This morning’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune brings news of the latest must-have item for survivalists. For $149, you can buy a canister filled with enough heirloom seeds to plant an acre of vegetables, enough to feed a small group of people for a year.
Several authors of a decidedly non-survivalist bent (if you want to use a crude red/blue, liberal/conservative yardstick) have written books on how to grow your own and the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of doing that. My favorites are This Organic Life, by Joan Dye Gussow, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. Both books tell the story of how a family began to live off its own land — in Gussow’s case, a standard suburban lot. Last spring, Northern Gardener profiled a couple from Prior Lake, Mn., who fed themselves and three teen-age sons very well from a large vegetable garden. Obviously, you can grow much of the food a family needs on an acre or less.
What this survivalist seed offer seems to ignore, though, is that to “grow your own” you need a good deal more than seeds: You need knowledge, and lots of it. Most of the folks I’ve known over the years who are very self-sufficient grew up on farms, or they devoted considerable study to horticulture and animal husbandry as they gradually moved to a grow-you-own approach. To successfully garden on a largish scale (particularly post-apocalypse), you need to know when and how to plant seeds, how to sharpen and repair tools, how to make your own compost and build your soil, how to build fences to keep critters out of the garden, and, if you are an omnivore, how to keep and butcher chickens or other animals among many other things. Most importantly, you have to know how to process enough food to get you through the winter .
So, to any survivalists out there, I say, by all means, put down your guns and plant a garden — though you may be able to get a better deal on seeds than $149. Buy some canning equipment, too, and a dehydrator. Go to the library or a book dealer and pick up a couple of basic manuals on going it alone, such as the 1940s classic The “Have More” Plan or the more recent, The Backyard Homesteader. Enjoy yourselves, learn some skills, and you may find that whether the world ends or not, working in your garden has given you a healthier, happier life — and that’s a lot better than just surviving.