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Friday, May 13, 2011

Rookie Preppers: 8 Mistakes To Avoid

Original Article

As some of you know, I’ve been prepping for a little over 3 years now.  Believe me when I say that I have probably made every prepping mistake in the book.  It’s time I admit to these mistakes and begin using them as a learning experiences for those of you who are beginning their preparedness efforts.

8 Rookie Mistakes

Don’t Panic
Take a deep breath, sit down and make an emergency plan.  Decide what emergency you are preparing for and what supplies you will need.  Try and stay within a certain emergency time frame and work your way up to larger scale emergencies.  For example, begin planning for a 72 hour emergency and work your way up to a short term emergency and later, a larger scale or  long term emergency

Take your time and properly plan how you are going to open up your budget so that you can attain these emergency items.  Cutting out the extraneous spending in your budget can free up a lot of extra cash.  The money saved can be used toward your future preparedness items.  Make the choice of using the new found preparedness money or save it for a more expensive prep.  Either way, you will accumulate a little at a time and not break the budget.
Personal Experience – One mistake I remember (and am still paying for) was when my husband and I decided to get a short term food supply.  We hadn’t really researched what it takes to maintain your family’s health during a short term emergency so we impulsively went out and bought $200 in canned goods.  Needless to say that we are still living off of that canned good investment.  Looking back, we could have used that $200 in a more constuctive  manner.

Don’t always believe the experts.
Listen to what the experts say, but make the decision that is best for your family and your needs.  Some expert’s advice is driven by what makes them the most money or what other experts are saying at the time.  Make a list of what items you are looking for and research those items (include reading the customer reviews).
Personal Experience – An expert was telling everyone that they should have a certain brand of hiking boots.  Well, I went out and bought them because “the expert” said I should.  Because I didn’t research the boots (and the specs about the boot), after purchasing it; I made the realization that they were way too heavy for me.  Luckily, I was able to return the boots and get my money back.  After I researched and read customer reviews, I went out and invested in a different pair of hiking boots that were perfect for what I needed.

Don’t buy cheap preps.
Trying to save money here and there is great, but when you are investing in survival gear, you want to make sure the investment is worth the money spent.  Begin looking at your purchase as an investment for your future.  You want that product to last and do it’s desired function with minimal hassel.  And you want to be able to depend on that product to see you through an emergency.   On another note, whatever items or tools you buy, make sure you use it.  If you invest money and buy an item that you do not know how to use, it’s useless.
Personal Experience – I wanted to save a few bucks and bought a basic sleeping bag that didn’t have any bells or whistles.  Later on down the line, I realized the sleeping bag was way too bulky, weighed too much for a bug out situation and had no capacity to really keep someone warm.  I ended up investing in an ultralight backpack that keeps me toasty when I need it the most and is feather light.  Although I made a mistake with the first sleeping bag, I am using it as a back up, so the investment was not a complete loss.  Other items I have found that are worth spending extra money on are good toothbrushes, survival tools, water filtration systems and survival knives.

Buy preps that are multi purpose.
You want to make the most out of your preparedness investment so do some extra research and find preparedness items that have multiple functions.
Personal Experience – I have found a lot of items that have multi uses, so listing  them would be an entire article in itself.  However, here are few suggestions that would help serve a multitude of functions.  Rope, for instance is a great multi use prep.  It can be used for hanging or securing emergency shelters, used as a laundry line or for hauling.  Other multi-function items are a good knife, multi tool, and emergency foods, such as salt, baking soda, and vinegar.

Buy foods you and your family normally eat.
 This is one of the biggest mistakes that preppers make.  You want to use the food that you store.  To get the most out of your food investment, develop good storage habits.  Further, it’s a good rule of thumb to purchase foods and items that will be used within their allotted time span, so check the expiration date!
Personal Experience – I came across some cans of seafood medley at my local grocery store and thought how great it would be to use it in an emergency situation.  I was so excited about this canned seafood because it was high in protein and vitamins, so I ended up buying 4 cans of this stuff.  Needless to say that after opening 1 of the cans up for a dinner… my family (and myself included) pushed our plates aside and decided to eat cereal instead.  Needless to say, the seafood medley was horrible.  I donated the remaining cans of the seafood medley to a food bank.

