For many years I have been working towards self-reliance. I like to use the older term self-reliant simply because I feel “survivalist” doesn’t describe the lifestyle properly. I don’t intend to just “survive” but “thrive” – would that make me a “thrivalist?” Yes, I know that was a bit corny. In all seriousness, let’s assume you are an average Joe living in perilous times. What I have to say is speaking to a revelation I have had over the recent years based on my over confidence and belief that somehow I was different than the average Joe just because I know the big one is coming.
Before getting to the point of my article let me flash back to the beginning of my journey. My official introduction to the concept of survivalism was done unknowingly by a friend and group of survivalists that were preparing for Y2K. I was invited to come out to a friend of a friend’s cabin on acreage in Southern Georgia where we were going to “camp out” for the weekend. Before the weekend, my friend called and said “by the way, bring a holster for your handgun, and a sling for your favorite rifle, a backpack with essentials, a good pair of boots, plus anything else that could be carried on a hike.” I didn’t quite understand the request but of course complied figuring we were simply going to hike too our campsite.
Immediately upon my arrival I was overwhelmed and excited with what I saw. Throughout the property were small cabins being constructed by individual members of the group along with bulk storage areas for fuel, food, ammunition, and other essentials. Again, this whole concept was very new to me though it seemed to strike a cord in my inner being as something that was necessary and logical considering my concern for Y2K. I followed my friend as we made our way to where our campsite would be and a long the way I heard several conversations discussing weapons types, plus and minuses, creating group standards, food storage, and so on. Of course all of these conversations seemed odd to me at the time yet captivating.
The moment everything settled everyone began discussing practicing a patrol. Immediately everyone around began forming up two columns (apparently something they had done before). Having been in ROTC throughout high school I immediately followed suit. A gentleman took charge and then proceeded to instruct us that we were going to perform a practice patrol of the surrounding land and that each column of the formation would be independent squads. We then moved out as a group and individuals from each squad volunteered to be squad leaders and forward scouts. After we were well out of camp the squad leaders led their squads around a predetermined patrol path utilizing forward scouts and practicing noise discipline along with hand signals. At this point I felt like a complete fish out of water to say the least – and was thinking “what in the heck has my friend gotten me into!?”
As the patrol continued, I did my best to comply with my fellow squad members. I had a limited knowledge of hand signals so I was at least able to keep in step with my squad for the most part. Several points a long the way the forward scout would stop the squad to listen – after being satisfied there were no threats we continued our patrol. We stayed off of most trails and pushed our way through the thick Southern Georgia swamps. The patrols were mostly uneventful but exciting. I was fascinated with the whole concept of this exercise and felt energized though we hiked with weighted packs through tough terrain and over significant distances. We returned from the patrol and discussed as a group the issues, weaknesses and strengths of our different packs, slings, harnesses, and various tactical equipment. The weekend itself continued at this tempo with several more “hikes” as we called them and intense conversations about the possibility of disaster this coming Y2K pursued. I met some very interesting folks and maintained several of those relationships even till this day.
After Y2K came and went without the slightest indication of catastrophe the group slowly broke apart and no longer met and personally my interests in the subject dwindled but not entirely. I continued my interests in shooting and somewhat frequently made it to the range with my friends and still had several conversations on the subject but really did not formulate or act on any concrete plans.
Life happened and other things took priority. I met my wonderful and present day wife and have been blessed with five children. Our lives were that of a typical family with not the best priorities but I would say better than average. We led a fairly frugal life but a comfortable one. Several years ago, the same friend that introduced me to the “group” back in 1999 recommended I grab the novel “Patriots“ by James Rawles and “give it a read.” The moment I began reading the book I couldn’t put it down. Immediately I was consumed with the aspect of survival laid out in a way I never really conceived though I had experienced different aspects of it, but never congruently. My interests were reinvigorated and I began to consume more information on the topic resulting in research and many more conversations with different friends.
