Imagine the unthinkable: a national emergency that leaves the country without adequate power, food or water supplies for months. What would you do? What would you eat? How would you survive?
Nick and Lisa Meissner believe the answer lies in "sustainable preparedness," or going back to the basics: wood-burning stoves, herbal medicines, home-grown veggies and spring water.
"In America, we've become so dependent on the system for our basic needs," said Lisa Meissner, who promotes sustainable preparedness with her husband. "If something happens ... we're completely helpless. With sustainable preparedness, it's more than just stocking up on food, water and other things. It's learning how to produce the basic necessities."
The Meissners brought their message to Chattanooga on Sunday, along with a number of vendors and speakers. More than 2,000 people gathered in the Chattanooga Convention Center to listen to lectures and presentations, talk with the Meissners and see what the vendors had to offer.
Their visions of emergency ranged from natural events to terror attacks. The keynote speaker, retired U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said after his talk that unleashing an electromagnetic pulse to wipe out everything electronic "would end life as we know it."
Craig Meissner, Nick's father, said 80 percent of the nation's population lives in about 200 cities.
In a disaster, they would be helpless, he said. "Our basic goal is to encourage people to move out of the city into the country," he said.
He urges people to develop their own independent water, food and heat supplies, and that they make these sustainable.
"If this emergency goes longer than your supplies last, but you grow a garden, you'll be a lot better off," he said.
Bonnie Mattheus, representing her Collegedale-based nutritional supplement company Bon Herbals, said preparedness has always been very important in her life. "I grew up in the Cuban missile crisis in D.C.," she said. "Everybody was getting ready for the worst. It doesn't hurt to stay prepared permanently. Maybe it's not a missile, but maybe it's a tornado or something."
But for some, preparedness is about more than just security. It's a lifestyle.
"We believe that there's great value in an agrarian lifestyle," said Bob Gregory, owner of Berea Gardens in Minnora, W.Va. "We've drifted away from a connection to the land."
Along with his farm, Gregory operates a training center to teach people how to grow their own food and even how to market it to the community. He said the center was created to help families who are tired of urban existence and wanted a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
"We're trying to help prepare people with the skills that they need," he said.
Tom and Gina Lapan, from Landrum, S.C., are working toward an independent lifestyle. They produce about 50 percent of all their food. "We just want to be self-sufficient," said Gina Lapan. "We want to become less reliant and learn to grow our own vegetables and be more healthy."
She said she and her husband had met the Meissner family at a lecture and came to the expo to learn more about sustainable preparedness.
Craig Meissner said it's not just about independence, though. It's about charity.
"Our goal is to be in a position where we can help others. How can you help others with a bowl of soup if you're in the soup line yourself?"
Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.