Saturday, April 20, 2019

Moving toward self-sufficiency as a prepper strategy

One of the talks I gave at the Northwest Preparedness Expo last weekend was titled "Moving toward Self-Sufficiency as a Prepper Strategy." These are the notes from that talk. This is a very long post, so grab yourself a cup of tea and sit in on the workshop.

Moving toward Self-Sufficiency
as a Prepper Strategy

As most people know, I often compare preparedness to a three-legged stool. One leg is supplies, another leg is skills and knowledge, and the third leg is community. The significance of a three-legged stool is obvious: it’s sturdy and never wobbles. However if you take away one of the legs – if you neglect one of these factors in prepping – then your stool will topple.

Most people already focus – sometimes obsessively – on the first leg (supplies). This discussion will concentrate more on the second and third legs (skills/knowledge and community).

Let's start with a question: What's the difference between preparedness and self-sufficiency? As I define it, preparedness can be done anywhere, by virtually anyone. If you live in a high-rise apartment in New York City, you can be a prepper; but you'll never be self-sufficient. You can't.

Self-sufficiency can only be attained – if such a thing is attainable – on a farm or a homestead, a place where you can grow and raise your own food, purify your own water, and attain some measure of security from marauders. If you're living in the suburbs, you can become partially self-sufficient in some areas, but not all. There are people who make astounding strides in food self-sufficiency in a suburban environment, up to and including keeping dwarf goats, rabbits, chickens, and bees, but it's tougher and all depends on city regulations.

For this reason, the points I'm about to cover – moving toward self-sufficiency as a prepper strategy – are not things you can accomplish tomorrow. They are long-term goals and factors to consider as you become more involved in the preparedness movement. This is a multi-year approach to preparedness, so don't let any of it discourage you. Above all, I want to emphasize this is a journey and a long-term goal, not a short-term fix. At the very end, I will cover some methods to make this whole strategy less overwhelming and more manageable.

Because this is an enormous topic and there's a lot of material to cover, I will be touching only lightly on each subject. I can't get too deeply into any one area because of time constraints.

Rule of Thumb
A rule of thumb to consider on your road to self-sufficiency is to look where your money is going.

If you're like most Americans, you buy your food, you pay for city water, you have utility bills such as septic, garbage collection, electricity, you have credit card bills and other debt, you purchase household goods and health aids, and there are endless other categories where your income is divvied up. That's the first place to start thinking: How can you become independent in the areas where you spend money? This might be simple (grow your own apples) or difficult (pay off your mortgage).

One of the problem with dedicated preppers is they often focus on one or two aspects of preparedness to the exclusion of many other things. Often these are the "sexier" parts of prepping, like firearms or communications. But there are a lot of unsexy but very necessary component of self-sufficiency, and it's a smart idea to start by looking where your money is going.

So let's take a look at some of the components of self-sufficiency. This may not be a complete list, but it's a start:

So let's hammer through and touch on each of these components.

The first thing to consider on your path toward self-sufficiency is rural property that can be turned into a food-producing location. Right away some of you may feel I've disqualified you, and I apologize if that's the case, but you must understand my logic here. You can't survive on the herb box on your kitchen windowsill.

If you read my ebook on Prepper Gardening, you understood a very important concept: As a prepper, any stored food you have will eventually run out. You can have a lot of supplies tucked away, but what happens when they're gone? Food becomes currency. Think of Venezuela right now, and you'll understand everything comes back to food. That's why the ability to generate your own food is so important, and for that, you need land.

Water is arguably tops on your list, even more important than food. You can live three weeks without food. You won't make it for three days without water.

When purchasing land, make sure there's water available and you have the rights to it. This could mean a pond, it could mean a well, it could mean a year-round creek, or any combination thereof. But obviously you can't do anything without water.

Water is of particular concern for us because our well is over 600 feet deep, far too deep for any hand-powered extraction possibilities. Nor did we have any surface water available. We had to look long and hard to solve this issue, and we're still working on it.

