Tag Archives: The Handbook of Practical Resilience

Notes on a Resilient Community

I made these notes some years ago, while researching for ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’. A whole sheaf of writing was condensed into a ‘mind map’, as pictured below, and set aside.

rough notes on self-sufficiency

If I need this information for an article, book or story, this serves to remind me of the conclusions I drew from the research. It underpins the description of a resilient village on page 198 of ‘Recipes’ for example.

However, other people don’t find it quite so clear, so I’m just going to expand on these notes a little.

I began the project by musing on how much land a single person might need to grow all their own food. An acre of vegetables is said to be sufficient, but you’d want more variety, more redundancy, perhaps extra food to trade for other necessities. This is what I came up with:-

One acre of vegetables

About a third of an acre for chickens – you’d get both eggs and meat here

One acre for a horse

One acre for a cow

A quarter acre for a sheep

One square yard of grain gives you one loaf; 200 square yards of grain crop should suffice.

A quarter acre of pond supplies fish

Barns, workshops and housing would occupy another quarter acre.

That’s about four acres, adding land for paths, fences, windmills and suchlike.

By that time, I was considering fuel as well. Four acres of coppiced woodland can provide enough to heat a house all year in a temperate climate.

This was looking like a lot of work for one person. Suppose you got ill? A house can accommodate several people. Farm animals don’t like to live alone. Resources and practical skills are only half of the Resilience Wheel. Community is important. Let’s add more people!

With four adults living in the house, the amount of woodland required remains the same, but we need more food:-

Four acres of vegetables

About eight acres of pasture. There’s now enough land for a serious rotation. The sheep follow the cows and horses, the chickens follow the sheep. You could bring pigs into the mix too.

Add a couple of acres of orchard, with fruit and nut trees. The sheep and chickens can forage here too. There will be beehives for honey and wax.

About half an acre of pond is probably still enough. Any more and the fish may be too hard to catch! If you have a flowing stream as well, there’s water power to consider.

An acre of grain gives extra for fodder.

Your buildings will still take up about the same area; a quarter acre

And the four acres of woodland.

That’s about twenty acres all told. The single person had to manage eight alone. I notice I’ve randomly added a few more acres into the total in the original notes. I forget why, so let’s do the same. Call it twenty-four acres to support four people, that gives us extra land for crop and pasture rotation. The animals are much happier in their little herds. The extra labour opens up possibilities.

Now we’ve almost certainly got a surplus of produce. This tiny community could even support an elderly person and children, who each need less than half the food of a working adult. Not many children, as a two-child family is the only way to sustain this group long-term. Land does not multiply itself.

Now they need some company. Let’s give each household of six a thirty acre plot, just in case they temporarily expand to eight people. Fallow meadowland is easy to grow and pleasant to have, easy to cultivate if needed. Twelve of these plots, as segments of a circle with the houses and valuables at the centre, form a circle a mile wide. We’ve now got seventy to a hundred people in a little village, bordered by a band of woodland.

how many people can live on three square miles of land

That’s quite a small community. Could it get bigger and remain resilient? Let’s double the diameter of the circle to two miles. The houses are still only a mile, twenty minutes walk, from the edge. You’ve got horses, renewable energy for tractors, you’ve laid paths. According to the expanded calculations in the picture, up to 72 households could be accommodated, or three to four hundred people of all ages from babies to the very old.

Below is a diagram of how the cultivated land could be laid out, with crops needing more maintenance closer to the houses. Sheep graze the edge of the forest, to discourage saplings encroaching. Water as in ponds, streams, rivers or even canals, may have to be worked around. Perhaps a couple of segments must be left unclaimed to host these common resources.

layout of a self sufficient plot

The coppiced woods form a circle around the village. It’d be useful to have a zone of natural forest beyond these. Fungi and game were always a fall-back plan if crops failed. Lets say a thick band of woodland, a couple of miles across, separates one of these villages from another. Your neighbours are only four miles away, an easy journey on foot – though you have horses and electric vehicles.

All the elements are in place for a fully sustainable, completely resilient lifestyle. Add skilled crafts people making luxury items, remote working because you haven’t forgotten technology and still have the internet. Unlikely? It’s surprising how resilient the internet is now that it’s been discovered!

