One of our goals is to grow and raise our own food. Consequently, I write about gardening and food preservation quite a bit. From time to time I show you my pantry and give you a progress report on the status of my food stores. Currently, we're producing all our own vegetables, eggs, milk, cheese, and most of the fruit we consume. This year, we started growing some of our own grain: wheat and corn. In the future, we will focus on more types of grains and meat.
I still grocery shop, for things like coffee, cereals, meat, black olives, tuna fish, baking soda, chocolate, sweeteners, a few stock-up items. You'd think because of all we grow I'd be saving a lot, but actually, my food budget remains the same. Why? Because instead of buying people food, I now buy grains and pellets for the chickens and goats too. Add to that other supplies necessary for their well being, more seeds in the spring, and the rising cost of food (both human and animal), and I have to admit that my budgeted food spending hasn't changed a cent since we started working toward food self-sufficiency.
A question often arises amongst homesteaders regarding raising one's own food - is it worth it? Is it cost effective to grow and preserve all one's fruits and vegetables, and to raise one's own eggs, meat, or milk? Realistically, wouldn't it be cheaper to buy them?
I think the answer to that depends on several things. The temptation is to compare our actual cost with the price tags at the grocery store. Yet what is on grocery store shelves is commercially produced. The quality of food suffers because the ways and means of industrialized agriculture focus on quantity and profit, not quality and nutrition, nor on the well-being of their animals. Are my eggs, produced by free ranged chickens who eat bugs, worms, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables, equal in quality and value to factory eggs, produced by chickens who are fed formulated pellets and never see light of day? Or, can I really compare my pure raw goat milk to ultra-pasteurized, rBGH grocery store milk? Then there are the added values of manure for the compost, increases in flock and herd, meat and/or sales from culling, plus the endless hours of delightful entertainment watching animal antics. Shouldn't these be factored into the value of producing one's own food?
More importantly is one's world view, one's mindset, because this ultimately determines how we set our priorities in life. I discussed this in detail in this post, "Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading?". For our purposes here, we need to consider how mindset determines our motivation toward how we feed ourselves. Am I seeking to raise my own food to gain a financial benefit or a return on an investment? Or because I want to eat real food, to know where it comes from. Maybe I'm motivated by environmental concerns. Or it's simply for the love of doing it. Perhaps I do it because of concerns for the way our world food supply is being managed, and for the sense of purpose, security, and freedom food self-sufficiency affords.
In terms of food self-sufficiency, I honestly think money is a poor standard of value. If I look at my garden harvest and only see what it's worth in terms of money, I must realize that its value is unstable and changes as conditions fluctuate. Yet, I always need to eat. That doesn't change. It doesn't change if produce is worth 25 cents a pound, or if it's worth $5 a pound. I still need to eat.
For the homesteader, the questions about raising one's own food should be personal and ethical, not financial and economical. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: How do I want to nourish my body, my family? What kind of food do I want to eat? How do I want it grown? How do I want it produced? Do I want to contribute to the environmental problems created by modern agribusiness practices, or help heal them? What are my self-sufficiency goals and how does raising my own food help meet them? Whether or not the cost of raising one's own food is worth it, will depend upon one's answers.
For my husband and me, our ultimate goal is to decrease our need for money and our dependency on the consumer system. Raising our own food is an important step in meeting that goal. We are working toward raising all or most of our own animal feed, beginning by planting the wheat, the corn, and black oil sunflower seeds. We will look into other crops as well. We will research pasture improvement and what kinds of hay mixes will grow well in our part of the country. What we can grow will eventually determine the number of animals we can keep; we must strive for a need based balance. It will be a step by step process, but will enable our homestead to be more self-sustaining in the long run.
Is it worth it? There's obviously no one-size-fits-all answer, but it is something every homesteader needs to consider. For us, the answer is a resounding yes.