I had a feeling something would go wrong. I’ve practiced food preservation methods since I was 12 and never had I felt so uneasy. I needed to put away all the food that I could.
Call it a hunch. I’m religious, so I call it a prompting. My husband felt it as well: a nagging notion that we needed to store all the food we could. And as summer burned hot and dry, making tomato blossoms drop and bringing squash bugs out in pestilence, my garden flourished. I honestly had too much food for my family. There was our second sign. And it made me nervous.
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What would happen to make our food preservation methods so important? What is food preservation going to fix? The most likely scenarios came to mind: my husband could lose his job. If I became ill or broke an arm, I’d be unable to work. Perhaps our rental situation would turn sour or a sudden repair bill would strip our bank account bare.
So I focused on dehydrating, canning, freezing…food preservation of all forms. We filled so many canning jars we converted a living room bookshelf into a second pantry. Two freezers overflowed with homegrown meat. Squash lined my bay window.
Then winter hit … and nothing happened. We were healthy. My husband’s employer was content and I received a secondary income that took care of impending bills. The landlady’s walk-through proved that she was impressed by our urban farming efforts and looked forward to many more years.
I was confused. But I soon learned that my efforts had nothing to do with me.
The Simplest Way to Help
Kenny and Steven are good guys. They’re trying their hardest to make a life by mixing simple homesteading and in-town employment. I had gotten to know them through mentoring, teaching them how to raise rabbits for meat and butcher humanely. But their troubles hit hard and fast with a vehicle blow-up and job loss. One income wasn’t enough for their household.
Kenny didn’t ask for food but I knew that’s what he needed. He asked if he could do some work around my place in trade for frozen meat. But I’ve noticed that those needing the most help don’t ask for handouts. They offer to work or they don’t ask at all.
I didn’t have spare money but I had food. My husband and I filled a huge box with meat, rice and pasta, pickles and jam, tomato sauce, and some bay window squash. After we delivered the box, I looked back at my pantry. I couldn’t even tell that anything was missing.
Steven and Kenny weren’t the only ones helped by last summer’s food preservation methods. One friend sold homemade potholders, in the shape of chickens, because her husband was out of work and her four children needed Christmas presents. I purchased a couple to give to other friends. Instead of money, my friend just wanted food.
And then there’s Walter, an amazing man who struggled through pre-Civil Rights Alabama and continues to struggle as an elderly Nevada citizen. Sometimes, if we’re headed that direction, we’ll pack a box of home-raised rabbit and chicken. Walter never asks for it. But he always says thanks.
It’s Not Always About Us
Articles about food preservation examples provide plenty of reasons to store extra: To preserve your harvest. So you can eat healthier. To ensure your family’s security during calamities. People ask why they need food preservation methods. “What am I going to do with two freezers of meat?”
How many people prepare for someone else’s rainy days?
While thinking about my recent experience with Kenny and Steven, I reached out on Facebook to ask if anyone else had been helped by someone else’s food storage efforts. I received a flood of true stories that brought tears of joy.
Becky Kendall put up food for the same reasons I started: to feed her children. Her sons’ dad was never able to hold down a job, so she started an entry level position. The job didn’t pay all the bills so she applied for food stamps. She qualified for only $10 in assistance. Becky walked out of the office, got out her cookbooks, and planned her gardens. She canned and froze her produce, budgeting money to stock up on grocery store food. She and her kids picked berries and made jam. Their food preservation methods produced so much variety that they were able to use it as Christmas gifts during tough years.
Linda Johnson, a true homesteading maven, idolized a woman who worked even harder. The woman had nine sons and two daughters. “She utilized the manpower to feed the crew,” Linda details. “Her water bath canner was a cut-off 55-gallon drum over an open fire outside, tended by whichever boys were not in the kitchen preparing the half-gallon jars.” If Linda remembered correctly, a single batch was 27 jars.
Family to Family
Danna Hook grows and stores much of her food now that she has a little land. But it wasn’t always that way. When she and her husband were in college, ends didn’t meet. For six months, Danna didn’t even have money to go to the grocery store. When she heard her sister-in-law was coming into town with her three children, Danna scraped up enough for a single box of cereal. Her husband called his sister to tell her they just couldn’t feed her family. It was a difficult thing to do. Telling Danna not to worry about it, her sister-in-law drove from Pennsylvania to southern Virginia then opened up a mini-van packed completely full with food storage. It had come from her pantry, her parents’ and another of her brothers.
“She then spent the few days there showing me different meals to make with it,” Danna told me. “Including the Hook family favorite, Spam fried rice!”
Matters improved for a while. Danna and her husband had several children. Then the recession struck and her husband lost his job. They were back to living off food storage. By this point, Danna’s family was far away and upset that they couldn’t carry over boxes of canned and frozen food. So Danna’s mom spent weeks dehydrating vegetables from her garden and several friends’ gardens. That food preservation method meant the package was lightweight enough to ship across the country. One day Danna’s son Jake wanted to direct making dinner so they pretended they were pirates with only dehydrated foods left in the hold. Pirate stew is still a family favorite.
