cooking more meals at home.  You will notice a decline in your grocery expenses if you make even just a few of these changes.

Like I said, cook at home!  Believe me when I tell  you, I know how easy it is to stop at the nearest restaurant when you are feeling sick or tired or lazy.  While we living in town, it was so easy to pick up ingredients here and there when something was forgotten on the grocery list.  If we wanted a snack but didn’t want to make something, there were plenty of options just a minute away.  There were so many times we would just pick up Subway (like every time I was pregnant).  We spent so much money on food because we were lazy.  Cooking at home and cooking from scratch have significantly reduced our grocery expenses.  I’m still adjusting, but it gets easier all of the time.

Preserving the harvest, shredding zucchini for zucchini bread.

It’s not just cooking at home that matters, it’s cooking from scratch that counts.  If you buy your bread at the store for sandwiches, it’s still going to add up.  Bread is cheap, but homemade bread is more filling, it doesn’t have preservatives in it, and the cost is pretty cheap if you don’t count your time.  (I say “don’t count your time” because being self-sufficient is the goal, you don’t want to rely on a job or a store to feed you which means you are paying yourself in bread with your hard work.)

Look into buying in bulk.  We are lucky enough to have some bakery-related business contacts where we can buy things like flour and oats in bulk at their cost.  One of the businesses lets us have their empty food-grade containers that we can put our bulk foods in (it won’t hurt you to ask the local bakery, because often times they don’t do anything with them, and chances are they will just let you take them).

Flour, sugar, oat and brown sugar in food safe containers from a local bakery.

I bought silica packets online to help keep moisture out, and I have bought bulk dried fruit through Amazon for things like oatmeal.  If you don’t know where to start, look online and call local businesses.  If the businesses can’t sell it to you, they might be able to at least give you a referral to a bulk distributor, and if you know people who you can go in on an order with you, it could be worth while.  There are also places like Sam’s Club, though I know it’s not an option for everybody.

And then there is the obvious: grow your own food.  You can’t expect to grow all of your own food in your first year of gardening (which is why it’s important to lower your grocery bills through other means).  For starters, you won’t know what you are doing, even if you’ve read all of the books.  It takes time to learn how much food a plant can produce, how many plants you would need for a year’s worth of food, and how to store all of that food.  It costs money to start a garden, and it costs money to can or freeze your food.  The costs can go down every year to a point where you are just replacing an occasional tool or investing further into your endeavors, but it’s just that, an investment.  Lowering your grocery bill by the means mentioned are some of the ways that will allow you to more readily afford the tools you need to begin storing the food that you grow.

Permaculture at work, apples from the apple tree.

Go the extra mile and save your own seeds so you can become even more independent (I’m still working on that myself).  Learn how to garden with mulch to save you time, energy, and money .  Shop rummage sales, craigslist, or auctions to pick up garden tools…get creative!  It’s not all about the garden either, can you raise chickens (for meat or for eggs)?  What about a goat or a cow for milking?  Sheep, or cows for meat?  Right now we are just working on chickens, but we are in our first year of really doing this, so it’s one thing at a time.  We want to get good at chickens before we add any more animals to the mix.

What do we plan to do?

We still have a long way to go before becoming completely (or mostly) self-sufficient when it comes to food, but we have some ideas of things we’d like to do in the future.  We have plans for raising bees for honey next year, and I am sure that we will do meat chickens again.  There has been talk of raising goats or cows or sheep for either milk or meat production (or both), though that is probably a little ways off.  We would like to try growing our own grains and grinding our own flour, we want to expand our orchard and get more involved with permaculture (permaculture is permanent agriculture, and the idea is to have the land and animals work for you).

Rhubarb is another permaculture crop, it will come back year after year.

There is the possibility of growing and harvesting our own nuts, and ideally, we can earn some of our income through the sale of our excess produce, meat and eggs when we have any.

Japanese heart-nut (like a walnut) .  A healthy snack just waiting to be picked.


Growing all of that food will mean nothing if we don’t learn to store it all properly, so that is one of the major tasks for us in the next few years.  We don’t know if we would ever want to go fully off-grid, but alternative refrigeration and root cellars are most definitely things well will research at a minimum.  For now, we will be happy to dehydrate, can, freeze, and work on dry storage.




How it saves you money in the end:

If you are looking to be self-sufficient or maybe just to save your family some money, here’s how this all affects your bottom line.  It may not be cost effective as in, is it cheaper to buy it from the store than to make it yourself, but if you have the time but not the money, this is the ultimate way to go, at least to help you start saving even if the end goal isn’t self-sufficiency.  How does the saying go?  “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  When you start to save money by not spending it in the stores, you can put that money towards your other goals and dreams.  Just to put some perspective on this, every time I buy a bag of oats, I am saving around $50 as opposed to buying the canisters in the store when they are not on sale.  It’s food we will eat, stored properly it won’t go bad, and it will feed us for months.  That’s $50 that I can spend on an apple tree or two (if I’m not buying a sapling), and that apple tree will feed us well over $50 worth of apples over it’s life-time.  Those are apples that I don’t have to buy from the grocery store, which means even less money spent in the long run.  And it just keeps building on itself.  See what I mean?  Pretty awesome, right?   With every step you take towards savings, it’s a step towards independence, and it’s an amazing cycle to watch.

I really love hearing from you all!  What kinds of things do you do to save your family money on food?  Don’t forget to leave your comments below, if there’s something I missed, please share 🙂


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