Preparing Our Children For a Resilient Future, Part II: Food Security
I doubt many would disagree that food is one of the most important things that we are going to need to become reconnected to, in times to come. Without a reliable food source, much hardship can be predicted and even potentially losses of life. In the future, food security will probably rely much more on sources of our own creation, by producing food ourselves and establishing networks with others in our community.
We will also need to acquire the knowledge to put these food systems into practice. It’s one thing to have wheat seeds to plant, but wheat doesn’t grow and become bread by itself. We have to know, and become proficient in, the processes involved in whatever we plan to produce — preferably before there is an urgent necessity to do so!
The activities below will introduce your children (and you!) to some of the principles and practices of creating food resilience.
Do you know where your food comes from and how far it has to travel? The further it travels the more energy it will take and the more greenhouse gas will be produced. Freshness and quality are also affected.
Select a few items from your pantry and record where they are produced. Try to find out, or make an educated guess, about how the food might have travelled from where it was produced to your local supermarket. How many kilometres did it travel? What kinds of transport might have been used? If you can, get hold of a map of the world (or draw a basic one) and draw lines, or stick strings, to show the routes of various foods, from their country of origin to where you live.
Go to your supermarket or fruit & veg shop and see what you can find out about the fresh produce they stock. How much of it states it was grown locally? What about produce from overseas… where does it come from?
How could you help cut down the distance your food has to travel before it reaches you? Can you find more local producers, or grow or make it yourself?
Where does your bread come from — a plastic bag from your supermarket or the local bakery? Let’s pretend all the supermarkets and bakeries no longer stock bread…. How will you get bread? With a lot more work than just popping down the shop, but much more fun!
This activity is divided into steps, which can all be attempted, or you can begin at one of the further steps, depending on how fully you want to immerse yourself in the process.
Step One: Grow Your Wheat
Where does flour come from? If you want to skip the next couple of steps, you can buy a bag of flour from the supermarket. Or, you can begin by growing your own wheat. It may be difficult to grow as much as you need, but even growing some and combining with some bought flour, will give you a better idea of what is involved. Wheat is pretty easy to grow. You can even grow it in large pots, although the amount you can grow this way is limited. Plant in a good rich soil and keep adequate moisture to it as it grows.
There is lots of information on the internet with specifics of growing wheat and dealing with the diseases it may face, if you need it, however I’ve never found it difficult, with very little knowledge on the subject. Different climates may present different difficulties though. When you buy your wheat seeds, preferably buy food grade seed, as seeds sold specifically for planting may be already chemically treated.
Note: If you wish, you can also grow some sunflowers, etc., and harvest the seeds to sprinkle on top of your bread.
Step Two: Harvest Your Wheat
When your wheat is turning golden but still with streaks of green, cut off down along the stalks and hang it somewhere dry to finish drying out. When it is hard and no longer dents in when you press it, it’s ready to thresh. A large barrel is ideal for this, or some large container which you can work down into. Hold the wheat stalks and bash them against the side of the container, allowing the wheat berries to come off. The remaining stalks can be put on the compost heap, returning the nutrients to the soil.
Once all of the berries have separated from the stalks, it’s time to winnow. You can do this by simply pouring the wheat berries from one bucket to another, with some distance between them to allow air space. Do this either on a windy day, or using a fan. This allows the lighter material you want to get rid of to separate from the more solid wheat berries, and blow away.
You can store your wheat berries for quite some time, as long as they have dried properly and are kept in a cool, dry place, well protected from moisture and vermin.
Step Three: Grind Your Wheat
There are a couple of ways to grind your wheat into flour. One is using a mortar and pestle, or a couple of large flat stones (like they would have in much earlier times) and grinding until you have a fine powder. Another way is to put small quantities into your blender, and blending until the desired consistency is achieved. You can also get commercial flour grinders, but these probably aren’t worth the expense unless you plan to do this a lot.
You can also just buy wheat seeds and grind these. Make sure it’s edible wheat, not chemically treated seeds for growing.
The resulting product is your flour. You will notice it looks a bit different to traditional bought flour, as it hasn’t been refined. It’s also much healthier than white flour as it has all the fibre and more of the nutrients that are lost in the refining process. If you don’t want to use all of your ground flour at once, you can store some in the freezer in a well sealed container, for approximately 8 months.