It should be obvious you should never purchase property without some sort of water source, whether from a well, pond, spring, creek, river, etc. Most of us comfortably assume electricity will always be available to extract and purify this water, but looking at alternatives in case the power goes out is critical.

You also need to think beyond water for your own immediate personal needs. What about water for your garden? What about water for your livestock? Water issues go beyond storing the recommended two gallons per person per day and keeping a Berkey water filter on hand. You also have to think in terms of how you're going to make your animals and your plants stay alive. Think it through, realistically, from beginning to end.

Your land should be geared toward food production. Self-sufficiency isn't just a matter of putting aside supplies of beans and rice; it's the ability to replicate those food stores as needed.

To quote Daisy Luther, the Organic Prepper: "Lots of preppers are convinced that they're going to 'live off the land' should the world as we know it come tumbling down around our ears. Seed banks are stockpiled, books are purchased, and people are confident that they'll be able to outlive everyone else based on the sweat of their inexperienced brows."

Does this sound realistic to you?

Start now to cultivate food. This includes a garden. I'm not talking a couple of pots of tomatoes on your patio, I mean a garden area large enough to sustain your family with enough food to last a year. Depending on how many are in your family and how productive your land, the garden space could be as small as a quarter-acre and a large as two acres.

The photo above is a Google Earth screenshot of our garden area. In our case, we have a quarter-acre garden, another quarter-acre orchard, and a half-acre wheat field we cultivate every few years.

Gardening takes more skill than many people realize. It's not just a case of putting seeds in the ground, watering, and harvesting. You'll face challenges from bad soil to pests and everything in between, so I urge you to start gardening now, even on a modest scale, to figure out what those challenges are so you can start compensating for them.

You'll need more than garden space. Unless you plan to become a strict vegan, you'll also need space for livestock.

Whether you raise pigs, goats, cattle, chickens, rabbits, or any combination thereof, they will need enough room to graze and rotate. Livestock also means infrastructure – fences, shelters, barns, whatever. If you have a small property, there are many small types of livestock you can get, such as rabbits or chickens or even dwarf goats. If you have larger property, you can move into larger animals such as larger breeds of goats, cows, and sheep.

And of course, if you grow or raise food, you need to turn it into usable form. This means you need to learn how to butcher your livestock and preserve the meat. It means preserving all the produce you harvest from your garden. I'm sure I don't have to give you reasons why you shouldn't entirely depend on electricity for preserving your food.

Since we raise beef, we freeze it all; but I also can, and at all times I hold twelve dozen quart jars in reserve in case the power goes out and I need to preserve the meat. I can on a propane stove, and we have a year's worth of propane on hand at any one time. If the propane runs out and we can't get more, then I'll can on our wood cookstove. We also dehydrate.

For all these things, from gardening to livestock to butchering to harvesting to preserving, you need the appropriate tools. It does no good to think you'll can meat to preserve it if you don't have a pressure canner and all the necessary accouterments.

Let's take wheat as an example. A few years ago, we grew wheat. Except for plowing the field, we did everything by hand: we sowed, scythed, shocked, and threshed. It was hard work, but we did it – except for threshing. Originally we tried threshing the way humans have threshed wheat for thousands of years, by using a flail.

It worked, but it was very very laborious and slow. The pressures of everything else we had to do on the farm and for our business mean the threshing got put on the back burner. In the end, we gave up.

So, because wheat is an elemental part of our diet, we saved up our money and purchased a foot-powered wheat thresher. It was not cheap, but we feel it was worth it. This will be the next step in our food independence journey.

(YouTube screencapture)

But this tool would never have occurred to us until we got to that stage, which is why experimenting now is so important.

Two more aspects to touch on for food production, though these will apply to all other subjects, not just food. One is skill. How do you turn a cow on the hoof into hamburger? How do you pressure-can carrots? How how how? To do these things, you need to experiment, learn, and acquire the skills. Skills are critically important. I hope you're not foolish enough to think you can learn these skills after the bleep has hit the fan, because that's a strategy that's doomed to failure.

