If you go back 50 years or more many people grew and preserved what they needed to eat for a year. As we have become more industrialized cities grew up, farms decreased, and farming skills have been lost. Small family farms have been bought out by large corporations, a number of which are owned by foreign corporations. Large grocery stores do not have stock rooms, instead they are supplied by trucks that are stocked from regional warehouses every day based on the information from point of sale computers. Between the farms are processing plants, which over the years have been bought up by larger companies so now there are a handful that control the entire process. Local family run stores that receive produce directly from the farmer are few and far between. The only places you can find direct from the farm produce are local farmers markets or by visiting a local farm.
Just in Time
The entire farm to store ‘just in time’ inventory system is fragile. While it works very well for ‘normal’ day to day use and can even surge to resupply after a local/regional event like a hurricane, it is extremely taxed when trying to resupply every store across the country at the same time. However, it should be noted that the entire process requires electricity: other than a local ‘mom and pop’ store that may put price labels on goods most stores use the barcodes for the computer registers to read and price. The computer inventory system then automatically creates a resupply order that is then sent to the regional warehouse. Without power none of that works, you can’t buy anything without electricity.
With the COVID pandemic many people have realized they cannot stay at home for 14 days. Very few people have enough food and other supplies in their house to last them a week. Many people don’t have supplies to be able to prepare meals at home for any extended period. Add to that any media hype that there is going to be a shortage of something, and people then panic buy, which actually adds to the shortage, at least until the supply chain can catch up.
Prepared versus Hoarding
Now let me make an important distinction between being prepared (a ‘prepper’) versus hoarding. Being prepared means that when things are normal you buy a little extra of something over time. You have a plan on what you need to provide for your family for a given period of time without having to go out to buy (we’ll discuss what that time is later in this article). Hoarding is when you suddenly realize there might be a shortage of something and buy as much of it as possible at that time. You then either keep it or try and resell at a much higher markup than what is reasonable, i.e., price gouging.
A lot of people are now beginning to understand the importance of being prepared at some level. If you haven’t started building your preparedness supplies, knowledge and resources then this article is intended to get you started and to give you resources for more information.
Why are you Prepping?
Firstly, you need to ask yourself what you are prepping for. What do you believe will be the biggest thing that is going to impact you and your family? To do a thorough assessment of the possible threats or situations that could cause you to need emergency supplies takes time. However, some are obvious, such as hurricanes if you live on the east or gulf coasts, tornadoes, a wildland fire, loss of a job or loss of income as in the current situation with the COVID pandemic and shelter in home orders. What you might need, and you plan for different situations varies slightly but general principles still apply to all of the situations.
You need to look at becoming prepared as a marathon. Most people cannot go out and buy a year’s supply of emergency supplies. First you don’t know if you are going to like what you buy for long term emergency supplies. Most bulk long-term food supplies are freeze dried meals or components to make meals, such as freeze-dried vegetables, butter, milk, cheese etc. Food is just one aspect of being prepared, other areas include emergency power such as batteries, solar power AM/FM/Weather alert radios, solar chargers for rechargeable batteries, flashlights or lanterns, water or the ability to filter water and alternative means to heat and cook food. Additionally, there are skills, like gardening, navigation, understanding your neighborhood by doing an area assessment. Then of course having a bag in your car with supplies in case you are stuck or to get you home. Then there is a bug out bag, with essential items and files in case you have to leave your house in a hurry due to a fire or hazardous materials spill in your neighborhood. Much of this is beyond the scope of this article, but we will cover in future articles.
Set a Goal
So, let’s focus on food first as that is what most people are concerned with at this time. You need to set a goal of having enough food for 1 month, then 3, then 6 until you have enough for a year. While a year may seem like a lot there are some base foods that you can store for long term food. In addition, for the short-term event, such as a hurricane or tornado, you will have extra that you can share with neighbors and family.
There is no point in storing food that your family doesn’t like. So the easiest thing to do to start is to buy a little extra of what you normally buy, preferably in cans since they can be stored almost indefinitely. If the can remains intact then the food inside is safe. Other items, such as oats, rice, sugar, flour, pasta, etc. can be purchased in bulk packaging and repacked. If packaged into mylar bags most goods will last 20 or more years, but flour is about 2 years. You package most items with oxygen absorbers, with the exception of sugar and salt. Make sure you write the contents and the date you packaged it on the outside of the bag with a permanent marker.
Personally, I use 1-gallon mylar bags, so each package is smaller and then store them in plastic bins. One reason to have a smaller bag, rather than a 5-gallon bag you see most people recommend, is that if something happens to a bag you only lose a small amount of product. Another is that it is easier to open and use a smaller bag than 5-gallons of product and it is also easier to give a neighbor a 1-gallon bag. To seal the bags, you can use an iron, fold the open end of the bag over a piece of wood and seal about ¾ of the way. Once you have a batch of bags repacked and partially sealed then place an oxygen absorber in and then seal the rest of the bag. Flour, rice and grains should be put in a freezer for about 72-hours. This kills any weevils that might be in the product. Ideally you should store your bags in a cool dry area. If it is in an area that might attract mice or other little critters you can put the gallon bags into a metal trash can. Mouse traps, set with peanut butter, can be effective and another option is Irish Spring bar soap sprinkled around the bins will also keep critters away.
Other options for food should be considered for immediate emergencies, such as a tornado or emergency evacuation. During a disaster you may not have the option to prepare and cook a proper meal. In these situations, freeze dried or meals-ready-to-eat (MRE’s) are the ideal option. There are some very good freeze-dried meals, and others not so. Freeze dried meals are light and have less bulk than other options. When checking for freeze dried foods get some samples and try them. Look at the nutritional information as while a package may say it contains 2 meals you might find that it is one meal for an adult. Take this in consideration when calculating how much to buy. I would suggest that you build up at least 3-days’ supply of freeze-dried food.
One other item that you must include in your ‘starter pack’ of emergency supplies is water. While you can go a week without food you can only go a few days without water. In a disaster you cannot rely on being able to get clean and safe water from your tap. Cases of bottled water are a quick and easy way to build up a supply of water. However, you can also get 5-gallon containers that are stackable to store water in. If you go this route you should store it with a small amount of bleach in. You should also plan to flush out and replace stored water every 6 or 12 months.
Bottom line is to take some action TODAY. It can be small steps, an extra packet of sugar or cans of the kids favorite foods. Don’t put it off saying I’ll start next month when I have more time or more money. The time is now!
You will find more in-depth articles, such as planning for long-term storage, ways to store items and resources/sources for bulk and long-term food items in the members section.