Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Y2Kitchens of the Super-Prepared

As the year 2000 approaches, Middle Tennesseans start stockpiling

By Nicki Pendleton Wood

AUGUST 16, 1999:  No matter when you started planning how to feed yourself in the event of turn-of-the-millennium chaos, you are way behind Sky Billips. This south-Tennessee homesteader last winter arranged for her sow, Big Mama, to be mated. Big Mama gave birth to piglets recently so Billips will have a steady supply of nonperishable meat in case the millennium madness knocks out her refrigeration. Billips (who preferred not to use her real name) also has arranged for a neighbor's mule to help plow up land next year, should she need to grow grain and not have fuel for a tractor. And she's got a heavy-duty manual grinder to crank out flour for herself and feed for her animals from grain she's got stored in 55-gallon barrels.

"I'm moving toward self-sufficiency," she says. "I see my little farm as a refuge."

And you say your plan was just to buy some extra Pop-Tarts and Doritos?

No one knows for sure what will happen at midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, but predictions range from reassuring to dire. There may just be a hiccup in the electricity at midnight, there may be sporadic power outages for a few days. Or there could be shortages and social chaos. The Red Cross recommends planning for the middle likelihood by storing a week's worth of food and water, and maybe arranging for an alternative cooking method.

Many Tennesseans, though, see dependence on others as a weakness. So across the mid-state, people are stockpiling food in ways and quantities you probably haven't thought of. For many, a year, rather than a week, is the goal for food supplies.

Membership and sales are up at area food cooperatives, which provide bulk foods at economical prices. "Maybe 10 percent of my new members" have joined because of Y2K, estimates Barbara Joyner, owner of the Morningside Club co-op in Short Mountain, south of Murfreesboro. She reports that her regular members are also doing a lot more buying. "They're stocking up on their favorites," she says. She has a Web site at http://www.rlaj.com/morningside.

Plenty are buying cases of their usual cereals and snack foods, but plenty are also buying ready-to-eat foods (for when there's no power) and bulk grains, beans, and nuts for the long haul, in case the going gets so rough that grocery store shelves empty out.

Over at Country Life co-op, Andre Wilson is also doing a land-office business in big bags of food. "I had one family who filled in a three-page order," he marvels. "That's a huge order. I rang it up, and it was $1,300. So I called her, and she said they had been saving money to spend on Y2K. They ordered 25-pound bags of popcorn, 50-pound bags of beans, you name it."

That's the kind of ordering that Justin and Kara Carter and their seven children are doing. To hold it all, they rented a storage unit near CoolSprings. Their 5-gallon buckets of dried corn, dried beans, millet, and wheat are stacked in three rows, four buckets high for the 20-foot length of the storage room.

John Behaylo, proprietor of 00 Emergency Survival Supplies on Eighth Avenue South--one-stop shopping for Y2K accessories.

"We have a large family, so we felt we needed to get plenty," explains Justin, who just moved his family to Giles County from Brentwood.

Predictions of power outages and food shortages are also driving sales of old-fashioned kitchen and farm items, such as non-hybrid seed, canning supplies, and hand-cranked grain mills. Imagine the surprise of the last few manufacturers of non-electric grinders when sales shot through the roof last year. Joyner says she's selling them briskly, and even the stodgy, demure King Arthur Flour catalog is carrying them. John Behaylo, who operates 00 Emergency Survival Supplies, a small shop on Eighth Avenue South, says his shop is "selling more grain mills than grain."

Behaylo also says non-hybrid seeds sell out as fast as he can get them in. Suddenly, demand is high for "heirloom," open-pollinated vegetable varieties, especially among people who want to save and replant seed, and those who feel hybridization is a corporate conspiracy. Warty old tomato varieties and gassy 19th-century cucumbers are experiencing a renaissance in what's definitely a "who'd have thunk it" synergy.

If you're going to grow it, you have to preserve it. Alltrista, the maker of Ball and Kerr jars for canning, is posting record sales for the second consecutive year, company spokeswoman Julie Carpenter confirms. "Our major retailers tell us that sales...are up twice what they were last year," she says. Consumers without a major retailer nearby can order jars by telephone, and enough are doing so in sufficient quantity to meet the minimum wholesale order of $500.

"We've had people order a whole truckload of jars," says Michael Bryja, head of wholesale sales.

Here in town, canning supplies are flying off the shelves at 00 Emergency Survival Supplies, Behaylo says, at a rate of "one or two cases a day, up to people buying 10 cases." Those figures are extraordinary, considering that his shop is smaller than 200 square feet, and the store has only been open a few months.

Canning jars are so scarce this year that Kara Carter searched at four stores before she found any. Canning is not a skill you pick up casually any longer, so suddenly there's a big information gap as well. Such is the clamoring to learn canning that Sky Billips is teaching a canning class at her church this summer. Carter is learning to can--or "put up," as it was formerly called--vegetables from a friend in Giles County.

Other first-time canners are calling Alltrista for advice. "We have been getting calls on the consumer lines," Carpenter says, "asking things like, 'is it possible to can frozen chicken nuggets?' " (Those cans are good, folks, but not that good.) In addition, she says, people are canning more unusual foods in preparation for next year: chickens, deer meat, and fish. (Never say never, but when things get so bad we have to eat canned deer....)

