The urban survivalist living in a large to medium sized city has many advantages and just as many disadvantages as the rural or small town survivalist does, and of course the opposite is just as often true as well. What that all boils down to is; there is no one article, book, or way to say: “This is what you want or need to do to survive.” What I will attempt to do here is give you a general overview of what works for me and my friends, as well as simple ideas that you can use to survive, and possibly flourish, in an urban environment.
Let’s start with an idea… The idea being that you live in an urban or suburban area and don’t really want to leave your happy home for the rugged outdoor life of the rural dweller, homesteader or refuge. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the rural lifestyle as much as the next person, but sometimes you just want something different than the life you live, which seems to be pretty much universal.
Like the old WWI song went, “How are you going to keep them down on the farm when they have seen the lights of gay Paris?”
Well I don’t know about “Paris”, but after LA, Chicago, Miami and a few other smaller, but still large cities, I’ve not had any problem being down on the farm, or at least a small town to medium sized city. And yes, there are things I miss, but not enough to move back to a large city. Let’s also say you want to live off the land, so to speak. What can you do?
At this point we should note that this article is going to be broken down into several parts, and while these are not mutually exclusive, they are not the same either. The first part is “foraging in the urban landscape”, which means more than finding food, it also means shelter, and the other necessities of life, such as getting or making money. The second part of the article is “farming in the urban environment”, or planting crops or other plants that will improve your sustainability. The third part of this article is “fishing in the urban arena”, which covers harvesting the waters you can get at, or at least the ones that are pure enough to eat from.
The first thing that pops to mind when discussing urban foraging is “dumpster diving”. This can be a quite enjoyable pastime if you look at it right, but then it can also be pretty disgusting as well, so be prepared for anything that can, and usually does, turn up in a dumpster.
The art and science of dumpster diving (and there have even been books written on the subject), is mostly just looking in dumpsters. The more upscale areas generally have more upscale garbage, and the poorer the area, the less likely you are to find useful items. Although this is not a hard and fast statement, as you never know what you might find in any given dumpster. One “survivalist” friend I knew used to give me a considerable amount of grief for stopping and checking just about every dumpster, public trash can and dump we came across until he read a book on this very subject and suddenly became an aficionado of dumpster-diving. It didn’t matter how much I told him how to do it, what I found when we were out and about, or that he occasionally profited from my rooting around and finding something he wanted or could use. He just wouldn’t stoop to it, until he read a book that gave him “permission” to dumpster dive.
Naturally there are better areas to look at, and better times as well. Since I lived in a medium sized college town, the pickings are pretty good year round, but some people actually make a living dumpster diving when the students move out and dump their unwanted or unneeded items. This can be anything too. Such as; computers, lap-tops, clothes, furniture, tools, reloading dies (yes, really), pots, pans, microwaves, carpet cleaners, TVs, Tupperware, even cash. They take the items to the local auction house or used goods stores, or even resell to the students moving in. Other things to look for are salvage items like copper (cut the cords off junk appliances and sell to scrap yards), or redeemable cans and bottles that can be cashed in.
Now for the “ewe – ick” that everyone seems to utter whenever the subject is brought up; eating out of dumpsters. OK, I am not advocating that you paw through filth and look for food, but there is often a lot of good, safe food thrown out every day that ends up in a dumpster. Generally, if it is in a factory sealed container it is safe. Lots of fast food and pizza joints toss the unsold, left over food, usually still in the box, bag, wrapper or container at the end of the night. Depending on the store policy, state or local laws or employee attitude, that might mean they set it out by the dumpster, place it in the dumpster, or destroy it. Knowing which shops do what can often be as easy as asking the employees what they do with unsold food at the end of the night or shift. Grocery stores normally change out the produce late at night, this is especially true of the 24 hour stores, and if you ask when they do it and show up at the right time, you can often have the discarded or unwanted produce. Of course it won’t be prime pickings, but you can throw away the fruits growing hair, cut the bruises off and still end up with a goodly amount of food. Also, ask what they do with the meats they have. You might be able to get some great buys on various odds and ends or cuts of meat when they start to reach their “sell by” dates.
If you aren’t ready to eat out of dumpsters just yet, let’s take a look at what else is available to the urban survivalist. There are often food “banks”, “pantries” or other free food distribution centers that give food away. These places will often require proof of residence, income or other policies and criteria that you must meet in order to qualify. However, various churches or charitable groups, such as the Salvation Army often sponsor free meals that are available to anyone who shows up. Bear in mind, though, in an emergency or SHTF situation, food giveaways or free meal charity will be extremely rare, or non-existent. So don’t become dependent on them for all your food, even if you don’t have a steady source of income.
Is anything else available? Well, depending on the time of year, fresh vegetables and greens may well be available free for the picking in parks, road sides and “wild” areas. What sort of plants am I talking about? Well for centuries young dandelions were considered a spring tonic and even commercially canned and sold in stores. The roots were toasted and used as a coffee substitute in the Civil War. Plantain, (aka White Man’s Footstep) is another edible weed found most everywhere and helps heal wounds. Many “weeds” or flowers are not only edible, they have medicinal properties too. For example, Yarrow is good for anti-inflammatory use. St. John’s wort is an antidepressant, Valerian is a sedative. Black Cohosh (over harvested in the wild) is a lovely plant that looks wonderful in any flower den and is used to treat premenstrual discomfort and cramps (I use it for leg cramps after standing for hours). Echinacea is another lovely flower and it helps the immune system. Quite often there are various fruit and nut trees, such as apple, oak and walnut lining roads and the fruits and nuts are free for the taking. Rhubarb and horseradish are often found growing along road sides and easily transplanted to help them spread to other areas. If none of these plants are readily available to you, plant them in out of the way areas or parks. You are not only growing your own food supply, you are improving the area for future generations, especially with fruit and nut trees that are easily grown from seeds. Simply go to your local library and get books on local edible and medicinal plants to see what is available to you in your area.
While you are out and about, check out the various lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers and other waterways. While not all of them will have fish or other animals, such as turtles and crayfish in them, you might well be surprised. One medium sized creek that I overlooked for quite some time was filled with huge freshwater clams and one deep hole had a huge flathead catfish in it. Other “lakes” or waterways in the city are filled with fish, turtles and other edible game. Don’t overlook “condo” or man made lakes and waterways either, these are often stocked or naturally attract turtles and frogs.