Sunday, September 14, 2008

Be Prepared and Stock Up

Here's a great article that was printed in our Sunday paper today.


Be Prepared and Stock Up


The New York Times

The New York Times / STEWART CAIRNS

CUMMINGTON, Mass. — One Friday afternoon a few weeks ago, as cable news channels carried bulletins that two government-sponsored mortgage lenders might go bankrupt, Kathy Harrison stood in the kitchen of her 9th-century farmhouse here, about 20 miles northwest of Northampton, laying out herbs from the garden.

The American economy seemed, at least to some, at the edge of an abyss, but all was calm in the Harrison house. Two loaves of bread, baked fresh that morning, sat on the counter. Harrison’s daughters, Karen, 14, and Phoebe, 5, were laughing and playing dress-up, while her husband, Bruce, 62, stood at his wife’s side.

The obvious peace of mind in the Harrison household has something to do with the provisions Kathy Harrison has stockpiled throughout the house, which include cans of powdered milk; several hundred pounds of wheat berry, oats, flour and rice; water purification tablets; shelves of toothpaste and toilet paper; a solar oven; packs of hermetically sealed seeds; and other items to sustain the family in an emergency.

Harrison believes in home preparedness, and after readying her own home for a worst-case scenario — be it a flood or a nuclear or bioterrorist attack — she has written a book, Just in Case: How to Be Self-Sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (Storey Publishing, $16.95), to help others do the same.

It’s full of practical tips. What affordable bedding preserves heat best? PrimaLoft comforters, according to Harrison’s informal tests. What company makes “the Cadillac of nonelectric lamps,” using kerosene? Aladdin, she says.

Her wisdom is delivered in a tone of pioneer optimism. “In a time of crisis you want to start the day with a good breakfast,” she writes, introducing a recipe for something called cornmeal mush. The book, which draws on Harrison’s wide reading in the literature of preparedness, as well as books on narrower subjects like canning, cheesemaking and felling trees, is notable for discussing what to do in the event of a chemical attack without detouring into panic-mongering territory.

“I don’t expect someone to drop a nuke on me,” said Harrison, 56, an energetic and upbeat woman who calls herself a prepper rather than a doomer. “But after 9/11 — and certainly after Hurricane Katrina — I realized that, holy smoke, the cavalry doesn’t always charge in to rescue you.”

Harrison became interested in preparedness almost 30 years ago, when she and her husband were caretakers of the William Cullen Bryant homestead in Cummington and lived miles from the nearest store. She grew more serious about it two years ago, after they attended a local film night and saw The End of Suburbia, about what would happen if oil became scarce. She formed a group with some neighbors to promote self-reliance, and to trade tips and equipment.

“I’ve got a wicked good grain grinder,” Harrison said. “Anyone who wants to come over and grind grain can do that.”

Unlike preparedness advocates who stockpile weaponry, they do not own a gun — “I don’t want to shoot anybody,” Harrison said.

After reading other books on the subject, all of them seemingly geared to the Soldier of Fortune crowd or to Mormons, who for religious reasons believe in keeping a year’s supply of food, Harrison wrote Just in Case for the average homeowner, who she contends is in serious need of preparedness training.

Her tone shifts from chipper to mildly scolding when discussing how Americans, in her words, “sold out to easy” — owning a closetful of clothes but never learning to sew a button; driving everywhere but being unable to change a tire.

Opening a storage cabinet in the basement,she pointed to supplies like a pressure canner, assorted canned goods and enough cooking oil to open a restaurant.

“Let’s go upstairs,” she said, marching up two flights of steps and stopping in front of a second-floor closet. Inside was the waiting-out-the-apocalypse mother lode: containers of freeze-dried whole eggs, freeze-dried green beans, cornstarch, butter powder, cheese powder, powdered milk. By her estimate, the supplies in the house could last the family six months or more.

Much of the food was in powder form and looked unappetizing, but Harrison said it was important to cook with your backup supply regularly, as she does — using powdered milk on a daily basis, for example — because “in an emergency you don’t want everything to be strange.”

Kneeling down and opening a crawl space off the “preparedness extra room,” Harrison pulled out bucket after bucket of basic staples like wheat and rice.

“I just ordered another hundred pounds of sugar and flour,” she said, explaining that she continually replaces what she has used. It is part of a system she calls OAR: organize, acquire, rotate.Prepared, frugal and practical

Figure out your vulnerabilities “We all need food, water and shelter,” said Kathy Harrison. “Tabout what you’re preparing for.”

Preparedness doesn’t have to be expensive Harrison says ease the cost of stockpiling by buying in small increments. “When you go to the grocery store buy a few extra items,” she said.

Don’t buy economy sizes of items that need refrigeration

Buy foods needing refrigeration after being opened (like mayonnaise) in small quantities, so they can be consumed within a day or two.

Beyond bread alone — Harrison says that including comfort foods like pudding or Jell-O can brighten spirits. She recommends keeping nonelectronic entertainment like books and games on hand. Keep extra supplies of soap, toothpaste, shampoo and toilet paper,” she added, as well as extra pet food and supplies for those with pets.For the urban among us

What are Kathy Harrison’s preparedness recommendations for urbanites who possess neither the storage space for buckets of powdered milk and dehydrated beets nor the inclination to consume anything that isn’t haute cuisine?

“I’d invest in a water filter — and look for a way out,” she said, laughing. Turning serious, Harrison said that even in a small apartment stockpile a few weeks’ worth of water and nonperishable food like peanut butter. Consider a crank radio to hear newscasts and perhaps a bike or motor scooter to get around.

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