As a father of three at the time, my concept of survival changed significantly. I now had a wonderful wife and three children (with more on the way). I didn’t want to just “survive” but to thrive in post-catastrophe. I felt it is my responsibility as a father and husband to make sure my family had the best possible life. Fortunately, my wife is and was always very intelligent and open to the concept. Slowly we talked about the prudence of being prepared as a family. I remember initially feeling almost powerless at the task ahead. We had a fairly large family and no real resources to throw at the problem.
Shortly there after we were met with financial hardship when I took a significant loss in work. I lost a major client while retaining some smaller clients causing a huge deficit in our income versus expenses. This went on for 18 months. We lost just about everything including our home. The sense of depression was significant and further amplified by the concern of a coming catastrophe. Then everything changed. We reached a point where after serious soul searching we knew we didn’t want to embark on the typical American life represented as nothing but shallow consumerism. We wanted self reliance not just for our own family security but for the wholesomeness it would bring to our children. Life no longer became about shallow possessions but about meaningful content and the pursuit of happiness by our achievements.
With God’s grace, work came our way again almost like God had waited for us to learn this lesson before he gave us another chance. My wife and I spent two years looking for land that was both remote yet still close to family in our native home of Florida. We finally found the right community and area of Florida where self reliance was still a way of life, most people kept gardens, and agriculture and ranching is still the line share of business. Our credit was destroyed from our previous hardship so we had to use cash for everything. It seemed at every step of the way God provided opportunity and a means assuming of course we were open to it. We are by no means a perfect family but our path was indeed more wholesome and proper this time round.
Again, I began to formulate self reliance and survival in to our plans. After much thought and discussion with my wife we felt having a food supply of not just of stored food but active production was critical. With that in mind we have labored the past year turning our virgin land in to a farm and ranch using self sufficient methods of farming and ranching modeled after Joel Salatin and others in the Polyculture movement. Most TEOTWAWKI scenarios suggest a grid down situation where fuel and byproducts of fuel such as fertilizers and pesticides would become scarce – though that being the case most “typical survival plans” utilize fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers stored in bulk to support their eventual plans of gardens and food production. One really has to ask the question “is this sustainable?”
I find the concept of supplying a remote retreat where there is no current food production, to where one would “Bug Out” and survive whilst planting a garden for long term survival to be flawed and likely resulting in disaster. For the past year my wife and I have had the benefit of an income, hardware stores, the Internet, and many other things that would not be available post-catastrophe to help us achieve self reliance. We are no where near the point of producing at least 20% of our nutritional requirements. Sure there is a wealth of knowledge on farming and raising animals for food in books and on the Internet but the common-sense “every day stuff” is not spelled out, nor could it be grasped without actually doing it. Not only will the thousands of survivalists turned farmers learn food production from the school of “Hard Knocks” they will also be under constant threat of starvation when their food stores are exhausted, let alone the other stresses, including defending the retreat.
Let me create the proper image of the “average survivalist plan”. Let’s say you have 24 months of food stored up and of course every gadget imaginable. Six months have now passed and you decide it’s time to start on your farming endeavor. Lest we not forget you have a full time job of retreat security. Imagine working stressful 8 to 12 hours days 365 days a year and then coming home to work on your homesteading projects – I can tell you from experience it is hard to muster the energy today even though I am just into my 30s. Getting the picture? Most of us have great reasons why we shouldn’t begin this phase of our survival/self reliance plans now but are you really willing to bet your life on your first-timer’s success?
It isn’t until you begin planting a garden do you realize the seeds you bought are not optimized for your agriculture zone or even simple infrastructure items like near by water sources for irrigation, compost bins, and garden fencing to keep the critters out are in place let alone the right tools. Sure you may have gotten a handy list of these items but invariably it was written by someone that lives in an entirely different agricultural zone, soil conditions, and garden pests all together. Do you have a true understanding of the time investment to get these infrastructures items in place? How long to mature your compost and sources of nitrogen and carbon to feed your piles? Or even the proper garden spot that has ample sunlight. Oh – you need to remove a few trees to make room for your garden – got tools for that too? Each job will dovetail into other jobs you may not have even anticipated, let alone the tools and supplies you never realized were necessary. Ask any homesteader how long it took to get up and running – I can guarantee you most will tell long stories highlighted by serious trial and error over years of work and effort. Each homestead is different; there is no one universal method to success.
