An Accidental Prepper, by C.J.

Last year I read JWR’s novel “Survivors” and discovered, We Are Preppers!   I did not know there was a name for it or a whole culture surrounding it.  The discovery has triggered a lot of discussion with my now adult children, my elderly parents, and my siblings.  I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject and I’ve tried to understand how and why we could get to this point by accident.  

Six years ago my husband and I bought a place, expecting to retire there in 6 to 9 years.  We looked at places in a vacation area that we had visited often and enjoyed.   Prices and land covenants and water availability issues surprised us.   So when we stumbled across a place that met our criteria for location, lack of covenants, parcel size, ambience, and price we had to consider it seriously, even though we had only been looking for one week.

The major drawback of this place was that it was off the grid, and the power source was a huge diesel generator.  Neither of us is particularly mechanically inclined, so this seemed like quite a stretch for a long-term living arrangement.  The second drawback was that, because it was off the grid, there were no conventional loans for purchasing the property.  We did not have the cash to make the purchase. 

On the other hand, the property had an 1,800 sq. foot finished house that was earth sheltered, wood heated, and completely finished.  The property was fenced for livestock.  There was a finished barn/workshop building.  The off-grid power system was completely installed and working well, including a heated waterer for the livestock and normal light switches and outlets in the house and barn.  There was a good well.  The generator pumped the well water to a buried cistern that supplied gravity-fed water to the house and the livestock.  There was a 10×20 foot cold storage area attached to the house.  It was located in a small valley, in a National Forest, and the valley was shared with only six other parcels, which were also off-grid.  The east and west boundaries were both National Forest.  All of this and it was only 12 miles from the nearest small community of less than 1000 people and 30 miles from a small city of less than 100,000 that had educational opportunities and an airport for necessary business travel.

Because our single week of looking (!) had convinced me that we would not easily find another place that met our criteria so well, we made an offer.  It was accepted and a closing date was set for 6 months in the future so the sellers could take care of their preparations for moving and I could arrange financing.   Because this was pre-2007, we were able to refinance the place we had lived in for 30 years and find enough other resources to buy our retirement place.  One year later my husband decided to retire and we moved here permanently, five years earlier than we expected.

It turns out our valley is a flood plain, with 2 feet of black dirt that will grow a beautiful garden.  In the last 100 years it has flooded once in the late 70s.  Our house and barn are about 12 feet above the valley floor and well out of the flood plain.  We put in a garden and began planting fruit trees that first year.  We built a chicken run and a chicken house.  We moved the goats, chickens, and horses from our previous place and began some landscaping projects that included plants with edible fruits.  We began exploring the immediate area and became familiar with hunting possibilities and the various accesses to the valley.  We got comfortable with our generator and added solar panels.  In the years since, we have added more apples trees, pear trees, plum trees, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries, and expanded the garden.  We can the garden produce and are anxiously awaiting our first fruit tree produce.  I think we will try our hand at making apple cider.  We hunt and we butcher our own goats and chickens just as we have done for many years.  We have landscaped with lots of loose rubble that creates lovely rock garden space (while making the house hard to approach except along specific and very visible paths) and are redeveloping a 40×40 foot spring fed pond in our front yard.   My husband does consulting from home and I am self-employed outside the home, but on my own schedule.

Sounds like a pretty ideal retreat, doesn’t it?  So, again, how and why did we get to where we are today?   And more importantly, how can you get to a level of preparedness that you are comfortable with too?

I believe the answer is time, in combination with patience and trust.  Prepping is the result of time spent learning and accumulating skills even more than accumulating materials.  As you develop the skills, the materials will just accumulate as you go.  All through our lives we have either had time or money, rarely both.  Money can allow you to accumulate a large stash of supplies.  But, will you know how to use them?  Why have the materials without the skills to use them anyway?  Patience and trust are the component of your life that lets you take advantage of the opportunities God sends to you.  And, they are the component of your life that keeps you from fretting about what you can’t do at any one given moment.

Way back when my husband and I met, we were both in college.  He was studying engineering and I was studying animal husbandry.  Our first home was outside of another small city.  His family members were avid gardeners, his mother had fed a family of seven on the vegetables from her back yard, and so we began a garden with his direction.  He was a hunter so I learned to hunt and handle guns with his help.  I enjoyed animals so we had horses and dogs.  The dogs learned to hunt upland birds and waterfowl and my husband learned to ride while planning to someday hunt elk on horseback.   We were young and on a limited income so I learned to budget and plan.  The two of us could eat well, including meals out, for $81 a month in 1979!  We did all of our cooking from scratch.  I had learned to sew when I was junior high school and I made quite of few of our clothes in those early  days.  Both of us worked in town, 10 miles away.

