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The post first published on Frosty Fish.


On October 25th I get to present at the Wisconsin Prepper and Survivalist Expo. I'm really excited about it, but it'll be my first time presenting at a large prepper event. With that in mind I wanted to get my thoughts down on prepping and survivalism in general.  Enjoy!

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. 
--Proverbs 6:6-8

Prepper...  Supposedly a new term, it attempts define a new category of person: the one who goes to great lengths to get ready for difficult times.  

A hot topic nowadays, we see it everywhere.  I write for a magazine in some ways devoted to it.  There's a TV show about it.  An entire movie genre surrounds it (post-apocalyptic). Even the Centers for Disease Control got in on the hype and published a guide.

For the past nine months I toyed with the idea of writing a post about it.  But like most hot new trends, it's hard to understand or get a handle on.  

Preppers come from all across the political spectrum, especially the edges.  At prepper events one encounters dredlocked hippies chatting amicably with gun-toting survivalists. It encompasses a huge variety of activities from which its adherents sample some or many. It crosses racial and gender lines more deeply than I would have guessed. Motivations span the gamut, though they typically share a trepidation about the future - whether from political, economic, environmental, or religious perspectives.  Most preppers share concerns on multiple levels.

About half my customers self-identify as preppers.

They ask me on a regular basis if I'm a prepper.  Usually I dissemble.... "It depends on what you mean," I say.  "I don't have any guns, but I do grow much of my own food. And I worry about the future sometimes."  

I never know quite what to say.  However, a few lines into this post I had a realization.  

Everything old is new again.
—Peter Allen

While I hate to admit it, I often find myself often caught up in cultural movements with hip new names, a future orientation, and an edgy, anti-establishment vibe. From Extreme Sports to the Emergent Church, it's been a weakness of mine. But recently the movements that caught my eye are turning out not to be new at all.

Throughout history--especially in cold climates like mine and the ones my ancestors descended from--people had to prepare. My grandmother dutifully canned dozens of jars of apple sauce, tomato sauce, beans, and rhubarb--and kept them next to the vodka. She stored squash, potatoes, carrots, beets, and radishes. She wanted to be prepared for a long winter and a late spring, for snowed-over roads and food shortages. 

When you tour un-remodeled pre-1930's houses - depending on the area of the country--you almost always find cisterns and root cellars.  

What we now call preppers or survivalists, we used to call... well, everybody.  

The lack of preparation for the future so commonplace today stems from the fact that many of us live in the post-World War II United States--the wealthiest and most comfortable society ever devised by man.

We forget so easily that all prior generations in every country with a temperate climate had to store up food and supplies for difficult times such as dry summers, crop failures, long winters, or Viking raids.

There is an end to everything, to good things as well.
--Geoffery Chaucer

Or, as we usually tell it, "All good things must come to an end."

If history is any measure, then whether by hook or by crook our energy intensive way of life, unprecedentedly wealthy and organized society, and endless economic growth must falter at some point. It has done so to every other civilization, and we are unlikely to make the exception. Still, I'd like to make a distinction.

Some preppers believe in an apocalyptic, violent, and impending collapse of our western civilization in the relatively near future. 

I don't.

However, I do know that our modern food system depends upon literally hundreds of inventions that didn't exist sixty years ago, from water-cooled chillers to bar code scanners. It depends on soil fertility (rapidly eroding), chemical fertilizers (rapidly becoming scarce), and fossil-fueled cultivation and transportation (unsustainable).

While I don't forsee a catastrophic social collapse like some do (into a society like, say, Somalia or Iraq), I do anticipate that my daughter's life--from a food perspective--is likely to look more like my grandmother's than like my mother's.

With that in mind, I pursue permaculture. I build soil fertility, develop skills in food preservation, find ways to raise protein in a small space with a minimum of inputs--not because it's cutting edge, ground-breaking, or hip (well maybe just a little)--but because it's what everyone, everywhere, did before we got all this wealth and convenience.

Let us be in a position so we are able to not only feed ourselves through home production and storage, but others as well. 
--Ezra Taft Benson, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

I like to be useful.

Over the past five years, I've managed to develop two-dozen or so skills that one living in a less wealthy, less energy-intensive society would find extremely useful. Energy-efficient cold-weather aquaponics tops the list--for sure--but the list extends much longer.  

Most of what I learned, I did by drawing from the deep wells of past generations whose knowledge has not yet been lost, through sources like Mother Earth News, ASC, and others.

It encourages me that a whole movement of people in my generation and younger take this as a personal challenge--to recover the wisdom of the past. We take this challenge to both the recent past of our grandparents as well as to the ancient and nearly lost past of the Amazonian Indians.

One day, sooner or later, this wisdom will come in handy. One day we will all have to grow and preserve more of our own food and make do with a great deal less energy, just as our ancestors and their ancestors did since the beginning of time.

Am I a prepper?  

Sure I am--just like my grandmother.


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Comment by Jeremiah Robinson on October 27, 2014 at 7:13pm

Thanks Jack.  I think it's wise not to presume that this little blip of wealth in human history is more than just that.

Comment by Jack Dunbar on October 27, 2014 at 6:25pm

Hi Jeremiah

Nice article. I totally agree. I would like to think that if there was an economic disaster, my family could survive. I strive to be self sufficient... Let's hope the day never comes that we have no choice but to fend for ourselves.I'd prefer to do all this as a hobby and when this old body can't work anymore, then I can have my son take over. I teach him all about gardening, and working on our own home ... Am I a prepper? In some ways yes. 

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