Peak Oil And World Food Supplies

This is a guest post by Peter Goodchild, author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is This piece was previously published at

Only about 10 percent of the world’s land surface is arable, whereas the other 90 percent is just rock, sand, or swamp, which can never be made to produce crops, whether we use “high” or “low” technology or something in the middle. In an age with diminishing supplies of oil and other fossil fuels, this 10:90 ratio may be creating two gigantic problems that have been largely ignored.

The first is that humans are not living only on that 10 percent of arable land, they are living everywhere, while trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes bring the food to where those people are living. What will happen when the vehicles are no longer operating? Will everyone move into those “10 percent” lands where the crops can be grown?

The other problem with the 10:90 ratio is that with “low technology,” i.e. technology that does not use petroleum or other fossil fuels, crop yields diminish considerably. As David Pimentel showed in 1984 in his “Food and Energy Resources,” with non-mechanized agriculture, corn (maize) production is only about 2,000 kilograms per hectare, about a third of the yield that a farmer would get with modern machinery and chemical fertilizer. If that is the case, then not only will 100 percent of the people be living on 10 percent of the land, but there will be less food available for that 100 percent.

Incidentally, my use of Pimentel’s study of corn is mainly due to the fact that, although his analysis is only a small and limited one, it provides a handy baseline for other studies of population and food supply. In general, a vegetarian diet requires far less of the world’s resources than a carnivorous one, although I have my doubts about the dietary wisdom of avoiding meat entirely. More specifically, corn is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life; the native people of the Americas lived on it for thousands of years. Corn is high-yielding and needs little in the way of equipment, and the more ancient varieties are largely trouble-free in terms of diseases, pests, and soil depletion. If it can’t be done with corn, it can’t be done with anything.

Actually, of course, there is a third problem that arises from the first two. This is the fact that if 100 percent of the people are living on 10 percent of the land, then the land may have so many people, roads, and buildings on it that a good deal of that land will be unavailable for farming. This problem of disappearing farmland is certainly not a new one; for centuries it seemed only common sense to build our cities in the midst of our paradises.

Let us play with some of these numbers and see what happens. These are only rough figures, admittedly, but greater accuracy is impossible because of the question of how one defines one’s terms, and even more by the fact that everything on this poor planet is rapidly changing. The present population of the Earth is about 7 billion, but there is no point in being more specific, since the number is increasing daily. Nevertheless, 7 billion should be a large enough number to make us seriously consider the consequences. (What other large mammal can be found in such numbers?) When I was born, in 1949, there were less than 3 billion, and it amazes me that this jump is rarely regarded as significant. These 7 billion people in turn live on only about 29 percent of the surface of the Earth, i.e. on dry land, which is about 148 million square kilometers.

Of that 148 million square kilometers, the arable portion, as I said, is only about 10 percent, or 15 million square kilometers. If we divide that 15 million square kilometers into the present figure for human population, we arrive at a ratio of about 470 people per square kilometer of arable land.

Is that last ratio a matter for concern? I would think so. A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from Pimentel’s hectare of corn is about 7 million kilocalories. Under primitive conditions, then, 1 hectare of corn would support only 3 or 4 people — or, in other words, 1 square kilometer would support 300 or 400 people. And all of these are ideal numbers; we are assuming that all resources are distributed rationally and equitably. (We are also assuming no increase in population, but famine and the attendant decrease in fertility will take care of that matter very soon.) Even if every inch of our planet’s “arable portion” were devoted to the raising of corn or other useful crops, we would have trouble squeezing in those 470 people mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Given such figures, I have little patience with writers who sprinkle the words “alternative,” “sustainable,” and “transition” over every page. Simple arithmetic is all that is needed to show that such a lexicon is unsuitable.

Nor can I do anything but shake my head when my “organic gardener” friends tell me that they can grow unlimited amounts of food merely by the liberal application of cow manure. Eliot Coleman, Andrew W. Lee, and other recent writers on “low-tech” agriculture (not to mention any farmers of the old school) agree that if cow manure is used on a hectare of farmland, for the first year of crop production at least 100 metric tons are necessary, and after that about 20 tons per year might be adequate. However, cows take up land. Another older but valuable book is Frances Mooore Lappe’s “Diet for a Small Planet,” in which she points out that one cow requires over a hectare in pasturage; that is in addition to the hay, grain, and other foods that the animal is given.

How many cows are needed for all that manure? I neither know nor care. All that is certain is that the use of cows to keep a garden in production would multiply the necessary land area enormously. There would also be no mechanized equipment to deliver the manure. The knowledge of animal husbandry, under primitive conditions, could certainly not be learned overnight. But I can say from experience that reality hits when the sun is going down and the shovel is getting heavy.

Many of the false figures that appear in discussions of the future are the result of armchair gardening of the worst sort. Growing a tiny patch of lettuce and tomatoes is not subsistence gardening. To support human life one must be growing grains and similar crops high in carbohydrates and protein, and these foods must be in quantities large enough to supply three full meals a day, every day, for every person in the household. We must also consider that in apocalyptic times it will certainly not be possible to stroll over to the tap and use a hose to pour unlimited amounts of water over one’s plants; on a large garden, the water is whatever the sky decides to send.

There may be an odd solution or two. There are parts of the Earth where population is actually decreasing in absolute numbers, as people mistakenly come to believe that country living is too hard. Well, yes, being squeezed out by multinationals is definitely too hard, but I’m talking about subsistence agriculture, not trying to survive by picking beans for a dollar an hour. Another partial solution may be a return to foraging, especially for those who choose to live in that non-arable 90 percent. Hunting and fishing have become unfashionable hobbies, but for the physically fit these skills could be a lifesaver; over-harvesting is certainly a concern, but the great majority of westerners are far too weak to spend a day plowing through underbrush.

