MONTAGUE, Mass. – The result of all of Chris Martenson’s hard work over the last decade is that he and his wife of 20 years, Becca, live on a piece of property in rural Massachusetts that allows him the kind of homesteading life many preppers dream of.
His family is removed from dense population centers; they grow their own food; keep bees; and, practice the life he preaches on his Peak Prosperity website: self sufficiency.
Martenson’s life and business (the website) are not driven by typical, conspiracy theories, and “The End Of The World As We Know It” survival themes. He reads more like an economic report that a CEO would present to a board of directors.
Moreover, he doesn’t come from the usual background of the survival blogs and retail sites. He didn’t serve in the military, and he didn’t grow up in the woods.
He is a scientist by trade and education (notably in toxicology from Duke and an MBA from Cornell), and his treatises on the problems with the world’s economy, the environment and how to survive any potential threat, are all based on and defined by data. Period.
Martenson is not focused on survival gear, firearms and food storage. Instead, he spends his time teaching his readers about derivatives, macroeconomics, energy composition, and the environment. He also focuses heavily on personal development.
We call him the CEO of Survival, not because he has any control over others in the industry (even though he is a key influencer), but because he focuses on issues at a high level. Reading his book “Prosper” is like reading something from the business section of Barnes and Noble, not the preparedness section.
But how did he get from being a vice president at corporations like SAIC and Pfizer – with the big dream house in Connecticut, and a boat, among other luxuries – to becoming a homesteader and a homeschooler?
More importantly, how did he get his wife to give up her the typical consumerist version of an idyllic life to becoming essentially an old school farmer?
Arguably, on the surface, Becca Martenson was living the perfect suburban life. She had three kids, a big home, in a beautiful town, with a short drive to Manhattan, and a corporate executive for a husband.
Getting her to give that up wasn’t an easy process. But it did happen.
Today, she is finishing the process of homeschooling those kids; recently served on the board of the Vermont Wilderness School; and, teaches personal development classes, while nearly completing a five-year holistic healing apprenticeship and inter-faith ministry ordination.
Another question for Martenson was his views on the Survival Industry in general. How does someone used to the corporate boardroom and the data-driven decisions that usually determine financial success or failure, view the growing Survival Industry and it’s future?
Enjoy our third and final part of the interview with Chris Martenson as we explore how to convince your spouse to become a homesteading prepper, and what is the future of the survival industry.
Paratus Business News: When you decided to take action for your own life to come more self-sufficient, was it an epiphany, or was it a slow burn that caused you to prepare?
Chris Martenson: That was an epiphany. My wife was much slower to the draw than I was. It took me a while to figure out how to communicate. And once we did, and got aligned on it, she started looking at the world the same way I did.
We said, “Yeah, we don’t want to be here in Mystic, Connecticut.” It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t have any community. And it’s really sterile, and it doesn’t feel robust or resilient.
So we picked western Massachusetts, not because it’s the best place in the country, but given family considerations, and where we go for summer vacation, and all that stuff. We did the best we could.
But you know, we picked this spot particularly because of certain geographical features that is has that makes it feel good and safe to me. It has a giant river right here. Everybody on that side will stay on that side under certain circumstances, and that feels OK to me. But it has the right mix of rural and urban. We have a lot of farming here. There is a lot of community that is pre-existing here. So there are great communities of people you can plug in to. It had a great home schooling network that was more important to us 10 years ago. But our kids are pretty much out of our homeschooling grasp at this point. The youngest being 16.
So we had reasons for being here. We originally picked it because we were running away from a place that was not sustainable. That was fear based.
So once I started to understand how this economy worked and how the money system worked, I was horrified, stunned and shocked.
Now that we are here, we would run towards it because it is a better life. It is a lot much better life that we have fashioned for ourselves.
So yeah it was motivated by fear, but formed later by all the benefits that come from living a life where you’re consciously thinking about and adding to the parts of life my great grandfather wouldn’t be confused about at all.
PBN: You said your wife was slower to get to the point where you were. Today, she farms and homesteads with you. She even teaches classes on holistic personal development, with her own website. Did you undertake a strategy to help get her there, or was it just osmosis?
CM: She’s got a great story to tell about this. It was not good at first. I was approaching her with a lot of emotion. Remember my early epiphany was in 2001, there was nothing like “The Crash Course” on the Internet. There were very few outlets out there that were reasonable places to get information. There was a lot of chafe and very little wheat.
I was doing some early processing. It was early belief-shaking material. So once I started to understand how this economy worked and how the money system worked, I was horrified, stunned and shocked.
I had an MBA from Cornell! How did they not teach me, up to that point, how money was created?
So I was approaching her with a lot of “Oh, my God. You wouldn’t believe what I’m finding.” A lot of energy. And she was resisting it. We had three young children, two of them in diapers. We had a big house, waterfront, boat in the slip.
