Commerce Model Prepping: A Re-Evaluation, by B.H. in North Idaho

Editor’s Introductory Note:  This article serves as an update to B.H.’s original piece on this topic, published in SurvivalBlog back in March of 2013.

Introduction

Over the years since I first read the novel Patriots by James Wesley, Rawles and made the decision to embrace prepping my idea of prepping has changed. It started when I recognized that friends, acquaintances and strangers all had varying ideas and degrees of preparedness even within very similar prepping models. The greatest characteristic of Survivalblog.com is that there is something for everyone presented in articles and information. Regardless of your station you’ll find information pertinent to your specific situation to help you improve your own preparedness level. I realized that my own prepping mindset was slowly shifting over time as I pursued knowledge, skills and dealt with changing personal circumstances. Health issues, children getting older, economic changes and political changes have all required minor to major changes in my original preparedness model.

These changes and realization led me to begin classifying the different levels or approaches to prepping. It began with a realistic and unbiased look at the location I had originally determined as a great location for prepping. My research began to reveal some hidden assumptions and biases I was holding that caused me to ignore critical factors.


Of course, some folks will adamantly disagree with my assumptions so I feel it necessary to establish a broad disclaimer:

My assessments and research are non-scientific and are particular to me and my personal familial situation. I try to use a broad brush for informational and statistical research and apply it to general trends and loosely defined geographic, demographic and economic factors unique to my own education, experience and life skills.

Definitions

I stated above that I have come to recognize general trends or categories in the preparedness mindset or commitment levels. I try to define these now:

Rawlesian Approach (RA): The original, at least from my perspective, retreat or prepper model-the Gray’s Ranch depicted in the novel Patriot’s. A free-standing and completely self-sufficient ranch/homestead that requires no outside contact for a 3-5 year survival situation and is off-grid. Keep in mind the Gray’s didn’t meet this point until after the Barter Faire when they accumulated livestock and more kerosene. Basically, they were able to survive and thrive without outside contact. Essentially, an Island. (If you have heartburn about this definition please re-read disclaimer)

Modern Homestead (MH): I think this can be separated into two unique sub-classifications depending upon the isolation or close proximity to smaller metropolitan areas. The ultra-rural MH is at least 1-2 hours from the nearest Wal-mart at highway speeds. East of the Mississippi River this is at least 75 miles, rural and isolated from larger metropolitan areas with box stores and trauma center. If the homestead is closer, like 30 minutes to one hour, then I consider it a rural homestead.
In the American Redoubt a drive 30 minutes to one hour can put you out into the woods or other terrain fairly quickly. For example, one hour from the Spokane Valley can put you into another county and even into another State or National Forests of Idaho Panhandle. The MH may be off-grid, on-grid or a mix of the two. The main characteristic is distance and the fact that the MH is NOT self-sufficient or an island. The MH needs commerce or access to commerce for survival.

Suburban Farm (SF): The SF falls within 30 minutes of smaller metropolitan areas. SF communities are where homes sit upon larger parcels 1+ acre or larger. These areas usually have local ordinances or GMR’s that restrict sub-dividing parcels or restricting high density dwellings. These communities usually have a “country” feel and many homes have gardens and small pasture/orchards. In my area I generally see 1-3 homes out of every 10 homes are growing vegetables and/or raising animals other than pets. The remaining 6-9 homes could raise something if they converted their manicured lawns or fallow pasture to productive use. The SF area usually has people selling fresh produce through the growing season right from their property or at the local farmers market.

The SF is usually attached to a local water district but outside metropolitan waste water treatment facilities (septic). Some SF’s have access to irrigation districts that allow larger water access for irrigation. The irrigation district water is usually cheaper and is untreated. In my local area the water is drawn directly from the aquifer and is substantially cheaper than municipal water. SF’s have a considerable number of parcels on well water systems. In general, the SF is well water with septic system.

Urban Garden (UG): This is a broad category defined by its close proximity to the metropolitan center. The UG is minutes from all modern services like Costco, Trauma centers and fast-food outlets.

I’ve come up with a unique way to determine the boundary of the UG. The French Fry Test. Just order fries at McDonald’s or Wendy’s and start driving. You’ve hit the outer limits of the UG when the fries are no longer hot. Eat them at your own risk.

