Can you imagine a life, so self-sufficient, that living without the grocery store was a reality?
Going to the grocery store is something that most Americans do, once, twice or more often each week. Most of us can’t imagine how we would survive without the local grocery for any period of time.
A little over a hundred years ago, the first “self-serve” grocery store, Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis, Tennessee in the year 1916.
But prior to the modern grocery store’s existence, people acquired their food in a much different way.
Actually, it was very common (and necessary!) for families to grow large gardens and to find ways to preserve that food for the winter.
The adults also raised livestock and hunted to provide meat and eggs for growing children and other family members.
General stores served as a supplement to what folks couldn’t produce for themselves.
But given that most people wouldn’t own cars until decades later, visits to the general store were infrequent.
Self-sufficiency has been a way of life for most of humanity for thousands of years!
So how did we get so far away from habits that sustained us to the very grid-dependent life we live today? Is living without the grocery store possible in today’s society?
I like to blame the Industrial Revolution for many of our country’s issues.
While many Americans left their farms to go work in factories, food production was “thrown under the bus” in terms of priority.
Factories began to manufacture the food people ate, because there was no one at home to grow it anymore!
Food production became low priority, and what a shame.
The very thing that we need to thrive and survive in life, became something that was produced in factories.
Why Bother to Be Self-Sufficient with Food?
Living without the grocery store can be accomplished in part by becoming self-sufficient!
It’s Healthier – There’s no question that whole, fresh food is healthier than processed, preservative-laden food!
More Freedom – Do you want the grocery store system to determine not only what you eat, but also whether you eat or not? Or would you rather have the security of knowing that you are in control of your food?
Save Money – Most people shop for groceries when they need something, but what happens if you run out of food and can’t get to the store?
However, when you keep a well-stocked pantry, you can afford to wait for the best sales on the food your family eats.
Better yet, when you grow and preserve your own food, you can depend on your harvest from last year’s garden until next year’s garden, allowing yourself to survive comfortably without the grocery store.
Long-term Food Security – The “Just-in-Time” grocery grid only has about three days’ worth of groceries on its shelves at any one time. When disruptions occur due to bad weather, supply-chain breakdowns, crop losses, power outages, panic-buying or any combination of many other scenarios, the supply of food at the grocery store suddenly becomes unavailable.
When you grow at least some of your own food, you can depend on it to feed you, year after year.
Living Without the Grocery Store
Make a Plan
No one wakes up one day and just becomes independent of the grocery store. It requires planning and strategy.
Where do you want to begin in your journey to be less dependent and living without the grocery store?
I suggest that you start with the “low-hanging fruit”.
In other words, do the easiest things first.
Begin with a category of items, one at a time, that you usually buy from the grocery.
What are some things that come to your mind that you could easily do without at the grocery?
Many people find that paper products are easy to replace with alternatives.
Remember, for every product that you can either replace with an alternative or decide to live without, you are that much closer to being independent of the grocery store!
Living without the Grocery Store by Eliminating Paper Products
Single-use paper products are a non-necessity. Eliminating them from your household will definitely help you on your path to living without the grocery store.
Things like paper napkins can be replaced with Easy to Make Cloth Napkins. Once made, you’ll never need to buy paper napkins again.
Paper towels can be largely eliminated by using cloth kitchen towels.
Paper plates can be eliminated by simply using real plates and dishes.
Toilet paper got a lot of press during the first Covid-19 lockdown, which I found to be strange.
The pursuit of toilet paper by “locked-down” Americans seemed to take priority over just about any other consumable item!
“Back in the day”, keeping our back-ends clean was taken care of with whatever was available i.e. rags, leaves, hay, rocks, corn cobs, moss, paper, etc. The wealthy used wool, lace or other fabric.
In an emergency, why wouldn’t people revert back to the old way of doing things, rather than spending time and gasoline running around looking for over-priced toilet paper?
Cloth remains the most sustainable way to wipe your bottom!
It’s no different than using cloth diapers for your baby!
If you want to lessen your dependence on the grocery store, then check out “How to Make and Use Cloth Toilet Paper“.
Another “bottom cleaning” option would be the “bidet“, which is commonly used in Europe.
Another area of great savings and independence can be with cleaning products.
Don’t get me started on the “toxic, endocrine-disrupting chemicals” that are in most (if not all) cleaning products at the store.
And then there’s the PRICE!
Oh man, what a wonderful feeling it is to know that you don’t need most of that crap in the “cleaning” isle, because you can learn to make cheap, and non-toxic cleaners yourself, very easily!
Between paper products and cleaning products, you could save hundreds of dollars a year AND begin to loosen the grip of the grocery store!
Laundry Soap, Softeners and Stain Treatment
Raising a large family, and doing several loads of laundry a day (not to mention cloth diapers), we used a lot of laundry detergent!
