7. Learn to get food from the land
In a long term survival plan, land is the most important resource. With it you can secure shelter, food, and water. Think territory. If you live in the city, your bugout strategy should involve purchasing a bit of good rural land somewhere and preparing it to be lived on.
Good land is that which can provide surface water (a spring is best), timber, hunting, and enough arable land to cultivate a sustainable garden. With these resources you can live indefinitely in comfort. Buy as much acreage as you can afford. When you spend money on a cruise to Hawaii, that money is gone, but land is wealth. When you buy land, you’re merely transferring money from a bank account into an asset; you still have the wealth, just in a less liquid form. But it is productive; it yields the fruits of your labor.
There are hundreds of books on this topic. Here are some of my favorites, and I’ve put them in the Store for your convenience (or just click the links the take you straight to Amazon):
Back to Basics. This is the standard text for developing skills to make the land productive.
The Self-Sufficient Life. John Seymour’s informative and beautifully illustrated book. The illustrations of small farms will inspire you to make a cozy, productive farm.
The Forager’s Harvest. This wild foods book is my favorite because the author focuses on tasty plants he has actually learned to forage himself. He has weeded out <ahem!> plants that taste nasty. In tough situations you might also need to know about less palatable foraging, so check out other books as well.
Three ways to get food from the land
I live in my bugout location, so we already have it developed for long-term, off-grid survival. I have all kinds of technological conveniences such as electricity, internet, and gas. We buy food at the grocery store and I use machines like a tractor, chainsaw, and lawn mower. But if push comes to shove we can live without these by continuing to develop three basic skills.
Foraging. [Disclaimer: This section discusses wild foods. Some parts of the plants described are poisonous, and some people have food intolerances that will make them sick if they eat these foods. Don’t rely on anything I tell you here. Do your own research; you are responsible for your own safety]. Plants are food, medicine, seasoning, shelter, and tools. When we talk about foraging, we usually mean finding food, but you might as well understand all the benefits of this resource. Educate yourself though; if you don’t know how to identify mushrooms, eating them is a very bad idea.
To survive by foraging, you have to be willing to eat stuff you wouldn’t normally find on a menu. Also, these items don’t just jump into your plate; you have to work for them. The purpose of this post is not to teach you everything about foraging (for that, buy the book), but rather to make you aware of the basic principle that the land does yield food you can survive on by foraging. Still, I’ll share a short list of some of my personal favorites. NOTE: Go to Wikipedia for photos of these plants.
- Ramps (a.k.a spring onion, wild leeks). If you like onions, leeks, and garlic, you won’t have any trouble eating these. You can find recipes on the Internet.
- Thistle. The tap root is good, and it’s easy to find. I like it baked in a casserole with a bechamel sauce and cheese on top.
- Blackberries. I can’t eat them raw because of an intolerance to many raw nuts and berries, but I like them as preserves.
- Chestnut. Roasted chestnuts are delicious. They’re also good in curries, or simmered in butter and red wine and served with game. When boiled and pureed they make a good soup similar to pumpkin or butternut squash.
- Black Walnut. It’s a tough nut to crack, but the meat is excellent. Roast some in the skillet with the chestnut recipe above. Nuts in general provide fats and protein.
- Nettle. As with many wild plants, some varieties of nettle are better than others. Wear gloves to harvest and chop stinging nettles. The sting is deactivated when cooked. If you get stung, look for plantain, which grows in the same environment as nettle. Chew the plantain leaves into a mush, and then smear it onto the rash. It works like magic.
- Dandelion. You need to love this weed. This is an exceptionally nutritious plant rich in vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as several minerals. The flowers are good sauteed in butter, and the young leaves are good with a salad. Make teas with it. Dandelion is diuretic and a source of potassium, which is often lost with the use of other diuretics. It is also a digestive aid. Do some research on this one: it has many other benefits not listed here.
