We have an addiction problem that isn’t talked about much but became extremely apparent last month when the COVID-19 crisis began.
The vast majority of us are addicted to grocery stores. It’s a hard addiction to beat, but it is curable, and it doesn’t require 12 steps. It only requires two steps.
1. Learn how to grow your own food.
2. Learn how to store your own food.
With many of us quarantined at home with the kids, supposedly bored and trying to think of things to do, this is a perfect opportunity to bring back the victory garden.
History buffs will recall that growing a victory garden is was what folks on the home front did during WWI and WWII to preserve food supplies for our soldiers while at the same time preventing themselves from starving.
Most people my age (around the mid-century mark) are only one or two generations removed from living almost completely off of what they grew and/or raised themselves. However, many of us have lost those skills thanks to grocery stores. It’s easier to go fill your buggy than plow and hoe a field.
My grandmother, Anna Ruth Rankin, is 85 and grew up on a farm during WWII. I want to share with you what she told me last week about her childhood on a farm:
“During World War II everything was rationed and you had to have a book of stamps to go buy food. We had everything in the world on the farm. We had our hogs, our cows, our eggs, our milk, butter, vegetables from the garden. My mommy canned. They would give us little kids a bucket and send us out to pick blackberries, and she’d make blackberry jam, jelly. We just had everything.
“What we had to buy would be like flour. Daddy had three cousins who had stores, and we never had trouble getting stuff because they’d always help their own kin first. We’d get a 25 pound bag of flour, and Mommy would make our biscuits, and we’d have jams and jellies and gravy, because they killed their hogs and Mommy could make sausage.
“Daddy worked in the mine sometimes, and he became good friends with some of those people. They’d come over on the weekend and get vegetables from us because we had so much. It grew real good. We had the beans that grew up the corn, and we’d go pick them beans, and they’d be up to the top of the stalk of corn. Mommy had to move everything out of one room and pile them beans up in the corner of the front room because we had so many. We had dried beans, we had canned beans. We had plenty to eat.
“Granny Till, (my grandma’s grandmother Matilda Harris) being part Indian, she could dry a lot of her food. She’d dry pumpkin and peaches and everything. She knew how to do it. Kids this day and time don’t even know how to plant a flower.
“When I was a little girl we had sweet potatoes, and the way Mom got us to work was by saying, ‘Whoever digs the biggest sweet potato will get a candy bar.’ We’d dig ourselves to death for that candy bar. When we hoed corn, Daddy would say, ‘Finish the last row and you all can go swimming.’ We’d work so hard to get through that corn quick to go swimming in the hole of water down there. Below the house we had a big old swimming hole. So we had that kind of life, and it was fun, but we learned how to work. It was so different from now.”
Both sets of my grandparents started their lives as farmers.
My mom’s parents lived in a rural mountain area near Harlan, Ky. My mom recalled that while growing up on her farm the only thing they bought from the store was hamburger, Velveeta cheese, and loaf bread because her dad liked cheeseburgers.
My father’s parents had a farm in Corinth, Miss., and grew everything they ate. They rarely bought groceries from a store.
Both sets of my grandparents eventually left their farms and moved up north in the 1960s to work in factories, which is a good thing for me because otherwise my parents wouldn’t have met, and I wouldn’t be here.
Even though they left the farm, they kept those farmer skills.
I can remember as a little boy my grandparents had what seemed like a huge vegetable garden in their backyard, although it was actually only about 40 feet by 30 feet. But they were able to grow enormous amounts of food in that small space.
They could fill a freezer full of beans and chopped okra and squash; and a pantry with bushels of onions and potatoes, and dozens of jars of tomatoes and peppers. These people grew up in the Depression, so they knew hunger, and one thing was for sure. They weren’t addicted to grocery stories. As long as they had a garden, they weren’t going hungry.
Although my parents and I ate mostly out of a supermarket when I was a kid, they both had some farm experiences as children, and we had a vegetable garden at our house. A little bit of that farmer heritage rubbed off on me as well.
I like to grow tomatoes and squash, and I try to plant one or two fruit trees every year. This spring I’m ramping things up a little bit, however, just in case we need to put a little extra food back for the winter.
One of my big takeaways from the COVID-19 crisis is that this entire country is only about two or three days away from having completely empty grocery stores at any given time.
Are we in for bad times like the Great Depression, or worse? I certainly hope not. But, there’s nothing wrong with being prepared. We started hearing the word “coronavirus” for the first time on the news about two months before the pandemic hit us. Now we’re hearing the words “food shortage” on the news.
You don't need a lot of land to start a victory garden. Look at the Church Hill Senior Center garden on Main Boulevard beside the police station. That plot is probably about a quarter-acre, but the vegetable yield is huge every year.
You don’t even need a yard. Raised beds can be built anywhere and filled up with soil.
I’m no expert. Far from it. You’re never too old to learn, and I’ve been wanting to take UT Master Gardener classes for years, but my work schedule interferes with their class schedule.
There’s one place, however, where anyone can go any time to learn how to do almost anything. YouTube.
It has videos that will teach you how to garden; how to build raised beds; how to plant, prune and spray your fruit trees; how to can and/or freeze your produce; and how to get the maximum yield out of the smallest space.
It’s never too early to start preparing for the worst. That means getting your victory garden started right now. If a food shortage hits in two months, it’ll be too late to get your tomato plants in the ground.