But that image is fostered in part by the public's biggest route to being made aware of preppers: Doomsday Preppers, which aired on the National Geographic channel. (The show has also infiltrated the academic literature, as Mills cites a study that analyzed the psychology of people who appeared on the show.) Although Mills doesn't explicitly say it, it's reasonable to wonder whether one can get an accurate cross-section of the prepper community purely from watching people who were chosen to appear on the show based on whether they make for good television.
Of course, one of the most rewarding things about learning to make something with your own hands is that you can pass that know-how to other people. As students put the finishing touches on their shelving units and sawhorses, I get to chatting with Kathleen Lokey, a flannel-clad farmer from Greenville, Tennessee, who works for a nonprofit called Rural Resources. Through a series of workshops and training programs, the organization equips low-income, food-insecure teens in her area with the skills they need to take care of their nutritional needs, including many of the old-timey ones Daisy Luther teaches: growing their own fresh fruit and produce, canning, pickling, and making jams.
When I asked about some of those I had met along the way — say, the geared-up 12-year-old, Leonardo Ruiz Jr., who, dropping his suspicions, later gave his name to a photographer — he gave a forbearing smile. “There’s a spectrum,” Dr. Redlener said. “On one end is mindless complacency. On the other is paranoia. The challenge is to find that place in the middle where you understand that bad things can happen, but it doesn’t consume your life.”

Then, as the show-and-tell ended, he gave the prize for Best Bag to a precocious young Prepper whose kit included a fishing line, a seat belt cutter, ready-start fuel cubes, several types of multi-tools and a smoke hood. The winner had come with his mother and had dutifully prepared a bag for her. I wanted to talk with him, but when I approached, he asked if I was “press” and suspiciously refused to give his name.


After 15 minutes, I was startled to discover that the cereal had puffed up into a Kashi-like multitude of grains, flecked with tiny pieces of apple, complete with green peel, that looked just-chopped. It didn’t taste as good as it appeared: Eyeballing a fourth of the bag had resulted in a poor distribution of seasoning, yielding a flavor I can only describe as water laced with traces of cinnamon and sugar, though subsequent attempts tasted better.
By his own estimate, Pense says there are a few thousand people in the Springfield area who have listened and who are ready. The preppers. Most don’t like to be called preppers because of the connotation that they’re crazy; Chicken Little wasn’t well-received by his people, either. Most don’t even like to talk about it, but a few of them do. So for three months toward the end of 2017, I sought out the preppers to find out: Is it really crazy to live like the sky is falling?
I don’t encounter any preppers at the school that day, but I do meet women from all over the United States and with all kinds of reasons for wanting to learn how to cut and drill wood, including a young yoga studio employee from Wisconsin who is building some custom shelving for her kitchen appliances and cookbooks, as well as two seniors from Washington, DC, who want to build a set of matching cabinets to house their prized collection of vintage wine glasses. Down by the garden, I meet a pair of women from Missouri who are hoping to go into business flipping houses. “We’re tired of waiting for our husbands to do it,” one of them says.
These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
I sincerely feel that the best of all of us comes out in a disaster, with exception to a few. These few are the ones that this article does not or should focus on. Avoidance of perspective team members should be steered more by ethics, integrity and morality. I personally avoid thieves, liars and evil-hearted persons, and lastly the drama queens or snakes (team busters). Everyone else is trainable, deserving of a chance and usually becomes a viable team member in a short amount of time. But back to Powderkeg’s comment, “I can’t save the world, only my family.” This is another one that wasn’t mentioned in the article – The Save The World or Everyone Prepper.
Bombs rain from the skies, alien ships descend with lasers ablaze, improbably proportioned, irradiated sea monsters tear through essential infrastructure. You'd think that running, screaming, and finding clean underwear would top the list of activities likely to improve your chances of living, followed closely by finding a sustainable food source and offering sexual favors to the person with the most impressive arsenal. Unless you were a prepper, in which case you'd be worrying more about the safety of your cigarette stockpile.
