In this week's cover story about survivalists
, I speak with a man who identifies himself only as "Bowreeguard," who hails from hard-granite New Hampshire and says that prepping was a way of life for his family when he was growing up.
The eldest son of his family, Bowreeguard learned to keep supplies on hand, use a gun, and plan ahead. Sometimes this will prove you wrong -- he sadly recalls how he spent years working on an underground bunker for Y2K, only to see nothing happen -- but there's that same good feeling in preparing.
One day, toward the end of a phone conversation, Bowreeguard mentioned the Mormons. He said that all members of the church are supposed to have at least a year's supply of food on hand -- also the standard for most secular preppers -- and that there's a publication, The LDS Preparedness Manual
, that makes the rounds of prepper communities and contains sage advice on all aspects of prepping. It's geared toward members of the Mormon church, but it's not an official church document.
There's a section titled "Do You Really Have a Year's Supply??," detailed lists of recommended foods, and tips about preparing for terrorist attacks. And this:
In a massive social collapse, law and public order break down and the truth about human rights is revealed: An individual has rights only as long as he can defend them. This is the subtle logic of violence. It has always been true but it's something to which most of us have never given a moment's thought. It's also a concept that makes some Saints uncomfortable because it contradicts much of the illusions by which we have lived all of our lives. However, unless you understand and accept this basic fact of life, you may not survive the coming challenges.
I called some Mormon community leaders for more information about this little-discussed segment of their practice that seems to be rooted in the faith's pioneer past. They didn't know about the manual, and seemed caught off-guard by the speculations of violence contained in the book, but they did invite me down to the LDS Bishop's Storehouse and Cannery in Davie, just off State Road 7. And thus I entered a whole other facet of preparedness.
I was met by Elder Mark Brown, who runs the local storehouse that covers the whole South Florida Region. This is more about seeing church members through tough times than it is about preparing for the future. The kitchen smelled like dough and cooking, and I saw big walk-in refrigerators full of meat, cheese, and vegetables. Grocery items like dish detergent and toilet paper were stacked neatly on shelves, and ready-made food items sat in broken-open cardboard boxes.
Brown explained that when church members are hard up for money, they can order groceries free of charge from the storehouse, twice a month. It's all provided for free. Most of the items are from a centralized church production company in Salt Lake City. Boxes are stamped "Welfare Services." "What pays for this," said Brown, "is that one day a month, we fast." The money saved by church members goes toward taking care of their own. The church also owns a huge network of "welfare farms" where food is produced. There's a 300,000-acre ranch around Orange County and 5,000 acres in Hillsborough. Brown said that because of these farms, the Mormon church is the largest private landowner in Florida.
Next door, there's a cannery, where people can gather to transfer bulk grains, beans, and dried produce into cans, pop in an oxygen-removing tablet, and seal them up to last for a few years. Nobody was canning when we were there, but Brown offered a sample of dried apples and showed me the spartan-clean work surfaces and recommended guidelines (for one person for a year, the church recommends 400 pounds of grains).
In the cannery's storeroom there are also starter packs of canned goods for families beginning to stock up. You can also buy a full year's supply of dried and canned food from Sam's Club, provided by Augason Farms of Salt Lake City.
Brown said that the rule of keeping a year's supply of food at home is a recommendation, not a mandate, designed to see families through hard times while retaining a sense of self-reliance. The same goes for the charity storehouse and welfare program, which arose out of the Great Depression.
Though he wouldn't call himself a prepper, Elder Brown shared a characteristic with most of the preppers I interviewed: he couldn't really outline a specific scenario for which all those Saints with canned food in the basement are preparing. Bad things can happen, whether they're in the form of a medical emergency, an earthquake, an economic collapse, a lost job. But it can't hurt to prepare. Do it long enough, and it becomes a way of life. Otherwise, when the world collapses around you, don't expect the Mormons to have enough for everyone.
Check out part two of our exploration of the connection between prepping, spirituality, and the Mormon church.
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