Food Sovereignty and the Collapse of Nations

In his book, Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia, economist and former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, suggests that between 1966 and 1990, 80 million Soviet farmers urbanized stalling grain production and putting pressure on the government to use revenue from oil and natural gas production to buy grain from abroad. When fossil fuel production did not expand in such a way that provided increased profits for purchasing food the Soviets had to borrow foreign money to buy bread. Loans from the West came with strings attached. Those offering the credit demanded that the Soviets no longer use force to keep their states in line and political collapse, not famine, visited The USSR.

Interestingly Mr. Gaidar doesn’t seem to suggest that the collapse of his country happened because a large portion of the population moved from the countryside into the cities and stopped growing their own grain. Instead he seems to place the bulk of the blame for collapse on economics- on the inability of the Soviets to feed themselves not because there weren't enough people growing grain in that country but because of their inability to buy enough grain from other people to feed themselves because of decreasing oil and natural gas revenues. The idea that the Soviet collapse was due in part to the fact that the Soviet Union gave up on its capacity for food self sufficiency (food sovereignty) in an effort to pursue industrialization seems absent from his theory. All of this has interesting implications for the United States regarding our own food sovereignty as the rising cost of food means more people are priced out of a healthy diet.

Here in the United States about 40% of our population farmed for a living around the turn of the 20th century. By 1950 that number had dropped to 12%. Today fewer than 2% do the work of growing food in America as we too have industrialized and urbanized our population. The other 98% of us work at a job which provides us money that allows us to buy food from a small number of domestic producers and from others who grow it abroad. We have given up our own food sovereignty as a people and instead rely almost entirely on an economic system to provide us with meals.

Should we be pleased that the USSR shifted from a rural population towards a more urban population and were then unable to feed themselves leaving their leaders no choice but to consent to revolution in the face of a starving population and no way to pay for food? Maybe. But that is an oversimplification of the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Countries don’t collapse for any single reason but because of a host of pressures. However the agricultural situation surrounding the Soviet collapse suggests that America should be asking herself some questions. If the economic system in the United States, an economic system based on growth, runs up against a depletion of resources that physically slows or stops our ability to grow economically, will we face a similar collapse? Could our nation, like the Soviet Union, come to regret our willingness to hand over our food sovereignty? Will fewer jobs mean less food? If the American economy of growth falters, how will the 98% of non-farmers be able to buy bread? Are we in for a revolution when a certain percentage of the American people are unable to buy food?

I’m not talking about a revolution based on some sort of ideological difference like that between capitalism and communism. I’m talking about a revolution due to an increasing resource scarcity that chokes the life out of industrial agriculture. In an era of unprecedented growth and materialist prosperity, many people have come to believe that the grocery store aisles will always stay stocked, but there is only so much of the natural world we can convert into human resources. Mother Nature has her limits and infinite growth in our finite system is impossible even if short term growth seems to suggest that it is inevitable. Will our failure to recognize this fact visit our dinner tables?

Many Americans think that, unlike the Soviets, we have real choice in this country about what they eat. But our choices are made by grocery store managers, transported to us by truckers and grown a thousand and a half miles away. Our choices are harvested by migrant workers who are paid poverty level wages or worse and grown under contract by corporations whose practices destroy local communities and the biodiversity of healthy ecosystems. Just because we buy our food at the grocery store doesn’t mean we have any real control over how we fed our families. What we have is the illusion of control and in this regard we might be worse off than the Soviets in terms of susceptibility. In a country where most of our heavily lobbied congressional representatives support a farm bill that rewards the makers of cheap junk food to the detriment of our children and those who grow our fruits and our vegetables, can we really say that we have a choice in what we eat? How it’s grown? What chemicals are sprayed on it? Would an agricultural revolution not also give us back real choice?

Of course we have an alternative. The population of the United States of America could make an anticipatory change away from industrial agriculture and decrease our dangerous reliance on it? We can, as a nation, turn away voluntarily from industrial agriculture by rejecting a culture of hyper consumption and promote a culture of creation- not factory farming but local farmers meeting local food needs. We can embrace the freedom and stability of agricultural self sufficiency and local interdependency- the battle cry can be Food Sovereignty! And we can do it in advance of any possible economic troubles because of speculation, liquidation, inflation, or any other manipulative practices that might further distort food price and access. We can begin again to base our society on providing our own needs and the needs of our communities.

This sort of democratization of support systems could lead in turn to a stronger democratic system of governance with the population ruling over themselves not being provided for by the few. A population that can feed itself can express power over a ruling minority by withdrawing their dependency from the system of reliance by which corporatization and globalization have indentured all of us depend on far away others for food. We can grow it in our own front yards and buy it from the besieged family farmer down the road.

The ability of a nation to feed itself locally is important in establishing any attempt at addressing the crises currently facing humankind. Rapid resource depletion, population migration, global climate change, peak energy, a pandemic illness or any combination of these converging calamities could lead to more conflict and the possible collapse of our current system of living. Facing these issues can best be handled through a collaborative effort involving real education and a democratic approach towards problem solving. A swift move towards self sufficiency, along with a return to local interdependency, could go a long way towards mitigating our problems and stabilizing our democratic goals and aims. We could learn something from the Soviets. Not the notion that large-scale communism is untenable- we already know that- but the idea that giving up our ability to grow food locally makes us more susceptible to an economic downturn. Can we use this insight to regain control over our food and our governing institutions before the real want of limits sets in? We shall see.

The ultimate economic pragmatist is the farmer. Any transition toward vibrant local agriculture feeding people will only come about by local farmers realizing economic incentives toward doing so.

Only a small portion of the cost of food goes to the farmer, as most people know. As a grandson of a farmer, and a life-long organic food grower, I don't ever see a problem with the U.S. being able to feed the U.S. The crime of Ethanol from food is the damage it does to the worlds poor people. Also, increased corn production depletes soils. I've never seen this issue brought up to the general public, but it's a meaningful negative consequence.

A great way to support local production is to buy at farmers markets. A great way to leave a smaller carbon foot print is to eat vegetarian. (Well, O.K., vegan is better still, but how does one give up omelets?)

USA Today ethanol commentary published today:

Hey DCMiller -- does the "DC" standard for "District of Columbia?" Just curious.
I too am the grandson of a farmer who epitomized the axiom that farmers live poor and die rich, except that he one-upped that with "died poor" too. Small farmers in northern NH in the 50s had a difficult row to hoe (couldn't resist), although I guess organic farmers are doing better now.

In my slightly-larger than 1/4 acre, over-wooded patch in D.C., I too have been trying to garden organically. I've managed to plant 3 kinds of berries, a dwarf pear tree, 2 super-dwarf peach trees and of course a fig tree. I compost and have a small worm bin in my garage, raised beds, rhubarb, starter-asparagus bed... a pretty unusual gardening effort for northern D.C. And yet I've been gardening for over 50 years and I've never had such poor luck. Partly I have the trees to blame (removed some before the D.C. ban), but 5 hrs/day is barely sufficient. But mostly it is a variety of other problems, everything from wildlife -- raccoons, squirrels, deer... (deer breached the 8' deer fence recently; I guess that's a compliment to the appeal of my back yard) to what I think is a noticeably warmer habitat in just 4 years. Plants that should grow well her are stressed. And in the past 3 years, there's been an invasion of the tiger mosquito (you can't hear her coming) and noseeums, from mid May to early November. The bugs make it difficult to work outside. The end result of all this is that my tomato yield last year could have been a poster child for the book "$64 Tomato."

