What Should I Do? The Basics of Resilience (Part 4 – Growing & Preserving Food)

Note:  This article is part of a series on personal preparation to help you answer the question, "What should I do?"  Our goal is to provide a safe, rational, relatively comfortable experience for those who are just coming to the realization that it would be prudent to take precautionary steps against an uncertain future.  Those who have already taken these basic steps (and more) are invited to help us improve what is offered here by contributing comments, as this content is meant to be dynamic and improve over time.

Increasing Your Local Food Sources

For us, the next step after getting some food stored away was to increase our local sources of food.  Our primary local sources include the farmers who produce our meat and raw milk and the community-supported agriculture (CSA) vegetable operation to which we belong.  Our local demand translates into more local food—a worthy outcome by itself, but we also happen to get superior food as part of the bargain.

And there's more.  Our CSA is run by two fabulous young farmers whom we adore, it employs a crew of young local people, and they grow everything organically.  We are getting tastier and healthier food, increasing demand for local food, and supporting our local community, all in one fell swoop.  If you do not yet belong to a CSA and have the opportunity, it is well worth pursuing.  And if a CSA is not available or affordable to you, then at the very least, make connections with local farmers and food producers and purchase food from them directly whenever possible.

You can find CSAs in your local area within seconds at LocalHarvest.org.  It can also help you find nearby farmer’s’ markets, farms, and grocery co-ops.


For the past six years, we've also been growing a vegetable garden at what can only be termed "hobby level," and our learning process has been steep.  While we enjoy and preserve the fruits of our labors, it seems that each year brings new challenges to surmount.  The spring of 2009 here in the U.S. Northeast was the wettest and coldest in living memory, leading to all sorts of problems and plant diseases.  The year before that it was extremely dry and hot.

When I asked a local organic farmer if there was some book or internship that could accelerate my learning process, he laughed and remarked, "Nope.  It's ten years for everybody."  By this he meant that there is no substitute for experience.  One must live through the wettest year and the driest year and the year with funny yellow bugs and so on.  We’ll be honest:  Gardening takes time.  It also takes a lot of learning, most of which comes from trial-and-error.  So the important thing is just to get started.  As you realize how rewarding and empowering it is to grow fresh food for your table, your efforts begin to feel a lot less like ‘work’ and more like a passion.

You can get most everything you need, as well as hand-held guidance if you want it, from your local garden store.  We advise buying your tools and initial seeds locally, but we also recommend that you consider obtaining a backup supply of seeds for a complete vegetable garden as an insurance policy.

There are many good books and various approaches to home gardening.  One method that is particularly popular among PeakProsperity.com members is Square Foot Gardening.  Taking the time to read up and discuss tips with more experienced gardeners will save you a lot of time by avoiding the most common rookie mistakes.

For gardening, we recommend:

Local garden stores

  • Use Google or Yelp to find ones near you (type in “garden” and your zip code, then search)
  • Ask for personal guidance in planning your garden and buying tools & supplies
  • Meet other gardeners in your community to learn from and share with

Post Peak Living

  • Sign up for the "Introduction to Sustainable Gardening" class
  • PeakProsperity.com enrolled members receive a 20% discount using promotional code "CM Enroll."  (Enrollment status will be verified before discount is awarded.)

ReadyGarden 1-Acre SEEDSAFE

  • A good backup ‘insurance policy’ for growing a complete vegetable garden
  • 21 individual seed varieties (25,000 seeds in all)
  • Plants 1-acre
  • 5-year shelf life

All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

  • Complete guide for growing a hi-yielding garden within minimum space
  • Much simpler process than traditional techniques

Much more can be learned about home gardening techniques and strategies in our community forums, including more about Square Foot Gardening, or home gardening for beginners .

Preparing & Storing Food

Whether the food is grown by us or by our CSA, our family has developed a practical plan for food storage.  We have fashioned a workable root-storage cellar out of our basement bulkhead for use over the late fall and winter months.  All of our various root crops (potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, etc.) are stored there until we use them.  Effective storage in a root cellar requires a bit of learning and experimenting, with the variables being the method of storage, varieties being stored, temperature and humidity control, and culling to ensure minimal spoilage.

