5 Tips to Prepare for the Looming Food Crisis
This past week we saw the first warnings of a looming food shortage from the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki commented on Monday: "we do anticipate that higher energy fertilizer, wheat, and corn prices could impact the price of growing and purchasing critical food supplies for countries around the world,” Later in the week, in the wake of the NATO summit on Thursday, President Biden said that the food shortage is "gonna be real." These hints are likely understated and should not fall on deaf ears.
We are witnessing a three-pronged assault on our food production. First, the war in Ukraine threatens to eliminate one third of the global wheat supply by the end of the growing season. Second, the cost of fertilizer is skyrocketing around the world, reaching prices 4-5x what they were two years ago. Third, the rising cost of energy has a massive impact on the harvest, processing and transportation of the farmer's products. This trifecta will produce massive price increases here at home by the fall and potentially cause global shortages that will land especially hard on third world countries.
Preparing for this pending crisis may look a little different from stereotypical "prepping." Unlike a natural disaster or other emergencies, we can plan on power, water and other amenities, but we should think about how we can buffer against potential shortages and rising prices. Here are a few simple steps that you can take to set your family up for success.
- Understand your Consumption. Start by building a clear understanding of how much food you actually use in a given week/month. Organize your list into categories to make it simpler: Meat, produce, bread, vegetables, baking ingredients, etc. Look for items that are grain based or grain dependent (chicken, pork, bread, pasta...) and take special note of these items.
- Buy 2, Save 1. It's important to avoid panic buying. Fortunately, I think we have some time to prepare. A good strategy is to buy two of a particular product and put one into storage. (i.e. if you normally buy 1 bag of flour, buy two, but only use one of them. When the first bag runs out, don't use the second.) Continue buying your food this way until you have an adequate supply on hand to last your family for your targeted time period. This will depend on your situation, in our home, we're shooting for 3-4 months' supply on hand. Buying this way will steadily increase your emergency supply over time instead of all at once.
- Plant a Garden. If at all possible, plant some seeds this spring and grow some of your own food. This is a great experience, and it will save you a ton of money. If you're worried about harvest and storage, the simplest way to preserve most vegetables is to freeze them, it's quick and easy!
- Learn to Hunt. Bear with me for a moment... No, I don't think we're on the verge of food crisis that will reduce us to hunter/gatherers! But, if you adjust your perspective a bit, hunting can be a great way to obtain high-quality meat. Northeast PA is overrun with whitetail deer. If you look at this as an alternative source of healthy meat, you can put a lot into storage for pennies on the dollar, particularly if you're willing/able to cut up the meat yourself. If that doesn't sound fun to you, find a local farmer that raises pasture-based meat and ask about buying in bulk. (There's my shameless plug for Rocky Ridge Farm!)
- Purchase a Large Freezer. A freezer full of meat, vegetables and produce harvested during the summer gives great peace of mind throughout the winter. Since we are assuming we'll have power throughout this crisis, a large freezer is a good investment. Often you can find used freezers for reasonable prices on Facebook marketplace and craigslist. One thing we learned recently is that the newest freezers use a different refrigerant than the older models and you can't put them in an outside environment. (garage) So if you hope to put your freezer in an outside space, make sure it's rated for that or get an older model.
These are a few basic steps that we're taking in our house to prepare for the fall and winter. Obviously, no matter how much food you store, eventually it will run out or spoil. I'm encouraging my friends and family to put some food away this spring primarily to mitigate costs in the fall and winter. Build up a surplus now that you can dip into when the prices really start to climb. This will help keep your costs lower and carry you through any short term breakdowns in the supply chain.
Also, take a look at the grain dependent products that you identified in step one and see if you can make any adjustments in your habits. For example, if you eat a lot of purchased bread, consider buying a bread maker or something similar. This would give you the capability to make your own if it's unavailable or to expensive. Plus, bread can't be stored long term, flour can. Hopefully, this gives you a few practical ideas about how to prepare your family. I hope that I'm wrong about this, but unfortunately, I don't see how it can be avoided. I pray that as we head into 2023, things may regain some sense of normalcy.