The UG is limited. Limited in ability to produce, support and defend. The UG can support salad garden with some exception for green houses and creative landscaping. We see occasional stories about the UG prepper being persecuted by zoning Nazis for having a garden in their front yard and other such nonsense.

So, the RA would take considerable financial resources and time to achieve. I only know of three people who have attained the RA and yet they lack the human capital necessary for long-term success. The last few years I have moved from one style/station to the next and made a habit of looking for the natural or organic things that came with preparedness and each station. What commonality was being ignored or taken for granted? Were there any consistent commonalities present? All these questions brought me to my new view of preparedness—The Commerce Model of Prepping.

The Commerce Model of Prepping

This model of preparedness makes a major assumption as a foundation of its premise. The assumption is that human nature drives people to attempt a return to normalcy in the shortest time possible. Even if that normal is different from what was previously known—they will still plan, act and work toward that new normalcy. To better understand what I mean we should characterize or assign levels to “events” that initiate or launch usage of our preparations on a full scale.

I’ve loosely defined these events by severity:

  1. Habit Changer-Lay-offs, Illness, Regional Disaster, Personal or Localized Events.
  2. Life Changer-Economic Depression/Collapse, War, Pandemic, Modified Societal Collapse, Regional/National Disaster.
  3. Game Changer– EMP, Civil or Global War, Pandemic and other survival fiction-worthy events.

These events can overlap somewhat. For example, a long-term layoff or unemployment may change habits at first and then become a life changer by forcing a move or shift in socioeconomic status.

The latest economic “recovery” (quotes denote sarcasm) has been a habit changer for most and a life changer for many. Regardless of impact, what was/is the single largest common denominator for people experiencing “Hope-N-Change” (again Sarcasm)? The answer is immediate adjustment and subsequent pursuit of normalcy. How? Salisbury Steak instead of Sirloin Steak–Tilapia instead of Salmon–Staycation instead of Vacation–shopping at a Goodwill thrift store instead of the mall.

Okay, simple economics. What does this have to do with preparedness? This natural tendency should be a major decision factor in your preparedness plans—especially location. How? IMHO it should flavor all your preparedness systems and decisions. Why?

The Commerce Model of Preparedness stipulates that safe, free and consistent commerce and trade will be the catalyst for any long-term success for personal, familial, community, regional and even national recovery.

Again, IMHO, every aspect of preparedness needs to be viewed through this perspective. Unless you have achieved the RA level of preparedness you must be prepared for commerce. One could argue that even if you are an RA level you should be ready just the same. A business approach to preparedness puts you into a prime position to thrive and thrive abundantly. The commerce model forces you to think in terms of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, economies of scale and supply and demand while you pursue your prepping goals. I would like to use one comprehensive example to address this point.

Pitfalls of the Modern Homestead

The Modern Homestead, especially the ultra-rural variety, has many pitfalls when viewed through the lens of commerce. In a way this example will be a de-facto assessment of North Central Idaho-specifically Idaho County. I believe the only system that has long-term viability in these ultra-rural areas is the RA. If you are an island with all your preps then you are an island. You have the luxury of riding out most events or situations.

North-Central Idaho has many enticing qualities. Good quality land at reasonable prices, large percentage of freedom-minded individuals, elected officials that apply limited government and self-policing models, distance from large urban populations and on and on. Obvious negatives are lack of jobs and the [higher] average age of population [41.7 years. Statewide, the median age is 33.2 years.] At first glance its ideal but add some likely and probable factors and the picture changes rapidly. Let’s start with fuel—either prohibitive pricing and/or scarcity of supply—which can happen for a variety of reasons.

Fuel scarcity or price would limit trade and the ability to travel for necessary items for success. If you did have the fuel the additional expense would put you at a competitive disadvantage versus competitors. Trade within an ultra-rural setting will likely have immediate limitations due to scarcity of products. Any entrepreneur who tries to fill demand will be able charge higher prices. Fuel scarcity creates a “lesser of two evils” situation. Use the fuel to get what you need or don’t and suffer the consequences.

Note: An underlying assumption of my work is that there will always be a currency of some sort used to support the function of trade–it may be greenbacks, blue bucks or .22LR ammo. The point is no trade functions, with economic efficiency, without a trusted, recognizable medium of exchange.

