Urban Homesteading and Survival

Reader Contribution by Nicole Caldwell
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With the recent devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy and her wicked Nor’easter stepsister that blew in on her heels, people living along the east coast have seen horrible damage to personal property. Perhaps most vicious of this onslaught–next to the total devastation of certain coastal homes–was the loss of power and lack of fuel for transportation–which has affected millions of people’s ability to heat their homes, and gain access to food and fresh water.

For those of you who haven’t been to Better Farm for a visit yet (where we provide the public with a “living laboratory” to discover a variety of methods for gardening and homesteading applicable to any living situation), here’s a suggested “survival” list for those of you living in suburbs and cities. Utilizing these suggestions is great way to up your preparedness in the case of a future disaster. And as an added bonus, the bulk of these ideas are guaranteed to lower your carbon footprint in general.

• Go Solar. Imagine never having the power go out. Ever. If you’ve got an extensive solar set-up at your home (and a battery bank as back-up), you don’t ever have to worry about being looped into the grid. Forget needing fuel or natural gas for your furnace or hot-water heater. Forget losing your computer power. Forget the lights going out. With all the incentives–along with the recent, dramatic drop in cost–it’s getting increasingly difficult to explain why not to go solar.

• Buy a Solar Generator. While any backup generator is a good idea to have around in case of emergency, solar generators are great because they don’t rely on access to fuel.

• Buy a Solar Charger. Your cell phone is crucial if you need to call for help, so make sure it never loses power. Solar Chargers have seen a big drop in cost–get one now to avoid ever being without access to help.

• Install a Wood Stove. You should check the zoning laws in your particular town or city, but in many places having a wood-burning stove can make all the difference in the world when the power goes out. They heat more efficiently than any fireplace, you can cook right on top of them, and they make a great addition to any home.

• Harvest Your Rainwater. While some places in the Southwest have actually outlawed rainwater harvesting (yuck!), most places won’t bust you for installing a barrel at the bottom of your gutter system’s downspout. This water is great for irrigation on your garden, but can also serve in a pinch for showering, washing dishes, general cleaning, pet water, and even water for your own consumption (if you have purification tablets–be sure you know what to treat for).

• Buy Camping Equipment. Your local camping and outdoors store has a lot of great, compact items you can store anywhere to have on-hand in an emergency. Sample list: crank flashlights and radios, camping stoves, lanterns, water purifiers (for your rainwater catchment system), and MREs.

• Get a Chainsaw. Next time winds take down trees on your property, save yourself hundreds (likely thousands) of dollars and cut the logs up yourself. Then stack them for use in your fireplace or wood stove (or call a lumber company and offer to sell them your wood–particularly if you’ve got cherry, oak, black walnut, or other desirable trees).

• Grow Your Own Food. Whether you plant a garden out back, install a grow bed over your fish tank, plant a rooftop garden, start a community garden in your neighborhood, or hang a vertical wall in your kitchen, there’s simply no reason every household can’t grow at least part of its own food. (Search here for how to do everything from vertical gardens to companion planting outside.) What if every city neighborhood designed a community garden that could feed itself all the basics? What if every building had a living roof? How would this change an emergency situation entirely?

• Store Your Own Food. If you overplant in the summer, you will have enough food on-hand to blanch, freeze, and jar food to enjoy all fall, winter, and spring. If you’ve got a root cellar or well, you have lots of refrigeration power as well.

• Get in Shape. If your town or city has disaster strike, power outages, flooding, and debris on the roads may mean you’re left with your own man- or woman-power to survive. That means you need to be in good physical condition in order to transport food, water, and supplies, get across town, or maneuver your body through wreckage.

• Have an Evacuation Plan. What will you do if all the roads are closed? Do you know all the side streets in your neighborhood? If your main bridge or tunnel is shut down, do you know another way to get out of town? Consider every alternative route, even if it seems silly now. Don’t dismiss the power of kayaks or canoes in flood situations (or the common sense of hip waders), or your ability to walk through neighbors’ yards or public open spaces to get out of a bad situation. If you’ve recently moved to a new area, get to know the terrain.

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