Especially if you plan to grow without pesticides and fertilizers – like an artist it takes much practice to master the conditions in your area to be a consistent grower. Imagine the stress you would feel having your first season crops fail or produce very little. Do you even know what plants are indigenous to your retreat area? Remember – simply observing your large local farms is poor indication of this. They typically practice monocultural growing methods which are highly dependent on farming equipment and copious quantities of pesticides and fertilizers – all things you will eventually deplete. You really need to research what grows locally without much help from bug protection and soil augmentation. You really should adjust your diet to reflect not only seasonal foods but indigenous foods of your retreat area. Otherwise, most folks will simply try and fail to grow things they like to eat now, regardless of season and feasibility.
Another example of a lesson learned that could easily result in devastation of your group’s food supply would be predators – the four legged variety. Do you have traps available for capturing predators like fox, coyotes, raccoons, or possums? A good meat bird (non-broiler) or egg layer takes a long time to raise – imagine losing half your flock in one night! Not long ago my wife and I awoke to a massacre of our chickens. The strange thing was there was no sign of the chickens in the form of body parts or feathers just simply they were gone. The only evidence was a small hole dug in to the coop. We have two German Shepherds that slept only 150 ft. from the chickens and they didn’t even stir other than a few random barks that evening. Only after many nights of sleeping in the dining area where we had a view of the chickens did we finally catch a glimpse of the predator – a fox. I had my Ruger 10/22 ready but the fox was too sly and on top of that I couldn’t make out his silhouette in the pre-dawn hours for a good shot. This brought forth the realization I need night sites or a good scope to shoot in low light conditions. It took three separate occasions before I managed to get a good shot and bag our predator. Imagine if we had depended on this flock of chicken for our egg and meat requirements and the possible ramifications of its loss–ranging in seriousness from inconvenient to starvation!
On the subject of chickens, how do you plan to raise them? Do you realize most modern chicken breeds have had their broodiness bread out of them making you almost entirely dependent on incubation to hatch eggs? Do you have an incubator and a means of powering it for the incubation period of anywhere from 21 to 28 days? What about a heat source for your newly hatched chicks, ducklings and poults while they grow in their feathers and can maintain their own body heat? What about the source of your eggs and chickens in the first place? What’s the likelihood you would be able to come about them without having to make dangerous hikes far from the retreat to locate and obtain them through barter? Personally, I would prefer to let a broody hen do the work of hatching and raising chicks but this is something you don’t just do since finding good broody hens is at best hit and miss these days. [JWR Adds: For broodiness, we’ve had the most success with Bantam hens. Bantams lay small eggs, but they don’t object to sitting much larger fostered eggs.] As you can see this will take time to master – time is invaluable when the clock never stops ticking on your food supply.
I know – homesteading and self-reliance just isn’t exciting and sexy to the average survivalists. Typically, our focus is on tactics, guns, and exciting conversations on possible scenarios that may or may not come to pass. As survivalist we normally are avid researches to the point we neglect to really practice or act on the mountains of information we have read or debated. Do you believe that some how you will be exempt from the newbie mistakes of most homesteaders and farmers? Do you realize the convenience of a hardware store or even a quick Internet search will not be there to assist you?
As survivalist, have we not accepted the principle of self-reliance and independence from a system that we all believe may/will eventually fail us? Do you live in denial of this lesson based on the actions of your every day life? If you truly believe we are living unsustainable lives and this world is on a crash course to a catastrophic end then perhaps you should consider changing your own life now?
A Second Wave of MZBs
My greatest fear should the Schumer hit the fan is that well-armed survivalists who are ill-prepared in the food production capability will become the “Second Wave” of Mutant Zombie Bikers (MZBs). They will threaten those who survived the first 6, 12 to 24 months of chaos. We all know too well how desperation will lead even the best of men. Let alone desperate men that are well armed, trained, and experienced. It is my hope by exposing these potential flaws in common survival planning that I will protect my family and others from a deadly Second Wave attack or at least decrease its intensity.
