Unless a crisis is quickly resolved, preppers eventually will have to produce their own food to replace what they consume. This will require them to cultivate crops and raise animals, either for meat or to produce milk and eggs.
- Know Your Climate. You need to learn about the climate in which you live, and become familiar with what crops are compatible with that area. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a Hardiness Zone Map that divides North America into 11 different zones, each 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter or cooler than adjacent zones. Because of climate change, it’s actually now possible to grow some crops in areas—fig trees in Boston, for example—where they previously would not have survived.
- Know Your Land. The U.S. is blessed with close to a billion acres of arable land—that is, soil suitable for growing crops—than any other nation on earth, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. We have so much good cropland, in fact, that we turn about 3,000 acres of it each day into suburban neighborhoods and strip malls. But that’s probably a plus for preppers, since it’s possible to find arable land all over the place that’s not currently being used. It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to run tests on your soil to see whether it is sufficiently fertile to grow the crops that you need. If you’re looking to buy a small farm, such as the one where Scott Hunt and his family live, the New England Small Farm Institute offers a useful primer entitled, “How do I find a farm or farmland?” which contains links to plenty of other resources.
- Remember That You Need Water to Produce Food. Hunt gives one bit of sage advice: If you’re going to buy land for growing food, try to find a property with a water source such as a stream. According to the University of Minnesota agriculture program, each tomato plant that you grow requires as much as 35 gallons of water per growing season, and every corn plant requires a hefty 54 gallons. It’s no wonder that about a third of the annual U.S. water consumption goes to irrigating crops, according to USDA. How much water you require also depends upon what you do with it. Here’s a USDA guide to irrigation methods for agriculture. Two major methods are drip irrigation, a highly-efficient technique in which water is pumped into pipes filled with holes that are laid among or buried alongside rows of crops, and spray irrigation, in which mechanized sprayers or hoses are used to douse plants. The latter is faster but less efficient, since a lot of the water evaporates.
- Strive to be a Year-Around Food Producer. Since you need to eat year-round, ideally you should strive to produce harvests throughout the year. Crops such as asparagus and winter lettuce can be planted in the fall, and harvested in the spring. In climate zones with cold, harsh winters, greenhouses equipped with beds for hydroponic farming, which grows crops in nutrient-soaked water rather than in soil, may help fill the gap. Hydroponic facilities in the Syracuse, New York area, for example, reportedly grow romaine lettuce, tomatoes and other foodstuffs for local supermarkets throughout the winter. From Horticultureresource.com, here’s a beginner-friendly guide to hydroponics.
- Don’t Forget About Animal Protein. The average American consumes about 195 pounds of meat annually, and providing that much animal protein in the wake of a societal breakdown is likely to be a daunting challenge for preppers. Cattle, which generally need to eat 12 to 14 pounds of grain or grass forage each day, may prove too difficult to maintain. Hunt recommends raising smaller animals for food. He recommends raising rabbits, which require little space and can convert about 20 percent of the plant protein they consume into animal protein. That ratio is exceeded only by chickens, but poultry need higher-quality food, such as grain and soy cakes, that could be consumed by humans, instead of the plant cellulose that rabbits eat. From Mother Earth News, here’s a basic guide to raising rabbits for meat. Raising goats for meat is another option, if you have a pasture that they can surround with a fence high enough to keep out predators. Aquaculture systems to raise fish are another useful protein source, according to Hunt. From the government of Australia, here’s a how-to- guide for aquaculture.
If You Only Do Three Things:
- Look for a piece of land with a water supply on the property. Hunt recommends this as the surest way to find both arable land and to guarantee that you’ll be able to irrigate it.
- Learn to like broiled rabbit. Rabbits are cute, but they’re also one of the most efficient sources of protein that a prepper can have.
- Figure out what crops will grow best in your climate zone. If you plant the wrong stuff for your part of the country, you’re going to be in trouble. Know what plants flourish in your climate, and you’ve got the best chance to be self-sufficient.
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