Monday, April 6, 2009

Sustainable Quickie Challenge

****The following post will be the first in a series of easy long-term preparedness strategies.****

If you've been a reader of my blog for any length of time, you know that:

1. I consider the area where I live to be a suburb.

2. Against the advice of some, I intend to stay in my suburban home.

It is a choice, but more, I just don't think there's anywhere that will be significantly BETTER than where I am, and really, I believe that moving is no longer an option for me ... and millions of other Americans and suburbanites worldwide (did you know that Egypt has suburbs? Yeah. Me, neither).

While I agree that the suburbs are unsustainable in their current incarnation, as I've said (about a million times) before, we can't simply abandon them. They need to be remodeled, because there are billions of dollars worth of resources in these homes ... and I don't mean televisions and DVD players. I mean the time, energy, and resources - lumber from Germany for the framing, precious metals from Africa for the wiring and plumbing, quarried stone from Asia for the countertops, old rainforest wood from Brazil for the flooring ... not to mention the oil from the Middle East and South America for half the other building materials and furnishings.

To simply abandon the mess we've made and create something that better suits our vision of the future would be worse than a misallocation of resources*. It would be the greatest sin man could commit against the Earth that sustains us. Further, most of the build-out that we've witnessed over the past half century was made possible by cheap oil and imports, neither of which is necessarily going to be available in the future. In fact, it's more likely that "stuff" will be much harder to come by.

Over the past couple of years, a lot has been said about "preparing" for this future where "stuff" isn't so readily available. Food, in particular, has been a concern for many people, and I hear stories about storing food and other consumable, perishable items.

While I do have some things stored up, at some point I came to the realization that there is no way I can "store" everything my family will need ... forever. Even using this list as a guide, the reality is that at some point, I will have to replenish my supplies, but if supply lines are completely broken (as depicted in Kunstler's World Made By Hand), then what will I do? If I can't buy flour or sugar or boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, how will we eat?

I do grow some of what my family eats right here on our quarter acre. We also raise a portion of our meat and have chickens for eggs. A good deal of the food we eat comes from local vendors, which means our food supply won't necessarily be interrupted, but we'd need money, which may be an issue (and is a topic for a separate post :).

As is often the case, it was something that Deus Ex Machina said to me that I completely discounted (at first). He kept telling me that *we* don't have to grow everything we need. I ignored him, and kept making my grandiose plans for our tiny space. For his birthday, I signed us up for a wild plant walk on the marsh, because it would be fun.

I started researching animals we could raise on a quarter acre and brought home three baby chicks that would provide us with eggs, and kept insisting that we *needed* goats. Deus Ex Machina took up bow hunting, and my neighbor told me a story about his days living on the island and eating gull eggs (which he says taste "salty").

Then, I started buying perennial plants for our yard and planning where we'd put them all, and Deus Ex Machina took us all out in the woods for a walk, where I gathered wild blueberries and blackberries.

Somewhere in there that proverbial lightbulb went off, and I (finally) understood what he had been saying ... for a long time.

*We* don't have to grow or produce EVERYTHING *we* need. Nature will and does provide a veritable plethora of wild food that's pretty much free for the taking.


The only requirement is that *we* know what's available and be able to distinguish the edible from the non-edible and from the poisonous (just FYI, most plants fall into the first two categories of edible or non-edible, but harmless, to humans - like most grasses, which won't kill us, but will also not provide any nutritional value ... kind of like Twinkies and anything on the McDonald's menu ;).

And so we bought a book ... several, in fact.

In all of the preparedness advice the focus is on what one can produce and/or store, and short-term, I completely agree. We should have food that is both comforting and familiar in our short-term survival plan.

But longer term, if the crisis ends up being a full-blown TEOTWAWKI, it won't be enough, and we'll have to find an alternative.

What's the harm in starting now?

And just so you understand that it doesn't have to be completely weird and unfamiliar, where I live, we have the above mentioned wild blueberries and blackberries, but we also have *wild* maple trees (for syrup making) and *wild* oak trees (for acorn flour). Wild foods don't have to be completely weird and unfamiliar.

My first challenge to you is to pick-up a copy of a book (most libraries will have them or have access to them, but this book might be one you would want to own - longer term) that shows *local to you*, edible, wild plants, and learn to identify a couple of them ... and incorporate them into your diet ... *now* ;).

*term used heavily by James Kunstler in reference to the suburban sprawl.


  1. Excellent post. Just a reminder to folks out there in the 'burbs. Remember to wash all of your foraged items well. Especially anything gathered near a roadside. You might not know the last time herbicides or pesticides were used in that area.

