If you’re worried about how to feed your family due to current or future food supply issues, you aren’t alone. More families are adding vegetables to their backyard gardens this year. And according to multiple recent news reports, in 2020 several states and provinces hit record numbers when it comes to hunting and fishing license applications.
For example, the Star-Tribune reported Minnesota fishing license applications were up 41% over last year. In Maine, moose hunting permits were at a 15-year high, according to the Press Herald. And in Canada, Global News noted a spike in guns and ammunition sales as early as March.
Learn how we have been taking action to further secure our family’s food supply homesteading off the grid in the subarctic, get tips on what you can do to secure yours.
(Note: on original publication, this post includes 15 tips. However, we’re open to additional suggestions. So send us your best tips. We’ll add them and give you a shout-out at the same time.)
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1. Grow Vegetables Indoors
Since we live north of 60 (we’re at about 62 degrees north), we have an extremely short northern gardening season. Our outdoor garden lasts only about 7 to 8 weeks – or less. So as part of our quest to become more self-reliant, for the past few years, we’ve been experimenting with grow lights, bushcraft skills and indoor gardening.
Food supply issues are nothing new to northern families. We’re so far away from the rest of Canada (the closest big city is an 18-hour drive away down in Edmonton, in northern Alberta.) However, the current world situation means our previous casual gardening efforts have become a lot more serious.
This year I started 65 bean plants from dried seeds. Yup, we’re growing black beans, red kidney beans, and chili beans indoors. We also started growing tomatoes, peppers, and a whole variety of herbs from seeds. Since weed became legal here last year, grow lights have come down in price so we use them to give our seeds a good start.
If you don’t have the room for grow lights in your home, try something smaller, like an Aerogarden. We have two that we use to keep us in lettuce and fresh basil and parsley through the winter months. (Tip: you can regrow many vegetable scraps in water. Here’s a list.)
2. Grow a Backyard Garden to Secure Your Food Supply
One of the most popular ways to take charge of your own food supply is by planting a backyard garden. Take some time to plan your garden before digging in. Use a free garden planner to help you figure out how much to plant per person to feed your family.
Experiment with raised beds, permaculture design principles, and container gardening. Container gardening is a great way to grow tomatoes or peppers if you’re trying to homestead in an apartment or rental.
Save time, money, and aggravation by planting low cost and low-maintenance vegetables and fruit.
Try to plant what your family will eat because there’s no point in a bumper crop of parsnips if no one likes them. Ask me how I know. (Tip: if you find yourself with an excess crop no one likes, try to trade it with another family for something your gang DOES like.)
Find out what grows well in your area by joining a local gardener’s Facebook group. Or make friends with locals who garden. You’ll learn helpful tips – especially from oldtimers.
For example, when we lived on the Ontario/Minnesota border a fellow homeschool mom in International Falls told me that that wild rice grows abundantly all over the region. Who knew? Not me.
3. Grow Veggies and Microgreens in Water
If you can’t grow a garden outdoors year-round, don’t despair. Maybe you live in an apartment or live in an area with poor soil conditions or an extreme climate like we do. You can still take action to grow greens using water.
We’ve experimented with sprouting mustard seeds, alfalfa seeds, and even red lentils using the wet-paper-towel in a mason jar method. While you can buy seed packets for sprouts, it is also possible to sprout the seeds in your spice jars. This is what I did with my mustard seeds.
Sprouts add flavor and nutrients to sandwiches, egg dishes, and salads. Just remember to transplant some of your sprouts into small containers. They need to grow and go to seed to give you additional seeds to resprout. And if you can’t get your hands on good potting soil, make your own by composting.
4. Supplement Your Food Supply and Learn to Forage
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, it is so easy to overlook all that nature has provided for us. And it wasn’t until we moved off the grid to become a homesteading and homeschooling family that I really got serious about foraging with kids.
We started foraging to teach our two youngest children (we have seven) about the wild berries, herbs, and edible greens in Canada’s far north. Over the years we’ve foraged for rosehips, rose petals for wildcrafting, and cranberries for baking and cooking.
If you live in the city or suburbs, try your hand at urban foraging. Dandelions, chamomile, plantain, and chickweed are just a few of the edible greens and herbs found all across North America. Gather these wild edibles to help supplement your storebought produce or indoor garden when the supermarket shelves are bare.
Note: Please forage responsibly and safely. Avoid trespassing on public property, and don’t eat ANYTHING you pick without a reliable identification of the leaves and/or fruit. Check with your local Ministry of the Environment or college agricultural extension office for information on foraging in your area.
5. Hunt for Small Game
As Wes Winkel, head of the Canadian Sporting Arms & Ammunition Association explained to Global News, some people in more remote parts of Canada are worried about virus-related disruptions to our food supply. And as a family living off the grid in Canada’s subarctic Northwest Territories, we are among them.
