Sunday, November 19, 2006

Johnny Appleseed

1774 Postcard of Johnny Appleseed

Yesterday, while working on some new exciting improvements to a "negative carbon" solar energy plant, I realized that we probably needed some kind of live oak scrub that protected the area around the plant modules and that it might also provide some kind of food or feed at the same time. Thus, the large solar plant footprint would not only produce electricity, ( and hydrogen if needed), it would also take CO2 out of the environment and place it in evergreen plants that provide human nourishment with little or no farming.

Today I came across this speech by Richard Heinberg in the Energy Bulletin. Heinberg is the author of the Party's Over, one of the first of the Peak Oil books.

Here is a part of it.

Fifty Million Farmers
by Richard Heinberg
From the text of a lecture to the E. F. Schumacher Society
October 28, 2006

During both World Wars, Americans planted Victory Gardens. During both periods, gardening became a sort of spontaneous popular movement, which (at least during World War II) the USDA initially tried to suppress, believing that it would compromise the industrialization of agriculture.

It wasn’t until Eleanor Roosevelt planted a Victory Garden in the White House lawn that agriculture secretary Claude Wickard relented; his agency then began to promote Victory Gardens and to take credit for them.

At the height of the movement, Victory Gardens were producing roughly 40 percent of America’s vegetables, an extraordinary achievement in so short a time.

In addition to these historical precedents, we have new techniques developed with the coming agricultural crisis in mind; two of the most significant are Permaculture and Biointensive farming (there are others—such as efforts by Wes Jackson of The Land Institute to breed perennial grain crops)

Permaculture was developed in the late 1970s by Australian ecologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in anticipation of exactly the problem we see unfolding before us. Holmgren defines Permaculture as “consciously designed landscapes that mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fiber, and energy for provision of local needs.”

Common Permaculture strategies include mulching, rainwater capture using earthworks such as swales, composting, and the harmonious integration of aquaculture, horticulture, and small-scale animal operations.

A typical Permaculture farm may produce a small cash crop but concentrates largely on self-sufficiency and soil building. Significantly, Permaculture has played an important role in Cuba’s adaptation to a low-energy food regime.

Biointensive farming has been developed primarily by Californian John Jeavons, author of How to Grow More Vegetables. Like Permaculture, Biointensive is a product of research begun in the 1970s. Jeavons defines Biointensive (now trademarked as “Grow Biointensive”) farming as
. . . an organic agricultural system that focuses on maximum yields from the minimum area of land, while simultaneously improving the soil.

The goal of the method is long-term sustainability on a closed-system basis. Because biointensive is practiced on a relatively small scale, it is well suited to anything from personal or family to community gardens, market gardens, or minifarms. It has also been used successfully on small-scale commercial farms." more

As the title of the speech implies, and as many Peak Oil enthusiast insist, civilization and the advanced robotic techniques that we have developed in the last century will simply not be useful in a post carbon age. The answer will be more farmers.

While I do agree that Victory Gardens and Community Gardens should be important contributors to our local food supply, we will still need lots of grains and other food products grown as intelligently and sustainably as we can envision. And in my view, large robotic techniques should and will be used.

But, perhaps more importantly, we would probably do well to erase the lines between farmers and workers, rural fields and urban lawns.

Jim Haynes, a visionary citizen of the planet who lives in Paris, once wrote a little book with the big title, "Workers of the World Unite and Stop Working".

His point is straightforward.

Most of the work we do is shit.

We feed ourselves with 1% of the population.

We build our settlements with less than that.

There are, are course, essential positions that make our lives work, but most of the things that we do can be replaced with robotics or technology; or, they are arguably non-essential. (Sporting goods salesmen are a good example) And worse, much of this senseless toil is environmentally destructive and resource depleting.

A post carbon world does not necessarily mean a collapse and a return to the 19th century.

But it will mean that we must soon accept the challenges that lay before us, and that we should respond to them with a new vision and an inspired openess to new ways of shaping our lives.

Simply running back to the previous centuries will not only not work,

It will make Peal Oil gloom and doom prophesies self fulfilling.

We don't need 50 million more farmers,

We need 50 million Johnny Appleseeds.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tonight I learned that West Texas has a virtual underground sea of salt water. That is what gushes forth when oil is being drilled for, after a certain depth. Desalinization is the key to making West Texas as bountiful with growing fruits and vegetables, even fish adn shrimp for that matter, as it is now for raising cattle. The wind out there is promising for producing energy, too.
There is hope on the Western horizon.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AMEN. Used to most families grew their food, made their clothes and
somebody in the family went out and earned some cash to take care of stuff they couldn't make or barter for. btw, John Jeavons' books are great for ideas on sustainable communities.

...SEEDFOLK by Paul Fleischmann. It's about how community gardens help build friendships and make neighborhoods safer.

We used to have chickens...they were way more entertaining than TV, but of course most things are.

7:56 PM  
Blogger oZ said...

I made a change to the paragraph on work on Monday morning. It needed a little work. (pun intended)

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A diverse population of common, mainstream folks enjoy the theraputic & health benefits of home fruit & vegetable production (gardening), keeping hens for eggs & meat, and composting their kitchen waste. They do so humbly.

Plants are smarter than some people think. Like people, they evolve to survive. But, they're better at it and will be here long after we're all gone. They develop resistance to pesticides and genetic alteration like our own body's immune system figts diseaase. Farmers do not "use increasing amounts of pesticides", to kill reisitant plants. They rotate crops. If a herbicide doesn't work they don't buy it. Farmers are careful with their money.

USDA could devote some amount of farm program subsidies to support farmers through the three-year transition phase from conventional farming into organic farming. It is nearly impossible for most farmers to survive during that time in limbo with low yields and/or no market for their crop. Most farmers would love to get rid of that chemical bill and start getting organic premiums for their crops. Mind you, THEY live in that environment. THEY raise their children in that environment.

California receives an enormous amount of rainfall each year that is is channeled out to sea via bypass levees and aquaducts. Residential development interests contribute lavishly to envrionmental organizations and lobbyists in order to wrest irrigation water from farmers, for the lawns, simmong pools and golf courses of their sprawling housing tracts.

The bio-sustainable authors promote their philosophy, in a structure that certitfies teachers to go out and teach others, then they go teach others, and so on. They trademark what they say & teach, and the copyrights are fiercly protected. Follow the money.

The utopian approach to food production described would certainly cause widespread famine. A fear based viewpoint, promoting a horticultural society for everyone, whether they want it or not. Elitist eco-facisim twadle.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post on Permaculture and sustainability. Water collection and Edible landscapes can do a lot to serve a community.

Imagine parks with maintained fruit tree trees - from pecans to peaches to figs and plums. I know that i am rich when I can pull a peach or fig off my own trees - and I live a mile from down town.

I can collect a enough water off my small cottage roof to get me through the mid-summer drought

1:20 PM  

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