A Visit to The Self-Reliance Festival in Tennessee
Take a weekend to connect to other like-minded folks and brush up on your skills.
It takes a lot to drag me off my homestead, especially with gas prices the way they are. And with three young children, I almost never plan anything in advance because I never know what kind of emergency will pop up at the last minute and ruin our plans.
The wife, baby daughter, and I made a special trip across Tennessee last weekend to check out the Self-Reliance Festival in Camden, put on by John Willis of SOE Tactical and Nicole Sauce of Living Free in Tennessee.
You might recognize Nicole’s name from our Summer Survival Council. I didn’t have any set agenda in mind other than checking things out and taking a minute to thank Nicole for signing on to the council. I also hoped to get a chance to shake hands with Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast, which is a great resource for preparedness and lifestyle design.
The Self-Reliance Festival took place Saturday and Sunday, with the option to camp out on-site Saturday night. Unfortunately, my oldest son had a baseball tournament Saturday so we missed some great sessions like Billy Bond of Perma Pastures Farm demonstrating how to turn a live pig into barbecue.
The good news is that you haven’t missed out on anything, because the Self-Reliance Festival will take place once again on October 1st and 2nd! Tickets are $75. Here are a few other things to know:
If you pay at the gate, they take cash, cards, and the most common forms of crypto. I paid for our tickets in Bitcoin. They weren’t set up for Lightning, but they’re working on it for next time.
On-site camping at SOE Tactical is an option.
Bring chairs! Most of the major sessions take place under a big outdoor tent and seating is limited.
Bring water bottles! There are free water stations to refill bottles and you could pay a small fee for all the lemonade and tea you could drink.
You can bring your own food, though there were great on-site vendors. If you’re on a ketogenic diet, you’ll be in luck.
The main parking spot is Big Daddy’s, a gas station next door to SOE Tactical. Parking is $5 cash.
Camden and the SOE Tactical Compound
Camden is an interesting place. It’s a tiny little town much like the one I live in, so it felt like we drove three hours only to wind up in the same place. It also seems to be something of a prepping mecca. Big Daddy’s, the gas station where parking was located, sold big bulk bags of staples like beans, corn, and rice, which I’d never seen in a gas station before. They also have some of the best gas station food the south has to offer.
The festival takes place at SOE Tactical, which is less of a factory and more of a compound, surrounded by a high-security fence, with multiple posted signs warning cars to slow down, generously employing four-letter words to emphasize the point. Billy Bond published a great video showing off the site:
In a later session, Willis explained the site had once been little more than a gravel pit with a long-abandoned nightclub. Now it’s only half a gravel pit, as he’s transformed much of the land into a productive farm, chock full of mobile chicken tractors, largely thanks to large heaps of woodchips he keeps on the property.
Off to the side of the factory is a large IBC-based aquaponics system in which Willis grows various greens. You don’t have an excuse to not grow food — he’s doing it on concrete!
Presentations take place under a big tent and provided seating is limited. Most of the attendees either camped on-site or had the advantage of being there on day one and knowing to go out and buy chairs for the next day. Since we only attended the second day of the festival, we didn’t have that luxury. I guess you could say I was… unprepared.
Thankfully, a guy was kind enough to lend us a sleeping mat for my wife and daughter to sit on. I could largely describe the attendees as heavily armed and extremely polite — two traits that often seem to go together.
The first big presentation of the day was Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast, who gave a talk called “Build Your Empire While Theirs Crumbles,” which served as an overview of the Spirko philosophy on lifestyle design, which covered everything from permaculture to Bitcoin to homeschooling. Some nuggets of wisdom:
Encourage useful weeds on your property. (Weeds I personally find useful include comfrey, dandelion, mullein, and plantain.)
Grow greens with a high ROI, the sort of stuff that costs real money in a store, like arugula.
Grow climate-appropriate disease-resistant annuals. For example, grow hybrid cucumbers if you have problems with cucumber diseases. Or grow something else entirely.
Barter or sell the surplus you produce to buy the things you can’t produce. For instance, I could trade rabbit meat or sweet potatoes for honey.
Keep some money in Bitcoin and move it off the exchange.
Get yourself healthy. Can you function in the morning? Can you look down and see your toes? (We’ll be talking more about health and fitness soon on Unprepared.)
Learn basic herbal medicine. (Another topic we’ll be covering soon.)
The importance of homeschooling your children and grandchildren. “[Government schools] turn your fellow man into NPCs like in a video game. Get your children out and treat it like it’s a burning building.” We homeschool our children and will talk about this in the future on Unprepared.
Spirko published a Web page with resources for his talk.
The next presentation was by John Bush of the Live Free Academy, who talked about combining cryptocurrency and land ownership to become more independent from the system. I’d love to interview John sometime to explain his outlook because I’m not sure I could do it justice.
While I watched John Bush, my wife and the baby took refuge inside the air-conditioned factory to learn about Navajo knitting and intentional community (think communes). The factory was full of booths and demonstrators. The one that most caught my intention was Foam Pro Shop’s 3D-printing station. I’ve added a PRUSA 3D printer to my want list.
While presentations and demonstrations are great, what really justifies the trouble and expense of attending an event like this in person is the person-to-person interaction. After his talk, I hung around John Bush’s booth as he gave life and financial advice, such as the best investment you can make right now being in hard goods that make you more self-reliant (hmm, sound familiar?). John Willis held court on the factory porch giving business advice to whoever wanted it.
My two favorite presentations of the day came at the end. Joey Glover of Tactical Response gave a talk on homestead defense, and I took so many notes there that it deserves its own article.
The grand finale was a group Q&A session with Jack Spirko, Nicole Sauce, John Willis, Bear Independent (who gave a great talk on building local community), and Billy Bond. I’m sad I didn’t get to meet Billy because I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who has their stuff more together than him.
Some great tidbits I gleaned from that last session, which covered everything from community to prepping mistakes:
Get your finances in order.
Keep a food diary so you know what you consume and how much so you know what to stockpile.
Get on a first-name basis with everyone in your neighborhood.
Don’t take on too much too fast.
Don’t worry too much about other people who refuse to get prepared. And don’t let their inaction be an excuse for your inaction.
Don’t let yourself be overcome with anxiety and forget to live because you’re hiding in a cave waiting for society to collapse. Identify problems, let them spur you to action, and then emotionally detach yourself from that action.
I plan to be at the next Self-Reliance Festival in October and I hope to see you there! If you can’t make it to Camden, scope out what’s in your area, go there, and make connections. Even if it’s not your “scene,” you’ll probably learn a lot and get a better sense of how others in your area are preparing.