Growing up in Ontario, my dad hunted rabbits, partridge, and other small game for sport. (He was also an avid fisherman and my parents always had massive vegetable gardens.) However, we didn’t rely on his hunting to feed our family.
When we moved up to the Northwest Territories to live off grid, I decided to get my PAL – the Possession and Acquisition License required for firearms ownership and transport. I wrote about it a few years ago in my post Tales of An Off Grid Mama.
Mainly, I wanted to take the course so I could be sure my husband and sons were observing proper gun safety while hunting. And my husband wanted me to know how to handle a gun for protection when we found a huge pile of bear scat at the bottom of our cabin’s front steps.
Now, however, we’re more serious about hunting small game around our area to provide food for our family. Rabbit, ptarmigan, and pheasant are a few of the wild game in the area. Some of the other off grid families here also hunt and eat beaver, porcupine, squirrel, and muskrat.
Hunting isn’t for everyone, but if you want to include meat in your family’s food supply for protein, take the courses you need to get your firearms license. Observe the hunting rules, regulations, and seasons in your area. Get started on the right foot by going hunting with an experienced hunter.
Tip: It IS possible to successfully clean and skin small game using YouTube tutorials. My son Blake successfully cleaned, skinned, and cured a beaver pelt based on YouTube. And just last month my nephew Jerod gutted his first wild rabbit (the one that was eating all my garden lettuce) with help from YouTube.
6. Add Protein to Your Food Supply – Hunt for Big Game
If you live in an area with easy access to larger wild game, consider rounding out your family’s meat food supply by big game hunting. And if you do head out on a hunting trip watch for other hunters. According to a recent Reuters news story, this past spring’s empty food shelves have more Americans getting serious about going hunting to feed their family.
In the Northwest Territories, our big game includes moose, caribou, bear, and muskox. While we aren’t (yet) big game hunters, we’re fortunate to often get cuts of meat from our big game hunter friends. We also sometimes get venison from deer or elk from friends who bring it back from hunting expeditions down south into Alberta and Manitoba.
As with small game hunting, remember to observe the rules and regulations for your area. Also, keep in mind that just one kill can be enough to fill your family’s freezer for the winter.
7. Try Fishing or Even Ice Fishing
One of my our favorite family pass-times is fishing. We’re very fortunate to live in an off grid home right on a beautiful lake in Northern Canada. We catch pike (aka jackfish) trout and whitefish right from our dock. Each child gets a fishing rod at about age three. And they can’t wait to catch a fish to feed the family.
If you want to try your hand at fishing, first register for a license. If you’re caught fishing without one, you could face a hefty fine. And by the way, find out if your kids need licenses too. Up here children must have a fishing license but they are available to residents of the Northwest Territories at no cost.
And if you plan to depend on fishing to feed your family and help secure your food supply, make a plan for preserving it. Learn how to can fresh fish. Learn how to make dried fish or how to smoke it. Or try ice fishing to keep you in fresh fish through the winter.
8. Get a Flock of Chickens
Does your shopping list always include eggs? What about chicken breasts? In our family (at the time of writing this we’re regularly cooking for eight. And that includes six adults and two children.
Between cooking and baking, (I bake from scratch) in my homestead kitchen we typically go through three to four four dozen eggs a week. And we usually have at least one meal of chicken for dinner weekly.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been grumbling about the cost of eggs and chickens up here. In the north, everything is expensive. And that is usually because so much gets shipped such a long distance. And in the quest for better financial self-sufficiency on our homestead, I wanted chickens.
So when we decided to get serious about being more self-reliant for our food supply as well as our finances, getting meat chickens and laying became our number two homestead project priority (right after increasing our gardening efforts.)
We now have 30 chickens in our flock including Western Rustic chicks and Barred Rock chicks. Watch for an upcoming post on the challenge of homesteading off the grid where I’ll explain how we had to construct a subarctic chicken coop!
If you want backyard chickens as part of your self-reliance food supply plan, keep a few things in mind.
- Your city or town could have bylaws against keeping chickens, especially roosters.
- Get your chicks from a reputable hatchery to minimize mortality rates due to disease.
- Baby chicks need a brooder, warmth, bedding, and chick feed to get started.
- They can be stinky. But also quite cute. So if you plan to butcher your meat chickens at home, don’t let your kids name them.
- You’ll need to move backyard chickens outdoors to a chicken coop, chicken run, or chicken tractor eventually.
- You aren’t the only one who likes chickens and eggs. Predators like neighborhood dogs, coyotes, wolves, and bears do too.