What you can actually do right now may bear no more relationship to this than an acorn does to a full-grown oak. Remember – every majestic tree was once a nut that didn’t give up!

A Seasonal Recipe – Potato and Leek Soup

Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century’ is the book you need! There’s over a hundred basic recipes, arranged to make use of seasonal foods, plus gardening advice to help you with your vegetable patch. Learn how to combine food stores with fresh produce, and your food bills could end up as low as mine!

Here’s one of the recipes from the book, using the ingredients you find in the winter months:-

Leek and potato soup

A couple of large leeks from your resilience garden

A couple of medium potatoes from winter stores, chopped small

Stock – half a litre (one pint) for two people (use a stock cube from stores)

Optional – some dried wild mushrooms. Practice with commercially available types

Acquiring the skills to collect and preserve wild mushrooms safely is quite a task. Try eating some already prepared first. You may not like the taste or texture! However, if you don’t eat animal products, fungi can be an important source of protein.

Dried foods need a lot of cooking water, so it’s best to add them to a stew or soup. Follow any instructions about pre-soaking on the packet, or online.

Slice up the leeks and sauté them in a little oil with a dash of tamari (optional). Pour in the stock, add the potatoes and mushrooms. Simmer for about 20 minutes; it’s ready when the potatoes are soft. If the mushrooms need longer – there are many different varieties – the rest of the soup is fine with that, as long as you keep the liquid topped up.

You can make this into a ‘cream’ soup. Allow it to cool so it won’t scald you, then blend it. Warm it back up, stirring in 4 fluid ounces (100 ml) of single cream. Don’t let it boil. Serve as soon as it’s hot enough.

Although richer and more nutritious, this soup won’t keep as long as the dairy-free version; it’s best eaten up at one meal.

Recipes for Resilience book in leeks

Now here’s the seriously resilient version:-

War Soup – a modern famine recipe

4 tablespoons of dried milk

1 stock cube

2 tablespoons dried parsley or whatever green leafy stuff is around, shredded

Mix the dried milk with 2 tablespoons of water until it’s creamy. Make up to half a litre (one pint). It should look roughly like milk. If it seems too thin, mix up another tablespoon of powder with a very little water in a cup and stir this in slowly to thicken it. Adding more dried powder straight to any mix often results in lumps.

Of course, if you have the packet, follow the instructions given to make up a pint.

Heat the milk gently, stirring in the crumbled stock cube and the leaves; serve at once.

Note the similarity to the ‘cream of potato and leek soup’ above. Both involve milk and stock cubes. Both can be expanded with garden forage or wild edibles. You would tend to use these recipes if protein from meat or pulses was in short supply. Milk supplies extra Vitamin D in the dark winter months.

Recipes for Resilience‘ doesn’t just cover the skills of buying cheap for stores, and growing food to supplement your monthly shopping. (Yes, that’s monthly! I go to the supermarket once a month, to buy in heavy items like tins. I spend about £40 there, including a few expensive treats. Every four months, I spend another £50 on stocking up a small freezer. That’s it. My store cupboard’s always full.)

It also explains how to cope with very serious emergencies, where the power and mains water could be out for some weeks. The sister publication, ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience – how to survive in the 21st century’ goes into more detail. You don’t have to have a cabin in the woods – and you probably won’t – to use the survival skills outlined. They work right where you are.

Can you afford not to have these books?Handbook of Practical Resilience and freezer with labels

You can also buy them on Amazon, though supporting my helpful publisher is better!

‘Recipes’ is here

The ‘Handbook’ is here

Or you can contact me and I’ll send you out a copy.

‘Recipes’ at £9 plus £3 p&p UK

the ‘Handbook’ at £10 plus £3 p&p UK

Your Resilience Plan – Food

In Chapter Three of the ‘Handbook for Practical Resilience’, the Food section is used as an example to describe the role of the tasks provided in achieving your personal resilience.

Ideally, you would be sourcing many of your basic foods from local suppliers either directly or through shops, deliveries and markets. You’d know most of the people involved in the food chain personally. You’d grow a lot of fresh produce yourself, or harvest it from your community garden.”

