Water is essential. In Minnesota, water is not an issue. After all, this is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Every Minnesotan is within walking distance of a lake, pond, stream, or river– everyone.
In the spring and summer, we get adequate rainfall. In the winter, we are blanketed in snow and ice. As if that isn’t enough, most of our forests are deciduous, which means we can use plastic bags to collect respiration (water) from those leafy plants while the leaves are green. Before you all change your bug out plans to include “running to Minnesota”, remember that we have six months of solid, cold, hard winter.
This is a survival plan for northern climates, so chances are anyone in the north has a similar climate with rainfall you can collect and streams, lakes, rivers, or ponds you can filter and sterilize, snow and ice you can melt, and plants you can respire. If not, then you will want to look into building a solar still and storing large quantities of fresh water.
For your group, you will need a large amount of clean water for drinking, cleaning, and cooking.
You will need to scavenge materials to collect rainwater (barrels, buckets, bowls, coolers, tubs) and a means of making it potable.
Cloth and sand make good filters. Bleach is an excellent purifier, and if you have access to fire or the sun you can boil the water.
In preparation, I recommend you have at least some of the supplies you will need, locate a reliable water source in your district, and write down the instructions for purifying water, including how long to boil, how to build a still, how much bleach per gallon of water, and so forth.
Once you have your system in place for collecting, cleaning, and storing water, ration out the amount of water each person is allowed per day based on your supplies. If each person is allowed one gallon per day for cleaning and drinking, make sure that the rules are followed and the allotment is consistent. If the amount you have collected and rationed is not adequate, then work together to improve your water supply.
In the short term, remember that water heaters and toilet tanks are full of fresh water.
Food is going to be challenging for suburbanites, if grocery stores are empty and the environment is hostile. Most people assume that they’ll “just go hunting” when food supplies run low. What if that’s everyone else’s plan too?
There are a very limited number of wild animals living in suburbia. You and your friends may have a rogue family of deer that visits your garden each year, but it’s more than likely the same deer that visit the entire county. Once they are hunted by a few families, that’s it. They are not going to swarm in from the countryside to fulfill your need to eat.
That being said, hunting will be necessary. You should start watching the animals in your zone to learn more about their habits. Do they travel a certain path each day? Do they sleep in the valleys or hide among the shrubs? How many do you see? What type of animals exist in your area?
Do you have the tools to trap or snare animals? Can you trap any animals alive and breed them, such as rabbits or turkeys, maybe? Does anyone happen to have a set of guinea pigs or hamsters? Is anyone willing to trade for a flock of chickens?
You will probably need to widen the foods you are willing to eat. Find out which insects are safe to eat and learn how to cook them. Learn how to cook mice and small birds. Figure out how to clean and prepare fish and game animals. Learn how to use the whole animal.
In the same vein, survey your area and find the best sources of calorie-dense wild herbs and vegetables. There aren’t many! Most wild foodstuff is very low in calories and fat– two essentials you will need, if you are going to survive.
Find and remember where the high calorie foods are. Remember where all the fruit and nut trees are located. Find the stands of edible roots and berries. Then figure out everything else that is edible. Having a variety of things to eat will help with vitamin deficiencies, provide bulk (to fill your belly), as well as offer additional flavors, and interest to rid the boredom of eating the same few foods.
Now that we’ve gotten the hunting and gathering out of the way, there is the issues of stored food and gardening.
Everyone has some food in their house. Some will have prepared for emergencies and have an adequate supply to feed their families for months. Some will have less than a day’s worth of food in their pantry.
When you are living together as a team, all of the food resources will need to be pooled. Everything that is stored, gathered, hunted, or grown will be used for the benefit of the group. Remember that from day zero going forward, everyone will be pulling their weight through routine chores and by using their unique skill sets. This is not about a redistribution of wealth, and if you want to keep all of your stockpile to yourself you are welcome to, but you can not be part of the team. What you give up in stored food, you will receive back in body heat, extra hands to gather food and water in the future, security, and a myriad of other skills. With everyone working, we are stronger together than apart.
Someone (or multiple someones) will need to take stock of all the foods that are procured and decide how best to allocate that food. If you are able to surmise that you have two months worth of food amongst the group and it’s just turned December, then you need to do the math and deal with the situation in front of you. In this case you have four months before anything can even begin to grow outdoors and your hunting and/or gathering from abandoned homes will be spotty at best. So with two months of food and 4 months to survive before food stores can be replenished, you will need to mete out 1/2 of a person’s daily needs for the next four months.
What that means is that a grown man who needs 2000 calories a day will only have 1000. A woman that needs 1500, will get 750. It’s not great, but it’s fair. As more food becomes available, say a deer is caught or a full pantry is raided in a nearby community, then that item will be divvied up in addition to the usual ration.
