As most of you know, thanks to the miracle of adoption, I have seven kids. Two still live at home, three are across the country and two are local. The two local, one a single dad with full custody of two children and one married with a wife and toddler, would most certainly land here in the event of a major event. When I plan for storage, I do keep that in mind but I think I have made an error in not asking that they be more responsible for their own preparations. I have been working on a list for each family that outlines what steps they should take in a disaster. A disaster is defined as something that disrupts food supplies or causes civil unrest for a period of time. I would not consider an impending winter storm a disaster (they could all ride one out here without a problem) but a collapse of the US dollar, a  terrorist attack that involved biological weapons or a dirty bomb or a severe pandemic that closed down most commerce would be. I think they need a list of what they should pack because, if something serious enough to warrant leaving their home happened, they would likely be fighting panic and need some clear direction so they do what needed to be done without hesitation. I already harp on the car theme. Keep the tank half full. It’s an important point. If electricity was out, they could not stop at a filling station and get gas. The pumps won’t work. A half tank minimum would make it possible to get home.

What would I want them to pack? Not much actually. Their clothes and any medication of course, concentrating on foul weather gear and work clothes. I hope they have irreplaceable pictures on a flash drive or in an album they can grab. I would want them to bring bedding and sleeping bags and towels as well as food and toiletries. I gave my daughter-in-law a canner for her birthday and I would want her to bring that and hand tools would be a good idea. That’s really it. They would certainly know to take back roads here and to come first and worry about looking foolish and over-reacting later.

I am also talking to them about contributing to our family preps. If I give them a list, they could pick up a couple of items each time they shop. They could leave them at home or bring them here and we will store them. I do the big things that are bulk purchases like wheat, oats, sugar, salt, oats, rice and corn but some of the other stuff is inexpensive and usually purchased in smaller quantities. I would suggest canned juices, baking supplies, peanut butter, cooking oil, canned milk, toilet paper and things that are shelf stable and often go on sale at 10 for &10.00 like canned fruit, tuna and soups.

My son is self-employed and works from home. He hires out people to do his shopping usually (plus he is the typical absent-minded professor type) so I would not expect him to do this but he easily give me $300.00 dollars a month that I could put towards food supplies. I am looking at canned beef and chicken form Lehman’s. It is $100.00 for a case of 12, 2 pound cans. This is not cheap and it’s not local so I would ordinarily not consider it but if my son wanted to pay for it, it would be a way to get a good supply of shelf stable protein. The money could also help with the purchase of more six gallon buckets and gamma lids. They are usually a  lot more expensive than whatever I store in them.

This may seem a bit over the top, even for me, but I think it is important planning. How many times have those of us who prepared hear the same thing. If  anything happens I’m coming to your house. No. Actually, you aren’t. I have a large family that I’m responsible for and a limited amount of room. I can direct you to the nearest shelter but I can’t take in every friend and relation who could have prepared and didn’t.

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My good friend, Susi, dropped off 40 pounds of peaches for me yesterday. They are lovely peaches, drops from trees that have only been lightly sprayed with an early fungiciede. As I peel the peaches before canning, I worry less about the spraying than I do about sprayed apples. I hope no one writes to tell me about some hideous thing that will happen to be as result of canning the sprayed peaches. The peaches are not quite ready, goodnews for me as it is another scorching day and canning is not what I want to do. I will probably chose a cool evening for this hot project. It is hours of work but the results are so worth it. My goal is 360 quarts of fruit, one for each day of the year if I was feeding the current family members as well as visitors. That’s a goal, not a reality. As usual, my preps are a work in progress. I will still need to depend on my purchased canned fruit to get to a year’s worth. I can peaches, seckle pears, applesauce, cherries, blueberries and apple slices. I no longer can strawberries as they turn grey and unappealing with the heat.

I have 12 chickens coming from my friend, Kathy and all of the pork from the 2 pigs. I am canning stew beef and hamburger, maybe 12 one pound jars of each.  Next year, I am hoping for lamb. The only problem with the lamb is the cute factor. I have the 3 girls at home and they find the pigs disqusting but I am sure they would fall in love with a dear little lamb.

