I went to the city yesterday to participate in an upcoming docu-drama about the world after a pandemic decimates society. I was interviewed primarily about food, evacuation and community building. There are some pretty strange ideas out there about how one would get food if forced to leave one’s home on foot and unprepared. The reality of a man needing 3000 calories a day is hard to wrap your mind around. One thing for sure. You won’t get it by foraging wild greens. I don’t think it reasonable to expect that some city guy, who spends his day pushing paper is, all of the sudden, going to turn into Wilderness Jones and snare a couple of squirrels a day either. And water. Did you ever try to carry a gallon jug for any distance. Water is heavy and awkward and most ground water in the US is not safe to drink without being treated. I asked about things like shoes, shelter and security. The security is especially important because, in a real apocalyptic scenario, it won’t be just nice guys and theirfamilies on the road. It will be desperate, frightened people and many will not be nice.

Then there was talk about how much land a family would need to feed themselves. Again-plain silly to think a paper pusher becomes Mr. Green Jeans without any experience farming. Just this year, with the blight problems, a lot of us would be hungry if we were depending on that crop to feed us through a long winter.

The next question was about bunker living versus finding a community. Here is the truth of it. Man is a herd animal. We are not designed to live in isolation. We need each other. None of us can do everything. In a community, the soap maker will swap her wares for honey and the bee man swap his honey for milk. The dairy farmer will swap for wine and the vinier swap for shoes. The shoemaker will give a pair of boots for help with birthing his first born and the midwife swap for soap.  Pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents will matter less than a real thing that you need to keep warm or fed.

I  came away from interview with a renewed commitmant to some preparedness principles.

Bloom where you are planted as long as you are not planted in the middle of a big city with rampant crime. If you are, start today to make plans to get out.  Make your home the place you escape to. Get it paid for ASAP and spend the money to get it energy efficient. Know it, love it and care for it.

Know where your food comes from and keep enough stored to get you through a time when leaving might not be safe or wise. Learn now how to grow and preserve what you harvest. Store seeds and tools and plant perennial food plants like berry bushes and fruit trees, asparagus and rhubarb.

Make community service a priority. Know your neighbors and treat them like family. You don’t have to love them. You have care about them. Those are two very different ideas.

Get a skill. Practice until you become expert. Don’t expect to make a living as a potter or winemaker. But do learn all you can and build a customer base as your skills improve. Offer a quality service and be honest. The best investments you can make are in yourself, your home and your community.


We had another wild food pot luck last night. Very few people showed up which was disappointing but I understand it. This was not a good wild edibles week. We had some chicken of the woods mushrooms and a couple of dishes made with bishop’s weed but there isn’t a lot else out in proportions large enough to make a meal. I hope that is the only reason so few showed up and not that they have moved on to a new project.

We have a really good core group of folks who are smart and dedicated to living more lightly on the planet as well as being prepared for emergencies. But, as in all groups, there will be those who show up, act all enthusiastic, then drift away, never really contributing new ideas or real work. For them, sustainable living is another form of entertainment. They talk the talk but walking the walk is work and change and sacrifice and not always fun. Sustainability means buying organic when commercial is cheaper. It means eating beans when you prefer steak. It means making mindful decisions about how you allocate resources and some of those decisions will be painful. It means delaying gratification, not for hours or days or weeks but for years. The trees I planted this year will not bear fruit until I am an old lady. I spent a couple of hours this weekend weeding and mulching the raspberries. It was hot, back breaking work but if I want to eat raspberry jam on my toast next year, the weeds must go now.

Now that I have groused for a bit, let me end with some happy talk. For me, happy talk is generally about food. Is wine food? Let’ s call it food for now. My elderberry wine is gorgeous. It is ruby red and clearing up beautifully. It is still working but by next week I should be able to rack it for the first time. Basil is another happy topic. I can stick my nose into a bunch a basil and feel that all is right with the world. And finally asparagus. I make a lunch on many afternoons of asparagus and butter. I won’t tire of it until my first cherry tomatoes ripen.

I am overwhelmed by the wonderful posts I have been getting. I have plans to make my year’s supply of catsup after reading the post over at  the riverrockcottage blog today. Herbalpagan has me thinking about other uses for dried tomatoes. I got such a wonderful post about making soap. I have a birthday coming up and soap making supplies sound like the order of the day. Sharon Astyk took us for a walk around her property and I am totally inspired to add a ton of plants to my garden. The list goes on. What a fabulous  bunch we are! Wouldn’t you just love to go to a pot luck dinner with the whole lot of us? The food would be amazing and the conversation inspiring. But all you do makes motivates me to do more and there are only so many hours in the day so I have to pick and chose. Today I am going to rack knotweed wine with a group of my favorite woman friends. I may have time to make at least one batch of catsup too. I want to play with recipe before I commit to a whole canner load.

