Where Will Food Come From?

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  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 04:34am

    #1

    DurangoKid

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    Where Will Food Come From?

Absent from most of the discussions is the question of how do we feed ourselves in the post Peak Oil era.  This is the part of the physical economy that counts.  In a hand to mouth existence there is no spare labor to build and maintain much of anything.  As more human labor turns to just keeping enough calories coming into our mouths, all forms of infrastructure will begin to degrade.  As society begins the slow collapse toward less complexity, more of the populace will be required to pitch in and grow something to eat.

Some people have started in a small way to address the question of rescuing the suburban slums for productive horticultural land.  A small but important movement is converting fesque to veggies.  Good for them!  Better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.  When I talk about this issue with ohters, however, the discussion is not so encouraging.  Many urban gardeners find themselves up to their eyeballs in radishes and zuchini.  There doesn’t seem to be a rigorous approach to gardening as if one’s life depends on it.

Growing stuff to eat in your own back yard is probably a good jumping off point, though.  One can learn some basics, get some fresh veg, and get a warm fuzzy from fighting the good fight.  But, what if one is serious about growing enough to live on?  Where does one start?  Here’s my first crack at it.

The average office worker needs about 2500 calories per day.  That’s about 912,500 per year.  A good crop to grow in terms of calories per acre and nutritional value is the potato.  It has carbs, vitiman C, a bit of protein.  It will keep you alive longer than almost any other single food.  Current conventional yields provide about 45,000 pounds per acre.  At 0.8 calories per gram, I did the math, it works out to require 2434 sq ft of garden plot to get all of one’s calories from potatoes.  By conventional, I mean fossil fuel inputs for traction, weed and pest control, processing, but not cooking.  Organic has about half the yield per acre.  In one of my examples the yield was 24000 pounds per acre.  Crunching that number means that without hydrocarbons for pesticides and fertilizers it requires 4562 sq ft of garden to feed you for a year.  Without hydrocarbons for traction and processing, one’s back will have to take up the slack in the system.  That means several hundred hours of extra labor per year per person.  Parenthetically, a work year is 2080 hours.  For a family of four, our garden plot has expanded to 0.4 acres.  Obviously, no one lives entirely off potatoes and it would be foolish to monocrop one’s only source of food when   there may be market shortages.  But, potatoes make a pretty good baseline for comparison purposes.

This scenario makes several assumptions.  One is that the gardener is proficient.  By that I mean our gardener knows the local soil and climate well, has chosen productive varieties, and has the physical stamina to work in a garden.  Unfortunately, gardening as well as other physical work requires more than 2500 calories per day.  If we assume our gardener needs, say, 4000 calories per day, this puts things in a slightly different light.  The per person garden area now shoots up to 7300 sq ft. for about 3/4 of an acre for a family of four.  Something tells me that we have long since outgrown our slice of suburban paradise.  Moving the hot tub won’t get it done.  This also puts the lie to the urban gardening movement.  When people have to get all of their food from a local garden, the demand for open land is far greater than a few city blocks sprinkled here and there.  Hundreds of nearby acres will have to come back into production to feed local populations.

The current financial debacle shows us that the job economy is very fragile.  Over the next several years we can probably expect the numbers of unemployed to rise steadily.  The numbers are cooked so that only a small minority know the real extent of unemployment.  The economic growth that makes it possible to sell one’s labor might follow Hubbert’s Curve with a slight delay between the peaks.  And for a good reason.  Conventional crude production has peaked.  From now on the energy subsidy that makes laptop computers, air travel, and nasty airline food is going away never to return.  Some pundits are already talking about a turnaround in the economy a couple of years out.  How can that come about with the per capita net energy in permanent decline?  How can Joe Average afford a bag of cheese doodles when most of the money is concentrated in so few hands?

