Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Skills to Survive

I had an interesting conversation with some friends the other day about the skill set many of us have in our modern world and the skill set people had 200 years ago. Many of us now have skills that aren't directly linked to our survival. My skills as an business manager earn me a salary of money which I then give to a grocery store to buy food which it purchased from someone else. If something drastic happened in our world and we could no longer earn money, or if we could no longer buy food at a grocery store many people would be in a huge pickle. This is because our skills are no longer directly linked to our survival.

There are many of us that are trying to learn these basic survival skills once again, things like growing food, raising poultry, hunting, eating seasonally, canning, baking, building, sewing, knitting, spinning, etc. Some of us were lucky and grew up with parents that grew food, mom's that cooked from scratch and dad's that built furniture in the garage. Others weren't so lucky. Even if we were lucky enough to have parents that were into that sort of thing, most likely we didn't pay attention or hated gardening, or perhaps they just didn't do some things you are now interested in. As a result many of us are now trying to learn these skills through the internet, books, videos and from others.

One of the things I've noticed as I strive to learn new skills is that there's a huge overload of information. It can be difficult to glean the good stuff from the bad. I find it amusing sometimes when I read a book about something like keeping chickens that was written by someone that didn't grow up with chickens and just learned about them a few years ago. They often say things in the book that seem completely ridiculous and go against the way nature intended things to be. Books can be a good source of info, but they can also be completely wrong or not as in depth as they should be. Sometimes they completely gloss over important information. When researching a new topic I usually read 5-10 books about it and then assimilate all the information from the various sources. Usually I end up with a pretty good idea of how it should be done.

I find a lot of wonderful information on blogs and through internet friends (like all of you). Blogs are a great way to connect with others that are like-minded not only for advice and information, but also to have a support network. The connections I've made through blogging are not only a great source of information, but also a wonderful network of support!

I have also been working on building a network of local people that have some of the skills I don't posses so I can purchase or barter for their goods or services and learn from them. I have yet to be able to raise chickens or keep dairy cows, but I have a small local farm where I get these items. I know that I can rely on them to provide me with quality milk, eggs and meat and I'm so much happier giving them my money. Bartering is also a great option when you have developed a small local network for the things you need. One spring I traded 50 tomato seedlings for a good amount of pastured meat from a local farmer. I have also traded elderberries and other items for items I can't produce myself.

I am now confident that I have many of the skills needed to survive should I ever need them. Lets hope we never need these skills for some major disaster, but it may well be that they'll come in handy during a localized natural disaster or even an extended season of unemployment. I'm more comfortable knowing that I have a safety net, beyond our monetary emergency fund, in the skills I've taken the time to cultivate over the last 5 years. I would hate to be scrambling to learn these things when I needed them most.

What kinds of survival skills have you been learning over the past couple years? Where do you find the best information?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.


Just A Gal said...

I, too, have become frustrated with several different "versions" of information lately. I was going to can tomatoes for the first time using an old recipe from one of my mother-in-laws cookbooks, only to be scared out of it by an article online that said we would get botulism. I wish I had a mentor who could stand in my kitchen with me and show me what to do!

Rosa said...

I've been gradually growing my skills over the years. I think the most important is wild/weed food gathering. But don't discount your business management knowledge - I think the most important survival skill is social connection making and resource managing.

Just A Gal, if you're worried, check out the USDA recommendations for canning whatever you're making. Just use google - ever single state's extension service has the exact same information, and it all comes from the USDA, and it's all the newest lab-tested stuff. We may learn something in the future that changes the current rules, and you can change then (or not, I still water-bath can peaches. I just don't feed them to babies or strangers). Or, if you live in Minneapolis-St. Paul email me & you can come help me can pickles this week, they're an easy start & show all the basic techniques.

dilli and the manthing said...

I think the best information comes from doing the things yourself. Everything I read or watch is used as a reference/guideline and nothing more. The real learning comes from making mistakes and hands on doing of things. Just because a book says something will go like this or that does not mean it will. A writer is generally only giving their version of an experience. As we all know our own experience is often not the same. I know when I write I try and say "this is how I do it, your personal experience will be somewhat different." I also try and give links to other information when I veer off how something is supposed to be done.When it is something I have been doing for 30 years and it aint killed me yet, I try to tell them..

Just a gal and others looking for mentors, look around locally.. many of us that have been doing this stuff for a long time are more than willing to teach someone how we do things

Rachel said...

I've been gradually adding to my skill set. I'm self taught on some skills such as sewing. Other things I learn mostly from books or online. Sometimes, though rarely, I'll take a class on a skill.

October 1st my family has decided to try going a year without getting food at the grocery store. It will be an interesting project, but it will definitely reveal whether we can sink or swim when it comes to survival.

Chiot's Run said...

Just a Gal, it is tough to know which guidelines to us. I have read probably 10 different times for canning crushed tomatoes. Personally I think the botulism scare is propaganda from food companies though. I prefer using the old times as I feel I'm cooking the life out of my food with the new guidelines. I have a few old canning books and I follow the guidelines in those. Since I grew up with grandmas & a mom that canned I grew up doing it and eating it all my life, I'm not the least bit scared of badly processed food, generally if something goes bad it's very easy to tell and it doesn't happen often.

