Not half the calories, but half the dollars

Not long ago I suggested that while it was unrealistic to suggest that most people produce the majority of their food calories (short of a massive uprooting of the sort the Cambodians were once famous for), a more modest cultural shift could result in people producing enough to offset the majority of their own food dollars. This time of year that almost seems possible.

Overall I’d rate the performance of our garden this summer as marginal. We were out of state for most of May, June, and July, with only brief visits home in which I did my best to get things in the ground. As a result we missed the peas and the first beans, a lot of lettuce went by, things got really weedy, and my tomato starts got sunburned. Still, we have come to the point in August where it produces more fresh organic produce than we can eat on a continuing basis. Last night we had a meal that was easily over 50% home-produced, at least on a dollar-based accounting.

I had several medium-sized zucchini and pattypan squash from the garden, so I stuffed and baked them, including in the filling carrots and bell peppers from the garden. In the not-produced column was some olive oil, some cooked brown rice, and a cup of grated Vermont cheese. I also put in some breadcrumbs from the heels of bread that I made; obviously I didn’t produce the flour, but I suspect that bread equivalent quality to what I bake would be well over 2X the value of the ingredients, bought in bulk at the co-op. I haven’t pitched any bread ends since I started cutting up and freezing stale bread; when I get a sackful I make two big pans of bread pudding, which has become Alexis’ favorite dessert.

We also had fresh corn on the cob from the garden, which is just coming ripe and will go by before we can eat it all, and I cooked up a big pile of fresh edamame which I grew this year as an experiment; it’s really good. It goes without saying that there was homemade cider, pressed from a couple dollars worth of Poverty Lane apples and equivalent to a bottle worth $7 or $8 at the store, if you could even find it (We’re fortunate to have Steve Wood’s stuff in the grocery here, but most people would have to settle for Magner’s or Woodchuck).

Finally, I baked a big 12″ blueberry pie with a couple quarts of frozen blueberries grown by my grandfather in Maine, along with store-bought flour, Vermont butter, and sugar. Putting that many store-bought berries in a pie would be exorbitant, but he produces far more than he can use from a patch of 18 bushes; this year so far they have yielded 135 quarts of delicious fresh fruit and counting. Imagine trying to eat three quarts of blueberries every single week!

So, this is the vision I propose – not apocalyptic self-sufficiency on a calorie-for-calorie basis, but a revitalized home economy, characterized by a diet built on a framework of simple low-cost foods purchased in bulk, and enlivened by a variety of delicious fresh fruits, vegetables, and a modest sprinkling of animal products produced at home and by a local food network. With a bit of enjoyable elbow grease, great swaths of the country could eat better, cheaper, and more interestingly than we do now.

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One Response to “Not half the calories, but half the dollars”

  1. Sharon Says:

    If you need help eating that corn, you just let us know… Always happy to be of service when it comes to treats from the garden!

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