A Multiple Family Retreat — Lessons Learned The Hard Way

I have been a follower of your blog for a couple of years now and find it to be the best source of self-sufficiency information on the Web. You and your readers have provided me with a wealth of information that would have otherwise taken a lifetime to research on my own. –and for that, I thank you and all those who took the time to contribute.

While the plethora of advice handed out on a daily basis is extremely helpful, the one thing that I have found to be sparse is the first hand accounts of failure. A wise mentor once told me that no one learns from “trial and right,” and he was correct, the best way to learn is by “trial and error.” Unfortunately, I have had my fill of error lately.

Thus, I thought I would share all the things that went wrong over the past year and a half as my family attempted to develop a retreat for a bug out location in the country (we live in the city) with two other families. I hope this helps others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

The main problems encountered:

1. Although the adults agreed to the general goal of developing a self-sufficient retreat and the various components that would be required to sufficiently make the property a true bug out location, each had different ideas on the sense of urgency, priorities, responsibilities, and methods of doing things. This resulted in a tremendous waste of time and resources; numerous projects started, but never finished, or simply not done well. Failures outnumbered successes 10:1.

2. The young adult children of one family did not contribute and were allowed to not contribute. When the parents were confronted, they reassured us, “we will talk to them.” The “talk” never happened. This led to a significant level of resentment by the children of the other two families.

3. Dogs of one family were poorly trained and supervised. The owners did nothing to remedy the problems encountered. These dogs dug up fresh plantings on several occasions and set us back an entire season. Much worse, when the gate to the chicken coup was not shut properly one day, the chickens got out and the dogs killed most of them just when they were beginning to lay well. This set us back eight months.

4. Two families did not live at the retreat full time and were only able to tend to the property and garden on weekends. We learned the hard way that there is simply not enough hours in a week to work full time, raise children, and tend to a second property on weekends. The result was severe burn out by those of us living in the city, and a one year backlog on projects for our city homes. Life doesn’t stop just because you decide to develop a retreat.

5. Only one family took firearms seriously, taking all of the advice one can read on your blog and not only taking professional training, but practicing on a regular basis to master each and every firearm by every member of the family. Another family bought a shotgun and a box of ammo, which was promptly parked in a closet, and the third family has yet to get around to it. The main issue here is that these latter two are not the folks I want watching my back in a SHTF scenario.

6. One family thought they could “buy survival.” When the going got tough, they would offer to pay for equipment and supplies instead of showing up and getting their hands dirty. This is also the family that sincerely believes that having all the stuff (solar oven, camp washer, propane stove, cases of Mountain House[long term storage food], Berkey water filter, etc.) means they are prepared. This resulted in resentment by the two families that did most of the hard labor.

7. Only one of the families actually accumulated two years worth of food & supplies (the agreed upon goal for each family), the other two families have six months or less. This was the last straw for me as it became apparent that the other families expected to survive off the one, if they ran out.

By now you can guess which of the families described is mine. After a year and a half of spending each and every weekend in the dirt, working from sun up to sun down, we just up and quit being part of the retreat a couple of weeks ago. No amount of discussion and compromise could rectify the problems we encountered, and I have no words for the extreme frustration we felt and still feel. It has been a real learning experience as these other families are not strangers; we have been close friends for over 20 years.

Our investment of sweat, time, and money yielded us with only the experience of our trials, and we are right back where we started from, living in the city with a very small garden, wondering what to do next.

In hindsight, we should have:

1. Developed a project plan that listed all of the projects, broken down by tasks, assigned priorities, and most importantly, had sufficient resources allocated to them.

2. Defined up front who does what, when & how, and who pays for what. It should also include consequences for failure to live up to expectations.

3. Agreed upon a code of conduct with everyone pledging to uphold it. Even to the point of having everyone sign a symbolic contract.

4. Had a formal schedule with built in breaks (rotating weekends off or something).

5. Had everyone on the same page as to the sense of urgency. Nothing gets done if everyone has different ideas of how important what you’re doing is.

Lastly, the most important lesson learned. Preparedness doesn’t come in a box. It comes from hard work, from getting your hands dirty, and teaching yourself new skills. There’s a lot of trial and error and the important thing is to not give up even when everyone around you is letting you down. Preparedness comes from time. Time learning and practicing. While this experience has been a complete failure, at least we learned what not to do as we plan out our next attempt.

Thank the Lord that my family still believes in me and what we need to do. Wish us luck. – KJ