Meet the Preppers... and the Mormons (Part 1)

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Elder Mark Brown and a church volunteer pause in the storehouse.
Check out part two of our exploration of the connection between prepping, spirituality, and the Mormon church.

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.

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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. 

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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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19 comments
Gary Neece
Gary Neece

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phillipcsmith
phillipcsmith

"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."

What is the source of this above quote? It does not sound like the kind of statements found in official Church preparedness information publications.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member, does not countenance violence, and I would be surprised if it would give any such instruction in its manuals.

Hoping to hear from the author, since I was unable to access the so-called preparedness manual. Thank you.

Phillip C. Smith, Oh.D.

Mulva_05
Mulva_05

My inlaws are preppers. Built a compound for Y2K and are now building a compound for the collision of the earth with Planet X. It's very interesting to watch. 

hthalljr
hthalljr

Thank you for providing a link to the publication under discussion. The reason that neither I nor anyone you spoke to had heard of it is made clear in the disclaimer on page two: "This publication has not been endorsed or produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its contents and the opinions it expresses are those of the Editor and the separate authors."

Of course, this publication then goes all out to address its target audience as though it were in harmony with the Church. But ANY hint of preparation to "defend" our food storage is way out of bounds. Our emergency preparedness is not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors who may be in need. This principle was abundantly illustrated by your tour of the Bishops' Storehouse. Thanks for your accurate reporting.

Ron
Ron

Just a note. The reason that the local Mormon leaders in this piece were caught off-guard by the passages in the manual (the ones about how to defend yourself in the event of a disaster) is that they had never seen this manual, nor has anyone else in the church. As stated, this is not a church publication, but is a pamphlet written by a Mormon wing-nut and circulated privately. It opposes church policy on emergency preparedness. The LDS church's true position may be found at

http://www.lds.org/family/fami...

There, among other things, you will find the Stake and Ward Emergency Planning Guide that includes the following instructions to Bishops: "Assess needs and arrange for the supply of basic provisions and services—such as food, temporary shelter, sanitation, and clothing—for members and others." Mormons feel responsible not only for their own needs but for the needs of their neighbors as well. They do not buy sawed-off shotguns as the crazy pamphlet advises.

Dan the Mormon
Dan the Mormon

My wife and I are Mormons and it is interesting to search youtube for advice on food storage and 72-hour kits. You either see hardcore, middle age, male preppers parparing for the end of the world or Mormon mothers talking about their religiously inspired food storage.

LakersTrent
LakersTrent

I thought the "fear-mongering" tag was misplaced on this article, as it doesn't seem like the Mormon man quoted engages in it. I know Mormons and Mormonism very well, and I'd never heard of the "LDS Preparedness Manual"; if it's not a church publication it's probably little known outside extremist circles. I know their church does publish official manuals on preparedness, they gave me brochure-size one, you can probably find them on their website lds.org

Anyway, there are certainly some Mormons and others who are overly- enthusiastic of even obsessed with disaster preparedness, but I think it's not a bad idea as long as you don't go overboard. There have been at least 2 times in my life when I wished I had food supplies, once when I was unemployed and once when there was a nasty contagious bug going around and I had little desire to go to the grocery store and catch it from someone. As for fear-mongering, Oxford scholar Nick Bostrom recently discussed the biggest disaster threats and listed biotechnology advances and synthetic viral biosynthesis (basically, the gene sequence of deadly strains are freely published online, and machines that can turn the sequence into an actual living copy are increasingly available); I don't sit around in fear of such things happening, but it's certainly possible and my prior experience with the bad flu bug makes me consider building up some food storage myself. My Mormon friend buys most things in bulk, stores them in the basement, and says she ends up saving money and unexpected trips to the store when she needs something small. There are plenty of things you can call Mormons cooky for, but I actually look up to them in terms of food security and disaster preparedness/relief.  It's something they do well.

Mantikor
Mantikor

Yeah, that book you're referring to was put together by some random Mormon dude - he uses information from Church sources but the bit on violence is rather lame.  The place to go for real Church information on the subject is their website: http://www.lds.org/family/fami...  'cept they don't do the violence and scary social breakdown stuff so if you're looking for that you might be disappointed and bored.

Dandini
Dandini

Overall, pretty good summary... a few key points missed by the author... 

the LDS Church steps in with free food anytime people... including non-members... are in a dire situation or right after a disaster... 

such as New Orleans right after Katrina, the LDS had huge trucks of food and emergency supplies in the area before anyone else... for entire communities, including non-members...

and the general leadership have already taught all members that we will be sharing our food stored for our family... with all, including non-members, in a disaster... because that is what Christ would have us do... so our year supply may only last a very short time when it comes down to a big disaster that affects a lot of people...

but yes, we believe it is important to be prepared to help our families and communities in difficult times... 

you can look up more information about being prepared on the LDS church web site under...  www.providentliving.org

davidpadamsjr
davidpadamsjr

@phillipcsmith This is a manual written by LDS church members but NOT AN OFFICIAL CHURCH PUBLICATION. Hope that helps. The article didn't say this was a church publication but it did seem to be implied.

Kevin
Kevin

As a practicing Mormon, I see NOTHING wrong with defending our food storage.  Sure, we should be generous with others around us, but if someone wants to take our food, water, medicines, fuel, clothing, etc....that our own families need and may die without, there is NOTHING wrong with using the threat of deadly force to prevent that.  We may need to use excess food to trade with someone who has excess fuel or water. 