The small towns that pepper this region have only two days of fuel and no back-up power to run the pumps. A regional earthquake of meaningful size would close all roads for days or even weeks with rock slides. Economic Collapse or a substantial increase in fuel prices begins to limit and stunt economic activity. Most of the MH’s in this region are 20-30 minutes’ drive up and out from the small towns and then an additional hour or more to an actual metropolitan center.

Some Scarce Resources

Scarce resources would immediately become scarcer, too expensive or even inaccessible. Unless you are a true RA the MH that is one hour or more from smaller metropolitan areas need to honestly assess their viability. How long can you last without electricity, cheap fuel and open roads? Just the loss of one would render 99% of the homesteads in this area nonviable if lost for more than two weeks.

The stark reality of this vulnerability came to light when discussing my own personal research of this area. The local sheriff made a revealing comment about the region. His belief was that if the government wanted to depopulate the area they would just turn off the power and stop fuel deliveries. In his estimation the first third would leave in a week, the next third the following two weeks and within a month only the RAs would be left. I had to concur.

My research showed that the largest towns between Lewiston, Idaho and Missoula, Montana have only a two day supply of fuel and 5-6 day supply of food—under normal demand. These inherent vulnerabilities make the MH, especially the ultra-rural MH, dangerous and success unattainable.

My personal conclusion was that if I couldn’t reach or become an RA then I needed to seriously modify my preparedness plans. I began to apply the Commerce Model to determine best case or most applicable outcome coverage—what gets me the biggest bang for the buck!

Scenarios

Again, consider the types of events and their potential likelihood and then combine with the Commerce Model. The result is a strategic location between small metropolitan areas and the MH. Locations that are close enough for commerce and yet far enough away for seclusion and security. Close enough for aid and close enough to provide aid depending on the circumstance. If fuel becomes scarce or extremely expensive most of the islands I’ve referred to will be in immediate poverty and limited in options.

My point has merit in two ways: the first assessment is to ask if I had to walk to town for commerce could I do it in less than four hours? Second, make a list for one month of every item you get from the store or mail order and apply a scarcity model to that list—could you survive without commerce? Who could?

Are you skeptical? Remove fuel and add any other category on your list. If you are ultra-rural do you think those scarce items would be more readily available for commerce in your ultra-rural location or in small to mid-sized town (30,000 population, or less)?

In closing, the modern preparedness movement, even the Rawlesian Approach, must consider commerce and trade as a major factor for retreat or homestead location. It would be tragic to invest countless hours and capital to a plan that could (and would) be vulnerable to failure and force people to abandon their location in search of scarce resources.




20 Comments

  1. Nice update. I have been considering self-sufficiency in current day literature versus historical documents and decided that I needed to rethink my definition to historical. We may not have the option of current day amenities. And even if we do, it is evident biblically that there will come a time when, for whatever period, there will be no buying and selling for believers anyway. Best keep the old tools and knowledge (books and printed articles as well as skills) passed down to the next generation for those who will need it even if we do not in our time. I’ve decided that this will not happen naturally, but needs to be planned. So, I’m planning. Thanks for the validation.

  2. Very, very few people can become self-sufficient. That is just a simple fact. Do what you can and be happy with your personal results. Great to strive to be self-sufficient but do not get discouraged if you do not reach that ultimate goal.
    Humans have ALWAYS traded with others. A point to remember.

  3. Definitely agree. There are so many layers to this issue. Most people don’t even have the education of how to survive a true catastrophe. Even most preppers. They don’t have a concept of living primitively, even to have read a book on it, let alone actually practicing it. To some extent, that is true even for me. I have lots to learn. The concept of trade outside of dollars is pretty foreign to most people too. It is so true, trade has to happen because no one can provide every single one of their needs. We have to live in a community and be able to “buy” from others. Someone may need to start building buggies and someone else need to start breeding mules.

  4. I think about this often. It is a real balancing game with “everyday normal life”. Population density has both positive and negative connotations. I believe being in a small rural community with cottage industries and good relationships is really key.

