The Ultimate Guide to Emergency Water Preparedness

* This article contains affiliate links. For more information, please read my Affiliate Disclosure.


Having access to safe drinking water is crucial in an emergency. Use this guide to increase your water security and sleep soundly knowing you're prepared for a water emergency. #prepping #emergencypreparedness #emergencywater #waterstorage #watersecurity`Water. Fresh, clean, potable water—Besides air, it’s absolutely the most important thing when it comes to survival.

To many people around the world who have trouble accessing it, water is their most valuable resource by far. In fact, fresh, accessible, drinkable water makes up less than 1% of all the water on the planet. Without it, we’ll literally die in a matter of days. And yet, in the western world, we take it completely for granted.

We waste it, pour it down the drain, leave the taps running, and water our lawns with it. We rarely think about what life would be like without it because all we need to do is turn on our taps and an infinite amount of water pours out! But what if we went to turn on the taps one day and nothing came out?

Emergency food storage tends to steal the limelight when we talk about emergency preparedness, but water isn’t given nearly enough attention, despite how vitally important it is. Yes, canned goods and other provisions are also necessary, but water is THE most essential thing to have on hand. You can live without food for quite a while if need be, but not without water. This is why bottled water is the first thing to fly off shelves when an emergency (or perceived emergency) situation hits.

Of course, we need drinking water, but we also need water to cook with, and for sanitation purposes like bathing, washing hands, brushing teeth, doing dishes and laundry, and flushing toilets. Not to mention, we need it to water our gardens and keep our animals hydrated. Medical supplies like bandages and antiseptics can be improvised or made from materials on hand. Water cannot. A heat source can be created with found fuel and tools. Water cannot. Mass amounts of food can be dehydrated, freeze dried, packaged in Mylar and stored in condensed form. Water cannot.

Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to think about emergency water whenever we think about being prepared, and to have multiple methods of storing and purifying water in case of an emergency, otherwise all of the other best laid plans may mean nothing if and when the proverbial “shit hits the fan.” 

The good news is, it doesn’t take much to vastly improve the state of your water security should disaster strike. Honestly, even if we’re just talking about the electricity going out and leaving you without access to well water for a few days—this happened to many people near us over Christmas a few years ago—you will be so thankful to have a backup emergency water supply on hand.


What are some examples of water emergencies?

A water emergency is any type of emergency where you are unable to access safe drinking water. Natural disasters like a major earthquake, flood, hurricane, or any other type of disaster (natural or man-made) that leads to contaminated water or water shortages constitutes a water emergency. 

It’s always wise to be prepared for a water emergency as you never know when one might strike. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about safely storing, filtering, and purifying water in an emergency, as well as other considerations and tips when it comes to issues of sanitation and other water needs (aside from drinking water).


How much water do you need per person, per day in an emergency?

As a general rule, you should have at LEAST one litre of fresh drinking water (or roughly one quart of water) on hand per person, per day. That’s the very bare minimum, so if water is difficult to store (ie. in a vehicle if you’re on the road, or in a bug out bag), this is the minimum amount of water you should keep on hand. However, the CDC and FEMA both recommend storing at least one gallon of water per person, per day: A half gallon (2 litres) for drinking, and another half gallon (2 litres) for cooking, personal hygiene and sanitation. 

Ideally, you should aim to store enough water for everyone in your family for at least two weeks (this is the recommendation from the CDC). So if you have four family members in your household, you would need one gallon x four people x 14 days, or 56 gallons of water total. However, if you can’t store enough for two weeks, aim for one week, or even three days. Something is always better than nothing!

You will also need to factor in any pets and animals you have, and store additional water for them. Plus, you should have a plan for watering gardens if needed, and for restocking water (particularly safe drinking water) if and when you run out.

If you’re stumped on where to start, here are some tips and actionable steps you can take right now to prepare for a water emergency. 


