Green Wizard Curriculum for Food - Inputs?

David Trammel's picture

One of the long term projects we here have at the Green Wizard site is to develope a sort of "curriculum" of study and training that "green wizards" learn to become....well, green wizards and such people who can help teach and motivate their neighbors to survive what will come.

While knowing how to change and adapt their local city or even state government's laws, attitudes and focuses is important to a master green wizard much of the work WE do will be ultimately at the neighbor to neighbor level.

If you take a look at the Circles, you will see we have a general order of learning. Food first, then so on.

LOL, when picturing green wizards in the decades to come I tend to less imagine us as Gandalf of the "Lord of the Rings" but more like Mister Minogi of the first "Karate Kid".  (wax on, wax off) Less the warrior monk and more the old person down the street that knows a bunch of helpful stuff AND who is happy to spend an afternoon teaching it to anyone who asks.

It is our hope here, that eventually we can create something like the "Master Conservators" course of study for green wizards. Perhaps even a companion handbook to JMG's forth coming book on green wizardry.


So the question then is, what things do you think we need to learn, in the area of Food?

Please feel free to suggest and even advocate specific things you think will be beneficial in the Long Descent. Focus first on Food, we'll get to the other Circles in their time.


As I personally see it, here's the areas we need info on:

1) First and foremost, a green wizard needs to be familiar with basic nutrition. Much of what is peddled in grocery stores to day is out right crap!

(sorry for the expletive)

I read a study this week that found the "high fructose corn syrup" that's added to so much food now, actually short circuits the brain's hunger mechanism. You don't feel hungry when you eat food full of it, so you eat more and more.

Does anyone wonder why most first world citizens are getting more and more obese?

Being able to teach people how to eat healthy is the beginning of green wizardry. I honestly think knowing how to both eat healthy and protect your health is what will keep YOU alive in the coming years.

Teaching that will keep your neighbors alive.

How many of us know how to soak a pot full of dried beans so they can be turned into a meal?


2) Next, buying prepackaged food is one thing, but learning to cook from scratch is both better for you nutritionally but here's the biggie in my opinion, it costs alot less.

Even more so as we teach people to grow their own food.

Appropriate technology works well to help here. The idea you can use a Haybox to both cut your fuel use to heat the food, and create a healthy and nutritious meal, is going to be something people in the trying times ahead need.


3) Grow Something!!

Next up seems to me to be, getting people to invest time in growing at least some of their own food. This may start with a few pots on a balcony or a full blown garden. Still as times get harder and this thing we call "modern society" unwinds the idea that you don't have a garden around your home will become a like "no cell phone"? Something that people go "Duh!"


4) But...

For some, their personal situation won't allow a garden. In that case, they will still need to learn the same skill those with gardens will need to store food for when its not plentiful. Food preservation and storage will again become an important skill.

Green wizards will need to know how to turn food, either grown on a backyard plot or bought at a local farmer's market, into a storable  resource. Canning, freezing, drying. Safe and healthy methods to do that must be learned and taught.


5) And finally, for those who garden, learning how to harvest seeds for the next year, is a priority.

While I don't think Monsanto is an evil empire out to dominate the seed industry, they are pushing a mono-crop culture that ties farmer to their bottom line AND makes us whole suspecitical to a killer blight that wipes out whole crops.

Better to learn how to grow heirloom vegetables and more importantly, save the seeds for next year.

Our ancestors knew this, we best be learning it too.


And Green Wizards I hope, will be there in their communities to teach it.

Sweeteners add both flavor and extra calories, which can help when calories are hard to come by. I cook steel-cut oats overnight in the crockpot with maple syrup added in for sweetness. 1Tbsp. per serving seems to work fine. I'm also planning to learn how to bake at least a few things with honey.

Right now, I feel I'm too dependent on sugar, which doesn't grow around here. I use demerara sugar, so at least it's healthier than white sugar. Still, it really isn't good for us. Honey, maple syrup, and molasses are good for you.

How about local substitutes for some of the more exotic spices? It would also be useful to know how to grow, harvest, dry, and store herbs and spices. This is important for making monotonous meals taste better. Having the same variety of bean multiple times a week is more bearable if you can vary the flavor a little.

Wow. I have soooooo much to learn. When and how do we get started!?

I found this blog 100 Days of Real Food. In 2010, the blogger's family made a pledge to cut out all processed, refined foods for 100 days. In 2011 they pledged to do 100 Days on a Budget. There are a lot of tips and recipes there. Take a look.

