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The Oil Drum is one of the best internet sources for information about peak oil and resource depletion in general, as well as some of the very creative ways that people are planning to cope in a world with declining sources of fossil fuels.
Some of the posts on the Oil Drum are very complex and detailed and may contain too much math and too many graphs for the average reader. (Although the quality of information and discussion that you will find at TOD is as high as anywhere I know of on the internet.) Recognizing this, back in December the editors of the site started up a new department of The Oil Drum, which they called The Oil Drum: Campfire. Here is some of what they said about this new forum:
We intend this forum to be akin to a summer night sitting around a campfire, dreaming, hoping, and tossing around ideas that might bring about positive change. The types of discussions we would like to foster are where there are no right or wrong answers, just shared experiences, advice and wisdom. Topics will relate to wide boundary issues surrounding energy descent, including local food production, small scale energy production, experiments in living with less, or just general information and ideas to be shared with the online community.
On May 20, 2009, Jason Bradford published a Campfire post titled “Ecological Economics and the Food System“, which looks hard at the fossil-fuel consumption of the present system of industrial agriculture. There are some very interesting statistics on the relative levels of carbon-dioxide emission stemming from various food sources (meat, fruits/vegetables, chicken/fish/eggs, etc.) and lots of information about how the various parts of the industrial food system contribute to energy consumption. Here are some of Bradford’s conclusions:
The bottom line is that every measure must be taken to rapidly eliminate fossil fuel consumption and dependency in every component of our lives. The key word is “rapidly.” Don’t passively assume inexpensive alternative energy substitutes will arrive to replace fossil fuels-we may have waited too long to respond to have a smooth transition. Therefore, focus most attention on reducing energy demand rather than substituting a new energy supply. And finally, in the context of ecological economics, fossil fuel depletion and climate change, ask whether what you do in your life, vocation, hobbies, and habits, contributes to the long-term function (or dysfunction) of society.
Here are some of the things we should be doing, or agitating for in our food system, according to “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis”, a paper by John Hendrickson cited by Bradford:
It appears that some of the greatest saving can be realized by:
- reduced use of petroleum-based fertilizers and fuel on farms,
- a decline in the consumption of highly processed foods, meat, and sugar,
- a reduction in excessive and energy intensive packaging,
- more efficient practices by consumers in shopping and cooking at home,
- and a shift toward the production of some foods (such as fruits and vegetables) closer to their point of consumption.
All of this meshes nicely with many efforts underway on the Upper Sunshine Coast. The eat-local movement; workshops on growing, preserving, and preparing healthy local food; preservation of our lands in the Agricultural Land Reserve; Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and other small-scale urban farming projects such as the various community gardens; the Open Air Market and other markets to give small producers a place to sell their goods — these are all beginning steps towards a local food economy which serves the needs of local producers and consumers and also helps us move towards a radically lower regional carbon footprint.
