Many survivalists and preppers have planned to live sustainably on their off-the-grid homestead. They have easy access to clean water, a pantry full of stored foods, a flourishing garden, some chickens or rabbits for protein, and a security plan to protect themselves.
However, if society ends as we know it, even the best homesteaders will find that they need something. For example, maybe a disease runs rampant through the rabbit hutch and you lose them all. Or maybe the homestead was attacked and your spare weapons cache was raided. Whatever it is that you lack, you need to have something of value to trade with someone who has what you need. This is called barter, and in a grid-down or post-apocalyptic society, there will be no cash or credit — hard goods or services will be necessary to procure something critical to the homestead.
There are two ways to be ready for when it comes time to barter. The first way is to build a stockpile of common things that others will want. Examples include quality knives, can openers, sewing kits, pain medication, shoes, hats and gloves. The second way, and really the only long-term solution, is to learn a new skill that either generates goods for barter, or provides you with a skill set to provide needed services to others.
For this latter approach to be successful, five requirements must be met:
- Your skill or the goods created must be something people want. For example, making candles would be far more valuable than fancy embroidery.
- Many people must have demand for the skill or goods. There’s generally little benefit to making something that very few people need. Instead, you should have what everybody needs. For instance, in the cold north, everyone needs gloves.
- You must be able to practice the skill, or generate the goods, using resources only available from your homestead. It does no good to learn how to make soap using lye that you buy online, if you don’t have alternate way of making lye on the homestead. A minor exception to this rule is if a needed supply will be available locally through barter. An example of this is if you specialize in making leather gloves and shoes, and your neighbor has a tannery.
- All operations must be done without power. The availability of power after a disaster is not guaranteed, even if you have an alternative power source.
- Practice, practice, practice. After society ends as we know it, there will be a lot of hard work and frustrations. By practicing the skill, you can iron out any difficult areas and learn how to perform it efficiently and reliably.
With these three requirements in mind, let’s look at some possible skills to learn. We’re not going to cover the detailed steps for the skills, but rather how to make sure the homestead sustainably provides the necessary ingredients. Once the homestead can sustainably provide key ingredients, then hard work and practice is required to adapt them and make viable goods.
1. Soap Making
Soap will always be appreciated by humans. It has been made for thousands of years, and therefore can be made with available materials on the homestead. Basically, making soap requires oils, fats and lye. All three of these must come from the homestead.
Manual oil presses can extract up to 1.5 quarts of oil from peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and other nuts or seeds. Therefore, one of these crops has to be grown on the homestead. Fats will come from animal fats, either from those on the homestead or from hunted game. Lye can be made from wood ashes.
Soap making without modern supplies is hard work, and it will take practice to efficiently generate the oils, fats, and lye needed, and to adapt them to soap making.
2. Candle Making
Candles are another commodity that will be in demand in a cold world without electricity. Basically, candles consist of wax and a wick. Modern candle makers buy paraffin wax and wicks by the bulk over the Internet. Not you.
You’ll have to find substitutes for both wax and wick that are readily available.
Many substitutes for paraffin wax are available. If you have livestock, one option is tallow, which is a rendered fat from cattle, mutton, pigs or canines. Another option is bees’ wax if you have bees. Both have been used historically for candle making.
Although weaved cotton is usually used for wicks today, wood wicks have been used historically and can be used today.
Many homesteaders in the northern American states and Canada rely on wood for heat. They spend a lot of time chopping, sawing and splitting enough wood from the property to provide heat over the winter. In these areas of North America, a lot of non-preppers heat their homes with wood as well.
For those of us who have produced enough firewood for heating a home all winter, we know just how much hard work it entails. And that’s with modern tools like chainsaws and splitters.
Now imagine life in the north after a disaster. There’s no electricity, and fuel for generators runs out; kerosene, propane and wood chips are gone after a few months. It’s dark and it’s cold. People need firewood to heat their homes and to cook their meals.
In this scenario, there will be a great demand for firewood. Yes, some people will be able to hack out enough for their personal use, but it will be hard going once there’s no more gasoline for the chainsaws.
So if you live in an area with a sustainable amount of firewood, then consider supplying firewood to others. It will be hard work, especially without chainsaws or splitters. However, before chainsaws and other modern technology, there existed a whole range of the right tools for harvesting firewood.
Two-person crosscut saws, axes, an array of smaller saws, and saw sharpening kits are still available today. These high-quality tools will last a lifetime. With some practice, you and a partner can become proficient in producing enough firewood for barter.
All three of the discussed skills require a lot of practice, and a lot of hard work to both generate the necessary supplies and produce the goods. But hard work has never deterred serious survivalists who are living off the grid.
Which skill do you believe will be most needed after a disaster or crisis? Share your thoughts in the section below: