How the Economic Crisis Affects Homestead Decision-Making


by Kara Stiff, The Organic Prepper:

While the United States has halted much of its usual business due to COVID-19, my day-to-day life is pretty much unchanged. We never did eat out often or go to big public events, because we’ve deliberately crafted a home-based life. Oh, I have a new signal booster so my husband can work more easily from home, and there are no more meetups with friends.

But other than that I’m just doing the regular: watering the seedlings, homeschooling the kids and checking on my goose, who is sitting on 21 eggs. Spring is a very exciting time of year, just like always.

Decision-making changes in a crisis

A couple of weeks ago as the goose was laying that ridiculous pile of eggs, I was thinking about spring Chickenstock, our local livestock festival. It’s outdoors, so I thought it might go ahead even if other restrictions were put in place. If she hatched most of those eggs and I managed to sell most of the goslings (keeping some for us of course), would the geese break even financially in their first year? What an exciting prospect!

Now, Chickenstock has been canceled. Sure, I could sell goslings over Craigslist and maintain social distancing rules. I might even make more money that way. But instead, I’m thinking about how much feed 21 goslings will eat, and whether they could provide a year’s worth of cooking fat. Actually, that’s a pretty exciting prospect, too.

It’s hard to tell right now how much of a crisis COVID-19 really is because it’s moving slower than some of the things many of us have planned for. Obviously it’s already a health crisis. And it’s just become an education crisis, as schools and colleges close.

In some places, it’s been an empty-shelves crisis for days or weeks, and a supply chain crisis in the making, and maybe a public safety crisis soon. But it’s hard to predict when those particular impacts will hit any particular location. Here in sleepy rural North Carolina, nothing bad has happened yet.

It makes sense to plan for extreme and fast-moving events because then you’re ready for anything up to and including an instant shutdown resulting from a storm or other disaster. But thinking in immediate-danger mode makes it harder to make decisions when events are developing over the course of weeks rather than hours. It leaves me wondering, is this the moment for this particular supply or preparation? Or is the right moment next week, or next month?

Prioritizing the basics

I don’t know when the perfect moment is. All I know is my behavior is changing, all on its own. I find myself out in the yard picking wild greens for lunch, even when I’m running late and the kids are starting to whine, even when it’s raining so hard I ordinarily wouldn’t bother. Putting something fresh and highly nutritious on the plate is always important to me, but now it has become getting-wet, putting-up-with-whining important. That’s a whole other level.

Also, the usual cost/benefit guidelines are shifting. Instead of dithering on installing the new water catchment, considering waiting until next month for time and cost reasons, I put other things on hold and pushed hard to get it done. That’s a definite shift in mindset.

In normal times, choices on a homestead are very finely calibrated. We must seek a balance between all the experiments we would love to run on the one hand, and on the other, the limited amount of money, time and energy we have. Adding too many new things at once causes established projects to fail, projects into which much time and devotion have already been put.

My friend Itsy, a small-scale homesteader in central North Carolina, doesn’t usually do much gardening. She focuses on keeping her livestock healthy and getting her kids to all their activities. She was planning on doing only a few tomatoes and peppers this year, but then her extended family suffered food insecurity related to coronavirus disruption. She changed her mind about gardening and is now planting radishes, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more.

She put it to me this way: “Since my kids’ sports are canceled, now I have time. I’m not the world’s best gardener, but by God, I can grow a tomato! Then I can leave more of whatever’s on the shelf for other people.”

She’s not the only one feeling the gardening itch. Taylor is a college professor, mom and container gardener. Her family has raspberries, peaches and ten hives of bees on their tiny lot, but after coronavirus hit our area they decided to till up a portion of the lawn for vegetables. She has recruited other newbie gardeners from her university to start gardens, and built a local online forum to share information.

She said, “It really resonated with me as a thing that could be done at a time when I’m feeling powerless to help, and a means to connect with others at a time when I’m feeling disconnected in many ways.”

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