The seacoast has possibilities that intrigue me. In various coastal areas it is traditional to grow potatoes by placing them on bare rock and covering them with seaweed. Even without a boat it is possible to get a meal by gathering shellfish.

Nor should we totally discount the practicality of animal husbandry. There are many parts of the world that are not suitable for agriculture, but the same land might produce wild grasses or other vegetation that in turn could feed domesticated animals. Under primitive conditions the density of human population in such areas would have to be very low, and the danger of over-grazing would always be there, but the truth is that there are large parts of the world that supported a pastoral life for centuries.

I don’t have much patience with cobbled-together happy endings, but I think there are answers for those who are single-minded enough to go after them. Remember that you can’t save the whole human race, you can only save a few people; learn to use a gun and an ax; head for the country. Oh, yes, and get yourself a reputation as a good neighbor; they may not actually adopt you, but they might help you out when there’s trouble.

Peter Goodchild is the author of “Survival Skills of the North American Indians,” published by Chicago Review Press. His email address is

This is not a subject I know a whole lot about. But it seems like there are variations in the degree of arability. There are a lot of places that we can grow crops now, that without big inputs of water and fertilizer, the amounts we could grow in the future would be much lower. There are other places that can produce two crops a year, rather than one, because of a long growing season. I don't know how this works into the total calculation.

Gail, the point is that we are already producing the maximum, and that is with all the available fertilizers, weed and grass herbicides and pesticides. Places that can produce two crops per year are already producing two crops per year. And of course that is having a devastating effect on the topsoil in most of these places.

There are just not many places that could produce large crops without fertilizer and all require lots of water. Of course most places do not use irrigation and that is what causes famines in drought years. And in most places that do use irrigation are suffering from dramatically falling water tables. In some places in India and China water tables are falling from three to four meters per year.

And add to this the fact that per capita fish catch peaked in 1988 and is now down to about half that amount. Graph of the Day: Caught Seafood Per Person (Peak Seafood)

The point of the whole article, and an excellent article it is, that a decline in oil supplies will mean a corresponding decline in food supplies. And of course we all know what follows next. But before that happen we get a plethora of sure fire “fixes”, or reason why it really won’t be so bad. We can just use organic gardening or plant two crops per year or….

I remember, about twenty fiver years ago, a news commentator telling us of a think tank study about the future food supply, perhaps with a little tongue in cheek. He said: There is bad news and worse news. The bad news is that in fifty years we will all be living off crabgrass. The worse news is that there will not be enough crabgrass to go around.

Ron P.

I disagree completely that this is a good, or even useful, article. It is severely slanted to the doomer side (not necessarily bad in and of itself, but not useful for broad analysis), it ignores entire areas of agriculture, overstates the reliance on cow manure (composting doesn't exist?), and overstates the limits to arable land.

It's a polemic, isn't it? Worthwhile as one view, perhaps, but for a limited audience, and that being a particular sort of choir.

We need to think seriously on this issue. That means broadly and deeply - and outside the box.


No, there is no outside the box, unless you mean a miracle or a visit from food-bearing aliens from outer space.

Actually I`ve really tried growing food without any fertilizer except for rabbit and guinea pig dung (a little secret humanure too)and composted kitchen wastes and cut grasses. It is incredibly challenging to get anything in any worthwhile quantity. Let`s just use the word "impossible" instead to be more accurate....It is impossible to grow anything in any worthwhile quantity but I`ve gotten some pretty and sort of budgetarily helpful lettuces, broccolis, potatoes, and eggplants, that have been profitable vis a vis the seeds I bought.

When the problems with fertilizer supply surface big time (and they will) I have no idea what will happen but mass starvation seems possible unless a govt is ready with a few massive "grain bailouts".

But lately I`ve noticed a real disappearance of many bugs. If a mass die-off of many species is on the way could we escape? For example, many tribes of aboriginal peoples are now experiencing starvation due to climate change---their food is dieing off!

What makes us special? We are just another species. Already the population is dropping in some countries---technically it`s a "die-off" since it`s not a war or anything.

I`ve become sort of resigned to this possibility recently. Not to demoralize anyone out there or anything but the odds don`t seem to be in our favor.

Living simply in a ruined parking lot near the ocean and starving slowly, growing weaker and weaker by the day although eating a few fish (but not enough) would not be the worst end I could think of. A traffic accident is a much more horrific end, or a heart attack or some horrible disease. Give me slow starvation any day......I think I would have a few books to help pass the days, perhaps some people I knew. What are you going to do? Fight on against unwinnable odds?

Actually I`ve really tried growing food without any fertilizer except for rabbit and guinea pig dung (a little secret humanure too)and composted kitchen wastes and cut grasses. It is incredibly challenging to get anything in any worthwhile quantity. Let`s just use the word "impossible" instead to be more accurate....It is impossible to grow anything in any worthwhile quantity...

No, it isn't "impossible." I do it. Here's the caveat: I use a pickup truck and large trailer for hauling compostables home: equid manure, huge amounts of alfalfa & grass hay, spoiled grain, and anything else that will rot. I use power mowers & rakes, gas & PTO driven chipper/grinders, diesel front-end loader, etc., for processing & moving raw & finished compost. The amount of finished compost required to sustain yields would amaze most people. And even with all this I'm not averse to the spot use of a little MiracleGro now & then, as needed. My point is that I contest your assertion that it's "impossible" to sustainably grow food in quantity without using commercial fertilizers. However, I would agree with you that it's "impossible" to do so without employing fossil fueled equipment for acquiring, processing & distributing compost, on any but the smallest of scales.