We had the dream, and I’m here telling her the dream is like a nightmare and she didn’t understand it. It took a while. But eventually one day, as she tells it, I approached her with a very different tone. I said, “Listen, we’re in this together, but I’m starting to see the world in a very different way. I’d like you to take a look at it. And let me know if you see what I’m seeing. And if so, we should have a talk about it.”
So she started to engage in the material because of something we teach in the seminars, which is the very important concept of influence and persuasion that I’ve learned.
If you approach somebody in an emotional state, and they are not in that same emotional state, they will resist you and back away. It doesn’t matter what that emotional state is. I could be trying to approach you to get you join me in this state of acceptance, but if you’re wallowing in anger, we won’t be communicating.
To detune your personal emotional state is a critical function of reaching people. So that doesn’t come from Peak Prosperity or Chris Martenson, it is a sales technique that I’ve now learned and understood from study, and behavioral economics, and sales courses on how to reach people.
So that was part of the learning psyche thing about why Peak Prosperity got to be successful, because I took the time to continue to learn what it takes to be successful given that I’m trying to reach and influence people to not think differently only, but to think and do different things.
That a very complex series of things to be learned and it began with my own rough beginnings with trying to influence my wife.
PBN: Let’s switch gears here to the survival industry. We look at probably 300 websites throughout the course of a week or two just trying to assess and report on “who is who.” You are not the typical blogger or publisher. Most come from military backgrounds or other backgrounds that make survival a normal part of life. Yet you took a different path. You come from scientific and corporate upper management positions, and your website reflects your background. You’re data driven, not a conspiracy theory type. Much of what you talk about is at a 30,000-foot level, and on a lot of different subjects (economics, environment, personal development, etc.).
Yet fear of things like gun control, First Amendment rights abridgment, and even martial law drive most successful survival blogs and businesses. And with the election, all of that fear was more heightened than ever.
Now, with a Republican sweep in D.C. and the Hillary machine out of power (for now) should the Survival Industry relax?
CM: It depends on what they are afraid of. From my standpoint, I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about gold confiscation or gun confiscation or those sorts of things. The things that worry me the most comes from my background. Understand that with my science background, involved a lot statistics. I had to take pathology statistics and epidemiology statistics. So there is no black and white. You learn to risk adjust everything.
What should you be worried about more, the pool in your backyard, or the gun in your safe. Actually, it’s the pool in your backyard, if you have kids, by far.
Just understanding what the risks really are, and what drives me to be prepared, and ready are things like a financial collapse. The one that we almost had in 2008, we were hours away from the complete systemic meltdown.
I know why they freaked out with that. Because if that happened, that would be really awful. Those are the things that are credible risks that are high enough that a prudent adult should do something about that.
Where you’ve noticed the difference is, I haven’t found that motivating people through fear is either a good business strategy or even a responsible way to go about reaching people.
I’m not in the business of trying to sell people stuff or make them afraid, or motivate them with greed. I’m not here with the six new stock tips that will make you retire early. I’m not that guy.
I’m the guy that says, “Hey, here’s some data, and here’s how we add it up. And when we do, a prudent adult should be taking certain steps. And if you take these steps, you won’t have a basement full of stuff you may never use.
What you’re going to do is discover that while some there are some material preparations you should make, those alone are unnecessary and insufficient. To be actually prepared you need to be emotionally ready for what’s going to happen. It’s a little softer and it’s why you hear me talking to these groovy new age people or what not about stuff around the edges.
How do we begin to understand what being emotionally resilient really means? Well, there is this whole territory we have to go in. Once we do that, we’ll see that it’s our social capital that’s really going to matter as well.
I talk to writers like Philip Haslam who crossed the border from South Africa to Zimbabwe to figure out what happened when that economy failed. (Editor’s Note: Haslam’s book “When Money Destroys Nations” investigates the causes and results of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse in 2008. The symptoms began in 2000 with droughts, corruption, financial missteps and international sanctions driven by the dictatorial rule of Robert Mugabe. From 2000 – 2003 the economy declined 18 percent. The GDP decreased 61 percent. In 2008, the country’s inflation soared 11,200,000 percent.)
People in Zimbabwe saw their currency was about to collapse, and people like you and me who listened and got prepared. They bought gold, got out of their local currency, got material preparations. They got ready.
And guess what. That currency crisis lasted nine years. And their preparations lasted one year. What defined the people who survived best, and even thrived in years two through nine? They were the people had good solid social connections and knew who to trust, and where to get stuff, so they could still conduct their life.
So social capital is important unless you think this is a three-week disaster. Once I put all the stuff together, if we do all that then actually you can live a much better life today and be prepared for tomorrow. It’s kind of flipping the model from telling people to get ready for an uncertain tomorrow, instead we tell you how to make your life better and more robust and resilient today, and no matter the consequences of what happens tomorrow, you will be prepared for.
