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Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Survival Suburban Homestead: A Prepper's Twist on the Homestead Movement - Pt. 1, by D.M.T.

Swimming in a Sea of Humanity
A homestead will not survive isolated in a sea of desperate humanity.  Nor will man survive in a desert void of it. 
For many of us surviving in place (the suburbs) is going to be a fact.  With it carries tremendous risk and dangers yet imbedded within it, also a cornucopia of resources and individuals with critical skill sets and life saving knowledge.  Unlike urban areas, there is a small enough degree of separation between people, enough so to actually define and scratch out a living independently.  Current Homesteaders have proven it is possible to not only provide for your family on 1/10th of an acre, but to also support a larger economy with the surplus.  The question becomes, given marginal localized security, what can be done to assist in the re-emergence of stabilized society from a cascading chaos, which will be essential to survival in the suburbs?
Disasters are amplified by the weakness of civil society and the absence of the rule of law.  After a few days of living within a failed food and water supplied system and without a sizable government assistance response, people will begin to lose hope that assistance will come…  as this hope disappears, real desperation will set in and people will take extraordinary measures to fend for themselves and seek an outlet to vent their anger and fear.  
Violence and the threat of criminality will have to be addressed, before any homesteading can take place in the open, which it must for it to succeed.  Recognizing that looting and rampaging vandalism flares where authority is lost and history has shown repeatedly that where a community takes extraordinary measures to organize and secure itself, it can re-instate a semblance of authority and civil control.  It is from under this protective wing of security that the commerce of survival can begin to flourish.
While it is nice to have your neighbor’s complaisant agreement for mutual security, the quality and viability of such may leave much to be desired.  As such, other arrangements should be planned for and arrangements made.  Whether this is in the form of friends and associates you know and trust, or from an outsourced service providers, security and consequently authority surrounding your local homestead needs to be established and is not something that I would leave to others, as they may have very different agenda than your altruistic view.   
People have always been drawn together in desperate times, and history has continually shown where looters and pillagers gather strength in numbers, so too can communities and to do so communities will need two things; a belief in a better alternative to their plight and leadership who is determined and prepared, which can be accomplished by the following;
  1. An active and determined neighborhood watch (which is motivated by having the following at stake)
  2. Establishment of Individual homesteads throughout the neighborhood (individual stake)
  3. Create neighborhood community farming initiatives (a greater collective stake)
  4. Empowering others for widespread, parallel efforts in surrounding areas.
Clearly the better you know and trust your neighbors and they know and trust you, the faster and smoother neighborhood safety and security measures will naturally formulate.  It is unlikely that neighbors will be willing to formulate or support neighborhood cordon operation, establish roadblocks and conduct patrols until their individual stake and survival possibilities are strengthened, which is why homesteading teams should be created as soon as a loose security measures and agreements are initiated. 
Homesteading teams should be formulated and divided up into specific organizational groups to specialize and concentrate upon three critical components for each homestead; establishment of front yard gardens, rain water cistern catchment basins, and water treatment and purification systems (individual slow sand filters). 
Front Yard Gardens
Most suburban homes can easily accommodate gardens in their front and back yards.  I would initially prepare only the front yards collectively and allow the homeowner to prepare the back yards, which typically will be trickier, as private spaces tend to be more developed than public sided spaces of private property.  The front yards will also be easier to restore and therefore compliance will be easier obtained early on.  The same is true for neighbors who have vacated the area, having to explain to a returned neighbor that you’ve torn up their back yard will be more difficult to explain than if you just focused on the front lawn.   Additionally from a security standpoint front yards are vastly easier to observe, patrol and secure by the community.
Rain Water Cistern Catchment Basins
Rain water cistern catchment basins, can be readily developed and are far superior to a barrel system, as quaint as they are.  The most simple is an excavated pit or trench lined in plastic, which will be limited in size due to soil conditions and its ability to retain its shape.  A more effective basin is a simple wood framed crate, lined and sealed with visqueen (large plastic sheeting), which is partially counter sunk and bermed into the soil for stability and support.    The basic volume of these cisterns can be calculated, based upon their geometry, a simple box (LxWxH) and then multiplied by 7.4 (the number of gallons of water in a cubic foot) to derive the water storage volume.  A simple 4’x8’x4’ cistern will hold about 950 gallons of water, as compared to nineteen 50-gallon rain barrels. 