One last topic I’d like to touch on is what I call the crossover point.  That’s the point in time when it’s energetically or economically more advantageous to make for yourself what you previously sold your labor for money to buy.  Is it a better deal to grow versus buy potatoes?  Does it make sense to quit your job to raise a garden and work part time?  By that time Peak Oil will be a dot in the rearview mirror, if you still own or operate a car.  Money will be hard to come by or it will have lost much of its value.  Preparation for the post Peak era will be for that decision point.  Failure to prepare will mean that there will not be a choice.  You will be so tied to the labor-selling-to-get-the next-new-gadget economy that there will be no alternatives.  People lining up to buy flat screen tv’s are wasting their time in more ways than one.  While a group of your neighbors tore up their lawns and driveways and moved into a single house, you were fiddling with your lawnmower and now it’s too late.  Like the peak of oil production, the crossover point may only be recognizable from the other side.  Clues might be empty supermarket shelves, no banks open, gasoline only for military vehicles.  It may come suddenly or slowly.  The one certainty is that after the crossover point it will be too late to prepare.  Those who didn’t pare down their posessions and move away from the money economy will find life very difficult starting with the necessity of feeding oneself.

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 07:13am

    #2

    pir8don

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    Re: Where Will Food Come From?

DurangoKid what you say makes good sense.

The sustainable population of the planet is near 1 billion according to most creditable sources. I expect that hunger and cold will be the mechanism by which we reduce our numbers. Basically the planet needs us to die as soon as possible to remain or return to an ecosystem able to support diverse lifeforms. Frightening thoughts that get no discussion.

Where I live there are 50 thousand people within a days walk. Our valley has maybe 2 thousand families where possibly 20 could subsist. When I look around I see lots of tree and plant growth – pine trees by the thousand and almost no edible plants or tree crops. Some of our neighbours are growing edible plants like us but not many as a proportion of the total. Once oil or money stops we stop; period.

Don

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 07:46am

    #3

    krogoth

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    Home Gardens will not work for long

It’s basically an impossible solution to even presume you can grow enough food to sustain yourself or your family if everything collapses. Unless of course, you own a large farm. The farms will be the first to be raided by the hungry, so unless you have a remote farm with high security, forget it.

I think most people on here with small farms are doing it for emergency purposes only. Like to go 2-3 months without dependence on other sources of food.

 Let’s just hope it does not go more than 2-3 months.

Of course the smart way is to go is food packs. Here is an example of a typical emergency food supplier-

This deluxe one-year supply unit, along with 4 gallons of cooking oilyou add yourself, supplies all the nutrients you need to stay well-fed for a full year. The foods are all dehydrated or dry, packaged oxygen-free, and in this very compact form will store well and require minimal storage space. This 802 lb unit comes in 13 cases and 9 six-gallon Superbuckets. Storage area required is just 33 cubic feet (stacking example: 13" by 74" by 59".) The Mix-A-Meal Cookbook is included with FoodPak 1 with 110 pages of recipes for cooking with dry stored foods.

FoodPak 1 will also serve as a 6-month supply of food for two people, a 3-month supply for four, and so on. Sealing lids are provided for all #10-size cans, so that they may be re-sealed after opening. FoodPak 1 offers a real abundance of long lasting, flavorful & nutritious food, and represents a value we don’t think is equaled elsewhere… a lot of great food at very reasonable cost, delivered right to your door!

Security FoodPak 1 >> Just $1299.00 plus shipping
 

So if you read the fine print, a normal family of four will run you about $5200 minus shipping, and I would guess shipping would be high considering it’s over 800 lbs.

This does not include medical supplies, diapers, baby food, prescription medication or anything you usually need outside of food.

SO YUMMY!

Of course, you could go the super cheap protein bar route- Some companies are doing this as well. It’s cheap, and you will stay alive to see the end of the world at least.

 

Happy Surviving!

 

 

 

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 08:12am

    #4

    Katie

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    Re: Where Will Food Come From?

Hi All,

Part of ‘where will our food come from’ is ‘where will our water come from?’. Where I am at the tip of Africa our water comes out of taps, pumped out of the aquifer which holds about 2000 years of water for the town. Do we have 2000 years of electricity for pumping water out the acquifer? Do we have 5? Water tanks, to sustain the kind of agricultural effort described above, just won’t do. Here, it rains in winter and is excruciatingly hot for all of summer. Our only hope is in fruit trees whose roots may reach the water table. I’ve planted an orchard of them but they’ll take 2 or 3 more years to start bearing properly. My heart is in my throat every day now because I don’ think we’ve 2 or 3 years. Nevertheless, I’m still getting those trees into the ground and giving them to friends and planting them wherever I possibly can, while money still buys things down at the nursery.