I find the irony in this post so thick one could land a 747 on it.

I use a pickup truck and large trailer.

Yes. That's what we'll do. Use all these mechanical devices. While I realize that you intend to point out that one way of doing the impossible is to use that equipment, you are missing the advances that have been made in permaculture methods.

Cuba went through peak oil when the Soviet Union collapsed. They called it their special period. They went from a per capita usage of fossil fuel per food calorie that was actually higher than the United States to a far lower level virtually overnight. They applied permaculture techniques and they survived.

The link at the end of this paragraph leads to a powerpoint that covers it handily. The presentation gives an overview of the peak oil problem but goes into the Cuban example about halfway through. Low-Energy Lifestyle: Lessons from Cuba

While I do not believe that we will be able to use to deploy this methodology quickly enough to prevent starvation since we are not a command economy, I do believe that many people who are currently working towards this will provide information vaults that will serve to help pick up the pieces when its all over.

As to the comments from ccpo, they are hilarious. I suspect that many people who are techno-worshippers will be found in the not too distant future, with their hands held out in the universal gesture of helplessness, wondering why their dreams of flying cars, electric doodads, and electronic social networks don't seem to fill their belly. "But they are doomers! They can't be right! We have technology!'

Grumble grumble goes the belly.

When people contend that they are perfectly capable of providing adequate food sustainably for themselves and families sans fossil fuel input altogether I ask: are you doing it now.

So, are you?

Citing a book you read about permaculture or talking about what the Cubans did doesn't cut it. Unless you, yourself, are growing all your own food without depleting soil fertility and without any fossil fuel inputs whatsoever, you have no credibility on the subject.



And Cuba is a tropical country with ample rainfall and plenty of good land with a population that was used to privation and hard work and not that far removed from the farm as individuals for the most part.

Plus they always had some foriegn exchange from exporting sugar and nickel and some remitted income from expatriates and some small earnings from visitors in spite of our embargo of thier economy.

And even the well to do under Castro weren't that well to do,so rationing was much easier to accomoplish.

The bankers wife and the dentists wife are going to expect more than a sack of beans and another of flour and another of cabbage here,and that's not going to help at all.

That is the banker's and the dentist's problem.
I agree with you about climate.
The Imperial valley and the great plains don't get enough rain. I don't know about the Southern US but it seams to me that anywhere will be wiped when the first drought hits.

And then there's the dictatorship angle - choose the hoe squad or the firing squad.
Don't forget how malnourished the Cubans became - they bred a whole generation of very short people.
As for Cuban "tourism" - aka national-scale prostitution - it hardly seems like a sustainable solution.

The End of the Beginning of the Collapse, an article on dailykos

"...It seems to me we are likely to be entering the era of "converging emergencies..."

That would be yes. Actually, I'm sucking in every free input I can get my hands on, as would anyone with a brain: I use that to pay the mortgage, taxes, and the internet bill. There'd be food for my family with nothing from outside.

Permaculture did not save them.

Cuba imported most of their calories in the form of grains mostly from the USA

go look at grain import data

I've seen this claim a couple times lately and can find very little to support it. Some of what I did find is below. I think maybe 2002 was their best year for local food production. Corrections are welcome.

In 2002, 1.5 MMT grain imported, 3 MMT sugar exported, 3.2 MMT food grown in urban gardens. That does not include their own beef, grain, and tropical fruit production and produce not grown in the urban farms and gardens. As far as calories the sugar they exported was 6 times as many calories in they imported in grain. That's in 2002, current numbers are quite a bit different.

I got the grain imports from here,

The urban farms and gardens datapoint from here (its on quite a few sites),

The datapoint on the 2002 sugar exports from here,

As to the comments from ccpo, they are hilarious. I suspect that many people who are techno-worshippers will be found in the not too distant future

Your comments are so far off-base wrt my comments you may as well have been responding on another site entirely. Me? Technocopian? Hahahaha! Now THAT'S funny!


Cuba is a very bad example for the following reasons:

Millions of Cuban expatriates regularly sent back to Cuba money, goods, etc.

Cuba also had "escape valves" of emigration (legal or not) that allowed many of the most disaffected to leave.

Finally, there is the contribution of the big export earners like tourism with tourists from Canada, Europe, Central and Latin America that earned foreign exchange.

I wouldn't even go into the other tourist related trades that earned foreign exchange.....

Have you ever tried starving? I 'll take the car wreck.

no kidding...

Minnesota Starvation Experiment

Among the many conclusions from the study was the confirmation that prolonged semi-starvation produces significant increases in depression, hysteria and hypochondriasis as measured using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a standardized test administered during the experimental period.

Indeed, most of the subjects experienced periods of severe emotional distress and depression. There were extreme reactions to the psychological effects during the experiment including self-mutilation (one subject amputated three fingers of his hand with an axe, though the subject was unsure if he had done so intentionally or accidentally).[1]

I remember reading part of a diary of one of the participants of that experiment - I'll take the car wreck too.

I think the test subject mentioned above knew very well what he intended to do with his fingers...

In other words...


In our building we have the (occasionally implemented) option of jumping out the window--170ft in about 4 seconds. I could start charging a fee for entry.

I experienced many of those symptoms just trying to drop 15lbs for the summer!!

Gary Taubes deals extensively with this very study in his fascinating book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories". The volunteers were fed a diet based on the expectations of available foodstuffs in the immediate aftermath of WWII, i.e. low fat - high carbohydrate diets with insufficient calories to meet daily metabolic needs. The vast majority of people report little to no hunger while fasting and have none of the untoward psychological disturbances reported in the study. What drives this difference? It seems logical that if eating a little bit makes you go crazy with hunger eating nothing would be even worse, but it is not so.