We keep chickens (link to forum discussion), which handily convert our kitchen waste into eggs and fertilizer.  We also raise a few turkeys for the freezer every year.  Over the years, we have gained increasing experience with butchering and processing our own birds, and now people come to us to learn this skill.  This, too, has become a point of community for us.

After several years of practice, Becca has become a master canner (link to forum discussion) and works throughout the fall to can many different kinds of fruits and vegetables.  As with our informal food-storage and butchering outreach, I often find her sharing the kitchen with friends as they work side by side.  This kind of sharing has the benefit of nurturing relationships within our community.  It also introduces local friends to new skills that may be useful to them on their own path toward personal preparation and increased food independence.

In addition to canning our food (which has a sizable learning curve), we also dehydrate a fair portion of it (which does not).  Dehydrating preserves more of the nutrients in your food, and dried food requires substantially less space to store.  Dried food keeps for an exceptionally long time, as most bacteria die or become completely inactive when dried.

For dehydrating food, we highly recommend the Excalibur 3900B Deluxe Series 9 Food Tray Dehydrator

  • Dries all fruits, vegetables, and meats
  • Handles heavy volumes and around-the-clock use
  • 10-year warranty

Setting a Goal

Each of these areas represents a more direct relationship with our food, and each requires a different set of skills and knowledge.  I wish I could tell you that a smart and dedicated person could pick these skills up more rapidly than others, should the need arise, but it turns out that there really isn't any shortcut to becoming a gardener, or a canner, or a butcher, or a food preservationist.  The vagaries of each growing season and the environmental variations of each year ensure that your food-production education will be anything but dull.

Wherever you live, do what you can to learn about the specific growing conditions and the varieties of food plants that particularly thrive in your area.  You may want to start by adjusting your eating habits and expectations to match what is easy to grow and obtain locally.

Our family's goals from this point forward are to plant a wide variety of hardy, semi-dwarf fruit trees—apples, pears, plums, peaches, and cherries, along with hardy kiwis and grapes (on trellises).  Further, we intend to work with local permaculture experts to design a system of growing food on our land that will require the least amount of energy to produce the largest possible gains (link to forum discussion).

Our goal is to produce as much food as we can on our plot of land using the least amount of our personal energy.  If everybody did this, think how much more resilient we'd be, and probably healthier too.

Whether you can begin to grow your own food or not, I highly recommend that you figure out how to obtain as much of your food locally as you can while it's in season, and then learn how to store it so that it lasts as long as possible.

Set a goal.

How about ten percent? 


If you have not yet seen the other articles in this series on resilience, you can find them here:















What Should I Do?: The Basics of Resilience (Part 8 – Community)








    What Should I Do?: The Basics of Resilience (Part 9 – Your Next Steps)

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    This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/what-should-i-do-the-basics-of-resilience-part-4-growing-preserving-food-2/

    I’d add one thing to this that you didn’t mention: a basic knowledge of your local wild foods.  There’s a lot more out there than the blueberries and wild blackberries that we all know.  The two books written by Sam Thayer (see http://foragersharvest.com) are a wonderful introduction to this topic.

    Well said Chris - and now would be a great time for people to think about food security for the long term.
    We recently started up our old refrigerator-turned food dryer. It now handles a bushel 1/2 of food at a time. We just dried 5 heads of cabbage + a 5 gal bucket of carrots in 15 hours dry time. It handled 5 gallons of corn in 12 hours.

    It’s an old 1950s all metal refrig. We use wood fuel to keep it going but it’s a fine art to keep an even temperature (I added layers of paver blocks to help with that). Since we removed much of the insulation and painted it black, it also doubles as a solar food dryer for herbs as it stands it gets an even 100 F degrees on sunny days. But that temp is not hot enough for drying veggies at 125 for 12 - 48 hours (depending on the thickness) and fruit at 145. We may also use a propane sunflower heater inside it for our convience.

    The hardest part (and most expensive) of the conversion was to make stainless steel food grade racks.

    The podcast with details of the experience will be on the MyBackAchers.com by next week’ish.

    I’m big on drying food. The done-ness test is always the same - when its crispy - its good so bag it. Dried food can be kept in the freezer for 30 years+  and 24 months if not frozen (though freshness depends on moisture content).

