Skip to Content

Rediscovering the skills of basic survival

By Elizabeth Timberlake-Newell

Modern local survivalists are reviving traditional skills like canning, using a wood furnace for home heating, bee-keeping and growing vegetable crops. But each survival skills practitioner’s choice is guided by his or her personal beliefs.

Survivalism is not a new movement. Its roots can be traced to the 1960s, when some conservative and libertarian thinkers feared a monetary collapse and nuclear warfare. Those first survivalists were interested in preparing for a collapsing economy and protecting themselves from the impending nuclear holocaust. Since then, survivalism interests have evolved to include everything from retreating from society to growing heirloom non-hybrid crops.

Perpetually preparing
Monte and Robin Yarnell are ready for the cataclysmic event—be it an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack from China, the economy collapsing, or a natural disaster.

I’m more a prepper than a survivalist, said Monte Yarnell. “we believe something bad is going to happen in the future so we prepare, and try to cover as many bases as we can to survive that disaster or whatever it is that can happen.”

But unlike those who were preparing to survive disasters in previous decades, Yarnell admits he is not ready to survive a nuclear war, and wouldn’t want to.

Preparing for a natural disaster, according to Yarnell, is about having the necessary staples of life at hand to support one’s family at least for a few months.

“My wife cans vegetables, and we keep a lot of food here,” he gestures to his wife Robin, who is cooking some of the foods she has canned. “We raise chickens and rabbits. If economy collapses, that will cause a delay in food getting to supermarkets.”

According to Yarnell, an impending economic collapse would be the result of the dollar losing value due to the actions of the rich-banker-owned Federal Reserve. He notes that the dollar is not backed by anything now, as the dollar was removed from the gold standard in the 1970s by President Nixon, and that the value has dropped as the mint has continued to print more money without anything backing it.

But a bigger threat is another world war. Yarnell noted that a co-worker suggested that China might, launch an EMP attack that would prevent any electronic device from functioning.

“In any attack, your number one concern is water,” said Yarnell. “We don’t have a water purification system, but we have a well. And I have a 55 gallon drum of water in my bathroom.”

The second concern after providing for this need is to ensure a food supply. Yarnell and his wife put jars of meats and vegetables they have canned on the table, and point to more in drawers and cabinets. They also keep 80 to 100 pounds of rice in the house, though Yarnell admitted he does not think this is enough of a stock.

In addition to learning the skills of food preservation and water storage, Monte Yarnell has also acquired skills in woodworking, and teaches them to his sons. According to Yarnell, skills such as woodworking will be useful in a community that may spring up after a cataclysmic event, and he referred to the post-apocalyptic science fiction book and movie “The Postman,” as an illustration of post-disaster communities.

Yarnell built the cabinets that hold so much of their preserved food, a fact that his son Wyatt was proud to share. Wyatt, who works with his dad at a machine shop, noted that he has learned a lot of useful skills from his dad.

Rebuilding neighborliness
Dana Stuchul, her partner Chris Uhl and their 6 year old daughter live surrounded by fruits (and vegetables) of their homesteading labor. Stuchul and Uhl have planted a garden on the vacant lot adjacent to their home, built a greenhouse, and have begun keeping bees.
“We want to do more for ourselves,” said Stuchul. “We want to know where our food comes from, participate in its growing. We want to take care of the soil that yields those big, beautiful vegetables.”
Stuchul and Uhl do not consider themselves survivalists but rather are homesteaders. Homesteading is generally defined as a lifestyle of self-sufficiency.
Some local homesteaders like Stuchul belong to Spring Creek Homesteading. Spring Creek Homesteading, according to its website, is a non-profit “dedicated to building community self-sufficiency through grants for gardens, urban farms, greenhouses, community kitchens, and through reskilling workshops in the homesteading arts.”

Spring Creek Homesteading’s website, much like many other survival-minded groups’ sites, refers to a model of “global uncertainty” in which a series of world-wide issues such as climate change and peak oil usage lead to economic contraction. Unlike these other groups, however, homesteaders consciously work towards building an interdependent and sustainable community instead of personal independence.

Key to building this interdependent, sustainable community is growing food sustainably—while teaching others the skills to do so—and sharing the harvest.

Stuchul and Uhl both teach at Penn State in the college of education, and invite their students to their home to work in the gardens and prepare meals together. “What is amazing is how many students don’t know how to use a knife, how to cut an onion, and haven’t gotten their hands dirty,” said Stuchul.

Stuchul and Uhl also share the products of their labor with their neighbors. Last summer, the couple put their extra produce out on a table for their neighbors to take, alongside paper and a pen for notes and a donations box.

Building those bonds of neighborliness is key to Stuchul’s reason for homesteading, noting that she does not want to be independent but interdependent.

Despite the common survival skills, homesteaders are not preppers. To the apparent similarities Stuchul said that difference may lie in their ways of viewing other people. Preppers may “have a dark view of other human beings” who will be a threat in the event of a cataclysm.

Stuchul, however, does not perceive other people as an enemy.

“It’s about a condition or quality of heart I choose to sustain,” said Stuchul. “I choose to believe people are essentially good. Their interests are not selfish. Community and the possibility of a strengthening of the bonds of community is the compelling element of what we’re doing.”

Dr. Radut | feed_item