It is my belief that whether we build our lives in a post-peak oil world in-place or move to another location, we are going to be faced with building closer relationships to the locals. A world fueled by cheap energy has provided the luxury of living in one location and working in another. A daily commute has become as common as toothpaste in our everyday routine. Without cheap energy, we will not have the luxury of living and working in two separate worlds. Separate parts of our lives will merge together more and more. Our next door neighbors will become our coworkers, business partners, bosses, employees, suppliers, vendors, marketing agents, accountants, lawyers, doctors and security guards.
A key skill in a post-peak oil world is the ability to gain rapport with the locals, gain trust, resolve differences and trade knowledge, resources and services with them. Folks that for whatever reason have not developed skills for self sufficient living will need this the most. And, you can’t count on sitting on a pile of fiat currency, jewelry or precious metals to buy your needs here either. You can’t eat any of those things.
While participating in a thread on another site, folks were discussing Michael Ruppert’s site, CollapseNet.com and the map of Lifeboat Docks. For those that are unfamiliar with the concept, collapsenet has a Google map of members and a list of skills they are willing to offer. So, you can see all the knowledgeable resources in your area, develop relationships and work toward the transition away from cheap energy. As of this writing, the website programming has some bugs and troubleshooting to do. I am confident that with time the programming will be functional. But, something about the tone of the comments on this thread made me cringe and worry. After fitful night of sleep over this, I woke up to recall an experience that explained my uneasiness.
This is a true story of the beginnings of a local foods in a small WY town. It all began with an ad in the paper and radio to meet at the local library.
There were about 50 in attendance, mostly ranchers and some quiet, old ladies from the local gardening group. The minority was a smattering of people from different backgrounds. The dynamic of this meeting was, in retrospect, heartbreaking. The ranchers were quiet, shaking their heads and staring at the floor in disgust. The garden folks were quiet and introverted. The ranchers and gardeners simply wanted to sell what they raised – excellent quality grass fed beef, lamb, free range eggs, pork, apples and garden veggies.
Bear in mind, due to elevation and climate, this town has a very short growing season. Truly frost free days are from June 15th thru August – the rest of the time requires a whole lotta skill and luck in extending the seasons and choosing varieties.
What eventually shook out to dominate the meeting and decided the direction of the group was one belligerent, condescending battle ax of a group moderator and a core group of five ladies that had moved into the area within the last 5 to 10 years, mostly from the west coast but one was from North Carolina and one was from Colorado. It was clear that they wanted a farmer’s market and a way to find local producers. I remember one of these ladies exclaim, “WE HAD A FARMER’S MARKET THAT WAS JUST SIMPLY FANTASTIC BACK IN PORTLAND. AND, I DON’T KNOW WHY THIS BACKWARDSASS TOWN CANT HAVE THE SAME THING!”
The ranchers and gardeners TRIED to explain to them that they had no interest in a farmer’s market. That there had been attempts in the past but it never took off because of the preparation time did not fit most people’s schedules. That most people didn’t want all of one variety of vegetable one week then all of another the next. This is a consequence of growing in a short season. It was not practical for the ranchers to haul their meat around, keep it frozen in the back of a pickup on hot day and just to sell a few steaks. That most people just wanted choice cuts and they needed to sell the whole animal.
Now, what is heartbreaking about this meeting, in retrospect, is, OMG what a lifeboat dock! There was a incredible wealth of knowledge there! A local, multi-generational understanding of a land that is, some of the most difficult to live in the Lower 48. Here was a group of people that not only knew how to survive and thrive on this land without all the benefits of fossil energy but some of them have actually LIVED into their 20s without electricity and tractors.
MEETING #2 (next week):
The belligerent battle ax got a bunch of phone calls afterward pertaining to her condescending attitude. She resigned. She was replaced by a soft spoken local guy who had a good reputation as an ex-legislator. That was a welcome change but the core group of 5 came with their friends. Among them were the county extension agent (who is considered by the locals to be a complete jackass), a zealous health inspector and a college culinary arts instructor. There were just two ranchers from the original group. There was one woman who had gotten fed up with the city life and started an organic vegetable farm on a small acreage. In this meeting, the minority became the majority. There were 12 or so consumers who want a farmers market and a way to find producers. And, um, three producers.
One important note in this story, three out of the core group of five were vegetarians. In this part of the world, a vegetarian living off the land here WOULD starve to death.
This meeting became dominated by the health inspector who quoted verbatim a bunch of health codified rules and laws. She said we could not just buy meat directly from a producer legally. She said producers had to have it processed by WY state approved facility which is different from an out of state processing facility. She explained that products like cabbage rolls, jellies, canned sauerkraut and pickles had to be produced in a WY state approved kitchen. (We looked into the cost of one of these kitchens. Price tag = $10K.) The culinary arts instructor showed off her cookbook filled with meatless dishes with vegetables that did not grow here. She explained that the sale of raw milk was illegal. And that we should be careful of all farm fresh eggs that are ungraded. The core group nodded in appreciation for her words.
One of the core group said to the health inspector that those regulations didn’t seem right because a Hutterite colony from out of state was selling produce in a nearby town and that their food was “Simply delicious.” The following week, the health inspector paid a visit and ran them out of town.