    We will be using the food dryer for our food, finish drying animal foods (like dried crab apples, sugar beet shreds and field corn for the birds).

    Garden, get out of debt and live in Peace! EndGamePlayer

     The learning process can be so frustrating !    The weeds , the weeds , the weeds and more weeds  !  I grow great weeds !   The first few years you just can  not imagine ever having to survive on what you grow and   no two years are the same .     It is good to have friends to exchange produce with also  because you may get way to many cucumbers and  some fungus gets to your tomatoes . Bartering among gardeners is a given way of life .   Then if you just can  not sneak another zucchini on your neighbors back porch you can donate it to the local food pantry  or shelter  Sealed
      What would seem to be the most natural easy thing to do  ( putting seeds in the ground and Walla food appears ) really does take patience and perseverance … both are a good thing to develop . 

       Take a walk in the neighborhood , and stop to ask questions of the little old man picking his tomatoes  this could be the best place to start .   He will be thrilled to share his knowledge and have the company . Gardeners are some of the best people you could ever get to know  and they Love to share .

      Every year you learn something new ,  but I would say start small and build up as you go  because taking on to much and being overwhelmed may be a deal breaker for you .     You will not be out very much money  but the time involved may surprise you . Make it a family project so the kids learn as well … they will eat anything if their own hands grew it .

      It is not to late to start a fall garden  but if you are the type who learns best by reading… get to the library  ,start checking out the books, and order the seed catalogs .

      This is a very rewarding endeavour and could keep from spending money on the other things you do for entertainment ! 

       Get dirty !


    Gardening is definitely a learning curve but I’ve almost always been successful (barring mother nature) when I’ve taken the time to study and plan.  Not only do I get to enjoy top quality food, I share extra veggies and eggs with neighbors and coworkers - great for community building.  People stop by often too and ask about my cold frames out front (that’s my landscaping!).  And my kids know where food comes from.
    I got an Excaliber dedhydrator last year and found it so great for preserving tomatos I even bought extra from a local farm.  There is a good book out there on building solar dehydrators, which I plan to do eventually.

    A super resource especially for northern growers is Eliot Coleman’s book “The Four Season Harvest”.  He shows how to extend the harvest through all months even in Maine.


    CM wrote “And if a CSA is not available or affordable to you, then at the very least, make connections with local farmers…”  I would add, help start a CSA.  I volunteer with a local group of people who wanted more CSAs and to have them be affordable.  The first one opened this season, and all the spots were taken in 10 days, and there is a wait list that will fill the new spots that will be created next year as the farmer expands.  Plus we have 20% of the spots reserved for low-income people which are subsidized in various ways.  In a year we will start working on starting another one, as it is clear the demand is there.  This has helped build the local food supply, got more local land in crops, helped increase food security, and helped local community building.

    “Ah… don’t worry. You can garden when you need to” is what most people think (I WAS one of them) but now that I have been trying to grow 20% of our food up here in southeastern BC I can verify the challenges with that notion. We were told the soil is everything so we have spent allot of effort building up the soil with compost, manure, straw, peat moss, etc and are seeing the rewards in the product. we have no till beds and use allot of mulch and drip irrigation and so far our experiences have been mostly good.
    We also joined a CSA, not as a purchased share, but as a work share. Our CSA allows you to work your vegetables off (I call it working our butts off) by committing to at least 4hrs a week of labour and helping out at least once a year at their stand at our farmers market. We drag our kids with us and have experienced everything from soil prep, planting, transplanting, weeding, weeding, weeding, and harvesting. This hands on educational experience has been invaluable so ask your CSA’s or local farmers if they will do the same. The other advantage of our CSA is that we have grown and eaten many funky and different vegetables. Most of them I would have ever tried on my own.

    I haven’t worked so hard at something and have had so many challenges yet have had so much enjoyment come from it.


    Great practical discussion. I am thinking of doing a spin farm. I have no experience with gardening. I am wondering if anyone else with knowledge can comment on the concept. $50,000 of production on a half acre is said to be possible:

    Thanks for your comments!

