Whatever does happen, it is likely that our society can and will do whatever it takes to regain equilibrium. It could take days, weeks or even years, but we are survivors. Over the centuries, humanity has learned from the ground up. We have created tools, harnessed horsepower, cultivated the soil, and developed technology, and we can do it all again.
Back to the Future
People in 19th-century America acquired much of what they needed locally or regionally. Along with butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, there were farriers and millers and sawyers. There were midwives and lumbermen and gunsmiths and potters and herbalists. There were manufactories for wagon wheels and oak barrels, woolen mills and commercial carding and weaving machines, grist mills and sawmills. There were makers of cheese and soap and carriages and saddles, as well as repair shops for all kinds of goods.
Image source: Flickr / Creative Commons
Whole foods were produced locally, too. Unlike today, where different areas of the continent specialize in certain crops — blueberries and lobsters in the Northeast, wheat in the Great Plains, citrus in the South, and salad vegetables on the West Coast — every region was diversified. They exported less and imported less, and were able to sustain themselves on food raised close to home.
In the event of a disaster, we would likely return to more regional and local sourcing, either as an interim step on the road back to the kind of global commerce we are currently accustomed to or as an end result itself.
Here’s Why Local Matters
But what about in the interim? Buildings and machinery and skills do not pop up overnight. It takes time and money and practice to develop a specialty business.
Imagine that your supply of an important food staple comes from a thousand miles away, and it is suddenly cut off. You would naturally turn to local possibilities instead, but so would all your neighbors. There would be a much greater demand than supply, and that is even if the foods were available at all.
If small-scale regional raw food producers were already up and running, it would greatly enhance the chances for survival and comfort for people around them. But the only way they can be up and running already is if they are supported before disaster strikes. Consider grain production, for example. If people on the coasts lost the ability get it shipped in from Midwestern wheat fields, there would be thousands of farmers from Maine to Arizona scurrying out to plant wheat. But first they have to acquire the seed — which may be challenging if supply lines are down — and then plow, plant, tend, harvest and mill it. The overall result could be very different if some of those farmers had already been growing wheat.
If there are market gardeners and grist mills and cheesemakers and charcuteries and small dairies and people selling backyard maple syrup and eggs from free-range chickens near you, I urge you to buy from them. Even if it costs more. Without the support of customers, they cannot stay in business — meaning that in the event of emergency, instead of being all set up to supply the community’s needs, the would-be local food producers might well end up standing in line and competing for resources with everyone else.
By investing in local producers now, we are all investing in our own future. It is about far more than supporting neighbors and appreciating artisanship and treading lightly on the planet, and could even turn out to be an integral component of our own survival. If we wait until the regional skills and infrastructure are our only choice, it could be too late.
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