One win-win way of getting a portion of your protein needs met without money is to rehome ex-battery chickens through organisations such as the British Hen Welfare Trust.(177) The hens – whom will have led heartbreaking lives up to that point but whom, surprisingly, can make a very quick recovery once they are introduced to healthy conditions – get a chance to start over again and live a life in which all their needs are met and where they can do all the things that hens like to do, like scratch and forage around. As well as knowing you’ve given an abused animal its freedom, you also get to eat eggs that, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of ex-bats will continue to lay (initially the eggs may get bigger in size and eventually get laid less frequently).
If you have some hens, you may also want to get a cockerel.(178) The ladies will happily lay eggs without the man around, but as chickens need a pecking order keeping a cockerel will stop the girls from fighting amongst themselves and from wandering off too far. If you decide you do want to keep a cockerel and you have housemates or neighbours close by, you may want to talk to them first about it as he will cockadoodledoo at the crack of dawn, and don’t just assume everyone (including yourself) will be OK with that. Usually neighbours can be persuaded with a regular supply of excess eggs, but as always your unique circumstances will dictate what is best for everyone involved.
How you feed them depends on your situation. If you have a big garden, and it is designed with the chickens dietary needs in mind, you should be able to feed them without any commercial feed – manufacturers’ websites would have you believe otherwise, but surprisingly chickens did actually eat and survive prior to industrial civilisation and pet shops. If you live with a small garden you probably won’t have enough room to provide for all their needs, and in such circumstances you should seriously consider whether or not your living situation is suitable. If you decide it is sufficient, it will be appropriate to import some of their dietary needs into the system, which could potentially be done by means other than money, such as bartering, foraging or skipping.
You can easily build a safe and comfortable coop for your chickens out of salvaged materials at no cost, and the World Wide Web is replete with designs on how to do so. For a simple beginners guide to keeping chickens, the late Katie Thear’s books, such as Starting with Chickens,(179) are very useful, but there are many books and free online resources that can help you get started.
The bee is under attack from industrial civilisation. All sorts of reasons are cited for their demise, from neonicotinoid pesticides, electromagnetic radiation by mobile phones and their accompanying towers to a lack of biodiversity, global warming and the Varroa destructer. A mixture of all of the above and other factors, some of which we may not even be aware of yet, is in all likelihood responsible for some frightening statistics. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, three of the 25 native British species of bumblebee have recently gone extinct, over 50% of the remaining species have suffered declines of up to 70% since the 1970s(180) and 25% of native bees are on the Red Data Book list of endangered or threatened species. This would be disturbing news even if bees weren’t a crucial part of the world’s ecosystems and life on Earth; the fact they are should demand immediate action from us all on the matter.
If that isn’t enough reason to provide habitat for all species of bees, there is an added incentive to keep one subset in particular, the honeybee: yes you’ve guessed it, honey. Honey is a very healthy replacement for bought-in sweeteners such as white refined sugar, and has many medicinal properties. Not only that, honeybees are important pollinators for your other food crops and, as we’ll see in chapter eleven, can provide you with other materials that will help you localise and demonetise your life.
If looking after bees is something you feel inspired to do, it is best to educate yourself fully first. Spend time with a local beekeeper learning the art, join your nearest beekeeping association and borrow a good book on the subject. When you feel competent, you can build yourself a simple horizontal beehive without bee frames, a model which is ideal for a beginner and someone who wants to create a closed-loop economy.(181) Such a design means your bees produce both honey and – because they have to build the entire comb themselves – lots of beeswax. Bees are great for people with little space as a hive takes up little room in your backyard.
Strangely enough, honeybees do not exist solely to sweeten flapjacks and herbal teas for humans. Ideally, we’d all wean ourselves off the need for sweet things and leave the honeybee with the food it has laboured hard for. If we want to preserve biodiversity, we would be much better off undertaking what is known as natural beekeeping, a much more bee-centric approach to beekeeping.(182) It is easy to provide habitat for other species of bees, and one of the best ways to do so is to make them a bee hotel.
