A food-independent state?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | May 14, 2020

One thing this whole “shelter in place” debacle has showed us, if we stopped to recognize it, is that we spend a lot of money on things we could well get along without or could make, grow or fix ourselves. That especially applies to about 90% of the stuff in the big box stores that carry a "Made in China" label. (And most of it is stuff we don’t really need anyway.)

Take clothes and shoes, for example. Most of us, me included, have closets stuffed with enough of each to open a thrift store. Back in Grammie Mable’s day, the closets were about 1 ½ feet deep. Grammie had one "dress" dress and three or four "house-dresses." (House-dresses were simple cotton dresses — Grammie made her own — that the lady of the house wore daily as she went about her routine. An apron was worn over the dress to keep it clean. If a car came down the farm road, Grammie would just whip the apron off, straighten her hair a bit, and was ready for company.

As for shoes, like we kids, we had a "good" pair and a pair of play shoes and we changed out of our school clothes and shoes as soon as we got home and put on our "play clothes."

Somewhere in between the starkness in the amount of clothing and shoes back then and what we have now is more than enough.

I got rid of my microwave a few years ago because I didn’t use it that much because it changes the molecular structure of food and somehow that doesn’t sound all that healthy. It also took up too much counter space. I reckoned that if Grammie could put on those wonderful big country cooking meals without one, I could do without it, too. I do, however, sometimes wish I had that big black cook stove with the warming ovens. Also, a bit ago, I packed my toaster away as I didn’t use all that much. But I have a lot of stuff that I have collected from living all these decades and from all the places across the country I’ve lived. I’ve been wanting to pare them down but it’s a daunting prospect.

On the farm, many of our things were made or produced on the farm and most all repairs and such were done without needing to call in — and pay — a repairman.

We were 90%-plus independent for all our needs, particularly for food, water and heat. The folk on the Ridge made their living on the farms, too, so they didn’t have to "go out" to work. A blizzard or what we’re in the middle of today would not have made much of a difference in our daily lives. We were independent, self-sufficient. We certainly didn’t depend on fruits and vegetables grown in valleys 3,000 miles away or meat from Texas. And our foods were “organic” long before organic was used to differentiate between non-chemicalized and toxin-laden food.

As to toilet paper, well, I do prefer that to the pages from the old Sears & Roebuck catalog. (At least they were newspaper-like paper, not slick magazine paper.)

But for decades now, without much thinking about it, we’ve been eating foods from faraway places. Then boom. We got a wake-up call. And it isn’t over yet. Indeed, it could quickly go downhill again and further than we’ve experienced so far. We are far from out of the woods.

For those who grow gardens or have market farms, if you didn’t get your seeds early, you had some trouble finding them because of the uptick of people who have decided it might be a good idea to grow a garden. Same with chickens. A lot of people who never had intentions of having chickens for eggs and/or meat were suddenly buying chicks. Places like Aubuchon and Tractor Supply did not echo with little peeping fluff balls. They were on delayed order. Some are still waiting.

And this is a good thing. We live in one of the best places in the country when it comes to being able to produce or buy what we need for food. Most of us have our own water wells but water is everywhere in Maine, unlike many states. As for heat, many have wood stoves or houses with chimneys that stoves could be used in.

So we have the three basics of life: food, water and heat.

But there’s something else we maybe should take a look at. Maine, with a larger landmass than the other New England states, and a smaller population, could become pretty much independent as to the three basics. Most of us can have a garden — even if it’s an "in-town" one. And we have farmers everywhere, and farmers’ markets.

There was a study done a couple-three years ago (as farms across the country have been disappearing because the young folk aren’t taking over or starting farms) about the number of young farmers under 30 years old, per capita, in the country. It runs about 2%-3%. Except for Maine. Here, it runs close to mid-20%! And I think Waldo County may well be higher than other counties. That may be due, I’ve often thought, to the incredible program at Troy Howard. What with the regular vegetable garden, the greenhouse, the berries, the bee hive, learning how to save and market seeds, a lot of our county youth grow up knowing how to grow.

If the explosion of seed and chick purchases this spring is an indication of more food at the farmer’s markets and roadside stands, I hope we all support them...and eat healthier. Win-win.

Who knows when a food-independent state might be crucial? We’ve seen how quickly food can "disappear" when some unforeseen event hits us. Maybe we should start working toward a “food-independent state” now. Adopt a plan for being prepared, like the parable of the Bridesmaids who had a long journey through the night by lamplight. Some prepared by trimming the wicks, filling the lamps and bringing extra oil. Some just grabbed their lamps and set off without preparations. As you remember, when the oil in their lamps burned out, they asked the others for some of their oil. The others refused, explaining that then they would all run out before reaching their destination.

I don’t get enough sunlight for much of a garden but I have a few big tubs I use to I grow some medicinal plants in — including my “Simon & Garfunkel” herb garden: “Parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme.” I have them in pots in my office window now. I do not dare to put them out before Memorial Day. I learned that the hard way. I grow comfrey for making a salve, etc.

BTW, were you as flabbergasted as I was to learn that about 98% of our prescription drugs are made in China! And most meats in restaurants come — or did — from China. Not to mention many of the big processing plants out West are owned by China, thanks to deals made over the last 20 years. I think I’ll add to my herb garden this year and seek out local eateries that serve local farmers' meat.

I am going to do my best to shop Maine shops from here on. Not that my little drop in the bucket will make a big difference. But if we all decide to, a lotta drops can fill a lot of buckets.

And if we worked toward having a mostly food-independent state, we'd all feel — and be — more secure.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.

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