The idea that you have to have assistance with groceries at all can make you feel completely humiliated, but you need to understand that you are actually in the majority these days and have nothing to be ashamed of. They key is to use your assistance in such a way as to not just survive, but actually improve your situation so that you are better prepared if things get hard again.
WIC: If you get WIC (Women Infants and Children), then the items that you can purchase are planned out for you, so you can’t do much else with them. However, make sure to compare your WIC with your SNAP so that you are not using SNAP when you should be using WIC. However, you can still improve your situation for the long term with WIC. Some Farmers Markets now take WIC and in some cases you can buy vegetables, so be sure to buy vegetables that you can get seeds from or grow in some other way. For instance, you can grow leeks by placing the roots in a cup of water after you eat the rest of the leek.
SNAP or Food Stamps: Food stamps, now known as SNAP “benefits” can do more for you than load up the grocery cart, but you need to be willing to get creative and put some work into it. You cannot buy prepared food with SNAP in most states, so you won’t be able to get a cooked pizza from gas station or anything like that and you can’t buy any kind of alcohol with them. However, you can buy seeds and plants that produce food –and that includes trees and shrubs.
If you are thinking about how you can start your own garden to feed your family, you’re on the right track but you may still be thinking too small. Even a small garden, properly rotated can yield enough for you to not just feed your family, but have enough seeds to make a garden the next year. You might also yield enough food this year to be able to take some of it to the Farmers Market and sell it yourself. Some people even set up stands in their yards and use the honor system where people can just drop the cash off in a lock box and load themselves up. Take a look at some of the tips below to get started.
Regrow from kitchen scraps. There are plenty of plants that you can grow from the scraps you have left when you cook with vegetables. Below are some of the plants that you can regrow, as well as tips to do this.
Green onions, fennel, scallions, and leeks: These plants all grow in the same manner. After cutting off the portion of the plant that you are going to use, keep the white end with the roots on it. Place this end in a glass of water and set in direct sunlight. It does not take long for these to start growing again. Change the water about one time a week and trim the plants as needed for cooking.
Ginger: Ginger has a while host of health benefits and it is easy to grow. Simply plant one of the knobby parts of the root directly in soil and out of direct sunlight. Allow the plant to grow. Pull it up, use the roots you need, and repeat the process again.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes: Stop throwing those peels away! Cut a small piece of skin with at least two eyes on it. The skin should be about 2-3” square. Let the edges dry for about 2 days and then plant eyes up about 8” deep, but cover with 4-5” of soil and add soil as it grows. Repeat process when you harvest the potato. If you mark your area and do this in cycles, you will never have a week without potatoes.
Onions: Cutting off about 2” of the onion with the roots, plant directly in warm soil. Keep the soil warm year round for year round onions.
Mushrooms: Plant the stem of the mushroom in soil that is full of nutrients and keep away from other plants. Plant indoors if you have a cool environment for them to be in at night, but not one that will frost.
Pineapple: Pineapple takes a fairly long time to produce, but makes a fun plant in the meantime. Remove the leafy part of the plant by twisting it until it comes out. Do not cut it off the top as the fruit with be included and will ruin potential growth. Plant in direct sunlight. You’ll know when these are ready because the pineapple comes out at the top center of the plant.
Bushes: Because you can buy things like raspberry and blueberry bushes with SNAP, you can start an entire berry garden with just one plant. During early spring these bushes grow new shoots and “soft wood”. You can either dig up the shoots or cut a piece of soft wood to plant. Either way, plant the roots or trimmed branch (about 6-8′) in fertile soil. This works best if you can tent clear plastic over the top for a greenhouse effect until the branch actually has about 1-2” of root on it. Transplant into a small container and then transplant into the garden in the spring.
Trees: Some trees grow shoots while others have seeds in their fruits. Either plant the shoots or the seeds, but know that it will be a while before you have a small tree growing and it can take a couple of years for it to reach the ability to produce fruits.
Create a monthly budget that allows for you to have enough benefits left over after feeding your family so that you can use your benefits to produce your own food. Stock up in the winter so that you have more to use for plants and bushes in the spring. During harvest season, can or freeze you fruits and vegetables for the winter, but be sure to dry the seeds from your vegetables so you already have them for next year.