“The food supply chain is breaking.”
These are the words John Tyson, board chairman of Tyson Foods, wrote this week.
Over 2-million chickens will be (or have already been) killed in the wake of the recent virus. Why? Because of viral outbreaks in the processing plants, and social distancing restrictions.
Likewise, Smithfield Foods––the largest pork producer in the nation––has closed its processing plants amid outbreaks in their processing plants as well. If you didn’t know, Smithfield was bought by the largest Chinese meat producer in 2013. It’s no longer American owned.
Farmers are throwing away food because there’s no demand from closed restaurants that once ordered from them. Yet, there is the greatest demand as store shelves are empty and people can’t find food at their local grocery store.
Commercial farmers have overwhelmed food banks and homeless shelters with their extra produce. But even they can only take on so much of the food.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if their communities came together and learned how to preserve all of that food? The food banks and the entire community would be set for over a year, or more, with food. But it’s not happening.
Instead we sit down at a keyboard and complain about it.
Our food system is broken. It’s not currently breaking, it is already broken.
We Already Had a Broken Food System
Our food system has been broken for a very long time. The food supply chain isn’t just now breaking. It has had the biggest fault line in it for decades. When we, the American people, decided to depend on the grocery store instead of our own ability to grow our own food. When we, the American people, decided not to support our local farmer or homesteader anymore, and instead buy the 98-cent gallon of milk at the grocery store. And no, it’s not because we “can’t afford” it. Sure, that might be all many people can afford now, but it wasn’t that way before. We did this.
We created this new standard––”cheap food is better food”.
We made it this way. We changed the food system when we started demanding more for less. For less cost, for less physical labor, for less time.
I think we have reached the point where no matter what I say, it’s going to offend someone. Not that I’m intentionally trying to, but minds can become more anxious and therefore, more easily offended, during times of crisis. And that’s exactly what this is, a time of crisis. So let me just say what I feel like I should say. And know that I say it with a heart that isn’t trying to be hurtful.
I say it with a heart that wants you to understand just how fragile we are as a nation right now. And just how important it is to homestead. Or, to at least support homesteading.
If you are a homesteader, or you have been wanting to homestead, the greatest thing you can do right now is exactly that. Homestead.
Homestead like you’ve never homesteaded before.
And the next step? Teach others how to homestead (within reason). And if you can’t, direct them to their local farmer or farm store. Teach them how to “buy local” again.
The amount of messages and emails I am getting on a daily basis, asking if they can come garden with me, butcher chickens with me, preserve food with me. The same amount of phone calls, my goodness. Phone calls asking me if I can sell them a few laying hens. They don’t want chicks, they need eggs now. I could literally spend days on the phone and computer responding to calls and emails.
I had one guy call me wanting laying hens, coming from more than 200 miles away. He found me on a local website when we used to sell quite a bit of eggs each year to the community.
My heart breaks. My heart absolutely breaks during these phone calls and conversations. I’ve started just letting them go to voicemail because the answer is the same, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anymore to sell.” I’m not a larger hobby farm yet. I’m just a woman with a homestead that feeds her family. Sometimes I have extra, sometimes I need more. My goal is to go big next year, but that doesn’t help them this year.
You see, local farms and homesteaders have always been the last resort for many people over the last few decades. Sure, we have a loyal customer base that we’re used to. But none of us could’ve ever expected this influx–whatever this is that we’re experiencing right now.
It’s a panic. Pure and total panic has finally settled into the bones of many people. They don’t understand why we don’t have anymore food to share, or livestock to sell. They don’t understand why we charge more than the grocery store. They don’t understand when I say, “I’d love for you to come help me garden, but for safety reasons we just aren’t comfortable doing that right now.” We have children, and they are our first priority.
And it hurts. It hurts bad. It hurts so bad when you want to help people––people even wanting to come from other states. But you just can’t in that moment.
Friends, we have been screaming this from the rooftop for years — “the food system is broken.” This has been our chant, loudly and prominently, for at least the last 20-years. Of course, generations before me tried as well . . . it didn’t work then either. People kept demanding more and more from corporations and government. Look at us now. Look where we are.
We (those of us condemning the food system) have been labeled crazy for years. We have been labeled conspiracy theorists. We’ve been called names I can’t even repeat. Now we’re not so crazy.
I was just talking to Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms, last week, and something he shared with me was absolutely mind numbing. I wanted to share it with you.
Joel said, “a guy just called us and said he wanted 100 pounds of ground beef, 100 pounds of ground pork, all the broilers we have and all the eggs we have; he’s on his way and wants it all set on our store porch and doesn’t want to see or touch anybody. Another guy emailed and asked how fast we could fill a 40-ft. shipping container freezer if he set one up. Does he know how much food that is?”
Isn’t that how it has always been? Instant food. We want it instantly, and we don’t want to see or touch the reality of it.
We have been so blind by not “seeing” and “touching” the people and corporations that own our food system for so long, and now it’s becoming a reality that maybe our best interest was never in mind to begin with.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The “let me buy my food but I don’t care where it came from or how long it took to grow” mindset. This is where it has gotten us. Right here. “The food supply chain is breaking.”
We broke it.
We’ve gotten so used to being able to buy in bulk whenever we want to. Or for some of us, just running to the store ten times a week whenever we’ve forgotten an ingredient or run out of chicken tenders. Darn those blasted chicken tender farms and their low supply.
