POSTED: 7 OCTOBER 2008 - 12:00pm HST

Dealing with the Chaos - Take Action!

image above: Greens in planter with lemon gress, papayas and tangerine tress in background

by Linda Pascatore on 6 October 2008

The Times, They are a Changin’. You can get lost in the doom and gloom: peak oil, global warming, and the economic crisis. We are constantly bombarded by bad news and dire predictions. People are afraid and anxious, and most of us feel overwhelmed and powerless against the forces which are reshaping our world.

Taking positive action is the best way to deal with these feelings. No, you can’t change the world, but you can make some changes in your own life--a few small steps along a new (and I hope better) path. I found it goes a long way towards lessening the anxiety and depression about the world at large.

Here in Hawaii we are very isolated from the rest of the world. Thanks to our mild climate, we don’t need to spend energy on heating or cooling. However, we now import 90% of our food. As a result, we depend on affordable and available oil for our food transportation. That requires a stable economy to keep everything working smoothly. Not having a dependable source of food appears to be the most crucial concern in this state.

So, what to do? Here are the steps we have taken in the most important area of Food Supply, and also in Energy Use and Finances:

image above: whiskey barrel planters with papayas, bananas, avacado and sissel in background

Food Supply:
My husband and I have begun to garden more seriously. Last spring, we bought a few large pots and some organic soil and compost from Home Depot. There are probably better sources for these materials, especially on the East and North shores, but we just needed to get started.

We planted a container garden. We found that we can easily grow enough leafy greens, spinach, and lettuce for our needs in four or five large pots. We also have several smaller pots of herbs. Container gardens are a great option for folks who live in apartments or have limited yard space.

We acquired most the the starter plants from the Seed and Plant Exchange last spring at KCC.  This is a great biannual event sponsored by GMO Free Kauai, Hawaii Seed, Blossoming Lotus, and Kauai Community Seed Bank.

Try the University of Hawaii strains of lettuce, like Manoa lettuce, which are adapted for this climate. We found a variety of local-style vegetable seeds under the “Aina Ola Seed” label at Ace Hardware in Eleele, and at Walmart.

We also cleared an area of buffalo grass to start a new in-ground garden in our yard. After clearing we spread out a full load of compost from our county provided composting bin that had been percolating for months with vegetable matter and dry leaves, Then we broke up cardboard boxes and laid them over the area for weed control. Now we have planted some tomatoes and sweet potatoes from starters shared by neighbors and friends.

Our next project is to make some beds for squash and beans, so we have some home made staple foods. Several years ago we had put in a small taro bed, with some dry land taro. We have not been very successful in getting good harvests so far, but will be trying some new techniques with the taro.

Hawaii is blessed with a climate that allows many varieties of fruit trees to grow easily and well. On our property, we already had some fine fruit trees: mango, tangerine, papaya, bananas, macadamia nut, starfruit, and lime. We found that papaya trees are only productive for a year or two, so we have successfully started many new trees from seed. We also relocaed keiki banana plants to begin a new stand. We are close to having a dependable, constant supply of both bananas and papayas year round.

We planted a lemon tree, some avocado trees, and a pomegrante tree which are not yet producing, and plan to order some more food trees, including bread fruit.

image above: 4'x8' chicken coop with man-door access

Our most recent project was to build a chicken coop, and buy four baby chicks. We got a strain called “Production Reds”, or “Red Layers”, which are good domesticated egg laying hens. We found them at Harvey and Sons Feed Store in Kalaheo (in back of Brick Oven Pizza).

Neither my husband nor I had ever had chickens, but we got good advice from the owner, Russell Garcia, who was very helpful. These hens should be laying in another month or so, and we have ordered three more baby chicks to add to our hen house. This will be a great source of protein, and something we can trade with our neighbors and friends for other types of food.

The past few months, in light of potential events that could disturb Hawaii's food supply, we have been stockpiling some canned and dried foods. Every week, we have bought a few extra supplies during our regular trips to the grocery store. We have bought only those foods that we normally eat.

image above: interior chicken coop with nests right and chicken-door in background

In our case, those staples include brown rice, canned tuna and meat, and a variety of beans. We also got some dried beans and seeds, which could be sprouted, and some whole oat groats at Long’s Drugs in Lihue.

