Chickens, not zombies, on people’s minds as preppers gather

ELKTON, Fla. – One day, if your commute or run to the supermarket is interrupted by societal collapse, there will be some considerations to take into account.

Jeff Smith seemed to know them all. Pacing under the vast metal roof of an outdoor rodeo pavilion on the wooded fairgrounds of St. John’s County, Florida, Smith held the gaze of his sparse morning audience with a promise – that when disaster struck, his advice could get them home. Some two dozen people watched from the stands as the 64-year-old Navy veteran in his “Everyday Prepper” polo shirt. They scribbled many notes.

“Everyone is preparing to hide at home,” Smith told them. But if that happens, he says, chances are you’re somewhere else.

“Coming Home,” as the first seminar of the day was titled, might require negotiation. “In case you find yourself in a neighborhood where the armed residents have put up a barricade,” Smith said. He recommends honing those skills at garage sales.

Smith offered to store a folding bike in the car – “You can walk 3 miles an hour, bike 9 or 10” – and memorize where the local train tracks can guide you. “The bad guys won’t watch the train tracks,” he said. Rethink your homecoming bag, he advised, and consider getting rid of the heavy fire starter. “The fire will just betray you.” Carrying a weapon was obvious. And there was an absolute:

“Take an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen, on the first day. Otherwise, on the second day of an event, you’ll be in too much pain.”

A damp breeze blew through attendees at the second annual Florida Homeownership and Readiness Summit, mostly gray-haired men whose patriotic T-shirts clung to their bellies. Some had spouses or children with them. They raised their hands to ask about radio dies, shoulder holsters and moleskin, to protect their feet from blisters.

Were it the survivors who would one day rebuild civilization?

With courses like “How to Start an Edible Food Forest”,”Old Tools For the Future” and “Machete For Self-Defense,” the two-day convention, held 20 miles in the state’s rural interior, and a world apart from the tourist town of St. Augustine , was geared toward self-reliance, preparedness, and paranoid — or, depending on your perspective, enlightenment.

The gathering of less than 100 people was smaller and less diverse than you might expect based on recent reports of widespread preparedness amid the pandemic and its telltale toilet paper shortages.

The Home Depot now sells stackable 60-dish buckets of dehydrated (“just add water”) survival foods. The Kardashians have been posting about their favorite “bug out bags.” Disaster preparedness has seeped into everyday homes, fueled by concerns about climate change, wildfires and floods. Worth $75.5 billion in 2017, the industry is expected to reach $423 billion in 2025.

The founder of preparedness site The Prepared told NPR-distributed 1A last year that preparedness is no longer limited to white conservatives and conspirators. He described preparatory classes “where we’ll have a hippie wearing a Portland Gen Z LGBTQ pride shirt practicing a skill next to a Fox News watcher wearing an NRA hat.”

When sessions broke for lunch, event founder April Iser served hot dogs from the window of a snack bar. Attendees, spread out on nearby picnic tables, discussed a type of death trap they had seen demonstrated by a bushcrafter named Gator at another prep event.

The mood on day one of the Iser summit may not have been one of youth or diversity, but the 36-year-old mother of four thought the prep community was growing. Attendance increased by 20% compared to last year.

Growing up Mormon, Iser said, “We were taught to prepare your pantry, to have savings in your account, and to be a community, so if someone is hurting, you come together.” Although she no longer practices, she saw her event as building a community of helpers.

“More [preppers] are ordinary people who have faced one crisis or another and just want to be more prepared. They are parents who want to make sure our children are safe,” she said. “We don’t want to burden society.” Later that day, she would teach “Keys, Kubotans and Self- Defense Keychains, “another way to prepare for whatever lies ahead: a hurricane, job loss, death of a breadwinner.

“There’s a huge misconception,” she said, “that we’re all preparing for the end of the world or zombie day.”

Uttering the Z-word or inquiring about the relative accuracy of “I Am Legend” versus “The Walking Dead” was, it turns out, a faux pas. That doesn’t mean the preppers weren’t passionate about apocalyptic pop culture. Everyone seemed to have read a series of prep novels by a Central Florida survivalist who writes under the pseudonym A. American (A is for Angery). Several carried paperbacks from his first book, “Going Home,” which begins with a power grid disaster and can best be characterized by its detailed descriptions of the contents of the main character’s backpacks.