Pense just sold his company, Gardening Revolution. For 20 years he shipped the proprietary iron, zinc, manganese, copper, sulfur and boron soil blend. Each bed costs $800, after you buy the cinder blocks and mat. On his best year, he shipped $580,000-worth of them. The magazine John Deere Homestead featured him. He’s taught classes on raised-bed gardening and survival in his cabin ever since. “The record on tomatoes is 274 pounds for one plant. Think about that,” Pense says. “That’s a lot of ’maters for one plant.” More than the ’maters, he’s proud of teaching people younger than him to grow their own food. 
6Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. The National Public Health and Medical Situational Awareness Strategy Implementation Plan (2015-2018). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; 2015 Sep. Available from: https://www.phe.gov/about/OPP/Documents/phm-sa-ip-sept2015.pdf
This kind of focus on the problem at hand is used by some of the best sports coaches in the world. Bill Walsh’s book The Score Will Take Care of Itself dedicates its title to the idea. Phil Jackson describes in Eleven Rings how he’d make his team focus all their energies on the current practice or current game and not on any championships. He even had his team, some of the best athletes in history, meditate in order to do this more effectively. The best way to a better future is focusing on the current step, which is only available in the present moment.
In fact, there may never have been a time when developing this type of self-reliance has been more important. We’re over-politicized and polarized. Advertisements are creeping further and further into our content, making them less obvious. The Internet has given us two or two-thousand sides to every story. Social media feeds allow our peers to weigh in on our every decision. The comment section of a blog post allows us to see what other people thought of an article before we’ve formed our own opinion. It’s increasingly difficult to live a life that is inner-directed rather than other-directed.
The Modern Lifestyle Prepper is another one to avoid. It’s not just a game of stock up enough to maintain creature comforts until normalcy is restored. A genuine situation will require the skills and abilities survive with what is available. Can you build a shelter, how long will it take, can you make fire, do you have basic medical knowledge, can you actually trap an animal, can you walk into the woods right now and get dinner?
Today, Luther says she keeps a pantry with three different levels of “defense.” The first consists of boxes of cereal, frozen foods, and other items you might fall back on if you couldn’t make it to the grocery store for a week or two. The second, her “short-term” food storage, includes canned goods and other items with a longer shelf life — “Stuff you’d use if perhaps you lost a stream of income and times were tight for a few months,” Luther explains. The third is her long-term food storage: Mylar bags full of dry goods like beans, rice, and wheatberries, as well as some freeze-dried fruits, vegetables, and meat. Layer three, she says, is for “a situation in which all hell has broken loose.”
And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long, that they have come to esteem the religious, learned, and civil institutions as guards of property, and they deprecate assaults on these, because they feel them to be assaults on property. They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of his property, out of new respect for his nature. Especially he hates what he has, if he see that it is accidental, — came to him by inheritance, or gift, or crime; then he feels that it is not having; it does not belong to him, has no root in him, and merely lies there, because no revolution or no robber takes it away. But that which a man is does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires is living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man breathes. "Thy lot or portion of life," said the Caliph Ali, "is seeking after thee; therefore be at rest from seeking after it." Our dependence on these foreign goods leads us to our slavish respect for numbers. The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse, and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex! The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! the young patriot feels himself stronger than before by a new thousand of eyes and arms. In like manner the reformers summon conventions, and vote and resolve in multitude. Not so, O friends! will the God deign to enter and inhabit you, but by a method precisely the reverse. It is only as a man puts off all foreign support, and stands alone, that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town? Ask nothing of men, and in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but to bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and color. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.
Perhaps for that reason, many of the practices that bloggers like Luther and Nygaard describe as prepping seem to blend into the world of homesteading, a brand of self-reliance more closely associated with living off the land. According to Gaye Levy, the Arizona-based writer behind the blog Strategic Living and the founder of Backdoor Survival, one of the longest-running woman-run sites in the space, the two aren’t exactly the same thing. “I think prepping is pretty clear: You’re preparing for a disruptive event that’s gonna turn your day-to-day world upside down. Homesteaders typically will have a plot of land. They attempt to grow their own food, they raise farm animals, and that is their job.”
My first exposure to the high-flown pap of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” came in a basement classroom at the private boys’ school where I enrolled to learn the secrets of discipline and because I wanted, at age 14, to wear a tie. The class was early American literature, the textbook an anthology with the heft of a volume of the Babylonian Talmud; a ribbon for holding your place between “Rip Van Winkle,” by Washington Irving, and “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne; and a slick hardcover the same shade of green as the backside of a dollar bill.
