Sunday, May 22, 2022

Food as Barter

Growing food is always a good thing: if you grow more than you can eat or store, you can barter or gift the surplus. I've mentioned that when I was growing up my family grew lots of tomatoes, while the neighbor to the north grew sweetcorn along the edge of his corn field, and others grew cucumbers, peppers, onions, or something else. We all traded freely, since we were friends as well as neighbors. Mom and Dad always had chickens for fresh eggs and the surplus were taken to church every Sunday for anyone who wanted them to take home. 

Food as a barter item is nothing new, and when TSHTF it will probably come back into use. World supply lines are already under stress, causing localized shortages of some items, and prices for what is available are climbing fast; if our economy takes a serious dive, or we get involved in another war, things will get even harder to find at the supermarket. Having a secondary source of the basics would qualify as a good prepping idea.

Not all of us are going to have the room to set up a garden large enough to sustain our family, but even a few window planters or a vertical garden made of PVC pipe can grow enough to help. If you have neighbors or tribe that can grow food, maybe you should look at growing the herbs and spices that make meals more enjoyable. There are many options that aren't exactly food but would make good barter items.

Modern people are addicted to sugar as a result of marketing strategies developed after WW2. Think about how much sugary crap the average person consumes daily and you'll see that having a supply of sweetener to trade could be worth its weight in gold.

Sugar comes from two main sources: cane and beets. Sugar cane is a tropical plant that is easy to grow if you have the climate; sugar beets will grow in much colder climates, and once harvested can be left on the ground, frozen, until they're processed. Sugar cane is a perennial grass similar to bamboo that regrows from the roots every year; sugar beets have to be planted from seed every year. Sugar cane is grown in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas; sugar beets are grown in North Dakota and Minnesota, where they'll stay frozen after harvest and can be processed over the winter.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is a cheap sugar replacement that takes some chemistry and equipment to produce. Having spent several years working in a plant that produced it by the railcar load, I know how it's made and don't think many preppers would be able to make it on a small scale. 

Black pepper is a tropical plant, but Cayenne and various other peppers can be used as replacements. With the modern American palate being accustomed to spicy food, peppers are a low-maintenance plant that could be used as a barter item.

Garlic and onions are root crops that take up little room to grow and are easy to store. Most of the other spices like curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are all native to small areas of the world and don't grow well in other areas, hence the trade routes of ancient times. If you can produce enough to trade, there will be a market if our current system fails.

The list of herbs used to season and enhance the flavors of food is too long for me to list here. Mints and herbs are easy to grow in a space even as small as a single pot for use in the kitchen. Growing and storing a few varieties of seasoning for trade purposes wouldn't take much room or time.

Somewhere around 85% of Americans start their day with a caffeinated drink of some sort. Be it coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink, caffeine is an addiction that has its claws in a lot of people. 

There's only one native North American plant that contains caffeine: Yaupon, a variety of holly native to northern Florida and southern Georgia. The leaves make a smooth tea that is richer in caffeine than Asian teas.

We have some cold-hardy tea plants that will grow in colder regions, I'll cover them in a separate article along with how they are processed.

Arabica coffee can be grown in a greenhouse in the USA, but it takes a lot of care and processing to make into something fit to drink.

This one is controversial; I've mentioned growing tobacco before and gotten negative feedback. Feeding this addiction is not supporting a healthy lifestyle, but if a grown adult chooses to partake of it, that's their choice. It's a powerful addiction; I've been hooked on it since I was about 18 years old. I've quit several times, but keep coming back to it. 

I switched from smoking to vaping a few years back to reduce the health effects, but I know it's not good for me. My brain is now wired to expect the nicotine and life is not pleasant without it. This makes it a valuable trade item, but I know nothing about its cultivation and processing.

The nicotine in tobacco has other uses, mainly as a pesticide. It's a powerful poison, so painting a light coating on seeds or stems will kill most insects that touch it. Since I work with pesticides for a living, I'm aware of how dangerous it can be. 

If you find yourself in a community, no matter how small, sometimes specializing in producing one thing can open up lines of barter with others for the things you can't make yourself. This is one of the basics of civilization and shouldn't be lost, no matter how bad things get.

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