Gardening in a post-apocalyptic world

“Because survival is insufficient”

Last week I had the pleasure to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Agora, the student newspaper at Monroe County Community College. It was part of their “One Book One Community” series in which a book is chosen and as many people as possible read the book, then events such as panel discussions are held.

This time the book was Station Eleven  a post- apocalyptic novel written by Emily St. John Mandel.  The story is set in the not-to-distant future Great Lakes area, so it has a special attraction for those of who live in this area. An extremely virulent influenza virus has abruptly wiped out over 99% of the world’s human population causing complete collapse of civilization. A performance group called the Travelling Symphony wanders about the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron performing Shakespeare for villagers.

You'll recognize some of the vaguely familiar locations in Station Eleven
You’ll recognize some of the vaguely familiar locations in Station Eleven

Our panel discussion addressed hypothetical questions of how would we survive a catastrophic event and the chaos that would follow. On our panel was Micha a sportsman who is an expert hunter and fisherman; Chase, a young, decorated war veteran who gave his thoughts on self-defense; our director of emergency management Mark Hammond representing the government’s point of view; my wife Judy — who is a retired horticulturist from Matthaei Botanical Garden– and myself shared our opinions on growing and preserving food.

A number of possible scenarios were brought up ranging from a natural or man-made electro-magnetic pulse that takes down the electrical grid to a global pandemic much like the one in Mandel’s novel and everything in between. Most agreed that the most probable disaster would be an electrical grid failure that we could recover from in a relatively short period of time. This was not long after the wind storm in March that knocked out electricity to over a million people in Michigan so it was still fresh in everyone’s mind.

What are three things that you should do right now to prepare for a disaster? There are many possibilities but our Mr. Hammond suggested we look at the FEMA website to get started and always have a “bug-out bag” ready.

Learning the rudiments of hunting and fishing would serve you well in the Great Lakes area if you were lucky enough to survive the beginnings of an extreme disaster. Purchasing proper outdoor equipment, including firearms, ahead of time and learning how to use it is critical if you decide to prepare for that kind of eventuality.

In my opinion, subsistence gardening/farming would be the most productive endeavor in a post-apocalyptic world, especially you decide to settle in down in one spot and not travel. My suggestion to the audience was to take up gardening as a new hobby to learn how to grow your own food. Judy reminded the participants that most garden seed is only viable for one to five years, depending on the type of vegetable and open-pollinated, heirloom varieties would be the only workable option for growing food long into the future.

We all agreed that it would be best to have a group of like-minded family and friends who could band together to share their skills to help mitigate the worst aspects of a disaster. Even some form of entertainment would be welcome. Many years ago a group of my friends discussed that very topic: who would be critical to the survival of the group? After all the practical skills were covered, like woodworking, blacksmithing and such, it was decided to include Greg because he was a talented guitar player and wonderful singer.

Even if civilization is not wiped out during our lifetime, gardening is a healthy, enjoyable, productive hobby.

Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gardening as an investment

In our garden this year we had two hills, with five seeds per hill, that produced over 60 pounds of winter squash. Considering the seeds cost 14¢ each that is a tremendous return. However there are other expenses besides the price of seed that should be looked at.

Buttercup squash gave us a very high return on investment in the garden.
Buttercup squash gave us a very high return on investment in the garden.

The largest expense would be the labor involved in preparing the soil, planting the seeds, caring for the plants, harvesting and storing the crop. Some people would also factor in the opportunity cost of their labor. In other words, “what could I be doing with that time that may make me more money?” If gardening is looked at as part of person’s recreational or exercise time, then there are no labor costs. It certainly has more income potential than watching TV.

Now, on the other hand, if we hired someone to do the tilling and irrigation the costs would jump up dramatically.  If you were to make these calculations on your own plot of land, those costs would have to be taken into consideration. Business people would look at other things such as value of the square footage of the land, property taxes for that area, equipment amortization, and other items.

Even if all of the other expenses are factored in, the return on investment is still very high especially compared to other activities. A CEO of a large, well-known horticultural business figures the return in a garden can be up to 25,000% annually. Of course we’re looking at production on a small plot of land tended by a person during their off-hours.

So why aren’t all farmers multi-millionaires if the return on investment is so great? Once you start scaling up production the economics changes. At that scale much more needs to be invested in machinery, energy, labor, taxes, interest on borrowed money and all of those other things that go into operating a farm.

For us gardeners though, we can have the satisfaction of knowing we are such shrewd investors.

Bob