Step Four: Make your bread!
Time to get baking! There’s not much that smells nicer than fresh bread baking in your oven! And it will probably seem even nicer, knowing the care and work you have put into getting it this far, and the pride of using ingredients you produced yourself.
The recipe below should make 2 small loaves.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices have been used throughout history to add flavour to foods, as well as being used as medicines and various other garden and household uses.
A herb garden is a great way for kids to enjoy growing something that is also very useful. One of the great things with herbs is that you can just pick off small amounts, even if the plant is fairly small, and add a dash of herbs to your food. You don’t have to wait many weeks, like is required with a lot of vegetables, while the plant grows and produces your harvest. As most parents are aware, kids are not immensely patient a lot of the time. They want to reap the rewards of their work sooner, rather than later. And who can blame them? Of course, you don’t want to over-harvest young herb plants, or you could cause them harm, however a light ‘prune’ can stimulate bushy luxuriant growth.
Herbs can be grown quite successfully in pots, as well as directly in the ground. You can be quite imaginative in what you grow things in — old tyres, barrel halves, cut down plastic bottles, even old shoes and handbags!
Harvest herbs fresh, or try drying some if you like. Hang in bunches in a dry place.
Introduce your kids to what spices look like in their whole form. You can buy unground spices in supermarkets, markets, etc. Use a mortar and pestle to freshly grind them when you need them.
Get your kids to do a ‘spice map’, like they did for foods, showing where spices are grown and how far they must travel to reach you. What can you source more locally, or grow yourselves? Ginger, turmeric, star anise, chilli peppers and seeds such as mustard, cardamom, coriander, cumin and fennel are some you might like to try. Climate will determine what spices may grow successfully in your area, and some are harder to grow than others, but you can have fun experimenting and finding out what will be practical for you to produce.
My article Creating a Resilience Garden gives some more ideas for using gardens to help create resilience.
Home Grown Fruits and Veggies
Get your kids involved with planning and growing a veggie garden and putting in some fruit and nut trees and vines, etc.
Growing your own fruits and veggies has several advantages:
- Fruits and veggies should form the basis for any healthy diet, so you are producing one of the most important aspects of your food resilience.
- You are not relying on an outside source for them, which means you won’t be as affected by fluctuating availability and prices due to oil shortages or other disruptions. That’s not to say that your crops will always succeed, but at least you have some control over what you are growing and in trying to create a successful healthy harvest. You have your family’s best interest at heart here, unlike mass commercial producers whose main focus is the dollar.
- You know what goes onto your plants and soil and can make sure they are free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and have all the nutrients they need.
- You are in a much better position to give individual attention to your plants, to notice things and take steps to correct problems and supply needs to plants on a more individual basis. You can nurture them and this will show in the vibrancy, health and taste of the produce.
- Kids are more likely to eat what they have grown. Even some fussy eaters who don’t usually like veggies will often graze as they work in the garden. It’s often hard to resist a sun warmed fresh tomato on the vine, or tender baby peas in their pod!
Here are some of the things that you can involve your children in revolving around their veggie garden:
Designing, Preparing and Planting The Garden
Research permaculture principles and see if you can design your garden along these lines. Where is the best location for each type of thing? Can you make an area into a small food forest? Create swales? How can you make everything part of a cycle and follow the principle of ‘there is no waste in nature’?
Find out what grows well in your particular area. Climate and soil type should be taken into account. Of course, you can give a bit of help in these areas, such as using a glasshouse, providing shelter, adding suitable soil or building the soil you have, or growing in containers containing the right type of soil. However, generally speaking, plants which naturally grow well in your conditions will be easier to grow and remain healthier and more pest free. Often, noticing what weeds grow well, or what other people have success with will help you determine what kind of conditions you may have and help you find suitable plants that will flourish.
Observation is an important preliminary to planting. What path does the sun take throughout the year and therefore where will your sunniest and shadiest spots be? What will grow best in these conditions? Where is sheltered and where does the wind rush through? Do you need to erect some kind of windbreaks or plant things that will provide more wind shelter in the future? Is your current garden thriving? What might it be lacking? What about beneficial creatures or pests? Your garden would probably benefit from more plants that attract things such as bees and butterflies, so consider them in your planting plans. See my article Creating a Butterfly Garden for more on that.
