Giving Away Food when the SHTF

If you have a large cache of stored foods and perhaps also a survival garden, you are well-prepared for any disaster scenario that disrupts the food supply. But a certain problem is inevitable. Most persons do not store food. Most homes do not have a vegetable garden. So when the SHTF, the neighbors will come asking for food. How to handle that situation is the subject of this post.

I’m not convinced of any one plan as the best response to this situation. So I’m discussing the problem and possible solutions. Feel free to give your own opinion in the comments section.


In the case of a vegetable garden, I think it will be impossible to keep people from stealing food. Desperate people do desperate things. But it would not take much desperation for people to begin taking food from their neighbor’s garden. I imagine that, when food is scare, groups of people will go from street to street seeking gardens and stripping them bare.

Guarding your garden with firearms and shooting anyone who takes the food is just not a viable option. I don’t think it’s moral, and it probably is not legal, to use deadly force in that situation.

I suppose you might try to grow foods more resistant to garden theft. Chufa (tigernut) is a root crop that looks like an ornamental grass above ground. The food part is a small tuber, smaller than a walnut and larger than an almond. It might not be recognized as food by non-botanists. Quinoa is a grain that is coated with saponins. If anyone steals the food and eats it without proper preparation (a thorough rinsing of the grain to remove the saponin coating), then they will get sick from the food. This might deter some uninformed hungry persons. Leaf crops like cabbage, kale, lettuce, leeks might fare well when garden theft become common. It is not the type of food that hungry people will prefer to take.

But overall, your garden is going to be very vulnerable to food theft.

Stored Food

Your neighbors might not know that you are a prepper. And they won’t know which foods or how much food you have stored. But eventually, this information will leak out. Your closest friends or family members will know, and they might mention it to their closest friends. And at some point your neighbors will find out.

One possible response is to try to keep all your stored food for yourself. I suppose you could defend your home and food with firearms. But if you over-react, you will end up in prison. If you call the police, the officers might suggest that you share your food with them.

It seems to me that, if the situation is not too dire, you can live off of your stored food and maybe some gardening food. But beyond a certain point, you will have a very difficult time defending your food from desperate hungry persons.


Another response is to share your food with close friends, family, and neighbors. The problem is that no prepper can store enough food for everyone he knows and all his neighbors. Too few persons are prepping. You will quickly run out of food.

If you ration the food that you give away, the same process occurs. You still do not have enough food for all the persons who would line up at your door for the handout.

If you both ration the food you give away, and choose only a few persons to give food, you might be able to give away some food without depleting your own supplies. But the problem is that people will find out you are giving away food. And they may insist, harass, or demand some food for themselves.

I suppose a better option is to barter or sell rations of food. I’m not sure about the legality of selling food from your home, or even bartering. And I suspect that the local authorities will try to make selling food privately illegal, because they will want control of the food supply. But if you can do so (legally), then bartering or selling might be a good option. That way you are not left bereft of food, money, and supplies.


If a food disaster is relatively brief and limited in scope, your stored food and garden will serve you well. But beyond a certain level of severity, you won’t have enough food, or you won’t be able to retain it. So the only solution in such a situation is at the community level.

The community is perhaps a town, or a subsection of a town, or maybe a set of towns close together. Hypothetically, they could make due with at least 1/4 acre of arable land per person — ONLY IF they choose the right crops and obtain a good yield. But good yields require artificial fertilizer and sufficient rain or irrigation and well-tilled soil. Good yields on a large scale require mechanized agriculture. Otherwise, they will obtain low yields and need up to an acre of land per person.

A square mile of land is 640 acres. That amount of arable land will feed somewhere between 2,560 and 640 persons (0.25 to 1.0 acres per person, or 4 to 1 persons fed per acre). But how much of the land in any town is available for planting? If it is a tenth of the land, then the population density needs to be 64 to 256 persons per square mile. Otherwise, you don’t have enough land to grow food.

Take a look at this map of U.S. population density. The darker the shading, the less likely there will be enough land to grow food for the population locally. The Midwest fares best, with plenty of land to feed their populations. The Western U.S., other than the more heavily populated areas would fare well, except for the current severe drought there. Several large areas in the Eastern U.S. cannot support their populations with local agriculture. And of course any major city plus its suburbs will not have enough arable land.

A food shortage is inevitable. It’s only a matter of when it will happen and how severe it will be. So along with your stored food, you should be storing seeds for planting. Especially grain amaranth.

7 Reasons to Grow Grain Amaranth

Rebuilding the Seed Supply after the SHTF

– Thoreau

10 Responses to Giving Away Food when the SHTF

  1. Collard greens have the highest amt of protein of any leaf crop and many times it can look ornamental. Leave a meager garden for others and plant leaf crops in your landscaping , in a tree line or off site. I’m guessing, from past disasters that some gov food may be distributed . My plan is to get in line as often as possible and that will be what the public sees as my food supply.

    • Kale is also high in protein. I’m guessing that people desperate for food will not care for leaf crops, even if they recognize it as food.

  2. Yams, beets, corn and white potatoes are good survival crops. ‘Leafy’ plants don’t provide enough calories to make them worth the effort in bad times. But initially, I plan to strip the garden bare to take away the temptation to raid it. I’ll replant when the world is a more reasonable place.
    Sharing food will only bring more to beg for supplies. Joseph, of Egypt sold the food during the 7 years of famine and his example seems appropriate.
    Any idea how much 5 pounds of rice would be worth?

    • An adult can survive on one pound of a grain (rice, wheat, amaranth, etc.) plus a couple of ounces (4 T) of vegetable oil per day. If you sold the combination grain/oil, you would be selling one day’s survival rations. U.S. per capita food expenditures (Table 13) in 2013 were an average of $4,500/year. That works out to $12.30 per day.