All this rambling is to point out how difficult urban gardening --maybe any gardening-- has become, and I've been gardening for a long time. I wonder how newbies reacting either to high prices or simply the desire to "localize" will succeed.

Bob -- trying to live sustainably.

Hey Bob
DC is just my initials. Although coincidentally I has born at GWU Hospital.
I agree it can be difficult. But I imagine you would have a great crop if you felt the garden was fundamental to your survival. As far as education, there are probably enough of us gardeners around to get motivated newbies "up to speed".
As far as larger critters, a dog sleeping in the garden is a great deterrent. Also, there are a lot of calories in a deer.........

I know that Sharon contributes to the Yahoo discussion group RunningOnEmpty2. I think she has a blog also;
any other credits you could share??

Sharon's blog is at

(and she contributes on here as jewishfarmer)

This is an interesting article about upper end homeowners putting in vegetable gardens. In many cases they are--for now at least--giving the food away, but I can't help but wonder if they are primarily motivated by concern about the trend in food & fuel prices.
The Vegetable Patch Goes Luxe
July 25, 2008; Page W8

Home vegetable gardening is surging thanks to rising food prices and
health scares with commercial supplies. But at the rarified end of this
horticultural renaissance is a world of backyard produce that has more
in common with designer boutiques than the local farm stand. . .

Some real-estate agents say vegetable gardens are a selling point at
upscale properties that can rank alongside Viking ranges and
imported-tile baths. Connie Antoniou, a broker in North Barrington,
Ill., recently showed a $1.2 million house with a pool, but it was the
vegetable garden that particularly caught the eyes of one couple. They
"spent quite a bit of time" walking along it, Ms. Antoniou says. "It's
an asset to the house." The family moved in two weeks ago.

I believe the modest increase is home food growing is mostly a search for quality. Gardening has always gone in cycles. The current cycle seems to be driven by "foodies".

That was the case through 2007, but there's substantial anecdotal evidence that this year's jump in gardening was significantly larger than previous years, and that the extra was largely motivated by economics.

I know two people, not normally known for their vegetable gardening, who have taken it up this year.

In their cases they are not driven by the glamour of freshly-grown Rocket for yuppie dinner parties.


This fancipants food is indeed "backyard produce that has more in common with designer boutiques than the local farm stand".

All reminds me of Marie-Antoinette dressing up as a shepherdess:

Let them eat oregano.

Still, it's interesting that an increasing number of millionaires are following Rainwater's and Simmons' leads in establishing their ability to grow at least part of their own food.
The Rainwater Prophecy (December, 2005)

Back on the farm that night, he (Rainwater) and Moore discuss future projects with their landscaper, Jenks Farmer, over a glass of wine. Farmer, who has a master's in horticulture and lives on the property, maintains Moore's extensive gardens, including vegetable beds that produce all year round. That morning Rainwater had been surfing the web, researching greenhouses in his quest to further ensure a steady flow of food through the winter. At his prodding, Moore has installed an emergency generator and 500-gallon storage tanks for diesel fuel and water. When Rainwater says that he's thinking about opening a for-profit survivability center, it's not entirely clear that he's joking.

We need to improve the level of redundancy in our current system to cope with outages -this is what the old 'victory gardens' where all about. If I where to design a technical solution with no redundancy in it my job would be on the line PDQ.

So IMO it's close to a scandal that we are applying 'just in time' delivery methodology to our food system in search for additional profit -I'm afraid it will probably take a large number of the population in a major city dying of starvation for us to see the error of our ways on this one.

In the meantime I will keep a very large sack of rice handy 'just in case', I wouldn't like to be roaming the streets and hedges looking for witchity-grubs come the 'great shelf emptying...'


I see that residents in Decatur Georgia are not allowed to have gardens since they are not allowed to use city water due to drought. Home cisterns have become all the rage so they can use rain water. Wouldn't be amazing if we all started buying our vegetables from someone who grew them locally.

I'm starting an organic micro-farm here in France and people are already coming to us for vegetables, even though we're not selling anything until next year. A restaurant rang today asking if we could supply them. Although I'm growing a lot of stuff for our own supply, little is ready and it's a bit embarrassing telling people we've nothing ready to sell.

Simply by word of mouth people have discovered what we are doing and come to us. Whereas I was expecting demand for local produce to increase as peak oil, climate change, etc. took hold, I'm a little overwhelmed by the demand that already seems to exist.

All I have to do is produce the goods (laughs nervously!).

That sounds like a very nice little job to me -the French place food quality high on their list of things worth living for so well done! (You might want to look into 'Aquaponics' and supply them fish too, I'm sure they would love a few Tilappia!)

Just back from Asturias in NW Spain -a better agricultural backwater you could not hope to find and its really nice too. I was impressed by the number of polytunnels, cows and chickens... No fear of food shortages anytime soon there...


We can, as a nation, turn away voluntarily from industrial agriculture by rejecting a culture of hyper consumption and promote a culture of creation- not factory farming but local farmers meeting local food needs.

In other words, tens of millions of American people should ‘voluntarily’ decide to become farm hands employed or self-employed in traditional farms. Quite a tall order.

No doubt they might – but only if the option is hunger or starvation, not ‘hyper-consumption’.

In the UK, last year, 2007, saw vegetable seed sales greater than flower seeds for the first time since World War II and that trend is continuing.

Buying local food:

Here's a site for free software for anyone wanting to start a local food coop:

Here's how the one in Oklahoma operates:

This set-up is now operating in Texas, Iowa, Western Kansas/Eastern Colorado( and
probably other places I don't know about. Typically the coop returns 85 to 95 percent of the consumer
dollar to the farm/ranch producer.

It may be true that collapses aren't caused by one single factor. But the biggest factor that is dooming the US is the way television has been used as a weapon of warfare against the people. Disarm that weapon, and much progress can be made.

Does this news make you feel better? It's talking about live viewers of broadcast TV, so not including delayed DVR and cable.

TV viewers' average age hits 50

Unfortunately "old school tv" has been replaced with MTV and even myspace to an extent. Myspace isnt as bad because you have some interaction which keeps you slightly less mesmerized, but only slightly.

But MTV is absolutely horrid.... its not even music television... has nothing to do with music television. I cant figure it out... lol

I dont think we have to worry too much about industrial agriculture being choked off. People are going to shell out money to buy food. Bread and corn and potatoes are not that expensive, and they all make a good meal. Throw a small amount of meat and butter and milk and a few apples and oranges and watermelons in there, and you've got the cornerstone of dozens of great meals that can be made cheaply. If Americans mostly ate the foods I just listed, and prepared them at home, or ate at friends' and relatives' houses, then we could probably save a million barrels a day of oil. This disgustingly huge ... colossally huge trillion dollar food service industry has grown up around food, yet very little of it is necessary.

Pizza Hut? X
McDonald's? Ugh
Burger King? Blah
Applebee's? Bye Bye
Olive Garden? Poof

And all the hundreds of varieties of boxed food in the big grocery stores? Who needs it.