Water Storage, Filtration and Purification

The biggest problem with storing water for emergencies is that we need a lot of it (for drinking, cooking, sanitation, etc), but it’s also one of the most difficult things to store in large quantities because of the sheer weight and volume of water itself. That’s why it’s important to not just store water, but know how to filter and purify water to make it safe for drinking too. There are many different options for filtering and purifying water, which we’ll go over in this post. However, in general I recommend having at least one way to filter water, at least one way to purify it, and at least one way to store it. But as always, the more options you have for all three, the better. Redundancy is key when it comes to preparedness!


Emergency Water Storage Options

There are so many options when it comes to water storage. However there are also limitations in regards to how much water you can physically store at home (or on the go), as well as the shelf life of water itself (which depends largely on how the water is stored). Here are some options for water storage, as well as some of the pros and cons of each one.


Bottled Water for Emergencies

Many people tend to store flats of water in plastic bottles, which is a fine short-term solution, and is a quick, easy, and relatively affordable way to stock up on an emergency supply of water quickly. However, the biggest problem with storing water in plastic bottles is that over time the chemicals from the plastic can leach into the water and contaminate it.

While the CDC claims “unopened, commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable source of water in an emergency,” [source], and the FDA does not require an expiration date for commercially bottled water, Health Canada says that “although manufacturers give bottled water a two year shelf-life, Health Canada suggest that you replace water stored for emergency use after one year,” [source].

While there may not be a clear cut answer here, we personally abide by the one-year shelf life rule when it comes to water bottled in plastic. That being said, I don’t store any water in plastic bottles, so I don’t ever have to worry about replacing it. 


Stackable WaterBricks

These stackable WaterBricks are a great solution for storing large amounts of water at home. Each 3.5 gallon WaterBrick stores enough water for one person for three days. But the biggest benefit is that WaterBricks can be stacked on top of each other, making them a great space-saving solution for water storage.

That being said, WaterBricks can get quite heavy too, so they are ideal for storage of water in a basement, but not such a great solution for storing water in an apartment—at least not stacked very high (you don’t want them going through the floor!)

WaterBricks are also made from plastic, although they are a much heavier plastic and are free from BPA, unlike commercially bottled water in plastic bottles. Basically, each WaterBrick is essentially a food-grade water-storage container, which is great for storing safe drinking water while camping or where there is no running water, or for use in an emergency. However, while it is recommended to clean and sanitize the containers before storing water, it is still possible for water stored in containers like this to become contaminated with bacterial growth, so many other preparedness sites recommend only storing water in WaterBricks for up to six months (or even as little as three months) before cleaning the containers and filling them with a fresh supply of water.


Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water

Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water is a great option for shelf-stable emergency drinking water. In this case, the water is stored in lined aluminum cans, much like soft drinks. Each 12oz. can is free from BPA, and the water is free from chlorine and fluoride. But best of all, Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water has a 50-year shelf life!

I keep a case of 24 cans of Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water on hand in case of an emergency. It’s a great option for emergency water storage at home or in the trunk of your car for on-the-go. The biggest drawback is the price: One case of Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water costs anywhere from around $30 to $50 USD (depending on where you get it). But the peace of mind I get from having a case on hand is well worth the investment.


Canning Water in Mason Jars

One of my favourite ways to store water at home is to can it! Lots of canners recommend keeping water stored in their empty canning jars, which is a great idea as those jars are going to sit there empty, taking up space anyway! However, if you don’t actually go through the process of canning it (in a hot water bath canner), then the jars won’t seal and you run the risk of the water inside your jars becoming contaminated.

A few years ago—at the start of the pandemic when everybody was losing their minds, stocking up on toilet paper and the like—my husband and I decided it might be wise to sanitize some glass swing-top bottles and fill them with water that we had sterilized by boiling. (Hey, we didn’t know what we were dealing with at that time any more than anyone else knew!). In any case, we never had to use that water. However, when we opened up the bottles about a year later, most of them were cloudy with strings of white throughout the water and many had what appeared to be a layer of mold. Needless to say, we would not have wanted to drink that in an emergency, and we tossed it out promptly.