      Five pounds of rice plus 10 fl. oz. vegetable oil is fives days’ worth of rations. That works out to about $61.50 for the five days’ worth of food.

  3. Save seeds. Lots & lots of seeds! Enough so you can help with both individual and community gardens. Your current garden will provide you with free seeds (so its not cost prohibitive) and seeds don’t take up as much storage space.

  4. There is an old joke that everyone has probably heard:
    Two guys are walking in the woods. Suddenly, they see a bear charging at them. Both run as fast as they can in the other direction. One guy finally calls out to the one ahead of him, “This is crazy! We can’t outrun this bear!” The other guy yells back, “I don’t have to outrun this bear. I only have to outrun you!”

    In many disasters of a short duration, sharing what you have will be the easy choice. Maybe not immediately, but relatively soon government resources will pour into the area. In the meantime, you can make a serious difference for those around you.

    The bottom line, however, is that in a severe, society-changing disaster, such as with an EMP attack, the die-off of the population will be severe. Starving hordes of people during that period will be stealing anything that they can get their hands on, and taking serious risks to get it. That’s why food storage is so important.

    If you have sufficient skills to produce a glorious garden, but are close to other human beings, you will have a tough time hanging on to it. If it is of serious size, it will ultimately be discovered.

    Shoot a thief early after a breakdown occurs, when there is even spotty law enforcement, and you will likely get hauled off to jail. What will your family do then? A few months later, or possibly much less, and there may be nothing left to harvest after enough thefts have occurred.

    Giving food to people who know where you live could be suicidal. It only let’s everyone, sooner or later, know where there is more. Can you hear it? “Hoarder! Hoarder! Hoarder!” From their view, you live in the community, and you have supplies. Therefore, what you have are “comunity assets.” “Share! Share!”

    You know how it works with a stray cat. Once fed, it will be back. In a feral world, once beggars at your door are refused, it could get very ugly.

    If all of this sounds “non-Christian,” I agree that it is. You will have to make hard choices about your neighbors, however. While images of “grasshoppers and ants” pass through your mind, you will have to determine just how important your family’s well-being is compared to theirs.

    My advice is to jhunker down and stay low profile. Live off storage for a year. In doing so, you will be “outrunning the bear.”

    The following year, conditions will be better for you and your family. Plant those precious heirloom seeds you stored then. With far less competition, you may actually be able to harvest the fruits of your labor. At least the chances will likely be better that fewer people will be around to take it from you.

  5. One more thought:

    In times of crisis, whether social or political, sometimes those in control take harsh measures to preserve/restore social controls. Dictators rise to power, for example, because the general population just “wants something done.”

    In other cases, what are considered “normal rights” are often run over roughshod. One example that comes to mind is the internment of Japanese-Americans at the outbreak of WWII. Another example is the “enhanced interrogation techniques” permitted after 9/11.
    As time passes, however, if order is restored with no serious results from the perceived threat, the population becomes more uneasy about measures that were permitted. The inclination to take measures to salve consciences then follows.

    Applying history’s lessons to the subject here, in a major, society-changing crisis, you will expose yourself to major risks if you share food and allow yourself to become known to a great many people as a source of sustenance (which will occur once the process begins because people will always talk to others). Even if people don’t talk, the ones you share food with will keep returning. Wouldn’t you if the choice was to see your kids starve? It is highly unlikely that anyone will accept three cans of Campbell’s Soup and then never be seen again.

    As I said, early on, shooting a thief stealing produce from your garden or taking a bag of pinto beans from your larder, just might land you in jail and result in your being subject to very harsh penalties. Six months later, however, when it is deemed that stealing that same bag of pinto beans was a direct threat on your life, maybe your actions would be seen differently.

    Sooner or later, however, law and order will return. As survivors begin to feel better about themselves, they will begin to look differently at those who used deadly force. (“He killed my Charlie!!!”) Feel good motivations at that time could cause your use of deadly force in the past to be revisited, and with possibly a very unacceptable outcome for you.

    As I said, failing to share with others is certainly not the “Christian” thing to do. (“What would Jesus do? What would Mother Theresa do?”)

    Tough times will make tough choices necessary. You will have to decide what the right decision is for you and your family–and you will have to live (hopefully) with the consequences.

    • I would say that we can share with others by participating in community efforts to produce food locally. Contribute your gardening know-how to help others grow food.

  6. David the Good published a book “Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting” that includes humans stealing from your garden.

    For plants people might not recognize I would recommend Caragana Arborescens (Also known as Siberian Pea Tree, Siberian Peashrub) for zones 2-7 as it is nitrogen fixing, plant once pick forever and “seeds have been shown to be completely edible and contain 12.4% fatty oils and up to 36% protein (Meng et al., 2009). ”

    Also for zones 3-7 Tragopogon Pratensis (Also known as Goat’s Beard, Showy Goat’s Beard, Meadow Salsify, Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon) self seeding, and the whole of the plant being edible

    For 4-9 Goji berries.

  7. This is a scary time, we may not have to teach others to feed themselves. When the inevitable (in my opinion) happens, many will die. Simply because they have no idea on how to treat minor injuries, and illnesses. When there is no Emergency Room to obtain antibiotics and cough drops, they will die. Many of us rely on big pharma to survive, without our drugs we cannot get by. Simple things like vinegar for athletes foot, dandruff, skin irritations. Things will be rough, in the south, there are great plants that none recognizes as food, Cassava trees, Chaya, Water Spinach, Okinawa Spinach, Longevity Spinach, Purple leaf tree collards, the list is long. But try and convince others to plant these crops for their own good is difficult at best.