I am looking over my co-op catalog. I need to fill in my wheat again. Can i just remind everyone to check out their inventory? I was shocked at how much wheat I have gone through this year. I am getting another 500 pounds of wheat and another 100 pounds of oats. I am running into space problems. If anybody spends the night with us, they have to share the room with about 20 6 gallon buckets. The chiffarobe holds the stored cooking supplies and the bookcase is home to stockpiles of pasta. I always hope for the best but I plan for the worst and the worst for me is a run on banks which will lead to a run on supermarkets.

I had a friend tell me that she was sure she could feed her family for 6 weeks just on what was in her cabinets and freezer. Wanna bet? A family of 4, man, woman and 2 kids would need about 7000 calories a day for optimal heath. They could get by on 5000 for a while but they wouldn’t like it, especially if used to considerably more. Once the Cheerios and Eggos run out what will they do for breakfast? I go through about 10 pounds of flour on a week when I bake a lot. How many people have more than a 5 pound sack of flour? What about oats and dried fruit. Most people think of lunch as a slab of sliced lunch meat between two slices of white bread along with some margarine and mustard. The bread would be gone in a day or two and the lunch meat before that. Then what? How many cans of tuna, chicken and ham spread will they have. Can they bake the bread? Do they have yeast? How many cans of soup do they have? Will their kids be willing to eat food they aren’t familiar with? At supper time, when they can’t send out for Chinese or pizza, what’s for dinner? How many potatoes do they have? Five pounds?  Ten pounds? Not enough if they eat them every day. How much rice do they store? How many bags of vegetable? When they pull  out that last sack of freezer burned peas they will be left with a couple of cans of string beans and some artichoke hearts. If all of your food can be stored in your kitchen cabinets, you would be hungry before a week was out.

I am watching the news as I write this. Hurricane Bill is a catagory 4 and heading up toward the east coast. It looks like it will miss us but I trust a hurricane like I trust a telemarketer. Today I am checking out my power outage preps. I need to make sure I have enough rabbit feed and that both vehicles are gassed up. Bruce will get the chain saw ready and make plans for protecting the pigs and bees.

We have talked a lot about the terrible growing season this year and about food security on this blog but until I spent a day pulling out my tomato plants and bagging then in black plastic until they are dry enough to burn,until I wept over the black and grey splotches on the leaves of my potato plants, until I spent an hour on the phone in search of 3 bushels of local, organic tomatoes only to be told that such a thing may not exist for any amount of money, I did not comprehend the true fragility of our food security.

The tomatoes were started from seed in my upstairs spare bedroom. They were lovingly cared for and, when strong enough, transferred to the greenhouse, a small model that was purchased with money that could have been spent many other ways. Then they were watched and fussed over until big enough to be transplanted to the garden, into soil that has been nurtured with the manure we got from neighbor’s cows and the remnant of many happy meals that had turned into compost over the course of months. The potatoes were heirloom varieties. I remember how excited we were when our good friend, Sheri, called to tell me she had them, how we anticipated eating them as she suggested, baked in olive oil and rosemary and sprinkled with coarse salt.

If you sauce comes form a jar with a picture of a fake Italian chef on the label, if your potatoes are limp, greasy strings you get at some drive-in window, it may be hard to understand the depth of my grief. Perhaps I am overreacting. It is, after all, only some produce. My kids won’t go hungry. I can afford to go to the market and write a check and bring home a year’s worth of sauce but it feels like more to me. Somehow I am channeling the fear and anguish an Irish farmer who saw her crops die before her eyes and knew that she was witnessing the death of her children, her culture, her homeland.

This is why I prepare. Even if I could not afford to lay down the money for sauce,  having food in storage means that I can get through a bad harvest and not be destroyed by it. I see the cans of seed I have as insurance against a bleak day when that heirloom seed may be priceless to me.

My children humor me about all of this. I don’t think the real vulnerability of our agricultural system is real to them. They think of our gardening as a kind of intense hobby that pays off in some mighty good dinners. They can not imagine that I am doing this, not just for fun but because I don’t ever want to wonder how I will feed them or their children. Henry will turn 2 next week. I bought him a child sized wheel barrow and some garden tools. They are tiny but they are sturdy and made for real work. When he comes here I will take him to the garden and show him how to rake and hoe and pull a potato from the ground with more reverence than if he had just discovered a diamond. We will cook the potato and eat it and talk about what a miracle it is.