Now I can my water in Mason jars and the canning process helps to ensure that the water is sterilized and the lids are sealed which prevents further contamination. All you need to do to can water at home is to prepare your canner, jars and lids as normal, then bring a pot of water to a hard boil for five minutes. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes (increase time as needed if you are more than 1,000 feet above sea level). Let jars cool completely after canning and then store in a cool dark place out of direct sunlight, just as you would any other home canned food!


Other Tips for Emergency Water Storage

These are just a few options for storing emergency drinking water at home. There are all sorts of other options, such as drinking water pouches, other types of water containers, and even the WaterBOB emergency drinking water storage container for your bathtub! What you choose will depend on your unique needs, how much you want to invest, and how much space you have to dedicate to water storage.

Another thing to consider is non-potable water storage for things like gardening and flushing toilets. Rain barrels are a great option for watering gardens, or even for flushing toilets if needed. You can purchase a rain barrel, or you can even make your own DIY rain barrel out of a garbage can and a few simple pieces of hardware right here. You should also save any grey water from doing dishes or laundry and use this for flushing toilets. You can also use grey water for watering gardens, so long as it doesn’t have any detergents in it (dish soap is safe).


Emergency Water Filtration Options

Having a way to filter water at home or on-the-go is a really important part of emergency water preparedness. A good water filter can double as both water storage, as well as provide a way to filter water in an emergency. There are a number of options when it comes to emergency water filters, however not all water filters are created equal. For example, many don’t filter out viruses and bacteria. The water filtration systems listed below are a couple of the best brands on the market, and are the ones I personally use and recommend. 


Berkey Water Filter

Our family uses a Berkey water filter, which I actually purchased specifically so that our family would have a way of storing and filtering water in case of an emergency. However, I love it for everyday use too, as Berkey Water filters remove all sorts of toxic chemicals and harmful contaminants from water (including from tap water!), including over 99% of BPA, pesticides, petroleum contaminants, PFAs (like those found in Teflon), and traces of pharmaceutical drugs. Berkey water filters also remove over 99% of heavy metals like aluminum, lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium 6, and over 75% of glyphosate. In addition, they filter out harmful viruses and bacteria, while leaving beneficial minerals in the water. Plus, you can get a specialized filter that will remove over 99% of arsenic, and over 97% of fluoride.

We have the Crown Berkey (6 gallons), which is the largest size Berkey filter on the market. There are multiple other size options available as well. The Berkey can also filter up to 6,000 gallons of water (3,000 gallons per filter with two filters inside) and last around 10 years on average before you need to replace the filters.

All in all, this is an investment purchase, but one of the wisest ones you’ll ever make for your health and your preparedness, in my humble opinion.


LifeStraw Water Filters

I also keep a LifeStraw water bottle in each one of our bug out bags. This is a great option for on-the-go, as the LifeStraw can filter out over 99% of waterborne bacteria (including E. coli), parasites and microplastics. While I’ve never tried it myself, there are multiple online articles and reviews from people who say they’ve safely and successfully used a LifeStraw to drink directly from a muddy puddle.

You can get the original LifeStraw, which is literally just a straw with a built-in filtration system. However, I prefer the water bottles, as they come with a built-in LifeStraw, but also provide a way to store water. These are a no-brainer for me as they are also pretty affordable, starting at around $20 for a straw. As an added bonus, LifeStraw helps to provide a source of clean drinking water to communities in need around the world. According to their website, “for every 500 products we sell, we distribute a LifeStraw Community purifier to a school in need, which provides safe water to 100 school children for a period of five years. Put another way, one purchase of any LifeStraw product provides a year of safe water to a child in need, five purchases provide that child with safe water for the next five years. ” A definite must-have for an emergency bug out bag or vehicle emergency kit, and a purchase that truly pays it forward.


Emergency Water Purification Options

Aside from water storage and filtration, it’s also helpful to have other options for purifying water if you don’t have access to a water filter, or are looking to purify larger amounts of water than your filter can handle. There are a few different ways to purify water aside from using a filter, including boiling and using chemicals (like bleach). Here are the recommendations and options for purifying water, according to sources like the CDC and FEMA.


Purify Water by Boiling

According to the CDC, you can make water safe to drink by bringing it to a full rolling boil for 1 minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for 3 minutes). To be safe, I would just boil it for 3 minutes, regardless of elevation.