Many people lose a lot of weight without experiencing obsessive food thoughts simply by cutting out sugars.

Its been a while since I've been there in the history books but if I remember correctly the folks who lived thru the concentration camps do not often describe starvation as physically painful.

I belong to the minority who have surived both a car crash and starvation. The car crash was fun. Although I don't remember anything, I got to spinn around on the street, had an ambulance ride and a visit to the hospital, the crew there were very nice. I also have 20 stitches in my head, that is good for showing off. Starvation on the other hand was boring. I was hungry all the time, suffered alot of depressions and were very close to getting angry on everyone for small things the whole time. If I have to go, I take the car crash seven days a week.

Let's just get a bit of perspective on this. Oil, gas and coal are peaking. They are not disappearing overnight ala Cuba style. Peak oil will affect food supplies but it will do so incrementally. The human population can adjust at the same incrementas total food suplies reduce.

Japan is interesting case study for just this scenario. Japan is densely populated and must import food as they have outgrown their own agricultural production. However, the population in Japan is now ageing and is suffering a net loss of population which will presumably relieve some of the pressure in the future. Is it unrealistic to expect that future generations will adjust their reproduction to account for the available food supply? Nature itself may reduce the fertitlity of a starving poulation, a kind of biological feedback system that will kick in automatically. We can already see this happening in Africa and if it wern't for the meddlesome fools who want to 'make poverty history' by maintaining or even increasing the subsidised growth signals into such places, the populations would naturally decline to sustainable levels. It could also be managed much more humanely than the current mode of employing war and famine with all the psycholgical trauma to the individul people caught up in it. Stopping the gun running but also the food and medical subsidies is the only way that Africa will ever be free.


Personally I believe that your scenario of gradually powering down is entirely within reason and actually expect things to work out along similar lines in the US and some other countries.

Very tough times,much lowered expectations,but no starvation ,no freezing citizens-at least not on a large scale.

But I'm afraid we have already passed the point of no return in many parts of the world.

Just so long as it's peak oil,and not peak lead........

Termoil and Oldfarmer, I think this is a very dangerous assumption to start with:

"Let's just get a bit of perspective on this. Oil, gas and coal are peaking. They are not disappearing overnight ala Cuba style.

I think many developed nations, including the US, could have a very similar experience if the world economy goes helter-skelter for some indefinite period of time.

A "bumpy" but gradual decline is one reasonable, and maybe even a high-probability, path for our future.

But I think a very disruptive and uncontrolled descent has a much, MUCH higher probability.

I think all industrial nations will experience something similar to the "cuban experiment" - how long the disruptions last and how severe the consequences will depend on the indivudual locales.

I agree that the uncontrolled descent is likely and propose that war is the likely reason things will get really topsy turvy.If you read all my comments you will see that I THINK we can make it in the US and a few other countries by means of stringent rationing while we make emergency adjustments-barring war.All bets are then off,depending on the course of the war.

The human population can adjust at the same incrementas total food suplies reduce.

You're right, population will adjust to match a declining food supply. But if the rate of decline is high, this process will not be slow and peaceful. Historically, this has almost always been the case.

Japan is interesting case study for just this scenario... Is it unrealistic to expect that future generations will adjust their reproduction to account for the available food supply?

Japan didn't. Food affordability in Japan today is almost the highest ever, and there's negative population growth. After the war, when nobody could afford meat etc., Japan had a baby boom.

I guess you can argue that subconsciously, Japanese "feel" that though food is almost the cheapest ever, it's unsustainable and imported, and this leads them to have less kids, but that seems like a stretch to me.

It comes down to rate of decline then. The author of the post alos didn't really take inot account that thre a mnay more calories consumed in western nations that are needless. Relocalization of food production may mean less of it, but better quality. A plate of vegetables with a little bread and maybe te odd bit of meat has got to be a whole lot healthier than a bucket of deep fried chicken and chips, smothered in gravy and washed down with a litre of high fructose cola.

I picked Japan because of there recent demands on Australia that we somehow guarantee them food security. i thought this was an extraordinary and remarkable concept that Japan would publicly state how dependant and vulnerable they really are. I do remember that Japan launched the Pearl harbour attack after the US imposed an oil embargo. How far could they tolerate a food embargo I wonder, if relations deteriorated sufficiently or actual shortages ensued at some point in the future.

It comes down to rate of decline then. The author of the post alos didn't really take inot account that thre a mnay more calories consumed in western nations that are needless. Relocalization of food production may mean less of it, but better quality. A plate of vegetables with a little bread and maybe te odd bit of meat has got to be a whole lot healthier than a bucket of deep fried chicken and chips, smothered in gravy and washed down with a litre of high fructose cola.

I picked Japan because of there recent demands on Australia that we somehow guarantee them food security. i thought this was an extraordinary and remarkable concept that Japan would publicly state how dependant and vulnerable they really are. I do remember that Japan launched the Pearl harbour attack after the US imposed an oil embargo. How far could they tolerate a food embargo I wonder, if relations deteriorated sufficiently or actual shortages ensued at some point in the future.

It comes down to rate of decline then. The author of the post alos didn't really take inot account that thre a mnay more calories consumed in western nations that are needless. Relocalization of food production may mean less of it, but better quality. A plate of vegetables with a little bread and maybe te odd bit of meat has got to be a whole lot healthier than a bucket of deep fried chicken and chips, smothered in gravy and washed down with a litre of high fructose cola.

