Adapt to Survive, by Elizabeth B.

You are incredibly mistaken if you think you can store up enough to see you through bad times. You are wrong, dead wrong. When I say store up, I’m talking, food, provisions, tools, barter equipment, and whatever.

The key to survival will be adaptation, just like in nature. Those who survive will be those who can readily adapt to a changing environment. I know many of you are sitting on little mountains of barrels, cans, packages and feel like you have an edge. Simply put, you will not be able to squirrel away enough.

What happens when the stash runs out?

I was shocked to read this week (October 31, 2008) when a SurvivalBlog reader wrote:
“Is there a good book that you can recommend on food storage for someone like me that is on a budget and wants to “do it myself”, but not go so far as ‘grow it myself?’ ”

How long will the bad times last? Who knows? What will you do when the stash runs out? Barter those silver and gold coins that no one can eat?

Survival skills depend on knowledge and practice. If you have children, take them out of soccer and dance classes and immediately put them in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. Look until you find a good troop or better yet, join up, take the required training, and begin your own troop. You will influence more lives than you can possibly imagine. You and your children will have outdoor living experiences that will see them through the rest of their lives. Did you ever cook your food over a wood campfire and lie on the ground scanning the night sky for meteors with the smell of smoke and coyote yelps lingering in the air? Scout troops teach children community living and cooperation, both critical survival skills.

Read everything you can until you become familiar with survival concepts and theory. Then you need to begin to practice, practicing daily. First of all, move out of your apartment into a house. If you can’t afford to buy, then you shouldn’t be storing food. Rent if you can’t buy. You don’t have enough room to practice and store your supplies in an apartment, no matter what anyone says.

Here is a short list of skills you and your loved ones need:

* Water: Harvesting, storage, filtration, sterilization

* Gardening: How to plant, save and store seed, make soil, propagate.

* Fire: Get rid of that propane tank and charcoal briquettes, practice fire-starting with a variety of materials that you find. Build many types of fires. Accumulate a couple of iron items such as a good grill or tripod, dutch oven, lifters, and work gloves … learn how to cook over coals, on a plank, in a box oven, in a trench, in a hay box, in a tin can, in a rocket stove…know how to dry and smoke … know how to build a fire anywhere on any surface and how to improvise safe surfaces. Buy as many matches as you can. Matches are an excellent storage item. They’ll never go bad and will be a high demand item.

* Shelter: Practice making shelters from as many materials you find on hand for a variety of conditions. Sleep outside in different weather as often as you can. You’ll grow to love it and will discover the night sky.

* Solar cooking. Make solar cookers from boxes, aluminum foil, glass jars. Practice, practice, practice throughout the changing seasons

* Tools: Know how to clean, sharpen, store tools; get very familiar with your ax and saw and hammer and pliers. Feel free to stock up on nails and screws and wire.

* Cooking: Unfortunately, the current generation of young adults really knows practically nothing about tasty and thrifty food preparation. This is easily remedied. You eat multiple times a day. Look on each meal as a practice event. If you have children, shut down the smorgasbord of choices for each picky eater. Everyone needs to know how to eat beans and rice with a few additions such as meat for flavoring, herbs and spices to make each meal new and palatable. Make soup a daily fare. It won’t matter if you have thousands of dollars of food stored if it is not familiar foods that people enjoy. There is no SPAM or tuna in my storage. I won’t eat SPAM, and I’m morally opposed to eating tuna due to depletion of our oceans and crashing fish populations. Learn to eat more simply now, today. Eat each meal at home, don’t eat out. Practice serving vegetarian meals at least once a day. Terrific cookbooks like Apocalypse Chow and Backpacker’s Recipes can point you in the right direction. Can you bake bread in a dutch oven? Can you make pasta with wheat and a pasta machine?

