PROVO — A year ago, Jonathan and Kylene Jones, of their own free will and choice, embarked on one of those quests of endurance that have your neighbors wondering if you might have finally gone off the edge.
Some people hike the Appalachian Trail, some people climb Everest, some people see how long they can hold their breath without passing out.
They decided they wouldn’t go to the store for three months.
There was a method behind their apparent madness. For years, ever since they wrote a book called “The Provident Prepper” in 2014, they had been maintaining that their food storage strategies were sound; that they could easily go off the grid for 90 days and be just fine.
But saying it was one thing — proving it was another.
So on a perfectly benign day last July, they launched Operation No Retail, intent on subsisting on either what was in their pantry, in their garden or available via barter.
They hadn’t specifically planned on the barter part, but needs and wants arose that had to be addressed. One of their teenage sons, for example, found that being away from fresh milk was more than he bargained for, so he made an arrangement with a nearby farmer to milk the man’s cows in exchange for milk.
In another example, Kylene discovered that living without chocolate was akin to a jail sentence, so she traded kale from their garden — quite a lot of kale — for chocolate.
For the most part, though, the Joneses were happy and relieved to make it through the three months unscathed. To see that their planning was sound. No one went hungry. No one needed therapy. Piece of cake, so to speak.
When the three months were up, they wrote a post and made a video for their website, theprovidentprepper.org, about preparing for and surviving a pandemic.
You can probably see where this is going …
In March, when an actual pandemic appeared, Kylene and Jonathan greeted the coronavirus with three words:
We. Got. This.
“In a day, things went from normal life to, ‘Oh my goodness,’” said Kylene, remembering when everything came to a screeching halt in mid-March. “For us it was very surreal, because of what we’d already been through. We had a plan and we knew what to do.
“We weren’t out buying toilet paper because we already had it.”
Not surprisingly, the Provident Preppers became something of an overnight sensation.
For years, they’d grown their online prepper business slowly but surely, dispensing copies of their book and other products and attracting enough page views to make it profitable.
But now that they had their attention, the mainstream was listening.
Their Amazon sales quadrupled during the first month of the pandemic, and have remained higher than normal ever since.
On YouTube, they are attracting an average of 2,500 new viewers each month. Their subscriber list has exceeded 24,000.
Just last week, the Los Angeles Times featured the couple in an article about being prepared. The Joneses told the Times the same message they’ve been delivering to everyone else: Have a plan and keep it simple.
“It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room, don’t try to eat it all at once,” Jonathan advised. “Break it down into manageable bites. Then you can make real progress. And what comes with that is a lot of peace of mind.”
“We believe that we can all do everyday things that help us to be more resilient and self-reliant,” added Kylene. “It’s about being family- and community-oriented, about having a plan and implementing it. It’s not about guarding what we have with guns.”
The Joneses aren’t extremists. They have never been featured on “Doomsday Preppers.” They do not live in a compound and they do not have a nuclear fallout bunker.
“But we have a basement,” said Kylene. “And we know how to turn that into something that would be safe within an hour or two.”
Jonathan hearkens back to the turn of the 20th century to explain “The Provident Prepper” pragmatic approach to preparedness.
“People were 90% farmers a hundred years ago,” he said. “They were very community-minded, they helped their neighbors and they were always aware the crops might fail and knew they needed to be able to deal with that. To the extent that we can, we try to live like our forebears.”
Last summer, and again this year, they proved it was possible.