Boiling water will kill off harmful microbes including both viruses, bacteria, and parasites. However, the CDC website states that “water that has fuel, toxic chemicals, or radioactive materials in it will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection,” so keep that in mind.


Purify Water With Bleach

While the CDC states that boiling water is the best solution for purifying water, there might be instances where you’re unable to boil water, like if you don’t have a heat source to do so. In this case, you can also purify water with regular household liquid bleach.

The CDC recommends adding 8 drops of unscented bleach (roughly 1/8 teaspoon) to every gallon of water to purify it, and up to 16 drops of bleach (1/4 teaspoon) if tap water is cloudy. Add the bleach to the water, mix it up, and then let it sit for at least 30 minutes before using.


Water Purification Tablets

You can also purchase water purification tablets for disinfecting water at home and on-the-go. This is a great solution when camping, travelling, or to keep in a bug out bag or vehicle emergency kit. FEMA recommends using chlorine dioxide tablets, and the EPA says you can disinfect water with tablets that contain chlorine, iodine, or chlorine dioxide. However, Aquatabs are a popular brand of water purification tablets, and the active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate. Aquatabs are chlorine and iodine-free, and come individually sealed with a 5-year shelf life. This is what we keep in our emergency kit, just in case all other systems fail.


Other Tips for Emergency Water Preparedness

While we’ve covered some of the most important aspects of emergency water preparedness already, here are a few more tips, considerations, and products you might want to consider keeping on hand.


1. Always carry a water bottle with you

It’s a small step, but keeping a bottle of water on you at all times is a great first line of defence should disaster strike unexpectedly, especially if you’re in your car, in the wilderness or just away from home. Add an extra layer of water security by using a LifeStraw water bottle!


2. Store water in your car

Statistically, you’re more likely to run into an emergency while in your car than when you’re at home or on foot.Your car might break down. You may get lost, stranded or run out of gas, maybe in a very hot, dry area. Not to mention you might be in your car the moment a major disaster strikes, throwing people into panic mode, creating traffic madness and mayhem in the streets… Wherever you get stuck, you may get stuck there for a while, so always stash some fresh drinking water in your car. I recommend keeping a case of Blue Can Emergency Drinking Water, a LifeStraw and a pack of Aquatabs in your vehicle emergency kit to be safe.


3. In an emergency, look for unconventional sources of fresh drinking water

Aside from the water you intentionally store, there are other places in your home where you can always keep and find a little bit of extra water: Your kettle, your ice cube tray, your espresso machine, and your hot water tank are also sources of potable water in an emergency.

In addition to these unconventional sources of drinking water, FEMA also recommends turning to your toilet (the tank, not the bowl!) in a water emergency, and drinking liquid from canned fruit and vegetables. FEMA’s website also states that “water from swimming pools, spas, and collected rain water can be used for personal hygiene and cleaning, but not for drinking.”


4. In an emergency, fill every sink, tub, bottle, and bucket while you can

If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of warning in the event of a potential water emergency, turn those taps on and fill every sink, tub, bottle, jar, and bucket you can while you have the chance. This is where having a WaterBOB for your bathtub could come in handy, as it will help to keep contaminants out of your water and ensure it remains safe to drink. However, even if the water isn’t clean enough for drinking, it can be used for bathing, cleaning, flushing toilets, and watering the garden.


5. Get a portable toilet

In an extended emergency where you are unable to flush your toilet, you might want to consider an alternative. You can dig a hole right in the ground, or you can use a portable toilet like this one.

You can also use a regular 5-gallon bucket and use a source of carbon like wood shavings, straw, or even shredded newspaper to cover it up every time you have to go. (Think of it the same way as using these types of carbon sources to cover up animal manure). While I hope I won’t ever have to poop in a bucket, I did purchase a bucket toilet seat to use in an emergency, because it’s always better to be safe (and a little more comfortable) than sorry! Oh, and always make sure you’re stocked up on toilet paper, lest you have to resort to wiping your bum with leaves;)


6. Know where to source fresh water in an emergency

Even if you manage to store a god supply of water, in a long-term emergency, you will eventually run out. Knowing where to source more fresh water (and how to purify it) is an invaluable skill to have in an emergency.