Depending on how much food was in storage, everyone may be existing at starvation levels, eating well, or actually starving. If you find yourself in the starving camp, then you will have to take greater risks– travel farther outside your neighborhood, break the ice to get more fish, trade with other groups, or engage in active warfare with other communities. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
You can not count on someone knowing how to garden or having a collection of heirloom seeds, so make sure that person is you (or a member of your family).
You will want to build cold frames and greenhouses to extend the growing season as much as possible. Save the seeds each season, so you can build a bigger garden the next year, and you can also sprout seeds for protein and much-needed vitamins during the lean winter months.
You will want to garden on every piece of sunny land on the interior of your development. Gardening on the outskirts or near the entrances will draw hungry people looking for food and make security next to impossible.
Many people should work on improving the soil– tilling up lawns, adding organic matter to the ground, and transplanting as many wild and propagated plants as possible.
Solar dehydrators and smoke houses should be built to preserve the harvest. Root cellars should be dug to hold roots and fruit. In our climate, screened porches can be used as freezers and refrigerators for most of the winter, in order to preserve meats or food requiring refrigeration.
Those skilled in canning can preserve tomatoes, jams, and fruits. All other items should be cured in salt or dried. Remember, we are assuming an environment without electricity and limited fuel sources. Maple trees should be tapped for syrup. Mushrooms, fruits, and nuts should be gathered throughout the growing season.
Those skilled in cooking for large crowds, using all parts of an animal or vegetable, and able to cook with solar energy or fire should be the cooks. Since food will most likely be scarce, it’s also important that your cook be someone with integrity, so they will not take extra while everyone is feeling the pangs of hunger.
The odds are good that someone with medical training will end up in your group. A nurse, doctor, EMT, firefighter, or police officer will all know how to deliver babies, dress wounds, administer CPR, and stay calm in an emergency. They will be extremely helpful with emergencies and major illness, but the most important aspects of good health are adequate nutrition and hygiene.
When people live in close proximity and clean water is scarce, bad things happen. Diseases happen. One of the most important aspects of keeping a group healthy is managing waste.
Designate an area of the neighborhood where waste can be disposed of. Keep it away from your water and food sources. Watch the way the water drains and be sure the waste will not eventually seep or drain into your water and food zones. Depending on your geography, you may have to bury it or you may be able to just dump it. Ideally, you will work out a system to compost it and eventually use it to increase the soil fertility in your tillable areas. However, in the beginning, just get rid of it (and also any diseased animals or dead humans) as far away from your food/water as it is practical and safe.
Antisepticsshould be saved for wounds and sterilizing commonly touched surfaces. Everyone should be encouraged to wash their hands often and their bodies daily. Dishes, clothes and bedding should also be washed as regularly as possible. Procure enough water to be sure everyone will be able to keep themselves and their environment clean.
It will also be useful to know which plants and herbs can heal us, and how to use them. In unsanitary situations, people can get easily get infections, parasites, aches and pains, and insect infestations on their bodies and living quarters.
Learn the natural ways of deworming humans and animals, how to treat infections, and what to do if lice should run rampant in your dwelling. Locate (or grow) plants that can be used for menstruation and/or toilet paper. (Mullein is common and easy to grow in northern climates.)
When the stored soap and antiseptics run out, you will need to have a plan to create more. Some plants can be used for soap, and with the ashes from cooking and tallow from hunting, you should be able to make high quality soap. Maybe someone will have this skill or have a book outlining how-to, but more than likely, this is a skill you should write down and have ready in case of emergency. You don’t need to know how to make soap, but if you own a book or have written down the instructions, then someone else in your group can learn this skill and provide an incredible value.
The same thing is true for distilling alcohol, making vinegar, fermenting foods, smoking meat, gathering edible mushrooms and wild foods, dressing an animal, cooking over fire, saving seeds, using solar energy, and the list is really long. Right now we have access to the Internet, and every answer is available in seconds. Think about the big things you might need to do, and keep a written journal of skills, or create a library of useful books.
In the end, it’s important to remember that a community of hard-working individuals is more powerful than an individual and that you have a strategic goal. Your goal is to survive through winter and rebuild. After the first winter, you can spend the next summer putting away food, building solar heat panels, gathering potable water, building greenhouses, reaching out beyond our community, and educating our children. The ultimate intent is to rebuild and eventually leave this world in a better state for the next generation.
If enough people are surviving together across the country, we can eventually band together and restart the grid, rebuild the food system, and build America back to the country it was meant to be. Be prepared for anything.