So, March 1st (TODAY) marks the beginning of a new year for the Independence Day Challenge. It has not been a full year for me, since I started in 2009, but since Sharon Astyk, the leader of this challenge, is starting her year a little early, I am too. I like to follow along, and her record keeping encourages me with mine.
So what is the Challenge? Well, in Sharon’s own words,
“…most of us would like to grow a garden with our kids, or make sure that we know where our food comes from. We’d like to live in communities with a greater measure of food security, we’d like to know more about what we’re eating. We’d like to have more contact with nature, we’d like to be more self-sufficient. We’d like to have better food at lower cost, we’d like to have a reserve for an emergency or to share. We’d like to do more in our community and to eat with one another. We’d like to sit down to a home cooked meal more often.
We want these things but we don’t know how to get them, in large part because when we think about growing a garden or preserving food, or working in our community, we imagine we must allot large chunks of our time. We imagine it is impossible – because we know we can’t pull hours every day out of our frantic schedules.
But what if we didn’t have to? That’s what the Independence Days Challenge encourages all of us – busy working families and farmers, city dwellers and suburbanites and country folk – to remember. That is, it isn’t all or nothing, we don’t have to wait until we have a whole afternoon free or are on vacation. What if we could do it gradually, just a little bit every day or week – what if we only had to plant our few seeds today, and tomorrow, pull a couple of weeds and harvest two salads, and the next day make three jars of jam?
What’s amazing about this is how fast it adds up – a few minutes here and there turn into a much greater degree of self-sufficiency.”
Sharon has written a book, Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation, and I think her work with her family is quite inspiring. She says,
“That’s why I think food preservation and storage matter so much. Ultimately, we are talking not only about the fairly manageable question of what to have for dinner, but also about about transforming our society, our use of energy, our food culture, and, of course our culture as a whole.”
The challenge works like this: Every week commit to writing down what you’ve accomplished in seven categories (listed below). The only rule is don’t list what you didn’t do. Because it is so easy to get blinded by what we haven’t done, that we don’t see our accomplishments. This is about your successes.
The seven categories are (and I mostly quoting Sharon’s descriptions here):
1. Plant something – In Sharon’s words, “it should be a reminder that gardening isn’t “put in the garden on memorial day and that’s it” – most of us can grow over a longer season than we do, and enjoy fresh foods grown through spring, summer and fall, and even into or through winter in many places. Even if you live in an apartment, you can sprout seeds. So keep on planting!”
2. Harvest something - “as soon as you pick the first dandelion from your yard, it counts if you ate it or preserved it. Don’t forget to include food you forage – whether from wild marginal areas, or even just from the neighbor’s trees that he never harvests (ask, obviously).”
3. Preserve something – Canning, dehydrating, natural cool storage, and for me, freezing (though Sharon’s not big on freezing). “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming – and it is a way to preserve what is plentiful, inexpensive, delicious and healthy for a time when there is less of it.”
4. Waste Not– “Once you’ve got food, whether purchased or home preserved, you have to keep an eye on it – we waste nearly half of all food, much of it in our homes. In this category goes making sure you use what you buy or grow, cutting down on garbage production by minimizing packaging and purchasing, composting, reducing community waste by composting or feeding scraps to your animals, and taking care of your food storage – everything from keeping records and writing dates on jars to checking the apples and making sauce when they start getting soft. BTW, reduce waste also refers to money and energy – stretching out your trips to the store and not “spending” gas on your food, cutting your grocery budget and reducing cooking energy. These are things that are good for the planet and good for all of us.” – Couldn’t have said it better.
5. Want Not – The stuff you’ve done that isn’t growing/storing/preserving food goes into this category. “That means the food you buy for storage, the things you build, scavenge, rescue and repair that get you further down the path. Did you get a good deal at goodwill? Scavenge some cinder blocks for your raised bed building project? Share with a neighbor? Find a grain mill on Craigslist? Buy some more rice and put it away? Inventory the medicine cabinet? Pick up a new book that will be helpful?” This category is about preparing and helping yourself.
6. Build Community Food Systems – “Great, we’re all doing this stuff at home. But what did you do to help spread the message, because that may even be more important.” Things like donating to a food pantry, teaching neighbor kids how to make yogurt, talking about your food storage plans, bringing a casserole to a new neighbor. As Sharon says, “The first line of security for all of us is each other – we are all enriched by a more food-secure community.”
7. Eat the Food – “Ultimately, eaters have more power over our agricultural future than they know – farmers can’t necessarily lead the way – they have to sell what eaters want. So cooking and eating are the way we will change the food system. This is where you tell us about the new recipes you tried, or the old ones you adapted to new ingredients, about how you are actually eating what you store and store what you eat, or getting your kids to try the kale.”
So here’s to 2010 – wish me luck, and join along if you like!