It’s time to get down to planning what you will plant, and where. Graph paper can be useful for this. Don’t forget to consider other things, such as water sources for insects and birds and old logs and stones for lizards. These are all part of a healthy garden ecosystem. Will you plant directly in the ground, create raised beds, plant some things in pots and other containers? Where will your fruit and nut trees go, if you are having them?
What about watering? Will you be installing some kind of watering system or hand watering with a hose or watering can? A watering system may need to be put into the plan and laid out prior to planting. This article talks about a very interesting innovative automatic watering system which, unlike most automated systems, can run on non-mains water and does not use mains power. This idea could be useful to those who either don’t have access to mains services or want to lessen their reliance on public supply and become even more resilient.
Once you have worked out what goes where, make any necessary preparations, such as preparing the soil. This article talks about creating healthy soils. If your intended plants have different needs, such as pH, soil type, drainage, nutrients, etc., make sure you do whatever is needed to achieve this, using natural organic methods, preferably. You don’t want to semi-defeat the purpose of growing your own food by adding toxicity to it.
Some preparations may need to be carried out well in advance of planting. One such thing is growing a green manure crop, such as a legume, which is then chopped down and worked into the soil. This adds important nutrients, such as nitrogen, to the soil and can be well worth the wait… even though you may wear your children’s patience thin!
Next comes the fun part of planting your seeds, seedlings and other plants. Your children should research how each should be planted, and what care they need, prior to planting. It’s then part of their job to water and otherwise care for these plants as they grow. Then they get the fun of harvesting and eating!
Specific Theme Gardens
You can create your garden, or segments of the garden, along specific themes.
Here are a few ideas:
A Pizza garden — Grow veggies and herbs that your family like on pizzas. This could include tomatoes (make your own sauce), onions, garlic, capsicum, chillies, mushrooms (need special conditions), basil, oregano… even pineapple, if you have the right conditions.
A herb garden — The herb garden is often traditionally located near the kitchen/back door for ease of access. Containers are also popular for herbs. A herb spiral garden is also a nice way of growing them. Herbs are planted in various locations in the raised spiral, depending on their sunlight, heat and moisture needs, using the mound height and other herbs planted to throw shade, depending on the path of the sun; rocks to provide thermal mass which puts warmth into the soil; and moisture sources and water retention to create areas of more, or less, moisture. Observation and proper location are important in this process.
The video below shows the creation of quite an easy to make herb spiral.
A Three Sisters garden — Traditionally corn, beans and squash… but you can be inventive if you wish. According to Iroquois Native Americans, corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters. They do grow well together and each adds something to the resilience of the whole. Corn provides living stakes for the beans to grow up, beans fix nitrogen and help stabilise the corn and the trailing squash vines help prevent moisture loss and weed growth.
A sunny area (about 6-8 hours a day of direct sun throughout the growing period) of about 3m x 3m will create a productive, well pollinated Three Sisters garden. A smaller area may result in improper pollination of the corn. Give the area plenty of compost to promote healthy growing, especially for the first planting, at which the beans won’t have yet worked their ‘nitrogen magic’.
Create flat topped mounds, about 45 cm across, raised about 10cm. See Diagram A below, for preferred layout of mounds.
Timing of planting is important, so that each plant is at the correct stage when the next enters the equation. Plant four corn seeds per corn/bean mound. Wait until the corn is about 10cm tall before planting the beans and squash. Plant four bean seeds per corn/bean mound. Plant two or three squash seeds per squash mound. See Diagram B below, for preferred layout of plants.
Three Sisters Garden Layout
B = Beans C = Corn S = Squash
The video below tells the Legend of the Three Sisters. Watching it will give your children a better understanding of where the idea behind their garden comes from.
Companion Planting — Certain plants can benefit each other (as we have seen in the Three Sisters garden example) in various ways, such as providing nutrients another needs, or warding off pests.
Here are a few suggestions that your kids could try:
- Plant basil near tomatoes, peppers, oregano and asparagus.
- Plant beans near corn, grains, carrots, celery, chards, corn, eggplant, peas, potatoes, brassicas, beets, radish, strawberry and cucumber.
- Plant onions with carrot, leek, beets, strawberries, brassicas, dill, lettuce, peppers and tomatoes.
- Plant mint around cabbage and tomatoes.
- Plant carrots with lettuce, onions and tomatoes.
