Back to Basics
by Jenifer West
Jan 24, 2013 | 488 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years since my husband and I moved here with our four-legged friends. (Our little family has recently grown to include a college student near and dear to us, but that’s a story for another day.)

Like a lot of “transplants,” we were attracted to the small-town atmosphere. We also wanted to pursue a more self-sufficient lifestyle.

I have often thought — walking around downtown, interacting with new friends and coworkers, or sitting in a committee meeting — of how much I love our adopted hometown. It reminds me of the city I grew up in, which has since grown dramatically, but felt to my young self much the same as Patterson does now.

I love how easy it is to get things done. Everything from a quick trip to the grocery store to finding a group of like-minded folks to work with on a community project just somehow seems more “doable” here. And there’s still a small-town tendency toward good, old-fashioned neighborliness.

I have learned so much, in so many areas of life, since we moved here. I’ve learned that posing a question is sometimes all it takes to make a change. I’ve learned the joys (and challenges) of serving on committees. And I’ve learned a lot of things that have benefitted me, and those I love, on a more fundamental level.

A neighbor taught me how to do canning. We’ve begun to grow food, year-round, in our backyard. And I’ve come to know the deep satisfaction of picking, preserving and, later, enjoying, food fresh from the field — digging up long-buried childhood memories in the process.

The experience kindled a growing passion for eating as well, and as self-sufficiently, as possible.

I’ve always tried to manage things well in the kitchen, and I thought I was doing a reasonably good job. The food in our fridge was generally pretty healthy, and we didn’t (I thought smugly) throw out as much food as most folks do.

When the bottom fell out a few years ago, I became even more determined to make the most effective use of our resources, focusing first on our grocery bill. I took a good, hard look at our habits and was humbled to realize that there were, in fact, areas we could improve.

So I started investigating the many ways we could become more efficient, which sent me on a wonderful odyssey of researching, experimenting and researching some more. (How did we manage before Google?)

The past several years have been full of what in my mind makes life worthwhile — learning, and specifically learning things that make our lives better.

I’ve learned how to grow food, put up literally everything from soup to nuts, bake bread, make old-fashioned pickles and a hundred other things.

Along the way, we’ve simultaneously reduced our grocery bill and improved the quality of the food on our table — dramatically on both counts. Making little changes, over a period of time, has made a big difference.

When the Patterson Irrigator put out the call for possible columns in our local paper, I thought it might be time to share with our friends and neighbors some of the things I’ve learned.

Topics in the coming months will include ways to save money on groceries; food preparation tricks and shortcuts; year-round organic gardening; ways to preserve food; and other ways to become more self-sufficient, save money and live well in the process.

Jenifer West grew up in Modesto and lives with her family in Patterson. She is a senior account clerk for the city of Patterson and has worked in the past as a health food store manager and as a “chef” at a natural foods restaurant among other jobs. West is a founding member of the Patterson Health, Wellness & Hunger Coalition and the soon-to-be-constructed Patterson Four Season Community Garden. Her blog, “Food Storage Tips and Tricks,” can be found at She can be contacted at

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