Even though I was buying the cheapest laundry detergent that I could find, with the amount of laundry that I was doing, I soon realized that I needed to find some alternative to store-bought laundry soap.
I love to ask myself the question…
“What did Grandma do?”
Long before the days of expensive, perfume-laden, toxin-laced, endocrine-disrupting laundry detergent, what did Grandma use?
She used bar laundry-soap.
Along with a wash-board.
While I wasn’t quite ready to use a wash-board and wash tub to do my laundry at the time (although I would today now that we’re almost empty-nesters), there was still a way to take advantage of the bar laundry soap.
Fast forward to present time and guess what?
In under an hour, you can easily make 10 gallons of laundry soap under about $4.
The recipe has three ingredients.
But wait, what about laundry softeners?
You simply do not need them, but if you find yourself needing help with static, adding one cup of vinegar to your rinse cycle should take care of the problem.
Or, buy these wool dryer balls to reduce static and drying time!
Cereal is another huge rip-off!
But I get it…
Mornings are crazy and you just need something easy and economical to feed the kids and get out the door…
I totally get it!
With just a little planning, you can have inexpensive, healthier options ready for the family during the week.
Check out my post “7 Easy and Healthy Breakfast Ideas“, but also do a little thinking on your own about your family’s likes and dislikes.
Brainstorm about some ways you can work to eliminate breakfast convenience foods from the grocery.
Sometimes, it can help to get some “buy-in” from the family! Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish and ask them for suggestions.
When the kids have a voice in these kinds of changes, they are more willing to take part!
You don’t need perfection, but you can definitely reduce your dependence on the grocery in this department.
Set Goals for Living without the Grocery Store
Reducing your dependence on the grocery store will take time.
Setting achievable goals will help you to stay on track and not put too much pressure on yourself.
My thinking is that if you can change one or two things a month, giving the other members of the family time to get used to the “new habits”, that the change will ‘stick’.
Remember, it takes 28 days to form a new habit.
Talk to the family and try to get buy-in on replacing just one or two items.
Maybe substitute potato chips with homemade popped corn.
Eliminate snack cakes with homemade Banana Bread or Chocolate Chip cookies.
There’s lots of room for improvement in our diets and habits.
Reduce Your Overall Grocery Needs
I think that most of us would admit that we don’t really need everything that we buy on a trip to the grocery store.
I would also venture to guess that much of that “unnecessary” food that we buy is convenience food i.e. ice cream, Little Debbie’s, potato chips, processed cereals, etc.
I get it. I’m guilty too.
However, if you’re going to live without the grocery store, you’ll quickly discover that your focus will need to stay on whole foods.
Processed and convenience foods aren’t sustainable forms of eating. Besides that, convenience foods are full of chemicals and preservatives that can compromise your health.
Making a weekly (or monthly) meal plan and shopping list will help you to stay on track while you’re shopping.
Plan for snacks for your family, but look into alternatives!
Create Room for a Pantry
You have got to find room in your home for a pantry, so that you can store food.
It doesn’t have to be a traditional pantry, although if you have one, it’s time to clean it out and get organized!
However, for many years, I’ve lived in small homes while we raised our large family.
I managed to find room under stairs, under beds, in kid’s closets, on the back of doors with “back of door”organizers, by making shelves on un-used wall space, etc.
Get creative and try to look at your home as though you’re seeing it for the first time, and look for those “nooks and crannies” to store your food!
Living without the Grocery Store with Edible Perennials
What is a self-sufficient garden?
If you want to live comfortably without the grocery store, you’ve got to find dependable and sustainable ways to grow food and that means edible perennials!
Edible perennials are plants that grow back, year after year, once planted.
I depend heavily on my perennials, things like:
Asparagus – A well-tended bed will produce upwards of 30 years!
Rhubarb – Great for jams and jellies.
Strawberries – We make jam, freeze strawberries for smoothies and eat as many as we can!
Blackberries – Easy to grow down a fence line!
Raspberries – Easy to grow just about anywhere!
Elderberries – Easy to grow and make Elderberry Syrup with!
Grapes – Easily trellised
Fruit trees – With so many varieties of fruit trees available these days, just about anyone can grow fruit!
Living without the Grocery Store by Growing a Vegetable Garden
Besides growing edible perennials, you should also plant an annual vegetable garden.
Annuals are plants that live for one year and die away. However, they produce seeds that you should collect for next year!
Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, corn, melons and carrots are all annuals.
It’s important to buy “heirloom” plants for your garden so that when you collect the seeds, they will ensure the exact same plant in next year’s garden.
Another characteristic of a sustainable garden is “seed-saving”.
Growing a garden full of annuals isn’t sustainable unless you are able to save your seeds for the following year!
