Senior suburban survivalism has become our new way of life. The purpose of this blog post is to explain what this new way of life or lifestyle is. I also detail our need for it. In addition, I explore this lifestyle so that the knowledge of survival tools is made available to others members of The Poor Middle Class. I want to inspire hope in others who are in the same or similar financial situation to us. Learn much more about The Poor Middle Class on earlier posts of my blog and in the chapters of The Poor Middle Class Crisis eBook.
Surviving In A Middle Class Suburban World As Part of The Poor Middle Class
Because we are part of The Poor Middle Class, life has become increasingly challenging for us. As seniors aka boomers and part of The Poor Middle Class, we have had to find new lifestyle tools to survive in suburbia. We strive for a good life in spite of our limited financial resources. We are proud because we are rich in resourcefulness and hope.
Both senior suburban survivalism and homestead/off grid living have contributed to our new life. By preference, we are adopting lifestyle changes that are intrinsic to homesteading and off grid living. By necessity, we have become suburban survivalists. In fact, one could say that Senior Suburban Survivalism is a new alternative lifestyle for suburban members of The Poor Middle Class. We are learning to balance these alternate lifestyles to create a new life that is affordable and that works for us.
What Is Survivalism?
Survivalism is defined in Wikipedia as “. . . a movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international.” Preparation tends to involve the ability to live in rustic, primitive conditions. It can include altering one’s relationship to the political, social and economic establishment.
For The Poor Middle Class, serious disruption to our social (economic) order has already taken place. It means that we are no longer middle class financially. But we still live in a Middle Class material world. There are steep financial requirements to live comfortably and securely in that world. But they are beyond our reach.
Additionally, the current political climate may cause our social order to be disrupted even further. Be that as it may, there are aspects of survivalism as well as qualities of homesteading and off grid living that we are applying to our suburban, poor middle class lives. Out of necessity, we have become suburban survivalist. Out of desire, we are also adopting homesteading and off grid living qualities. Our hope is that our new formula for living will work even when life is more of a challenge.
Homesteading and Off Grid Living
Homesteading involves living off the land, in a simple and close relationship with nature. Off grid living involves the absence of municipal utilities such as electricity, gas, heating and cooking sources as well as water. This elimination of this dependency is by choice.
Both of these lifestyles sound exciting and romantic to me. But these alternate lifestyles are for younger folks who are more robust than we are. Therefore, a compromise of incorporating homesteading/off grid qualities into our lives as senior suburban survivalists is one way we can live our dream. Below is the video introduction to Off Grid with Doug and Stacy. They are well respected ‘leaders’ of the of homesteader/off grid living community. As you can see from the video, Doug and Stacy have found great joy in their homesteading/off grid life.
Our New Life As Senior Suburban SurvivalistsWe have been forced into senior suburban survivalism rather than able to chose homesteading/off grid living for two reasons:
• our age-the rigorousness life of homesteading/off grid living is for younger folks
• our financial circumstances-we do not have any financial resources to purchase land or materials to create an off grid homestead
In spite of our limitations, we still derive great pleasure from aspects of our new life. Here are ways that we have adopted into our daily lives what we can of ‘the real thing’ as homesteader/off grid type folks:
• Housing-our senior housing is affordable, we have no mortgage to pay and we would be homeless or close to it without this amenity
• Food-the weekly food pantry we get food from has become our personal vegetable garden
• Foraging-local parks and green spaces make foraging still possible in the suburbs
• Traditional food & beverage preparation and preservation-these techniques are totally viable, easy to learn, close to nature, full of healthy probiotics, are frugal and avoid food waste • Living a simpler and slower life-we have chosen to slow our lives down even though we still live in the fast paced suburbs
• Budgeting-we spend very carefully and as little as possible while sticking to a strict budget
• Acquiring things like Clothes and Furniture-we utilize free resources from our food pantry, our neighborhood, flea markets and thrift stores
ConclusionI am an eager beginner in understanding what homesteading, off grid living and survivalism are and how we can incorporate them into our lives. I feel that we have embraced the spirit of them and welcome whatever works into our home and lives. So far, we have found that as we simplify and scale down, our lives have become richer and fuller. We look forward to the bounty of adventures and discoveries that lie ahead on this journey of our new life.
Sources & Resources
The Financial Survival Toolkit from Viper Tool Storage
The Poor Middle Class
Poor Middle Class Financial Survival Resources
Definition of Survivalism
Off Grid with Doug and Stacy-Homestead Homies
Living Off Grid for Thirty Years: A Story of Isolation Through happiness
The Secret Shame of Middle-Class America by Neal Gabler
Fifty Five, Unemployed and Faking Normal by Elizabeth White
The Homeless Encampment in Howell, NY.
