How are you currently keeping your food from spoiling? If you live in an industrialized society, then chances are you own a refrigerator with a freezer compartment. You might also have an additional refrigerator, or additional freezers, but have you considered where you would keep all that surplus food if the grid collapsed, temporarily or permanently? Most refrigerators will keep food from spoiling, even without electricity, for a period of days, depending on how well insulated it is when the power goes out. However, if the grid goes down for more than a week, all the food you have packed in the fridge could go bad, especially if the weather is warm.
It is because of the fragility inherent to our grid system that we must consider alternate options for storing food and keeping it fresh. Root cellars represent just such an opportunity. They have been around almost as long as man himself, and they continue to be used today to preserve food throughout the year. Root cellars provide free food security without electricity throughout the year, provided they are built correctly.
Some of the oldest root cellars unearthed through archaeological digs date back to being over 40,000 years old. This indicates that man, even in his earliest stages of evolution, realized the need for harvesting surplus food and preserving through the harsh environment of winter. Early man consisted of what we refer to as “hunter-gatherers,” they hunted food and foraged for wild edibles, all of which needed required preservation in order to keep from going to waste and being thrown out.
Those traits have been handed down throughout history; we continue to “gather” mass quantities of food, either through gardening or purchasing from a grocery store, and require some method of preserving it, which now comes in the form of refrigeration. What hasn’t been handed down with those traits are the essential skills that carried human life to where it is today; we rely entirely too much on modern technology and not enough on primitive technology.
By the 1800’s root cellars were located in every backyard across Colonial America. Although root cellars were traditionally built to house and preserve root vegetables, hence the name, such as beets, potatoes, turnips, onions, carrots, etc., they were also used to dry and store beef, as well as keep homemade jams, jellies, and preserves.
The basic design of root cellars has not changed much over the years; they still require moisture, cool temperatures and plenty of air circulation. They are normally built out of Earth, wood, and stone, but can incorporate any of the newer construction materials deemed suitable for such a project. In a perfect scenario, the root cellar will maintain a temperature of 45°F or lower. Temperature control is initially achieved through depth; the deeper the root cellar is dug into the Earth, the cooler the temperatures should be. Root cellars often have earthen floors which are covered with a fine layer of sawdust to retain moisture content.
If you live in a rural area, then installing a traditional root cellar may appeal to you. If you live in a suburban area, then installing one of the many DIY designs available on the internet, should be a consideration for you, especially if you have frequent power outages. Urban residents will find root cellars to be impossible to install due to the limited space available.