People will get back to the basics with food. And luckily, we have a lot to fall back on. A lot of graft to get rid of. Get rid of all this, and we'll have 20 times the energy needed to run industrial agriculture. Hate it all we want, we still must acknowledge that industrial agriculture is a far more efficient use of energy than all the Outback's and Chili's and Wendy's we see now. It is very very important to draw a line between industrial agriculture and the food service industry.

The only problem is, what are we going to do with 40 million unemployed if the food service industry collapses?

I've been waiting for signs of suffering in the "eating out" industry. When they start reporting a major downturn I'll know the recession is real.

I live in a part of VT where much of the local economy depends on second home owners, Leaf peepers,summer vacation rentals, and snow ski devotees. IN short tourists. I was out yesterday repairing our driveway part of which is shared with a neighbor. He happens to be a wine distributor and he tells me that orders of wine to restaurants is off substantially.

"Hate it all we want, we still must acknowledge that industrial agriculture is a far more efficient use of energy than all the Outback's and Chili's and Wendy's we see now. It is very very important to draw a line between industrial agriculture and the food service industry.

The only problem is, what are we going to do with 40 million unemployed if the food service industry collapses?"

It's not a question of 'hating it' its a question of breaking through the mental delusion of associating manufacturing economies of scale (e.o.s.), that don't account for the 'externalities' to understanding that nature does not work this way. And so the perceived e.o.s. are rather the spending of the soils carbon reserves and a depletion of the inherent buffering ability of nature.

Another subsidy (in effect) for industrial agriculture is our health as Michael Pollan has pointed out years ago we spent about 5% on health care and 18% on food and now the tables are largely reversed. So the 'cheap food' policy was a trick to get us to offer up our health and the health of the environment for corporate profit.

The energy use stats of 10 calories of fuel oil to produce 1 calorie of food that Industrial agriculture uses, I'm sure don't account for the energy spent on getting and using chemo to treat your cancer as industrial food is a recipe for degenerative disease. As such the idea that large scale agriculture is more efficient is in short fantasy. The U.N. has done studies that reported that small mixed farms can be some 30 times more effictient than large agri-business. The fact that small mixed farms can't pay the bills is a function of the rigged market place that abuses them for their efforts.

It was ,in effect, in a similar way an answer to how do we get more now while at the same time ignoring the long term consequences of this behavior. The only solution to getting your slaves to pay you is if you can get them to spend their generational capital right now. Or as in the case of many farmers where I live (the ones left) subsidize our food by procuring off farm employment to pay the expenses that are not covered by the income from the farm.
The phoney accounting 3 card monty game of pretending that we have no connection with the bio-sphere other than as plunderers, has been revealed for those who want to see it.

"The reports are the largest international collaboration to date to advocate more sustainable farming practices such as crop diversification, use of organic fertilizers, and the adoption of labeling and certification schemes.

The reports are the result of a three-year, $12 million effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Launched in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the IAASTD, led by former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Robert Watson, coordinated the more than 400 experts from the world's universities, think tanks, governments, and industries."

Translated their is only one known sustainable (for centuries anyway -then reversion to forests where applicable for a couple of centuries ley would be called for to have the trees remineralize the top soil)
form of agriculture known and that is small mixed farming, which organizations like the world bank and the w.t.o. have done a great job of destroying and continuing to actively destroy. The model of small farms in India is being replaced with the unsustainable, corporate destroy and screw the grandkids. Big ag-business, Big Pharma, and the other chemical companies tied in with big oil are 1/2 the PROBLEM. The other half of the problem is our predelection for slaves, that we stand by and allow to be sprayed with neurotoxins in the name of winners and losers.

So while food has become more expensive ( I predict that we ain't seen nothing yet) the plight of the small farmer increases, with increased costs.
Follow the money ss the 'subsidies' come down, the barriers to entry and lack of market access will remain for large numbers of farmers.With food shocks inevitable, 'consumers' will tire of hearing of the plight of the 'rich' farmers as their food prices and cancer rates soar (though its hard to greatly increase cancer rates from a rate of 1 in 2 ...Babies born with cancer?) which will exasporate things.

The solution for consumers to help slow this attack is to opt out of the convenience and cornucopia of the shopping centre (good luck with that). The 'convenience' is short term, the pain is real and long term.
Should enough people revert to gardens, I expect 'control' to enact laws and inspectors to help dissuade you from undertaking such a hazardous venture. Able to help you to read the application instructions on the label of your can of malathion and miracle grow to apply enough for a fee that will help make continued business as usual more appealing.

The readers of T.O.D. represent a small faction of awareness. Probably the single most revolutionary act (when everything is weighed and counted) that we can undertake is to plant gardens. And reject the continual propoganda coming from the machine.

This spring we could not find onion sets in any of the stores in the cities near where we live, they were sold out. A conversation with a local nursery owner offered the insight that in 25 years of business he had never seen sales of fruit trees like this year.

A positive perhaps unforseen consequence of this 'renaissance' to local food and gardening is the increased perspective about food and its production and issues like climate that go with it. To say nothing about the cost and the increased health benefits of forgoing a diet of malathion, diazanon and sevin.

There has been a push in suburbia to allow for a return to chickens in the backyard. No doubt people want eggs that weren't produced on offal slaughter waste.

The farmers that I know only expect a change with shortages. The cornucopia presented (representativeness heuristic)at the local shopping mart is powerful magic.

When the currency collapses,(the view from here) the path to a return to parity laws of the past, should be remembered. Perhaps the empire could coin the tomato as currency or perhaps the leaf?

Excellent short call to arms or ploughs, if you will. I'm interesting in your thoughts about possibility for smaller scale and organic farming. In a recent paper, researchers found that for the 10-year study period organic gave lower crop yield initially but rose to the level of conventional systems (of 1980's) in 5 years and stayed there. Energy use was c. 30% less for organic farming.

Could US produce a significant portion of it's food through organic practices and how might that transition happen?

As for the book you quote (which is hugely interesting and recommended, even though it's published by the Brookings Institute), I find other interesting parallels from the book:

  • own oil production had stalled
  • budget deficit was growing
  • foreign creditors were starting to dictate tighter terms
  • the value of the currency had started to deteriorate badly
  • the cost of acquiring food was increasing

and now the kicker

  • the government started printing money

Now I don't know about you, and I'm certainly not forecasting the demise of the US, but there are striking parallels.

Foreign creditors weren't willing to bail out money printing Russia by funding their loans, esp. when it had no plan on how to fix the problem. Will the world fund loans for US? I think it will - up to a point at least as it has been doing now for three decades, but that's pure guess on my part.

Other interesting 'weak signals' to consider as the world situation now develops (again compared to the Russian early 90's situation):

  • stopping the funding of foreign allies (a bad sign on part of the funder)
  • starting an energy blockade against a sovereign nation for political reasons
  • critical basic production sector goes on strike (miners in the case of Russia)
  • inability to fight foreign wars due to impending fiscal and currency catastrophe (Lithuania being an example for Russia)
  • move to a greater regional authority and decision making due to major weakening of the central government

Again, it's fairly ease to see partial parallels, although there are also very remarkable differences between now and then.