Let's say you're all set up with enough tight boxes and tins, fermenting crocks, dehydrator, root cellar, a good supply of salt for curing meat, an adequate grain mill, dairy tools, etc. What's for dinner? What's for dinner in mid-April? This is planning a whole level beyond cooking and gardening.

I'm at the point of ordering from a bulk food delivery service (Associated Buyers, in New Hampshire). My order is mostly beans and grains (including rice, various flours, and peanut butter), some dried fruit, a couple of exotics (frozen alvocado pulp and a pint of vanilla), tea, and supplies of dish and laundry soap. I used to buy pasta from these people, but we've kind of stopped eating pasta for now. We've been on a cabbage/apple/onion kick for a veggie side dish. I wish I had a root cellar full of those for the rest of the winter. And more potatoes. And I saw someone buying belgian endive at the supermarket yesterday, and I keep thinking I should grow and force some myself.

Which is all to say, what should be in storage, and how much of it? This is kind of like meal planning, but for the whole year. It's tricky, because it assumes a standard sized person, and certain dietary preferences, and every household will need to adjust it. It also assumes that you can store it all from harvest to harvest. In the long run, I assume that's what I'll have to do.

Once you have this provisioner's list, you'll know better how much to plant, how much extra to plant in case of a crop failure, and be able to set other goals for how much fish to catch, how much to hunt for, how much to wildcraft, and maybe how many animals to raise. (Those urban people who think they won't hunt should read some of the Patrick O'Brian Aubery/Maturin novels, including the discussion of how long rats last on board during a long hungry voyage.)

lathechuck's picture

According to, "How Much Storage Space for One Year's Food", a really basic survival diet could consist of 1 lb. of (wheat, oats, quinoa, pasta, but not rice or maize), 4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) vegetable oil, and 2-4 oz. of protein supplement (soy, peanuts, pumpkin seeds) per person per day. You'll also need vitamins and minerals, but these are the basics. That works out to (for example) 6 gal. of vegetable oil, 10 cu. ft. of spaghetti or flour (high density starch, with some protein, etc.), and less than 3 cu. ft. for the protein supplements. Fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins and minerals, but not much calories or fat, are relatively easy to grow on small plots.

I'm sure I've mentioned them before, but I heartily recommend the Mennonite cookbooks.    I own the More-With-Less Cookbook.    And I suppose I should make a New Year's Resolution this year to actually get it out and use it.  And I covet the Simply in Season book, which is menus built around locally grown, seasonal food.  The More-With-Less Cookbook was orginally published in 1976, so they have been walking their path for a long time.

And for those folks looking for an educational but highly entertaining read while you are sitting by the fire, I recommend The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  Claire was a British military nurse just after WWII transported through a standing stone back into Scotland just in the era of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  She gets bounced back and forth thru the time stream, eventually raising a daughter and earning her MD in modern times and then ending up in a backwoods log cabin in North Carolina just before the Revolutionary War.  It's quite instructive to watch her grow penicillin on her window sill.  Green Wizardry with a whole lot of yummy sex!

Well, one point every self repectin' Green Wizard needs to understand about food, whether they grow it themselves or buy/barter for it, is that you cant take from the land for very long without consequences, the laws of thermodymics apply here as well. Good soil, like fossil energy, is not a continuous flow, it is a stock, and a stock can be depleted.

Learning how to maintain food production necessarily will include learning how to be a steward of the land. One bright spot of industrial society: it will be providing a subsidy of material to help maintain and improve our soil throughout the remainder of the scarcity economy and into the salvage economy. Those who are already composting in small gardens will realize the input into our piles from fairly far (hopefully not too far) flung sources. In my own case (Seattle): apple cores from western Washington, citrus and vegetable peelings from California, nut shells from Oregon, and so forth.

Closing the nutrient loop is paramount. Rerouting all that great "waste" that is now going to landfills and water treatment plants, back into food production should be one of the first goals of a food curriculum.

Thanks, D! You wrote: "Still as times get harder and this thing we call "modern society" unwinds the idea that you don't have a garden around your home will become a like "no cell phone"? Something that people go "Duh!""

