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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

An Ant or a Grasshopper?

a new tray of radish seeds planted for green next month 

As I was starting a new set of radishes to grow under lights for greens to eat this October and November, I was thinking about the timeless fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. As you probably remember, the ant works all summer to store up food for the winter while the grasshopper enjoys the sunshine and plays. When winter inevitably comes, the ant has plenty to eat, but the grasshopper has nothing. The grasshopper comes begging for food, wanting some of what the ant worked to store away. For modern media consumers, the movie A Bug's Life is this traditional fable retold.

The fable is intended to be a cautionary tale instructing us to be hard workers (ants) and prepare for the winter that we know will soon come. Winter isn't necessarily a literal season. Winter can be a metaphor for any bad time to come or period of setback. The idle and carefree (grasshoppers) among us might just find ourselves lacking when "winter" arrives. 

I think I'm an ant. I literally prepare for the season of winter, putting up food, preparing the fireplace and stacking wood, ensuring we have some candles, working flashlights and matches, and having our furnace serviced. I don't take this as occupying some moral high ground, but I simply don't like the prospect of having to ask for assistance. I also prepare for figurative winters. We live beneath our means and invest the excess. And, we make plans for our future support when our income will be decreased. We can't see what specifically we will face, but we do know that no one is exempt from life's difficulties. We just prepare as broadly as possible.

An interesting thing about the ant -- he's not a lone wolf. He works and lives in a colony. I suppose frugal living blogs, websites, books and magazine articles help create our "ant group". Sharing information and experiences is our way to work together for better individual futures.

2 jumbo bags and 2 extra large bags filled with frozen blackberries

Here's a part of my "ant work" for this past month. Our family has foraged so many blackberries. We are now out of freezer room, so I've moved on to making blackberry jam, blackberry pancake syrup, and blackberry juice for our winter consumption. And in the meantime, while we still have lots of fresh berries to harvest, we're also eating fresh blackberries, blackberry pies and cobblers several times per week.

Just thoughts I was mulling over today.


  1. I always feel the need to preserve for the future cold, winter months. But we don't work through it nearly as quick with two of us as we did with a family of 5. So each year I feel like it's time to "put up" more food but nowhere to put it. I get my yearly bags of flour but bake 75% less than what I used to. I can tomatoes but haven't used all of them up from last year. I freeze green peppers but I have some from last year and the year before. I make jam but still have a lot from previous years. We just can't get through it all so that's my dilemma. I've run out of canning jars too. I can probably get some from my dad if I need them. Oh and to be clear, we cook about 99% of our meals at home too but meals for two are rather small. I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing because I've heard food shortages will happen.


    1. Hi Alice,
      It's hard to overcome cooking habits when a family size shrinks, I think. Cooking for 2 empty nest adults is very different from cooking for 2 adults plus growing kids, teens and young adults. When it's just my husband and I for dinner (daughters out doing something else), we eat so very little it seems. So I can imagine how you would now have surpluses of food in storage, with all kids out of the nest.

      Would any of your kids be appreciative of some of your excess home-canned goods or pantry staples? Even though my household of 4 is still picking blackberries to eat every day, there are still so many blackberries that will go unpicked. So when my son and daughter-in-law came over on Monday, we asked if they'd like to pick some of our berries. They happily picked a couple of quarts to take home.

      I'm concerned about food shortages, too. Even if we can afford to pay higher prices, I figure if enough people grow and preserve food right now, there will be excess food during a shortage to go to those without such advantages. Reduce demand so supply is plentiful and prices aren't exorbitant. So that's a part of my motivation to harvest and preserve as much perishable produce as possible.

      I also think some of us were raised in ways or had difficult financial experiences as adults that make us more likely to prepare for winter. We are who we are.

  2. The lifestyle that you and Alice talk about is very much like the one I grew up with. I spent most of my time in the summer canning and freezing things (and in the fall after school when it was apple season.) And we always had a freezer full of meat-usually a deer that my father hunted. My sisters and I were also responsible for the household duties also of cooking, cleaning, and laundry because both of my parents were working to earn college money for us. I am very thankful for the skills and responsibilities my parents taught me. However, as an adult, I have not kept up the ways of my youth. While we do shop sales and freeze some things we grow or that others give us, we are not stocked for the winter or for years. While I appreciated the lessons I learned, I got burned out on the whole thing. Now, we live below are means and are lucky to have extra money to buy things at a higher cost if we need to. However, that doesn't mean that we don't take advantage of a good sale and buy extra. I guess this is another time I am living my mantra of everything in moderation. However, I will say that there's nothing like the taste of vegetables and fruit from the garden whether they are fresh or preserved.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I can understand getting burned out on all of the household responsibility. It IS hard work. I try not to focus so much on how hard it may feel at any one time, as this is my best option for right now. But I also recognize that others have different circumstances that allow for different approaches.