On a related note, I find it interesting that futurist Paul Saffo is quite convinced that the challenges we are facing in near future is going to "splinter" nation states into city states, because city is a more optimal size for decision making compared to a huge federal state like US. Splinter might be a too strong a word here, it's worth listening to Saffo's speech for more, if one is interested.

I wonder what the rise of city states would do to the food production worldwide? :)*

* a disclaimer to those who read things too literally: I don't advocate or necessarily believe in this position of city states. It's a mere thought game. Nothing more.

I think the lesson Gaidar is trying to teach us has to do with the strings that could be attached to international credit. Could the central bank of China insist that we withdraw our protection of Taiwan as a precondition for future purchase of T-bills? Could the Saudis do the same to our relationship with Israel? Could the Europeans insist we make massive cuts in our defense budget? Or repeal the Patriot Act because of its human rights violations? These are the real dangers of huge deficits.

Danger? Heck, most of those things would be benefits.

Pennsylvania, a state known for food production, once had many canneries. Not any more. I asked a local farmer about one abandoned cannery in Centre county, and was told that local farmers were unable to match Agribusiness pricing coupled with cheap transportation costs. Despite growing food near a cannery, the locals could not compete with California.

There's something wrong with this situation. Reliance on distant suppliers is going to come back and hurt us... very soon.

I'm thinking the same I contemplate the jar of peaches I'm eating while I read through this thread. Importing food great distances has only been made possible by energy costs that are out of balance with the rest of the world's products. The peaches are from Dole, a US company last I knew. On the package it says they were grown in China, packed in Thailand and obviously shipped here after that. Who knows where the plastic jar containing 24.5 oz of peaches came from.........

To me, this doesn't make any sense at all for a jar of fruit which costs $2.09 at the supermarket. If the true cost of the transportation for those peaches from grower to packager, then across the Pacific to a West coast port and then from there to Michigan via truck were actually factored into the price I'd think that they should sell for more like double that. So, where are the subsidies that enable Dole to deliver a product like that? There's no way on God's green earth that $2.09 reflects the actual cost of bringing those peaches halfway around the world.

Methinks those days are numbered and we will begin to see a resurgence of locally or at least US grown and packaged food.

The responsiveness of a capitalist society to new needs seems to be the critical difference between westerners and the Soviets. I'm far from a political conservative, but I'm fairly positive about our society adapting rapidly to new sources of energy and transportation. There's more VC money chasing alternative energy ideas than there are ideas. The amount of money to be made on such things as inexpensive batteries for electric cars, or lower cost solar, is staggering.

Look at the oil business in Russia. They have hugh amounts of oil, but the Soviets couldn't get their act together to exploit the resource. Even to save communism. Now oil is driving their economy.

I see the decline of oil as "the" energy source as a major opportunity. I don't see the collapse of civilization. Although the city states of ancient Italy were pretty cool...... And if I'm wrong, I hope one of you guys will let me live in your attic.

"Look at the oil business in Russia. They have hugh amounts of oil, but the Soviets couldn't get their act together to exploit the resource. Even to save communism. Now oil is driving their economy."

But look at the economy that they have now. It is really a stretch to call it private enterprise. Or 'free'.

I would call it private enterprise. The mafia is private enterprise :) Greed and the quest for power apparently resulted in finding a lot more oil in Russia. From what I remember, the Soviets couldn't export much oil. They also couldn't grow enough food towards the end of that empire.

I would call it state capitalism. There was a lot of state capitalism in the US and UK during World War II, when the sense of patriotism and emergency stifled the corruption you would expect from such a system. The problem is the growing corruption over the years as the leadership becomes decadent - as we saw in the decay of the American defense industry over 50 years. Putin genuinely believes he's saving Russia from Western enslavement, but does Medvedev?

Outside of oil and gas, infrastructure and the military-industrial complex, Russian economy is indeed based on private enterprise. It is not free enough, over-regulated and corrupt -- by necessity. Yet it is private. The average person in Moscow lives in a privately owned apartment, buys at private stores, and most of her spending goes to private companies. Russia's success in reversing its oil output decline in the early 2000s was also due to privately-owned producers using imported technology.

dcmiller, I agree.

In the article it was said "Just because we buy our food at the grocery store doesn’t mean we have any real control over how we fed our families. What we have is the illusion of control and in this regard we might be worse off than the Soviets in terms of susceptibility."

Illusion of control? We have tremendous control over how we feed our families, more now that at any time in my 58 year lifetime. All kinds of food, organic or not, is available though one might have to go to a small grocery to find some of it. Farmers markets are commonplace here in the Chicago area at least.

I don't believe the current system of agribusiness is sustainable, not only due to ever increasing fuel costs but also due to such things as degradation of the soil, fertilizer runoff, etc. Still, it has become established because it does produce the goods at the lowest prices. Industrialization of farming has made possible crop yields that could not be matched with the kind of family farming that was once common in the United States. Growing your own food just isn't possible for urban dwellers as there isn't enough space immediately available to them to raise enough food to support even a good part of their food consumption throughout the year.

There are many good things we can do such as growing a plot of veggies if there is the space, eating less meat to reduce our footprint on the land, buying organic, but there is no denying that for quality and quantity, price and availability of food, we've been living in a glutton's paradise. There is also no denying that we are reaching the end of the era. Having grown up in the 1950's I well remember the high prices, low quality and small selection of foods in grocery stores (no such thing as a supermarket then). We ate mostly canned food because the produce was too expensive. Somehow we have to arrive at a point that splits the difference between then and now and that can be maintained indefinitely.

A couple responses to your good points, CB.

Industrialization of farming (as you call it), really didn't increase yields. It produced food commodities at the lowest cost. Larger equipment working larger fields. Professional farm management. Specialization. These kinds of things allow big farms to be economically viable.

In the 50's, my interpretation is that the market provided what people (women) wanted - convenience. Women didn't want to spend hours preparing dinner as their mothers did. First can goods, then by the 60's frozen TV dinners!

I will still maintain that the percent of the food bill that goes to the farmer is so small that a big increase in fuel and fertilizer will not have a hugh impact to the middle class family. When food commodity prices increased the last 12 month a bushel of wheat went from something like $10 to $20. A bushel is about 35 liters. How many bushels does an average person consume in a year? I don't know, but 35 liters is a lot of calories.

I'm not saying their won't be the need for middle class families to adjust. Just that I don't feel it will be a hugh change. Perhaps no more sugar snap peas flown from Peru in december. But perhaps that is the point your making. That the extravagant variety of food we have available today will be less affordable for most people.

I'm all for home food growing. A great and satisfying advocation.

A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds. 40 bushels per acre is considered a baseline yield. We grow wheat for our own use, bake all our own bread (for a family of two middle-aged adults, and a college student that is home in the summer). And I grind wheat and bake cookies at the smallest provocation. Given all that, we use about 200 pounds of wheat a year for perhaps 20% of our diet. Or 1/2 acre or $60.

"I will still maintain that the percent of the food bill that goes to the farmer is so small that a big increase in fuel and fertilizer will not have a hugh impact to the middle class family. When food commodity prices increased the last 12 month a bushel of wheat went from something like $10 to $20. A bushel is about 35 liters. How many bushels does an average person consume in a year? I don't know, but 35 liters is a lot of calories."

Everytime someone touches that bushel, the price doubles.

We have almost zero grain stockpile.

famine stalks the US now.

