Panic-buying on the one hand and rationing on the other only multiply a crisis. Yet there’s a practical solution that meets a primal need in one classic, simple pattern. Yes. The pantry.
The ills of a pandemic are exacerbated by overbuying and by repeatedly returning for trickles of supplies, causing multiple exposures. Like takeout deliveries half-eaten, tossed, more packaging than nourishment, at once too much and too little, our goods circulate in wasteful, clotted bursts. Yet we have traditional models that could stabilise this crisis and mitigate the next as climate emergency redoubles every hazard.
Just as kitchen skills liberate us from costly reliance on the prepackaged, just as gardening skills open a world of flavour, nourishment, resilience, the skills of food storage are deceptively simple, revolutionary in their potential. Tried-and-true and transformative.
Not everyone has a built-in pantry, yet a cool, dry closet or cupboard can host a store of dried goods. A sack of dried beans, whole grains bought in good times can keep for years, sustaining us.
Not everyone has a root cellar, yet a bin buried in the garden up to its lip and covered can be filled with root veg in season. No refrigerated trucks, no last-minute car-trips, efficiency at its best.
Not everyone has a deep freeze but many could revive basic skills of preserving fruit in jars, fermenting veg in brines, dehydrating, curing, immersing in oil or alcohol. Transforming the fresh into the stable, a reliable store of deep nutrition to draw on when times are tough.
A few folk still practice this basic, liberating knowledge. Most of us can access, even in isolation, books, sites, videos teaching these traditions.
It’s a fine time to sow seeds, forage, support local farmers. We can stock up in at once a noble yet humble fashion. Generosity springs from self-reliance, met needs and community hardiness. A virtuous cycle of sufficiency. With foresight, drawing on the local, we’re reviving a long heritage of adaptability. The circulation of what’s needed smooths into a steadying, nourishing flow.
Then we can stay home, because home is a source of strength and resilience.
Picture, if you will, the things we hold dear in this world, only on a slightly different trajectory. Picture them well-supported by a principle of following natural patterns, of meeting needs the way nature does. Take, for example, keeping chickens.
We like to keep a flock in our garden. Now, they require shelter, safe from predators between dusk and dawn. Rather than killing off predators that perform critical ecological functions, we built a good safe house.
Their shelter protects from wind and weather with plenty of roosting space, airy but not exposed. We chose heritage breeds, hardy to extremes of heat, cold.
The henhouse floor mimics natural systems, densely layered with deep litter which we scatter dry leaves or sawdust over every day or so. Hot nitrogen-rich droppings compost in place, microbially active, generating warmth. Once a year when we compost the fertile bedding, it’s already partially broken down. The birds like to dig in it. A soft landing from roosts is nice too.
The chicken run is similarly forest-floorish. Hens turn the food scraps, leaves, old hay ‘til a rich compost is generated. They’re safe in the run but spend their days in the garden.
To be safe in the garden they need some measure of protection. Fences keep out the domestic dog, for one. We let them out once human activities send raccoons to bed. Plenty of trees, shrubs persuade the eagles to keep to the open fields next door. Hawks are trouble, so our roosters are on alert, but there are many places to hide. We hope our trio of geese will make any otters think twice, too.
So it’s a protected space, yet not a prison. hens dust-bathe, sunbathe, forage. We try to design the gardens so scratching, turning is productive. Their relationships relax for the space. A hen gives a rooster a run for his money, another strolls in company finding treats in the food forest.
So the chickens are contented, well fed, needing just a handful each of fermented organic grains before they head up to roost. Their eggs reflect this, rich and vivid, and we thrive as they do.
We thrive as they do. May we revive old designs, to regenerate life with a vision of mutual contentment and support.
We were surprised by the young geese urgently knocking at the front door. They had a great deal to tell us. A moment later, a delivery van pulled up to the farmhouse. A rare event.
They’d raced to the front door to tell us the news! What kind creatures.
If we listen well, all of the flocks announce guests, alert for predators. Once attuned, we can heed the wild birds too. It turns out that the geese are particularly skilled at it, with their powerful voices. Being corona babies, they’ve not had many visitors to announce. So this was a great event.
Their voices are otherwise singsong, except to greet us. This greeting must be returned in kind, perhaps with a bow or a bright ‘hi!’ and, neglecting that, the greeting grows clamorous. Geese know how to connect. George’s orange-lined blue eyes hold yours. If we’ve not already spent the day in the garden, we’ll receive porch visits or a knock at the french doors. It’s a neighbourly way to live. The ducks are shy and bolt if the door is opened. The chickens are bold and stroll into the house looking for treats. If a gate is neglected or a tether comes loose, the goats beeline to the back door. Naturally the cat expects prompt door service, he reigns. But the geese just want a companionable chat on the stoop.
Had they merely padded about the lawn, mowing as neatly as a flock of sheep, we’d be impressed. For their work of butler, host, protector, keeping an eye on the sky though the threat is but a flight of swallows, we appreciate them. Their contentedness on endless rainy days is compelling. Their penchant for wheedling out blades of grass from between flowering plants is persuasive. But it’s their passion for a bamboo shoot that makes them the ideal creature for this smallholding.
You may notice bamboo of all descriptions thriving here. Someone keen planted all variety of the stuff. Its carbon sequestering skill alone is stellar, yet the annual spring rush of shoots, while delicious, is overwhelming. Just locating all the sprouting tips is a challenge. The geese on their rounds make a thorough inspection.
I tell you, the sight of them holding bamboo shoots like elegant cigarettes is an uncommon delight.
Watch our film goosehouse to see more.