  2. Thank you, Woolysheep, for the reminder.

    Some wild plant books will provide information about roadside plants and which ones tend to be more likely to contain contaminates (like the marsh reeds, which are a great "wild" food in my area, but they tend to absorb pollution like car exhaust and those growing next to major roads should not be consumed).

    But it's true, ALL produce should be washed before it's eaten ... even (especially) the stuff from the grocery store ;).

  3. mustard here is blooming already (as it snows today) and I always think of all the food out there that people just don't have a clue about.

    Another thing I tend to see is the vast expanses of land that *could* be used to grow food -- suburbia is one example, but so are the road medians in town, the little landscape islands you drive around. And all those not too busy car salesmen could be tending that stuff right now. That sort of thing is how Cuba did it -- abandoning by and large the large, fertile, interior farms and concentrating food growing where the people ARE.

  4. We do that a lot in my family (forage). Some of my best childhood memories are of my Dad taking us kids out and picking berries, etc.

    I am very lucky, in that around here we have (all wild) hazel nuts, acorns, sugar maples, butternut trees, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, asparagus....ummm, lemme think....plums, apples, grapes (believe it or not), sumac (makes a great drink like lemonade), choke cherries, mushrooms....

    Of course there are also the "strange" foods out there, too. Things that we don't normally think of as food, but that are nutritionally sound. Cattail root comes to mind right off the bat...

    Good, informative post Wendy!

  5. This is an area I really need to improve in! I know there are wild edibles around me, but I don't know them. I do have a book, I guess I need to get it out and start looking around.

  6. CG: I do the same thing. I look at the massive expanses of land, especially in places like highway medians (and "lawns" beside and around shopping centers), where food could be grown - or at least where fruit and/or nut trees could be planted - and I often think what a wasted space.

    Barefoot ... I'm thinking I might need to move there ;). Sounds like you have a better selection than the grocery store ... wild and free! We could eat like kings!

    Christy, you should! Of course, you're probably a little preoccupied right now ... what with the sheep and all :).

  7. Berries are greatly appreciated around here even for a great many people who wouldn't generally think of "foraging" as a permissable pass-time, much less a way to eat. BUT, last year I tried lambsquarters for the first time. And I KNOW we've got plantain (not banana, but leafy-green & seed-bearing) and probably chick-weed in our front yard. If only I could get the hubby to stop mowing it down before I can pick it. *wink* I've got one slim little "booklet" that I LOVE for the fact that it covers a great many of the local wild edibles. My dad had a copy of that book when I was growing up, and I bought a copy for myself a few years ago. Really should buy another copy for my hope-chest just incase this one gets lost or ireparably damaged. (And, to hand off to the kiddo some day when she's on her own, if I don't need to make use of the booklet before then.)

    Great post, Wendy! It's been so far out of the experience of a great many North Americans that Mother Nature is the best gardener there is, and she has ALWAYS provided for her own, whether we be sqirrels, wrens, moose or human. All that's required is we know how and where to look.

  8. Ah the lowly dandelion. My cupboard is full of Dandelion wine, Dandelion syrup and dried dandelion for tea when I have a cold.

    Eat your lawn. Vive le Dandelion!

  9. natures bounty is a glorious thing. we transplanted local berries and are cultivating them. easier to pick and will hopefully produce more. the locals here in the ozarks are still steeped in the idea of harvesting from nature. competition for natures bounty is strong. secret mushroom or berry patches are severely guarded and passed from generation to generation. luckily i married in to a local family.

    one nice thing is that natures harvest isn't lost and need be reclaimed from a book. although books have helped us discover new untapped bounties. close friends are perfectly willing to show an amiable person many tricks and secrets to rounding out your pantry.

    your posts are inspiring as ever..

  10. I am always saying if I was up north I know what is edible. But here in Florida, as far as I am concerned, nothing is edible. So this is a HUGE challenge for me. Okay, okay I will go find a book, and forage. If you don't hear from me again, you know the alligators got me while foraging.

  11. But where will duck, chicken and goat feed come from? Please don't say they can forage. Not all year and in your scenario there will be lots of competition for that forage.

  12. Eva, If you intend to raise chickens, ducks or goats as part of your TEOTWAWKI preparations, you should probably do some research in the kinds of "natural" feed options you have in your area. Certainly, this will vary from place to place. For example, I live near the ocean and very close to a very large saltmarsh, both of which will certainly have a smorgasbord of choices for my livestock - year round.

    But your point is a very good one, and we should probably explore things in our areas that our livestock can eat, too, in the event that "feed" is no longer available.