- Plantain. I don’t like the taste of it, but it is a very effective medicine for a wide range of skin conditions. My wife makes a plantain salve with coconut oil, olive oil, and beeswax. She adds a little lavender or rosemary essential oil for a good scent. A dermatologist prescribed an expensive medicine for excema on my face, and it didn’t even work all that well. Now I use the salve exclusively — problem solved. I also use it for chapped lips to great effect. If I get a bee sting I chew the leaves and apply it like a poultice. The pain vanishes like magic.
If I described all the benefits of all the wild plants for food and medicine, I’d have to write a whole book. I just want you to explore this resource yourself — there’s so much wealth on your land! Study all the health benefits of chamomile, comfrey, dock, jewelweed, chickory, cresses, rosemary, lavender, tree barks, and on and on.
- Wilderness Survival
- Foraging with the “Wildman”
- The Edible Wild Plants Index
Hunting and Trapping. One of the challenges of foraging is that it’s hard to find foods rich in fats and protein. Some nuts are an exception, of course, but meat is your most readily available source of protein. Tastes vary, but you can eat just about any animal if you need to. I even saw Bear Grylls snare and eat a skunk on Man vs. Wild. By his reaction, it was pretty disgusting. I could have told him.
Learn to hunt with a bow. Arrows are reusable and replaceable. Having said that, if you have enough ammo, a gun gives you better range. My bow skills are pretty pathetic, so I’ll use a gun when I can. One of the best, affordable hunting rifles is the Remington bolt action. Sure, the Weatherby has a better trigger, but it does cost more. Choose your favorite cartridge. I like the 7mm Magnum 168-grain boattail hollowpoint. My father-in-law prefers the .270. My neighbor likes his Winchester lever-action 30-30. When we talk about accuracy (mine is more accurate), he points out that we live in hilly, wooded terrain and he rarely takes a shot at more than 150 yards, well within the Winchester’s range.
The various states have different hunting and trapping regulations, so know the laws. Link to State hunting regulations. However, in survival situations it pays to know even the illegal techniques. For instance, some states ban snares, but you need to know how to make one. Tennessee has a bizarre law making it illegal to kill venomous snakes; just know that rattlesnake is edible (fairly tasty, in fact) and they’re not hard to catch once they’re located. Deadfalls work too, but set a flag to warn family and neighbors of the danger — again, this is for survival situations only.
With a gig and a flashlight, you can be in the frog leg business.
Fishing is a no-brainer.
Bird hunting is traditionally dove, turkey, waterfowl, and so forth, but be ready to expand your palate. Sparrow, Starling, and other small birds are food too.
Don’t discount field mice. The thought of eating small rodents might not be all that enticing, but at least they’re vegetarian, as are squirrels.
Wild or feral hogs, goose, bear, and possum are good sources of fat. Possum wouldn’t be my first choice, but it’s been done. They eat any disgusting thing, though. My grandfather used to trap them live, confine them, and feed them grain for several weeks before eating them. I think I would have just eaten the grain.
Cultivation and Husbandry. This is hard work, but it pays huge dividends. With a few basic garden tools, an understanding of your climate, and lots of sweat, you can grow enough food to keep you going all winter. I live in a transition zone; we have plenty of rain, cold winters, and hot humid summers. It’s a blessing and a curse — we can grow a huge variety of vegetables, from turnips to okra, but we have to contend with prolific weeds, bugs, and plant diseases. If you live in a desert climate you won’t have as much trouble with these, but you’ll have to plan your water supply and alkaline soil.
Don’t fight nature. Know your climate and what grows well in your area. Focus on those crops and you’ll have less work and more food.
Animal husbandry ensures a steady supply of meat, leather, and wool. For details about raising livestock for food, read my post about livestock for emergencies.
- Barnyard in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Rabbits, Goats, Sheep, and Cows
Contingencies: If you can’t afford to buy land, consider sharing the land with a friend or family; start practicing your foraging, hunting, and cultivation skills right away; make it a family project. Take a long weekend camping trip to your land with your family, and try foraging for meals.