I must add something. In the midst of my misery yesterday, I took a break from the arm numbing work of pulling out all those plants and looked over my mail. I found a catalog from Richters Herbs and a gift certificate. It was a belated birthday gift from Heather and her family. There is no word for my gratitude, not just for the gift but for the promise of the gift. I spent the evening looking over the pictures and imagining next year’s herb garden. I could smell the oregano and taste the lemon balm. Thank you Heather. What magic was afoot that I should recieve that gift a week after my birthday on the very afternoon I needed it most?

Over the weekend, in my constant quest for free things to do that require little or no driving, I went to visit one of my town’s two historical museums. It’s a dandy museum, set up to show how life was lived in a New England Village from the 1700’s through the 1800’s. This is not just a decorating exercise with art and furnishings but a terrific collection of the tools and equipment that made life livable before the advent of the age of oil. Naturally, my preparedness thinking turned my mind to how this stuff could be resurrected to meet the needs of a community should the apocalypse happen. It was an interesting intellectual exercise.

The first thing that struck me was how creative and intelligent the minds were that thought of these things. I think many people tend to think of problems as things we solve by throwing money at. We also assume that somebody, somewhere is working on whatever it is which gets us off the hook for putting energy into designing solutions, at least at a community level. For instance, there was the problem of snow removal. I live a hilly area of New England with frigid, snowy winters but even in the 1800’s people had to get to town and to school and to distant fields. Pushing snow aside was not an option so the snow was instead rolled with heavy wooden rollers pulled by teams of horses. This left a hard packed surface that could be walk on or that a horse and sleigh could easily navigate. In later years, kids went to school in horse drawn buses so a storm did not mean shutting down the schools for weeks at a time. Kitchen equipment was beautiful and durable and meant to be used daily. There was no room in those days for the glitzy clutter that defines many current American kitchens.

The second thing that occurred to me was how much community effort there was. Many tasks such as cider making and cutting ice for the ice house was done as a group. The cider presses were massive as were the the grain mills. People brought their apples and grain to the mills and took home cider and flour. This is a far more efficient way to use equipment and had the added benefit of providing community gathering places.

I also noticed how local the world was. Our town is small by any standards, only about 800 people, which is the same population that existed 200 years ago yet it supported several schools. First the cider mill went up and then the school. There might have only been a dozen kids but having schools so close to home made sense when most kids walked in what was often terrible weather. I wish the proponents of large, central schools could think in such concrete terms.

I am not going to pretend that life was perfect in early America. Old cemeteries are filled with the grave of little children, sometimes several in one family who all died withing weeks from diseases that are now just history. Life demanded constant, hard work as the pictures of hunched and weather beaten men and woman give testament to. I have no desire to return to those times (well, I do actually but I know I would miss a lot of conveniences of this life). I like easy access to medical care and my computer and telephone. Still, I think it behooves us all to remember that we didn’t always have those things and lives were live that were full and rich and rewarding. Every chance you get to visit these places that hold and preserve our past should be grabbed. New England has many and I expect that the rest of the country does as well. It will help illustrate that we don’t have to buy but rather innovate our way back to the future.

I was asked yesterday about the skills I thought were necessary for self sufficiency. It is an interesting question. Does one need to know how to tan leather and butcher a deer?Is it a good idea to be able to remove your kid’s appendix with hair clips and hypnosis ala Alas Babylon? I guess my point here is that I am never going to be entirely self sufficient. I doubt many people are. We depend on each other to a greater or lesser degree. My goal is to reduce my dependency, particularly in the area of food, and learn to do as much as possible for myself, knowing that if I need a tooth pulled, I am heading straight to the dentist.

I believe that the journey towards greater self sufficiency is a mind set, a way of looking at the world around you. Start with water. It is not enough to store some bottled water. The water will run out and then what? Do you know where your comes from, how it’s delivered to your home and what the vulnerabilities to that source are? Do you know where else in your neighborhood you can access ground water? Can you carry it? Do ou know how to treat it?