So that was the direction I wanted to go in. And I’m not doing that as a strategy because I think I can sell more to more people. Clearly, I could be doing a much better job of selling more stuff to more people if I was taking a different, more sales-like approach.
What I am doing is telling people the things that have worked in my own life that could work in their life. So I’m sitting here, looking at my office window, I can see my giant vegetable garden, which is almost put down for winter. I can see my orchard. I can see my chickens. There’s bees over there. And I got a much deeper social network of people I can really trust, whom I have great relationships with.
So all of these things I talk about on my website, I’ve done. I’m walking the talk. And that’s only message I’d like to get across to people. If you could be more resilient for tomorrow and you’d be happier, healthier, wealthier and more well connected today, why not? How do you lose?
I haven’t found that motivating people through fear is either a good business strategy or even a responsible way to go about reaching people.
PBN: Are the bloggers and retailers who do sell fear, are they wrong and is that a good business model? And what are they going to do now, with Clinton out of the way? What is the next bogeyman for them?
CM: From a business strategy, you’ve hit the weak point in their model. One, their business is now tied to the vagaries of people’s fear indexes. Two, fear is not a sustainable emotion for people. So you’ll find that you’re on a constant treadmill because you’ll find that you’re going to turnover your clientele very quickly. People will come to you with fear, that’s great, they’re going to buy stuff that’s great, and then the fear is going to dissipate, and then you’ve lost them.
I have very long-term relationships with people who are subscribers to my site. Some have been with me for 10 years now. I’d much rather have a longer duration, more sustainable relationship with my clientele.
I don’t want to say it’s wrong, but that business model of selling fear is not good for me I don’t like that treadmill aspect, and it’s hard for me to keep my fear high enough to transfer it to somebody else. It’s like riding point on a Humvee through Fallujah. There are only so many days you can do that before your nerves are all fried. It’s a lifestyle thing; I don’t want to live that way. I don’t know if I can.
PBN: Do you have any indication of how many people nationally or prepping and have you seen any financial studies on the size of the industry like how much you know of this nation is spending on preparing for problems?
CM: I don’t have good data. I have lots of anecdotes. The base anecdote is this: when I started this, it was a really hard sell. Very few people were involved in it, it was considered extraordinarily fringed, and it was a very small industry. This is clearly growing rapidly and all I have are anecdote. The financial means of the people I’m interacting with has been steadily expanding. It’s not unheard of for me to be working with, and hearing about the efforts of, billionaires who have the Gulf Streams spooled up and nearby, all the time. And if they have to, they have the places they’re going to go to.
We’ve all read these stories, but the more I interact with these people, it just tells me that it is something that is poised for extraordinary growth. And the reason I keep pointing to rich people is not that they are more important, or any of that, and it’s not a bragging thing. It’s that rich people have better access to information than everybody else. They have good advisors. They’re scanning the world a little bit more widely.
The people that are really going to get burned the most are the middle class who are getting their information off the TV. They’re just not getting good information. It’s context free and usually designed to keep them pacified and unaware.
PBN: Better access to information, and rich people are not as emotional about their decisions. It’s business.
Related Story: Rich people and bunkers
PBN: Any advice for your average preppers, and people in the survival business?
CM: The most important advice is to get out of your echo chamber. Go start talking to more widely. The number of people I talk to who are preppers, but would never admit that until you ask them carefully, is astonishing.
So the extent to which this business is talking to itself, and reaching the same people over and over again, there’s plenty of room in here for everybody. Let’s not fight. Let’s talk about how we can expand the pie. We have to reach more people. We have to make this look as mainstream and as rational as possible, because it is!
Again, my grandfather would say it’s insane to enter winter without knowing where your food is stored. Well, let’s get sane.
PBN: I’ve been teaching a course on how to beat the prepper stigma using my 25 years of public relations experience. I look at strategies, and ways to prep without getting shamed. I explain how to get to know if other people are preppers, and how to get family members on board. Our long-term goal is to create a trade industry. To host conferences that teach our industry how to get better at what we do. Be more professional, and to stop working in the shadows.
CM: I’m interested. I like hearing that you have 25 years of PR experience because this is all about positioning. If this is positioned well, there is nothing crazy, whacko or fringe about prepping. It is essential.
So to the extent of which I could influence a trade association of some kind, I’d focus on some messaging we should agree is good. Let’s all agree on good messaging.
I would love to see this industry take itself to the next level because if even three percent of the population of this country decides to go down the preparedness route, there is no possible way this industry could handle a tenth of that amount.
And I think we’re going there.
Martenson and his business partner, Adam Taggart, run the Peak Prosperity website and seminars including The Crash Course. Martenson also consults with individuals regarding self-sufficiency.
Taggart, a former executive at Yahoo!, has been with Peak Prosperity from the beginning. Paratus Business News thanks Taggart for his assistance in making this interview a reality. PBN also subscribes to Peak Prosperity.