Slow Sand Filter
Having a firm grasp on the principles of slow sand filter is a critical component for water filtering and purification.  Slow sand filters use biological process to cleanse water, require little or no mechanical power, chemicals or replaceable parts, simple to use and operate and only require periodic maintenance.  It is recognized by the World Health Organization as being not only the least expensive and simplest, but also the most efficient method of water treatment.  The biggest drawback is in the lag associated with the start up time, about two weeks.  Keep in mind this is a biological filter (living organisms) and they have to be established.  This doesn’t mean that water can’t be run through the system to filter it (separate solids and particles), it just means it will also have to be purified afterwards through boiling or chemical treatment.          
Homesteading Armory
To accelerate the neighborhood homesteading process, ensure its success and for about the cost of an battle rifle (which I would need several to defend my property otherwise), you can amass a small collection of assorted basic garden and construction tools, supplies and equipment and seed stores in bulk that you can arm your neighbors with onto the road to self sufficiency.  (This list of supplies would incorporate the major elements associated with the project above).  These supplies are both a helping hand to your neighbors and a planned and concerted effort to create a safety buffer around your homestead.  The logic is the same as acquiring a small armory of firearms to arm your friends and neighbors who’ll join you at your retreat.  In this case, instead of arms, its gardening and farming equipment and supplies.   Weapons for personal and property security, gardening tools for food and water security. 
The next time you’re in a big box home improvement store, ask yourself how far will $1,000 would go in establishing these projects.  In the general example I’ve listed above, I estimated that each homestead would take about $200 in basic supplies, if purchased new, at retail prices…  with lumber being the largest component of that (for the cisterns).  That’s five homes, without putting any creativity into alternative supply acquisition.  By removing the lumber component from that list (I plan on having at least one as an example) you can stretch those supplies to include ten homes.  You may likewise decide that every homestead doesn’t need a slow sand filter and that a neighborhood one would suffice or that your community may already have the resources available, such as sand filtered swimming pools.  By generally observing (google map of your neighborhood) you can assess how many swimming pools are in the area…  then ask yourself what percentage are sand filters?  If it’s high, you don’t need to purchase sand for the slow sand filters…  What you’ll normally find is that if you’re resourceful , you’re really left with is visqueen, some basic hand tools and bulk quantities of seeds and in that case $1,000 really does go far, well enough to develop every house, along your average suburban street.  The point is to observe your suburban neighborhood and look at what resources are there and plan accordingly. 
Side note:  From observation of the basic outlined above example and for about $300, including lumber, you can acquire all the basic elements you would need to establish your own small homestead, which can be readily stored and placed out of the way, in the garage or shed.           
Community Initiatives
A follow on number of community farming initiatives should also take place after the individual homestead have been established, the most obvious being the cultivation of crops in formerly open public spaces.  Suburban areas are replete with communal public areas that can be integrated into co-opted farmed areas.  If none truly exist, it is possible to utilize the sidewalk green space and a four foot wide section of the crown of the road and to go down the center of the street’s length, boxing in the transported topsoil, which only needs to be about a foot in depth.  Parking lots can be developed the same way to great effect for even larger community parcels. 
Question of crops
The crops in open public spaces should focus on two types of crops; grain crops, due to the required foot print size and primarily large scale planting of basic root vegetables, as they are a dense nutritional source, that are naturally made into stews and stock.  The root vegetable crops should supplement the neighborhood homesteads and to attempt to feed the greater population by establishing a simple soup kitchen.
Directing humanity
A number of types of people will be drawn to these initiatives, those seeking work, those seeking food and displaced people looking to survive will eventually be drawn to such efforts, and should be integrated into the community initiatives, as labor is a major component to these endeavors and work for food will be recognized as established level of fair trade.  This is also an opportunity to empower others for widespread, parallel efforts in surrounding areas, furthering your physical and food security buffer.   Amongst those that these efforts touch will surely be skilled professionals with critical life-sustaining knowledge and skills that you may one day desperately need.     
With that consideration in mind, I would plan on storing a large quantity supply of grains, which can be purchased in bulk.  Third world food in bulk is cheap security to keep the masses at bay from your homesteading practices and occupied by laying the inroads to their own survival.  It can also be used as currency, to pay for services you or your community may sorely need, but are unable or unqualified to perform.  Beyond that basic rationale even in temperate climates, and depending upon the season, a simple crop will not come in for several months, and this food supply is to help sustain that population. 
This food should be stored in at least thirds (or more), two thirds in separate caches, and the distribution third, held in community trust at a food distribution point.  At no point should your homestead be the location point for public food distribution or seen as the storage facility.  Remember you are working at establishing anonymity by hiding in plain sight.     