Simply create a small three- or four-sided frame out of untreated planks that are around 10-15cm in width, before packing it full of bamboo canes or old flower stems that are cut to the same depth as the box you’ve just made. This box should be fairly small but big enough to fit 10-20 canes or stems (making sure they are as straight as possible) along each side, and should also include an overhang to protect it from the rain. Once it is packed well enough that it feels solid, simply hang it up on a south-facing wall that isn’t exposed to the worst of the elements. You can also use bits of rotten wood with woodworm holes in them, or old air bricks, for a similar effect. Come spring you’ll have some new neighbours move into your humble accommodation who’ll start working for you and the rest of life on Earth – for free.
One note about ‘local’ honey: if you’re taking all of your honey, as opposed to just any excess they produce, and then replacing it with sugar, not only is it unfair to the honeybee but it is also misleading to say that it is local; embodied in it are the food miles of the sugar you imported into your system.
Storing your produce
If you live in a temperate climate such as the UK’s, storing your summer and autumn produce is something you really should consider if you don’t fancy eating kale and the like for every meal during the winter. Various methods are at hand, including making jam, chutney, juices, drying, pickling and dry storage (for things like potatoes). How to store each fruit and vegetable is a book in itself, and the best I have found on the subject is Piers Warren’s aptly named How to Store your Garden Produce.(183) Again, Freecycle is very useful if you’re looking for the containers to store your food in.
If you ever need glass jars or bottles of various shapes and sizes, just do the rounds of the recycling bins of some street in my area on the morning the recycling gets put out each week – you could start a jam factory from the amount of jars you can find during one morning’s stroll.
Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to import lots of food stuffs into your own food system in order to preserve that which you grow or forage – people have been storing their food in the UK long before industrialised processes and fossil fuels came along. I recommend making jam using nothing more than plums (which you can grow or forage) and apple juice (that hopefully you’ve picked and pressed yourself) – the stones in the plums already have all the pectin you’ll need, whilst the apple juice is a good and healthy replacement for sugar. What is important is to slowly learn the skills you’ll need to preserve food – the best way to do this is by asking some of the elders of your community who hold so much unappreciated knowledge that needs to be tapped before it is lost. Doing so also re-establishes our elders as having the deserved and crucial role in society they once had and still ought to have, and the social benefits of this are very much underestimated.
Community orchards and the Abundance project
Community orchards are simply orchards created and maintained by local people, for local people. All you need to set one up is a bunch of enthusiastic people, some land (local councils often have land they are willing to allow community groups to look after) and a legal structure of some sort, which the Community Orchards Handbook(184) has lots of usefulness information to help you with. Such projects aren’t just a great way of growing food such as fruits and nuts, they get local people together, growing food for themselves and each other, for workshops and courses designed to keep traditional skills such as tree grafting and planting alive, and for seasonal events such as wassailing.
Community orchards do take time to become productive, so it does involve holding a medium- to long-term perspective. If you’re a bit less patient than that, there is no need to wait around while it grows. Abundance, a project originally created by a group called Grow Sheffield but which has since spread throughout the country, states that “each year hundreds of fruit trees go unpicked either because people don’t notice them, may not be physically able to harvest them or [because] there are just too many fruits at one time”. It was in response to this reality that they set up the first group in 2007. Its model is simple – a group of residents set up mutually beneficial links with other local people who have fruit trees they don’t utilise, providing themselves with fruit and redistributing any surpluses to the rest of the community through cafés, nurseries, Sure Starts and other residents.
If you want food for free and an opportunity to get involved in something really positive in your local area, then why not find out if there is an established group in your local area? If there isn’t, then contact the Abundance Manchester team(185) and ask them how best to go about it. To find a core group with which to start it, you could just send a group email out to your local Freeconomy group proposing such a venture. Alternatively, if you have a fruit tree whose harvest you want to share (and eat some of yourself), get in touch with them also. For more information, I recommend their book The Abundance Handbook: A guide to urban fruit harvesting.(186)