Bradford moves on to a discussion of Brookside Farm, a one-acre farm in Willits, California, which functions as a working farm with a fifteen-share CSA and strong connections to a local elementary school and the wider community. Here are some of the ways that Brookside confronts the challenge of reducing fossil-fuel inputs and overall energy consumption, conveniently broken down into the various areas in which energy consumption occurs “from farm to fork”:
|Type of Work||Common Fossil-Fuel Inputs||Alternatives Implemented|
|Soil cultivation||Gasoline or diesel powered rototiller or small tractor||Low-wheel cultivator, broadfork, adze or grub hoe, rake and human labor|
|Soil fertility||In-organic or imported organic fertilizer||Growing of highly productive, nitrogen and biomass crop (banner fava beans), making aerobic compost piles sufficient to build soil carbon and nitrogen fertility, re-introducing micro-nutrients by importing locally generated food waste and processing in a worm bin, and application of compost teas for microbiology enhancement.|
|Pest and weed management||Herbicide and pesticide applications, flame weeder, tractor cultivation||Companion planting, crop rotation, crop diversity and spatial heterogeneity, beneficial predator attraction through landscape plantings, emphasis on soil and plant health, and manual removal with efficient human-scaled tools|
|Seed sourcing||Bulk ordering of a few varieties through centralized seed development and distribution outlets||Sourcing seeds from local supplier, developing a seed saving and local production and distribution plan using open pollinated varieties|
|Food distribution||Produce trucks, refrigeration, long-distance transport, eating out of season||Produce only sold locally, direct from farm or hauled to local restaurants or grocers using bicycles or electric vehicles, produce grown with year-round consumption in mind with farm delivering large quantities of food in winter months|
|Storage and processing at production end||Preparation of food for long distance transport, storage and retailing requiring energy intensive cooling, drying, food grade wax and packaging||Passive evaporative cooling, solar dehydrating, root cellaring and re-usable storage baskets and bags|
|Home and institutional storage and cooking||Natural gas, propane or electric fired stoves and ovens, electric freezers and refrigerators||Solar ovens, promotion of eating fresh and seasonal foods, home-scale evaporative cooling for summer preservation and “root cellaring” techniques for winter storage|
There’s more to the article, including a slightly cheeky demonstration that Americans could spare some of their average daily viewing time of four hours and thirty-five minutes (!) to tend a productive home garden and become more self-reliant. Go read the whole thing.
This story is pretty inspiring, and sounds like where we could be headed in the Powell River region, with some more smaller farms springing up, a bit more awareness of the value of local food to the local economy, maybe some small businesses and value-added operations, and something like Helena Bird’s proposed teaching farm & market garden (AKA “Full Circle Farm”) to anchor the community around a central facility to provide a common infrastructure for production and processing.
Here’s the part I like:
“All of us have realized that by working together we will be more successful as businesses,” said Tom Stearns, owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds. “At the same time we will advance our mission to help rebuild the food system, conserve farmland and make it economically viable to farm in a sustainable way.”
Cooperation takes many forms. Vermont Soy stores and cleans its beans at High Mowing, which also lends tractors to High Fields, a local composting company. Byproducts of High Mowing’s operation — pumpkins and squash that have been smashed to extract seeds — are now being purchased by Pete’s Greens and turned into soup. Along with 40,000 pounds of squash and pumpkin, Pete’s bought 2,000 pounds of High Mowing’s cucumbers this year and turned them into pickles.
Somehow we need to start pulling in the same direction. Things seem very ragged and disorganized right now, largely thanks to the policies of large centralized governments, but helped along by societal forces that make farming an unattractive profession. It’s so bad now for small-scale farming that almost anything would help reverse the trend.
I just submitted this to the editor of the Vancouver Sun in response to Cernetig’s really lousy piece on the 100-mile diet:
To the editor:
Miro Cernetig’s May 17, 2008 piece on the 100-mile diet (“Worship the 100-mile diet, eat at the world’s table”) manages to miss the point in its trendy haste to name-drop Capers and Lulu Lemon.
The 100-mile diet is a response to the global food system that Cernetig celebrates so lustily. This system is based on the consumption of enormous amounts of fossil fuels, in the form of fertilizers, packaging, fuel for farm equipment and transportation. Crude oil production is in crisis, and its price is at unprecedented levels and rising fast. Extraction and consumption of these chemicals contribute to atmospheric CO2, the main cause of global warming.
The 100-mile diet is based on the observation that this global food system is dependent on an environmentally destructive resource whose future availability and affordability are in question. We need to start developing strategies for reducing our use of fossil fuels. We all love mangoes and bubbly, but we need to be aware of the true cost of getting those mangoes and that bubbly to our table. The 100-mile diet is a method for starting to understand and talk about the true cost of food.
Powell River, BC
I feel slightly better, but the 200-word limit is a tough constraint. There’s a lot to say about journalism this slack-ass and complacent.
The Vancouver Sun is running a feature this week called “Feast or Famine”, all about the global food crisis, local eating, urban farming, organic farming, and other related topics. Unfortunately they got one of their regular columnists, Miro Cernetig, to write a ‘contrarian’ piece about the 100-mile diet, which is truly awful. I guess a backlash is a sign of success, but they could have tried harder to find someone willing to investigate the really interesting problems with relocalization and trying to eat locally.