I guess I'm ahead of the curve as I got rid of the cell phone a couple of years ago and had the garden before that. I'll note that the defered annual cost of the phone pays for the inputs to the garden; all of them: seeds, plants, mulch, etc. Cell phones don't work at the garden anyway. Hope it stays that way Wink

I would include a water category, especially as it pertains to growing and processing food. Techniques such as drip irrigation can be quite low-tech and may be essential as the climate gets more unpredictable. Heck, we're already there. Long-lived options are available now that may be tough to come by going forward (cisterns, piping, etc.). Hauling that bucket from the creek uses energy that can and will be needed elsewhere.

Well, I think Monsanto is equivalent to an evil empire, in the farming business anyway. To me, if their products clear out the natural order, and uses an inordinate amount of inputs, if I can't call this evil, at least against the natural order, then what is the next best word to describe this?

Well, if the fact that they have a track record of suing farmers whose crops happened to be contaminated by their GMO crops' pollen, for infringement of patent rights, pretty much says it all.

I believe that cooking from scratch with cheap staples is #1. I remember hearing of a sad case in a very poor country where I work, in which people in a remote rural area were sent dried beans for emergency food relief and didn't have a clue what to do with them (they're not a traditional food). They tried eating them fried (unsoaked) and ended up with severe digestive problems, and tragically, some died. You might assume Americans would manage better, but my husband has tried repeatedly to teach my cooking-impaired sister by distance-learning how to make a few basic dishes from dry legumes, like red beans and rice, mujadarrah, etc., and gotten nowhere. He wrote out very explicit and detailed directions, which she says are so good he should write a cookbook, yet she has never tried following any of them because she is "scared to." You could get enough calories to live on for well under $1 a day with beans and rice, if you know how to use them, so they're essential for hard times. (Potatoes are good too.)

To me nutrition is of secondary importance, because if you learn how to make and eat traditional scratch-cooked cuisine or anything close to it you will automatically get better nutrition than you would on most processed-food diets. Also, you can get by for quite a while eating food that's not very nutritious (the American populations stats prove that), so long as you eat something. But eventually it would be valuable to know about what sorts of fruits, vegetables and wild plants can provide critical vitamins and minerals, and to know basic cooking methods for them.

I would also suggest treating appropriate technology as a totally separate category, and one that should have basic cooking as a "prerequisite course." People who can't confidently make red beans and rice on a stove are nowhere near ready to make them in a solar cooker or haybox. If the food turns out nasty or worse, they will be too quick to conclude that appropriate tech inherently produces inferior food. A person should first get to the point where they can reliably produce an edible and tasty set of basic meals using the mod-cons such as a stove, then start experimenting with alternative cooking methods for those meals. If they know what texture they expect from a well-cooked bean, then if they don't see that in the haybox batch, they'll know what's wrong and understand that more boiling or longer soaking time are needed.

Finally, as part of that "advanced course" I'd suggest that means of supplying safe water for drinking and food prep be taught. You could envision one "course" in cooking with appropriate tech and one in making it (there are plenty of resources online), and the latter could include building a simple water filter and reducing bacteria with solar heating in old plastic bottles. Food safety could also be covered at some point, and not just during the canning class. The government's sole food safety message is to rush-rush-rush all prepared food to the fridge right away; if you don't have a fridge in future, or the power is out, how can you minimize the likelihood of food poisoning? More controversially, what industrial-era advice can be ignored if necessary? (E.g., in Europe eggs are neither washed nor refrigerated, and nobody dies. If your water is questionable, hot beverages like teas or - yech - water heated briefly in the rice pot are safer. And I suspect that one can usually get away with washing dishes in questionable water as long as they're well dried - this based on the fact that the more remote and poor the dump in which you eat, the less likely you are to get horribly sick.)

Okay, one more point. One of the best ways to improve the potability and nutritive value of water is of course to make BEER out of it. Beer has yeast, ergo vitamin B12, and pathogens don't live in it. How about a two-course brewing sequence as part of the food curriculum (or at least, a cross-listed course)?

I think we have forgotten what the consequences are. Scurvy is making a comeback among the poor and vulnerable. Many doctors don't even recognize it anymore. I was recently reading about a child diagnosed with rickets. And according to a new book on Alzheimer's disease, some researchers are labeling Alzheimer's in older adults as "type 3 diabetes."

Scurvy Is a Serious Public Health Problem

Rickets making a comeback in the UK, doctors say

The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s

I know this is an old thread but I'm just starting to explore this site.

In my mind cooking and nutrition are intertwined. To use a sports metaphor: nutritional information provides the 'colour commentary' in cooking classes. I agree that you can get by just using traditional recipes and menus however as a green wizard or even an ordinary householder it is important to track down food cravings and defieciencies.