We had been married a number of years when we had our two children.  They were actually the motivation to get out of what had become a pretty comfortable rut.  I quit my outside job to stay home and raise kids.  Going from two incomes to one requires quite a bit of adjustment.  When we decided to homeschool the kids, our own learning curves skyrocketed.   Every piece of information we offered to them had to be researched and shared.   In addition, homeschooling allowed us to share with them the skills we had already mastered.

My daughter is the one that brought the chickens, detailed chicken care, and poultry health into our lives.  Did you know that a 12×24 inch box light inside of a 24×48 inch box is just enough space to start 31 chicks and keep them in the kitchen until they are 3 weeks old?  Or that the average dual purpose bird needs 2 square feet of floor space in a chicken house?  Or that if you build the chicken house too big in a northern climate the chickens can freeze their feet and combs because they can’t keep the space warm with their own body heat?   She is the one that caused us to become experts on goat keeping as well.  It is kind of amazing what you will learn about health, medicine, and first aid when you raise livestock.  It brings to mind the night I spent delivering triplet goat kids and then sleeping in the barn with the stressed-out dam, with both of us in a down sleeping bag at -25 degrees F, in order to prevent her from dying of shock.

My son was interested in weapons.  Any weapon.  He converted a broken fiberglass tent pole to a catapult for sheetrock screws to tag the chickens, and he did this at age 4!   At age 6, he often explored the woods behind our house while carrying a compass, which he knew how to use, in order to find his way home.  At 8, after one of his treks in the woods, he told me about the weird yellow snow at the bottom of a tree and how he finally determined that there was a porcupine up in that tree.  When he shot his first deer with a .30-.30 at age 12, we could not find either the entrance or exit wound.  He had aimed at the eye and, hitting it in the corner of the eye, did not damage bone or the eye tissue, while the bullet broke up in the skull and did not exit.  We also had to research and learn how to rope cows.  That was what he wanted to do with our horses.  He is the one that learned from me how to trim horse hooves and has used that skill to pay for nearly all of his college expenses.

Through this period, 4-H and our county extension service was a primary vehicle for learning and opportunity.   If you are not using this resource for your family’s growth, you are missing out.  4-H was first developed after the Great Depression to teach the adult population by teaching the children.  It still does that.  They have an abundance of material on raising livestock, planting gardens and fruit, canning and preserving, arts and crafts, shooting sports (including both guns and archery), sewing, budgeting, and just about any other subject you can think of.  For adults they have a master gardener program and all kinds of material, again, on just about any subject you can think of.  Every extension office schedules regular educational events and will also come to your place to help with developing projects like ponds or hoop house garden plots, or soil testing, or water testing, or tell you where to find people who can.  Now, as a caveat, you do need to be aware that their information and expertise come from the conventional agricultural and university systems so some of it has to be evaluated for its appropriate use in your own situation.

As they got older, 4-H offered the kids opportunities to compete with their knowledge and skills at the regional, state, and national levels.  4-H has national competitions in knowledge bowls, speech and demonstration, judging, and shooting sports.  It also offers opportunities at the local and state levels for leadership and volunteering.  These kinds of events gave my children and I professional contacts around the country, confidence in our leadership abilities, and good fodder for college and scholarship applications.

And then, learning becomes a habit.    When my daughter started college I began a vocational program that has supplied me with skills that allow me to earn extra money that lets us continue to grow in our “prepping” endeavors.    My daughter and her husband earned their degrees and have gone on to work in agriculture in a venue where my granddaughter is able to be parented full time, by both of them.  My son-in-law is doing the majority of the ranch work and continuing to learn new skills, while my daughter assists, does most of the management activities and is studying natural forms of medical care.  My son is studying chiropractic medicine while earning money trimming horses’ hooves, using skills that he learned at home.  He looks forward to moving out of the city when he finishes his schooling, and has plans to leave in a hurry if that becomes necessary.  

All three of these young people worry that they don’t have enough money or time to become well prepared for the life ahead of them, whether or not a hugely disruptive event ever happens.  I think that may be the situation for many people that are involved in the prepping mindset but are short on money and skills.  What I am confident of is that all three of my children have the time and ability to accumulate the life skills that they need.   I believe that God will give them the patience and trust to stay focused and work towards their goals.  They have the support of their parents in all ways and in time they, as you, can be “accidental preppers” just like us.