We are aiming at having a month’s supply of food set aside. At Ace Hardware, we bought two galvanized thirty-gallon metal garbage cans. One will hold water and the other the food and some extra garden seeds.

Best case scenario is if we slowly eat down this supply, and continue to restock, we will always be prepared for a natural or man-made disaster. If we come on hard financial times, we can eat down our stock and save money for a while.

Energy Use:
About two years ago, we replaced our incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent. However, we are now moving to LED lights, which use a fraction of the energy. We have found these fixtures and bulbs at ACE Hardware. We also purchased a battery charger, and are now using rechargeable batteries for any battery operated devices.

We could not afford to buy a full solar power array to supply our house with the same power we currently buy from KIUC. Over the last six months, we bought three smallSunforce 50044 60-Watt solar arrays which each generate 60 watts of power (at 12 volts).

image above: two 60watt arrays of solar panels on near flat roof

These panels feed into three Xantrex Technologies 802-1500 XPower 1,500-Watt Portable Backup Power Systems. Each is a deep cycle battery, which stores 60 amp-hours of charge and has a built in inverter for AC current. The unit is sealed, has a handle and two wheels for some real mobility and flexibility.

Each solar panel array cost about $300, and the waterproof, portable storage unit with AC inverter were also about $300 each.  We ordered these through We are currently running two laptop computers, the battery charger, and some LED lights in our home office, as well as a small entertainment center and lighting in our living room.

image above: Power storage and 110vac inverter units with solar panels plugged in

We are thinking of buying two more sets of of these systems. One would be for our bedroom to operate lighting for night reading, the bathroom as well as a clock radio. The other system would be used in the kitchen for lights and to operate the electronic features of our propane stove and a few lights and small appliances. We are researching low energy refrigeration systems, but may have to just settle eventually for no refrigeration at all.

We are trying to further reduce our power use by supplying our own energy to mission critical tasks. If the future brings interruption of electric service, we will at least be able to supply our minimal household needs. If there is no crisis or interuption of service, we will still save money on our electric bill, while making a small contribution to prevent further global warming and environmental damage by using some sustainable energy sources, and consuming less oil.

There is not much we can do about the world financial crisis. However, we are trying to get our own financial house in order. We withdrew some cash from the bank, so as to have a small amount on hand in case of a crisis. We are trying to live within our means, curtail use of credit cards, and slowly pay down our balances. When paid off, it will mean we will have less cash flow going out in case of reduction in our income.

We are also shopping locally as much as possible, rarely going to “town” (Lihue or Kapaa), and when we do, multitasking and completing as many errands and appointments as possible in one trip.

These are all small steps. Everyone has different needs and circumstances, so your plan will be different than ours. However, I promise that whatever you can do, just taking some positive action will much improve your state of mind. I also recommend less talking and worrying about the problems and what will happen, and putting your energy instead into small solutions. Think of this time as an adventure in creating a simpler, more sustainable life!



POSTED: 2 OCTOBER 2008 - 9:30pm HST

Food Storage When You Haven’t Been Storing Food

image above:An old fashioned root cellar used to get through the winter

by Sharon Astyk on 2 October in

Several readers have asked me to do a piece on what to do if you have been procrastinating about food storage, but plan to stock up before the end of the world (I’ve heard that Paulson and Bernanke have scheduled that for this weekend, but it could potentially be moved due to a conflict with some other disaster. So for all you procrastinators out there, here are my suggestions.

Now let’s note - my first suggestion is not to procrastinate. Because unless you are fairly well off, procrastinating and buying a lot of food probably means putting it on your credit card and paying it off. Not only is this extremely risky (I would not bet on any version of the apocalypse that doesn’t actually involve real zombies to get you off the hook with your credit card - and I’m pretty sure that they have zombie collection agents already, so maybe not even then.), it means that you will pay interest on the food, thus mitigating much of the benefit of even having it. But I do also know that sometimes one gets a big check, bonus, windfall, sells something or maybe the food is worth the price. So let’s assume that you all know better, and are doing it anyway.

Let us also assume that you are doing this shortly before everyone else starts their panic buying or shortly after (which makes it harder and makes the selection of stores more crucial), and that one or two stop shopping is the name of the game - you need to get as much that is useful as possible, as quickly as possible, perhaps not using much gas. So let’s start with where to shop.