She started searching for ways to make the family’s grocery budget stretch further — including using their sizeable plot of land to grow the majority of the produce they consumed. “I started using the coupons and the store discounts, and it made a huge effect in our budget,” she says. “And with the money I saved, I invested in a rain catcher — a water system — and that helped us put the water bill down.” Today, she sells eggs and home-baked goods for extra cash and teaches private classes on how to build what she calls “survival items,” including the aforementioned rain-catching system and solar ovens.
“Obligations that derive from devotion are a constituent element in caring, and I do not experience them as forced on me or as necessary evils; there is a convergence between what I feel I am supposed to do and what I want to do. The father who goes for the doctor in the middle of the night for his sick child does not experience this as a burden; he is simply caring for the child. Similarly, in working out a philosophical concept the need to reflect on it again and again from similar and dissimilar points of view is not a burden forced on me; I am simply caring for the idea.”
Pense tells me this sitting beside the fireplace that heats the furnace-less cabin, necessary in the damp 40-degree weather. He wears a Realtree camouflage jacket, circular wire-framed glasses, gray slacks and black leather shoes. A sign above the fireplace reads: “Invest in precious metals. Buy lead.” Carved in a split log on the mantel is, “A country boy can survive.” The guttered roof deposits 30,000 gallons of Ozarks rainwater into storage tanks outside each year. It’s a prepper’s paradise.
This should be plain enough. Yet see what strong intellects dare not yet hear God himself, unless he speak the phraseology of I know not what David, or Jeremiah, or Paul. We shall not always set so great a price on a few texts, on a few lives. We are like children who repeat by rote the sentences of grandames and tutors, and, as they grow older, of the men of talents and character they chance to see, — painfully recollecting the exact words they spoke; afterwards, when they come into the point of view which those had who uttered these sayings, they understand them, and are willing to let the words go; for, at any time, they can use words as good when occasion comes. If we live truly, we shall see truly. It is as easy for the strong man to be strong, as it is for the weak to be weak. When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish. When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.
So for the moment, people like Bedford are reteaching themselves lost skills—and in some cases, learning new ones. Bedford has read up on harvesting an urban garden, and is learning to use a solar oven to bake bread. She is ready with a pointed shot in the event she ever needs to hunt for her own food. And until then, she's got 61 cans of chili, 20 cans of Spam, 24 jars of peanut butter, and much more stocked in her pantry; she estimates she's spent about $4,000 on food supplies, an amount that should keep her family going for at least three months. Now, even if something simple goes wrong, like a paycheck doesn't go through, "we don't need to worry," she says.
One major upside of freeze-dried food is its convenience. Since all its water content has been removed—via a process that involves exposing food to subzero temperatures, while removing the resulting water vapor with a vacuum—it’s easier than canned goods to transport on the fly. To “cook” Wise Company’s six-grain Apple Cinnamon Cereal, you just boil three and a half cups of water, dump in the powdery contents of the bag (minus the oxygen absorber), and cover the pot for 12 to 15 minutes.
Bombs rain from the skies, alien ships descend with lasers ablaze, improbably proportioned, irradiated sea monsters tear through essential infrastructure. You'd think that running, screaming, and finding clean underwear would top the list of activities likely to improve your chances of living, followed closely by finding a sustainable food source and offering sexual favors to the person with the most impressive arsenal. Unless you were a prepper, in which case you'd be worrying more about the safety of your cigarette stockpile.

“We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards. A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt his genius deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


In the United States, prior to marri, preparedness was largely viewed as the responsibility of first responders and other emergency services. In the aftermath of Katrina, it became evident that first responders can and will become overwhelmed in a large-scale disaster; unable to effectively respond to the emergency. Individual preparedness must be undertaken; ready to handle any disaster. The idea of whole community preparedness, is "By working together, everyone can keep the nation safe from harm and resilient when struck by hazards, such as natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and pandemics." The United Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), individuals, families, businesses, faith-based and community groups profitable groups, schools and academia, media outlets, and all level of governments must take an active role in preparedness efforts. A disaster will affect the whole community, so everyone must be ready, by making a plan, being informed, and taking action to mitigate the effects of future disasters.
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