One of the tenets of ecology is that you can gauge how well a population is adapted to its niche by looking at the diseases that affect the population. Knowing nutrition and the nutritional contents of foods can help us identify gaps in the diet and figure out what foods might need to be included to supply that need.

That said in a post industrial world getting enough calories will once again take priority over getting enough nutrients.

I just recently finished a very interesting book, Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook ant Eat by Bee Wilson.

" Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks. "

In short, the fuel we use for cooking, the foods we eat, and the tools we use are intertwined like Celtic knotwork. England, which had vast hardwood forests, roasted haunches of meat on huge open hearths. They used spits, long forks, griddles, spiders, and kettles that bubbled over the coals. Carving was done at the table, and a personal knife was essential for eating.

Much of China and Japan, on the other hand, was fuel-poor so food was chopped fine with high quality kitchen knives, cooked quickly in woks over very high heat, and served in bowls with chopsticks. Parts of India were also fuel-poor. There the tandori oven was used to cook food quickly at high heat.

The North African tagine slow-cooked stews and vegatable dishes over charcoal bricks. It requires very little water.

So it stands to reason that the food we cook and the methods we use will change as our heat source changes. Beans and rice may sustain us for quite a while, but we ought to be adept with other foods, other methods...

Another thing that Wilson discusses in the book is the sheer drudgery that was a traditional part of cooking and preserving food before "modern conveniences."

My take-away from the book? Tools are very important. If you don't love your tools, you won't want to use them! I have slowly been replacing my cheap Teflon pans with something better. I got a 2 quart stainless steel sauce pan a year ago Christmas, which I love. It cooks very fast, so I scorched stuff at first. (Wilson has an interesting bit about using flour to find the hot spots in pans and ovens.) And I picked up a heavy cast-aluminium sauce pan at an estate sale. I thought it was the right size for popcorn. But it heats evenly and I grab it for saucy things. And I am replacing my plastic storage containers with glass ones with silicone lids, and I love, love, love them! The right tools make me happy to be in the kitchen.

Hi Sophie,

I picked up Consider the Fork from the library. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

Now I want Mrs. Marshall's patented ice cream freezer!

Yes, that was entertaining. I love these odd excursions into history.

Tools: my oven is not working properly so the landlord bought me one of those pizza cooker things. It takes up a lot of space and does practically nothing. It will heat fish sticks, frozen chicken wings, and chicken nugget. It will also bake biscuits out of the can and refrigerated/frozen cookie dough. The landlord says it also makes sandwiches. It's twice the size of a toaster, but it does make toast. It's lucky I am having Thanksgiving dinner with my sister, because I will obviously not be baking a turkey or a ham in my pizza cooker.

I did dry herbs in it this evening. He raved about how cost-efficient it was because it doesn't have to preheat. I am thinking that drying herbs is not cost-efficient, but winter suddenly arrived, and I was trying to save the rest of this year's sage.

Interesting. I'd always heard that East Asian cuisine developed chopsticks and bite site meats because Confucius said knives should not be used at the table. Wilson's theory sounds stronger to me, except I'm having trouble imagining Japan or Korea to have been particularly lacking in fuel. Their ecosystems are mostly temperate forests like in Europe and large parts of North America.

David Trammel's picture

That's exactly the detailed and thoughtful information I need. I'm short on time tonight but will try and review and post some additional thoughts on what you said Sunday (I work tomorrow).

And (hits head with hand) how could I forget WATER.

I'll have to check the posts to make sure water purification methods are ebing covered in this Circle, and not another one. I do know we have them.

Perhaps we whould rename this Circle: Food and Water?

And brewing, I think we are covering that in the Craft Circle.

Which is a skill that I firmly believe all green wizards should know, if just for the barter potential.

Of course, one must always sample it to make sure its good enough to trade...(grins)

Fermentation should be part of agricultural practices and of crafts. There are levels and levels of fermentations and they all are food preservation or enhancement techniques. The egyptians of old paid in beer and had a huge infrastructure in place - not massive in size but certainly massive in its ubiquity. Alcohol treated water for consumption adds a flavoring and a purifying agent and lets people live in more crowded circumstances than otherwise. Sauerkrauts, pickles, kimchee, and soybean stuff. Soy sauce, fish sauce and hot pepper sauces.

