As I’ve put up the harvest and reorganizing my pantry, my mind has turned many times to food storage. Google Long Term Food Storage and some seriously hard core people pop up: you know, people with 5 gallon buckets of freeze-dried kumquats and fifty years worth of marshmallows and graham crackers under the bed so they won’t miss a s’more if the apocalypse goes down.
It’s a little daunting when you first look into it, so I asked my friend Anji to write a “Food Storage For Beginners” post for me. She’s got it down, and belongs to a community of people – the Mormons - who were into long-term, large-scale food storage long before peak-oil zombies entered the pop culture lexicon. We’d love to field your questions on, or learn your best tips for, food storage for beginners in the comments. Now, here’s Anji:
This is Anji from central Connecticut. Not only do I have a family – my husband and four kids – but I am also responsible for keeping track of all the women and their families in my church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Consequently, I am a big believer in being prepared for unexpected things.
Hurricane Irene came right through our city just a few weeks ago, and Erica, knowing I was LDS, asked me if I had food storage, and if that affected our experience with the hurricane. Erica was right; having a store of stuff to eat, along with plenty of water for a few weeks, did make a difference.
For one thing, I didn’t have to rush off and fight for water and food. But the biggest difference is that I didn’t have to worry. I knew that even if I lost power for several days, I had enough propane (to cook), plus water and food to take care of my family for several weeks. For my one year old, I have some dried milk. I also have bandages and some other medical-kit type stuff. Not a ton, but some. The peace of mind that comes with being prepared in this way is invaluable. I may not be prepared for any eventuality, but I do what I can to be prepared for almost anything.
The hurricane was pretty scary during the night. It kept me awake, we got a few inches of water in our basement and we lost the internet for several days (tragedy!!). But we didn’t lose our power for long, and we never lost city water. Our neighbors lost their power for a longer time, so we shared power with them. We were really blessed; many people in the area were without power for a week or more, and many others are still cleaning up from flooding.
I have been working on my food store ever since I got married eleven years ago, so we have quite a bit. I don’t know exactly how long we could survive survive on our food storage because I am not that exact with my bookkeeping, but I know that when I moved out to Connecticut from Seattle, I didn’t buy rice for a whole year because I didn’t like the rice options out here. I never ran out of rice, but I did finally start buying rice again when I noticed our stores were starting to get a low.
After eleven years, I have a nice amount and variety of food stored, and I guesstimate that I could feed my precious family for at least a year without too much difficulty, which was my goal. I feel strongly that I should share with my neighbors in times of need, so I try to store enough to share as well.
When I started to store food, I began simply because it is really easy to get overwhelmed and give up. Erica asked me to share how to start building up a store, so here are a few ideas of where to start that are easy, inexpensive, and most importantly, not overwhelming.
First, focus on priorities: water! Water is vital for life… so store as much of it as you can. If you drink soda pop or juice, keep the bottles and after rinsing them out, fill them with fresh water, and store! If you have public water, you don’t need to treat with chlorine – it has already been treated. Don’t use gallon containers from milk – they degrade over time, and burst. Then, poof! No more water!
There are commercial barrels of varying sizes you can buy specifically for storing water. So once you decide you are ready to move on from pop or juice bottles, get a few of the barrels. Don’t store the barrels directly on concrete! Place them on a pallet first, then fill. You should empty and change the water about every six months (I suggest you change out your water on the Solstice and the Equinox).
The large barrels are difficult to empty, but you can buy hand pumps for less than $20 to empty them. Just having the water is most important, so don’t worry too much about changing it out if that step will make it less likely for you to try storing to begin with. If the water tastes nasty when you need to use it, pour it between containers to aerate, as this improves the taste. I have tried aerating, and it helps. Aerating doesn’t make the water taste fresh from the tap, but the taste does improve.
How much water to store? It is wise to store a gallon a day per person – minimum. If you want to wash yourself, your dishes, or flush the toilet, then store more. It takes about three days to two weeks for public water to be restored after a storm (i.e. hurricane Irene three weeks ago. )
Food is a natural second in importance after water. Here are some things to keep in mind for storing food: Store what you eat. Emergency rations from emergency kits are not really food. They are like hard tack that soldiers in the military used to have in the civil war. Mix it with water and try to swallow. That will sustain your life, but just barely!
Instead, when shopping for the week, add an extra can of soup or box of spaghetti to your cart, and put it in a cupboard for a rainy day. If you do this every week, or every month, continually adding to the cupboard, you will be surprised how much adds up! You could also can your own soups or chili, if you are interested in such an endeavor.
If you do a lot of cooking from scratch, get an extra bag of flour or rice once a month, and store it in a plastic bucket (you can get these for free from most bakeries). If you use dried beans, get a few extra bags per month. Those also store well in plastic buckets. You probably get the idea – store what you already eat. If you eat more prepared foods, you can store dried versions – dried pastas with seasonings etc.
If you eat mostly fresh vegetables, don’t despair! You are already doing a major part of being self-sustaining because most of you are already growing a garden! So if you grow some extra tomatoes, onions, or squash, after sharing some with your neighbors, you can preserve them through canning or drying. It might also be a good idea to store some extra seeds, in case it gets difficult one season to obtain fresh garden seeds.
Another large part of being prepared for unexpected eventualities is having a rainy day fund. Keeping a few dollars every week in a separate purse/wallet is easy enough in good times, and you will be super happy to have it if you have a sudden car repair or unexpected trip to the hospital. (Thanks Dave Ramsey!)
If you want to store enough food to simply get by a few days, you will feel quite well accomplished in short order. However, if you want to continue working for a longer term store, in case of a serious setback – a job loss for instance, just continue buying a little extra each month. A job loss is not inconceivable, especially right now.
There you have it! A simple way to start storing a little bit for a rainy (in the case of a hurricane, very rainy) day.
Have fun filling your pantries!
Thanks so much to Anji for taking the time to share her pantry preparedness basics. Do you store food to better prepare you for emergencies and personal set-backs? What’s your best tip for beginning food storage?