Letter Re: A Multiple Family Retreat — Lessons Learned The Hard Way

Dear Mr. Rawles:
I have been following several good reader contributions including “Bug Out At the Last Minute” arguments versus those who consider “Early Relocation” and most recently “A Multiple Family Retreat—Lessons Learned the Hard Way” in regards to the most expeditious and efficient way to set up a self-sufficient retreat. While I understand that some folks are just simply unable to make a full time commitment in setting up a retreat, I also know that there are many—while there are still the comforts of life available (television, readily available food and gasoline)—that are unwilling to make the sacrifice necessary to prepare for any pending manmade or natural disaster(this include members of my extended family who are living what they consider the “good life” but I am sure will be on our doorstep WTSHTF) From my family’s experience, if one is not practicing what they preach…i.e. actually learning by trial and error and doing what one plans to do when the time come, then no matter how much one has prepared—stocking food supplies, buying “Seeds in a Can”, or planning to bug out with everything but the kitchen sink—then there will most certainly be a very steep learning curve to be had. Believe me, my husband and I have made many mistakes, but because we are also willing to sacrifice, after five years have reached the level of preparedness WTSHTF! In fact, it is best to get to a prepared lifestyle so WTSHTF, such events are just a mere bump in the road for your family.

With my parents we purchased 110 acres of fertile land, with two running streams, a spring, and two ponds 100 miles away from the nearest “Metro Mess”. There are several vibrant and viable little towns within driving or even walking distance for that matter. These towns are very close knit and some would call them “clannish” because everyone seems to be related to everyone else. We bought the land 10 years ago, but starting living on it full time 5 years ago.

Most people would think this is the perfect setup. We think it is, however, please allow me the opportunity to expand on what I mean “Practicing what you preach” because our journey to where we are today did not come by just planning, but by doing.

1. The Land – Pros: Good land, sandy loam, available water. Cons: Just as the veggies like the soil, so do the weeds! If we do not pull weeds everyday, they seem to come back double within the week. Additionally, despite all the attractive pictures on the veggie packets and promises that they will grow, I have learned what will grow in my particular location and what will not grow. Although we live in zone 7, in my particular location it is not uncommon to have a late hard killing freeze the end of April. I still have fruit trees, but lost all of the fruit this year. I also know what types of vegetables will grow and which ones will not. This was not learned by planning to do it in the future when it is necessary, but over a trial and error five-year period. Is this a process that one wants to learn when one really needs it, or instead by practicing what you intend to do, so that you are up to speed when the time comes as disaster strikes? It means having on hand all the tools and supplies needed, and this was only learned by doing before hand.

2. The Livestock – Pros: A ready food source or beasts of burden. Cons: They are reliant on you for their well being. Chickens get eaten by varmints or neighbors dogs if one is not careful, animals need daily care—whether from you, or someone else if you are away for a time—they get sick and hurt, get into a neighbor’s pasture, etc. If you plan to eat chickens for example, then you must learn how to kill them and dress them properly. Believe me, all these things are not something one needs to learn when it is truly necessary, but is only learned by doing before hand.

3. The Farmstead and accompanying equipment—Pros: This goes without saying. Cons: If one is not a handyman, or DIY, then learn anyway you can! Metal roofs blow off, water well pumps stop working, trees fall on things that they are not supposed to, wild fires and floods, etc. It is just not a matter of “Calling someone” to fix these things because out in rural areas, it is assumed that everyone knows how to take care of these things. One can only know what tools they will need for their particular situation by practicing and experimenting—remember an electric dehydrator for preserving food, or a wide screen tv will not be useful when there is no electricity. Our family got rid of cable/satellite tv (no time to watch it other than a rental movie every once in a while) but, we still have satellite Internet service—the best source for alternative news like SurvivalBlog. I am learning to can with a pressure cooker and preserve food that we grow. All these things are learned by doing.

4. The Job—My husband and I both had jobs in the city when we bought our land. Before we moved from the Metro Mess, we scaled back and paid off as much debt as possible, and saved as much as possible. When we finally moved to our land we commuted to our jobs for three years, 1,000 miles a week. That meant going to bed promptly at 9 p.m. in order to get up at 3:30 to feed the animals and be on the road by 5 a.m. for our 200 mile round-trip trek. My husband retired to work on the farm full time, and as soon as I was able, I found a teaching job in one of the small towns. I taught for two years in this position, but now our homestead is able to generate enough income, plus what we have saved, for me to resign my teaching position. Is this difficult to do? Yes, it takes sacrifice and ignoring the naysayers who may think that you are a little crazy. But again, sacrifice is only gained by doing.

5. The Local People—The only way to get to know the locals is by living amongst them. I do not mean this in a negative way by any means. I have heard many other new homesteaders complain that the locals are tough nuts to crack, and in our situation, everyone is related to everyone else, so of course there is some suspicion to any newcomer. However, the only way that you can become a successful member of a community is by doing and being there. Of course expect hostility WTSHTF and you just “show up” We became part of the community by worshiping at the local church, teaching Sunday school, joining civil organizations, enrolling our children in the schools, etc. When a church member broke his back in a fall, we were there helping his wife with the farm chores. When a massive wild fire rolled through the area this spring, we were there helping evacuate horses. Of course they will talk about you…this is just a fact of life in a small town…however, the church was full when my brother—who nobody knew because he lived out of state—died and was buried in the church cemetery…all of our friends who had become our family were there for US. This did not happen overnight, but by the nurturing relationships and sacrifice…turn off the boob tube and get to know your neighbors. Also, it is through the locals that we know how to butcher and garden, as well as get things like milk and grains. I can also defend myself and our property because a retired police officer gave us the proper training. We have a pretty good barter system going, and again, this did not happen by planning, but by doing.

Now, as I stated earlier, I know that there are many people out there that do not have a choice, and are doing the best that they can to prepare and I pray for you. However, I also know that there are just as many people who are unwilling to work hard and sacrifice so when the time comes, they will be scrambling to get themselves in a better plan, and with possible dire results. Please, if at all possible, try to get to your ultimate retreat before you really need it. Learn not by planning, but by doing and Practicing What You Preach! God Bless, – SHM