My top few choices, in no particular order:

1. BJs/Sams Club/Costco: This is probably the most accessible (ie, lots of people have these reasonably nearby) and has most of the things you’ll really want. The downside is that often the bulk prices aren’t really very much or at all cheaper than smaller sizes, that the warehouses are huge and shopping there annoying and that they probably won’t have anything ethnic, or a large selection of nutritious things. Also will probably be mobbed if there’s a real or perceived immanent crisis. My tip for shopping here: if there isn’t an immanent apocalypse, you can probably get a free 1 shot membership to do a stockup even if you can’t/don’t want to pay the fee - they usually offer trials, and if you say you’d like to check it out, this can often be arranged.

2. An Asian grocery store of some sort. Best grain source for rice and often some kinds of noodles in quantity and quality, often have large quanties of spices and useful flavorings quite cheaply. The downside is that unless you cook asian food you will be confronted by many unfamiliar items, and you may find yourself with all the ingredients for Nasi Goreng, or Palak Paneer and no recipes, or idea whether you like it ;-). Also, not common in areas without large Asian or Indian subcontinental populations, so it might not be available. Tip for shopping here: go when it is quiet (weekends are tough) and ask for help - there’s usually someone who can help you figure out what you are buying.

3. A feed store. If a panic has already begun, this might actually be your best bet for getting large quantities of edible grains and pet food (plus livestock feed if you’ve got this). If you buy organic, whole feed grains, they should be adequate for human eating - and they come in 50lb quantities. Pick up your emergency supply of dog or cat food, some seeds for spring, and cracked corn and whole oats for you (and your horses). The downside: feed grains may not be especially tasty, organic feed is pricey, feed mixes may have things you don’t want, unless you live in a reasonably rural area, there probably won’t be one. Tip for shopping here: human consumption grains would be a better choice - save this option for food for yourself for a true crisis.

4. A coop or bulk food store. Coops are great because they tend to be run by good people and have reasonable prices. Privately owned bulk food stores also have good stuff - the thing is, most of these won’t have large quantities of staples in large bags - you’ll have to empty out the bins or place an order in advance. Still, not a bad place to get unusual ingredients, seasonings, yeasts, salt, nutritional supplements and meet special dietary needs. Tip for shopping here - you might ask if they have any bulk grains they can sell in larger quantities lying around - instead of asking for “50lbs of wheat” you might come at it the other way, asking what they’ve got a lot of.

5. Odd lots store/dollar stores: These are unlikely to have large quantities of things, but if you’ve got a big enough vehicle, you might be able to buy a pallet load of weird cereal by a a manufacturer you’ve never heard of for $1 box. These are good places to get canned goods and to pick up bug out bag foods that are light, nutritionally dense and portable. Soap and shampoo are often cheap here as well, and you may be able to get a few needed household goods, a couple of extra flashlights and whatever. Tips for shopping here: if you see something you want, snag it then - inventory changes fast.

6. Supermarkets - this is the classic crisis food shopping space, and the one that tends to get ripped into pieces until all that is left is Preparation H. These are to be avoided if you can avoid them during an actual crisis. If not, get there as early as you can, avoid the bottled water aisle (store some water in empty bottles instead and save your money for food). If you must hit one of these, choose one with a health food section and bulk bins, and ideally, a supercenter sort of thing, where you can also pick up anything else you need. Tip: Even if the crisis is likely to be long term, most people see supermarkets as a place to get short term needs met - so you are likely to find that staple foods and things like vitamins sell worse than boxed chocolate chip cookies. This is good, since you want more staples than cookies.

7. Drugstores, hardware stores, etc…: I’ve included these because you may have to stop at one - you may need a refill of your medication, to fix up the family first aid kit, or to buy flashlights. If you do need to stop, and are doing them in a rush, take a couple of minutes and think about other needs you might meet in such a place - drugstores may have some food and cheap spices, hardware stores may have other useful things at reasonable prices, like seeds. I’m not saying you should buy everything in sight, just working under the assumption that you may be able to make a limited number of stops. Generally speaking, though, if you can, you might want to consolidate trips the other way, and get your meds at a place that also primarily sells food.

Ok, now what to get. This assumes you mostly eat a regular American style diet (which ideally you don’t), that we shouldn’t push you too hard, and that you will be shopping at the above sorts of stores. That is, if you normally eat a lot of dal or mung bean noodles, please do add them to your plan. This is meant to cover mainstream ground - it is not meant to imply optimalization.

