The Walking Dead is an interesting case study. Faced with the zombie apocalypse, the survivors are forced to reorganise themselves into communities and grow their own food. But how can you manage to produce viable crops when you have no agricultural training and dozens of people to feed? LiveScience magazine asked this question to farmer and Rodale Institute foreman Dan Kemper.
Focus on nutritious crops
First of all, choose quality over quantity. 'If you're in a situation where you didn't have any tractor equipment and were limited on space, you want to go for the nutrient-dense crops,' Kemper said. 'Things like potatoes, garlic, onions and sweet potatoes.'
Sweet potatoes contain vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which gives them their colour. Vitamin A keeps the body healthy, while the potassium also found in the root vegetable helps keep the heart and muscles in good shape. Onions are an excellent source of vitamin C, and garlic strengthens the immune system, reducing the risk of disease.
The nutrients in potatoes, such as vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium, are not their only advantage. 'You can ferment them into booze and you can trade that.' And according to many experts, the ability to trade is very important to limit competition in a community and allow for its longevity. This will also give you access to resources that you wouldn't have the time or the money to produce.
These four crops have the advantage of requiring little water, a crucial resource in the event of a zombie apocalypse. They can also be stored for long periods, as long as they are kept under cover: 'You can pretty much just throw them in a sack or bin out of the sun and out of the rain,' Kemper pointed out. Thanks to this, you can expect to have something to eat all year round, even when winter prevents new crops from growing.
In the series, the characters are faced with the problem of pests, and especially crows which attack resources. If you've watched The Walking Dead, you probably already know that making a scarecrow out of a zombie won't be enough. For Kemper, the solution should be more radical: the most effective way to get rid of vertebrate pests is to kill them. 'It's the best thing to do,' he says.
As for insects, the lack of pesticides available complicates the situation. Kemper explained how he does it when the rain washes the biological pesticides he applies on his crops away: 'We get buckets that are half full of water and bleach and we hand shake the plant to get the bugs off.' To survive a zombie apocalypse, you sometimes have to get your hands dirty.
Choose the right animals
If you're thinking of raising animals, choose chickens. 'They're really quick to raise, and you can keep a few that lay eggs and keep the eggs.' Larger animals are more complicated to raise and require a lot of work. Kemper suggested trying to raise only one animal at a time each season.
A cow, for example, could feed everyone during a winter, and depending on the animal, many by-products can be made from its remains: leather, soap, glue, etc. In any case, the small farms from The Walking Dead are, in Kemper's opinion, not enough to ensure the survival of an entire community. 'They would need concentration on hunting and gathering still,' he said. 'So, stay well-armed.'