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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Community Retreat, by Kathy Harrison

Establishing a retreat seems to be the dream of many survivalists but realistically, evacuating to a retreat is not a proposition that is readily available to very many. There are generally problems with finances as well as family commitments to contend with. Many folks, like me, have spent years in establishing perennial food plants, compost piles, garden plots, building small businesses and, most importantly, forging important community ties that would not be easily broken. Therefore, we would be well advised to explore how to approach ways to turn our own residences into retreat communities.

The location of the community is of the utmost importance. Pulling off such a feat off in a large city or an affluent suburb would be pretty difficult. A small town in a rural location with a high proportion of families who already raise food and livestock is your best bet. Such a town is likely to have a well-developed sense of community, strong family ties and a faith-based community. You will also likely find a diverse set of necessary skills. Such communities are generally located in areas that have climates suitable to growing food crops. Hunting is often a part of the local culture so firearms ownership is not seen as a problem. It has been my experience that a large number of survival-minded folks find themselves living in this kind of locality. The question then becomes, “how do we locate like-minded families and establish a network of support, with possibility of barter arrangements and the sharing of skills and tools in such towns?”

We began by attending a film series a few years ago. Free showings of films such as The End of Suburbia, King Corn and Life At The End Of The Empire were shown. Each film was followed by a discussion group. Setting up this kind of series can happen at a library or house of worship. Out of this format, a core group formed, all with the sense that life as we knew it was unlikely to be sustainable for the long term and that we needed to take steps to prepare for the eventual change. We began meeting on a monthly basis. We are a diverse group; some more interested in the implications of Peak Oil, some with financial collapse. Others are the local growers of organic produce and the breeders of heritage breed livestock. We have no membership list, no rules of order, no dues and no criteria for coming to our monthly meetings. We do follow a loose agenda to ensure that we get some work20accomplished but much of our time together is devoted to chit chat about current topics and sharing ideas.

One of our most successful endeavors has been our "101" classes. This is a series of free workshops devoted to helping people learn valuable skills from others. We have had classes in raising chickens, canning produce, cheese making, mushroom propagation, herbal medicine, knitting and many other subjects. The object is to make all of us less dependant and share skills that might otherwise be lost.

Recognizing that energy shortages are likely, we set up a panel of people already alternative sources of energy. This was remarkably well-attended and led to a day long event where folks opened their homes to people who wanted to see each system in operation. We saw underground homes, photovoltaic systems, solar heat collectors, wind powered homes and a couple of places that had been off-grid for years. The tour ended with a pot-luck soup and bread dinner.

We consider helping each other as a given. We have helped each other get in our winter wood supply, can an abundance of bulk purchased chicken and traded off tools, vehicles and equipment. When my husband scored some very inexpensive sap buckets, he bought enough for many other group members. When I found myself overwhelmed with peaches, three of us processed 50 quarts in an afternoon. A couple of us are really interested in wild foods. Together we gathered fox grapes and put up 20 gallons of juice, harvested and dried over 100 pounds of wild mushrooms and canned 35 quarts of wild applesauce. We are still eating the fiddleheads we froze last May. Out latest project is to take a firearms safety course together.

When a major ice storm left our town without power for over a week, we saw an opportunity to check our preparedness level and hone our skills. Many of us were also able to provide help and provisions to those who were less prepared including the elderly in our small town.

We still have work to do. We realize that we are not as well prepared for medical emergencies as we would wish so some members are researching becoming EMTs and First Responders for our local volunteer fire department. We also see the wisdom in becoming more involved in our town government.

I know this is not the kind of preparedness one generally reads about on sites such as this but I think for many, this is the most realistic. Should the worst happen, we will be prepared to ride it out with friends and neighbors, bonded together with common purpose and presenting a united front. - Kathy Harrison


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