The argument seems to be something like:
- Privileged people with money can buy food and wine from everywhere; therefore that is a good thing.
- Eating locally hurts small farmers in the third world. (I don’t want to talk about agri-business.)
- Hey, I thought we were all about fair trade. You guys changed the rules again! Miro is confused.
- Eating ethically is hard; so why bother trying?
- As soon as food travels more than 100 miles, it becomes evil.
Here’s the peroration:
But if eliminating CO2-heavy food from our diet is the new imperative, it also means you have to feel guilty about buying anything not grown within a 100-mile radius. How is that going to help the world’s peasants trying to sell their beans to us?
So, to be honest, I’m not into the 100-Mile Diet and never will be. I love my 40,008-Kilometre Diet. I don’t even feel guilty about it. In fact, I celebrate eating a mango and drinking a glass of bubbly from the other side of the planet as one of the heights of human achievement.
I mean, didn’t we spend millennia getting to this point as a species? From Alexander the Great to Rome’s Caesar to the British nabobs, building global empire was often about expanding the food chain, as much about finding tea as gold.
Global epicureanism is part of human evolution. And now it’s here.
Horrible, horrible, horrible.
From HopeDance Magazine:
“Ultimately, the most obvious way to source your food – and energy – more securely, resiliently and locally is to grow some of it yourself. And this is the part that could apply to every able bodied human being – if only they have access to some fertile land and the tools and knowledge to work it. After all, if we lived within our local carrying capacity and had fair access to fertile land, we would be able to feed and provide for ourselves without relying heavily on a vast and increasingly unreliable food and fuel system. That however, will involve us rethinking land use, land ownership and how we should live. The sooner we are ready for that, the sooner we’ll start building a sustainable food system, and much else besides.”
His comments about meat consumption underscore how truly idiotic the meat inspection regulations are that we are facing in BC. A wise government would be doing everything it could to encourage small-scale meat production and local consumption. Instead, the small-scale is under threat, and we will have to rely increasingly on trucked-in meat. It’s madness.
From the Independent UK: “Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis.”
Cargill’s net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.
Cargill says that its results “reflect the cumulative effect of having invested more than $18bn in fixed and working capital over the past seven years to expand our physical facilities, service capabilities, and knowledge around the world”
Interesting update from Corky Evans, who will be in Powell River on Sunday June 1 to talk at the Open Air Market. Corky is currently touring the province talking to farmers and getting lots of information on the effects of the new regulatory regime, especially the meat inspection regulations, which are causing a lot of our local farmers to fear for the future of farming in this region. Corky:
I have been traveling BC for a few months talking to farmers about farming. I have heard a huge number of excellent ideas for support systems to regenerate the business of farming that are not subsidies. None of these ideas, though, will work as long as BC is content to be LAST in Canada in support for food production and farming.
The enclosed graph was sent to me yesterday by a person who I met on the tour. It is the best representation of the overall situation in BC, now and historically, I have ever seen. Please give it a look. In fact, please give it a considerable amount of study.
The graph is pretty easy to understand. It starts in the 1980’s and runs up to last year. It shows that under the Socreds, the NDP and, now, the Liberals, British Columbia has failed farmers and farming. The top line is the average (not the best, the average) of support by Canadian Provinces. The bottom line is BC. As long as this condition continues to exist no Minister, no Cabinet and no Premier will be able to turn things around for the farmer. Essentially, we are the least competitive jurisdiction for this particular form of business in Canada.
If the graph interests you, send it to your friends. Maybe broad public knowledge of this embarrassment will convince society and societies Leaders to want to fix what is broken. I am working on the Party I support to understand the issue. Maybe you could work on yours.
Agriculture Critic/ Official Opposition
In case you missed it, here‘s that graph again. It tells a pretty sad story indeed. But the question is: what are we supposed to do about it?
Come on out on June 1 to hear Corky Evans speak in Powell River. Guaranteed to get you fired up!