Where to Live XI – of Soil and Starvation

August 1, 2018
3 mins read

Hear the plaintive cry of the Ozark Prepper:

Missouriwannabe: Ozark soil gardening? Yeah, right. How in the world do I garden in this soil? I’m from central Illinois. Throw seeds on the ground here and you’ll get perfect crops. I go down to our 40 acres in southern Missouri with my shovel and all I dig up is sand and rock. What can ya do to get those crops to grow down there?
holmeed: Beats me. I’m from Northern Ill and Wis and its terrible.
GraniteStater: Plant some trees instead. The soil in the Ozarks is not great for farming and gardening like it is in the Midwest core…

One does not have to follow preppers for long to hear that the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and northern Arkansas are an unparalleled bugout location. They have a low population density. The area has minimal natural disasters.* It’s even lauded as a great place to be if the oceans rise. Alex Jones assures us that the Globalists(™) are all building their castles here because it’s so perfect. And it is just about the only place in the central Midwest to receive Joel Skousen’s top recommended rating. Surely this scientific consensus means it’s a great last-minute place to relocate.
No, it’s a terrible place.
Now even though I’m sitting** at present right in the heart of the Ozarks, what I’m about to say does not apply only to this plateau but to anywhere you’re considering as a bugout location an area suitable for strategic relocation. There is a general rule that is universally overlooked by people for whom geographic isolation trumps all other prep-related considerations: there is more to recovery than avoiding the initial disaster.
Harken back 100 years and ask yourself how the people lived in whatever area you’re considering. The people in the Ozarks were uniformly dirt poor and the entire area was subject to lawlessness, clan warfare, and eventually, waves of vigilantism. This desperate situation burned across the Ozark Plateau for 3 decades following the Civil War, and some of it well into the New Deal era.
Now expatriates from Nashville have discovered the beautiful Branson area and funded 30 years of capital improvements. New highways run through the mountains. Beautiful cabins spring up behind gates and fences. Country singers that everyone thought were dead open theaters on the main drag of a city that has tripled in population over that period. Yet half of the children in this area still live in poverty.
There’s a reason for that. The Ozark plateaus are covered with thin, rocky, relatively poor soil that is subject to frequent droughts. Or, as MissouriWannabe discovered upon setting spade to his 40 acres: sing all you want, you still can’t grow anything here.
The soil of the Ozarks is a matchless combination of limestone rock, clay, and sand. If you want to live on pine cones and skinks, the Ozarks will suit you fine. If you want to eat people-food for the rest of your life, you’re going to have to implement one of two options:

a) move here today and get to work building your soil and your relationships.
b) plan to move somewhere else.

If you bug out to 40 pristine acres in SHTF, you’re going to live a life just like the people of this land lived 100 years ago: nasty, brutish, and short, with vigilantes at your door and hookworms squirming in your stool. And you’ll be surrounded by desperate, bitter, rickets-addled subsistence farmers who will treat you as an invader. Gold and silver will avail you nothing, for no one within hailing distance will have anything of value to trade you for it. If you could not live there today, with tourism providing much if not most of the area’s income, could you live there tomorrow when that income is gone?
No matter what area you choose to inhabit, you probably can’t help how your neighbors live. But you can help how you live. Make sure the area you choose is self-sufficient in food – real food, not possums and wild mushrooms. Make sure the area you choose has markets or a way to move goods to and from them. Finally, make sure the area you choose has the ability to produce wealth – food, mineral, metal, anything – because no matter the economy, the currency, and the politics that arise once the music stops, it is the production and trading of wealth that raises people out of their natural state of poverty.
The combination of geographic isolation, poor soil, and played-out lead mines just means the Ozark Prepper, even if all goes well, will die the richest rock farmer in his county. If you want to live better than that, now is the time to pick a better county.
* Other than the New Madrid Fault which could theoretically put an end to the Table Rock Lake by removing its dam.
** Vacationing, technically. But I am presently sitting as well.

El Borak is an historian by training, an IT Director by vocation, and a writer when the mood strikes him. He lives in rural Kansas with his wife of thirty years, where he works to fix the little things.


  1. Sorry, but I have to take great exception to your estimate of the Ozarks. Although the soil is indeed thin and rocky, like any other soil elsewhere it can be improved in a reasonably short period of time. We live in the aptly named Stone County, but enjoy a abundant harvests from our 4500 sf garden. On average we preserve around 250 quarts of vegetables each year.
    Water is plentiful, rivers and streams are everywhere, the water table is stable, and fresh springs flow from the mountainsides.
    We’ve lived here 17 years, and still considered “the new folks”, but we’ve been accepted well through our church associations and neighborly get togethers. Most everyone has an off-farm job, but raise cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. In a SHTF situation I can see neighbors coming together to protect those assets.
    The most likely threat during dire times would be the meth heads/cooks that inhabit some of the back roads, which I was discussing with the elder of a large family a while back. His comment was “Well, we’ve lived here all our lives, and we pretty much know to good ones and the bad ones, and I’ve got a backhoe.” Reassuring to say the least.
    Overall, we would feel as secure here as anywhere we’ve visited over the years.

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