My double life used to be a secret. I have one foot in the current social and economic reality. My other foot rests in a place where we are threatened by the decline or collapse of the systems on which our civilization depends. In earlier posts in this series, I recounted how I arrived at this viewpoint.
Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know exactly what the future will bring. However, preparing for the possibility of economic and environmental collapse is the reason I do a lot of this crazy homesteader stuff.
I’m preparing for a time when abundant energy from fossil fuels is no longer reliably available or affordable, when the impacts of climate disruption are more frequent and felt more widely, and when the global economic system is in crisis. It’s scary stuff, but preparing gives me a sense of control and empowerment.
I have always really liked to eat. So food is where I put the bulk of my preparation effort.
We are learning how to grow some of our own food and I do some foraging. We also support the local food system by shopping at farmers’ markets and Amherst’s All Things Local market. But like most people we still shop at supermarkets too, buying some food that travels thousands of miles to our table. Learning to be more self-reliant and local requires us to acquire new skills and tools.
Tools and skills for food gardening: We are fortunate to have a yard to work with. We are slowly turning our whole yard into productive space for growing food. We have accumulated basic equipment like shovels, hoes and watering cans. Last Christmas Nick gave me a new pruning saw, which has made it much easier to hand-saw small-diameter wood (see photo). We have just made a trellis for our hardy kiwi vine. (Nick is shown sitting on a bench that helps brace the trellis.) We hope to build a greenhouse or walk-in hoop house. A new skill I am learning is how to propagate bushes, vines and trees. Since I am a plant person, this is all really fun.
Tools and skills for food preserving: We have learned to can tomatoes, fruits, preserves and pickles (high acid or high sugar foods that can be processed in a hot-water-bath canner). We store root vegetables in our unheated crawl space over the winter. A new skill I am still learning is preserving food by fermentation. I have had good success with sauerkraut and pickles, but want to experiment with other foods and learn to make wine from dandelions and elderberries. Another next step is constructing a solar food dehydrator to supplement or replace our electric dehydrator.
Tools and skills for cooking: During the five-day power outage after the October snowstorm of 2011, I got a vivid reminder of the importance of this aspect of preparation. Our electric stove was dead and the top surface of our wood stove wasn’t hot enough to boil water. After that, we replaced the wood stove, so next time I will still be able to have my tea!
But what about power loss in hot weather? To address this, I have constructed a rudimentary rocket stove that can be used to boil water outside (shown in photos here and at top) . We also acquired a solar oven and some racks and pans adapted to this use, and are learning how to cook with the power of the sun. The photo shows me cooking chicken stew in the solar oven.
Tools and skills for foraging: This area of food acquisition feels a bit like a hobby. Yet learning about which wild plants or weeds are edible, and gathering food from nature’s garden has a history as long as human evolution. I spend hours poring over books and websites, learning about edible plants. This summer I have been bugging Nick to go on some plant walks with me around the town so we can locate trees, bushes and weeds that might have foraging potential. My next step is to make myself a berry hook for pulling down branches of tall bushes so I can pick their berries. Autumn olives, here I come!
In future posts I will look at other ways in which I am preparing for the possibility of economic and environmental collapse. Talk about adventures!
For new readers of this blog, here’s a handy index of more than 100 past posts on simple living, radical frugality, gardening and climate change.