The second aspect is a reference library. The written word will be king if the time comes when we can't use Google to find the answer to something. We have books on everything from soap-making to canning to butchering to cheesemaking to building a root cellar. And if I don't have a book on it, then I likely have it printed and stored in a reference notebook, everything from building an ice house to making vinegar.

Some of our preferred reference books include:

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery (probably the single-most important reference book you can own)

Butchering Beef: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering by Adam Danforth

Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering by Adam Danforth

Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole B. Turner

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll

Putting Food By by Hertzberg, Vaughan, and Greene

(A vastly more comprehensive list can be found on the resources page of SurvivalBlog.)

I love the convenience of indoor plumbing, don't you? It works wonderfully – until it doesn't. For this reason, your long-term prepper plans must involve alternates for hygiene and sanitation.

For immediate needs, a pre-prepared five-gallon bucket outfitted with a camping toilet seat and a bag of sawdust is your best bet. I recommend keeping one prepped and ready to use in your garage. If it's pouring rain outside, it sure beats trekking out to the outhouse.

That said, there's a reason outhouses have been used for centuries. They're the ultimate low-impact sanitation facility – if they're done right. This is where I urge you to research the proper construction for an outhouse, and that includes placing it where it won't contaminate water sources.

But sanitation involves more than just lavatories. Think of all the daily grooming you do, from showering to doing laundry to washing dishes to changing diapers on babies. What will you do if washing machines and running water aren't available?

Solar shower bag hanging from dedicated hook

Again, this is where you need to examine everything you do and come up with low-impact alternatives, everything from solar shower bags to hand-laundry options and clothes drying racks.

Waste management
Now let's talk garbage. What will you do if there's no garbage service? What will you do with your trash?

Almost exactly two years ago, I embarked on a zero-waste lifestyle. At first it was nothing more than an experiment, a challenge to see how little garbage we could produce; but within a few months it morphed into a lifestyle choice I now discuss with evangelical zeal.

A zero-waste lifestyle is based on five principles:

To this, I want to add three more pieces of advice. One, don't think recycling is the answer. Since China stopped accepting recycling waste in 2018, most recyclables just go into the landfill. Garbage is garbage.

Two, I strongly urge you to phase out disposable products and replace them with reusable versions for reasons I'll discuss next. There is no faster way to reduce your garbage output.

Three, to see what kind of trash you're generating, you need to do a trash audit. Tip out the contents of your garbage can and inventory what you're throwing away. For most people, this turns out to be a huge amount of food packaging, everything from pizza boxes to tin cans to grocery bags. We live in a throwaway culture, and addressing your waste means you can start reducing it.

The reason garbage is such a big deal for preppers is two-fold. One, if the bleep ever hits the fan, waste management will become a HUGE issue. Just look what happens in any large city whenever sanitation workers go on strike (those are the unsung heroes of modern culture, by the way). Bags of trash pile up on the street, attracting rats and stinking to high heaven.

And two, the garbage you generate is there because you purchased something that created it. This hearkens back to what I said in the very beginning of this talk: to become more self-sufficient, you have to look at where your money is being spent, and then come up with ways to become independent of where that money went.

As a matter of interest, we don't live a perfect zero-waste lifestyle, but our garbage output dropped by about 90 percent. The bucket under my kitchen sink hasn't been changed since last November, and before that I didn't change it for seven months, and it weighed 6.5 lbs. We now generation about a trash can of garbage a year, and that includes farm waste, waste from our woodshop, and household waste.

Seven months' worth of garbage

As it turns out, a "green" lifestyle is one of the most intelligent prepper strategies. I do NOT mean green politics, of course. But to us, "green living" is the best option for being self-contained and prepper-minded. The less we have to depend on outside sources, the better.

Okay, I'll get off my soap box now.

I mentioned phasing out disposables as a means of reducing your garbage output. What kind of disposables am I talking about?

This is where you mentally walk through both your home and your day and inventory what single-use products you go through. Here are some common culprits:

Not everyone will use all these products, of course, so create your own list.

