When the System Implodes You Can Try Farming To Feed Yourself
But you’re going to fail
I used to say that my favorite things about living in the twentieth century were antibiotics and indoor plumbing.
Those are pretty much still my favorite things about existing in the twenty-first century. Fuck the Internet. My enduring love is still for a toilet inside my house and for antibiotics that made the big bad bogeymen like pneumonia, UTIs, and ear infections a little less terrifying.
So when I see people saying things like “maybe we should all try to live off the grid and farm,” here at Medium and in the larger culture, I get very, very, VERY nervous.
Because here’s some things I know: Without medications and antibiotics, my family is fucked. And also? I grew up on a farm. We grew our fruits and vegetables. We had dairy cows and drank unprocessed milk and butchered our own cows, pigs, and chickens. My parents were badass goddamn frontier people who could do anything, and I worked with them every day for nearly twenty years.
And you know what? I wouldn’t have any idea how to feed myself through farming. I am afraid of cows. (They’re big and dumb and they’re surprisingly fast and when they step on you it hurts.) I can’t do anything, and I don’t want to. Oh, and also? If society implodes and I could through some miracle find some land and grow myself a piddly stupid salad and a couple of tomatoes after several months or years of trying, or raise a goat or chickens, I am not going to be the type of person who can shoot other people who rush me and my land, looking to steal my food, which I’m guessing is what will happen when society breaks down.
In short? I am more afraid of having to go back to the farm than I am of dying.
That’s how hard farming is.
Let’s leave the medicine part out of this, which is arguably the most important part of my life. My husband has premature heart disease and has arteries that clog if he even thinks about a Culver’s Curderburger. He’s on a mix of meds for blood pressure, cholesterol, heart regulation, and other things. He’s 44. He’s going to need these drugs to survive the rest of his life.
If you think I’m not looking at supply chain problems worldwide and freaking out, wondering where our pills come from and how quickly we could run out, you’re very wrong.
So there’s that.
But, because most of you did not grow up on a farm, I want to talk to you for just a moment about farming.
Farming is so goddamn hard you wouldn’t believe it. It bears no resemblance to whatever container gardening you do. I know this because every year I try to grow a few tomatoes and beans in my backyard. What I do in my backyard is what most people would call “putzing around.” They would be right. Every spring I make my boys stick their hands in some dirt and throw in some seeds and that’s about it. We try to adjust our fence to keep bunnies out, and we try to pull some weeds until plants come up, but mostly we just play around in the dirt and laugh at the very idea of trying to feed ourselves.
Here’s what farming looks like:
If you have animals, they are worse than children. You will be up early and late with them. They always get sick in the middle of the night. They too will need meds that will most likely not be available at the end of the world (or now, due to rushes on dewormers). Cows eat a lot, and they require a lot of water. Also, you can’t just have one cow or one chicken or one pig and expect that to last indefinitely. Are you prepared to have the male counterparts of all of these animals around to help breed new little babies?
Because if you think cows are mean, just wait until you meet a bull.
If you’re trying to raise vegetables or grains, where are you going to get the land? Where are you going to get the seeds? Will you be able to order cute little packets from nice little companies and have them delivered right to your door during the end times? What are you going to eat for the 3–4 months while you wait for anything you’re planted to germinate? What are you going to eat all winter long in states like Wisconsin and Minnesota and in places like Canada, which is where you’re going to need to move to escape the worst of massive climate changes pretty soon?
Also: picture this. You have a little plot of land. Against the odds you have raised some green beans and peppers and you’ve even been there for a decade and you’ve gotten some fruit trees going. Then: HAIL! You did everything right for years and now one fierce little hailstorm that blew through in twenty minutes shredded every single plant and blew holes in the tiny little fruit on the trees, destroying them for the season. Pull in your belt and better luck getting some new crops in 6–12 months.
Farming means working every single minute you are awake for every single day, month in and year out. It means never taking a vacation and never going out to eat and never taking nice little breaks to go watch your kids play soccer. Because your kids will be working with you. Farming is relentless.
And let’s not forget that if by some miracle you are able to produce some food, do you know how to freeze it or can it? If we’re at the end times for our society, is the electrical grid still working?
I don’t mean to scare you.
Except maybe I do.
Picture, just picture, how incredibly hard it would be to grow all the food you eat every day for three meals, not to mention snacks. We tend to forget this, because even when we find visiting the grocery store annoying, it is so, SO easy to pick up our plastic-wrapped meat and our canned beans and our frozen ice cream and to forget the ungodly amount of work and chemicals and processing and transportation that went into that food.
So stop dreaming about living the rural life.
Here’s what you should do instead:
Do everything in your power to demand more sensible systems for everyone. I fucking hate most of our systems more than you do, I promise you, but even I know that without those systems — without the grid and transportation and a climate that can still help us produce some food — we are seriously, seriously, SERIOUSLY fucked.
It is time to stop daydreaming about a more idyllic rural life. It is time to start fighting to cling to the remnants of civilization that still remain. It is time to tell companies and their workers and farmers that YOU WILL PAY ANYTHING for them to raise and process your food. Tell Kellogg’s. Please. Do it now.
I don’t believe in guns, and my religion dictates that suicide is a sin. But this is how serious I am. If it comes down to me going back to the farm to raise my food, or procuring a gun and killing myself, I fear which option I’m going to choose.
(And yes, I’m being alarmist. But you don’t think anything like this can come to pass? Go read about Lebanon and then come back and we’ll chat. I’ll wait.)