If you have reached this level of food security, you are doing very well. However, not many people in Britain will be able to tick all these boxes, so we’ll look at the other end of the scale.

You buy all your food from a large supermarket, eating mainly processed meals. You can’t cook and don’t know anyone who can show you how. If you have a garden at all, your landlord won’t let you grow vegetables. In an emergency, you would depend on food aid being brought to you rather than being able to support yourself on surrounding resources for a while.”

This is not a resilient position to be in. You don’t have any control over your food supplies.

empty shelves 1 mar 18

Imagine a scale from one to ten, with the highest score being for the ideal situation. Where do you think you are on this scale? What actions could you take to improve your score, and what barriers might you need to deal with?”

The first strategy you need to consider in the worst-case scenario is storing food. Supermarkets – and cash and carry shops – are useful for sourcing large amounts of tinned and dried produce. They have handy car parks, so you can transport these easily.

Ready meals are a waste of space. You need to be able to put basic meals together from ingredients. This is far more economic, both in cost and storage. With cooking skills, you can make the best use of the sort of random selections available during shortages. You can also plan ahead, shop with a list and work out how to use up leftovers.

It’s unlikely that you’ll have enough land – several acres – to supply all your food needs. Even a pot of herbs on the window sill can provide essential vitamin C if you are obliged to live on stores for awhile. Using whatever growing space you have will help you cultivate the skills required to grow food. At the very least, this will help you partake in informed decisions about community or national farming strategies.

An important factor in your personal resilience is the amount of food grown in your immediate area – within walking distance! At present, food growers have difficulty selling their products at retail prices. They are forced to go through commercial buyers, who take most of the profit.

If you move your food shopping away from supermarkets and towards local markets, high street shops and farm deliveries, you are moving a considerable amount of money back to food producers. This will enable them to continue, and food will remain accessible to you.

The first five tasks in the Resilience Plan for each section are achievable with no extra resources, just a few changes of habit. The fifth task in the Food section is to research a balanced diet. This is useful for your general health, but more important in a prolonged food shortage.

Vitamins and minerals are rarely scarce in normal circumstances, as people can eat a lot of food. Where you have to ration stores though, it’s very important to be aware of these. ‘Recipes for Resilience’ covers this in more detail, and outlines a simple list of food stores which can fit under a bed, or other small space. You can build on this to fill any available space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

There is more that you can do as an individual to support local food production. Some community initiatives may exist in your area. Join a buying group or food co-op, learn about community supported agriculture. Start your own scheme, referring to the Community Quadrant for help.

Take your growing projects further. If you have a garden, dig up unproductive lawn areas and start growing vegetables. Apply to your local council for allotment space. Encourage the planting of food trees in public spaces.

Many people think the height of survival skills is to be able to forage on wild plants. There will not be enough of these. With practical resilience, you’re better off learning how to determine whether out-of-date tinned food might kill you or not.

A knowledge of native edibles is useful in your Resilience Garden. With selective weeding, you can ensure that you have a base layer of these hardy self-seeders. If you have to neglect the garden for awhile, they will carry on without your help for several years.

The final task is a research project, designed to lead you into more complex issues around food. The concept of default meatis that which can be produced by feeding domestic animals on the waste created from growing one’s own vegetables.

You will observe, when you do this for yourself, that there is a great deal of leafy material, peelings and other by-products. These can be composted directly, or fed to livestock for meat, eggs and milk. In Russia, 40% of food comes from individual small-holdings.

So these are the ten tasks to accomplish in the Food section of the Resilience Wheel. You can hurry through them, or take your time, gradually increasing your food security skills. Remember that you only need to score 70% in each section, so even if you have no chance of accessing land in Q8, you can still pass.

The Food section of the Resources Quadrant is one of the subjects I’ve chosen for further development (as described on page 178). As you work through the plan, think about your own areas of particular interest. Where would your personal skills and experience be best applied?

Page and chapter numbers refer to ‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience’.  The ten tasks relating to the Food section of the Resources Quadrant are listed in Appendix One (Your Personal Resilience Assessment).

Food security, storage and growing are covered in detail in ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century‘, along with over a hundred useful recipes.