- Have chives amongst carrots and tomatoes and brassicas and plant under apple trees.
- Nasturtiums are great under fruit trees, as well as around broccoli, cabbage, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers.
Composting — Creating wonderful rich compost to help build soil is a great way for children to understand the cycle of plant matter in nature.
Building your own compost ‘bin’ can be fun, or you can buy pre-made ones. These come in a variety of types, some that work better/ faster than others. What you choose will depend partly on how much you want to spend, and on how semi-automated you want the system to be.
You can also try out trench composting, which involves digging a trench, filling it with scraps and waste plant material, and then filling back over with soil. This will then begin to break down and, after some time (maybe two or three months), can be planted in directly, supplying rich nutrients to your young plants.
Some of the things you can compost are:
- Fruit and veggie scraps such as peelings, cores, soft or mouldy produce.
- Egg shells — if you break them up or crush them they will break down faster.
- Stale bread, out of date foods.
- Tea bags, coffee grounds and filters.
- Bokashi bin contents.
- Raked up leaves.
- Some lawn clippings, but not too many or your compost may become slimy. Preferably let clippings dry for a couple of days before adding to compost.
- Garden prunings — put bigger pieces through a shredder or cut up very small.
- Manure from herbivore animals such as cows, sheep, llamas, alpacas, rabbits and chickens. Be cautious of using horse manure in cool/passive composting, as seeds can survive their digestive process.
- Untreated sawdust or shavings. Never use treated wood, as it often contains toxic chemicals such as arsenic!
- Plain cardboard, egg cartons and shredded paper.
Things to avoid composting:
- Err on the side of safety and avoid composting poisonous plants, or those that can be toxic to other plants.
- Treated wood, sawdust or shavings.
- Diseased or fungal infected material.
- Manure from any animal that has recently been wormed. The worming medication will kill earthworms, which will happily help decompose your compost, and you don’t want to do that! As a precautionary measure, it may be safer to avoid using manure from an animal that has been taking any kind of medication, just in case this is passed on to the food grown in the compost.
- Cat and dog faeces, which can carry pathogens.
- Meat, fish, bones, etc. These can, however, be put in your Bokashi bin and then added to your compost heap.
- Fats, oils and grease.
- Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and cream.
Getting the right mix of green and brown/dry materials is important in most compost systems, as is having adequate ventilation and moisture (but not too much). Turning your compost will make quite a difference to how quickly your compost forms. Tumbler bins make turning much easier than the traditional garden for method, but they are usually more expensive. A handy person could probably make their own tumbler composter.
The video below gives some more tips about ratios and other composting pointers.
Worm Farms (Vermiculture) — Another way of ‘composting’ scraps is with a worm farm. Worms are ravenous little creatures, eating about half their body weight of scraps, plus bedding material, each day. Please do research worm requirements and make sure that you are able to provide what they need and have time to care for them. Worms like a cool, dark, moist (but not too wet) environment. They can double in numbers about every three months in the right conditions.
The liquid that comes out of a worm farm makes an amazingly potent, great fertiliser for your garden, and the worm castings themselves are marvellous for the garden.
Worms enjoy soaked and shredded cardboard and paper, fruit and veggie peelings and scraps (chopped up finely is best, as they can eat it more easily, and they don’t like onion or citrus), cooled coffee grounds, egg shells, non-toxic leaves and clippings, animal hair and fur, animal droppings. (Not from an animal that has recently been wormed, or those on heartworm medication. It’s probably better to avoid manure from an animal on any medication, just in case it has an adverse effect on your worms or the plants you use it on.)
You and your kids can build your own worm farm, or commercial ones are available. The video below shows a simple, cheap do-it-yourself worm farm idea, as well as some helpful worm farming tips. It puts to use something that otherwise just ends up in landfill and can remain un-decomposed almost indefinitely!
Becoming actively involved in a Community Garden can be a great experience for children, especially if you have little room to garden at home. Most of them actively welcome children, but make sure to ask before joining. Some Community Gardens mostly consist of individual plots, maybe with a small communal area, while others are entirely a community project.
Community Gardens not only offer opportunities to grow food, but a chance to share in the combined skills and knowledge of a wide range of gardeners. Usually everyone is welcome, regardless of experience and skill, and everyone finds they learn something as time goes on. Often, workshops on various concepts are also held.