We’ve gotten so used to instant everything. Most of us have never had to worry about where our food will come from.
There’s no fall back, friends. Have you ever thought about that? You are your only fallback. And that hinges on your ability and skill.
There’s no reserve of food stockpiled for the American people. And it’s a stark reminder for many that the government isn’t here to take care of you. It’s not the government’s job, or a corporation’s job, to take care of you. It’s your job to take care of you.
That’s a hard thing to hear. Don’t take offense to it. It’s the truth. And it’s unfortunately a new truth that many are coming to realize, even though we’ve been talking about it for years and years . . . even though it’s a very old truth.
There are no promises in life, except that from the good Lord. Your government cannot promise that there will always be money, or food, or protection. Your local store cannot promise that there will always be bread on the shelf or butter or meat in the cooler. But the closer you get to the source, the more you understand and know the risks.
And that risk is happening right here, right now. The “it’ll never happen in our great country” risk, is now officially happening.
The closer you get to your food source, the more you understand the frailty of a national or international food system. A food source that feeds millions, or billions, will quickly come crashing down when just one peg is shaken in the entire system.
What we’re suddenly realizing, in many areas of the country, is that the closer you get to your food source, the more you understand just how easy it is to buy local. Or to grow it yourself.
Local farms here in Virginia are having their best year ever. Family farms and homesteads that were once on the brink of bankruptcy or severe debt because no one wanted to buy local, are now seeing hope with overnight increases in income and production. Credit cards and bank loans are being paid off. Homesteaders are putting their money back into the local economy. Communities are coming together.
Farmers and homesteaders are making exceptions and sending more cattle and pigs to butcher in order to help provide their community with meat. Mom and Pop stores are knocking on farmer’s doors asking them to restock their shelves. Imagine that, shelves lined with homegrown meat and hand kneaded bread. Full circle. We’ve come full circle. Here we are again. The 19th century is calling, and it doesn’t sound so bad after all.
Homesteaders are putting in more orders for meat chickens and other poultry. They are boosting the micro-economy by supporting businesses that support them.
While the national economy is collapsing, the homesteading economy is awakening.
Hatcheries across the country are sold out for weeks, and some for months, depending on the breeds. Local feed stores can’t keep up with supply and demand for fresh-milled feed and homegrown chicks. I was just at a local feed store this weekend and they had completely run out of scratch grains and layer pellets.
Phones and emails are lighting up, just like my own, asking locals for extra hens or if they’ll hatch chicks.
The art of bartering is making a comeback in a big way. Farmer Bob will barter 5 processed chickens for a 25-lb bag of wheat, or a pig for a flock of laying hens. We, personally, just bartered services for two hand-made chicken tractors from local 2020 HOA conference sponsors, AJ Farms.
More than anything, though, people can’t get enough knowledge. There is an awakening happening, and I have to tell you, it gives me hope.
Because with an awakening comes a brand new system.
Maybe it will be a system of local farms and homesteads feeding their entire region or community. Maybe it will look like neighbors coming together and sharing produce––here, I have extra of this, and you have extra of that . . . let’s make a deal.
Maybe it will be a system without large corporations and chemical filled foods.
If every yard in America had a garden, we could feed our communities without big corporations and buy outs.
I can remember my grandmother telling me that when she grew up on the farm here in Virginia, a truck would come once a week and pick up honey, chickens, processed wild rabbits, butter, and more. It would then truck it in to the city folks to purchase. But my grandmother and her family very rarely had to purchase many things. They were already set. They sold their extra. They helped feed their community.
Similarly, they say that during the Great Depression most homesteaders didn’t even know the Great Depression was happening. They were sustainable. They grew their own food. Albeit, many were already poor, so it didn’t really matter. But the concept of not being touched by an economic collapse is a life goal of mine.
We’re seeing something similar happening now. Homesteaders and farmers that have been supplying their own family’s needs seem untouched by this crumbling system in so many ways. We’re one of those families.
Others are realizing that they are hopeful in the fact that they have the skills, now they just need to use them. They’re excited. They’re inspired and motivated.
While the national and international food supply chain begins to officially collapse, I hope that we’ll take this time to nurture the better food system that is slowly, and almost unintentionally, being built in local communities across the country and beyond. They are growing from a very deep and real need. I hope that we’ll see there is a better way, that we don’t have to be distraught or hopeless.
I hope that we’ll understand the issues, instead of simply getting offended by them. I hope that paying $6 or more for a pound of ground beef from your local farmer or homesteader brings you to your knees in the reality that cheap food isn’t better food. That cheap food is exactly why you just had to patronize your local farmer to buy that $6/lb package of beef, because you couldn’t find your cheap beef at the big box store. Because your big corporation meat just failed you, big time.
And I hope that we’ll all realize that homesteaders aren’t crazy. Because right now, homesteaders and local farmers are the new frontline men and women when it comes to this nation’s impending food crisis. Not only that, but they’re here to teach, to inspire, and to give grace.
It’s time to start a food revolution. It’s time to build a better food system . . . the old fashioned way.
Amy Fewell is the Founder of Homesteaders of America, and is an author, photographer, blogger, wife, herbalist, and homesteading mama. Find her most recent books, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion and The Homesteader’s Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook online, and visit her blog at The Fewell Homestead.