Techniques of distillation

source materials for distillation

workaround stills and fermenters

Process recipes

troubleshooting and fixing

lab procedures for low tech beer and wine

Food fermentations

source materials

salt and vinegar, citric acid and tartaric acid

So much to do and so little time

lathechuck's picture

A couple of years ago, in a token effort to reduce my dependence on anonymous sources of supply, I bought a small bay-leaf plant. It now provides more seasoning leaves than we can keep up with, and it's a handsome potted plant with glossy green leaves. It lives in the dining room during the frosty winter months. Since it's growing only very slowly during the winter, the diminished lighting isn't forcing it to grow too tall. Mature leaves may be frost tolerant, but I put it outside too soon last Spring and the new growth was permanently damaged (stunted) by a cold night. Bay leaf is an essential ingredient in my spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, chicken soup, and beef stew. Use the leaves fresh, or dry them to store for later (or trade).

The fragrance of a crushed, fresh bay leaf is one of the best in the world, in my opinion!
I pop a dried bayleaf into all my tubs of stored wholegrains to deter bugs. I found a plastic tub of linseeds in the cupboard recently which I had forgotten to arm with bayleaf, and - bugs. So I am taking that as anecdotal evidence that the bayleaf is actually effective.

alice's picture

I concur re bay leaves for food preserving. Bay is usually fine outdoors here in middle England so I usually have one. A hard winter will kill off bits or possibly even the whole thing but usually fine if a piece of horticultural fleece is put over the tree when a hard freeze is expected.

A recent immigrant from Africa told me that bay is frequently used as a food preservative in Ghana which I found fascinating. She said if you have a stew you need to last a long time you put bay in as it stops it going off. Obviously there are places where this kind of experiment would be discouraged on safety grounds (for example where there is a wild reservoir of botulism, as in parts of the USA) but if you live in a place where there are few natural pathogenic hazards it might be worth trying out.

Alice, I love hearing little bits of kitchen folk lore like this. I guess you could test it out easy enough with two containers of stew.. I'm game, and I'll post results!

alice's picture

Go for it Blueday Jo. =D

This thread sure got me to thinking. There are so many new (to me) gardening and agricultural developments that I feel quite ignorant - from when can I cut flower stalks without hurting overwintering bees to where can I plant ground nuts without them taking over my garden. Here’s a list of things I want to learn:

* Soil building with cover crops and mycorrhizae and bacterial inoculants instead of manure, organic fertilizers, or even large quantities of compost
* Native American fire management / wholistic grazing / what is the comparable ecological maintenance that can be done on suburban lots
* Acorns, ground nuts, and sun chokes as major calorie crops
* Native American pre-corn seed crops
* Multi-cropping similar to Baranaja cropping system (including sunflowers and grains)
* Winter cropping greens/barley/wheat/fava/snow peas with mycorrhizae and bacteria
* Routines for sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and peanuts - planting through storing
* Routines and rotations for standard vegetables - tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash (which never does well), beans, okra
* Dealing with plant pest and diseases and when not to try
* Seed saving
* More efficient and disciplined seed starting
* How to make good compost for seed starting in case I can’t buy it
* Sprouts for winter salads

* Root cellar type storage in home
* Dry storage for grains and peanuts
* Dehydrating
* Canning
* Freezing

Preparing and Eating
* BIG learning curve on native perennials and acorns
* More ways to cook things like okra and peanuts
* Hulling and grinding grains
* Sourdough bread making and flat breads
* Solar cooking
* Pit cooking - especially for slow cooking ground nuts and sun chokes
* Fireplace and campfire cooking
* Teaching my colon to be adventuresome again (this is actually priority #1; it’s been tricky since I had rectal cancer 11 years ago.

Welcome to the site!
You'll be busy for the rest of your life with that list.

That said, I turned a quarter-acre of hard-packed clay into topsoil with dead leaves and grass clippings.
It took me years (we started in 2001).

If you aren't already doing so, collect ALL your neighbors' leaves, the ones they haul to the curb for disposal every fall. Surly teenagers with a lawncart and a rake work well for this.
Ask the local landscaper for leaves, grass clippings, tree trimmings, etc. Compost as desired.
When you see those giant brown kraft bags stuffed with yard waste and leaves in the fall, pick them up! I've stuffed bags of leaves in my little Ford sedan for years and have never once had anyone ask me what I was doing.

I don't worry about pesticide or herbicide residue. I just get those leaves.
Grass clippings are harder as you'll need a surly teenager to arrange the clippings in heaps and turn them regularly.

Good luck and it can be done.