Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things you need, but can't get

I'm an amateur prepper.  By that I mean that I keep a small supply of extra food, water, shelter, and guns around the house.  I haven't dug a fall out shelter, bought land far, far away from civilization to run to, or convinced my wife and neighbors to start combat training.I'm more worried about a week long power outage or flooding in this area than I am about The End of the World As We Know It. 

But for a thought experiment, let's assume that all long-distance trade is brought to a standstill.  Maybe it's a war, or a plague, or whatever that causes this.  No more plentiful imports from overseas, and very little commerce with people more than a day or two's wagon ride away. 

You have a vegetable garden and some skills that you trade for the staple grains you and your family need, or you have enough land and labor to raise the corn, wheat, and potatoes yourself.   Luckily you have enough woods in your area to keep the house warm and repaired for a few years.  A good local source of clean water is available, and you can get to it safely on a daily basis to refill your supply at home.

But you can't make or grow everything that you need and want.  What things will run out quickly, and what things can you live without but could use for barter?

First thing I would imagine that would run out is gasoline.  Most folks, me included, only keep the tankful in their cars and maybe a couple of gas cans in the garage for the yard tools.  Let's assume that you're smart and see that the gas in your gas tank is better used to work gardening implements and chain saws than driving around the neighborhood to talk to your friends.  Do you have a few extra bottles of two-stroke oil laying around so you can run the chainsaw and tiller?  

Do you have hand tools that could be used in combination with brute labor to do such things as till and weed the garden or bring wood in?  How many people even own an axe anymore, or know how to use it?

As for food, I see spices as being the first thing to go missing. Of course, all perishable food would be gone in a day or so after power goes out.  So you have the dry and canned food that you have stored, supplemented by any food you can grow, catch or find.  Meals would get pretty monotonous when that little spice rack you bought at Kitchen Kaboodle runs dry.  Yes, you can live without paprika, curry powder, and all that, but flavorless food will drive you to the edge of violence pretty quickly.  Herb gardens are common enough now-a-days that you probably can grow your own or barter for them easily.  But what do you do for those spices and herbs that just don't grow in your area?  You can't grow cinnamon, nutmeg, or black pepper.  These have to be imported from more tropical climates, and if you can get them, they're probably hideously expensive.   Salt could also be an issue if you don't live near a natural salt mine or the ocean.  You have to have salt for your own health and to cure and dry meat properly.  Also, if spices are rare, any surplus you have would make a great barter item.

Speaking of barter items and morale, don't forget the luxuries and vices category.  In that area, I guess I'm lucky to live in Kentucky, where growing tobacco and making whiskey are considered a cultural heritage.  But if you live in a place that isn't as blessed with a heritage of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels (Peace Be Upon Them), it might not hurt to have a small supply of these things put aside either for your own self-regulated use or for barter.

Things like chocolate, coffee, and white sugar can't easily be grown or processed in the United States.  Having a few pounds of Starbucks, some Hershey bars, and buckets of sugar squirreled away will allow you to have treats for you and your family or as a tempting barter item for something you really really need.   We all love our smokes, booze, sugar, chocolate and coffee.  The family you're bargaining with for a cow might move off their final offer if a candy bar or a pound of coffee are thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Next come clothes.  As an adult, we tend to have the same core of clothing that we wear until it wears out over a space of years.  If you have kids, you know its a safe bet that the sweater that you put away in April will not fit them come November.  Used clothing is something you can barter with and for, but what do you do for good shoes?  Shoes usually wear out before the user outgrows them, and how many of us know how to make them?  Also, does anyone in your household know how to make cloth, knit, and sew, especially by hand?

So, now that I've rambled on, here's what I'm either doing now, or will be doing soon:

  • Gasoline - Keep several 5 gallon cans of gasoline in the garage, with stabilizing agents added to keep them from deteriorating too fast.  Rotate them through the vehicles and lawnmowers every few months.  Keep enough two-stroke oil on-hand to use half of the stored gasoline in chainsaws and the like.
  • Buy spices in bulk and follow a "own 3, use 1" rotation schedule.  Keep lots of salt on hand due to its importance as a nutrient and preservative.
  • Keep an herb garden. 
  • Keep a couple boxes of cigars and small bottles of drinking alcohol around for entertainment and trading.
  • Keep some luxury goods like chocolate and coffee around for the same reason.
  • Buy and store white sugar in bulk.  Use honey and other sweeteners as much as possible.
  • Have clothing around for the kids for the next few sizes they will wear, especially several pairs of shoes.  Have a couple pairs of work boots around for the adults.
  • Learn some skills that have a real-world application beyond being a guy with a gun or a field hand.  Premium should be given to learning things that you can market, such as knitting, sewing, or alcohol production. Hey, you could get farther as a beer peddler than you could selling socks.
Anyhow, those are my thoughts.  I don't touch on security, because I believe it's a given that even in the world as it is, your security is your responsibility.  What are your thoughts?


Shannon said...

This is an undoubtedly important post...well thought out, practical and wise...I am suddenly reminded of how unprepared we are for...well, anything at all.

bluesun said...

Learn to can food, and learn to make beer! It's practicable, marketable, and delicious.

DaddyBear said...

Beer making is one of those skills that I've been considering, especially all grain brewing. But here in Kentucky, sour mash corn whiskey is probably more likely to be found. We don't grow enough wheat and barley around here to support much independent brewing if we can't import it.

ZerCool said...

Brewing beer is surprisingly easy and actually rather fun. And unlike distilling whiskey, it's legal. :)

I think we're on roughly the same page on a lot of these things; I need to get a few more cans of gas tucked away over the next few months, and another can of kerosene.

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