Ask A Prepper
The Lost Ways
Food Preservation and Fermentation
Survival Food Reserves
Fermentation of foods and beverages may seem to have started out as a hobby for me. But as I have continued, I have been discovering otherwise. I am learning more and more about these historically documented traditions that add valuable nutrients to food. In fact, before refrigeration and food additive preservation, fermentation was one of the essential, natural means of preserving food. The beauty of fermentation was that it accomplished two valuable results, food preservation, its primary goal, and nutritional enhancement, the natural bi-product of this process. The more I learn, the more food I want to ferment to add to the nutritional value.
Today, we live in a world of food preservation technology that has made fermentation unnecessary. Food is prepared and processed with ‘food preservatives’, chemicals that only increase shelf life. Fermentation is no longer needed. Or so it may seem. Ironically, the removal of natural fermentation and the addition of synthetic chemicals is leaving us nutritionally bankrupt. This has resulted in serious health issues for many adults and children.
Buying prepared foods that are natural and nutritious can become very expensive. I am exploring alternatives so I can eat healthfully and economically. I’ve begun to go back-to-basics. I’m giving fermenting beverages and foods a whole-hearted try. It is clear to me that this can be a good means of improving and maintaining good health. What I did not realize was that this nutrient dense solution can take a good deal of time. What might have seemed like a hobby initially, has become a ‘whey’ of life for me.
Over the last six months or so, I have learned numerous techniques of fermentation. They include using a SCOBY (symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast) to make fermented teas, called Kombucha and Jun; using kefir grains or crystals to ferment milk and water; adding whey (a cheese making bi-product) to make lacto-fermented foods and beverages; using a ‘ginger bug’ (a fermented syrup of ginger, sugar and water) to make delicious, nutritious, homemade sodas; and one of our all time favorites, making lacto-fermented (whey again) lemonade. In fact, I make my own whey from yogurt and milk kefir by simply separating the ‘curds’ and ‘whey’ with cheesecloth or a paint strainer. It is easy but adds more time to the process of preparing nutrient rich food.
Eating this way increases good ‘gut’ bacteria. A new field of science called the human microbiome has revealed that the human body is only 20% human cells and 80% bacteria. This sheds a totally different light on how we need to look at improving and maintaining health. Our bodies thrive on good bacteria and need ‘probiotic’ foods and beverages to continually supply us with an abundance of it. Processed foods with food additives are, at the very least, dead. At their worst, they rob the body of any healthy bacteria it may have had. This means that eating processed food makes the body vulnerable. It creates a ripe environment for illness.
Be on guard when you shop for food. Read ingredients. If there are more than a few ingredients, don’t buy a packaged product. One of the worst food additives is high fructose corn syrup. Avoid it like the plague. Learn to make probiotic rich foods and beverages. It could save your life.
As much as I can, I’m going back to how food and beverages were prepared before industrial food preservation. This means creating a healthy ‘whey’ of life supported by the latest scientific research, the human microbiome. We are seeing through the microbiome that when it comes to food, nature’s way is most likely best. I believe that only by going back in time to natural, probiotic enhancing food preparation methods, can we go forward with health.
When I first fell in love with making my own fermented beverages, flavored water kefir was not a priority on my list. Experimenting with flavors of Kombucha was at the top. I had a natural affinity for kombucha. It fascinated me. The whole process of fermentation was something I had not experienced before in all my years of health food preparation. I was thrilled to enter the world of fermentation. A door had opened to me inviting me into a whole new way of preparing and preserving food and beverages.
Each time, I experimented with new kombucha flavors, I had great success. I make very cherry, which is heavenly since I am a cherry flavor lover. I also make chocolate which drives all the chocolate lovers wild. I seem to encounter no impediments to making great kombucha. I continue to experiment with different flavors and still love everything about it.
I guess I should step back for a moment to provide some insight into this amazing technology. There are numerous tools or techniques for fermentation and preservation. So far, I have tried about seven of them. Salting is one that I imagine everyone is familiar with. Dehydrating and smoking are two others that have long histories but not too old that many people know about them as well. But then there are the fermentation techniques that have histories indigenous to many ancient cultures. Fermentation is so old that it is believed to pre-date man!
The SCOBY is the essential fermenting agent. SCOBY stands for, symbiotic colony (or community) of bacterial and yeast. When I first heard of SCOBY I was told it was a mushroom. It is not. There are many kind of SCOBY. Kombucha is most commonly linked to the term SCOBY. But kefir grains are SCOBY, too.