It is raining again today and the weeds are just as happy about it as the vegetables so weeding is on the to-do list. We don’t have enough mulching material just yet. In another few weeks we can stop weeding as grass cuttings and newspaper will take care of that problem. The only weed that will still require hand pulling is the knotweed.

I am also on spare spot patrol. I still have a bunch of seed potatoes left and seeds as well. I have been tucking them in wherever I see a patch of unplanted land. Bruce had composted a huge pile of leaves last fall and I put about a dozen potatoes in there. I interplanted lettuce sets in the garlic and poked some cabbage in the asparagus bed. I have basil everywhere. I can never have too much pesto. I had some extra tomatoes too and they are doing great in the composting manure pile. My healthiest tomatoes are the ones I planted in a cloth grocery sack. It was suppose to be a hanging grower that would work like the $20.00 topsy turvy I had seen advertised. I found the full sack was way to heavy to hang so I have it sitting outside the greenhouse. I looks so cute, full of cherry tomatoes and basil. I put a second pot on the other side of the greenhouse and put a salad grouping in that one. Mini peppers, lettuce sets and cherry tomatoes work well together.

Again, thank you for the posts. They give me hope for a brighter, greener life.

We had a great meal  last night. Home made pasta with a mushroom/wine sauce, asparagus and a salad with green house lettuce and wild edibles. It got me to thinking about what made from scratch is.

For most people, a pasta meal means going to the market and purchasing a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce. The salad would come from a bag and the veges from the frozen food isle. To truly make last night’s meal from scratch was a bit more complicated.

I had to buy the wheat from a food co-op, then pack it properly in 6 gallon buckets with oxygen absorber packets. I would love to say we grew the wheat or got it locally but we are in Massachusetts and not a lot of wheat is grown here and only a minuscule amount by home producers. To produce the flour that will eventually be pasta requires that I grind it. I can do this by hand but I use an electric mill. The flour is mixed with eggs from the McMahon’s chickens, kneaded for 10 minutes then rolled out and cut in my Atlas pasta maker. The chickens that are laying now were purchased last year and raised by hand. The noodles dry for the afternoon, draped over the backs of the kitchen chairs. Now for the sauce. It begins a year earlier when someone inoculated some logs with shitake spawn (I would love to say these were my mushrooms but the slugs ate mine and I had to purchase some. At least they were local. ) The wine was started a year earlier, made from dandelions lovingly picked and fermented and given to me as a gift. Next year, the wine and the mushrooms will be from from my backyard. I needed butter too. This was bought in bulk and canned last fall. It too is fairly local stuff. Now for the salad. To have so many greens so early means depending on our greenhouse. We planted the seeds in late February and have been enjoying the greens for the past month. The vinegar we drizzled on the greens came from a small producer in Italy. It is dreadfully expensive stuff, over 25 years old and with an amazing flavor. I will make apple cider vinegar this fall but it will not be the same. The asparagus came from the roots we planted three years ago. This is the first year they will produce an amount sufficient for us to both eat and preserve. The asparagus requires care to produce so well and the season is short. I will dry some to powder for soup mix as it does not freeze terribly well and canned is an abomination. Better to enjoy it daily in season, then grieve the loss and move on to summer squash.

Any leftovers from this meal will feed the compost or Tom and Heather’s pigs when they arrive. We will eat the leftovers again as the compost enriches the soil, the pigs feed our neighbors and the pig poop is returned to their soil. The plants that grow from this healthy soil will produce flowers that feed our bees which will return the favor by producing honey and wax. It is a beautiful thing.

My meal was the result of the labor of many artisans and much investment of time, energy and money on my part. It would  have been possible to produce my dinner for less money, with labor performed by people making minimum wage and not at all invested in the quality of their work or the health and happiness of my family. I could be wrong here but it is hard for me to imagine that a factory worker is able to think about the quality of the product much beyond keeping the rats out of the soup. The machinery is so fast, the noise appalling and the consumer so distant. So I will continue to think about my food, where it comes from and how it circles around. Today is a busy day but I will try to find the time to sneak up to Deer Hill for an hour. The leeks and wild ginger still abound. If I want ginger tea in January, the time to gather is now. Real food is really, really slow.

I had a great day yesterday. Four of us gathered at a friend’s house to make knotweed wine. We started by gathereing the knotweed. I don’t think I have ever run across anything quite so invasive. It is growing everywhere. It is one of those nasty things that is impossible to get rid of. We have a patch that has been covered with a heavy carpet for two years and it once again managed to find a tiny tear and work it’s way through. So if you can’t beat it, eat it.