There is also a great social aspect to becoming part of a Community Garden, but remember, you usually get out of something what you are willing to put in, so to really be immersed in the community spirit of the garden, make sure you are a welcome, actively involved part of it, commensurate with your ability and skill level.
This article introduces Ridley Grove (South Australia), a great, very active Community Garden and will give you an insight into what you might encounter.
Ridley Grove Community Garden
For those who eat eggs, keeping your own chickens can give another form of food production and help teach children respect, and how to care for, fellow creatures. Don’t undertake this unless your children, or you, are happy to do the work involved in keeping contented, happy chickens. The welfare of living beings is not to be taken lightly and is your responsibility.
You will also have to check with your local council regarding their stance on keeping chickens, both if they are allowed and how they need to be kept. A lot of councils now don’t allow roosters, but hens are allowed, providing you comply with the bylaws.
Chickens can eat a lot of your veggie scraps and leftovers, turning it into great manure to chuck on the compost heap. You can also allow chickens to roam your garden, or certain parts (especially areas you are laying fallow) to help de-bug them, as well as fertilise. Be aware, however, that chickens will happily help themselves to some of your crops, so it can take some planning to do this.
Another important aspect of food resilience is preserving food for later use. This is useful when you have an excess of produce, that you can’t use immediately, and also can help provide you with food in times when not much is growing, or extend the availability of a specific food out of season.
There are various methods of preserving food that your children might enjoy learning. Some of these are:
- Making jams, jellies, sauces, relishes, pickles, etc.
- Dehydrating — either by sun or artificial heat
This website has a huge range of information on preserving food.
Proper food storage is another thing you could cover, creating a root cellar or cool cupboard and discussions on a well stocked pantry and rotation of stock.
Community Food Resilience
Successful resilience should include the resilience of your whole community, not just a focus on your family alone. Help your children understand how a connection with community can help safeguard individual resilience. Here’s some ways you can strengthen resilience in your community:
- Swap home grown produce, or preserved produce, with your neighbours. They, in turn, may have something that you don’t grow. Collaborating with your neighbours, or other community members, means that each person doesn’t have to try to grow everything they need.
- Join a CSA or go to local farmers markets.
- Become involved in food swap meets and markets.
- Host home-grown pot-luck dinners in your community, and encourage others to take turns in doing so. You could also organise community pot-luck picnics in a local park.
- Offer spare produce to ‘at risk’ community members such as elderly, disabled or those in financial difficulties or undergoing hardships of some kind. Get other people involved in this project too. Maybe you could also prepare meals for those who find it difficult, such as elderly and disabled people, or mums with a new baby. Teach your children that a community should pull together to ensure the well-being of all its members.
- Organise community workshops and talks on topics such as growing food, composting, vermiculture, veggie growing, food storage, preserving food, healthy meal preparation and anything else relevant.
Workshop at Ridley Grove Community Garden
The earlier you can get your children taking an active part in food security, the more it will become a natural part of their daily lives. They will just see it as ‘how life is’ and this will serve them well in times to come. They will master valuable skills and have the ability to pass this knowledge on to others who have not yet had the fortune to have learned them.
These skills will be some of the most important things your children will learn… and they will learn so much more along the way! They will learn about connections, interactions and cycles of nature — of how one small thing, that may seem insignificant in itself, can have a flow-on effect and make a difference in many ways. They will learn the effects of the seasons and the changes that occur throughout the year, and about creatures, big and small, and their immensely important place in the garden ecosystem. Their discoveries may touch on chemistry, physics, maths, botany, geology, geography, biology, meteorology, home skills, health education, creativity and community involvement, among others. Curiosity, experimentation and wonder will be awakened. The garden is a wonderful outdoor ‘classroom’– a whole curriculum could really revolve around the garden and using its produce.
Get into the habit of talking to your children about what they are doing, and why. Ask questions and encourage them to do the same. The conversations you have while undertaking these projects are as important as the projects themselves and will not only give an increased immersion and understanding of the topic, but aid in creating treasured memories of good times shared. These happy endeavours will instill in your childrens’ minds an association of satisfaction and pleasure in doing them that will last a lifetime. Hopefully they, in turn, will share these experiences with their children and their grandchildren, thereby forming a chain of enthusiastic, resilient families well into the future!