  5. b-h-north-Idaho,
    Nice article. I agree with a lot of it. Even the best laid plans of mice and men, well you know the rest. Even the RA compound is not tenable long term for various reasons. There are things that will be needed supplied not local. Unexpected illness and sickness inevitable need for skilled medical expertise. Even healthy young people have emergency medical issues.The extreme remote location I think is more dangerous than a small rural community for many reasons. Also in the US there is no such thing as truly remote anymore. In an extreme situation such as complete economic collapse or civil war or nuke exchanges between US and foreign powers or a pandemic, there are to many people local to the RA compound who know you, where you are, and they have a real accurate idea what you have and what your capabilities are. Starving they will come for your stuff. Hunger and thirst and discomfort is a real mover and shaker. My sons and I and a couple of associates would figure out how to smoke you out given extreme circumstance 🙂

    1. Heard this same sentiment from some guys while working construction in kailfornia, I guess that might work in some instances. You might get lucky,or you might encounter a compound that has dealt with varmints of all sorts on a regular basis for years. Either way, it should cure your hunger, thirst, and discomfort issues.

  6. The thing about trade, especially in rural areas is you have to have something everyone else wants/ needs.. Ammo, Guns, and almost everything else that has to do with prepping is pretty far down the list in my AO, Everybody has them, nobody wants another box of .22’s or a box of canning jars for payment.. Heavy equipment, Dump trucks, rock, gravel, Logs, anything that has to do with road building and logging, fishing and hunting. We have it coming out our ears…. Whats needed is Tradesmen, Painters, Plumbers, concrete guys, Electricians, HVAC people, concrete, building supplies, Try to get any of these guys to make the 80 mile round trip to my digs is pretty hard. Lewiston is even farther at 100 miles RT.

  7. I’m still looking for my place in the world.

    I found a place that is almost perfect, well sorta. It’s in the upper peninsula of Michigan. It has 80 acres, half forest and half farm land. The house is actually roomy, there’s a 30 x 40 pole barn, other out buildings, well and septic. It even has a 100 gallon fuel tank near the barn. It’s on an island, 21 square miles, population 89. There is a ferry service most of the year, the key word being most. It takes about 20 minutes just to cross the strait, 5 minutes to cross and another 15 to load and unload, then the 25 minute drive to town. Oh, and the price of the property is just phenomenal.

    Here is where reality started to set in. I’m old, dudes and dudetts, just had my 68th birthday. My wife is the same age. I’m really getting tired of living in the cold north. This property is another 350 miles north of where I am. If I was even 20 years younger, I wouldn’t bat an eye at the opportunity this property presents.

    Downsides, too far from town, and too far from a hospital, too far from shopping, too far from what family we have left. I’m not even sure there is an island constable, so no emergency services. Did I mention, I’m old. Working on plans B, C, D,and E. We’ll get there.

    1. Charles – I’ve been to your island, scouted it out for a place to deer hunt. Made it as far as the old brick Coast Guard station on the north end of the island. Great place for isolation, but deep winter snows and lack of access to living amenities would make it difficult to live on your island on a daily basis. Deer seemed to have a hard time there too. Ended up hunting on the UP mainland near Escanaba. I lived briefly in north Idaho, now live 25 miles north of Detroit. Just gotta adapt to what life throws at you . .

    2. Charles K., yep another 68 year-old fella here. TEOTAKWI is a gradual process for us. My brain seeks answers from my younger, stronger self. Present self has to face certain realities. Pain in places unexpected. A limp here, an ache there.

      Sigh.

      Carry on

  8. So really, you are talking about the need to maintain law and order because without it commerce is not possible. I would love to hear your thoughts. I have significant concerns over gang violence. I even sold my Suburban/Urban Garden because of proximity to government housing and gang activity. There was a contract out on my grocery store owner friend, actually his father. And now at my Urban Garden location we had a car jacking in a location that has never seen such.

  9. Charles K. –

    Come on down to the Texas Panhandle. We have milder weather – well, the temperatures are milder. The winds and hailstorms can be rather exciting…

    You can find old farms and ranches down here at reasonable prices. The more land, the less you will pay per acre. In other words, if you want 10 acres, the price might be $200K, or $20K per acre. If you bump it up to 50 acres you might be looking at $225K or $4500/ac and if you bump it up to 100 acres, the price might end up at $200K or $2000/ac.

