For most Homesteaders, it is going to be preferable to store large volumes of food on the homestead, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) notwithstandingi. For many homesteaders, much of the food storage on the homestead will be fruits, vegetables and even meats that have been canned or otherwise preferred. Large volumes of dried goods are also a very common occurrence on the homestead as well, since it is often both cheaper and more convenient to buy large supplies of dried goods and to store them, if nothing else, to avoid having to avoid the often long and tedious journey in to town each and every week. The key to long term food storage, is not only in how the food is stored, but where it is stored and how those stores of goods and supplies are maintained.
The food pantry could arguably be one of the most important sites on any homestead. The construction of the pantry should reflect this. Fortunately, learning how to build a pantry is not overly difficult or challenging and is in fact, relatively easy. Ideally, the pantry will be located in a basement, as the basement is generally cooler than the construction above ground, though it is also imperative to note that the basement should be relatively dry and free from excessive moisture and humidity. If a basement is being built in the tropics, especially at or near sea level, care should be taken that the construction and the materials used, minimize the introduction of moisture into the structure.
The pantry itself will ideally be constructed using Cinder Blocks or Bricks. It may take a little practice, but I have never yet met anyone who could not learn these crafts sufficiently well enough to build an outbuilding or two, if not a home. While it may take more time than hiring a professional mason, it is also more inexpensive, both both options will have to be considered and ultimately decided by the homestead owner. There should be no windows in the pantry, and the door should be properly sealed with a weather strip on all sides of the door, making it difficult even for ants to get in to the pantry, and certainly sufficient to keep rats and other vermin out of the food supplies.
If necessary or in more tropical environments, a single incandescent bulb can be left burning in the pantry to ensure no excessive moisture exists. This may also inhibit the formation of rust on Mason Jar lids and other bottled or canned goods with metal in the storage unit. If incandescent light bulbs are made unavailable, a large drop light or other photographers spot lamp may be used, though it must generate a modicum of heat sufficient to remove the moisture from the air.
A Homesteader can never have too many water-tight containers.
Home canning generally sees foods canned and preserved in glass bottles, more commonly referred to as Mason Jars, Bell Jars or these days, Knoll Jars. The metal lids do tend to rust, so again, the construction of the pantry and its ability to reduce moisture to a minimum will be extremely relevant. However, a great many dried goods such as beans, rice, pancake mix or flour, powdered products such as eggs and other “survival food supplies” are generally sold in bags or sacks. No food should ever be stored only in a sack, and never use paper (or other equally degradable material) sacks for long term food storage. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Food storage containers should all be water tight and non-corrosive. Those fifty-five gallon metal drums may be tightly sealed, but the metal will absorb moisture as sure as the mason jar lids, and should be avoided. Five gallon buckets are generally easily found in restaurants, paint shops and other local area stores, but should be thoroughly cleaned before being used for long-term food storage. Furthermore, even once cleaned, the food stored in these containers should also be broken down into smaller portions. If there are a large number of people that will be consuming the goods on a regular basis, a five gallon bucket may contain a single, plastic food bag to contain the supplies, though even this should be re-sealed after each useii.
Plastic Food Bags
Plastic food bags of all sizes should be purchased and used by the homesteader for long-term food storage. As was noted, some foods stored in five gallon buckets will likely be used every day, so a single, five gallon food storage bag may be sufficient, though it should remain sealed when not in use. Other goods such as beans, spices and goods that will not be used in such large quantities, should be stored in smaller food storage bags so as to allow for individual bags to be brought out as needed, while keeping the rest of the stores properly sealed and preserved.
Beans are perhaps one of my favorite meals, but since it is not likely that I am ever going to need five gallons of beans in a single setting, I tend to package them up in smaller, more manageable storage sizes based on projected food consumption and usage. Buying black or white pepper by the pound makes it cheaper, but it may take a while to use that much pepper, and when left in shakers on the table, even with a couple of grains of rice in the mix to absorb moisture, may still get moist and be lost or wasted as a result. Storing the pepper in bags just large enough to fill the pepper shaker about half way has proven to be about ideal in my experience.
If it is at all possible, a vacuum bag sealer is great. It is important that the plastic bags be properly sealed if the food is going to keep, but being able to suck all of the air out and provide a largely seamless seal through the use of a heat seal, will ensure that foods last much longer than they otherwise would. A laminating machine or heated bag sealer should be relatively easy to find, a vacuum bag sealer maybe a little more difficult, but definitely worthwhile if you are buying food in bulk for a homestead.
Date and Rotate
Everybody forgets things sometimes, and seriously, those canned tomatoes are all going to look the same when they are being considered for consumption during the winter months. It is imperative that all long-term food storage be labeled, dated and rotated. Home canned goods will generally last between three to five years, though some people will claim even longer. It depends on far too many factors to list here, but suffice it to say, the older goods should be consumed first. When new goods are purchased and/or canned, they should be stored behind the older supplies so that the older supplies remain at the front and will be among the first consumed.
If there is a constant light in the pantry, this may also cause labels to fade over the course of a year. As such, a label on the top of the lid in addition to a label on the base of the storage unit … or in some other strategic location as some food storage containers will be too heavy to lift and check for labels underneath, so that fading can be avoided. Masking tape is a good option, as it can be just as easily applied or removed … removal being especially necessary for mason jars and some other food storage units that will need to be heated. Those print and stick computer labels may seem like a good idea, and they may be for the plastic containers, but it is not recommended that any kind of permanent labeling be used for mason jars and other food storage containers of a similar nature.
At the end of the day, one of the most beautiful things about living out on the homestead, is the ability to remain largely self-reliant and independent of “civilized society” with its hustle and bustle world. However, if left to go hungry, even the most passive of people will soon become irascible and cranky. Hunger may be a great motivating factor, but it can also be a morale breaker, especially during long winter months in the cabin. With the proper food storage techniques for the homestead in play, hunger should no longer be any concern whatsoever.
i (The NDAA makes it “illegal” for any family to store more than a one-week supply of food, and “reserves the right” to confiscate said supplies in “times of emergency” … though it is also interesting to note that according to the US Government Federal Register, we have been in a constant “State of Emergency” since at least 1933 and possible since as far back as 1861)
iiFlour is one example of goods that may require only a single storage bag even for a larger container such as the five gallon bucket, as it will likely be used every day. However, the plastic food bag insert should still be sealed after use even when the container will be closed again for storage in the pantry.