Go for a few walks. Map out your local area. Are there rivers, streams, lakes, or other fresh water sources nearby? Where are they, and can you get there (and back) on foot if needed? Make sure you gather this knowledge ahead of time, before disaster strikes.


7. Buy property that comes with its own freshwater source (or set it up yourself)

My final tip for ultimate water security is definitely the ultimate longterm solution: Invest in property that has its own fresh water source already on it.

Having access to a supply of fresh water off grid is a massive step toward water security. If you can, consider buying property with a personal well (with a hand pump, so you don’t have to rely on electricity), and/or a freshwater pond or, ideally, a stream that runs through it. At the very least, set up a rain barrel or two to collect water on your property. Even though this water won’t necessarily be safe to drink, it can be used to water gardens and flush toilets, and could potentially be made safe by employing one or more of the aforementioned methods of filtering and purifying water.


Sleep soundly knowing you’re prepared for a water emergency

Emergency preparedness (aka. “prepping”) has got a bad rap in recent years, thanks in part to shows like Doomsday Preppers, and the association between preppers and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. But being prepared is just being pragmatic. In fact, with everything that’s happened these past few years (beginning with the pandemic), and everything currently going on in the world (from increasing climate disasters and extreme weather to the threat of nuclear war), it’s honestly pretty irresponsible at this point to not be working toward greater preparedness, or to be making fun of those who are.

At the end of the day, being prepared for an emergency is like having insurance: You hope you never need to use your emergency supplies, but you’ve got them there just in case. Because while you never know what tomorrow may bring, you can prepare now for whatever may come, and taking steps toward increasing your emergency water preparedness is a great place to start.

Got any other tips for emergency water preparedness? Share in the comments section below!


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  1. Suplementy Serce

    You have a way of making even the most complex subjects accessible. Great work on this post!

  2. Tanya Rust

    Have you ever canned water for long-term storage? Or are the glass swing-top bottles a good solution?

    • Ashley Constance

      Hi Tanya – I’m Ashley, Anna’s assistant. Canning water isn’t something I’ve personally tried (I don’t know that Anna has, either) but your comment got me curious. I did some research and found that this is an extremely helpful article on the subject:

    • Anna Sakawsky

      Hi Tanya,

      I see my assistant, Ashley replied to you already with some great info. But I wanted to chime in as I haven’t personally tried canning water (yet), but it’s on my list of things to try soon and I think it’s a great way to store water in a shelf-stable way! However I did try using glass swing top bottles a while back (at the start of the pandemic when we just didn’t know what was going to happen), and although I boiled the water and thought I sterilized the jars, they did end up growing mold after several months. I’m sure there is a safe way to do it, but just beware of that.

      I’ll have to update this post soon as it’s rather old and I’ve definitely levelled up my emergency water storage game since I first wrote this!

  3. Rosemary Antunes

    Congratulations on your pregnancy! Speaking of investments, your children are your best investments for the future!

    And by the way, people have been using that tired, discouraging line for decades to bring down those having another child… I heard it back in the ’80’s and ’90’s. But now, I have eight intelligent offspring in my very own “friend group,” and the detractors…..don’t!

    God Bless and keep on keepin’ on!

  4. Rodney W Moorman

    Thanks Anna for the helpful information about water storage.


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Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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All of that to say, thanks for everything you do moms! You are more valued and powerful than you know.

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—> Independence and self-reliance in all areas of life.
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And so much more!

Comment “Society” below and I’ll send you the deets!

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We said goodbye to a family pet yesterday. My mom has had Zoe since I was a teenager, and Evelyn has grown to love her during her visits with nanny.

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When I first started homesteading, gardening, and trying to be more self-sufficient, I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was new to me, and I had no one in my life to teach me the ropes.

I’m not a second or third or fifth generation homesteader. I’m a born-and-raised city girl who had to figure it out on my own, using books from the library and resources from the internet, and advice from random strangers on social media.