Medical care is so easy for a lot of us but by no means is it easy for everybody. If the medical system broke down, even temporarily, do you know how to treat minor accidents and illnesses and do you have the supplies to do so? Do you know the medical practitioners in your neighborhood? Do they know you? Could you call on one in an emergency? Do you have some cash or barter items on hand to pay for care if necessary?

Do you have a plan to heat your home if the power is out? Can you provide lighting and can you cook? Once the propane runs out, can you cook with wood or a solar oven? Have you actually done it? Do you know how to build a rocket stove?

Do you have the proper clothing for a life that entails more labor in very hot or cold weather? Do you have proper foot wear? Do  you have the means and ability to repair clothing and shoes?

Do you know where your food comes from? Can you grow it? Can you preserve it? Do you have the tools and the techniques down to a science? Can you bake bread and will your family eat what you make? Do you know the basics of putting together a casserole, soup or stew?

Can you entertain yourself and your family without tickets to Six Flags? Do you have books and games and puzzles and does your family use those thing regularly?

Do you have hand tools and the knowledge to make simple repairs? Do you have to run to Home Depot every time you need an adhesive, nails, screws, caulking and such?

Do you know your neighborhood and your neighbors? Who has what skills? Do you feud over every little thing or are you a true community? Do you know what grows where and what is edible? What animals are plentiful?

I know I have forgotten as much as I have put in here. My point is that, while most of us need to depend on each other, we also want to be someone others can depend on. I want to have something to bring to the table when times get tough but I want lots of others at the table with me.

Most of us have pretty predictable relationships with food. We choose what to purchase or grow and prepare based on a value system developed over time and geared to fit a particular set of circumstances.

Gourmet: This is the person who can ignore cost and health issues in search of the perfect meal. It matters not that the truffles came from France and cost the equivalent of a week’s supply of groceries for a poor family, if the recipe calls for truffles then truffles it is. The $100.00 bottle of wine, the fillet Mignon, the Hollendaise sauce will all be consumed in spite of the doctor’s warning. I know couple of gourmets and, while I like the occasional dinner invite from one, I shutter to think of their impact on the planet.

The Cheap Eater: The compulsively cheap eater considers boxed macaroni and cheese with a side of hot dogs a meal. A lot of these people end up overweight because cheap food is often starchy and calorie dense and the calories come from cheap fats and sugars. This is not a value judgement. If you have to feed  your kids and you have been laid off for six months, eating cheap can become an art form. My mother could feed 6 of us three meals from one chicken. We ate the body of the chicken for day one, stretched with corn bread and potatoes. On day two, we got chicken and dumplings with very little chicken and a lot of gravy and dumplings. Day three was chicken soup. It had practically no chicken in it but a lot of rice and vegetables and there was always a bread of some sort. We also used to eat a lot of Puffed Rice. It came in huge bag and cost next to nothing. We called it Puffed Air.

The Convenience Cook: This cook never saw a just-add-water meal she didn’t love. Forget the salt, the fat and the cost, as long as she can get supper on the table in minutes, she’ll buy anything. Canned spaghetti and Ramen noodles feature heavily in this cook’s repetoir.

The Health Food Eater: If it came out that moldy leaves where good for you, he would eat them. Lots of tofu and sprouts make up a typical meal. Full fat vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce is the food of the devil. A lot of these people find that they do feel better on this diet but they have the unfortunate habit of boring companions to tears as they discuss every morsel consumed ad nauseum.

There are a lot of other kinds of eaters from fast food to regimented, vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, locavaor, live food, low carb, no carb, eating is as fad prone as clothing. In a world with looming food shortages our fussiness may be a luxury we can ill afford.

Last night we ate what I consider to be gourmet fare. I made a batch of pasta with pesto from my first basil. We also had a side salad with a bunch of garden greens, the last of the asparagus tips, some garbanzo beans and a bit of feta. I added some tiny beets and carrot curls for color. The pesto is easy to make. A handful of basil, some pine nuts, a few tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and a few cloves of garlic held together with olive oil, pesto takes only a couple of minutes from garden to plate. If you want to save time, make up a large batch when the basil peaks and freeze it in serving sized containers. Home made pasta does take time but there are several good varieties of pasta that can be prepared. I use Barilla Plus when I don’t make my own. I used canned garbanzo beans because I forgot to soak some dry beans but dry beans are a perfect food. Cheap, easy, storable, and a healthy, low fat protein source. They also taste great and can be adapted for an unlimited number of recipes. Who doesn’t love hummus?