Learn as much as you can about seed-saving so that you can grow your vegetables every year, and avoid that grocery store!
Discover Foraged Food
There was a time when I thought foraging was just….weird.
Like, who in their right mind would go into the woods and pick crazy things to eat!!??
Well, THIS girl!
What a shame that most children aren’t taught to forage safely.
There is so much fresh, organic, nutritious food out there….for free!
Take the time to discover what sorts of wild edibles grow in your neck of the woods.
I suggest that you get a couple of field guides for your part of the world and study them.
Talk to a naturalist in your area or schedule a nature walk, but take the time to learn about wild edibles!
Wild edibles are a wonderful supplement to your food and herb supply.
Living without the Grocery Store by Finding Local Food Sources
Just because you’ve decided to ditch the grocery store, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy food! Living without the grocery store will require that you find and buy from local sources of food.
CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) can be a great way to purchase your food and support local farmers.
Don’t forget about farmer’s markets! You can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and meats every week!
If you live near an Amish community, definitely buy food from them, even if it means you have to drive a few hours once or twice a year!
Learn Food Preservation Methods
Learning different methods of food preservation is what will ensure that your food will be there to feed your family for years to come!
There are many ways to preserve food, but some of the most common methods used today are canning, freezing, dehydrating and fermenting.
If you’re new to food preservation, freezing is the easiest way to start.
Most prepared foods can be frozen easily with freezer containers. Freezing leftovers is an excellent way to avoid food waste and save money!
Dehydration is another very simple and effective way to preserve food!
With a good dehydrator, you can dehydrate food with confidence!
Dried foods store easily in sealed containers, whether that be mason jars or with a Food Saver.
Living without the Grocery Store by Canning Food
Now, let’s talk about canning!
If you’re not a canner at this point, you will want to make a point to learn how to can.
There are two types of canning: water-bath canning and pressure canning.
Check out my tutorials for both below!
Without overwhelming you at this point, different kinds of food need different kinds of canning.
High-acid foods like tomatoes require water-bath canning.
Low-acid foods like carrots need to be pressure-canned.
You can take classes at an extension office, or better yet, find a friend or family member who is a canner and ask if you can drop by and help.
I have taught many people to can in my home, and I’m glad to pass the skill on! I think most canners feel the same way.
Living without the Grocery Store by Making Your Own Bread
How many grocery runs a week do you make for bread?
Just like everything else, the price of bread just keeps going up!
The amount of sugar and preservatives in store-bought bread also keeps going up!
But you need bread for sandwiches and meals!
Make your own! It’s easier than you think!
Making bread was one of the most intimidating things to me!
Funny thing is that making bread wasn’t near as difficult as I made it out to be in my head!
Try this Amish White bread recipe!
With just 5 simple ingredients, plus instructions for use with a bread machine, it’s hard to fail!
Raise Some Meat
Unless you’re a vegan, you’re going to need to raise meat for your family as part of living without the grocery store.
That will look different for every family.
Some families hunt deer or wild turkey and bring it home to the freezer.
Others may go fishing once or twice a year and provide meat that way.
Backyard chickens are making such a huge comeback, and I’m glad.
There was a point in our history when just about everyone kept a few chickens and had fresh eggs every day!
Chickens are just birds!
For the most part, my chickens are far quieter than the other wild birds in my yard.
I want to encourage you to consider backyard chickens! They are very simple to care for and the eggs make such a wonderful source of protein.
Meat birds, as they are known, are larger breeds of chickens that are raised exclusively for meat. From start to finish, it takes about 12 weeks to raise meat birds.
Other small livestock might include rabbit, they are perfect for a small yard and their manure is excellent for your garden!
Garden, Purchase and Preserve Food Consistently
Once again, living without the grocery store is a process and it takes time to wean off of it.
But I want to encourage you to try!
Different months of the year bring different projects to work on to increase your food independence.
Spring and summer are obviously a time for foraging outdoors, seed starting and gardening.
Fall brings the time of harvest, food preservation and storing away what you’ve grown!
Winter is when most beef is slaughtered and ready to purchase. I also can during the winter months, making soups and canning meat for easy meal prep.
Purchase in bulk when you find a rock-bottom price on an item that you use consistently.
When butter goes on sale during the holidays, I purchase a year’s worth. Then I won’t need it again until the following year!
This kind of “power-buying” means that you are in control of your food inventory!
Bulk purchases made at an Amish bulk food store are not only more economical, but you can purchase large quantities of basic staples like flour, sugar, oats, rice, dry milk, etc. Then you can store them properly at home and not need anything for quite a number of months. My goal is a year’s worth of food on hand at all times.
Living without the grocery store is more than possible, with planning and strategy that fits your family and lifestyle!