I picked Japan because of there recent demands on Australia that we somehow guarantee them food security. i thought this was an extraordinary and remarkable concept that Japan would publicly state how dependant and vulnerable they really are. I do remember that Japan launched the Pearl harbour attack after the US imposed an oil embargo. How far could they tolerate a food embargo I wonder, if relations deteriorated sufficiently or actual shortages ensued at some point in the future.

The Post War Japanese baby boom is characteristics of populations under stress, who go on a reproduction binge to ensure that they would have some members survive.

yeah, that was my point: japan's baby boom and subsequent bust had nothing to do with food, per se.

We also had a mini baby boom for 2007 I believe in the US.

Stopping gun running into failed states like Somalia, etc. have proven to be impossible.

Even Israel, with near total access and control over a very small land area called the "West Bank" and the "Gaza Strip", could not stop gun running.

Indeed, the evidence suggest that as order breaks down, gun running actually increase not only in quantity, but in the lethality of the weapons smuggled.

From basic guns to automatic weapons, then to things like Rocket Propelled Grenades and machine guns, IEDs, and finally, to regular military weapons.

I suppose by "regular military weapons "you mean tanks and bombers.;-)

I'm growing a garden in recently cleared forest I do not till. The only soil amendment I apply is my own urine, dilute 1:15. I've found varieties that grow well without care. Cherokee Popcorn, Texas Hill Country Okra, Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato, Sarian Strawberries, ... I'll have proven seed to sell/trade to neighbors.

Very interesting. Your in the Ozarks I see.

Don't you have any creek bottom ground to plant on? I found in the Ozarks where I lived once that the soil washes off the hillsides and down to the bottoms. I therefore planted my garden right alongside a creek..mostly dry except in rainy season but the bottoms held closer to the water table and the soil was quite rich and grew great gardens.

Same area I fenced off for my horse pastures.

The neighborhood was tough though with lots of trailer folks who were apt to be difficult to live near. I knew many and they were pretty bad to steal and so forth. Yet there were some who were good people but hard to find.


What drugs, chemicals, and other contaminants are in your "fertilizer"?

Edlin--how did you clear the forest? Some friends of mine chopped down trees but then left with daunting loads of stumps and roots to contend with. Should they have pulled the trees over first?

You can work around them and keep the sprouts trimmed off so they die and after any where from ten years or so for a very small stump,you can probably dig it out by hand as most of the roots will have rotted off.A large stump of a species that is decay resistant -well ,I can't say for sure but a white oak stump two feet across will still be rock hard after forty or fifty years where I live,and it would take a couple of strong men a week to dig it out at least.

As a purely practical matter there is only one good way to get rid of stumps,other than growing old working around them.

Bulldozers and thier brethen the backhoe and the front end track loader- essentially a dozer fitted with a big bucket on the front. The bucket style front loader dozer is the machine of choice
for clearing land,but a big "track hoe" or excavator,which is a machine with a long articulated arm with a digging bucket on the end is really good for stumps if you can get it.

You can get rid of a stump or two a lot quicker than waiting by getting hold of a large drill and boring lots of deep holes in it and putting in a spoonful or so of fertilizer once and some water in each occasionally which will speed up the decay process quite a lot.Keep it wet and cover with dirt or anything handy to retard evaporation.

An acquaintance did this on a large stump in his yard and after four or five years the exposed top was soft enough he could chop it off in chunks easily.This particular stump was a yellow poplar,which would have normally taken at least two or three times to decay that much in the same sunny spot.

Thanks. I take it that in absence of dozer-type machines, it would be best to start by pulling the trees over (with block/tackle etc).


If at all possible it would be best to hire the machine.For a thousand bucks Yankee money you can hire a big machine for a day that will do more work of this kind in a day than every body you know by thier first names can do in a month,if you don't know over a couple of hundred people.

Personally I would just find some open land rather than even contemplate any other solution.

But theoritically it IS POSSIBLE to uproot trees with a very large and very heavy block and tackle,although you will probably not find one big enough for the job.

I have seen a number of good sized trees up rooted with very powerful winches-which were mounted on the back of bulldozers!If the operator is so careless or unlucky as to get onto soft enough ground,the machine will sink in and settle down on it's underside,and usually the only way you can free it is with another equally large and heavy machine.

But if there is a large enough tree situated within reach of the winch cable,the winch will either pull the machine out of the mud, or it will uproot the tree.It can go either way.

I drank beer and watched a local contractor up root a dozen trees once with his winch before he gave up due to the fact that no more trees were within reach. He then hired another contractor to bring over his machine and pull him out.

That turned out to be an all day party laughing at the man-half a dozen people told him that the ground would not hold his machine but he was overconfident and wouldn't listen.

He should have waited for at least two or three weeks of dry weather and he could have worked that ground easy as pie.Haste makes waste.

We still have a little fun out of him over having to call his biggest competitor to bail him out.

Incidentally these winches are there so the operator can tie off his machine and drive down hillsides too steep to climb ,and winch himself back to the top.This is a common practice in building roads or mining in the mountians and the winch usually keeps the machine from running away or overturning on such steep slopes.

My great grand parents and my grand parents cleared land by hand by chopping down the trees and piling the brush on the stumps and burning them off to sone extent,then they used mattocks to get as many roots as possible and just worked around what was left for the most part.It the winter,when there was no other pressing work they would finish up a small patch near the house over a few weeks time, maybe a tenth of an acre ,or two tenths.

After twenty years of backbreaking work my great grandfather had close to fifteen acres of nice pasture and cropland free of stumps and undergrowth.Of course he raised nearly all the food for his large family on this same acreage at the same time,except for the first few years,when he worked as a share cropper for another local farmer and worked his own land part time.