We now must drive to a pasture just a few hundred feet across the state line to get our meat and produce from them.
I attended two more meetings. None of the meat producers were at those. The membership fees were set. It cost $100 and $10 per table at the farmers market. The core group of 5 published a beautiful, full color, well written pamphlet with eight or so names of producers on it (who I wouldn’t buy a stick of gum from) and about a page and 1/2 about the benefits of whole foods. I heard a few of the Core group of five on the local radio station declaring their success. There was a farmers market from Memorial Day thru Labor day that had three to four tables in it, usually a honey producer, two people with crafts (leatherwork or baskets), one table with potted plants from a local high end greenhouse and the city to country gardener with a small table of maybe $20 worth of sick looking vegetables that my chickens would pass up. This was a few years ago, I have not seen or heard about the farmer’s market or the directory displayed since that first year.
What does this have to do with the concept of lifeboat docks and building a community to transition into a post-peak oil world?
First, we have people who can help build lifeboats all around us. They are self-reliant, resilient, independent folks who don’t call attention to themselves and quite frankly don’t need you. They know how to take care of their needs. If you are running around saying, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We need to build a lifeboat!” They are going to shake their heads in disgust, go to their own lifeboat boat, batten down the hatches, get a few more supplies for the ride, clean and load the guns.
For example, I have an 85 year old next door neighbor who can barely walk but has lived in my small town all her life. She grew up without indoor plumbing or electricity. She has been snowed in for up to three weeks in the recent past without electricity or access to grocery and services in a bigger town 20 miles away. She has three different ways to heat her house and cook. She gets some help from neighbors here and there but has more than a year’s supply of canned food from her garden. As old ranch woman who has grown up in a cowboy town with minimal law enforcement, I pity the fool who tries to bother her. She is a dear friend, an excellent resource of the local lore, but it took more than a year to get to know her and earn her trust.
My family has our own lifeboat dock. We have fruit trees, a greenhouse, chickens, rabbits, a shop full of tools and, between the wife and I, a multitude of skills for self reliant living. Some of those core group of 5 live nearby. They are the last people I want around me when things get tough. I don’t have time for them. I have what I need. I get excellent quality, locally raised grass fed beef, pork, wild game, raw goats milk, free range eggs and veggies from the greenhouse. I have friends throughout the community whom I share resources with – everything from produce to martial arts instruction to gunsmithing to chiropractic sessions. I meet up with the Hutterites (100 ft across the state line) for smoked chickens, hams, cabbages for kraut, cabbage rolls, sweet corn and melons. All of this is hedging around legalities and under the radar. If I supported all the fledgling beginnings of Codex Alimetntrus and the like, well let’s just say I might as well just live under a bridge in a cardboard box out of the friggin Walmart.
So, even though I support Ruppert’s efforts, there is a certain hard reality here that everyone out there needs to get.
If you want to trade and learn from the self-reliant, resilient community of people around you then I suggest that you:
1. Be open and listen with humility. Do not come with your own ideas of how things should be. If you don’t like it here, go back where you came from.
2. Avoid condescending someone’s way of life either indirectly, subtly or directly. Live and Let Live. If it is necessary to dress down like the locals or drive a crappier car, so be it. Today’s symbols of success will not insure tomorrow’s success. That greasy redneck next door neighbor may be your lifeline in the future – think about that.
3. Bring some useful skills or resources to earn your seat at the table. I’m sorry I don’t need the services of a retired pilates instructor, an interior decorator or a golf event organizer. A pilates instructor needs to learn how to build a fence. An interior decorator needs to learn how to refinish hardwood floors. A golf event organizer needs to learn how to get stuff that busy people don’t have time to find.
4. Avoid calling attention to people who don’t want it or threatening their way of life in ANY way. More often than not self reliant people are that way because they just want to live without any attention. Bear in mind….The last holdouts of the oil rich paradigm will be the government. I’m not advocating lawlessness here. I am saying that the laws which restrain people from being self-reliant are threats. The government will continue to legislate and enforce regulations that are impossible to follow in post-peak oil world. They will do their jobs with gusto because jobs in the private sector are becoming ever increasingly scarce. And the most dangerous aspect of all, these folks will do their job for your own good.
5. Be willing to work hard and get dirty. Nothing makes a better impression on these people than being willing to work and sweat. Even if you don’t know which end of the shovel to use, there is still plenty of little tasks that can be made lighter. And, I guarantee you that EVERYONE you meet will show you how to use a shovel!
My martial arts instructor reminds us frequently that our character is our first line of defense and greatest source of strength. Courtesy, humility, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit – these character traits are embodied in all of these suggestions.
To conclude, here are the hard realities of community building:
- We need others in our community to survive or thrive. They can provide us with resources, skills and knowledge that will make our lives easier, safer and better.
- You must earn rapport and trust with people first. Begin now because it takes time.
- Self reliant and resilient people, by definition, don’t need you and they are hiding everywhere in plain sight. Learn to spot them and get to know them.
- You must be able to give what you take – you must have something that people need.
You will be avoided if you become a threat.
Highplainsdrifter hides in plain sight in a small town in WY. He grew up in a family of self reliant, resilient people in a farming community in SD. By day, he is an engineering manager working for a global fossil energy corporation. By night, he is the greasy redneck next door neighbor who does not want any attention.