There is also a SCOBY for making JUN which is considered the ‘champagne of kombucha’. It is indistinguishable in appearance from a regular Kombucha SCOBY. But the ingredients needed to create this beverages are not the same as regular Kombucha. Green tea is used instead of black. Honey is required instead of sugar. We’ll talk more about this delicate and delicious drink at a future date.
Now that you have a general introduction to the SCOBY world, some explanatory definitions and an overview of beverage fermentation, we can discuss kefir, water kefir and flavored water kefir. The Kefir SCOBY is in the form of grains or crystals. They are actually very pretty to look at. They are much less intimidating than a Kombucha SCOBY. There are two kinds of grains. One is for kefir water. The other is for kefir milk. We will only focus the water kefir grains and flavored water kefir.
It took me some time to cozy up to water kefir. It just didn’t excite me the way Kombucha, natural sodas and lacto-fermented lemonade did. As a result the water kefir I had brewing just sat in the jar unattended. Then something happened. A Kombucha looking SCOBY formed on top. Underneath it was a membrane like a baby SCOBY forming and a brown bulging sack. I decided to explore. I separated everything. I opened the sack. To my surprise and delight, it was filled with grains. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I suppose I could have started a new batch using these grains. I saved the SCOBY for a while planning to show it to Matt. But I thought the whole thing was a result of cross-contamination from Kombucha bacteria. The two jars were closer together than I now know to keep them, at least four feet apart. Lastly, the liquid had turned sour. I got discouraged with the whole mystery and threw it everything out, the SCOBY, the sack with new grains, the membrane and the liquid.
But I like a challenge and I don’t like when I cannot master something. Between those two aspects of personality and persistence at work, I knew that learning to make kefir water was going to be my next endeavor. So I started from scratch, I got some new water kefir grains from my friend and fermentation mentor, Matt Fallon. At his suggestion, I even got a painter’s mesh strainer bag. This would keep my new babies contained while still being submerged in the liquid.
I arranged my new set up and even added some adornment to my most elegant dispenser. I filled the jar with bottled water (about a gallon and a half) and organic sugar (about a scoop per gallon). I submerged the grains contained within the mesh strainer’s and secured them to the dispenser’s top with the elastic band sewn into the top of the mesh strainer. I was ready for action.
Water kefir grains only take about 24 hours to ferment their liquid. This is much faster than it takes to make Kombucha. That can take a few days or even longer.
The number of days depends upon the temperature of the environment the container is in. In the summer, my Kombucha brew is ready in a few days. When the temperature gets colder, I wrap a light kitchen towel around the jar. Some people report weeks for fermentation to be complete. There are actually both heating pads purchasable for jars and creative fermenters make ‘coats’ and covers designed to keep the container and liquid from getting too cold. This allows for a speeding up of a process that would otherwise slow down too much or virtually stop when it just gets too cold.
I didn’t have the same spontaneity at first that I had with making Kombucha. But I gave myself a good talking to and said, ‘This is the same process as making Kombucha. It is fermentation and the grains, not a jelly fish looking pancake, are the SCOBY. I am only using another type of SCOBY. Everything else is the same. So do basically what I do when I make Kombucha’. I did just that and it works. It is so much easier than I thought. I have been going wild making all kinds of flavors of water kefir just like I had started to do with my first love, Kombucha. I’ve made chocolate peppermint with dried leaves from Matt’s garden. I made a ginger-orange brew that needs a touch of maple syrup to sweeten it. I’ve made Cherry Kefirade which is my favorite. It is a combination of Cherry water kefir and fermented lemonade. That recipe will definitely have to wait for another blog post. It even deserves a pedestal it is so outstandingly delicious (and nutritious).
This is just another beginning, seeing how far I can stretch what appear to be the normal limits of a technique. Water kefir is clearly very versatile. It is quite cooperative and easy to make flavored water kefir. It does not mind when I use the tea that has already been used for a Kombucha or JUN brew. I let it sit for a day or two and there I have it, a new water kefir flavor. This new world I have entered allows me continual exploration. It is a world that has existed for millennia. Some say that fermentation existed before man rather than man ‘inventing’ fermentation. Be that as it may, I am thrilled to have been introduced the world of beverage fermentation and food preservation.
If you would like to get more involved in beverage fermentation, there are many groups to join on facebook. Some are about fermentation in general. Others get specific to Water Kefir, Kombucha, SCOBY exchange, etc.