Rough cleared land was usually put to pasture and the cow or horse deliberately confined to a small enough area to keep the sprouts and seedlings in check by eating them,since there was not enough grass to satisfy thier hunger. If not too steep,it could be converted to crops as the stumps rotted out.

It was common to uproot smaller well rotted stumps with a horse team ,but even the most powerful tean can do nothing with a green stump,even one no larger than four or five inches across-unless it is a maple or holly or some other species with very shallow roots.

This puts a radically different understanding on the history of the uk, given the huge number of English placenames ending in -ley, which means clearing in the forest, usually with little remaining woodland to be seen. I had been reasoning from the fact of trees getting uprooted by gales.

It may be possible that in the UK there have been instances of considerable patches of forest being uprooted by storms.

A few small patches of forest here in the southeastern US are stripped of trees occasionally after periods of very heavy rain,which softens the soil, followed immediately by very high winds.Such conditions are produced by hurricanes sometimes.

The forests in areas frequently hit are very seldom uprooted,except by the very worst storms.This mostly only occurs when the heavy rain and high winds reach areas not often subject to these conditions.

The biggest such area I have seen near my home is less than an acre in extent and located on a ridge exposed to the wind.We are well inland and well to the north of what is usually thought of as hurricane country but every twenty or thirty years one makes it this far that still has a little life left in it.

It is far more likely that the trees were girdled,left to die,burnt,and the ground worked by hand and by horse or ox ,dodging the stumps until they rotted away.Or charcoal makers couyld have got there first,followed by farmers.

Time passed slowly in the hills of Virginia a century ago,and probably even more slowly in merry old England in the days those places were earning thier names.

If there is usually a source of good fresh water very close to the named clearings,it's good evidence that they were opened by farmers or woodcutters.

Charcoal making was a major industry prior to the coal era ,which really only got rolling around the mid 17 hundreds if I remember correctly.

At one time the need for charcoal used in smelting iron resulted in large areas of England being virtually stripped of trees.

¨Living simply in a ruined parking lot near the ocean and starving slowly¨

This is really a statement that we have become totally disconnected with our food supply, that we barely know hunger let alone starvation. Starvation is extraordinarily painful. Your body is digesting itself.

A very good article, actually. People need to be scared SH!!LESS, so that they will get off their a$$ and actually move to a different way of living. Those that don't, will soon be dead.

We do not, need to "think seriously" on this issue, the thinking time is over, we need action, now. Typical mindset of the techno-merry-go-round, yea, lets think on this awhile, then we could come up with little thorium reactors in the kitchen and blah, blah, blah.....and every one will sing along at the campfire while they roast their fellow human for dinner.

True change will only come with a bullet, real or imagined.....

Nope...See, in just a few years Iraq will producing almost 8 million bpd...add that to the almost 6 million bpd the U.S. is putting out...and you have 14 million bpd...Of course, all that will go to the things are just fine...(Why else would we spend over a trillion bucks on the Iraq war? To just remove Saddam???? Nyuck nuck yuck yuck yuck)

You are absolutely correct. What a great plan by Bush 1 and Cheney.
They put restrictions on Iraq to prevent them from pumping all the oil out of the ground after the first gulf war and then play cat and mouse for 12 years until the time is right to go in and steal all the reserves. All this BS about leaving the cities etc is a propaganda stunt. The US will never leave Iraq and definitely keep the lions share of the second biggest reserves left on earth. Any one that doesn't see this is just not paying attention.

you're absolutely right, porge.

people who don't see this aren't paying attention - intentionally.

mainstream life is a kind of fantasy-role-playing game. there are tangible benefits to staying in character at all times. those who stray off-message lose jobs, friends, and status. most people are smart enough to internalize this as a child.

i sense that just about all americans can understand the plan for iraq, but don't openly discuss it because that means playing the "truther" role - this role means being invited to fewer parties and getting fewer promotions.

people want to feel good about themselves at low cost. "truthers" are despised for deflating this with "facts."

I guess that I missed that day in childhood when I was suppose to "internalize" bullshit.
No seriously......I think you hang out with a perceptive crowd because most americans are oblivious to anything but Desperate Idol or is that American Housewife.
I understand all about professional and social butt kissing.
Truth might actually start coming back into vogue.

I've spent my life not getting invited to parties and not getting promoted due to what I refer to my personal "big mouth "probem.I keep opening it and pointing out that reality and the plans of mice and men are two different things.

Note: According to a little-known Reserves Sharing Agreement (RSA) among Iraq, Iran and Canada, the "second biggest reserves left on earth" are transferred electronically via a Swiss bank to whichever of the three countries' reserves are being talked about at a given moment.

Seriously, Iraq raised its claimed reserves figure from 47 to 100 billion barrels, literally from one year to the next, in the midst of its war with Iran, while it had clear war-related motivations to boost revenues by exaggeration. It then raised the claimed figure to 115 Gb during the sanctions period, during which one new field had been discovered (one now touted as potentially producing 50,000 b/d). Meanwhile, a UN Experts report on Iraq's oil industry determined in 2000 that production practices under sanctions had already resulted in "permanent loss of huge reserves of oil" - which can only mean that its four major fields, accounting for about 80 percent of Iraq's daily output, had suffered the said permanent losses. (In any case, those four fields had each been in production already for 50-80 years.) Yes, Iraq probably does have comparatively good discovery prospects (though probably not in the Western desert, as it often claimed), and it may (potentially) have the capacity to boost total output above pre-2003 levels for some length of time, if enough new-projects can come on line soon enough. But the claims that Iraq could easily produce 6 or 8 mbd (given stability and investment) has been dismissed by former CIA oil analyst Bob Ebel, for one, as being an absurd fantasy. Please, let us try to remember these facts when reading the next report uncritically touting Iraq's "world's second largest reserves of oil."

yes, iraq's reserves are a lot smaller than reported. but they're still the cheapest to extract - cheaper than saudi even. i've never seen anyone deny that.