Eat what you store.
In an article I wrote about storing food, I stated, “Storing food is a continual process of using, rotating and reloading.   If a short term food supply is bought, the food must be used and more food purchased to resupply the storage shelf.  Thinking of the food supply as a small store where the foods in the front has the shortest expiration date and the ones in the back have the longest.  The food storage area should be checked every six months to make sure that appropriate food items are rotated. ”
Personal Experience – I can’t tell you how many items I have had to throw away unopened food because I didn’t use it within it’s expiration date.  Using and rotating your food supply takes some getting used to.  Many think that the stored food is for emergencies only.  And it is, but it should also be there for you when you need it.  It’s your own personal convenience store.  When you use an item, buy a new one at the store and replace it on your shelf.

Have back ups for your back ups.
This is a golden rule for preppers.  You never know when one of your preps will break or jam up on you.  Having extra items gives you peace of mind because you are not solely dependent on one item for survival.
Personal Experience – When we were researching water filtration systems, we ended up buying a katadyn water filter (A solid investment in my opinion).  However, we began thinking about the use and effectiveness of the filter after mulitiple uses.  We decided that solely depending on one item to give up potable water was not wise.  We not only bought extra filters for our katadyn, but also invested in micro-pur tablets (chlorine dioxide  tablets), and chlorine granuals to make sure that all areas were covered.

Get  your friends and family on board.
In an emergency situation, you will need help from others.  It would be unrealistic to think differently.  Talking with friends and family about being prepared is a great way to awaken the need for their personal preparedness efforts and help you find more “like minded” individuals.  Help guide them and give them advise on how to begin.
Personal Experience – We all have stories of people thinking we are “cooky” because we prepare for short or long term emergencies, and I am no different.  I have learned to take other’s opinion in stride, but I have talked with some family and friends who see the need to prepare and have started doing so.  My largest accomplishment thus far has been helping my sister become more prepared.  I have peace of mind knowing most of my immediate family is prepared – at least for a short term emergency.

There will be some friends and family members who are not going to be on board no matter how much you try and talk to them.  There will be some who will be on board and will listen to what you have to say.  Hopefully, after you share your experiences and first time mistakes, they will listen and learn from you.
What are some prepping mistakes you have made?

Food Production, Food Preservation, Food Storage – A Three Legged Stool

Original Article

Periodically someone will come up to me and denigrate one of the three things discussed here, while praising the others.  For example, someone will tell me that food preservation is simply too much work, and not worth their time, but assure me they do have a garden and store food for a crisis.  Other times, someone will tell me they don’t bother to garden because “other people will just come and steal your garden” or “gardening doesn’t pay.”  Sometimes food storage is the target – after all, the commenters observe, eventually stored food runs out, right?
While I’m always grateful to see people picking up on one or two of these principles (after all, the average American practices none of them), I do find myself troubled by the idea that one can grasp the need for and merits of one, but not another.  To me, they look like a three legged stool, on which a very basic concept – food security – rest.  And like most three legged stools, you can’t sit on it with one of the legs missing.

If we are to make by necessity or desire, a shift to a lower input society, it is necessary to take the lessons learned in other lower-input societies and ask the question – what are the major food security issues likely to be?  We already see from the current recession that food issues are more acute than they were anticipated to be – the newest set of numbers is likely to show one in every seven Americans and one in every three children, for example, requiring food stamps.  Six million plus American households have no income at all except food stamps.  Food pantries and soup kitchens are dramatically overdrawn – and need cannot be measured by output, because demand so dramatically exceeds it.  And yet, just a few years ago at the beginning of the recession, we were told that food insecurity was unlikely to be a major issue in the US as it was in the Great Depression.  It turns out that in reality, food insecurity has risen much faster than expected, and the food crisis in the global south is playing out in parts of the developed world as well, and stands only to get worse.
It is simply clear that food is going to be a central site on which this crisis plays out – and because of this, it is necessary that we take lessons from our own history and from other societies that use less energy in their food system to begin to predict what will be needed.  What we know, doing so, is that we will not have a viable food future without all three legs of the stool standing solid.
Food production is probably the easiest sell – gardening is trendy, it is pleasurable, and we all know that food straight from the garden is both more delicious and more nutritious than broccoli from the grocery store that is five or six days old.  Heck, the salad you pick outside your door even has it over the good stuff from the farmer’s market.  Still, there are plenty of people who don’t grasp the importance of gardening, or who don’t think their gardens can make a difference in food security.
Let’s look at the evidence, however.  We know, for example, that in 1944, US Victory Gardens together produced as much produce as all the truck and produce farms in the entire US – fully half of the vegetables in the US came from victory gardens.  We know that urban gardening in cities in the Global South (and historically in the Global North during times of crisis including the Great Depression, Europe after WWII, Russia after the Soviet Collapse etc…) has helped make the difference between nutritional inadequacy and adequacy.  Consider, for example, in Tanzania, where involvement with urban food production means that poor children whose families garden and/or raise livestock have nutritional status equal to middle class children.