I would recommend using the guidelines in Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods her guidelines seem to be great. I've been using some of her canning guidelines for tomatoes, red peppers, sauerkraut and a few other things with success. They don't seem to be as long as some of the processing times in other books.

I agree with the others that recommend finding someone locally that cans and asking if they'll let you help them a few times. Hands on learning is a great way to get the confidence needed for such a task if you've never done it before.

Bellen said...

For those looking for hands-on learning about canning. Check with your local Extension Service, perhaps they offer classes. Or go to a local fair and while checking out the canned goods, ask if someone there could spend time helping you.

Personally I've been mending/sewing again, along with knitting and crocheting. Food wise we are doing more container gardening as it can be done in the lanai (bugs are such a problem in FL). For the items we still must buy I'm looking for local sources especially potatoes.
They are grown in, I kid you not, Spuds FL but that's a 4 hour trip.

Damn The Broccoli said...

I find many ideas through the blogsphere or through my own basic curiousity. I need a simple to maintain hot water system that will feed heating? Google!

I find the hardest part though is knowing I can't do it alone and knowing there aren't enough around me to be the community that we have lost.

No matter what your skill set, the knowledge is there and is easily accesible, knowing how to apply it is a different matter. This is sometimes only available firsthand and thankfully although no one in my immediate family still farms, my Gran is on hand to answer questions I need answers to and she revels in the chance to look back.

It's a scary thought that just two generations back my family would not have been worried about survival as they were already living that way, 50 years later and the world is a hugely different place.

Huskerbabe said...

I grew up in the country. My grandmother and my mother bought very few things at a grocery store. Now not only do my daughters and I shop for most of our goods at the store, but so do my mother and grandmother. It's so easy to slip into using what is easy and not what is best.
As far as the USDA guidelines for canning go, I'm a little leary of their expert advice. I'm sure all of those tainted eggs a couple of weeks ago had USDA approval. :(

Katie said...

My mom grew up very impoverished, and so was raised exposed to all these skills. But she knows nothing about it! She remembers helping with butchering chickens and working in the garden, and stuff like that, but has no clue how to do any of it. And I certainly wasn't raised with any of it, so I'm learning on my own, and with friends. I've been teaching myself to can over the last couple years, doing a veggie garden, and raising chickens for meat and eggs.

Me said...

I too am learning about these skills... it's become my passion... hopefully it will change to our way of life in the near future...

I grew up with parents that didn't do any of the things I am doing, but I also grew up in an atmosphere where I could ask my grandma's the whys and hows :)

I prefer to think of it as sustainable and not survival tho! (reading about climate change and peak oil frightens me a tad, lol)... and yes, I agree that reading alot of books and pulling knowledge from all of them is more important then focusing on ONE book or ONE article about a subject... also, experience has been my best way of learning... like, I didn't read about testing the pH of my garden, I just noticed a slow decline in production and the early death of my vegetable plants, and put 2 and 2 together... I'm glad that I have the years left to learn by trial and error, or at least I hope we do :)

loved the post... love bartering... and hopefully I will continue to stay focused on this concept!

Paula said...

I've been amassing a library for awhile now, plus I've borrowed a lot of books from the library (and then usually buy what I think was great). I've a long, long way to go before I can completely feed us from the yard, but that's the general idea. I want to be able to do it just in case I have to. I've been about skill acquisition since I was 13, and I'm now 50, so consequently I can do a lot of things. But there are still a lot of things I haven't done yet. This next spring it will be to start the beehive and get chickens. Maybe rabbits, too. There's so much to learn, isn't there? Probably my biggest source for information anymore is the internet. It's also a good source for what you need. I hope that someday, I won't need any outside inputs and will be able to manage everything from right here...

louisa @ The Really Good Life said...

I use a combination of resources too - not because I don't trust them on their own but because there often isn't any one right answer and I'd prefer to summarise a range of experiences to suit my specific situation/needs.

I use books, online stuff (primarily blogs but videos for certain techniques), short courses where applicable (in the UK, courses run by the Low Impact Living Initiative offer good value day/two day courses across the country) - and learning specific skills from knowledgeable friends.

But like dilli and the manthing, I think the most important thing is to give it a go. Read a bit, try it, and learn from your mistakes.

A Bun Can Dance said...

I totally agree with you about the confusion that some books/websites lead us to, and that some of these "experts" have only just learned to do those things themselves!
As for me, we've had to learn to live a really very frugal life in the last few years due to significantly decreased income. It means we have to be very creative in how we use what we've got, and we've needed to totally step away from much of the consumerism that so many of our acquaintances are still tied into.
But more than anything else, I can say that we are happier now on a tiny income and small outgoings, than we ever were on a hefty income and massive consumption!!
Thanks for a great post.
I love your photos too.

Peasant Gourmet said...

I tend to over-research stuff, only to find that it wasn't that hard. A lot of things just take time, and I have to be able to accept errors.

@Rosa - I'm in the twin cities, too! I'd love to help you can! I'm actually in the nutrition program at the U and finding out the science of all this food preservation stuff, and I have to admit, it's making me a lot more comfortable about canning!

Chookie said...

I think it's important to find information that's local, especially if it concerns gardening, food preparation, legal and medical matters. I know I have to prune my roses in July, for example -- that's the only time roses are dormant here. A great deal of information available on the net is only of local validity, and often the person posting it doesn't seem to understand this, because they don't tell you where they are!