Here’s what I’d concentrate on. I am not including quantities here, because I don’t know how much you can afford, how big your household is, etc… What you should do is get as much as you can afford/haul and *manage* without spoilage. That means, get only what you can find a safe, bug and rodent proof spot for.

I’m also assuming that you don’t have a lot of fancy equipment - ie, I think life would be better for you if you had a grain grinder, but I’m going to assume no.

1. Vitamins. Get enough for everyone in the household. Regular, generic mulivites are fine, and any special supplement you take (although if these are optional luxuries and money is tight, forego the vitamin E capsules for more food instead). Yes, it is better to get your nutrients from food, but this is important. Also make sure you pick up children’s or prenatal vitamins if anyone in your household has a special need for these. You might also want to pick up a couple of bottles of vitamin C tablets.

2. Rice - as much brown rice as you can eat (and remember, you may be eating a lot more of it than you have been) in 3 months, plus as much white rice as you can. Why rice? It is widely available - even supermarkets sell it in 10 or 20lb bags in many cases. It is comparatively cheap, it is hypo-allergenic (ie, nearly everyone can eat it including infants and the ill), and it is familiar to people in just about every culture in the world. Brown rice is dramatically more nutritious, but it is also prone to spoilage - maximum storage is about 1 year, and it often goes rancid before that. A not-insignificant percentage of the population can’t taste rancidity in grains at all, so won’t know if the rice is still good to eat. So it is safest to get a short time supply of brown rice, and then mostly use white rice (supplemented with more nutritous grains).

2. Flour - get as much whole wheat flour as you can use in 6 months, and then get unbleached white flour. Again, you’ll be using the less nutritious form of the grain, but at least you’ll have food.

3. Rolled or steel cut oats. Get as many packages as you can. These are fairly nutritious and will help balance out some of the white stuff in your diet. This is breakfast.

4. Legumes: These include beans, split peas, lentils, cowpeas, pigeon peas, etc… Buy 1/3 of the weight of your combined grains (flour, oats and rice) in dry form. Check out the ethnic foods section for large quantities. These will provide protein, fiber and a host of other goodies. Don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar things here - they have a fairly wide taste range, but if you can eat one, you can eat another.

5. Something that sprouts. If you get stuck eating off your stored food in the winter or a summer dry season, when not much is going on, sprouts can save you. Ideally, you’d have a variety, from broccoli to onion to mung bean… In reality, you may not have much of a choice. But a lot of things in the bulk bins at whole foods or your health store, or available other places will sprout. They include whole wheat, alfalfa sprouts (just make sure you aren’t getting seed that is treated, and only use organic), untreated sunflower seeds, and a host of designated sprouting seeds. Nutrionally, if I had a choice I’d get broccoli, alfalfa and sunflower, as well as wheat, but you’ll be fine with just one.

5. Some other protein food - unless you are quite odd, you probably will not enjoy rice and beans for dinner, bread and beans for lunch and oatmeal for breakfast every day. You will be fine eating this - maybe even healthier, but you would be happier if you had something with a bit more fat, flavor and protein density, particularly if you are shifting from an average American diet. You do not need a lot of this - you might prefer a lot, but it

Best choices:
1. Whole nuts, flaxseeds or sunflower seeds in the shell

2. Peanut butter. Not the natural stuff - you want it shelf stable and in large quantities.

3. Canned fish - don’t overdo this if you have kids, are pregnant or nursing. But canned fish does have important nutrients, is tasty and makes people happy. Canned wild salmon is lowest in mercury, but can have high levels of PCBs. Don’t forget sardines, mackerel and other unusual fishes. Don’t go crazy also because it isn’t good for what’s left of the oceans, but occasional fish is good.

4. Shelf stable tofu, dried tofu sticks (asian groceries) or other stable soy protein.

5. Canned meat - I’m not a big fan of this, generally speaking, because unless you have a ton of money, canned meat is always from horrible sources, often troublesome in environmental ways, and doesn’t taste good. But others love their spam, and I won’t try and turn you away from it. Again, though, you don’t need that much - think occasional treat, and enjoy the flavoring and fat.

