Tuesday, May 22, 2012


"A declining institution often experiences survival of the unfittest."
-John McCarthy

In the previous part of this series, I noted the possibility that you'll need to hunt and fish for survival if things get bad enough. When stores are empty and your cupboards are cleared out, you will need to find a way to find food, because food doesn't come from plastic containers and cardboard boxes, it comes from the world around you.

However, as Eric noted in the comments, you will rapidly run out of food if you hunt in the area around you even for just a few people. The fact is, there are only so many wild animals in any given area and so much vegetation, and once you've cleared out all the local supply, it takes months if not years to return. And you can't wait months or years to eat.

So while in an emergency or to stock up you can hunt for food and gather supplies for a time, eventually you won't be able to. And if there are more families than just yours in the area, that time will run out very rapidly.

Again, we must turn to the past to learn how to survive in such a situation. And that means farming. Being a farmer and an animal handler is not a very exciting proposition (although cowboys had their share of excitement), but this is a matter of survival, not entertainment. You might prefer to be a NASCAR driver or a professional bounty hunter, but someone is going to have to grow food if you want to eat.

It is interesting to me that in the last ten years or so, having a few chickens, a goat, or rabbits in your back yard has become more common. In a new internet age, where people are computer-focused and gadget-driven, more and more people are growing animals for use. Goats take up little space, help keep weeds and growth back, are very friendly animals, and the females give milk. Granted I can't stand goat milk, but some people really like it, and if you grow up with it, you won't mind. A single goat will put out enough milk for a small family's needs and is easy to care for. And it doesn't take very many chickens to end up with more eggs than you can eat.

Which is good. A cow will put out far more milk than a single family can actually use up, and that means you have something to share with your neighbors, to trade with them. Maybe you don't have that nice corn patch, but you do have a lot of milk or cheese or cream you can trade for a few ears. Producing more eggs than you can possibly eat means you have a commodity that you can use to get other supplies you need, like fencing or bullets for local dogs and cats (or coyotes) trying to eat your chickens.

Domesticated animals are a source of power, food, and money that have been reliable for as long as humans have been on this earth. Even a dog means protection and a hunting companion, something to guard against intruders and fight enemies with. A cat tends to be more of a pest than a useful animal in this scenario - its still as cuddly and friendly as ever, but doesn't actually contribute materially to the family.

And animals obviously aren't the only kind of productive farming. If you cannot stand the thoughts of butchering your cute bunny rabbits or sad eyed cattle, then you can grow produce and trade for slaughtered meat. Gardening will rapidly give you far more vegetation and fruit than you can consume as a family, which leads again to trade and commerce. Those ears of corn can buy you milk. And if you learn skills like canning, then that excess can help feed you when the garden dies out and stops producing, unless you live in a year-round growing climate.

The thing is, like all of this series says, this means work. And it doesn't mean a few more hours a day, it means a lot of work. Gardening these days is pretty simple because you can get soil to plant in, fertilizer to maximize growth, seeds from a store, water from the hose, and so on. Sure, you have to dig and probably weed some, but most of the hard work is taken care of.

Depending on how bad things get you'll not have access to potting soil, seeds, and even water from the hose. That means you'll have to weed more, dig more, carry more water, and even collect seeds. Most of the time, you can get seeds from the plants you grow, and collecting some for later is a simple task, but if you don't have them to begin with, you'll have to trade for them or find some yourself.

Raising and tending animals isn't a matter of pouring food out of a bag and taking the dog on a walk once a day. Stock requires regular tending, medical care, and watching over. And to feed a cow you'll need a lot of food. During part of the year, your livestock can more or less tend to themselves, but depending on your climate summer or winter can mean no grass or plants to eat and you'll have to supply it. That means either selling some of your product to someone in exchange for grass, going out and cutting it in some meadow, or growing some yourself and harvesting it, stored for the lean times.

And all that adds up to more work. In modern times more than eight hours of work is considered some kind of affront to morality, but in the past, 12 hours of work was just an ordinary day to survive. You can't just take your paycheck and buy food if you haven't got enough paycheck - or none at all. You can't simply go to the store if the whole system breaks down. You have to earn what you get, and that means hard work.

On the bright side, your food will tend to be simpler and more nutritious, you'll be consuming less (or no) preservatives, you'll work off the food you eat instead of just stewing in it, and as a result you'll tend to have a healthier life and more fit body.

Just get ready for a culture shock the likes of which most of us have never experienced. If you live in a swank downtown loft and go to the club each night, eat out most of the time, and make microwave food, well you're in for a stunner. However, many people still live a pretty farm-oriented life and would see only small changes that mostly involve convenience. And we can all learn from them.

*This is part of the Economic Depression Survival Kit

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