Are Tennesseans Prepared? Beware of Major Food Shortfalls for Most of the U.S.

John M. Dabbs

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Family Farm in Gray, TennesseeJohn Dabbs/Photographer

It began with the pandemic. Stores appeared to have been scavenged for toilet paper and cleaning products. Lately, more products are increasingly difficult to find. Beef, chicken, pork, fish... they're all hard to find at times. The free market is rationing items through supply and demand.

Restaurants are not only having difficulty finding staff to work the dining rooms and in the kitchen, they are also finding their food supplies and other goods more difficult to procure at a decent price. Sometimes they have to cut menu items completely, as the stock is simply not available through their tradition vendors, or elsewhere. Paper napkins, paper towels, disposable cups, straws, plates, paper trays and assorted disposables are also becoming scarce.

At first the headlines were about toilet paper, then the inability to find people to work. Now its become apparent - our food and other goods are also in short supply. Food shortages are becoming more common due to supply chains breaking down. Experts predict the shortages may become even worse going forward before it gets better.

Hoarding

At one time it was very seldom that we heard of someone stockpiling food and other consumables. These "Preppers" were on the edge. They whole facade of "prepping" has moved more center stage since the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more families (and individuals) are buying more than they need in an effort to stock up on food. They want to be prepared just in case they have to ride out another mandatory self-isolation event at home.

On top of the shortage of frozen meals and MREs (meals ready-to-eat), food packaging operations are finding aluminum becoming scarce. Aluminum is used for packaging canned food and soft-drinks. This continues to inflate the price of food. The shortage has led to an increase in price, yet the demand for food is also high because it is also scarce. The costs necessitate an even higher increase.

Factory Farms

Commercial farms who support factory operations are dealing with increasing operational costs as well. Not only is feed for livestock, seed for plants, and fuel to run the tractors increasing - they've seen skyrocketing fertilizer costs. Fertilizer costs are at a 10-year high. This only augments an already inflated global food cost. The U.N. says global food prices are the highest they've been in a decade.

These inflationary costs have not gone unnoticed by the government or the public. As wages have increased due to demand, it fed the stats of the U.S. Department of Labor. The level of inflation is the highest it's been since the Department of Labor began tracking inflation.

Internationally

European sources are warning of food supply shortages which may become the norm'. With labor and transportation costs increasing, it has become increasingly difficult to acquire and ship food from distances for consumption. The Food and Drink Federation says the time has come when consumers will not see anything they may fancy on their grocer's shelves. That may be a period which has outlived our present society.

Tennesseans and self-sufficiency

Many people in the south have the Appalachian spirit. They were born into a family with a work ethic and a sense of self-reliance. Most residents of the Volunteer State didn't grow up in city life. Many grew up with a backyard garden or working on the family farm.

We grew up in programs like 4H, and similar lessons took place in our elementary schools. We learned about raising animals and growing plants. It's not a skill that deteriorates as some city-folk might think.

In Tennessee, we've dealt with ice storms, blizzards, tornadoes, and even droughts. We aren't intimidated by bad weather and send it on its way in a few hours or even a few days. We have the stamina to persevere.

Victory gardens

Some of the "greatest generation", who experienced life during World War II, may remember the victory gardens and the promotion for everyone to grow one to help support their family, while the big farms fed the troops at war.

Most of the family farms in Tennessee have disappeared. The knowledge gained while working on and in them remains. The older generation even taught some of their children and grandchildren how to help them in the garden. It can be fun and very productive if done smartly.

I remember my grandmother telling of my grandfather "whooping and hollering" at my dad and his sisters while working in the garden. He'd play Indians with them as they pulled weeds and watered the plants. Those antics made the job fun and very memorable. I had similar experiences with my parents as we worked in our garden when I was young. It builds character.

Scale and fruition

When my parents moved into town when I was grown and working full-time, they had a small backyard. They enjoyed gardening and managed to grow green beans in a flower box and had the vines growing on a flower trellis on the front porch.

My father loves Mother Earth News and had read about Square Foot Gardening in the book by Mel Bartholomew. He built raised beds in their meager back yard to supplement the bean boxes on the front porch. They had fresh produce all summer, and managed to can enough to feed the four of them living at the house at the time.

All it takes is a bit of planning and determination to grow a crop big enough to care for your family, and have enough to save for later. My brother-in-law, Darrell Davis, used to save the seeds from his best plants when he gardened. He managed to keep Purple-Tipped beans and grow them when the seeds no longer existed locally. Even after his death this summer, my sister still has enough of his seeds to start another garden.

Gardening doesn't take as much time these days as it did in the past. Using Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening approach, it's easy enough to care for your small patch of land with minimal effort each day. I believe he helped form an organization that maintains a website dedicated to his method of gardening,(squarefootgardening.org) which has lots of free information.

Tennesseans aren't the only ones who are largely self-sufficient. There are many people out there in rural America and former country boys and girls who have just as much gumption and can get the job done without waiting on a handout from the government. These are the type of people who built this country.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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