Ramblings of a backyard survivalist

Raised beds at Paper Crane Farm
Raised beds at Paper Crane Farm

Why am I so interested in self-sufficiency? Certainly I like the satisfaction of eating things I’ve grown myself. I like knowing where my food has come from as well. I enjoying eating cups of raspberries without having to stress over what the supermarket price per pound would be. Those are all part of the answer. Another part though is that I have occasional moments when I think it is entirely possible that the status quo may come crashing down violently at some point in the future. I can’t do anything about future scarcities of oil or water. I can’t move us off our collision course with worldwide pandemics. Global warming is coming, with its massive impact on the global food network. I can’t do anything about that either.

What I can do is pursue future food and energy security for my family. I can also share what I learn in the hopes that someone else finds it helpful. Or perhaps someone reading this may even agree with me, making me feel slightly less paranoid.

I’m no prognosticator. I don’t know what’s coming or when it’s coming. The US is a remarkably stable society, with law and order usually ruling the day. On some days, it’s hard for me to imagine it all falling apart. There’s strong infrastructure, police, armed forces, court systems, etc. What would it take? Some obvious possibilities come to mind. Not enough food, for example. Rational, law abiding folks will do things they otherwise would not do if there isn’t enough food for their families. Right now, most of our food is grown in faraway places. If 18 wheelers full of groceries from CA and FL aren’t streaming into New York City every day, how long do you suppose it takes 10 million or so people to run out of food and slough off the veneer of civility?

But why would this ever happen? Again, I can think of seemingly rational reasons. A truly virulent pandemic might shut down interstate travel, never mind international shipping. Or a natural disaster. Last year New York was brought to its knees for a week because of a foot of snow. What if it were two feet? Or a hurricane? Or a big earthquake in CA.

Other scenarios – There is a finite amount of oil in the world. North America, Europe, and parts of Asia have been burning through that oil at an alarming rate. They show few signs of slowing down. But the rest of the world wants their own turn at industrialization. Try telling China and India that they can’t use the oil because it’s running low.

Our entire civilization is dependent on oil, from the obvious stuff like powering our cars and heating our houses to some things you wouldn’t necessarily think about at first. There are 320 million people in this country, most of whom are not generating food. Someone is growing that food using fossil fuel based fertilizers, harvesting it with fossil fuel guzzling farm equipment, and shipping it to us with fossil fuel powdered ships and trucks. Most likely 99% of the things in your houses were made in fossil fuel powered factories. Most of the plastics in your house are made with oil. Your roads are paved with asphalt, a byproduct of the refinement of oil.

Tell me what happens when the oil runs out. This is the one that keeps me up at night. Winter is going to get mighty cold and hungry up here in New England.

But it’s not the only scenario that has a decent probability of coming to pass. What about water shortages? Everyone says that, even more than oil, water is the resource that nations will go to war for over the next century. We have a lot of water here in New England. But wait, there isn’t a lot of water in some of the countries that send us our cheap oil. It’s all connected, and we will certainly feel the ripple effects.

What about disease? In 1918, more Americans were killed by the flu than from World War I. How many millions of turkeys were slaughtered in the US this year for fear that they would spread bird flu? There are epidemics all over the world. How long before one breaks free here at home? There is more international travel than there has been at any point in history. Disease travels fast.

How about the monoculture of food? People used to develop their own local varieties of carrots, shallots, cucumber, etc., suited to their own microclimate. Apples are the most well-known example, since most of us have heard of red and yellow delicious, granny smith, McIntosh, cortland, etc. A quick google search comes up with 7500 varieties of apples grown worldwide, 2500 in the US. It seems unlikely that chance will wipe out the different apple varieties of the world. Not so hard with most other things. Last year there was an orange blight. The year before that, it was the tomatoes. We all eat pretty much the same things. One blight can grab them all. Or global warming could change the climate zones where most of our food is grown. When we all grow the same varieties, as is usually the case with commercial agriculture, it creates a very brittle system, one in which it is very easy to imagine some small change tripping up the supply chain.

Then there are the man-made disasters, like nuclear or biological warfare, etc. I’m going to stick to natural ones for the purposes of this blog, so as to appear slightly less paranoid.

It’s just as likely that none of these things ever happen.  That’s the nature of any kind of preparedness, investing time, thought, and resources in something you hope will never happen.  And you have to be prepared for that possibility too.  It would be silly to sink all of our savings into building a retreat when it is far more likely that I will need those savings to pay for the kids’ college tuitions.  I have to play both sides of the odds here.  And so the compromise is a resilient homestead in the suburbs, one that allows us to offer a stable upbringing for the kids, but will also allow me and mine to survive, even thrive, in the event that any of those dire things come to pass.

One of the point of this blog then, is to air things that are on my mind as I raise two kids and develop my homestead in the suburbs. I don’t intend to spend a lot of posts on the paranoias that drive my desire for food and energy independence . Most of my posts will instead illustrate what I’m growing this year, best practices in frugal living, ideas I’ve run into about what can be made at home that we’ve traditionally imported, or questions I’m wrestling with about how to raise resilient kids.

I hope you find these posts interesting or, barring that, entertaining. Talking to myself gets repetitive though, so please share your own thoughts and reactions. What do you see as the major challenges facing a potential future living off the grid? What are you doing that I haven’t thought of?

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