Welcome to the December 9th Urban Survival Newsletter!
In a moment we’re going to talk about survival gardening after disasters. But first I want to make sure you heard about the unexpected way to save your retirement that I mentioned a few days ago.
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Today, I want to introduce you to a proven strategy to feed hundreds, if not thousands or even millions of people after a breakdown in supply chains. This particular topic and the background story has fascinated me for some time, and I’m excited to get to share it with you today.
One of the most frightening aspects of a post disaster situation for me isn’t zombies, mutant bikers, or drug crazed home invaders swarming my neighborhood like locusts. Those storylines are frightening, dramatic, and make good climaxes in books and movies, but they’re not my greatest concern.
Don’t get me wrong, history teaches us that when resources are in limited supply and/or when the thin veneer of society gets torn, people turn to violence and crime in increasing numbers. But even in a society like Mogadishu, Somalia, violence—even daily violence in the rare cases when people are exposed to it that often—isn’t the main concern for most people. It’s something much more basic. It’s food.
Sometimes my 4 year old decides that he doesn’t want what we’re eating for dinner. We start giving him the choice between eating or a timeout, then between eating or playtime after dinner, then, no bedtime stories, and a few times he’s made the choice to go straight from the table to bed.
In the few times that he’s chosen this poorly, it always plays out the same way…at some point he starts crying because he’s hungry.
When we’ve got plenty of food in the house and he’s hungry because of making bad choices, it’s no big deal. But every time this scenario has played out, I think about how awful it would be to be in a situation where supply chains are broken down and store shelves are empty and hear these same cries every night…not because of poor choices that he’s made, but because of poor choices I’ve made.
That’s one of the reasons why our family, and thousands of you, have taken the practical steps of laying up a store of supplies to take care of our families in the event of a disaster…As “weak” as it may sound, we don’t want to hear our kids crying because we didn’t prepare for predictable problems.
The problem of feeding your family after a disaster breaks down into a couple of broad categories…short term and long term.
If a pandemic swept the country, starting tomorrow, and everyone had to be quarantined for 7, 21, or 30 days (like what happened in several cities during the 1918 Spanish flu), you wouldn’t really have time to start a garden and enjoy the harvest or start raising animals before starving, dying, or at least becoming combat ineffective.
Of course, a pandemic isn’t the only situation that makes it important to be in control of your food supply. An oft quoted statistic is that the items on an average US dinner table travel an average of 1,500 miles to get there. Being a math geek, I always doubt the pure accuracy of statements like this, as well as the methodology of reaching them, but what I do know is that many of the things that I eat take multiple forms of transportation, types of fuel, means of communication, and methods of commerce to reach me and that if any of these break down the whole system grinds to a halt.
In a situation where any one of these links breaks down interrupts food delivery and the absence of being in control of your own food supply, you’d want to have a store of food set aside. Some people say you should have 5 years set aside, others say 2 or even as little as 1. I say that all 3 are great but that the bare minimum that every family should have is a 40 day and 40 night supply (which is why I created the Fastest Way To Prepare course). But no matter how much food you have set aside, it doesn’t get you “off the grid” or make you “self sufficient.” Food storage simply provides a stop-gap between consistent supplies of food.
If you’ve been a longtime reader, you know that I’m much better at hunting, fishing, gathering, and trapping than I am at gardening. I do garden, because I see the value and importance of doing so, but I know great gardeners and I’m not one of them. At the same time, I know how critical it is to be close to your food supply and/or responsible for your food supply in times of supply chain breakdowns, food shortages, and food inflation.
I’ve researched and/or used several food production solutions, including sprouting, micro greens, hydroponics, and aeroponics, but one of the coolest frameworks for food independence surprisingly comes from Communist Cuba…
(If you’re Cuban, I’d really appreciate your comments on this.)
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the countries that depended on them experienced considerable turmoil. In the case of Cuba, they lost an influx of cash, food, cheap oil, cheap petroleum products, and cheap petroleum based chemicals, including fertilizers.
The centralized planners had to figure out a way to feed their people, and do it fast. Communism didn’t provide an answer—in fact, it virtually guaranteed starvation for hundreds of thousands of Cubans.
So they took a decentralized approach and pushed food production down from big centralized farms to small neighborhood and family plots.