And the Middle Class by the time the housing market stabilizes, will be no more.

Just an aside, why do folks here think the Okies/Arkies
just up and decided to go to California to pick oranges
in 1932?

One more BTW-how many people here realize that we just sold wheat to Iran?

"The current sales pace in the region is well ahead of last year and a 65,000 MT sale of hard red winter (HRW) to Iran reported last week is the first U.S. sale to that country in 17 years.

According to the USDA/Foreign Agriculture Service, Syria and Iraq are suffering from the most severe drought in a decade, cutting production in both countries by half. Although Iran received favorable moisture early in the growing season, conditions deteriorated rapidly this spring and cut production by an estimated five MMT (33 percent) from last year, the smallest harvest since 2001."

"Look at the oil business in Russia. They have hugh amounts of oil, but the Soviets couldn't get their act together to exploit the resource. Even to save communism. Now oil is driving their economy."

To be fair to the old regime, they did mobilize vast resources to develop and produce West Siberian fields in the 1970s. Soviet production peaked in the late 1980s but the collapse was due not so much to the peak as to very low oil prices.

Thanks to Western Siberia, the USSR was able to buy enough wheat and consumer goods in the West to both keep its subjects fed and clothed and sustain its inefficient, wheat-gorging cattle farms. That lasted for about 10 years, 1978-1988 or so. When the USSR collapsed, Russia (now without Ukraine, the USSR's key grain producer) suddenly became self-sufficient in grain. Why? Mostly because it let its state-owned cattle farms collapse.

I suspect Gaidar has much more to say about absurd resource allocation in the USSR.

Does anyone know of a concise, cogent summary of the current farm bill? I tried to read the actual bill (742 pages), but I was falling asleep at the computer. I'm trying to understand exactly what was passed, but all I seem to find are either supporters or detractors praising or dissing it. I'm looking for a neutral summary so I can understand it better.

No one understands it. That is its beauty.

It is a political sausage that satisfies the politicians interested in it. While it is called a farm bill most of the money goes to food stamps which pleases urban representatives.

In return rural areas get grain and other subsidies if prices fall and plums like ethanol subsidies and mandates. Those who think that ethanol subsidies and mandates can be just abolished with the stroke of pen had better think about food stamps as well. These compromises are reached after months and months of haggling. Even President Bush could not stop it with his rarely used veto pen.

Ethanol producing states are not going to go along with a farm bill that only benefits urban areas. Such is the dilemma of politics. If you want something, you have to give something in return. There is usually no winner take all in legislation even though some think there should be.

Those who think representatives of corn growing areas should or will vote against their constituencies self interest are delusional.

This farm bill was different.

The grain/fiber associations were forced to eat

The US wheat harvest is over 70% completed
and wheat is still over $8 the bushel.

Minus $2 basis to the farmer.

Bunge catching the difference.

As good as any:

Someone gave up something between here:

Congress overrides Bush farm bill veto — again
Jun 19, 2008,

By Elton Robinson
Farm Press Editorial Staff

In an unusual case of farm bill déjà vu, Congress voted yesterday to override President Bush’s second veto of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act....

and here:

Farm bill: Several provisions delayed until 2009

Jul 3, 2008 8:08 AM

The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 that U.S. farmers will be hitched to for the next five years has something old, something new, something borrowed and certainly something to make a few farmers blue.

Here are key provisions of the 2008 farm bill developed by the National Cotton Council for a series of informational hearings on the new farm bill.

"economist and former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, suggests that between 1966 and 1990, 80 million Soviet farmers urbanized"

Does anyone else find this number questionable? That's more than 3.3 million farmers a year leaving the collectives and moving to the cities in a society that, at the time, tightly controlled where its people lived and what they did. I have a hard time understanding how such a population shift was possible without state approval and support.

something happened.

The Great Grain Robbery happened in 1972.

It's remarkable how russian/american ag mimic each
other thru the years.

Between 1966 and 1990 there were radical changes in US ag as well.

Like this-the two towns of both apprx. 3500 that I grew up in

Each has less than a 1000 today.

I almost want to share this article with friends. But it's full of grammatical errors that make me cringe.

Can the editors here at TOD maybe clean this one up a bit???

It's about more than buying local produce, it's about learning how to actually cook. I'm in my 30's, I find most people my age "cook" by taking the food out of the box and putting it in the oven. Health effects aside, the carbon footprint of a manufactured pizza is huge. You first have to get the ingredients to the factory, then create the pizza, then ship it 4000kms to eat it.

I do see some positives to high energy costs. More people living local, less mammoth SUV's taking up road space & people learning how to live a more simplistic lifestyle.

Wow!!.....Where to start?
Comparing the former USSR economic collapse with a
pending food shortage in the USA and giving reasons
such as higher production by fewer farm workers and
not mentioning the Bolsheviks and thier ideology and
poorly implemented plans as the cause I found was
somewhat distressing.
And to imply that farmers who grow food are at fault
for the processors highly refining the raw product and
thereby making it unhealthy was another loop I didnt see comming.
Not mentioning that the USA actually has a food trade
deficit and imports more food products then it exports
also confused me.
The mention that Americans consume most foods that on
average are produced 1000 plus miles from the
consumer wasnt enough to drive the point home about
consuming more locally produced products.
The main reason the USSR collapsed was it went broke
spending on the cold war before the USA did and the
Bolsheviks are parasites better at leeching the
wealth of others and not on spending said stolen wealth
and resources wisely.
I dont mean to say Americans couldnt find themselves
in a state of malnutrition...on the contrary.
Obesity and diabetes main cause is malnutrition.
Malnutrition being discribed as any diet that causes
an unhealthy condition...not just lack of food but too
much of the wrong foods.
Consumption actually used to be a medical term for a
person considered terminal ill.
Today with Orwellian double speak....consumption is
a good thing.
I cant wait for the down arrows to grow like E-coli
spores in a petri dish thats been swabbed with a
tomato from my local grocery store.

I don't know how far the analogy with the Soviet collapse can be taken, but both situations involve a serious disruption of previously functioning (though dysfunctional) food supply systems. Although for several years I have learned to grow nearly all my vegetables, eat in season, and improve my soils, I was humbled by the recent reading of David Montgomery's book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.

This book looks at what the top 12 inches of the earth mean to us and the role it played in shaping world history. The discussion about the US really evokes the sense of our hubris, when set after the discussions of Babylon, Greece, Rome, China, Britain, the Mayas and many other great powers and the consequences of their relationship to soil. Kruschschov lost power over agriculture, and the severe land degradation their programs caused accelerated the Soviet collapse.

The Soviet experience is instructive, but here we would have the first instance of the collapse of a fully industrialized private agricultural model which has been particularly destructive of our soils. Set against the history of such episodes that Montgomery covers, I guess all you could say is that we had it coming to us.

The main reason the USSR collapsed was it went broke
spending on the cold war before the USA did

Actually not... The USA in fact declared bankruptcy on the 15th of August 1971, though relatively few seem to have noticed. Since then, they have had some friends in the middle east propping up their economy and currency.