  3. We don't go through flour, sugar, and things like before. I pretty much don't bake but occasionally. I did pick up 6 more cans of crushed tomatoes today because my husband and his allergy makes it impossible to buy generic or it seems certain foods that are lower cost. The blueberry picking from last year will probably last at least 2 years considering my husband puts 5-6 on his steel cut oatmeal. I've learned not to get all gun hoe and try and can like my daughter. We just don't eat that way.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      All of those blueberries must be so nice to have year round!

      I think our household dietary habits change not just due to a decrease in size of group, but also our dietary needs change over the years, maybe eating less than previously or needing specific foods. There are 2 things I'm finding we're not going through as much in the last couple of years, milk and jam/jelly. When I buy milk now, I think I'm buying a 2-3 week supply and find it actually lasts us a month. I wind up freezing some milk each month. With the jam and jelly, I can adjust how much I make each year according to how much is leftover from the previous year.

      It sounds like your daughter's canning efforts match their eating habits, but wouldn't match yours. We each get to choose what works for ourselves.

  4. I feel like most of us qualify as "ants" in one form or another. While we don't plan on saving enough food to get us through the winter, we do have some put away, especially produce. I tend to stock up if I can get a good sale on something (butter!) or hear that there will be a shortage of something, but it seems like every day now there is a new impending shortage predicted, so I find that hard to keep up with.

    You have reminded me that I need to call to have our furnace and our fireplace checked. The fireplace is more of a cozy ambiance feature in the winter rather than a heat source, but it's still good to know that it's safe to use and in a pinch, it might come in handy during a power outage. I'm trying to raise my kids with the mindset that challenging circumstances will happen in life and it's helpful to have an emergency financial fund and to take care of your possessions so they last longer and work better. I think that's part of the ant philosophy! :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      Can you imagine how much work it would be to put away enough food to get through until the following spring and summer? I'm grateful for grocery stores to pick up things we need when we run out.

      I agree, there seems to be a new shortage item each week or so. It's hard to keep up.

      We won't be using our fireplace for a lot of heating, but we like to have it ready for warmth and cooking during power outages. And we never know in advance how many of those we could have each year.

      Ant philosophy -- great term. I agree on the many facets of this sort of financial responsibility. We've tried to teach our own kids the same.

  5. Well, I try to be an ant but have interludes of being a grasshopper! Especially if the opportunity arises to escape the heat in Oklahoma for the mountains of New Mexico or Colorado. :D Just got back from a short trip to NM yesterday.

    Seriously, though, I have been attempting to put aside even small amounts of foods from the garden. Once upon a time, I would have had the mindset that "that's not worth saving" but have changed that. One eye opener recently as I cook one of our two dogs' daily meals (in big batches, not cooking them each day) has been that almost anything I grow (no alliums) can at least be used as an ingredient in those, even if the humans don't eat it for whatever reason. So yes, that one zucchini gets shredded and frozen for something. Your blog has been inspiring for this. Also, don't know if you watch her, but the Three Rivers Homestead youtube channel is an inspiration as well. She has an "every bit counts" series where she documents what she preserves each day, and then a winter challenge with little or no grocery shopping, and does it with a large family. Very inspirational, and I figure I can justify the time watching while I crochet or knit something.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I can relate to the "not worth saving." I did some of that too for all of these years. We have squirrels and raccoons that knock apples off the trees. In past years I tossed those into the compost barrel. This year I decided to salvage what I could from those apples by cutting off the bruises and blemishes and chopping the rest to freeΩe. I froze 3 gallon-sized bags of apple pieces by doing only this. I use these apple pieces for making apple crisp for us for breakfast. I'm trying to extend that attitude to other foods, too, as you may have noticed in my menus.
      Thank you for that recommendation. I'll check out Three Rivers Homestead. It sounds very motivational.


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