Let’s get this pantry started!

cannersSo I’ve been wanting to “do something with local food” for a good long while now. This blog started as part of that desire. I’ve probably spent a couple years thinking about what I might do and trying to join in various existing efforts. None of it felt like “enough,” and none of it felt like what I really wanted to do.

I’ve thought a lot about self-sufficiency in the last year, and the most important thing I’ve learned is that self-sufficiency is not a worthwhile goal. It’s fricken’ hard, for one thing; it’s not an efficient use of human energy; and, if my household is flush and my neighbors are starving, I’m not going to be self-sufficient for long, anyway. What I’d rather strive for is community sufficiency, where we’re less dependent on produce from China but we don’t each have to have our own wheat field.

That idea and some inspiration from a whole lot of folks (for example) have gotten me thinking about starting some kind of community kitchen where we could get together, share equipment and knowledge, and build a community around good food. And I’ve decided it’s time to move forward and try to bring this around.

I’m starting small, and I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable and flexible. Here’s what I’ve got so far, and a call for your creative brainpower, after the break:

The mission of the group would be to share resources and skills in the preparation and preservation of food (with a heavy emphasis on local, sustainable, and/or organic foods). We would start off having events, like Pasta Making Night, or Press Your Own Cider, or Canning 101. Each event would be led by someone with solid experience in that skill – usually not me! – and we’d pool together as much equipment as we could for that event from people willing to loan it for the day.

That might be enough to do, or we might someday have a space where we could leave the equipment for members to use as they need it (a pressure canner, for example). We might find it natural to do some bulk buying of pantry staples. We might collect dues and use the money to buy some club-owned equipment, fancier than what an individual would buy for home use (like a very nice hand-cranked grain mill). In the beginning though, we’ll keep it flexible and efficient, with as little overhead as possible.

I have started a conversation with the folks at the Pittsfield Grange, and we’ll be meeting this week or next to talk about using the Grange Hall for activities. The Grange is a farmers’ fraternal organization, and activities like community potlucks, cooking, canning, and such used to be very common. My contact, Helen, said that this group would be a “very good fit” for the Grange’s mission, so I’m hopeful we will be able to work something out. I’m hoping some of the current members of the Grange might be interested in sharing their wisdom about skills that might be in danger of dying out – anything from canning to curing pork to plucking chickens. I also bet that folks who are interested in this new group’s activities might want to join the Grange.

Whew. There it is…out of my own head and there for y’all to see. Now it’s public, and knowing you’re all watching will help keep me moving forward!

But first, I need your help. What should I call this group? Here are the guidelines:

  • Should evoke community without sounding sappy or flower-child-ish
  • Should evoke good, wholesome food (and the preparation thereof) but not sound like a food pantry
  • Should appeal to a wide variety of people who want to learn to cook/preserve food: back-to-the-landers, peak oil activists, locavores, and just ol’ fashioned folk who think homemade always tastes better
  • Can’t use these words: “Community Kitchen” (that’s too similar to Mary’s Community Farm Kitchen, and I don’t want to poach her name!) or “Cooperative.” (I’m into co-ops, but I’m told that’s viewed with suspicion by folks who think being a tree-hugging hippie freak is a bad thing.)

UPDATE 1-30-09: The group is going to be called “Preserving Traditions,” and you can find info on it at http://preservingtraditions.wordpress.com/



  1. TeacherPatti said,

    December 15, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I’m horrible at naming things (good thing I never had kids! They’d be called babyboy or babygirl :)), but let me think….
    I don’t know if she’ll remember me, but I know Helen from the Vintage Dances that they have at the Grange. She is a lovely woman and very talented. She can make 18th century desserts that will knock your socks off.
    Please let me know what I can do to help! I’m not sure if it will ever come up, but I am still licensed to practice law if anything “legal” needs to be done.

  2. TeacherPatti said,

    December 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Oooh, I just thought of something…maybe something with the word Preserve in it? That sounds old-fashioned enough that it wouldn’t turn off anti-tree huggers, I think?

  3. December 15, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    This is a fantastic idea, Emily, and it’s along the lines of what I started thinking about recently. I think we’ll have a real need for this in all our local areas soon. I had not thought about the Grange, but that’s an ideal tie-in — they already have some of the infrastructure and knowledge you can build on. Brilliant!

    How about calling them “Life Preservers”? And I think as you get this going, you should keep track of how you’ve done things so that other Life Preserver groups can get started, too. Please keep us all posted — some of us would love to have examples to follow! 🙂

  4. Dakota said,

    December 15, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Hmm… Pantry Preserve is amusing to me, because it evokes a Jurassic Park-esque place where there’s little Ball jars rolling around full of jam…. ahem. But I think that’s a little far out.

    Corny, again, but maybe an acronym? We have MUD – the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project, that does things like help people with gardens and hosts a tool bank, and “mud” sounds like what you get in a garden. Maybe a short word that is food related?

    I’m drawing a blank right now for anything else, but I’ll think about it to see if I come up with any ideas. I think this is a really fantastic idea.

  5. Matriarchy said,

    December 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve been thinking about names for groups, too! I am starting a discussion group at our church, and some folks want to call it “ethical eating,” but I think that sounds judgmental – as though anyone that eats differently is unethical (and not simply poor, for instance). I also want to start a bulk buying group.

    Life Preserver is a good idea, but I would be concerned that people would think it is a “last resort” group like a food pantry.

    Ideas: Happy Eaters. Michigan Eats. Michigan Food Fans. Food Fellowship. Fellowship Kitchen. Kitchen Club. Kitchen Works. Food-O-Rama. Larder Club. Chatelaine Club. Full Pantry Club (nope – has pantry connotation). Food Savers. Old School Food Club. Um…

  6. Emily said,

    December 15, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks for all your support and suggestions!

    The first name I thought of was “The Neighbors’ Pantry,” but I really like the idea of the word “preserve.” What about “Neighborhood Preserves”?

  7. December 15, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    I think Neighborhood Preserves sounds really enticing!!!

  8. Suzie said,

    December 16, 2008 at 6:46 am

    You know, I think I like Neighbors’ Pantry the best. (Neighborhood Preserves makes me think of the local parks system, though I may be too close to it! And I like how neighbors can apply to both rural or town, and applies specifically to the people, whereas neighborhood is more near to you, and is more about the place than the people.)

  9. TeacherPatti said,

    December 16, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I like Neighborhood Preserves, just because the pantry name does make me think of a food pantry. But I see what Suzie means re: the parks system….

  10. kathleen said,

    January 30, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I would like to participate in the pasta making even at thje pittsfield grange on Sunday, Feb. 8, but didn’t see a posting or sign up list. May I still do so? If so, what time?

  11. ruach said,

    October 21, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Hi! I would like to get a simple pump and am wondering where you got yours for the price you mention? Did you order direct from the company and/or through what dealer? If yours included installation for that price….that is way less than my local dealer quoted me.

    Thanks for your help. We are trying to find a way to afford this!

    • Emily said,

      October 21, 2009 at 10:12 am

      Ruach- I contacted my local well driller (Cribley) and they installed it when they drilled a new well. They made a couple of the parts themselves – they’ve done a number of these wells and have contacts with local metalworkers.

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