Time and time again, preppers have said it doesn’t take much to get started. Buy a few extra cans and store them somewhere, they said. Then start again. Start by having enough to survive 72 hours at home. Then film for two weeks.

We weren’t talking about million dollar bunkers. The parking lot was filled with modest sedans and older pickup trucks.

Attendees moved along a dirt road lined with nine tables of vendors, browsing the offerings.

Tourniquets, packets of fast-clotting combat gauze and chest seals – items developed for battlefield medics – crowded the tables at Jake Drumm’s booth. The bearded paramedic and “wilderness medicine” supporter from Tennessee said the term “prepper” conjures up bunkers and backyard hoarders.

A stand further was Fortress K9 in Plant City, where several shepherd pups sat in crates. The owner was to give a lecture titled “Why a Gun Isn’t Enough – Personal Protection Dogs” the following day. On the other side, Smith, the everyday picker, sold non-electric tools.

“Do you think the attack dog is worth it, because a dog could betray me?” she asked sincerely. “Sounds like a good idea,” she continued, her hands gripping the straps of her backpack. “You know, as a woman, you fear that if something happens the rape will start.” Smith grimaced. A Belgian Malinois is good for home security, he said, but their food could take up space in a bag.

The next stall was selling bath bombs to raise money to fight child sex trafficking. Then there was a company that would have seemed more appropriate at a typical home show, selling a leafless type of gutter installation.

At the last stand along the way, Austin Avery, 20, demonstrated a device called an atlatl, a heavy stick with a peg for throwing spears. He threw one 40 meters in the air into some grass. “A guy on YouTube used one to shoot a buffalo,” he said. He also owned no-return boomerangs, all of which were handmade.

There was no consensus on which specific disaster most necessitated the need to slaughter a buffalo, but the vague future calamity was always discussed in terms of when, not if. Prepper shorthand is simply referring to “the event”, as in “when the event happens, you will be shocked at how quickly Walmart closes and the fighting begins”.

A seminar paper organized as a college program listed 20 possible events, including cyber threats, infectious diseases, dam breaks, civil unrest, hot weather, cold weather, “space weather” and six varieties of military or terrorist attacks.

Madison Poole, the owner of Bombproof Bushcraft, which sold hatchets ($54 for a leather-wrapped “Viking axe”), said she was deeply concerned about a global famine caused by the war in Ukraine and a historic shortage of weapons. fertilizer that has farmers around the world facing declining yields.

“The media don’t talk about fertilizer,” Poole said. “They won’t tell you.”

She said the preparation seems odd to some, but the modern state of relying on grocery stores and drive-thrus is the real aberration. She believed the pandemic had shaken people’s trust in government, and the bare shelves offered a glimpse of the razor’s edge on which our overall comfort rests.

“Who do you think will help you when there is famine?” Poole said. “FEMA? »

The most commonly talked about disaster, however, was an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that could render inoperable every electronic device within range – cars, phones, refrigerators, the entire power grid of North America. It could happen via a nuclear weapon exploding high in the atmosphere, the preparers warned, or naturally via a “coronal mass ejection”, essentially a solar flare.

Either way, say goodbye to society as you know it, said Bobby Linn of Umatilla, a 70-year-old former lineman who prepared after reading that a PEM would melt the power lines. Under a retractable awning, he wore a camouflage hat as he led a late afternoon class on the post-EMP world.

“If you don’t have chickens,” Linn said, “you better find chickens real quick.”

At the end of the day, Cathy Kiang, a 41-year-old executive, was navigating hatchets and flayers.

She had driven alone from Orlando to learn where to start with durability, gun safety and, perhaps, raising rabbits for food. “It’s really irrelevant to me,” she said. When asked why she was there, Kiang did not mention nuclear disasters or power grids.

She has worked in live events and travel. His industry was barely getting back to normal.

“It would be nice to be self-sufficient,” she said. “The past two years have made me think. If I lost my job and had to survive on my own, what would I eat?

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