Preparing for the coming food shortages associated with the dark, cold years

“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought & cold ever known in the history of America. . . . The crop of corn thro’ the Atlantic states will probably be less than 1/3 of an ordinary one, that of tobo still less, and of mean quality. The crop of wheat was midling in quantity, but excellent in quality. But every species of bread grain taken together will not be sufficient for the subsistence of the inhabitants.” --Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Albert Gallatin, 8 September 1816.

1816 was the year without a summer. It was the trough of the Dalton Minimum (not even a grand solar minimum) and was exacerbated by the massive eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1815, which darkened the globe. Violent eruptions tend to coincide with solar minimums.

Recently, I’ve written about the Modern Grand Solar Minimum (GSM) here and here, predicted to run from 2020 through 2053. The trough -- the darkest, coldest years -- is predicted for 2028 through 2032. It’s a once-every-400-years event.

Contemplating several years of low harvests, on a global scale, with perhaps more years of lingering bad weather, is largely outside our experience. My grandparents and parents lived through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Mom’s family farmed wheat. Dad’s folks were just plain dirt poor. They all suffered. No matter what else might happen in our lives, our families, our neighborhoods, or our country, our world is facing predictable dark cold years, and we need to prepare.

Last year, some food, farm, and household supplies were unavailable. This reflected negative impacts from reduced harvests from the previous year, bad weather, COVID interruptions of production and processing, limited imports, supply chain and transport disruptions, lack of processing supplies like metal for cans, limited commercial food service, and families being at home round-the-clock rather than at work, school, and recreation. Lines lengthened at food banks. School districts scrambled to keep breakfast and lunch programs going via delivery or centralized pick-up. I was very proud of my state, Washington, for proactively setting aside food to ensure that the hardest hit would find help at the state’s food banks. I donate to the local Union Gospel Mission feeding program.

Historically, GSMs are marked by bad weather, poor harvests, and famine. Hopefully, we still have several not-too-bad years to get our affairs in order. We start with looking at where and what do we eat. Can we manage most of it at home if needed? Many years ago, Brother Christopher M. Parrett, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, compiled the LDS Preparedness Manual. In it, he recommends what to store as a basic ration of dried staple foods for one person for one year, in case of emergency. It included:

Grains = 400 lbs per year; Whole grains (wheat, rye, buckwheat, corn), flours (for breads, pastries, coatings, thickeners), cold and hot cereals, pasta, noodles, popcorn.

Beans & Legumes = 90 lbs per year; Dried beans of all sorts, refried beans, split peas, lentils.

Milk & Dairy = 75 lbs per year; Powdered/Instant dry milk for drinking and cooking, freeze-dried cheese.

Meat or Meat substitute = 20 lbs per year; Dehydrated/freeze-dried beef, chicken, pork, turkey, textured vegetable protein, dried tofu. Fresh would be 3 to 5 times more in weight, without bones.

Fats = 20 lbs per year; Oils, butter, shortening, lard, bacon grease – all kept frozen to stave off rancidity.

Sugars = 60 lbs per year; Granulated sugar, powdered sugar, honey, molasses, syrups, jam/jelly, candy.

Fruit & vegetables = 90 lbs per year; Dehydrated/freeze-dried fruit, vegetables, instant potatoes (mashed, cubed, hash browns). Fresh would be 4 to 8 times more in weight, depending on the item.

Auxiliary foods such as salt, spices, flavorings, vinegar, and yeast. This is a basic list from which to build a plan for one’s household.

Storing enough for the family will also take a pest-free space, a freezer or two, and a food vacuum sealer, sealer or mylar bags, buckets or tubs, and oxygen-absorbers to keep dry food fresher. Dehydrators are not too expensive. Videos, books, and articles on how to store food abound. Alternatively, there are vendors of already prepared long-term storage food items -- a much more expensive option but very convenient. Preppers say, “You’ll eat what you store so store what you eat.” It’s also a good idea to taste a product before investing in a large quantity.

One thing we cannot know at this time is to what degree crops will fail. 20%, 50%, 75%? It will differ every year of the trough. This presumes, of course, that farmers will continue to try to farm in the face of rotten weather and limited livestock feed.

If we decide to plan to have on hand, for example, half our annual needs, do we just cut these numbers in half? No. Long-season crops like grains, citrus fruits, and some vegetables probably will be hit harder and thus in more limited supply than short-season fruits and vegetables.

Besides bad weather losses, countries may choose to restrict exports to have more for their own people, which could reduce supplies of many items we enjoy, including coffee, tea, chocolate, vanilla, spices, sauces, and out of season produce. Reduced grain harvests will likely reduce livestock, poultry, dairy, and egg production.

Each one of us must decide how much of what to set aside for the future. It can be done. A recent check of local prices showed that a 50-lb bag of rice was $22. A 50-lb bag of flour was $20. 50 pounds of flour yields around 60 loaves of bread. One 4-lb bag of yeast, $4, would make around 400 loaves of bread. A 20-lb box of macaroni was $19.

A 50-lb bag of pinto beans was $28. A 25 kg (55-lb) bag of powdered milk was $114. Roughly, about a pound of milk powder makes a gallon of milk. There are recipes for making yogurt, cream cheese, mozzarella, and cottage cheese from milk. A 50-lb sack of sugar was $27. A gallon of olive oil was $22.

Over the course of a year, with a little expenditure and a little work, a year’s worth of food for one can be set aside for hard times. You’ve got six or seven years to set aside enough to cover your expected gaps for five bad years. Ready, set, go!

When planning for what we should have in our pantry vs what we calculate might be available from other sources, let’s ask ourselves these questions:

Given what we experienced this past year with the pandemic, do we think that the federal government might restrict food availability to ensure “essential workers”, like the military, are fed first?

Do we think state and local governments might buy up available food from grocery wholesalers, restaurant supply, and farmers? Will they, in turn, supply the food banks, stores, eateries, and farmer’s markets?

How will the USDA feeding programs for seniors, breakfasts, and lunches for school children, and farm-to-family programs be impacted? If vendors limit the number of items someone can buy, as they did last year, will donations to local food banks and charitable feeding programs dry up?

Access to food, from many sources, could be complicated. Are we in a position to increase our own gardening and preservation efforts? If not, please ask for help now rather than later.

Hopefully, the government will heed the scientists’ warnings. If farmers maximize production, and the government supports processing for long-term storage as well as stockpiles as much as it can, this, combined with our individual efforts, will ensure the maximum number of people make it through.

If not, a great reset of another sort, and not of the politicians’ choice, may be upon us.

Anony Mee is a retired public servant. This article was adapted and expanded from one by the author that previously appeared in the participatory Modern Survival Blog.

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