Where will wood come from for cooking all the agricultural produce also part of the food question, and to a lesser but still significant extent ‘where will we get salt?’. Civilisations have fallen for a lack of salt, cooked food not tasty without it and besides – eating cooked food without salt eventually leads to illness.

Where will our temperance and open heartedness come from is the ultimate question, our ability to share when there isn’t enough. Will years of being cocooned in dark room shooting humans in dungeons on the computer have prepared us for this humanitarian crisis?

Thankgoodness the pure fruit diet doesn’t need water, except in the intial stages of setting the tree, and we don’t need to drink water as fruit has plenty in it. Thankgoodness fruit doesn’t need wood for cooking. Thankgoodness fruit doesn’t need salt. And thankgoodness that when coming onto a mainly fruit diet one experiences a decrease in aggressive tendencies. We needed to have planted the trees years ago, years ago. We may, and I believe we have, passed the crossover point for trees already. But keep planting anyway, as if life depends on it.

Thanks for listening

from Katie

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 11:12am

    #5

    Damnthematrix

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    Re: Where Will Food Come From?

PERMACULTURE.

Farming, even most gardening, is totally inefficient.  We have become accustomed to lazy practices, pour some fertliser here, spray a bit of that there…..  we’ve got the money to pay for it, we can afford it, what could the problem be?

The Matrix converts fossil fuels into food.  We eat fossil fuels.   http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html

To prepare properly for the coming food crisis, you need about five years.  At least in our poor Australian soils.  To fertilise your soil without fossil fuels, you need to integrate animal manures, and green manures.  To close energy loops and avoid waste, you need to grow your own animal fodder as well as your own food.  If you need to drive to the local ag supply store to buy your mulch and chicken grains, you are cheating……

So to start a sustainable farm, you need to start with growing your inputs, and you must have your own water source.  We use two 5000 gallon (IMP gallons, so ~ 5500 US gallons?) to capture rain water.  Water tanks act like buffers, catch the water when it rains, use it when it doesn’t  Your input needs are fertilisers and mulches.  We grow lots of legume varieties (and species will and should vary with climate) to fix Nitrogen into the ground and then use the leaves as mulch.  We harvest our chicken and duck and goat manures to fertilise.  Because we live in a sub tropical climate, it’s not really practical to make compost in the traditional way, we make it in situ, in the garden…..  Horses for courses, you must learn to deal with your climate, the soil, the rainfall….  the list goes on.

To cut to the chase, do a PERMACULTURE DESIGN COURSE, known as PDCs.  They should be available somewhere at a town near you!  This looks like a good place to start if you are American:  http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/permaculture_diploma_and_practice/

Good luck.  You’re gonna need it!

Mike. 

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 11:15am

    #6

    Damnthematrix

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    Re: Home Gardens will not work for long

And when you run out after 12 months what then?  I don’t think this will work for long Krogoth…!

A garden, especially one done properly along Permculture design principles, is a better investment than any amount of gold or silver… 

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 12:03pm

    #7

    krogoth

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    Re: Home Gardens will not work for long

Nahhh, I don’t believe in gardens or dehydrated food. I will be with the well armed raiders!

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 12:36pm

    #8

    rlee

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    Re: Where Will Food Come From?

Much easier solution:  Soylent Green!

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 12:45pm

    #9

    Damnthematrix

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    Re: Home Gardens will not work for long

And what makes you think that’s sustainable?  What happens once the raiders have killed off all the farmers/gardeners/permies?  Or did you have your tongue firmly parked in your cheek yet again!?

  • Tue, Dec 02, 2008 - 12:55pm

    #10

    krogoth

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    Re: Home Gardens will not work for long

Then I will come live with you. These are my needs.

1) High Speed Internet connectivity
2) Breakfast served by 7am sharp
3) Quiet time or nap time at around 2 pm
4) Bedtime Cocoa and a sweet story from you at around 9pm

That’s it, just basic stuff.

 

 

 

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