Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
To some, the term “survivalist” conjures images of camouflage-clad men stockpiling freeze-dried food in a mountain cabin, but in the current economic crisis, the people quietly preparing to survive catastrophe may just be your next-door neighbors.
In his column in last month’s Financial Times, business and technology expert Ade McCormack writes, “The world is in crisis and with it the world of business. Many of us have two plans. Plan A involves President Barack Obama performing some economic magic. Plan B involves a revolver, a vegetable patch and a subscription to Survivalist Monthly.”
And while McCormack was writing with a hint of jest, dissent over the president’s trillion-dollar spending approach to the economy has left many average, everyday Americans considering something looking suspiciously like plan B.
Bill Heid of Survival Seeds, a company that sells “banks” of high-yielding vegetable seeds sealed for long-term storage and awaiting a family’s need to grow its own food, says business is skyrocketing.
“It’s been dramatic, nothing short of dramatic,” Heid told WND. “The survivalist mentality used to be considered a fringe element, but now that economic times are such as they are, many more average, regular folks are adopting the same set of preparations.”
Heid told WND what’s most notable is that his boom in sales isn’t coming from just the usual survivalists stocking up for a Y2K-like event.
“Ninety percent of our increase in business is new business,” Heid said, “people who have never thought about surviving in case of emergency before.”
The Christian Science Monitor reports that Lehman’s, an Ohio retailer of home self-sufficiency equipment, has recorded huge sales increases from across the preparedness spectrum, from curious buyers to the stereotypical die-hards, according to Glenda Ervin, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Vic Rantala, founder of Minnesota-based Safecastle, which markets home shelters for protection against disasters such as hurricanes and chemical attacks, told the Monitor his company’s revenues have more than doubled since 2007.
“If most people think of a survivalist as an armed loner with extreme views – there are folks like that out there, but there are many more in America who are simply involved in preparing for down times, lean times or disaster,” Rantala, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, told the Monitor. “It’s logical. It’s common sense.”
Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat interviewed Claire Anderson, a 68-year-old woman who was prompted by Obama’s call for community organization to host a meeting of neighbors in her apartment. Their discussion of the slumping economy and fears of what lies ahead harkened back to the leaner days of her World War II childhood.
“I think we’re headed back to the days of the victory gardens,” Anderson said. “We have to figure out how to help ourselves. We can’t be isolated. We can’t sit around and wait for the government.”
A New York Times article from last summer suggests last year’s elevated fuel and food prices sparked a surge of interest in gardening that hasn’t slowed since.
“Seed companies and garden shops say that not since the rampant inflation of the 1970s has there been such an uptick in interest in growing food at home,” writes Times reporter Marian Burros. “Space in community gardens across the country has been sold out for several months. In Austin, Texas, some of the gardens have a three-year waiting list.”
George C. Ball Jr., owner of the major seed and plant supplier W. Atlee Burpee Company, told the Times sales shot up by 40 percent last year, double the annual growth for the last five years.
Ball said of the surge in business, “You don’t see this kind of thing but once in a career.”
Anxiety over the economy has generated a spike in other areas of the survival and emergency preparedness industry, too.
Harry Weyandt is president of Nitro-Pak, a company that sells freeze-dried food, survival kits, fuel, camping gear and a variety of emergency preparedness products.
“Since the middle of last September, the demand for our long-storing foods and supplies has been very high,” Weyandt writes in a column on his company’s website. “We are shipping orders as fast as possible, but the demand for preparedness supplies and long storing foods is gaining steam again.”
Last summer, an ABC News report said “there are worrying signs appearing in the United States where some … locals are beginning to hoard supplies.” The report said some suppliers were concerned the U.S. government may be competing with consumers for stocks of storable food.
Spokesman Bruce Hopkins of Best Prices Storable Foods told WND his company was having trouble obtaining No. 10 cans and other storable foodstuffs, in part, because the federal government was purchasing such large amounts.
“We don’t know why,” Hopkins said. “The feds then went to freeze dried companies and bought most of their canned stock.”
A statement from one of the world’s larger suppliers of food stores, Oregon Freeze Dry, also confirmed that sales of No. 10 cans had increased so significantly, the company couldn’t keep up and had to remove the products from their online catalog. The company has since contacted WND to explain the shortage has been corrected and supplies are again available.
WND also reported a spike in gun sales in the wake of Obama’s election that was even more intense than in the days following Y2K and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
And since November, the sale of weapons and ammunition hasn’t slowed.
The Orlando Sentinel reports months of steady, heavy buying have left gun dealers in Florida facing shortages on ammunition.
“The survivalist in all of us comes out,” John Ritz, manager of a Florida shooting range, told the Sentinel. “It’s more about protecting what you have.”
“People are just stockpiling,” said a spokeswoman for Georgia arms, which has seen bullet sales jump 100 percent since the election. “A gun is just like a car. If you can’t get gas, you can’t use it.”
Newspapers from around the world reported last month on people facing the economic crisis with increased preparations for catastrophe.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the story of Tony, a 44-year-old stockbroker who lives in a Sydney suburb with his wife and three children. Tony has been stockpiling supplies including rice, multivitamins, peanut butter, honey, soap and toilet paper.
Simon Beer, who operates a survivalist website in Australia, told the newspaper he has seen a surge in interest lately.
“Climate change, peak oil, the economic situation,” Beer told the Herald, “people are seeing we’re headed for catastrophic changes.”
The Toronto Star reports the story of Paul, a man in his mid-50s who only three years ago became alarmed over the possibility of fuel shortage and began a plan to prepare for survival should the worst happen.
“When cars stop running? And grocery stores go bare? What do you think is going to happen?” Paul asked the Star. “It’s mind boggling once you grasp it.”
And while the newspaper did depict Paul as the more kooky kind of survivalist, labeling him “a conspiracy-minded fellow,” the reporter nonetheless was surprised to find him “disarmingly self-aware and funny.”
As for Paul, he laughed at the reporter for assuming a man who prepares for catastrophe necessarily fits some “survivalist” stereotype.
“What did you expect?” he asked the Star reporter with a smile. “Head-to-toe camouflage?”