The historical evidence is very, very clear – in difficult times (which, realistically are likely forthcoming, and in many respects already here), gardening is a basic way that people who are struggling put food in the table.  To those who observe that urban and suburban gardeners can’t grow all their food – this is absolutely true.  What small gardens do is make the difference between an unremitting diet of staples and a nutritious, tasty diet.  They can grow chiles to spice their food, greens to keep their children from getting sick from nutritional deficits, fruits to add sweetness and flavor to bland diets.  Add small livestock living on garden wastes and human food wastes, and as long as you are able to buy a small amount of staple grains in a market, you can live.  All of us know that meat and veggies are expensive – for poor people, affording these things is a much bigger issue than getting ahold of some staple foods.
For larger households, gardens can provide staples as well – although we are accustomed to seeing grains as our primary staple, root crops have operated, particularly in cold climates, as staple foods – “vegetables” doesn’t mean “lettuce” – it  can also mean staple foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets and other filling root crops that supported the people of Northern Europe for decades.
At both the household level and the regional level, a sweeping view of gardening is best – in much of the global south gardens cover rooftops, balconies, marginal space along roads and railroad tracks, and it includes marginal weeds on which local livestock pasture, fallen tree branches that provide fire wood or brush for staking and building, and perennial crops that belong to the whole community – bamboos whose shoots are taken home from the park, fruiting street trees, and wild edibles.  Consider the difference that planting food-producing street trees alone could make.  Perennial edibles represent a kind of garden bank account on which the community can draw on for pleasure and upon need.
Ok, we’ve established the not-very-difficult case for why we need to garden.  Why is food preservation a fundamental pillar?  The reason is pretty simple – in just about every place on earth, there is a season in which not much grows that well. It could be the dry season, the hot season or the cold snowy one, but gardens slow down or stop, and not much fresh is coming out them.  Even in places where there is year round production, there are also bumper years and bad years – years in which everything does well, and years in which everything – or some important things do badly.  The ability to preserve what you grow for periods in which such things are not available is central to the project of food security – because most of us can count on some periods where we either will not be able to garden or where not much is available.

Moreover, one of the examples to look at is that of the global south, where food is wasted in more or less the same quantities as it is here.  The difference between the Global North and the Global South is pretty dramatic, however – overwhelmingly almost half the food produced in the Global South is lost because it cannot be preserved.  Lack of refrigeration or adequate storage, lack of techniques for food storage, problems with transportation.  In the Global North, more than half of all food wastage is lost after it is transported from the field, in stores and in our kitchens.  This gives us a sense of our future – we may find ourselves with a great deal of food loss due to problems of preservation, unless we can support and build the infrastructure for preserving food in a lower-energy input society.
That infrastructure doesn’t have to be industrial – it might be simple as large solar food dryers and better storage to keep grains away from rodents.  It would include networks for delivery and distribution by bicycle, water, rail or other ways, so that food doesn’t rot in the fields.  It might include strategies used in the pre-oil era, in which families took their “vacation” to help harvest and preserve crops like hops or fruit, acting as migrant laborers in exchange for fresh air, accomodations and good food.  It may also include something like the rural dachas of Russia, where urban dwellers grow their gardens and preserve homegrown and wild foods for the long winter to come.
I wrote _Independence Days_ in large part in response to a question a woman once asked me. I was speaking at a conference, and the woman, an urban dweller, asked me what she was supposed to eat once her 22 week CSA subscription ran out, and what people had eaten in the past.  I observed that they ate preserved and stored food and she asked me who did that – beyond Clarence Birdseye, the answer that was that there are some small producers out there that to produce high value (and usually high cost) preserved foods, but for the most part, this was a do-it-yourself job – the next logical step in eating out of your garden was to take what is abundant and make it last.
You can, of course, purchase preserved foods, and store them that way, but this is much more expensive proposition, and it isn’t a terrifically strenuous one.  Despite the rhetoric of standing over a hot canning kettle, the actual work load of slicing some fruit and sticking it in a solar dehydrator or an electric one, or canning up some chicken broth is not terrifically demanding.  Many people hear the word “food preservation” and think “canning” – but while canning is one strategy for preserving food, it isn’t the only or best one.  Indeed, if one couldn’t survive without canned food, the human race would not exist, since it was invented only in the 19th century. It is a lovely addition to people’s tool box, but root cellaring, in garden-storage in clamps and with mulches, dehydrating, lactofermentation, and the rest of the toolbox will get you everywhere you need to go if you prefer.

