The series’ next episode (‘Let ‘Er Rip!’) opens with a visit to the Virginia homestead of Freda Stemick.
Her producer-enforced single issue is “Chaos, caused by an EMP attack due to World War III.” The way she sees it, “we are setting the stages worldwide” for a nuclear shootin’ match, involving “somebody shooting a warhead in our direction”. To which I have to congratulate NatGeo on their perfect timing, seeing as how this episode comes a few days after Pyongyang decided to ratchet up their saber-rattling, abandon their armistice, and cut all ties with South Korea.
Freda is apparently descended from some of the Hatfield clan, so because she happens to still live in the woods of Virginia (instead of say, downtown Chicago), the producers rely heavily on that angle to play up the ‘backwoods’/‘folksy’ nature of the segment; if I were just a little bit more rhetorically-minded, I could probably say something about how the show’s constructed image serves to reinforce Appalachian stereotypes. Or something.
It’s probably a good sign that one of the first things out of Freda’s mouth is a declaration that her family has lived in the “mountains and valleys” of Virginia for hundreds of years. Could’ve fooled me – that doesn’t sound very Virginian. Here in Kan-tuck-kee, we call ‘em “hills an’ hollers”.
She goes on to talk about her great frontiersy forebears who “hacked their way through the wilderness” (which, remember, was only a wilderness because the indigs who’d been tending the place like a garden for thousands of years had been wiped out).
Because she’s aware of the unsustainable nature of our just-in-time distribution system, Freda’s put a big focus on making her homestead as self-sufficient as possible, starting with food. She and boyfriend Mike Davis keep a nice garden to produce fresh veg, most of which it seems they home-can. However, I noticed that their jars are—as we’ve too often seen—just out on shelves, unprotected with no shock buffers or anything to keep them from smashing to the floor. Remember, just because you’re preparing for one possible contingency doesn’t mean a different one can’t sneak up on you: a tornado or earthquake or inland hurricane could always come along and turn your larder into a pile of un-canned food and broken glass.
They also keep a number of chickens, with the intention of using eggs as a compact, versatile form of true wealth. In other words, Freda is the first person on the show to advocate a Barrelhaven-style, eggs-based barter economy! Finally!
Because she fears that having an arsenal of firearms would make her a target for a gun-grabbing government in the event of martial law, she has a bare minimum of traditional armament—twelve gauge shotgun, nine millimeter pistol, compound bow. However, her ever-crafty boyfriend has made a set of ‘throwing stars’ with which he is apparently a pretty good shot. Despite being a fan of improvised and handmade equipment, I’m always wary of single-use (weapon-only) items. Like I’ve said before, I find hatchet-throwing to be a useful skill.
While they’re supposedly in a pretty isolated area (though I saw big trucks passing through the trees several times) they’re concerned about smoke from their cooking fires attracting attention, so they decide to test out their solar oven!
Now, this is a subject with which I actually have experience, and so, some thoughts on the subject.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of solar cooking; over the years I’ve cooked or dehydrated bushels of apples, bananas, peaches, tomatoes, daylilies (even mini pizzas!), using nothing more than the free and abundant energy radiating from the nearest star.
I’m not really a fan of the design of the oven we see them use (it’s basically a wooden cold-frame with foil lining the bottom). Personally, I’ve used a folding, all-foil-covered reflector-based ‘Cook-It‘ to good effect in summer, but simplest is often better: some of my best dried peaches and daylilies were done simply with a cheesecloth-covered wooden frame, placed on a concrete slab, with a large pane of window glass over it. In fact, bugs don’t bother the food, because it’s actually too hot under the glass for them to stand it!
Now, for actual cooking like, a pot of maize and beans, I’ve never tried going solar. For that kind of meal, it’s usually recommended to use a dark-colored pot, inside a sealed, heavy-duty clear plastic bag, all placed on or in the oven for several hours.
However, for simply dehydrating food, this is hard to beat:
The dashboard of a car with windows just slightly opened (to let the hot air circulate) can be an effective dehydrator from March on through October (in the northern hemisphere); hell, in high Summer it’ll get hot enough that you can do two batches per day!
Attentive viewers will note that while we see Freda put a small pig in the cooker, we never see the results of the experiment. As she explains, “we originally planned to put the pig on the campfire and bake bread in the oven but time got short for filming and the crew said “just throw the pig in the solar oven”… I took it out of there within an hour and threw it on the stove.”
However, as our caption reminds us—solar cooking really only works in areas with abundant sun: much of Africa comes to mind; the forested mountains of Appalachia—where the sun comes up about ten in the morning, and goes down about three in the day—do not.
With the food situation well under control, we learn that Freda’s homestead has not one, not two, but three sources of fresh water (a flowing creek, artesian well and pump well?). Mike puts on his diy hat again, and comes up with a turbine wheel to put in the stream to make some free hydroelectricity. I don’t know if it actually charged their batteries, but if so, it’s pretty sweet.
Then they show off their ultimate “perimeter defense weapon”, which as it turns out, is Mike’s homemade catapult…of sorts.
It’s counterweighted like a trebuchet, but the counterweight isn’t articulated, which gives it an arc of swing more like a mangonel. Either of those designs can be solid when they’re followed (back in high school, I built an eleven-foot oak treb that could throw big rocks about 200 feet), but unfortunately this design borrows from both types and doesn’t perform particularly well. Or maybe it would, if they’d thrown something with some weight (like one of the many pumpkins we see lying around?), instead of the negligible-mass ‘throwing stars’.
Actually, I think the best solution in this case might be for Mike to trade his “catapult” to Brent (to go with his “castle”!) in exchange for some long guns to properly defend their wooded homestead.
The experts say her food plan is great, now she should stock up on medical supplies. They give her 56 points, for seven months’ initial survival. I don’t know why, but that seems low to me. Anyway, it’s always nice to see self-reliant country folks instead of the gung-ho beans-n-bunkers types.