     Dander ,  I had never heard of the SPIN farms but after watching the very first video of the gal gardening on a hill  of rocks I was impressed .  My top soil is at least 4 foot deep so this Gal  working on such soil blows me away .   I would think if she could do it anyone could .   She did not have weeds or mulch !
      I say go for it !   I am going to look at some of the other sites there now…  well after I finish the Monsanto one at the bottom of the pg.


    Hi Guys.
    I work for a farmer lead food collective which collects organically grown food from local farmers and sells it directly to customers in the city.  this company is called ‘food connect’.  you can look it up on the web.

    Why dont you start one in your city?  It bye-passes the major retailers, it lowers food miles, it increases the return to farmers [we are fighting farmers off], it increases freshness, it lowers chemicals in your food and it INCREASES YOUR FOOD SECURITY as you now have a DIRECT RELATIONSHIP with your food grower!!!

    This is invaluable when you want to increase the resiliance of your local community. 

    This model sticks it to the supermarkets, to the middlemen.  we buy from local community farms and sell to individuals and to resturants etc. 

    You could do this.  it is not rocket science, and it doesnt take a huge amount of cash to set up.  its not easy, but it is not impossible either.  it IS part of the solution.


    Brisbane.   straight@iinet.net.au

    The idea of a food collective is novel, esp. for a farmer such as myself(and acute"I" on the Myers/Briggs)who doesn’t like dealing with people.

    A Financial Sense interview Chris gave on personal preparation is now available for listening to at http://www.financialsense.com/financial-sense-newshour (starts at min 29 of the “Urban Survival” mp3)

    I like the simplicity of drying foods and have been doing it for several years.  The problems with it is, I don’t think there is any more resilience to drying foods than to storing foods as the typical purchased food dehydrator uses several hundered watts for hours to do its drying.  If the grid goes down so does the food drying . . . when you need it the most, as the refrigerator and the freezer are also gone.
     The answer is a solar food dehydrator.  The problem is who sells them?  I couldn’t find one. The answer is to build one.   I spent weeks building the first model a box with 9 slots for drying racks and a heat collecting plenum and an electric heat source to continue dehydrating at sun down.  It worked fine but is more complex than necessary. You can see pictures at  http://tinyurl.com/26mbo27

    With a year’s use and a little more understanding of the dehydrating process and that heat, moving air and photons all help in the dehydrating process.  In other words, if you just put your fruit in the sun it will dehydrate.   The problem bugs birds and animals that will share in your bounty.   So to dehydrate fruit, put your fruit in the sun and cover it with something that lets the light in and air to circulate.

     For a simpler dehydrator I purchased plastic cake covers from Safeway.  I cut holes and used heat glue to cover the holes with screens (window screening).  I added reflective foil to the bottom and set a food grade rack in it to hold the fruit above the reflector.

     I set the racks with strawberries on my roof for maximum sun but they work in the back yard also.

     $5 for the cake holders $10-15 for the food racks and a few a minimal amount of hot glue, screening, and reflective foil purchased on the Internet from Nielson Enterprises.  Tinfoil would probably work nearly as well. 

    • Arlen



    This is my first comment.
    I agree with “there is no substitute for experience”. I assume that you all know that in the 1970s many went “back to the land”. Alot of experience has arisen from those pioneers including the organic farming movement.

    I would urge all who are interested to get a subscription to:

    1) Mother Earth News (http://www.motherearthnews.com/) and

    1. Organic Gardening (http://www.organicgardening.com/)

    These subscriptions are a great zero step. Access to their archives will give much, much information.

    And of course, there is always the Real Goods Catalog (http://www.realgoods.com/).

    Sky Willow

    Food…and food storage…whew…where to start, such an in depth subject.
    Well, for most folks, the first step I’d think would be putting up “store bought” stuff, since it’s currently cheap and available.  From there, you should move on to growing and preserving your own, since it’s hard to store more than a few years worth + fresh is often just flat better.

    But let me talk about Step 1, then do some more posts on the other steps.