Whooooooaaaa there big fellow!!!....Quoting a CIA operative/analyst as a reliable (truthiness is at stake)source?????.....Even us 'Murkins don't believe those guys anymore....LOLOL...Tell you what bet is there is another Ghawar field somewhere in Iraq...Maybe the big boys already know that...maybe they are just guessing.....The geology though, now the geology of the place indicates that possibility...After all, the gangster 'Murkins running the good ole U.S of A. aren't going to spend trillions of dollars on a dry hole...They really care about the money...All those dead bodies, nope, no one cares one whit about that...

Once again, I agree with you. Watch what they do not what they say.
Not one of us here knows much beyond what we read or are told. I haven't been to the middle east with a giant dipstick checking all the holes.
They at least saved the oil in Iraq for 12 years and maybe there are other places to look but no matter what the reason the fact is the US controls Iraq.

aviator202 - I didn't actually cite Ebel as reliable. Rather I stated some of my reasons for thinking that the usual PR claims regarding Iraq's oil potential are an absurd fantasy, and in that context found it notable that one relative insider has reached a similar conclusion. (From memory, I think his actual words were "ridiculous" [=absurd] - as quoted by Greg Palast - and "beyond the realm of reality" [=in the realm of fantasy] - in his introduction to Matt Simmons at CSIS in February 2004. Personally, I wish I knew more about the reasoning and evidence behind these statements by him, but a consideration of basic facts is enough to draw one's own conclusions: Claims that Iraq can easily increase its output to 6 to 8 mbd are indeed absurd, if made without reference to the actual state of the fields responsible for a majority of Iraq's output.

As to your bet that there is another Ghawar field lurking undiscovered in Iraq. The oil majors have sometimes promoted the idea exploration ceased when they left the country in 1961, but of course that isn't true. Iraq did quite a bit of exploration up to about 1980.

Touted as Iraq's largest undeveloped field is Majnoon - I don't know how much credit we can give to the claimed reserve figures as cited in, say, Greg Muttitt's study "Crude Designs," but we may also keep our eye on neighboring Azadegan in Iran for clues.

As for your powers-that-be surely-in-the-know claim, I think one should not underestimate wishful thinking and desperation on their part. Their actions are not indicative of a super-clear perception of the underlying realities.

Finally, for the record, I don't think that Iraq will turn out to be a dry hole, only that current evidence leads one to expect that it will not live up to the inflated claims that are commonly made.

I will take you up on the Ghawar bet.... The fact that you think it is probable that another Ghawar exists shows how little you know about this topic. I suggest you read Matt Symmons book Twilight in the Desert. If there were another Ghawar in the middle east, it would have been found already.

Does extraction cost include cost of the war/police action?


If you analyze the "cost" in terms of net energy and not money and lives you might get your answer.
And then there is the huge strategic value of having one of the last holes to run dry once TSHTF globally.

Once again, does the 'net energy' evaluation include the energy required for the war? And, does ease of extraction take into account political disruption? In Nigeria, political factors have more severely limited the extraction of oil than geological/technical factors have. I think the last holes to run dry when TSHTF will likely be the local, minimally producing ones. How likely is it that areas which are unstable now politically will become more stable when TSHTF? The muscle may be available to take Iraq's oil - but I think the costs, any way they are calculated, will be astronomical and will represent a huge opportunity loss when we consider the energy, resources and human ingenuity committed to squeezing out the last bits of BAU and diverted from transition to the new paradigm (whatever it might be)
IMHO anyway,

I think that you are right that the oil here might be saved for when the world is a much more dangerous place by using more imported oil now and less later.
I still think that it is a strategic move and the actual costs are secondary.
I guess what I am saying is that I think in the future it will be a world at war and in that case money or effort expended don't matter, survival does.
If you believe, like I do, that the planet is grossly overpopulated then my position makes sense.

Look at it this way.
If we don't get Iraq then someone else will.
Iran? China? etc. Do you think they like us?
The move was strategic.

I guess, the point I wanted to make is that i don't believe that Iraqi oil is cheap regardless of the metric used. Further, I believe that any resources sent chasing after oil not in north america are likely resources which are lost to planning and effecting transition.
Of course, it all may be perfectly the right thing to do. I just think that whatever strategic thinking was engaged in this plan was boxed in by the usual BAU paradigm. Instead of building resilience I see this plan as clinging to complexity (ie long supply lines and geopolitical conflict)
Of course, several large corporate players are doing well out of the whole affair. It is likely that we have here another case of privatized earnings and socialized costs. And in those situations I think it is very important to consider as many inputs as possible when evaluating cost. It may be a long time before anything like these resources are available again and expending them to enrich a few at the expense of the populace is, IMO, not a good use of those resources.
Regards, Al

bmcnett- I think you are quite correct here regarding relative costs of extraction, from the little I've seen reported. Saudi's new oil is invariably very expensive in terms of the absolute cost of the projects, and the only way it can be described as cheap at all is with very generous assumptions about ultimate recovery volumes. Cf. the 15 billion price tag on Khureis, or the fact that Shaybah, with the normal extraction wells of the past, would have only 1/35 the daily output as with the expensive high tech wells actually used to develop the field. See my paper "Largely About Access," which was put up on Energy Bulletin back in January.

Apparently some of you don't read my posts. (I am shattered, truly.)

Your rant is silly in the context of my posting history. Given their prevalence - or lack thereof - in developed countries, natural farming and permaculture ARE thinking outside the box.