Let's make one thing clear: disposables have their place. Reusable versions are terrific, but only if you have the means to wash and clean them. During short-term emergencies when you have no water, obviously paper plates are useful.

But for everyday uses, reusable versions of disposable products are wonderful. They're usually more expensive in the beginning, but they pay for themselves in an astoundingly short time.

Why is phasing out disposable products essential for a prepper? Several reasons.

One, it will save you money (did you know the average family spends $5000 per year on disposable products?). Two, you'll get used to using reusable versions before you "have to." Three, it will reduce your garbage output by a staggering degree. And four, it means you won't "run out" of something critical, such as diapers or feminine hygiene or toilet paper, if the bleep ever hits the fan.

Let's talk health. Being human, we all have health issues we face. Some are within our control, others are out of our control. We have to work with what we have.

Let's start with weight. I'm a prime example of how many people struggle with this issue.

Addictions are something a lot of people struggle with, everything from gambling to smoking to alcohol and drugs. Obviously specifics are beyond the scope of this talk, but I'm sure it's obvious why addressing addictions is necessary from a preparedness standpoint. To this, all I can say is, get help. The cost of getting help is cheaper and healthier in the long run than the problems the addiction costs, especially if the bleep ever hits the fan.

For those with medical conditions that may impact their preparedness efforts, work with your doctor whenever needed. Prescription medicines are a particular problem, one for which I have no easy answer.

Medical training is part of a well-balanced prepper strategy. Again this is one area we severely lack, since we're not trained in anything more basic than first-aid. I stand in awe of those with extensive medical training. The best we can do is maintain a comprehensive first-aid supply, including crutches, braces, slings, and even a walker (look in thrift stores, they often have medical aids available for cheap).

It also can't hurt to look into herbal cures. I'm not into alternative medicine, largely because too many quacks try to claim they can cure everything from cancer to gout by drinking flower juice. But some of you may have heard of Nurse Amy, who trains and teaches preparedness medicine. She's not "into" alternative medicine either, except those with a basis in sound medical fact. She recommended these two books, which I purchased as references:

The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green

Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-to-Use A-to-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common Disorders and Their Herbal Remedies by Phyllis A. Balch

The two other classic prepper medical books are:

Where There Is No Doctor by David Werner

Where There Is No Dentist by Murray Dickson

I also recommend a book researched and written by a friend and reviewed by a doctor entitled "The Prepared Family Guide to Uncommon Diseases" as an excellent addition to your preparedness library.

Now let's talk money. A prepared lifestyle is a frugal lifestyle. It means you're not wasting your money on stupid stuff like fancy jewelry or big-screen TVs. It means you're allocating your financial resources wisely and investing in things that will last and will serve a purpose during hard times.

Another strategy is to get out of debt, and eventually that might include paying off the mortgage. The less money you owe anyone, the more stable your position is. So maybe it's time to sell your suburban house and pay cash for a rural fixer-upper on acreage where you can start homesteading.

This also means not taking on more debt. Some people disagree with this strategy, and go into debt to finance more expensive prepper strategies such as an off-grid property or other pricey project. All I can say is, be careful. Debt is never a good thing.

Debt also includes student loans. For some people it's too late to discuss student loan debt; you're stuck with it. But if your children are getting ready for college – or if you yourself are going to college – think long and hard about whether the degree you earn will be worth the debt you'll accrue. For a crash course in this, I recommend the book "Worthless: The Young Person's Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major" by Aaron Clarey.

In short, I would move heaven and earth to get yourselves out of debt as soon as possible – not just for peace of mind, but as a preparedness strategy.

My husband and I embarked on a radically different lifestyle back in 1993 when we chucked two well-paying professional jobs in the city and moved to our first fixer-upper in the country (our story is told here). Our income went from a combined $70,000 (in 1993 dollars) to zero. In desperation, we started a woodcraft business which turned into our primary means of support for over 26 years. We got a crash-course in the art of frugality as well.

But a few things came out of that adventure that served us well over the past quarter-century. One, we work from home. This means we're free to live anywhere without having to worry about commuting to a job, which means we can take advantage of lower property prices away from urban hubs.