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🌿 make herbal medicine and natural products
💵 create multiple income streams
🆘 prepare for a wide range of emergencies
and more.

Plus, with my husband’s help, he can also
🛠 fix or build most things
so together we’ve got a wide range of skills that allow us to live a more empowered, self-reliant life.

Now I want to help you do the same…

I recently reopened the doors to The Society of Self-Reliance—my private membership program where I teach you the skills and mindset you need to become more self-reliant in every area of your life.

Not only do you get access to nearly 150 step-by-step video tutorials (and counting), you also get monthly live group coaching calls with me, and access to a private, SUPPORTIVE and knowledgeable online community of likeminded folks on the same journey.

For a limited time, you can join The Society for just $20/month (or get two months FREE with an annual membership!).

Come, join a community of people who will lift you up and ensure you DON’T starve 😉

Comment “Society” below to learn more!

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Never before have we had access to so much information at our fingertips. Whether you have a question you need answered, are looking for a tutorial to walk you through a specific task or are searching for a recipe to help you figure out what to make for dinner, all you have to do is Google it.⁣

But the problem is that there's no real way to be sure whether the information you find on line is genuine. Is the person who wrote or shared it actually sharing their own experience, or are they too simply regurgitating answers that they Googled?⁣

As we barrel full speed ahead into the era of AI and deep fakes, it will be even more difficult to know whether the information you're getting is even from a real human!⁣

While it's definitely an exciting time to be alive, so many people are feeling overwhelmed, and are craving a return to the analog world; To a world where information was shared in the pages of trusted books and publications, or was passed on from human to human, from someone who held that knowledge not because they Googled it, but because they lived it, experienced it, even mastered it.⁣

That what sets Homestead Living magazine apart from much of the information you'll find online: We don't have staff writers, we have experienced homesteaders sharing their hard-won wisdom in each issue. And while we do offer a digital version, we're also now offering monthly PRINT issues for U.S. subscribers (Canada and elsewhere hopefully coming soon!)⁣

Plus, until the end. of January, you can get your first 12 issues of Homesteading Monthly for just $1.00!⁣

No matter where you are on your homesteading journey, if you've been feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information and the noise of the online world and have been craving a return to the real, the tangible and, quite frankly, the human, Homesteading Monthly was made for you. ⁣

For homesteaders, by homesteaders.⁣

*** Comment "Homestead" below and I'll send you the link to subscribe! ***

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When I graduated from university with a degree in journalism many years ago, I remember thinking that while I knew how to write, edit, interview, shoot, and handle just about every part of creating a publication from the editorial standpoint, I really had no clue how to actually get published, let alone how the printing process works.

Over the years I’ve followed my passion for writing, editing and creating content, figuring much of it out on my own. From creating my blog to “self-publishing” my own digital/print magazine for the last 4 years, I’ve taught myself most of the practical skills necessary for turning an idea into a publication and getting said publication in the hands and in front of the eyes of many hundreds of readers.

But now that I’ve joined forces with the team at @homesteadlivingmagazine and @freeportpress, we’re all able to level up and reach many THOUSANDS of print and digital readers together.

People are HUNGRY for tried and tested advice on homesteading and self-reliant living. There’s a huge movement happening right now as more people wake up to all of the corruption in the world and realize that many of the systems we have come to depend on are fragile and on the brink of collapse. People are ready to take matters into their own hands by growing their own food, preparing their own meals, becoming producers instead of merely consumers and taking control of their health, freedom, security and lives.

I’m so proud to not only be a part of this movement, but to be at the forefront of it with some of the most passionate, talented and driven individuals I could ask to work with.

Getting to meet and brainstorm with some of the team in person and tour the printing facilities over the last few days has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, not just for me, but for everyone who considers themselves part of the modern homesteading movement. We are growing faster than I could have ever imagined. We’re creating a system outside of the system! We’re charging full steam ahead and we invite you to climb aboard and join us for the ride:)

#homesteading #modernhomesteading #homesteadliving #selfsufficiency #selfreliance

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