by Todd Walker
Ever wake up in a homeless shelter on Christmas eve?
I wasn’t a stereotypical homeless guy. I had money in my pocket and bank account. I had family and friends that I could have stayed with. How did a middle class guy with two college degrees wind up spending the holidays in an old warehouse for Christmas? Doesn’t matter. What mattered was that I had a roof over my head, food, and water – and I bounced back.
During my four months of “homeless” living, I came to appreciate the amenities most of us take for granted: Hot showers, warmth, privacy, security, protection, and a place to rest. We humans need shelter. We can’t survive without it. Since we have to have these survival basics, make them as resilient as possible.
I’ve owned many houses in my life. In fact, I use to buy, fix, and sell homes before the housing bubble burst. Just after that disaster, DRG and I decided to sell our personal residence and move to her hometown to help with her aging parents. With a contract on our home and a two weeks to get out, we decided to rent a house 5 minutes from her parents. This would be a temporary arrangement until we found a place to buy. We thought we’d be there for a month of two. This “small” window turned into three years.
Bloom where you’re planted
In our move to this small house, we had to adapt from living in a 2,500 sq. ft. house to a 1,000 sq. ft. We chose this small house because it had a 1,000 sq. ft. shop in the backyard. We stored all our extra stuff there. Besides, it was temporary. Side note: This shop became the best Man Cave ever.
About six months into our temporary living arrangement, we decided not to buy and we needed to start adding value to our little rental. Our landlord basically gave us carte blanch on improving the house. We were the best tenants he ever had. We repainted the interior walls, kitchen cabinets, and I even replaced the galvanized water lines under the house.
Our next priority was a garden. The shop took up most of our available garden space. On this small city lot, we discovered new places to grow our own food. Our main area became a raised bed (12′ x 15′) next to the back deck. We added containers of assorted veggies on the deck since it received full sun. Each year we added more resilience and value: new spots to grow food, a rainwater irrigation system, compost station, and an outdoor kitchen.
Was this our dream homestead? Not hardly. But we made the best of it. I think many people believe they have to wait for the ideal situation to become more prepared and self-reliant. Don’t get caught in that trap. Bloom where you’re planted. Like the Atlanta Rhythm Section song, we added a touch of country to our city. “It ain’t much, but it’s home.” You house and home is a key resource in building resilience.
Rural or Urban?
What should you do if you live in a less than ideal situation? Not everyone can afford to uproot and move to a piece of rural property or farmstead. Many love urban living or choose the lifestyle for jobs. The problem I see with city dwelling is dependence on the big systems: Power grid, food distribution system, municipal water supply, etc. The system is fragile to say the least. You don’t have to look far for examples of how failure in one strand of this interconnected web creates a cascade effect. Panic, havoc, and mayhem results. Then the very people dependent on the big systems scream for someone to come rescue them. Urban dwellers and even suburbanites religiously put their faith in the fragile system. One hiccup can – and often does – bring the whole system to its knees.
What’s the solution?
Go local. Become less dependent on the big system. This lessens the impact of the total fail that is coming. I touched on my plan for building community to deal with the unknown unknowns here. Our most overlooked resource may be watching TV on the sofa next door. Becoming a local producer is our goal.
DRG and I can’t wait to get back to our roots of country living. Until then, our plan is to build resilient resources for our family in the following areas:
If your locale is dependent on water being piped in from hundreds of miles away by electric pumping stations, an extended power outage would cause a big die off in your big city. Water is essential for life. A plan for resilient water resources should include:
- Rainwater collection. While it’s still ‘legal’, do your due diligence and set up a collection system.
- Well water. If you have funds available, dig a well. You’ll be in the same boat as those dependent on electricity to pump water unless you have the ability to draw water out of the ground with alternative power. You’ve got a genset to handle the power needs of your pump. Great. Fuel will eventually run out. How about a hand pump? or gravity feed cistern? We have three deep wells on our family property. The bad part is that two of them are dependent on the electrical grid. The other well was abandoned and capped years ago. I’m doing research now to install an alternative pumping method for this abandoned well.
- Freshwater spring. If you’re in a position to purchase property, look for land with a sustainable spring or well. Creeks, ponds, and lakes come in handy for livestock, fish, irrigation of crops, and emergency water supplies.
Why is it important to know where you food comes from? We are what we eat. If you don’t want to eat the GMO fruits and vegetables from the Industrial Food Machine, what’s an individual to do. Grow your own – or at least a portion of your own food. Not only will you be eating healthier, you’re one step closer to developing self-reliance and resilience.
My long-term food storage plan only runs for six months (not recommended by the experts). I don’t store what the mainstream experts advise. Food storage is prudent but not sustainable. It runs out because we eat it – duh.
Growing our own food has been a challenge in our neighborhood. Our backyard has one tiny spot that gets about 4 to 5 hours of good sun. This past year I moved most of our garden to our full-sun front yard. I know. I run the risk of upsetting our manicured lawn neighbors. Luckily we’ve had no complaints with our foodscape near the house. Julie Bass was not as fortunate in her Michigan neighborhood.
WARNING: The Food Police are bored. What will they come up with next to make our life hell for their own amusement. (I shamelessly adapted Norseman’s fine quote from a video referring to Mother Nature’s fury: “The mountain is bored. What’s it going to do to make my life hell for its own amusement?”)
DRG and I are planning to expand into the weed infested front yard even more this year. We’ll keep some of the weeds growing for medicinal uses. We figure the beautification committee won’t mess with us if we do a gradual take over of the yard – as long it has ‘curb appeal’. It can only add value to our home since the housing bubble deflated. Wait ’til we start raising resilient backyard chickens as a science experiment for my science class.
There’s a 80 year-old man down the street that has a killer garden every year on the corner of a main intersection. He built the corner up with raised beds and packs the plants into a small garden. He sells his excess produce at his booth at our local farmers market each week. He faces the same problem we do – lack of sun in his backyard. Solution: Bloom where you’re planted.
I don’t have a plan yet for dealing with neighborly snitches. I’ll keep y’all posted on the progress and any resistance we face in our foodscaping project. Maybe I can bribe pesky snitches with fresh tomatoes.
Here’s an ambitious couple’s resilient garden. The pictures (before and after) below are an example of creative resilience over at Resilient Communities. These neighbors to our north (Canada) bloomed where they were planted :)
Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio which basically means having the ability to “bounce back” from some unknown surprise.
Even if we’re paying attention, surprises happen. If we’re still breathing, we’re resilient to some degree. Our bodies are hardwired to survive. We have to do our part though. Anytime we find ourselves without the basics of survival – food, water, shelter, protection – we’ve crossed over into a survival situation.
It’s not too late. We still have time to build resources that make us more resilient. Every step you make to disconnect from the system’s ball and chain – to start connecting with your family, friends, and community – the more self-reliant, independent, and resilient you and those closest to you become.
Want to start connecting to build resilience? What’s your strategy?