And two, we derive our income from multiple sources, what I call the "many irons in the fire" method of earning a living. The idea behind this if one iron goes cold, the other irons are already heated up and prepared to bring in income. In other words, we don't put all our income-producing eggs in one basket. As it turns out, this is a very good prepper strategy.

What we've learned is this: Coupled with no debt and frugal living, it's better to have ten income streams each paying a certain amount each month than it is having a single income stream paying one large amount per month. Losing one iron of the former is an annoyance. Losing the one single iron of the latter is devastating.

On or off-grid?
For many people, a prepared lifestyle means being off-grid, so they feel it's justified to spend $50,000 on a solar system that will provide all the power they'll ever need for "free."

While I have no particular objections to an off-grid lifestyle, I will offer a couple of warnings.

One, what happens when the lights go out everywhere except your house? Can you think of any finer way to scream to the neighbors, "We're prepared!"

Two, if you depend too much on your fancy off-grid options, you may never figure out low-tech alternatives. Just because something is off-grid doesn't mean it will operate flawlessly forever. If you suddenly find yourself in the dark and without running water because something went wrong with your elaborate solar set-up, I hope you have backups to your backups.

Three, things break. The rule of thumb for all preppers is to choose the option with the fewest number of moving parts. Off-grid systems are not only expensive, but they need regular maintenance and periodic repairs and replacement parts. If these aren't available, or service personnel can't make it out to rescue you, I hope you have backups to your backups.

My thoughts are this: I can get a lot more bang for my buck by choosing low-tech alternatives. Instead of spending $50,000 on solar panels, batteries, inverters, etc., imagine what I could do with that $50,000 instead. I could fence property, build barns and chicken coops, get livestock, have an enormous amount of freeze-dried food put away, have a huge stock of kerosene and oil lamps, a brand-new wood cookstove, firearms and ammunition, communication equipment, etc.

In short, an off-grid lifestyle may not be your best prepper option. Just something to think about if you believe you should go off-grid.

One of my pet peeves for many preppers is the belief that they can wait until after the bleep has hit the fan to acquire the skills, knowledge, and training needed to do any number of things, from milking a cow to shooting a rifle to growing a garden to butchering a chicken. I call this the "How Hard Can It Be?" syndrome.

For this purpose, people will tuck aside seed banks and reference books, but they never put anything into practice. They're confident they can just sail into a homestead and learn as they go after the bleep hits the fan.

A prepper homestead is something that must be built over a period of time. No one, especially those who have never done it before, can do everything flawlessly the first time around. No matter how hardworking you are, homesteading takes time: time for learning, time for mistakes, time for failure, and time for your plans to come to fruition.

This is why you need stored food, to cover you while you figure out the ropes. This applies whether the bleep has hit the fan or not.

Now let's talk more positively. The one thing I've learned about homesteading is that it's hard, frustrating, prone to failure, and in all ways challenging ... until it's not.

Once all the kinks are ironed out, once the necessary infrastructure is in place and time-tested to fix any problems (fences, anyone?), once the deer are kept out of the garden, once we've made every mistake in the book and then applied what we learned, etc. etc. etc. – then things get easier … and more productive.

When things start producing on a homestead, they really start producing. We don't just get a bowlful of strawberries each summer, we often harvest 150 pounds. Same with pears. We'll often get 1000 lbs. of beef back from the butchers. Our refrigerator is often overflowing with ten dozen eggs and (when I’m milking) gallons and gallons of milk. Corn, garlic, blueberries, onions, potatoes, raspberries, tomatoes, even wheat can be embarrassingly abundant.

It's when you can start creating whole meals, from start to finish, from the fruits of your labors that you know homesteading is well worth it. But it takes time and mistakes to get to this point. That's why if a self-reliant homestead is your survival strategy, you need to start now.

Half the fun of being a prepper is learning new things. I would never have learned about wheat if we hadn't gone through the whole cycle, from seed to harvest to threshing to winnowing to grinding. I discovered a passion when I learned how to can. I never knew how to garden or milk a cow or make cheese until I did them.