Anyone reading this article, or reading The Oil Drum, if you've got a back or front yard and aren't growing some of your own food, even if it's just one thing, like lettuce, or radishes (very easy to grow), or beans, or black-eye peas, is missing a great opportunity to get a head start before the rush. The rush is going to come, when seed will be much more expensive and hard to find. The rush will come when it's hard to find supplies and equipment for gardening. Start now. With every thing you grow you learn something more. With every year of composting the leaves that fall on your lawn, you can improve your soil. Rake the leaves into a pile, enclose it with some chicken wire or hardware cloth, add a little of your own urine for nitrogen balance, keep moist, and turn a couple of times in the year, and after 12 months you'll have black gold. Get busy. Yeah, it's work, but it's very rewarding ... and as I said, you'll learn more with each additional step you take in building or expanding your garden. Every season you'll get better at it.

This should really be a Bob Shaw post but here goes:

What is going to kill production ag and, especially, home gardens is a lack of nutrients/fertilizers. First, home gardeners waste fertilizers because they never do soil tests. They also don't know the signs of nutrient deficiencies. Second, they believe food production hype. They've read Farmers for Forty Centuries and and read permaculture stuff and think it's easy to have productive soils. Baloney. All of these methods move nutrients from location A to location B.

It's bed time so I'm going to throw up my hands.


Everybody's gotta start somewhere. My parents gardened for 40 years, in the same plots, and succeeded pretty well without much fertilizer other than kitchen compost, some cow manure, and occasional peak moss. Not everything they tried would grow, but they always had some pretty good produce. During some rough years in the 70's Mom put back hundreds of quarts of canned food, and even us kids had gardens that did OK. I doubt we got the productivity of a factory farm, and I think survival by gardening would be a full-time year round job, but with some practice it seems possible to me.

In your opinion what IS the best way to become a self-sufficient farmer?

In your opinion what IS the best way to become a self-sufficient farmer?

Become a hunter/gatherer.

How did your Mom plow the garden?

Hello Todd,

Thxs for the plug, but I am hoping some of 400 agricultural experts that the UN recently convened for a conference would respond to this keypost and thread discussion here on TOD:
International Commission Calls for ‘Paradigm Shift’ in Agriculture
by Ben Block on April 18, 2008

A commission of international agriculture experts unveiled a series of reports on Wednesday calling for an end to "business-as-usual" farming practices to avoid widespread environmental degradation and increasing food scarcity.

The group of more than 400 experts, known as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), concluded through its global and regional studies that governments and industries need to discontinue environmentally damaging farming methods. Farmers should have greater access to agricultural technology and science, especially in the developing world, to ensure productivity increases without further environmental degradation, the reports say.

The reports are the largest international collaboration to date to advocate more sustainable farming practices such as crop diversification, use of organic fertilizers, and the adoption of labeling and certification schemes.

The reports are the result of a three-year, $12 million effort by the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Launched in 2002 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the IAASTD, led by former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Robert Watson, coordinated the more than 400 experts from the world's universities, think tanks, governments, and industries.

The homepage of the IAASTD:

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

led by former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Robert Watson, coordinated the more than 400 experts from the world's universities, think tanks, governments, and industries.

Maybe they should have included some farmers?
Sounds to me more like they are working for the big agri-corp businesses than individual farmers.

I agree. Synthetic/industrial fertilisers have masked the degradation of the soil and allowed us to overshoot the carrying capacity of the lands farmed. And I also agree organic methods do mainly constitute moving organic nutrients from A to B (ie. taking organic material from large areas and concentrating them into smaller productive areas). Which if undertaken on a worldwide basis would further erode the Earth's carrying capacity as vast amounts of organic material are scavenged from far and wide (take animal feed as a current example).

Another factor which I've not seen considered is the huge amount of energy needed to acquire and use organic materials required for organic farming. I would imagine that a move from industrial agriculture to organic would also entail a significant shift of energy use from say fertiliser manufacturers to the individual farms. Large scale organic farming may well be more energy intensive overall.

I am using organic methods as it suits my circumstances and philosophy, but I do not believe it is the silver bullet which will solve the World's problems. In fact, a large scale shift to organic farming may well be disastrous IMO. But essentially that is the problem with overshoot, there is no solution other than to extend carrying capacity or reduce population.

Any disruption in the supply of fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides will lead to rapid and severe food shortages worldwide. It would also cause the cost of seed to skyrocket. I guess what we're heading towards is something like "price discovery" in the stockmarket, a point where the crisis comes into view, followed by fear and panic worldwide.

What we need is ecologically sane agriculture.

That means ceasing to grow Howard T. Odum's potatoes "made partly out of oil" and instead moving to a truly sustainable system.

Without any real sustainabilty as the baseline, measures such as "yield per acre" are meaningless (a point Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen raised over 30 years ago).

"What we need is ecologically sane agriculture."

This will produce enough for, say, 2 billion.

That's the figure stated by David Pimentel in recent years. He must be an optimist, for in the 70s he was citing half that number.

Peak Round Up*

Trademark Monsanto


Peak Glyphosate. ;}

Here in north east Ohio its a rather simple matter to
grow a garden.
Compost is readily available as many people in
suburbia, toss out their leaves in the fall and all
grass clipping throughout the year, on the curb for
the garbage men to haul away.

The soil is naturally fertile and sandy loam. Potatos
grow well in straw without the need for tilling.
Troy bilt <-----(proper spelling) tillers can be bought
off craigslist for a few hundred dollars for those
who want to turn the soil too dust if they desire.

Allowing some product to bolt to seed and not using
hybred seed to start, is really simple.
No till gardening isnt rocket science either.

Give me 100 million people who never gardened and
100 million people who never smelted iron ore and
machined an engine and let me test the groups to see
which endeavor people would most likely fail at.
Iam really putting myself out on a limb here....but
I venture to guess the people gardening are gonna be
giving zucchini to the hungry, failed, engine builders
who are walking to the autoparts store to ask Biff
behind the counter to give them some more sage advice.

On more then several occassions while living in
western PA in Northern Cambria county, when going too
town to pick up or drop off my mail, I found it
necessary to lock the doors of my vehicle.
The reason wasnt because someone would heist my 4 year
old pine scented cardboard rearview mirror ornament...
It was because they would pack your seats with plastic
bags and cardboard boxes , filled to overflowing with
vegetables from their gardens.
Since I had an over abundance of my own, I just used
it in the same fashion...throwing the whole lot on
my truck patch and tilling it back into the earth.

Too think that people are gonna starve to death in the
USA in the near term isnt really doing P.O. a service.
In truth, untold millions are sick and the number of
deaths caused by over consumption cant really be grasped or measured.

I will reiterate once more in an effort to drive home
the point.
MILLIONS are dying now for eating over processed and
over abundant foods that ARENT natural.
This isnt ancient Romans eating off lead dinner plates
but its close enough.

Now i will end with a rousing rendition of .....
Everyone sing along now when the corus comes around again!

Ahhh yes.

The local extending logic to the general.

My own family is overburdened with produce as well.

But let's just say that the distribution system is
non functioning.

soviets and americans and irish have died within sight of
filled grain elevators.

You've been listening to Prairie Home Companion where I heard that song played last week.

One must can those tomatoes to eat during the winter. You gotta dry and shell your peas.You gotta dry your corn on the cob so you can grind it into meal. You gotta.......yada yada.yada.........