9. Start Raising Meat Rabbits
If you have a backyard big enough for chickens, you might want to consider getting meat rabbits as well. If you’re raising rabbits for meat, you’ll find them a cost-effective way to provide protein for your family. They don’t require as much space as some of the other small farm animals. And because of their amorous nature, you only need a couple to keep a steady supply of meat rabbits as part of your backyard homestead food supply.
10. Begin Backyard Homesteading With Small Animal Husbandry
Chickens and meat rabbits don’t need to be your only option when it comes to small animals on a homestead. More and more families interested in self-reliant food sources have turned to raising goats, sheep, ducks, geese, quail, and even pigs for meat.
It doesn’t necessarily take much space to try your hand at small animal husbandry. One or two acres could be enough to raise animals that will keep your family in meat. And because they produce manure daily, you’ll also get the added bonus of a super compost ingredient. So your garden will benefit too.
11. Barter With Others for Variety in Your Food Supply
Once you explore all options for independent and self-reliant methods of stabilizing your family’s food supply, you’ll find there are things you just can’t produce or acquire on your own. However, you could barter or trade for them.
A good example of this is wild meat and fish. Not everyone can (or wants to) hunt or fish. Yet you might want a good moose steak or fish dinner from time to time. Look for opportunities to trade your own goods or service for fresh meat. Garden produce, home-baked goods, and fresh eggs could appeal to hunters and fishers who don’t spend time in the cabbage patch, kitchen, or chicken coop.
12. Bulk Order Long-Term Storage Food Staples Online
Chances are your family eats things you can’t hunt, forage, fish, or produce. That means you’ll need to barter or buy them. And if, like us, you live in a remote or rural area, this could mean buying your food staples and supplies for long-term food storage online.
Some food and food-related items we’ve purchased online for emergency food and long-term food supplies include
- white sugar
- brown sugar (although we’re experimenting with natural sugars like birch and maple)
- all-purpose flour
- whole wheat flour
- yeast (I buy Red Star, Fleishmann’s or SAF yeast by in 1 or 2-pound packs)
- certain spices such as turmeric
- dried red and brown lentils
- wheat berries
And don’t forget about actual long-term and emergency food storage items. Recently we bought mason jars, pressure canners, a vacuum sealer, and mylar bags online because they just weren’t available here.
13. Shop Your Local Ethnic Foods Stores
If you live in a city, suburbs, or even a large town, you might have access to an often-overlooked source of convenient vegetarian protein sources. And that is your local ethnic food store.
So I’m using the phrase “ethnic foods” to refer to markets that carry non-traditional North American food ingredients and supplies. As a first-generation Canadian, I’m trying to be politically correct here but also accurate.
I know about these hidden gems because as a child my family often shopped at South Asian markets in Toronto. My mother, who is from India, could get the herbs and spices she remembered from her childhood. And we could get samosas, pakoras, badjas, jellibees, laddoos, and other Indian foods that I love and miss.
So take a look for your South Asian, Chinese or Mexican food markets when your regular big box store or local supermarket run low on supplies. Some items you could find to round out your food supply include canned or dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, vegetables, and fruit.
By the way, while you’re at it, look up recipes for Indian, Thai, Mexican, Middle Eastern, or African vegetarian dishes. Many of these are lentil or bean-based and it doesn’t take much to adapt the spices to suit your tastebuds.
And if meat runs low they can provide a delicious alternative to steak and potatoes. For example, I adapted a Lentil Turmeric Soup recipe for my meat-loving family and they love it.
14. Stock Your Pantry With Emergency Food Supply Items
Keeping a well-stocked pantry has served us well through the long winter months when we just can’t (or don’t want to) make it into town. Previously we were stocking our pantry mostly to save money. (And you check out our pantry challenge posts for more info on how we do this.) For example, if there was a sale on canned tomato soups we’d buy a case of it. The same with items like peanut butter.
Now, however, we also try to keep emergency food supply items that we might need in the event of an extended food shortage in the north. And we also include items like canned tomatoes to “tide us over” until our own crop of tomatoes ripens.
15. Learn to Can, Preserve and Dehydrate Your Food
All of your hunting, fishing, growing, raising, bartering, preparing, and harvesting will be for naught if your food spoils. So learn to safely can, preserve, dehydrate, ferment, pickle and store your food supply for short- and long-term storage.
Learn how to make old-fashioned survival food of the indigenous people, pioneers, and frontiersmen, such as pemmican and hardtack. Explore the Depression Era cookbooks for recipes to stretch your flour, cornmeal, eggs, and powdered milk.
The past few months have meant changes for families in cities, suburbs, rural areas, and even in our very own northern wilderness. And it’s pretty apparent that people all over are looking for ways to boost their food supply. What about you? What are you doing and what is your biggest challenge?
We’d love to hear from you and share your best tips with our readers. So drop us a comment below or email me directly at sarita at anoffgridlife dot com.
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