Producing the staples

What do you eat?  I don’t mean a literal list of all the different varieties of plant and meat that you consume, but rather the main elements of your diet – the staples, as they are traditionally known.  These are food “eaten routinely and in such quantities that it constitutes a dominant portion of a standard diet” (Wikipedia).

Here on Black Cockatoo Ridge we can divide our main food items into six groups, not all which are staples in the normal sense, but we eat them at least every week, if not daily.  In rough order of volume consumed they are:

  • starchy roots (potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin – I know it’s not a starchy root, but we often use it as a substitute);
  • grains/seeds (rice, beans, gluten free grains/seeds used as flour or in muesli – corn, rice, buckwheat, quinoa, chickpeas);
  • fruit (bananas, apples, melons, pawpaw, avocado);
  • meat (kangaroo, or when we can get a bulk order from a sustainably and humanely raised and slaughtered animal, beef, fish);
  • dairy products (milk and yoghurt);
  • leafy greens (pak choi, lettuce, broccoli); and
  • onion family (onions, garlic, spring onions).

Which of these do we produce ourselves?  Potatoes – very infrequently.  Sweet potatoes – just started harvesting our first (poor) crop.  Pumpkin – seasonal, and depends on whether the bandicoots and possums get to them first. Beans – seasonal, and I’m bad at succession planting, so the supply is intermittent. Pawpaw – we have one amazing tree that has kept us in pawpaws for the last few years. Garlic – seasonal, and not enough to last more than a few months.  Spring onions – constant supply using cut-and-come-again approach.  Pak choi – more or less continuous supply. Lettuce – very occasionally, due to pests and poor succession planting.

Given that our objective is to be as self-sufficient as possible, this is a pretty poor showing.  Not that this is by any means all we grow – the total list would probably be more than 30 species – but most could not form staple elements of our diet.  If we suddenly had to rely on our own production for our food supply we would probably be starving within a six months.  Even lasting that long would be mostly because we have a policy of keeping up to three months’ food supply on hand and this could be eked out with production from the garden.  That would give us a bit of a buffer during which we could try to ramp up our production of staples.  However given the work involved in bringing new garden areas into production and the need to find seed/breeding stock during a period when lots of other people were doing the same, it would be at best a precarious situation to be in.

How would you go if you suddenly found the supermarket shelves empty and unlikely to be re-supplied for an unknown period?

You don’t think that is a likely situation?  Supermarkets rely on a just-enough and just-in-time inventory system.  They generally have a 3-5 day stock of items on hand, and if there is an emergency situation the shelves will be cleared out of staples quicker than that.  If supplies cannot get through (roads blocked, fuel unavailable, civil unrest making roads untrafficable), then you could find yourself reliant on your own food stocks/production very suddenly and for a prolonged period.  Those of us who experienced the Lockyer Valley floods in 2011 will know what this feels like.

But for most of us, being self-sufficient in food isn’t mainly about emergency situations; it’s about having a supply of unadulterated food with a known history – e.g. no harmful chemicals, no exploitative or inhumane practices involved in its production, low food-miles to limit green-house gas emissions.

How does your garden stack up in terms of producing your staple foods, and how do you think you could improve the situation?

One thought on “Producing the staples

  1. Pingback: Yams instead of potatoes? | Sustainable @ Lockyer Valley

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