    First “rule” of food storage is Store What You Eat. ( at first )  Don’t run out and bucket up 1,000 lbs of wheat IF you’ve never processed raw wheat in any form.  When your 2-3 days of what you “normally” eat ( and I’m convinced that’s all most folks have in “storage” ) are gone, you’re gonna starve to death trying to figure out HOW to use wheat berries even if your digestive tract can take the transition.  And after a week of “wheat mush cereal” ( with water, you forgot to store dried milk…ahahahaa ), you might not be starving, but you’ll be so grumpy someone will WANT to kill you…So, Store What You Eat first, then work your way into the “exotic” stuff.

    The very basic of step 1 is to simply buy extra when you shop…if you need one can of soup, pick up a couple more.  Then don’t let yourself run the soup down to nothing, replace as you use + couple more each time.   Before you know it, you’ll have 10-15 cans/jars/etc of the things you like to eat, plus you didn’t load the shopping cart with 10 jars of Peter Pan Pnut Butter and get really wierd looks from the checkout gal.  ( “Got a Boy Scout group campout this week”…feel free to use that one…ahahahahaa ).

    OK…you’ve gotten with step 1…now a bunch of ya are asking “where do I store it”.  Well, the best place is a cool, dry location.  If you live in a apartment and have very limited storage, not sure what to tell you…other than you live in the wrong place anyway, and one of your priorities probably ought to be “find a place that is more liveable without OTHER people being responsible for your continued existence”.

    But assuming you have a house, you can generally find space to store food.  We had a hallway/entry/mudroom kinda deal coming in our back door, with unused wall space.  I built ( I build, make or repair stuff…I buy only what I can’t do ) a couple of 4’ wide x 7’ tall x 12" deep pantry cabinets with 3/4 plywood shelves to hold LOTS.  This is our “level 1” storage…the stuff we use on a regular basis in addition to fresh.  In this, we keep stuff you see in the pic:



    Yeah…the dog food is getting a little low…but it’s mighty tasty…ahaahahaa…or so ole Fritz says…

    Then our second “level” of storage is another set of cabinets I built out in the garage.  This set is built against a North wall, that is mostly underground, and I insulated the walls of the cabinet with foam board to keep from freezing in winter and over heating in summer.  I understand that for every 10 degrees you lower food storage, you basically double shelf life.

    This cabinet took up 12’ of wall, 8’ high and 18" deep.  You can get a LOT of stuff in that kind of space !


    In these, we store the stuff that comes in first, rotating the older stuff to the kitchen unit for next use.

     These were earlier photos…since gone back, add some more shelves and inventory sheets on the inside of the doors.

    The other level 2 in the garage are our freezers.  We raise most of our own meat ( pork, beef, catfish ) ( more on that later ) and these are used to store much of that.  The uprights are 17 and 15cuft, and the chest is a 9cuft.   Word of caution on freezers…make sure you either have the ability to can out most of what’s in them AND/OR some backup source of power generation in case of power failure.

    Also, keep a list going ( my wife has a PhD in “list making” ) of what is IN the freezer…note it on the door.

    Also note those plastic “lugs” stacked on top the middle freezer…VERY handy for handling lots of fresh garden produce…you’ll see them again later.


    Alright…that’s all I have time for this morning.  Computer going to shop…May be a few days before I get back with more.




    something a little different: Kid Dynamite Slaughters A Cow
    (KD: math MIT; vegas card shark, wall st trader, homesteader NH)

    We have really just started expanding our 1 year old garden this year.  It is a lot of work and doing it organically creates it’s own challenges with bugs and diseases.  Fortunately in this area we have an Organic Growers School and have learned a tremendous amount through their workshops. http://www.organicgrowersschool.org/
    Learn to make compost!  The best thing for a garden.  Look up bokashi composting on youtube using EMs (Effective Micro-organisms).  The health  of your soil is most important and having a multilayered web of life in your garden strengthens and enhances the soil and plants. EM’s are an amazing discovery of a Japanese scientist and are being used world wide in many different ways.  One tip.  Once you buy the original bottle you can grow them yourself just like sourdough or yogurt cultures.  See:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BttGnPHRFT4

    We are building a greenhouse and are learning to extend our growing season through the winter to have greens and root vegetables.  If you have a basement Organic Gardening has a good article on a simple root cellar room you can build: http://www.organicgardening.com/feature/0,7518,s1-5-19-173-2-1X2-3,00.html  We Plan to do that soon in the corner of our basement.