Sure anyone can eat out of a garden during the brief time its producing...that time comes to a fast stop. Say along about 'right now'. The corn ears are ready,cabbage is done for,beans and peas are over,lettuce is gone,no one wants any more squash the soil is hard and dry and your just are tired of it all and the days are very long and very hot and you sweat like a drunken hog from midmorning to late afternoon and then ...........I live in the Midwest. I have very good soil and lots of rain but...well shit happens...always has and always will and then mother nature takes over....

Airdale....mhhhhh.... city folk...mhhhhhh

All of these methods move nutrients from location A to location B.

QED. Brilliant. As usual, I suppose you'll just get the silent treatment from your adversaries. So I'm not surprised you throw up your hands now and then. But keep it coming all the same.


Reading all this nice yuppie ideas on 'backyard' gardening I am struck by the inanity of it all.

Weather,sufficient rain,supplies of seed stock,gas to run tillers,means to store and preserve,no pesticides,no insecticides,no N,P,K and the list goes on and on.

These people are playing 'wishing games'.

If your not way way into your soil and all the rest then its too late and you won't make it. If you not out in the outback already then its likely too late. You neighbor will easily pick you off and take what he wants or the local gangbangers from the nearby city/hood will take it and you will die begging on your knees.

I think most all posting these wishing games are about 3 years too late. Its coming already folks. $40 a bu for home grown peaches, signs of the times,signs of the times.

Airdale-been there and done it all and its not that frigging easy especially for yuppies and women who have to go to school to learn how to light an oven........watching Emeril or Iron Chefs won't make it

Airdale:Youve obviously confused me with a YUPPY young
urban professional blah blah blah. Nope not a BUPPY either or a GUPPY.I happen to be as old as the scratch
but younger than the itch.I stand by my assertions that
growing food isnt as complicated as tech or industrial
skills.Coal mining in drift seams was only abandoned a
few decades ago where I came from.Using Shetland ponies
(Scout) and (Major)Building maple syrup cabins and an
old Frick-ott-2 saw mill run by water that drives a 56
inch saw blade and you can still see it working...but
will be asked to carry the rough hewn boards or slabs
or rake the saw dust or work the logcams to load the logs or maybe use a double bit axe to debark the logs,and as for canning and freezing as compared to drying,I will take dried tomatos over canned or frozen
any day as canning consumes energy as drying doesnt
Fruits are great dried also,but I wouldnt tell any city
slickers any of these ancient secrets cause we dont want to give em any ideas.And my second crop of peas is
just starting as is my third of salads and sweating is
good,just ask the Romans who built saunas and had indoor plumbing 2 thou yrs ago.Yuppys pay money to go to gyms and sweat didnt you know?

Ahhhh ...well my reply was to Todd but applied in general to the newer
members of TOD that I have no reckoning of as I have been mostly gone from here for some time. So ........well your in Scotland then?

My comments were more towards Merckans and their upcoming tribulations.

Perhaps a far different climate but here in July the gardens except for tomatoes is pretty much over. Some try to do a fall thing but I have never seen it work out that well. Best to get it all in at one time as much as possible and as early as possible in order to miss the insects.

I lost near all my cabbage to the looper worms. The deer this year have missed my corn and beans. I had to shoot at a few of them anyway and leave lots of urine in strategic spots.


America needs to stay FOCUSED, AWARE and EDUCATED.

History reminds us that every time oil prices peak and the North American market/consumers start to discuss alternative energy sources, the oil exporting countries start to trim down their prices. History also tells us that the oil exporting nations have been very successful in the past and in fact, we have lost our enthusiasm and dropped many of our alternative energy initiatives after oil prices are reduced.

WE need to stay focused this time.

1) Al Gore and his energy initiative is on course.
2) T. Boone Pickens and his wind power initiative is on course.
3) The BG Automotive Group mass production electric vehicle program is on
course along with renewable solar energy charging option.
4) Richard Branson from the UK is on course.
5) The Gas Reduction Act of 2008 might not be the most environmentally sound
solution, but yet it shows that Congress has finally realized that we have an
energy crisis (again), and a real threat to our national security.

The continued dependence on foreign oil is a threat to our long term democratic values. We must become an energy independent nation, and with this, some sacrifices will have to be made by the American consumer.

Be aware!!
We are exporting approximately USD $700 Billion dollars per year of U.S. currency. The majority of this money is being transferred to the Trillion dollar “sovereign wealth funds”. This is USD $700 Billion not being spent on America’s educational system, health care and security.

The “sovereign wealth funds” are directly buying major interests (large blocks of stock) in U.S. companies, including most of the major banks. Also, billions of dollars of “sovereign wealth fund” money is being invested in our hedge funds, private equity firms, and the investment banking industry. A few of these firms are directly and indirectly investing large sums of money into our “gas combustion” automobile industry. Do we want our auto industry in the direct or indirect control of the firms that are supplying us oil? This is an interesting topic for an investigative reporter.

There are automotive consulting companies in Michigan (heart of our auto industry), lobbying States and our Federal Government, NOT to subsidize the Electric Vehicle industry. The latter seems to be contradictory to what the American public would like to see from our automobile industry. After the billions (excess of $20 billion) the automotive companies have lost in the past 6 months producing gas combustion vehicles, you would think they too would change course. Changing course is not adding 2-4 miles per gallon w/Hybrids. Drastic measures in our auto industry must take place and NOW!

Do not let the temporary reduction in oil prices push us off course….AGAIN.

Read, Read, Read- Stay on top of the issues. Let’s not be fooled again.


For all the talk that the world is running low on crude oil, there sure have been a lot of significant recent discoveries of the stuff. Just last year, PetroChina (NYSE: PTR) announced one of the largest discoveries in China in decades, which fellow Fool Toby Shute quickly dismissed as a puddle compared to Brazilian energy giant Petrobras's (NYSE: PBR) own massive discovery.

And the worst thing we can do is consume it.

IPCC AR 4, 2007:


anyone think there is a way out of this without 5 Billion people dying?

Yeah.....pick me...pick me
Ive got a idea.
Well......not really an idea, but a historical reference.
Some dame who had the chutzpah to order the entree for
all the others in her little dinner party exclaimed
And the first chop-o-matic food processor was born! wasnt used to chop food at first....but
a guy named Ron Popeil was in the crowd and saw the
before mentioned skirt lose her head and came up with
the idea of a food processor.

BUT WAIT!!!....theres more!!! there isnt...just

Five billion people won't die unless they get nuked or something, and even then we'd have to work pretty hard on it.

As Colin Tudge points out (though he overstates the points somewhat), at the end of the last Ice Age the world population was about 10 million. By 1930 when fossil fuel inputs started becoming significant - the start of the Oil Age - it was 2,000 million. Thus, traditional organic agriculture took us from 10 to 2,000 million people.

Today it’s 6,700 million, more or less - but the total area planted with crops has increased by 50% since the 1930s, so that we can fairly say that 3,000 million were and could be supported without any fossil fuel inputs worth speaking of. Thus, from 10 to 3,000 million - with no black crap except animal manure.

And of course today around half the world’s food, currently sufficient for 10 billion people (if evenly distributed and not diverted to livestock and biofuels) is produced without significant fossil fuel inputs. So that we can fairly say that simple improvements in organic farming and spreading of the use of land can support 5,000 million at least.