Randy Kohaul at the Pepsi bottling company has been selling off plastic barrels once used to hold Pepsi syrup. The super-prepared are filling them up with potable water.

The problem with stocking up on food is not where to start, but where to stop. The thinking is that if the power flickers out permanently, food deliveries to stores will be interrupted, and no electricity will be available for cooking. Eventually, you'll eat your stash of prepared foods like Doritos and Pop-Tarts. If you follow this line of thinking, you conclude that eventually you'll be grinding your own grain for bread, raising your own livestock, and eating long-storing and nutrient-dense foods like nuts in the shell, grains, and beans.

This is the logic that leads families like the Carters to purchase these foods in biblical amounts. It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, as the saying goes, but Behaylo and Joyner warn that stockpiling has its ramifications. If the worst doesn't come to pass, Joyner advises potential customers they could be stuck with a whole bunch of unprocessed food. "One hundred pounds is a lot of beans. Forty pounds is a lot of cornmeal. Once that container is open, you have to eat it within the year." If nothing happens, she says, you have to ask yourself whether you will eat all those beans.

Even if the awful scenarios do become reality, a lot of truly terrible things have to happen before you'll need those hand-cranked grain mills. Again, the problem is how far to go in preparing. If you really believe things will be bad enough that you'll be hand-grinding wheat, then you'll also need to prepare an alternative method for baking it, and you'll have to be sure you've got a clean water source for mixing up dough.

It's when she starts explaining such minutiae that Joyner occasionally loses sales. "I feel it's only fair to inform them that it takes an hour to grind enough flour to bake two loaves of bread," she says.

At 00 Emergency Survival Supplies shop, Behaylo has a simpler option: meals ready to eat (MREs) in kosher, halal, military, and civilian versions. They're easier to fix and more reliable too--because if there's no clean water, how are you going to rehydrate soup, instant rice, and ramen noodles? "We don't promote freeze-dried or dehydrated," he explains. "When potable water is a big issue, it doesn't make sense to use those."

The super-prepared have the water thing largely figured out too: Behaylo says water filters are his best-selling item. And hundreds of Tennesseans are the proud owners of 55-gallon plastic barrels that once held Pepsi syrup, according to Randy Kohaul, quality control manager at the Pepsi bottling company here. The plant used to give them away, but it has raised the price to $20 each.

Lynette McFarland, a Nashville parent, has her barrel ready to store water and/or catch rainwater, if needed. Until then, she's been filling up empty plastic juice bottles with tap water. "We've heard milk jugs aren't good because the plastic leaches," she says. She puts a drop of bleach into each bottle, but other super-preparers recommend a crushed Vitamin C tablet or a little ascorbic acid.

The Carters have plastic storage barrels too. But they've gone a step further to ensure their water supply: They have a well on their new property. You'd think that would be enough, but the well is powered by an electric pump. Justin Carter hasn't decided what to do about that.

Being super-prepared, as it turns out, is more a way of life than a thing you go out and buy or learn in a class. Among the super-prepared, many of these people had been moving in this direction for years, and the turn of the millennium was the impetus they needed to become more self-sufficient. "Everybody that's kind of scared about what's coming up wants to learn to do everything in four months," says Billips, who has honed her homesteading skills for decades.

If you are just now beginning to worry how you'll feed yourself in a worst-case scenario, it's probably a little late to learn hand-grinding, canning, and other back-to-the-land skills. "It's not something you want to delve into in the middle of the shock of everything else," Behaylo says.

Andre Wilson of Country Life co-op is one of several business owners whose sales have picked up with the onset of Y2K.

If you're depressed at the thought of it all, well, just quit being a pooper. Try and have fun with it. That's the advice of cookbook author Dorothy Bates of Summertown. She and her son Albert have authored The Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook. Dorothy, who has written nine other cookbooks, says her son got the idea last year after he remembered "ice storms in Connecticut where the power was out for five days. We did our cooking in the fireplace and in chafing dishes. We dragged the kids' mattresses downstairs and lived in one warm room for a week."

The Bateses aren't predicting that Y2K will be a big slumber party, but they see it as an opportunity for quiet time, and an opportunity to evaluate your life and your Earth. To make the time as comfortable and normal as possible, they recommend laying in a supply of favorite foods, non-electric musical instruments, and plenty of games.

The Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook has sold out of two printings, moving an astonishing 40,000 copies, which is phenomenal for a small press. Even the Los Angeles Times wrote, "hang onto this book." It's packed with soothing advice like phone numbers for companies that carry non-electric appliances, a list of herbal medicines, and tables for figuring how much food to store. There's also some alarming advice, like Morse code, homemade toilet designs, and floor plans for a root cellar. Also, because you just never know what might happen, there's a recipe for grasshopper quesadillas that calls for "about 1,000 grasshoppers (the younger the better)."

Is that what awaits us in the new millennium? Not just canned deer meat, but grasshopper quesadillas? As a resident of Summertown, Bates is a neighbor of The Farm, one of the most knowledgeable and self-sustaining--and therefore Y2K prepared--communities anywhere. What's she doing? Saving soft drink bottles for water; buying canned beans and canned salad ingredients; and laying in a supply of comfort food, such as diet sodas and a dozen boxes of cookies.

Cookies? Diet sodas? Yeah, so there's your permission. Go ahead. Stash those Doritos.

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