By learning how to do things now instead of waiting until the bleep hits the fan, you'll learn what additional knowledge or tools or skills you need to acquire to make something work. We had no idea threshing wheat would be such a daunting task until we went through the whole process beginning to end.

This also means acquiring the tools to do all the things you need to do. We use our log splitter to put up firewood each winter – it saves a massive amount of wear and tear on our bodies – but we also have all the low-tech tools we need if we're ever without gasoline for the slitter. This includes a two-handled bucksaw, axes, wedges, mauls, and other essential items. In other words, we have backups to our backups.

This is another reason I emphasize staying low-tech instead of high-tech in your preparedness efforts. One of the problems with high-tech whiz-bang equipment is there's a certain arrogance that goes with it. You don't feel compelled to do anything by hand because you have your fancy high-tech whiz-bang gadget to do it for you. If for whatever reason that gadget fails, then you haven't learned to do anything the low-tech way.

Ah, the main issue of a lot of preppers: Firearms. The more the merrier.

I'm not even going to discuss firearms in this talk, simply because there are too many others who are far more qualified than I am on the subject. Be sure to stock up wide and deep, and practice practice practice.

The one warning I'll give – and I assume none of you suffer from this particular syndrome – is to avoid what I call the Rambo complex. These macho individuals think the only thing they need to do is collect endless firearms and ammunition, because by golly if the bleep ever hits the fan, they'll just take what they need by force. These are the people who think, when the time comes, they'll live by the sword ... and we all know what happens to people who live by the sword. Real smart.

Now let's talk lifestyle approach toward preparedness. I've divvied this into three categories.

The first is the "heading for the woods" strategy. These are the people who are confident they don't need to prepare in any way because they can live off the land.

I don't know why this is such a common fantasy, but it's just that: a fantasy. That's a dangerous foundation upon which to build a prepared lifestyle.

The second strategy is what we call the Castle Syndrome. This is worth examining in some depth because it's so misguided.

The Castle Syndrome is the notion that you can fortify your way to security by building a massive complex – a castle – and think that's the answer.

On a hillside outside the town I live in, there's a mysterious person who moved from back east with a lot of money who built an amazing complex. We've been sort of following his project via Google Earth for the last few years.

Everyone knows about this project since, after all, it's kinda hard to hide. If you look at Google Earth snapshots over the past few years, you can follow his progress as he installed underground bunkers, a geodesic dome greenhouse, solar panels up the whazoo, and every security feature known to man. I'm sure this compound cost in the millions of dollars to construct. In fact, we call the complex Mordor, because in the morning the sun shines on something up there and reflects back at us, five miles away. It's as bright as a spotlight, and looks like the Eye of Sauron.

Here's what my husband and I find wrong about this complex:

• It's situated on top one of the larger hills in the area, visible almost 360 degrees and certainly visible by us five miles away when the sun hits something shiny. Being on high ground may once have had a tactical advantage, but we no longer live in the era of catapults and cannons, so it's foolish to situate yourself where everyone can see you.

• My husband is something of an expert on wells, so he got curious and looked up the well log for this property. Because of the height of the hill, the owner had to drill a well a thousand feet deep. We have a hard enough time dealing with a 600-foot deep well, so imagine how much more complicated it would be at 1000 feet.

• This property owner's OpSec sucks. OpSec, as I'm sure you know, is the ability to hide information that could compromise security. You can't do this by building a big flashy compound on a hill. A few years ago, we had a windstorm that devastated our region, and power was out for anywhere from four days to two weeks. Well guess what, this place shone like a beacon. It was literally the only light visible for 15 miles.

• The owner has made no effort to get involved in the town. No one knows him. The only people who have met him are those doing the construction work – which means, incidentally, that these construction workers are intimately familiar with every internal and external detail of his complex. Also, consider this: the owner is constructing this massively expensive complex overlooking a very small and poor town with which he refuses to associate. How do you suppose that sits with the locals? How do you think that will sit if the bleep hits the fan?