While we worked on the wine we ate a lunch of wild edibles. Bishops Weed is another invasive. I have cursed it many times but little did I know how useful it is. It is one of the first greens to emerge in the spring. It can be prepared much like spinach. We ate it sauteed in olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with some sea salt and spread on slices of homemade bread. Fabulous! We also had pickled ramps (wild leek). I ate 15 of them. Addictive but so good. One of the biggest surprises was a caper like food my friend, Leni, made that turned out to be pickled milkweed flowerets. Leni pickled them at the small, hard, green stage last year. The ramps have only been in  brine for a week. We had a salad with all kinds of good green things from my greenhouse. Unfortunately, the dandelion greens are already bitter as the flowers are emerging but that just means another wine making session is in the offing. We had some fiddleheads too and a lemon balm iced tea.

We are looking at a week of rain so I think we will have morels and maybe early oysters next week. The best meal I ever ate was morels, sauteed in a garlic cream sauce and served over home made pasta. Rhubarb will be ready soon too. Yum.

I am not foolish enough to believe that we can solve the world’s food problems with a stand of bishop’s weed in every yard but I do think an effort should be made to teach families about the natural world and what it can provide. There are many wild and perennial foods that should be part of the landscape of not just rural, but urban and suburban yards. Sweet potatoes, white potatoes and garlic can reproduce themselves every year. Bean seeds are so easy to save that there is no reason not to do it and a prettier vine than scarlet runner beans is hard to find.

I am going to transplant some wild ginger today and hope it takes. I will also try to get some ramps to settle in on the shady hill by the stream that forms the border of my property. Life is good and blessings are abundant.

Nothing is quite as important in a crisis as good information. Books are not a substitute for experience, I would not want to butcher my first chicken with nothing but a book for guidance, but a good library is invaluable for every prepared home.

You should set up a home library in as organized a fashion as possible. You need dedicated space and an easy system so you can lay your hands on what you need without hesitation. Most homes have space for a 4 shelf bookcase which should be plenty for preparedness resources. I keep my books organized by topic.

1. You need at least one good general preparedness book. Naturally, I want you to buy mine but I have to admit that there are other good ones out there with different focuses from short term preparedness as in a weather emergency to books to prepare you for TEOTWAWKI. When I got interested in preparedness, I bought every book I could find on the subject. In retrospect, I should have borrowed them from my library and not mad a purchase until I better knew my needs.

2. You need gardening books that are appropriate for your situation. There is no point in buying books to guide you through greenhouse gardening when you don’t have a greenhouse or one that assumes you have three acres of land in Tennessee when you actually live in a NYC apartment. I would suggest you borrow books like these for inspiration. Maybe you will decide to give up the NYC apartment and head for a smallholding in the country but until then, if your resources are limited,  put them into tangibles that work for you. Having said that, I spend money on books all the time.

3. You need a book or two on wild edibles. Again, a book is no substitute for a good mentor who knows foraging but you will want to own these.

4. Food preservation books are really important. At the very least, you want The Ball Blue Book but I would also suggest a book on dehydrating and one on fermentation.

6. General self-sufficient living books are a must-have. I love John Seymour’s books. They are so beautiful and give a lot of information on most subjects. My first book on self-sufficiency was Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living. My ratty copy is held together with duct tape. When I read that she had died, I wept. In my mind she was still a young mother with a pile of kids, selling books at county fairs. I could not believe she was in her seventies.

7. Storey’s Country Bulletins are dandy little 36 page booklets dedicated to one subject like growing raspberries or home-made cold remedies. They are inexpensive and perfect for beginners. There are so many to chose from. I have dozens and use them all the time.

8. I have lots of cookbooks.  Make sure you have some that guide you through cooking with stored food and cooking from scratch. Cookin’ With Home Storage by Peggy Layton is a good book for this.

9. Everybody needs a couple of good references for first aid. Where There Is No Doctor and Where There Is No Dentist are inexpensive and could save your life.

I would also suggest some books that will work as teaching tools if your kids are out of school for a while.

I have a lot of books. I forage wild mushrooms so I have several good guides. I also save seeds and have books on that. I have dozens of gardening books and books dedicated to subjects like beekeeping and raising poultry. I do buy new books but I get a lot a library and church sales.  Tag sales are terrific places to find books. If you tell your librarian what you are interested in, he or she will get them through interlibrary loan. I am part of a sustainability group and we started a lending library that allows us to trade and share books.