Both books are available from Amazon and Waterstones, but it’s more resilient to support the publisher direct.

 

Your Resilience Plan – Energy

During the design process for the practical resilience programme, we considered using the very broad definition of energy used by the Transition movement. While it is true that transport, farming and many other resources use energy, often in the form of fossil fuels, we found this definition to be confusing for our students.

Energy in the Resilience Wheel refers to domestic and industrial power supplies. Heating, cooking, lighting, and running appliances or machinery are the factors considered here; the direct use of energy.

We are conditioned to think of electricity as something that just comes out of the wall in an infinite stream, the only constraints on its use being the price. Then there is a problem with the power distribution network and suddenly electricity is not there at all. This lacks resilience.” (page 20)

The main concept you need to work on in this section is coming to terms with a finite power supply. You should be looking at ‘off-grid’ solutions for emergencies, which will serve you well during inconvenient power outages. The ones we are considering here are the sort of low voltage systems used in old style touring caravans. The ambitious could acquire a small generator. Neither of these will produce enough energy to run appliances drawing 1000 watts (1 kilowatt), or over, for very long.

So we begin with energy awareness. Understand your energy bills; gas, electricity, oil or coal. In Britain, over half will be used in your heating system. Adapt to this by insulating your home. Then even tiny candle stoves can keep you from freezing.

Candle powered stove, full unit with stand and base
Note – this link is to the original inventor, who helpfully provides diagrams to make your own.  Pay attention to the safety instructions.  I’ve used them for years

A 12 volt leisure battery fully charged contains a limited amount of electricity. We advise you to prioritise lighting and phone charging. A smart phone can be charged several times on this system, while a laptop will use up most of your power. Cultivate habits of economy here before they become necessary. Even leaving LED lights on carelessly can soon drain your entire battery.

A supply of small rechargeable batteries for torches and the like is a valuable asset in an emergency. Most chargers run on mains power (240 volts in Britain), but use very little. Once you have mastered the use of inverters which can convert 12 volt power to mains you can plug these into your emergency system.

Remember – when you are using inverters the electricity provided is as dangerous as any other mains power.

It’s unlikely you’ll get more than a maximum of 600 watts of mains power from a basic emergency system. You will soon use this up. This will go further if you acquire lights and chargers which run on a 12 volt supply. Inverters are convenient, but waste energy.

A small ‘suitcase’ generator can give up to two kilowatts of 240 volt electricity. These produce dangerous exhaust fumes, so must be run outside. Set up a locked, soundproofed and ventilated shed with a safe cable feed into your house. If your generator can be heard, it will not only annoy your neighbours, but may attract thieves. Generators are useful to supplement your emergency system.

Look for appliances which use less electricity. If you found a washing machine which uses under two kilowatts, you can fire the generator up to get the laundry done. Your storage batteries and devices can get a charge boost. You could boil water for flasks if you have a suitable low voltage kettle.

Understanding electricity is the key to basic practical resilience in the energy section.

There are other types of power to explore as well. Some areas of your house could be illuminated by candles to save valuable electricity. Learn candle safety. A cooker running on bottled gas will allow you to prepare foods during a power cut. Your emergency electricity will not run an electric cooker.

full sized 4 ring calor gas cooker
This full sized cooker runs on bottled gas

At worst, a small camping gas stove can boil water or heat soup. It is possible to extract gas from bio waste but not for the amateur. This would be a community project.

Local renewable energy schemes are valuable to your personal practical resilience. You need to support them – spend some time on research. How easy would it be to have such a scheme supply a small group of houses rather than feed into the grid?

Even if you’re not in a position to take your home off-grid, understand the factors involved and consider the benefits.

The page numbers are in the Handbook of Practical Resilience, which should be your go-to book. The ten tasks relating to the Energy section of the Resources Quadrant are listed in Appendix One (Your Personal Resilience Assessment).

As the familiar is swept away, you need to cultivate practical resilience. Acquiring the life skills described in the Handbook will provide the confidence to face these dramatic changes. Putting this knowledge into action in your everyday life, you can be assured that you are doing your best to cultivate a truly sustainable civilisation, despite the odds.

You are at the centre of the Wheel, the eye of the storm!