By Cam Mather

After watching the news cycle as Hurricane Sandy ‘aka Superstorm’ approached, it was tempting to be smug about making preparations. But I won’t be. My system is still pretty technology dependent to ever be too cocky. I generally do have ‘back up’ strategies in place in case the whole inverter/well pump/satellite internet thing stops working.

I am surprised, though, at how much national organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross feel that they have to hammer away at people to have a few days of food and water in their homes. It kind of makes you worried about the state of the world when everyone’s self-preservation instincts have become so suppressed by our capitalist consumer culture of abundance. “But stores will always be open with lots of food, right?”

Heck, even the new director of FEMA reminded Americans that your neighbors are your first responders. And just maybe, you shouldn’t assume that some government agency is sitting there waiting, all prepared to swoop in and save you if disaster strikes.

Did you know that one of the Presidential candidates is a prepper? Mitt Romney is a Mormon and part of his faith is the belief that a family should have a year’s worth of food stored in their home. Not three days – a whole year! And really, can this be a bad thing? Is there is a downside?

I really hammered away at this in my book, “Thriving During Challenging Times.” Making yourself more independent and resilient to shocks just doesn’t have a downside. Having a backup heating system like a woodstove has no downside. You have to invest in the stove upfront, but even when I lived in the city I was able to scrounge tons of firewood that people had put out at the curb to go to the landfill. So your fuel can be really inexpensive and I don’t know anyone who isn’t enamoured with wood heat. In fact, anyone I have ever met who has lived with both a fossil-fuel-powered forced air furnace and with a woodstove, much prefers heating with wood. And since the trees were absorbing carbon dioxide as they grew, and sequestering that carbon in their woody mass, when you burn wood you are just releasing the carbon that the tree cleaned out of the air. It’s really the ultimate carbon neutral way to heat your home.


A ground source heat pump is your second best choice, but you’ll still require a fair amount of electricity to run it, which in many places will be produced using coal. Plus you would need a really big generator to keep it functioning during a prolonged power outage. Hence, the woodstove backup.

Hopefully Ontario will be spared the worst of Sandy’s wrath, but Hurricane Hazel in 1954 proved that we’re not completely isolated from coastal storms.( )Hazel maintained its force as it moved overland and was fueled by cold air, just like the front that’s been sitting over us for the last few days.

I have to admit that I often look forward to these extreme weather events. Not from a “seeing the damage and disruption it causes to others” point of view, but from a “kid in a blackout” point of view. I used to love blackouts as a kid. They were so cool. No lights! Candles! And board games! What a concept!

The main reason I’m looking forward to this storm is the potential for lots of rain. As it has been the last few autumns, the pond by our house is little more than a puddle right now. If we’d had a reasonable rainfall in the summer, and a typically wet fall, we’d be well on our way to a half-decent rink come December. But after this summer’s brutal drought and lack of a significant rain this fall, I won’t be burning many calories shoveling the rink.

Of course, there is also my “wind turbine” anxiety that big storms create. The guy wires that hold up my hundred-foot tower have some ‘play’ in them. If they were strung too tight like a guitar string, they’d be more prone to failure. So in a big wind there can be some movement at the top of the tower. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my view out the office window frames the turbine perfectly. Luckily the manufacturer, Bergey, tells me my turbine is “hurricane proof” and it has weathered some pretty intense windstorms here already. It does what it’s supposed to do and it “furls,” turning the blades out of the wind when it gets too intense, and then swinging them back around to face the wind, once the wind speed drops.

This is the approach/avoidance… love/hate relationship that one can have with renewable energy living off the electricity grid. It’s awesome when it’s working, but when it’s pushed to its limits it can be stressful. The upside though is that we’ve had a whack of cloudy weather in the past week or two. So 2 days of sustained high winds in a week where the weather channel shows nothing but rain and cloud for the next 7 days, is a pretty big deal. Yes I have a generator. Yes I can afford the gas to run it. But I live off the grid to try and reduce my impact on the planet. Running a generator always feel like a huge step backwards to me. Now that I’m down to running it 2 or 3 times a year, it feels like I’m more in keeping with my original goal in moving off grid to begin with.

I hope the storm doesn’t cause too much upheaval. I made sure to remind my daughters in the city to make sure to have some water, food and candles ready.

But here at Sunflower Farm, we could live pretty comfortably; just the same way we do every day, even if nothing came in or out of our driveway, for a few months. I say ‘bring it on.” I will avert my eyes from the wind turbine when the big gusts hit. And I shall prepare to be without coffee should a worst-case scenario happen. Now that I think about it, it might be better for me any way. On second thought, I think I’ll head off to town to stock up on the evil beverage.

(Note to our American readers: While we are already experiencing rain and high wind here in Eastern Ontario, the effects of “Sandy” aren’t expected to be felt here until sometime tomorrow.)