These are some of the reasons I feel a "castle" approach to prepping is wrong.

Now let's talk about community, which is the third leg of the prepping stool. Community is critically important for several reasons.

Throughout history, survival was often a factor of a group effort, and today is no different. Very few of us have the tools, supplies, and knowledge to be able to handle everything. Rather, we will have to depend on the strengths and combined knowledge of the group. One person may have medical or veterinary expertise; another may have animal husbandry or gardening experience; yet another person may have carpentry or sewing skills. By combining the strengths of everyone in the group, the group has a much better chance at surviving and thriving. Additionally, if you get hurt, community means there are those to help care for you. If someone else is hurt, you can help care for them.

But many preppers like to think of themselves as lone dogs. They take OpSec too far. If you think it's hard enough to build community anyway, obsessing about OpSec means missing out on wonderful opportunities to strengthen your ties. No man is an island, and having tight relationships with friends, family, and neighbors will build your foundation that much stronger. Too much OpSec means you never learn who else around you can help you – or who you can help. It's necessary to balance security with support.

That's why either the loner-in-the-woods approach or the Castle Syndrome doesn't work.

The essence of self-sufficiency is to be well-rounded. I know too many preppers who focus almost obsessively on one facet – such as firearms or communications – while foregoing such things as medical training or food production. But the fact is, no one can do it all. That's why being part of a group is so beneficial; everyone's specialties and skills can contribute to the unified whole unified.

By the way, building community is not something that can be done overnight. It takes time, which is why I urge you to start clubbing up with as many neighbors as you can. It makes for a happier neighborhood anyway.

Avoid being overwhelmed
I've just given you a whole lot of stuff to think about, haven't I? How many of you are feeling a bit overwhelmed?

So let's give you some tools for handling your journey toward self-sufficiency – again, keeping in mind this is a multi-year operation, not something you can do next week.

As preppers, we have two powerful and free tools at our disposal: A written Master Plan, and a written Wish List.

Before you do anything else, you need to write out a Master Plan. Putting a strategy in writing forces you to think clearly and prioritize. What threats do you realistically face? What do you want to accomplish through your preparedness efforts? Different scenarios call for different preparedness approaches. Preparing to handle a hurricane is very different than preparing to handle an economic collapse.

A written Master Plan helps you focus on what you want to achieve, whether it's just having a few weeks' supplies tucked away or developing a piece of rural property into a full-fledged homestead. In short, know where you're going before you get in the car, or else you're driving around randomly.

So let's take our Master Plan as an example. We knew we wanted to be food self-sufficient, so we looked for property that would support that goal. We needed space for livestock, a shop building for our woodcraft business, and infrastructure that would allow us to grow a garden and keep cows. With this in mind, back in 2003 we started house-hunting. It took us two years to find land that met our criteria and that we could afford on a woodcrafter's income.

Once we found our Idaho property, we got overwhelmed with how much we had to do and on such a limited income. So we discovered the second free tool: a Wish List.

Make no mistake, this turned into a surprisingly powerful tool. What we did was this: We put a piece of paper up on the fridge. Then we started making a list of all the things we wanted to buy, to make, to do, or to learn. We just threw anything up there, no matter how silly or expensive or pie-in-the-sky. After all, Wish Lists are free!

We ended up with about 100 items, everything from buying a bull to planting fruit trees. After about two weeks, when it was clear the list wasn't getting any longer, we spread out on the kitchen table and started prioritizing. We divvied the list into A, B, and C categories. The A category had the highest priority, the C had the lowest.

The A list included things that were easy, inexpensive, or took a long time to mature (fruit trees were on our A list, for example). Our C list included more expensive things such as a barn and a tractor, or things that were a low priority, such as the 1600-lumens flashlight.

A wish list can also be divvied up into Skills, Projects, and Purchases.

If one of your "wish" projects is to learn canning, for example, then include the accouterments you need to acquire (pressure canner, jars, etc.). If one of your "wish" skills is learning to cut your own firewood, then your list can include a chainsaw, wedges, safety equipment, and everything else needed to stock a woodstove.