As stated, we should be generous with others, but WE are the ones who get to decide to whom we offer assistance, how much, and the nature of it.  The thugs and looters aren't the ones who get to decide. 

Jesus believed in being able to use deadly force to protect ourselves.  In Luke 22:35,36 he told the apostles to buy swords for their travels, even if they had to sell their clothes to buy one.

All that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.  Not protecting your food storage is doing just that....and it may cost your life and the lives of your children.

John Gardner
John Gardner

 The 'end-of-the-world' concept just minimizes the situation...lot's of very bad things can and have happened to people when they are completely unprepared...

JakeValentine
JakeValentine

You left out the most important part when describing preppers. They are not preparing for the end of the world and life with it, but rather the end of the world AS WE KNOW IT. This is an important clarification that separates the groups who think the world will just end and those who think the way we live will drastically change due to various scenarios. It only makes sense to ensure your family is as reasonably prepared as possible in case you have to be significantly more self reliant for food, water, security, etc.. because of some negative event that impacts us all. Although not one myself, I greatly respect how Mormons approach daily life with the preparedness mindset.

davidpadamsjr
davidpadamsjr

@JakeValentine We lived in Houston during Hurricane Ike. We we're lucky and lost power for 3 hours. We had friends without power for three weeks. We were ready with water and food but no A/C in a Houston summer suuuuuucks. I decided then and there that I didn't want to repeat that experience. Lessons learned: have a place you can evacuate to away from urban centers. Make sure that place has alternate power options (generator? solar?) and a good stock of food, medicine and entertainment.

If I find myself in that situation again I'll go to my country house and sit tight until normality comes back. It's not so much the unrest or social disorder that worries me. I just hate being unprepared. It makes you feel like a chump. You think, "man, if only ....". You know you could be sitting pretty if you'd only prepared. And who doesn't like a place in the country. I wanna be the guy sitting in my a/c house watching old movies while my neighbors stand in lines for gas and limited groceries.

Doc Jake Tyme
Doc Jake Tyme

 Excellent point JV, I’m not a Mormon either but I think everyone can learn a little from their mindset.  Every time the subject of prepping comes up with people I know (especially since NatGeo's Doomsday Preppers) inevitably someone’s says "I just wouldn't want to live in a post-apocalyptic world."  My response is always the same, "Are you going to do something drastic or are you going watch your children starve?"  

I lived through Hurricane Fredrick in '79 and it definitely changed my perspective - as far as we were concerned it 'Was the End of the World as We Knew it.  The area I lived in didn't see any government 'help' for 2 weeks when help did arrive you had the pleasure of standing in line for 6 to 10 hours for a couple of jugs of water, a bag of ice, a block of cheese and a can of peanut butter.  It was over a month without power and 6 months before the local grocery store reopened.    I told myself then the only person I can count on is myself and for my entire adult life I have kept 6-12 months of food and supplies on hand.

John Gardner
John Gardner

 So very true... Hurricane Hugo taught me a lesson...living without electricity for six weeks will change your perspective for good....

Doc Jake Tyme
Doc Jake Tyme

JV, I really don't know what it is about the west coast but I found the same thing when  I lived in Seattle.  Shortly after we moved there in fall of 2004 there was an ice storm that shut everything down for a couple of days.  On day 2 the Governor called in the National Guard to hump-in food to the apartments up on the Issaquah Plateau.  After living there for a while and making a few friends I was utterly amazed when we would go to their homes and there would be no food in the fridge or pantry they literally stop at the market everyday - I still don't understand that thinking. They were equally amazed that after a pretty good snow storm that we didn't leave our house for 13 days.

JakeValentine
JakeValentine

Doc, It sounds like the people in your area are actually quite resilient compared to my area (Southern California). We lost electricity for all of 13 hours last year because of a cascading failure in the system. The people of California are not generally self-reliant people so it doesn't take as much for social anxiety to kick in. Traffic was grid-locked. A lot of people were completely unprepared and upset because they couldn't purchase food or water unless they had cash (people were unprepared to use anything but their credit card). Overall people were fairly calm, but there was definitely a feeling in the air that it could of went downhill fast if they didn't get the power back on. My wife instantly realized something was wrong while out shopping when all power was lost and drove home with our baby as quickly as she could. It was a good move because the roads were fine for about an hour immediately after the power went out (about 3 PM). Once people realized the power wasn't coming back on anytime soon, everybody left work and flooded the roads with no working traffic control devices. As a family, we had lessons learned (bought better comms gear, bought another water barrel, etc..), but overall it was a minor hiccup because we were prepared with food, water, plug in power packs, plenty of lighting, etc... We checked on our elderly neighbors and ensured they were okay and had everything they needed. It was only one night, but it had the feel of an opening chapter to dystopian fiction novel. Fortunately the power came on in the very early morning (the ceiling fan above our bed suddenly came on alerting us) and life went back to normal. Some of my co-workers became preparedness believers after that relatively minor incident and a few are even strong preppers now. It only makes sense to be prepared, especially if you have children. I will do anything to ensure the safety/well-being of my son and hope he learns the importance of being as self-reliant as reasonably possible. I am amazed at how many people think it is crazy to have food, water, first aid, alternative power, etc... on hand in case of emergency. Out here in Cali it is not "cool" to have these things on hand. It is cool to blow every last cent on things you don't need though. I live in bizarro land out here.......

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