    With the internet there is so much information out there it is easy to get overwhelmed.  I use evernote to collect articles that I can save for future reference and so I don’t forget where it was: http://www.evernote.com

    Acomfort’s post on dehydrating was great and it is a great way to store foods.  It does take a lot of time to dehydrate foods though they last a long time.  We did some canning this summer and it is also labor intensive but a great way to preserve foods.  We have just been trying to get a broad range of experience to see what works best for us.

    We have found a company selling prepackaged gourmet dehydrated meals.  A great way to instantly have a store of food that you can grow monthly.  The taste is excellent and you can get a free sample of 3 meals (8-10 servings) at http://obg.efoodsglobal.com  for $5.95 shipping and handling to try it out.  Meals average $1.00 a serving but they are easy to prepare and again taste great.  This is a network marketing company (so try to look past the hype, the product is great) that is just starting, but the food company has been providing food for 10 years. 

    We have been buying a little extra of soups and canned goods whenever we shop and are building up a little storehouse of supplies but the dehydrated meals will be our main supply especially if things get bad really fast.  We didn’t get in on buying any gold, but I figure having food is as good or better than gold as it will be appreciating just as fast and I can eat food and trade or sell food.  I can’t eat gold.

    There are Meetup groups of people that are joining together to figure out how to get prepared that are a great way to meet others in your area of like mind.  Also Transition groups are great for information on Permaculture and creating a homestead that can support and sustain you.  http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ 

    Hope some of this helps.  Thank you Chris for the great site.






    Dear EndGamePlayer,
    Everyone has a favorite disaster. Whether your favorite is global warming, peak oil or economic collapse or something else, all disasters interfere with the availability of food. To grow food you need health soil and this is something we are loosing at a ferocious rate.
    There is evidence that a minor increase in soil carbon sequestration would pull enough carbon from the atmosphere to get us into a safe range. There is also evidence that we can double soil carbon sequestration in a couple years if we apply certain sea minerals to the soil.
    These minerals can be concentrated from sea water or sea salt using simple, open-source methods. This reduced-salt, mineral concentrate can be made at a cost of about two dollars per acre, per year.
    Any individual with access to dirt can get these results by applying these minerals to the dirt they have access to. You don’t need permission or cooperation of corporate, government or belief structures to implement this on your own soil. If a few million people were to do this, we could pull enough carbon out of the atmosphere to get us back to safe levels.
    Grow your own soil, grow your own food and grow your own carbon sequestration. Then show your neighbors your giant nuts, plums and carrots:
    With kindest regards,
    Barry Carter

    You can delete this post.

    I don’t think the answer is in organics,organic is death by 1000 cuts.
    Here is my reasoning,many organic farms rely on inputs(compost ,minerals etc, etc),many farms including the one mentioned  earlier in the thread(food connect)rely on external organic inputs,such an example would be compost imported to the site from an outside source we have to consider the embedded energy in such a situation.

    Like wise when gardening at home we are likely to go down to the local hardware store and purchase some compost.

    If you are not solely relying on nutrient cycling that is occurring on your property then you do not have a sustainable system.

    Further more I would put it to you that many of our most important nutrients are transported of site thus depriving the nutrient cycle of valuable inputs.The example for this is human urine which contain some 7kg of nitrogen and many trace elements and minerals,for the average person.

    Now these nutrients that are flushed away when they should have been retained for the nutrient cycle.

    Carbon is possibly the most important element in a strong soil food web unless adequate carbon is kept in situ then again you have a situation of diminishing returns.

    Subsistence farming is no easy road and that is what we are talking about here.

    The nutritive value of the food in relation to inputs is also important,if you are growing lettuce and other high input crops again you are on a slippery slope.

    What’s needed is a reassessment of what food is.

    Food is fuel,it is not another commodity to derive pleasure from.

    When we indulge in high input low nutritive foods we plunder the worlds resources and we do that for the benefit of a very select  few.

    Growing simple staples that require low inputs,is the only decent response to food strategy.

    1 person per 1/4 acre is a fair guide and this will support a vegetarian lifestyle.

    Food for thought,is this forum about caring for the earth or just caring for ourselves I do believe the later has caused this situation.

    Best Wishes fernando pessoa