Since they didn’t have access to cheap, petroleum based fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides anymore, they were forced to figure out organic (before “organic” was cool and hip) solutions to achieve healthy crops. In the process, they ended up delivering a better product to dinner tables across the country.
One of the interesting things about how this played out is that since food production had been centralized, most families didn’t have the knowledge, skill, tools, or soil necessary to immediately have productive gardens, much like the situation in the US right now. Unfortunately, the situation in Cuba dictated that individual families needed to get the skills and tools to grow their own food almost overnight.
So, what the Cuban government did was train up a group of experts who went around at the neighborhood level and taught people how to create and maintain healthy soil that would produce healthy food. They bought and/or harvested the necessary quantity of seeds to distribute out to the people. They also did mass quantity buys or had required tools manufactured in state owned facilities so that they could distribute them as widely and affordably as possible at the local level.
Was it still communistic? To a certain extent…yes. The state still controls the larger plots, the water, and many of the tools. But the thing that was so telling to me was that the Cuban government was willing to give personal liberty back to the people to solve this HUGE problem.
Some of the plots were larger inter-city State run plots, some were neighborhood plots, and others were family plots, but the act of pushing food production down to individual families created jobs and a higher quality of food for everyone.
What do the numbers look like? Havana has a population of 2.1 million, but when you include the outskirts, it’s more like 3.5 million. 40% of the population is involved in urban agriculture…from family plots tended at night to larger community plots with full time employees. There are between 2,500-3,000 gardens that provide half a pound of fresh produce per person per day…the majority of which is consumed within walking distance of where it was produced.
Frankly, I don’t want to see this exact chain of events happen in America. I would rather not see FEMA handing out seeds, tools, and education after a disaster. It would be better than nothing, but I would much rather see individual families and companies store up the necessary knowledge, seeds, and tools to roll out completely independent training and gardening centers in the event of a long term breakdown in the supply chain. Hopefully, this would never happen, although it could with a Coronal Mass Ejection from a Solar Flare, an Electromagnetic Pulse, a meltdown of the dollar, or a collapse of the electrical grid or the internet.
On the family level, what you can do is buy more (a LOT more) of the seeds that you have experience growing with the thought in mind that if there was a total breakdown, you would quickly become a teacher and teach your neighbors how to grow food that you already know works in your area in your soil.
Some people will immediately see this as an opportunity to do a form of share-cropping, and I think that’s a great idea. In short, if you have seeds, skills, and possibly even tools, you have the opportunity to give a neighbor seeds and training in exchange for a percentage of their crop. You would then have the opportunity to consume or sell/trade the crops that you received in exchange for seeds, training, and possibly tools or the use of tools.
A couple of things to keep in mind. If you’re storing seeds, you want to keep them as cool as possible. Even though most seeds are advertised as having incredibly long shelf lives, those shelf lives are based on very low storage temperatures. A good rule of thumb is that every 10 degrees cooler you can keep your seeds will double their lifespan. So, at 72 degrees, 3 years is a good expectation. At 62 degrees, 6 years is safe. At 52 degrees, 12 years, etc. If you don’t have a basement, cellar, fridge, or freezer space, you need to dig a deep hole or plan and rotate accordingly.
Next, in addition to having the exact seeds that you have already used on hand, you’ll probably also want to have short season seeds on hand in the event that you have an early to mid season catastrophic failure.
And, unless you have an abundance of room, you’re also going to need to have the know-how to harvest and preserve seeds from one season to the next.
But, don’t let the complexity of a perfect solution keep you from taking measurable forward steps. Buy seeds, do a 1 square yard garden plot, and/or take lessons from a local grower on how to garden. Best case scenario, you’ll get to enjoy how much better food tastes when you’re close to the source. Worst case scenario, you’ll be able to feed your family, and possibly your neighborhood in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
Earlier, I mentioned my Fastest Way To Prepare course. If you haven’t gone through it, I want to strongly encourage you to go to the site and check it out. It lays out the shortest path approach for non-survivalists to get prepared for disasters lasting up to and beyond 40 days.
If you’re Cuban and/or have thoughts or experiences on this strategy, please share them by commenting below.
Until next week,
God bless & Stay Safe!