Thus, the implication that around 5,500 million of the world’s people owe their existence to fossil fuel inputs into agriculture is wrong.

There is relatively little oil involved in growing food. A small amount is used to make pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. But nitrogen fertiliser is made from natural gas. Oil is used in harvesting food (specifically, tractors and combine harvesters for grains) and in transporting food, while coal (for electricity) is used in storing food (canning it, refrigerating, etc). A lack of oil thus does not mean less food can be grown, rather it means that it must be grown more locally.

It’s also worth remembering that peak oil does not mean that one day the tap runs dry. It simply means that the supply of oil drops and its price rises; the same goes for natural gas and coal. At some point, fossil fuels become too valuable to just burn - but they may still be available at a decent price for other uses - such as agriculture.

I realise that this non-doomerist message of "no dieoff" is one which will disappoint a lot of people who were really hoping to be sitting on top of their ammo crates gunning down hordes of cannibal suburbanites, but really that's the way things look.

None of which means there will be no trouble, no civil conflicts and the like; merely that there is nothing inherent in agriculture which insists that we use fossil fuel inputs. We strongly overstate their importance in keeping us alive, especially oil.

Analyzing the period of the Great Depression in the USA, the author notes a remarkable similarity with events taking place in the USSR during the 1930s. He even introduced a new term for the USA – defarming – an analogue to dispossession of wealthy farmers in the Soviet Union. “Few people know about five million American farmers (about a million families) whom banks ousted from them lands because of debts. The US government did not provide them with land, work, social aid, pension – nothing,” the article says.

“Every sixth American farmer was affected by famine. People were forced to leave their homes and go to nowhere without any money and any property. They found themselves in the middle of nowhere enveloped in massive unemployment, famine and gangsterism.”

Famine killed 7 million people in USA - Pravda.Ru

Then you will agree that slavery is the only alt.

Oh, they'll all die, alrright. That's the nature of life and death.

We're born, and thereafter the only certainty is that we'll die.

The question then becomes one of WHEN, not if.

So, are the coming troubles, if indeed they are coming (just covering my ass here :-p ), going to reduce life expectancy and by how much?

And which groups are the most vulnerable?

And what effect will that have on our economies (not that they matter, but we all know that already, don't we?) and others' states of mind?

Actually the role of fossil fuels in human population increase began much earlier: with coal for fueling railroad locomotives and steamships and for making the large quantities of steel needed for rails and large bulk carriers. With cheapish large bulk transport, grain could be easily shipped to where supplies were short and guano and other earlier fertilizers shipped to increase yield. Yes, you can do this with wooden sailing ships, but at a much smaller scale. This, together with the increased power of the state in insuring cleaner public water supplies and the new crops from the Americas, were the probably the great drivers of the human population explosion. Vaccines and antibiotics arrived on the scene pretty late in the population explosion. I suspect 3 billion in population is a bit high for a world without oil or coal. Any demographers here to comment more knowledgeably? Demographers must study this question.

And to further add that those doomers who sit on ammo
cans should have done a little research and learned that black powder is made using 33% charcoal thats easily made from wood...coal dust in a pinch will work
and 33% sulfur and 33% saltpeter also know as potasium
nitrate that can be made from pissing on a pile of wood
Of course the doomers have put in store copius amounts
of Marlboro ciggs and will no doubt be smoking nervously as they prepare this mixture and being blown
all over the rural bunker the question will be asked
"If a doomer blows up and no ones around to hear the explosion...does it make a sound"?
Any idiot can make a howitzer from a oil depleted truck
drive shaft thats sitting on the Mad Max landscape and
use the fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror
as wadding and then cap the charge with some worthless
coinage that they dug from the bench seat cushions,hey
I dont want anyone calling Hollywood with this script
and not inviting me to the premier cause that would make me stop writting on this blog. And Jay Leno is
leaving NBC this fall and I wont be getting those fat
checks for the jokes his writer's steal from me now.

The key in growing food is to remember that, on a plant-based diet, you need calories and other nutrients, such as minerals. Vegetables, for the most part, will provide minerals and vitamins, but not calories. Only fruit will provide a diet rich in calories. So, while vegetable gardens are a cool thing to have, they will not sustain you. Fruit, on the other hand, will sustain you, during its season.

The point of this message is to plant fruit trees, now, since they often take five years or more to bear fruit. Plant a variety of trees so from month to month, or season to season, there will always be a new fruit coming on as the current fruit starts to fade. If you live in the north, erect a greenhouse in which you can grow fruit trees.


And don't forget to choose varieties that will be suited to what your local climate will be like in 5 (and more) years time, not now.

Oh, the joys of climate change.

I’d be one of those who grow basilic and my own tomatoes (they look so pretty!) in a small vegetable garden. ;)

Looking into it, for interest’s sake, going around locally, etc. my rough calculations, and all the advice I received showed that doing what private individuals generally do in their ‘gardens’, without being terribly savvy, or innovative, and following local practice, costs more than buying the same, or similar at least, in farmer’s market, or supermarket, for local goods. Without the cost of labor, which is supposedly compensated by doling out the produce and the satisfaction of it all. No surprise there.

In two places: Geneva Switz and S of France. In Switz. such amateurishness cannot compete with any professional, even a part-time one-man operation; in S of France water costs are the stumbling block: and fertilizers are very expensive, going up all the time.

Of course all the ‘costs’ are artificial, or rather set in a huge web of international trade, local and national rules and regulations, taxes, etc. (eg. subsidies to farmers, special water deals to those who produce a lot, EU regulation in France, etc.) Nevertheless, I formed the impression that such minuscule patchwork, amateurish food-growing is nonsense, beyond the kudos or personal satisfaction it may afford.

The best thing to do is to support - subsidize, help along, buy from, also create, etc. - local producers, and to have the means to control or influence them somewhat, that is, engage in politics, including World politics.

Farmers in France will let fields lie fallow because it is lucrative (EU regs); farmers in Switz. may switch from one ‘cash crop’ to another at the blink of an eye, depending on world markets, fashion, subsidies, etc. Extreme example, from apricots (a glut of them since 50 years here...) to saffron - dusty gold, wild profits, but a gamble... Apricots can be eaten by people all summer long and can be processed in various ways, to jam, sauce, drinks, liqueurs, etc.; saffron is a luxury item. (OK the point is simple.)

It is also clear that private ‘gardens’ are a possibility in many parts of the US (land, temperate climate), that is why ppl dicuss. Not so in Singapore, Zurich, Bangladesh, Algeria, etc.

Here is a possibility of a nice, modern farm in as little as five to ten years.

Electricity from PV solar and wind makes hydrogen
Hydrogen is used for two purposes:
1) Making anhydrous ammonia (Nitrogen fertilizer)
2) Fuel for equipment.

Nitrogen from the air, water from a well, sunlight.
No CO2 emissions.
Process works whenever the sun shines or the wind blows.

There are hundreds of companies working on the pieces that are needed to make this happen in the real world.

I think you may be a bit optimistic.

I think you may need a square kilometer of solar panels to make fertilizer and fuel cell hydrogen in any meaningful quantities.

Organic farming is actually viable if the desire is there. Remember grandparents had no chemical Nitrogens, and they made farming work.

Plant Castor beans for lamps, ox for plough, wife for labour, kids for clean up and all is well.