* Food. I saved this topic for last because it is so huge. First, buy some sturdy gardening tools from Craig’s List. The older ones are better. Read up, talk to gardeners, go to free community gardening events, and begin now, yesterday was already getting very, very late to learn this skill. Food is going to be much more important than just stashing and hoarding. Real freedom comes from being responsible for your own food. When you are out of the apartment, you’ll be able to prepare for your chickens. True, you might not be able to house them right now due to city or HOA regulations, but the time will come. Be ready for your little chicks and their fabulous eggs. You need to plant fruit trees specific to your zone which will thrive. It takes three years or so for fruit production. In my incredibly tiny area I have pomegranate, olive, apples, figs, blackberry, strawberries, and bananas. Look on every square inch of your yard as an opportunity for food supply. Practice container gardening — you never know. Composting and mulching cannot be overstated or overlooked. You should never throw another scrap of fruit or vegetable away again. Get a dog for the other food scraps, friendship, and protection. Invite wild birds into your garden. Learn what the sun requirements are for specific plants and what your garden can supply. Include edible native plants that you know you can serve in a pinch. I have mesquite, roses, cacti, lilies, and edible flowers. Learn to eat a huge variety of foods. Learn to prepare a huge variety of tasty foods. This will truly be the key to survival in the future. My Great Depression-era father thought that pickled pig’s feet, cornbread crumbled into buttermilk, pinto beans with cornbread, and greens were some of life’s greatest pleasures. Picky eaters will not be survivors. Complainers will not be survivors.

Finally, forget the batteries. They won’t last forever and you can’t buy/store enough for the rest of your life. You are contributing to the toxic waste stream by buying batteries. If you just insist on having a flashlight, then go buy a case of Faraday flashlights that work on the principal of magnetic induction. A radio is actually a terrific idea. Get a hand crank dynamo or solar radio. Like I said, ditch the battery idea. Prepare to adapt to a new life. [JWR Adds: Be warned that most of the Chinese-made “dynamo” hand crank radios on the market are very flimsy and are unlikely to last more than a month of daily use. I recommend the BayGen radios, made in South Africa. They are built to last.]

Critical issues such as waste removal, weapons, spirituality, residual recycling, and community need to be in the back of your mind, but that is for another essay.

As you reach for an item in the store, ask yourself this question: What if I could not buy this today or ever again, would I miss it? What could I use instead? Can I do without this today and forever? Rethink your lifestyle and prepare for another test of adaptability that may be thrown at humanity. Throughout time, we have been tested whether it has been by ice ages, wars, famine, or plague. If you can adapt, you can survive.

I’m only speaking in generalities because it is up to you to adapt to survive. You need to find out the information for yourself and think of new ways to live. Survival is not only about surviving, it is about living and enjoying life. It’s impossible to teach someone everything there is to know, at some point you have to depend on yourself. Check for endless videos on any subject in the world. I’ve improved my vegetable growing methods by learning from experts on YouTube. In the end, your existence will depend on your own mind and your own heart and your own hands.

[JWR Adds: While Elizabeth has made some excellent points, she has overstated her case for adaptation. There are some critical uses for both propane tanks and rechargeable batteries that justify their inclusion in preparedness planning. Granted, they represent finite supplies. But I’d rather have them in reserve for a critical situation and not need them. The inverse is not appealing. (Needing them, but not having them.) Imagine if you needed to conduct impromptu surgery. Would you prefer to perform a surgery by the light of fat oil lamps?

I disagree with her assertion about not storing extra tools. Tools will be worth their weight in gold. A lot of things can be improvised and adapted, but high quality tools–especially those with tight tolerances cannot. You can probably improvise a plow, but you cannot improvise a Unimat lathe. And consider this: With a Unimat lathe (in properly trained hands) and given enough high speed steel stock you can build just about any tool including another Unimat lathe. Thus a “stored” tool can be eminently useful for “adaptation.”

Lastly, keep in mind that preparing to survive in a warm southwestern climate is considerably different than in cloudy, cold northern climes. The colder the climate, the deeper the larder that you’ll need. (Since growing seasons are short, and in some years with early frosts you will have hardly any garden yield. Stored fuel (firewood, coal, et cetera) is similarly important in cold climates. There may come a year when you cannot cut a fresh supply of firewood–say you break a leg or have a major illness. That is why it is very important to have several years worth of firewood on hand.]