Remember, lists are free. The sky's the limit. Let your imagination soar!

We were astonished how useful this wish list proved over the years. If we had a bit of extra money, we looked at the "A" list to see what we might be able to check off. When the A's were nearly gone, we looked more attentively at the "B" list, while saving up for some items on the "C" list.

The list was fluid; sometimes we would add things, or shift an item to a different category, or drop it as unnecessary. This master list allowed us to accomplish a great deal on our homestead over the years, and only two things required going into debt: building the barn, and buying the tractor (both of which are now paid off).

We went through that list over and over and knocked things down one by one. We've been on our property for 16 years now, and we've accomplished everything on that list.

So remember this: How do you eat an elephant? That's right, one bite at a time.

Your Master Plan will help you see the big picture, and your Wish List helps you start hammering, one by one, at projects, skills, and purchases.

Revolutionary behavior
Now here's something to consider: self-sufficiency is actually a revolutionary act. Food has always been linked with politics. Independence is also linked with politics. If you are self-sufficient, you can thumb your noses at those segments of society who are attempting to enslave you to debt through car payments, useless student loans, credit card debt, and even dependence on grocery stores.

A lot of people are urging Americans to start gardening as an act of patriotism. Thomas Jefferson was a gardening enthusiast, but his passion for growing food went beyond his own backyard. Apparently he believed that America was incapable of true democracy unless 20 percent of its citizens were self-sufficient on small farms. This would enable them to be real dissenters, free to voice opinions and beliefs, without any obligation to food producers who might hold their survival at stake.

This was proved during World Wars I and II when people everywhere planted victory gardens. Those gardens went a long way toward ensuring America was food self-sufficient and couldn't be starved into submission.

This is why food self-sufficiency should be a goal of preppers. If the bleep ever hits the fan, as it currently is doing in Venezuela, food will become currency and you don't want to be in a position where you could ever be starved into submission.

Here's a quote from the Organic Prepper: "Regardless of where you live, whether it is at the top of the highest high-rise, in the suburbs, in the desert, or on a few acres in the lush countryside, you can still be more self-sufficient. You can learn to meet your own needs by acquiring the skills to produce. Every single thing that you can produce on your own is a personal declaration of your own independence, whether it is food, clothing, shelter, or something else to meet the needs of your family. In today's society, freedom like that is a radical thing, completely against the grain, and it's much more gratifying than anything you could ever purchase."

I'd like to end with a meme someone once sent me which has become something of our homesteading slogan:

Plus you get strawberries.


  1. Patrice,
    This is an incredible post. There is more solid information here than in many books about prepping.
    The wisdom you express is obviously the fruit of experience.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  2. Beautifully done Patrice. I'll be passing this on to some young people I know that really need this . hopefully it will motivate them better than I have been able to . .---ken

  3. Wow. Awesome article. I hope SurvivalBlog features it. Self-reliance is the key to personal liberty. And like you stress, you need your own 'tribe'.
    Montana Guy

  4. An amazing article and very informative. Your high tech castle owner on the hill when stuff hits the fan and he somehow gets there will I am sure wants to be the big cheese and will want to carve out a fiefdom. I can see him running for mayor and want to turn your small rural town into his social utopia. I have grown up in and have lived in small towns and have seen it when someone with money moves in. They can't seem to understand why people aren't friendly to him and doesn't understand he and his family should be going into town meeting the folks and getting to know his neighbors. Bad move on his part.

  5. Your gardening logo "+ you get strawberries" Was turned into a T shirt for my wife and one of our friends. One of the best gifts that I have ever given!

  6. Wow! A terrific post of invaluable information! This is a keeper! Thank you for sharing with us...CWfromIowa

  7. This is a wonderful, wonderful post - I hope it is okay to link to it?

  8. Perfect article & I'm proud to note it came from a fellow Idahoan! Lol I'm going to try (with my limited tech skills) to send to my daughter. Thank you so much.