What I’m getting at with my rambling (cut me some slack please-I am still sick) is that it is possible to eat as you like, cheap, easy, healthy and delicious if you have a garden or purchase from farmer’s markets. It does take some planning. You might need to spend an afternoon putting up tomato sauce or freezing a couple of dozen cartons of pesto but you will gain the ability to toss together a terrific dinner in very little time.

Pick 14 meals, 7 summer and 7 winter. Think about the ingredients and try to be sure you can get most of them locally. Obviously, some things like olive oil will need to be brought in but if the majority of your food is local, you can splurge on those things. If you love mac and cheese, do the research and come up with some local cheeses and whole grain pasta to replace the old orange stuff from a box. If  1/2 of your meals are vegetarian, so much the better. Include a couple of things where the ingredients are set out and people make their own meals. We like tacos and wraps for this. Flat bread with fillings like hummus, avocados, tomatoes, sprouts and cheese are so easy and so good. They have the added advantage of being something I can set out and have ready when we are all on different schedules. When you make a soup, stew or chili, make a double batch and put half in the freezer. Come up with a few crock pot meals and a least one good pizza dinner.

Teach your kids the fundementals of things like pizza crust and salads. My daughter is 15 and capable of putting together a meal with very little supervision. The goal is to save your health, your pocketbook, your waisteline and the planet while you enjoy excellent food. Don’t be afraid to experiment with some vagan fare and some raw foods. In the future, when much more of our food will have to be grown where we live, the ability to be flexible and to have some kitchen skills will be critical.

For all who have emailed me, I am feeling a lot better but no where near 100%. It’s so cold here that I am putting together a soup for dinner. I will toss it in the crock pot this morning and it will be ready by dinner. Karen is going to make some corn bread and cookies for dessert. Breakfast is yogurt over granola with some raspberries on top. Lunch will be hard boiled eggs, the left over salad and some bread and butter. I wont’ have to do much but we will eat like kings.

I met with our new community preparedness team last night to firm up our plans for a crisis management plan. We decidedon a very short survey-basically, name, address, phone number, number of people in the home, ages and any disabilities that might make a family more vulnerable. We also ask whether the family would take advantage of a shelter if one were offered and whether they would need transportation. The survey will be printed on card stock. Red dots will go on the first tier homes. Those would be the homes of the elderly and the disabled. Yellow dots will mark the second tier homes. These are the families who are very isolated or the homes of single people who may need to at least be checked up on. We are planning a survey day when the fire department, council on aging, police department and the crisis team will be canvassing door to door. Our hope is to have 100% compliance and get this all done in one day. We plan to sit with folks to fill out the cards and take them back with us. If a family chooses not to participate, that’s fine with us. We are keeping the cards at our safety complex. They will be filed in three separate boxes. The reds, the yellows, then everybody else. The rest of the plan is very specific to our town. It involves communication, transportation, food, water, sleeping arrangments, sanitation and clean up.

We contacted both FEMA and MEMA (our state emergency managment agency) and got a lot of terrific hand outs. One of the things we recieved was a DVD for children on family preparedness. We will be handing one of these out to every family with children when we do the survey. We are also distributing a list of necessary supplies, and info geared to the elderly, people with pets and the disabled.

This was a pretty easy process for us for  a couple of reasons. There are only a few of us on the committee so reaching consensus is easy. We only have about 300 families to reach. Our town is pretty civic minded. Lots of people vote and volunteer. A lot of people have deep community roots. The street they live on may be named after their great grandparents.

If you are looking for crisis info, go to the FEMA website. They really have a lot to offer.

Bruce wants to go over my post on tools. He has a much longer (and better) list of essential tools.

I try to avoid much political talk here. I am no economic expert but I have a fair amount of common sense. I hope you are all getting stocked up on necessities now. I fear our dollar will be worth much less in the coming months. I know I went to town yesterday and then this morning. Gas had gone up 4 cents overnight  and by the time I returned home this morning, 2 hours later, it had gone up another 7 cents. Food is the place that inflation will hurt most people first. Stock up on essentials, seeds and canning equipment.