And why shouldn’t they? National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers doesn’t exactly help viewers understand the plight of the average prepper, the one without 60 guns, scuba diving equipment, a bunker and an armored personnel carrier. “I knew going into it that they would try to sensationalize a lot of stuff,” says Allen, a Springfield prepper who refused to divulge his last name; he appeared on the show in 2012 showing off his aquaponics setup. “If Doomsday Preppers had shown typical preppers on a typical day, it would’ve been pretty boring.”
I don’t need to tell you that life doesn’t care much about the plans you make. We think we want one thing and it turns out we want another. We think we’d be good at one thing and we discover a whole other set of strengths. You may even discover that how you travel your path is more important than which path you travel; when deciding between taking two seemingly equally good directions, the posture you walk with can matter more than which path you choose.
Nygaard is a busy woman: In addition to working a full-time job, raising chickens, and growing sweet corn, potatoes, and peppers, she runs a blog called Living Life in Rural Iowa, where she shares bits of wisdom that she’s learned on her prepping journey. Looking back, Nygaard says becoming a prepper encouraged her to develop new skills, including the sorts of home repairs and outdoor work she once counted on her husband to tackle. “Before you get divorced, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s outside. My husband can take care of that.’ And then when you become a single parent, you’re like, ‘Wow, I have to do outdoors and indoors — why did I think he should take care of all that?’ You have that sense that you can do just about anything you set your mind to.”
What programs like Doomsday Preppers have accomplished, or at least contributed to, is turning sometimes well-informed, sometimes totally unwarranted paranoia into a booming prepper-industrial complex. Each year, swap meets pack hundreds of convention centers and fairgrounds across the nation—they’re like camping shows with a dose of military surplus and hands-on instructional sessions. The September 2017 Kansas City Survival Expo & Gun Show, for instance, had tips on seed saving, “Overcoming 900 Health Diseases” and “A Devastating Street Self-Defense System.” The latter was taught by Norman Cantwell, who inspired Patrick Swayze’s character in Roadhouse. You get the feeling that he and Steven Seagal would be friends.
It was not by chance, Mr. Edwards said, that prepping first took root in New York in the black community: he himself is black, and in the 1990s he became a frequent guest on “The Open Line,” a call-in radio show on the “urban adult” station WBLS. Around the same time, he started giving classes in disaster preparation at the National Action Network, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights group. “Obviously,” Mr. Edwards said, “because of our history, black folks know that bad things happen.”