6. Fat: Olive oil in metal tins keeps several years if kept cool - that’s what I’d get of the choices available, with a bit of coconut oil to provide a tasty, shelf stable fat for piecrusts and “butter.” If you have to go cheap, get what you can afford that’s not too awful.

7. Dried fruit - if you are at a Sam’s Club type-place, you can buy big sealed bags of dried raisins or cranberries or something. Otherwise, you can take what’s available at the dollar stores or go hunting in the bulk bins. You want this for nutritional reasons, and so that you don’t get so constipated you can’t breathe. Also good for kids, to help them transition, or picky adults who are kind of like kids.

8. Powdered milk, soy, or rice milk. This is for calcium, protein to enable you to bake, to add creaminess to things, etc…. It will never taste like real milk, but you can live with it. It lasts a long time, and you can use it baking if nothing happens, so you might as well get as much as you can.

9. Salt - get a bunch, iodized for eating (you only need a little of this - and if you don’t want to store iodized salt or want something better, you can also buy dulse or kelp supplements to meet this need, but the easiest, most stable source is iodized salt) and uniodized for preserving, livestock if you’ve got it, brushing teeth, etc… This is cheap, and necessary to life.

10. Sweeteners - unless you have weaned yourself off of this entirely, you will want these. Sugar is probably cheapest, a lot of bulk honey is watered down or sugar syruped up. But you can use maple syrup, sugar, sorghum or whatever is most easily available. You may also need to stretch it - so work on reducing sugar now. We don’t need anywhere near as much as we eat.

11. Canned vitamin rich vegetables. Get a couple of flats each of pumpkin/squash/sweet potatoes, and some kind of canned green (mustard or turnip greens hold together better than spinach). If you are used to eating fresh, these will not taste as good as fresh - but can be mixed into things in the background to add nutrition. Make sure that you use the liquid from the greens as well. Some canned fruit is nice too, if you have room/can afford it. Canned pineapple is, to my mind, the best tasting commercially canned fruit.

Alternately (and better), you might be able to hit a farmstand and get sweet potatoes, cabbage and turnips, which would be much better for you, tastier and local, but the assumption of this discussion is that you aren’t doing that. Still, if there’s anyway to buy fresh food that can be root cellared, you’ll be a lot happier than relying on canned veggies.

12. Something(s) to flavor water/powdered milk. This depends on your preference, but if you are using non-traditional water sources, or drinking powdered milk for the first time, making it taste better will be worth a lot. Plus, if you are a tea or coffee person, you will be sad without them. So get vacuum packed cans of coffee, or lots of tea, cocoa. And if you have kids, or vitamin C worries, or the water tastes horrible, you might want to get some Tang or HiC powdered drink mix. The stuff is icky, but will add some sweetness, and also some nutrition, while covering the taste of bad water.

13. This is controversial, but you might want some alcohol. There are a couple of reasons. First, if things are bad enough and you have no major responsibilities, you might want to get drunk. Second, and more practically, a small amount of alcohol in your water will kill many bacteria, and is safer than inadequately filtered water. Oh, and you can probably use it like money to get other things.

14. Lots of seasonings. Varying your meals is key. Buy lots of spices, and you may also want ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, chili-garlic paste, fermented black beans, chutney, worcestershire…whatever. Depending on what you can afford and where you are, don’t forget this.
15. Get some treats. You will need them. So put some smoked oysters, a few bags of chocolate chips, some beef jerky, peanut brittle - whatever you or your family crave. I’d also suggest some kind of small candy that stores fairly well (we use those tiny dum-dum lollipops which come in bags of a zillion) to be doled out as rewards for children who are eating their new diet reasonably graciously and responding to their new reality - they are small and sweet and ease transitions. Adults might need other bribes. Also, don’t forget the ingredients for your special Easter bread, matza balls, or whatever other special occasions your family will still want to remember.

16. Some things that are dense and require minimal cooking in case you have to evacuate or if you are under stress - some ramen, some dried fruit, energy bars, instant bean soups, canned soup, etc…

Then add some extra batteries (if you aren’t already stocked), gas for the car and the can, a way to cook without power (sterno, camp stove, woodstove, more propane for the grill), and water purifiers (it will be easiest if you get this first). Ta da! You are ready for the zombies!

see also:
Island Breath: TGI - The Package 8/24/08
Island Breath: Cuba's Special Period 7/29/06