    Summers are hot but winters are milder than the Rocky Mtns where we used to live, the humidity levels are low, the neighbors are nosy (easily bored when there isn’t much else to do) but have a “live and let live” philosophy and there isn’t much in the way of government intrusion on your land, especially if you are not growing a cash crop and looking for subsidies through the farm bills each year. No zoning or building codes if you are away from town. Lots of the land here is used for hunting these days. The rest is in cotton and cattle.

    You can leave your snowmobile back in Michigan.

    1. Thought about Texas. Lived in El Paso as a teenager. That was when far west Texas was a good place to live. Looking at east Tennessee and the mountains of west North Carolina. Much closer to family that I trust, much lower taxes, better weather than Michigan, cheaper car insurance (Michigan has the highest car insurance rates in the US). We’ll see where we end up.

  10. B.H. – You are SO right!
    It will turn out to be true for everyone who preps that there will be a moment some time into the emergency when you will have an “Oops” incident…

    You will find that there is something you forgot. Either flat-out forgot or completely miscalculated how much of it you needed.
    And it doesn’t matter WHAT it is, it will probably something different for each of you.

    You then have a limited number of options.
    1. Can we cope without it?
    2. What can we use instead?
    3. Who can we trust enough to trade with for it?

    If you already, in (relatively) good times have a network in place of trusted people, you have massively reduced your risks of failure.

    You will then need to work out what you are willing to trade for it, but that is for another day!

    God Bless…

  11. Excellent, thought provoking article both for people who have embarked on this path and for those who are considering it. You really know what you are talking about and have developed a fine rubric here.

    My husband and I (we live remotely in Alaska) have found that the more skills we have developed over time (with the right tools), the less reliant we have become on commercial services and products. In addition, the simpler the lifestyle choices (for example, lots of perennial food and medicinal plants) and construction, the cheaper and easier this life is to maintain. Low standards, adaptability, and ingenuity help, too!

  12. Charles K.- Don’t be so certain that you can’t make your ideal survival setup just because it is not like the near-perfect models you have read about on the internet or in novels, even great ones like Mr. Rawles writes. We are all different. There are potentially great survival homes nearly everywhere, with the obvious exceptions of large cities and near high-population areas and a few other kinds of places that you already know to avoid. My ideal survival home turned out to be in a state that is not in the redoubt. My suggestion to you would be to pick an area not TOO far from family, with a low/medium cost of living, and at least 100 miles from high-population areas. Then, look for a comfortable home in a place where you would enjoy living. And RELAX- you are on the right path.

  13. Very interesting article.

    I noticed that you neglected to mention the category of location that falls between your definition of suburban on 1-2 acre lots and urban. That’s “country village”. This may be because this type of village is more specific to the east coast? Anyway-it is my specific situation of a small village with some resources surrounded immediately by farmland/forest but 30-45 min away from a metro large enough to have Fast Food, big box stores and a hospital.

    In my experience many of the homes in this type of setting have at least a small garden, a high proportion of folks still hunt, and many residents are DIY minded

    This type of small village will be exactly the kind of locus for regional trade. Indeed it exists because it was created in a time when our economy was without automation or mechanized transport to fill the need for a locus of trade (and culture)—where I am you tend to have a small village about a 15 min drive in every direction and a bigger village or town every 30 min-that works out to be about days wagon or horse trip in every direction …

    Sure, you can’t be self sustaining in a village or small town, but then again as your post pointed out it’s really hard to be self sufficient in most of the “Homestead” situations. Yes, in the village you have to deal with other folks, and while that can be a detriment to security, it can also be a benefit. Once initial chaos dies down and, as you point out, people strive to return to some sense of normalcy, people in a village, who already are neighbors & a community (much more than in a city or suburb) are likely to create some kind of security, look out for each other, and provide a trade of resources & skills for each other (not in some sort of socialistic utopia way, but as a commerce & trade agreement). Especially as people age or have physical limitations that may make it difficult or even prevent them from being able to manage the intense work of a homestead, a village may be a wiser choice. Even the elderly can offer babysitting, or sit on the porch w a shotgun, or help snap peas…

    I just think it’s interesting that the village/small town is universally ignored by preppers as a viable option.

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