One reason I moved to the country was to forge a more direct link to the food I eat.
I want to grow it, raise it, preserve it, prepare it. I want to know everything about it: The soil it sprouts from, the grass it eats, the water that sustains it, the chemicals and hormones it isn’t subjected to.
On my one-acre property, I planted a large garden and 12 fruit trees, plus strawberries and a raspberry patch.
From midsummer through fall, I can, dry and freeze. My goal is to put up enough food during the growing season to eat for the rest of the year.
Our rural ancestors were much more self-sustaining than we are today, growing food not just for eating fresh in summer, but putting it up to enjoy all winter long. They had a different motivation — avoiding starvation — but the same flavor payoff I seek.
Every green bean I ate this winter (and that’s a lot) ripened on sun-drenched vines west of my barn. On warm nights in my outdoor summer kitchen, I snapped and parboiled fat tender beans by the basketful.
They shared space in the chest freezer with local corn, cooked pumpkin, pie apples and roasted peppers.
The pantry is stocked with sparkling jars of “Cindy’s” finest ketchup, tomato sauce, sand hill plum jelly, peach jam and all manner of pickles.
Six free-range hens lay all the rich, orange-yolked eggs my husband and I can eat, and then some.
I bake my own bread.
But last month, I reached a new milestone on the path to self-sufficiency, stocking a second chest freezer with a year’s supply of beef, pork and poultry, all raised in my county by neighbors and friends.
Scott Dawson Livestock is not certified organic, but Dawson’s pasture and the brome hay he feeds his cattle are pesticide-free.
The 18-month-old bull that provided my beef was never given antibiotic-laced feed and was never treated with antibiotics because he was never sick.
In winter, Snicklefritz — you know a farmer who names his animals takes good care of them — got supplemental corn and soybeans that did not meet my ideal organic, non-GMO standard.
But the cool thing is, when you drink beers with your farmer and his wife on aluminum lawn chairs in front of a pre-1900 vaulted stone cellar while their 4-year-old daughter bounces across a slackline between shade trees, you can talk about custom feed requests for the future. The key is establishing a relationship with your producers.
Besides the rich, meaty flavor and deep red color of the Dawson beef, I love the way the Peabody Sausage House & Locker wraps it in white freezer paper with my name (and the name of the friends I split a side with) stamped on each package in red ink. No foam trays or plastic film touch my meat.
Unloading the cuts from large coolers on the back of our truck was Christmas in March for a carnivore: sirloin steaks, T-bones, chuck roasts, short ribs, brisket! Plus cuts I’ve never heard of: Pike’s Peak roast, rib boil.
The biggest hurdle to buying a half-side of beef is having to pay upfront, in my case about $850 for 225 pounds of meat. That breaks down to $3.80 per pound, a bargain, and drastically cuts grocery bills for the next year.
We also went in on part of a butchered hog with friends who raise them and scored some chickens by helping friends on harvest day. It’s a satisfying feeling, knowing you have meat for a year paid for and within arm’s reach.
With the growing urban farm movement, you can do this in the city, too. All you need is a chest freezer; I recommend finding an old one made in the U.S. or Canada for longevity.
But when it comes to major food groups — meat, dairy, fruits, veggies and grains — if it can be grown or raised in my yard or in friends’ pastures, that’s where I’m looking first.