Guerilla Gardening
While aspects of guerilla gardening should be implemented for food security, the majority of the efforts should be centralized and consolidated to aide in securing and protecting the communities efforts.  Decentralized and dispersed holdings will be easy targets for the desperate and have a poor ratio of labor to output rewards.  You should also have a reserve seed supply that is not utilized, but kept in reserve should the first plantings fail or fall short.
Community Nursery
Beyond the individual and community gardens several group projects should also emerge.  A simple yet critical community project is the community plant nursery.  Utilizing methods established in commercial nurseries would vastly increase the quality, volume and success rate of the community garden areas, as well as being a resource for surrounding communities (trade generator).  It also provides work opportunities for those that cannot perform manual labor. 
Community Chicken Coop
One of the most important projects in the community initiative concept I believe should be that of a  community chicken coop.  It’s an aspect of farming that is quickly expandable, yields quick results, is non-seasonal and can utilize many of the aspect found in intensive chicken farming, which makes the area utilized for this quite small.  A contribution of a brood of chicks would rapidly create this, and is one of the reasons why I believe every established homestead should have a rooster and a few hens specifically for breeding purposes.  The ramp up time, chicken availability and chicken feed being the critical determinants for this project.
Community Water
All of this will be to no avail unless large quantities of water are acquired.  A larger scale version of a roof based rainwater catchment is one that utilizes the street and its storm water collection.  Most streets in suburbia are designed to collect and direct a large amount of storm water.  Creating a makeshift culvert is a simple process and can interrupt the normal directional flow of water (prior to it going into municipal culverts) and redirected into large community cisterns or ponds.
Siphon Tubes
Transferring water supply will be a critical factor and having a supply of large diameter tubing will be an asset for siphoning, whether it’s for water transferring from a catchment area to a retention area or for irrigation purposes.  Like gardening, utilizing siphoning principals in the field is a little trickier than one would first assume, but centers on two critical points, the first that the final reservoir is lower in elevation than the supply reservoir and that the siphon tubing is primed (filled with water) before the tube is placed over the intermediate obstacle for it to start to reliably transfer water.   The key is to seal the supply end and fill the tube with water until you’re fully ready to activate the system. Otherwise you will need to utilize a siphon pump to start this procedure.  A third issue is to ensure the supply end tube stay submerged in the reservoir to remain operational. 
The value of the siphon tubes are that they tend to be very inexpensive, do not require precision to layout and utilize and can be relocated from one location to another based upon need and use (non-permanent installation).  To regulate flow into or from an area will depend upon the gauge of the tubing and the number of siphon tubes used.  Obviously, more tubes, greater volume of flow.  
A major concern with cisterns and ponds is their open nature as they will be breeding grounds for pests which will carry disease and debris that will rot.  Ideally these ponds or cisterns need to be covered to prevent this.  While circular shapes contain a large footprint/volume, linear shapes will be easier to cover as the majority of building materials are also linear in nature.  A Series of parallel deep and wide trenches lined in plastic are readily covered and will be a safer option than a larger circular open volume cistern. 
While not all of the water collected by the community needs to be potable, having a large water purification system in place will be a tremendous asset.  The slow sand filter system devised for the homesteads can be applied directly here at a much larger scale.  In fact these types of systems are still utilized at some municipal level facilities in a number of countries and as recently as the mid-50’s here in the United States.
Obviously communities and homesteads that are able to implement strategies of municipal utility and food supply replacement the smoothest will fare the best, which will be critical for social and civil restoration.   The upside is it is vastly easier to have a first world nation create third world infrastructures than it is the other way around.  The downside is that most people have no real causal understanding of the way our infrastructure works.  People are dependent upon strangers and a system they don’t really understand. By reversing this trend, by learning self sufficiency amid mounting uncertainty will make people feel more in control.  This will be even truer for the enormous desperate plight of people seeking any manner in which to survive in a catastrophe.  They will take a hand-out, but will need more and that more should be followed by a hand up, in the form of a means to contribute to their own survival.  By providing purpose, direction and motivation you can achieve authority and credible leadership to get a large number of people to actively and willingly participate in their own survival, which ultimately will assist you in yours, as otherwise they would become a threat risk.  One of the fastest ways to establish this authority and trust is to demonstrate competence in homesteading.  Competence you can learn and develop today when the practice is inexpensive and painless.  The harsh reality is that survival in the suburbs will require a community of people supporting and acting on mutually beneficial shared values and it will be wishful thinking expecting a differing result to let a crisis and societal collapse resolve itself.