Lisa Tomecek and her husband only had to weather a short time, but they did it on the grace of a relative who hunts. “It took about everything we could muster up to get the bills and rent paid. Consequently, our food supply was a grim little affair.” Lisa received venison, feral hog meat, pickled vegetables and some mead the friend had made. By the end of that winter, they had weathered the storm.
Within the Community
Lisa Hollar and her husband were in a tough spot several years ago. A friend called, saying she had Christmas presents for Lisa’s two youngest children. When Lisa met her to get the presents, the friend also gave her a huge container of meat.
“She said it was from her son’s 4-H,” Lisa said, “but the variety that was there … I am not so sure.”
Lisa felt the meat packaging looked suspiciously like the type purchased at the local butcher shop. It fed the family for several months. That winter was frigid and the Hollar’s van was broken down, so Lisa simply kept the meat in the vehicle as her food preservation method and walked outside to get what she needed.
Another friend, who asked to remain anonymous, had severe anemia as a child. The doctor claimed she needed to eat as much red meat, liver, and dark greens as she could, but her parents could not afford those. A friend whispered the story to the community so the parents would not be embarrassed. The community came forward with meat from their freezers. It was hunting season, and they claimed they needed to make room for new deer. One person gave them a chest freezer that he didn’t need anymore. My friend ate so much venison, liver, and onions that she now cannot stand liver.
People who need the food rarely ask for it. But they will share it. Having endured the struggles long enough, they’re compassionate to others. It’s amazing how long food lasts when it’s shared with others.
Theresa Miller also received excess meat from hunting season but she got more than she expected. When she and her husband first married, they were desperately poor. One fall day, a local hunter that knew her husband stopped by her trailer. He said three people in his family had gotten their deer and elk and now they had to clean the old meat from the freezer. Theresa expected a grocery bag or two. She instead received ten.
Theresa narrated, “After he left, we loaded up several of the bags and went around town like wild game fairies, delivering meat to other people we knew were having trouble making ends meet.”
Callie’s family wasn’t well off but they had enough because her at-home mother grew a huge garden and canned everything. Summer meals were from the garden and winter dinners were courtesy of her mom’s food preservation methods. Callie’s father had a childhood friend who was a victim of Agent Orange. He was unable to work and his wife was also disabled. The couple joined Callie’s family for dinner nearly every night.
“The only way that was possible,” Callie said, “was through my mother’s stockpiles of food storage. She was able to feed two extra hungry mouths through her labors.”
Beth Avery told me of a time when her father freaked out during the recession in the 1980s. He bought 50-gallon drums of rice and beans. Beth’s family never used the food. Instead, it went to a friend’s family. Beth said, “I think we also gave them half a cow as well.” The father was a mechanic so he repaired Beth’s family’s cars in trade.
Helping a Little or a Lot
The story which touched me the most was from Beck. She’s the daughter of drug-addicted parents.
During high school, she lived with her father and his wife. There was rarely food in the house. And if food was available, the wife would not allow Beck to eat it. She only ate if her dad sneaked the food to her. Matters were worse at her mom’s. Though Beck videoed the abuse and drug use, she was afraid to get Child Protective Services involved because she would be sent back to live with her mother.
“My stepmom refused to sign me up for free lunch at school,” Beck said, “and my dad feared his wife so he would not do it.”
She went for days without eating. Until she met Vince.
“Once Vince went to my house after we started dating, he quickly realized that I did not have anything. So, he started packing a lunch for me.”
Vince’s parents invited Beck over for dinner and holidays, often sending her home with care packages of non-perishable food that she could hide in her room. Vince started providing toilet paper when he saw her hoarding napkins to take home. They even gave her a camping cot because she was sleeping on the floor.
But then her dad’s wife realized she was getting fed at school and wanted Beck to stop going. She had to sneak out in the middle of the night and catch the city bus.
When Beck was seventeen, her dad and his wife got evicted. Beck was homeless. She got a job at a local bread shop. One of her friend’s parents let her sleep at their house. She was allowed to bring home a single loaf of old bread per day, and she subsisted on that until she was able to save up enough money for her own apartment.
Then Beck turned eighteen. She and Vince eloped while still in high school and got their own apartment. She was able to graduate high school. Beck’s dad’s wife died of an overdose within a few years of that.
“Had it not been for the support of Vince, his parents and my friend’s parents who took me in, I don’t know how I could have survived.”
Beck and Vince are still happily married, with three healthy children. Her dad has since remarried an amazing woman who changed his life for the better. Now Beck focuses on helping others. She learned how to preserve food and uses her time to volunteer. If you mention that you have needs, she is immediately there to assist.
Though our immediate families come first, there are always people who could use our help. Our food preservation methods don’t always have to be about us. It’s food that has been put up for people who need it.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.