So what to do? Unfortunately the answer is not all that easy. If you are planning to but out to a remote retreat you may want to consider finding one close enough to allow frequent trips for building infrastructure while the hardware stores are still open, doing test plantings to determine what really grows best while the Internet is still up to research your results.
As we begun our own homestead these have been the things of our focus:
1) A reliable water supply capable of operating with out grid or petroleum power machinery. [JWR Adds: Nothing beats gravity-fed Spring water.]
2) Chicken, goat, and other small livestock shelters.
3) Construction of fencing for pastures, paddocks, and gardens.
4) Compost piles and other soil enrichment
5) Support buildings for harvest and animal processing
6) Storage areas for harvested plants and animals
7) Planting of orchards [vineyards, berry patches] and other plants that takes time to mature
This is just a very general list to get started. We have had a year to work on this “grid-up” with help from friends and family with no fear of MZBs and we have hardly made a dent! Can you tell me without hesitation that you could plan every aspect of this operation in advance, in just one trip to the hardware store, years before needing it, without having done it before? Sure, the human spirit is very capable when under pressure but unlike our Savior you will not be making wine out of water.
I doubt even the most experienced farmers and ranchers placed on virgin land would have immediate success. Sure the pioneers were able to do it but they had the benefit of everyday knowledge learned firsthand or that was passed down by the generation of pioneers and farmers before them. Common man is completely out of touch of these once generally known survival skills and therefore will be subject to a learning curve.
If it is absolutely not in the cards to be near or live on your retreat then I would strongly suggest you consider a 3 to 5 year food supply to give you enough time to establish your future homestead. I can guarantee that you will not have all of the required tools, skills, and supplies therefore the ability to adapt, substitute, and use what is at hand will become the rule of the day.
Let me jump back to what I said in the beginning about thriving instead of surviving. If you truly believe in self reliance and the prudence of preparedness then why not act with your principles and embark on what you feel to be necessary and wholesome? Make the life change and increase your odds of survival by living it now and not later.
Another option to consider if you have formed a group is to allow the most capable member(s) of the group with the most flexibility to live on the retreat property and where they will engage in daily infrastructure improvement/homesteading activities. If local work or income is not an option, then perhaps a small monthly donation from all group members would subsidize members manning the retreat. In the mean time group members could make frequent trips to the future retreat to assist in major infrastructure projects, plantings, and harvests of crops. This would even allow the opportunity of animals to be kept at the retreat. Think about the benefits of stored food costs that could be saved by actively growing your own as a group? You could also establish your pastures and raise meat cattle to provide a source of fresh meat for the group and sell the excess to processors as another means of revenue generation. The same could be done with chicken, goats, and so on. Make this an investment that will pay for itself in what it generates for the group. There is no reason a retreat needs to be a liability constantly requiring capital to maintain. If you are successful at this then you know without doubt not only will you have a secure retreat but a productive one capable of supplying your group of its basic needs. Besides, wasn’t this the reasons for homesteads in the first place?
A third option is to find a self-reliant minded homesteader that is looking to find others to populate their homestead turned retreat should catastrophe happen. At least in this case you have a viable farm / homestead with active and a history of successful production. Nothing is more critical than the long term aspect of survival. If you are literally just making ends meat and simply survive versus thriving then how do you intend to come to the aid of others and participate in the rebuilding of our communities?
I understand these may not seem like realistic options. But they still do not change the reality of the situation and the points I bring to the table. I fear most have severely under estimated their long term plans and have only focused on short term survival. Survivalism is really self reliance in the sense of traditional homesteaders and the Patriot farmers who founded this nation. It is time to reject today’s shallow society and embark on true substance filled journeys bound to bring true happiness and fulfillment.
A lot of folks will read this and either take it for what it is which is “my real life experience and revelations on the matter” or they will discard it for more interesting topics on survival while ignoring the elephant in the room. Don’t be the latter, take a serious look at your plans. Boilerplate survivalism is not the answer – to be honest it is more like consumerism. You will have to analyze your personal situation and take the proper steps to experience first hand what your challenges will be. Don’t take my advice or anyone else’s for that matter. Go do it yourself and graduate from the school of “Hard Knocks” before TSHTF and while you still have the luxury of failing.