New Sherwood

Hard times ahead?

The economic news has not been good, as most of you are well aware. Many are talking about how to survive the coming economic chastisement. Should you head for the hills and buy remote land far away from urban strife? Or is it better to buckle down in the suburbs near friends, family, and a healthy parish? If your utilities are cut off, which is the best substitute: a diesel generator, solar power, or something else? Do you rely upon city water? Can you grow vegetables in your front yard? Where should you keep your money? What kinds of skills will you need? These questions and more are being addressed by the folks over at Catholic Home and Garden.

It’s difficult to say which direction things will go. In the past, the cities were always the hardest hit by economic disasters – but that was before the modern industrial economy swallowed rural civilization as well. In our circumstances the rural areas will be suffering along with everyone else. That said, I still think it best to live someplace near a regional food source, in close proximity to fertile land that is not dependent upon a complex water delivery system. Las Vegas and Phoenix are not the best choices here; neither are mountainous regions with short growing seasons; neither is any region with extremes in the weather.

Broad swaths of the east and west coasts would seem to be ideal – inland from the large coastal cities – as well as the southern and lower mid-western states. The northern mid-west and Great Lakes states worked well for our hardy ancestors, but deprived of civilization they could be virtually uninhabitable for soft, modern Americans.

City or country? The largest cities are going to be quite dangerous. Imagine Chicago going for a month without power and water. Therefore, it could be advantageous to live in or near a small town with a population between 2,500 and 25,000. Such a community is small enough to avoid urban dependency and turmoil, yet large enough to provide basic goods and services. An older home on, let’s say, a quarter acre could still produce a significant amount of food while providing a safe environment for the family. In such places driving (and fuel consumption) can be kept to a minimum if one is fortunate enough to work in town.

Steve Skojec has some interesting thoughts on the subject.

I’ll have more to say about this later …

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March 25, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

4 Comments »

  1. I’ve spent some time on this subject over the last 30 years or so, so I have some thoughts.

    First the “coming economic chastisement” site you link to above has some good ideas, but they are really too little, and some are just not related at all to making it through bad times. In the event of an economic depression, these are your practical priorities: food, shelter, water. If the air has gone bad, there’s really nothing affordable one person can do about it.

    An amazing amount of food can be foraged in any civilized locale. Fencerows, railroad easments, stream banks, vacant lots, all are frequently populated with edible plants, from apples and blackberries to mustard and poke salad. Give it a try some time (not in March, but in June and August). A great many suburban yards have plum and apple trees with bushels and bushels of fruit going to waste every summer. I can often be had for the asking, especially if you show up with 2 or 3 clean, well-dressed kids in tow. Before we moved to the country, we would put up 40-50 quarts of applesauce and 20-30 pints of blackberry and huckleberry jam every summer, all of it foraged.
    Learn to identify wild foods, particularly greens like purslane, miner’s lettuce, and mustard. Stay away from mushrooms unless you really know what you’re doing. camping trips are the perfect opportunity to practice.

    Food preservation is mandatory. Learn to can, and to dry foods. Start now. Drying is easier, and can readily save you money. My brother buys cheap produce on sale and dries it over the heat vent in his kitchen. An hour spent chopping onions and two days of drying tuned 20 pounds of perishable sweet onions into 2 pounds of dried onion flakes. The dried onions will keep indefinitely, as long as they’re dry.

    Shelter is tough if you haven’t got any. Convenient places in urban areas, such as road overpassses and remote areas of parks are typically already occupied by predators, the insane, and drug abusers. If you have kids, that’s the last place you want to be. It’s far better to staying with family and friends, or failing that, out in the country, or even the remote forest.
    Part of shelter is warmth, and that means fire. Learn to maintain a campfire, and to cook over one. A proper dutch oven will be a huge help in that regard.

    Most people don’t think about their water supply, but you’ll really miss it if it’s gone. The good thing is that purified water is these days available from a dispensers at grocery stores and walmart for as little as 30cents/gal. The bad part is when .30 is more than you can afford. Surface water is usually unsafe to drink in any area of the country, but with the addition of 1 teaspoon bleach per gallon, can be made safe for washing yourself and your dishes.

    The ideal solution is to have land, a deep well and no debts. Even a small yard can provide a huge amount of food if it’s managed right.

    One thing the blogger at “the coming economic chastisement” does have right is the necessity of sharing what you have. Remember the widow’s mite. It’s a laudable thing to give of your surplus, but to give of your need earns you merit in the eyes of our Lord himself. Sharing not only works to your spiritual benefit, but to your practical benefit as well.

    Comment by Danby | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  2. Great advice, Danby. Thanks for sharing this!

    Comment by Jeff Culbreath | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. I hate to play the skeptic, but this whole train of thought is reminding me of the runup to Y2K. I’m embarassed to say that I took the doomsday scenarios more seriously that I should have, and as a result I’ve grown far less ready to accept predictions of impending economic/social doom. At heart, I’m an optimist — because markets are remarkably resilient things, when allowed to function freely. High energy (or food) prices are painful things — but higher prices tend to spur entreprenurship (to reap the benefits of that premium pricing) like nothing else can.

    Perhaps no one described this dynamic better than the late, great Dr. Julian Simon (c.f. The Ultimate Resource).

    Comment by Chris | March 30, 2008 | Reply

  4. [...] times, part II Chris of The Yeoman Farmer left the following comment on the Hard Times post [...]

    Pingback by Hard times, part II « Stony Creek Digest | March 31, 2008 | Reply


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