What about food storage?  What does that have to do with anything?  Most of us have fond memories of grandma and her homemade pickles or whatever else – we may think it is too hard or too much work, but we can see the point.  Food storage, however, having  pantry that can sustain an extended period without a trip to the store, well, that seems weird.  Our society does a great deal to make it seem weird, pushing us to view stored food as the territory of survivalists with bunkers and guns.
This is very strange, because of course, storing food is one of the most basic things humans do – first they preserve it, then they put it by for years of shortfall.  Consider the Biblical Story of Joseph, who tells Pharoah to put up food for the days when “there will be no food in all the land.”  It was considered a simply responsible and necessary thing to do – in fact, food preservation and the storage of food for the cold season is an older human activity even than agriculture – we have been reserving our bounty for times of hunger for as long as we have been human, or nearly.
Why might we need stored food?  It could be as basic as a period when we are ill or out of work, and unable to shop.  It could be a supply interruption or a natural or non-natural disaster (think Japan) that contaminates or prevents food from reaching us.  It could be a medical crisis that require isolation and reduced contact and makes shopping risky.  It could be a short term power outage or a several month supply interruption.  Indeed, most of us experience periods in our lives when stored food is or would be valuable.  This is so normal that the US government, the US and International Red Cross and most governments recommend that people store food.

It is something that must be done in anticipation of a crisis – in a crisis, storing up food when shortages are already present is viewed as hoarding and can be discouraged, penalized with social consequences, or outright illegal.   In order to ethically ensure a reliable food supply during a period of constraint, you need to have a reliable supply of food all the time.  Moreover, all the evidence suggests that we waste the least amount of stored food when we base our storage on what we eat already, and include it in our daily diets and rotations.
The line between preservation and storage is very fine – once you have done the work of preserving food, you need to know how to store it.  Some people’s food storage consists entirely of things they have grown themselves, other people rely heavily on food produced elsewhere.  Since most of us rely on dry staples, often these will be grains produced in other places, but this varies from situation to situation.
Preserving food is not like preserving works of art, or insects in amber – it doesn’t last forever.  So preserved food must be properly stored, in order to maximize both its lifespan and its nutritional value.  With grains, this may be a matter of putting them in air-tight containers in a place without wild temperature fluctuations or too much moisture for years.  For lactofermented food, it may be finding a cool basement spot or underground spot to allow it to last a few months.  Without the knowledge to both store food correctly and integrate in your diet, all your money or labor in preservation and purchase is wasted – instead of reducing waste by preserving a bountiful harvest, you are simply throwing money and food out the window.  And none of us can afford that.
Nor can any of us afford to believe that natural or human-caused disasters, economic crises and other hard realities will never affect us.  None of us can rely entirely on stores and good fortune in a world where climate-linked disasters are on the rise and where instability of all kinds is the normal.

Without all three legs of the stool, you place yourself, your family, your community at risk.  With all three legs integrated, we have the beginnings of a model of collective food security on which we can build.  If there is a leg that is weak, wobbly or absent on your stool, time to make it strong and build it up.

Sorry for the lack of posts

My new job takes me out of town frequently and after 14 hour days I don't much feel like blogging. :)