CCPO, You haven't been around for awhile...ifn your gone over a week or so then you are like a newbie here. Thats the way TOD works, seems to me.

BTW have you started your gardening yet after your move? Or have not moved as yet?

FWIW my garden is slowly failing. I got a half bushel of potatoes. Corn destroyed by coons. A few tomatoes are coming along. Some beans and peas and the rest is pathetic. Worse garden I ever raised.

Our weather is mostly to blame. Cool days for July must have set historical records. Lots of rain..4 inches one day...anohter inch last night...far too much rain and changeable heat.

I will have nothing to can at all. And last winter during the massive ice storm I lost a whole freezer due to almost a 2 month power outage.

The only thing that is growing well is cucumbers and okra. The rest is going nowhere.



It's hard to be on these days. Lots of family and friends to catch up with, as you might expect. We're working on some transportation, will be visiting ecovillages in August and Septemeber while simultaneously searching for land and also trying to make contact with certain entities about doing something more urban.

I've yet to get a single family member or friend interested in saving their own arse, so we are on our own for now. Funny-strange: so many people moving into sustainability issues, farming, etc., yet *SO* very hard to connect with.

Ah, but I am well behind in my work (research and outreach), so am likely to blame for the failures thus far.

Your experience this year may be everyone's future, Airdale. I don't discount that possibility, as you know. In fact, I find our systems exceedingly fragile and expect I shall need a lot of luck to raise a healthy, well-fed son. Ah, but sure an' e'es a kick in the arse just now!


We're having drought this year. Most of the corn and beans in the fields around me are very stunted and likely worthless (the only good growth is in areas with clay subsoil).

The corn in my garden is doing very well, even though I planted three weeks later than the area farmers - thanks to irrigation and home-made chicken poop.

Funny, this morning my daughter discovered a single two-foot tall corn stalk growing in our bon-fire pir out back. It must have come from an ear of corn roasted last July 4th... that was the last time we could have a bon fire, due to the high fire hazard conditions.

That single corn stalk is very healthy. The fire pit's ash/charcoal bed must retain moisture because we certainly did not water the fire pit this month ;).

What region of the country are you in?

Perhaps Arkansas or Oklahoma?

The beans are very spotty in some areas due to bad germination - and the corn is tasseling and silk is black but what I see are smallish ears.

We have had almost 9 inches of rain just his month. Rains almost every nite now...and only up to 75 degrees today...A very very cool July.


Hi Airdale,

I'm sort of north-eastern Wisconsin.

The last few years the drought has been hitting the northern part of the state, and the southern part of the state has been getting excess precipitation - more of both snow and rain.

About weather changes, the last few years our winters have been returning to what they were like in the 1970's - very cold and lots of snow. For most of the late 80's, 90's and early 00's the winters were so mild snowmobiling almost went extinct and you could wear a T-shirt while deer-hunting in late November.

If we think broadly and deeply outside the box we will figure out how to feed 7 billion people with the aid of pointed stick planting and little or no irrigation water.

I think it you have it backwards CC. The severely slanted articles are those that claim we can feed billions if only we resort to organic gardening and fertilized from compost. The very idea that we can continue to feed the world's bulging population when the horsepower and chemicals from fossil fuels are gone is truly foolish. Magical thinking is common among those who cannot accept this simple fact.

Karachi has 10,772 people per square kilometer and Mumbai has 8,170 per square kilometer. The world’s 20 largest metropolitan areas have an average density of 4,209 people per square kilometer. How many people can one square kilometer feed? And we must consider the fact that within these metropolitan areas there is virtually no arable land.

To survive these people, and everyone in every other city of the world for that matter, would have to move to the country and stake out their own little plot of arable land. But all the land is already taken by someone. Needles to say there will be conflict.

The whole human situation and predicament is best described in this article.

Energy and Human evolution

The abundant, cheap energy provided by fossil fuels has made it possible for humans to exploit a staggering variety of resources, effectively expanding their resource base. In particular, the development of mechanized agriculture has allowed relatively few farmers to work vast tracts of land, producing an abundance of food and making possible a wild growth of population.

And, when that abundant, cheap energy is no longer available…..

Ron P.

I don't mean to sound callous - I truly do care about the fate of all the world peoples. However, I do wonder how I can pretend to know how to solve the problems of people in other parts of the world, especially given the poor job we are doing of dealing with our own problems here in the USA. I also wonder how appropriate it is to attempt to go around telling other people what they should do. I would think that they've heard just about enough of that from us already.

Thus, addressing just the USA: We have a lot of good land, but we are not using it very well. We have allowed urban sprawl to eat up too much prime farmland. Too much land is being dedicated to the cultivation of ornamental grass, when it could be used to grow vegetables or pasturage for small livestock. A far greater percentage of the trees we grow could be fruit trees, with due care taken to preserve critical wildlife habitat. We could shift a lot of our herding on marginal lands from beef cattle to sheep. We could encourage people to shift their diets away from feed lot beef and pork, and toward grass-fed lamb, poultry, dairy, and a grains/legume combo. With a more intelligent approach, I suspect that the US could still feed its present population (450M is more questionable, but I doubt that we are actually going to see that level) even with much lower crop yields. That is not the same thing as saying that everyone can eat a full McDonalds meal three times daily and fill their tanks with biofuels.

WRT compost and soil amendments: Human wastes are going to have to be part of the cycle, there is simply no way around that. We need to retrofit all sewage treatment systems with anaerobic generators to get as much methane out of the waste flow as possible. These probably also need to be equipped with some sort of solar heating system to raise the temperatures of the processed slurry enough to kill all pathogens and parasites. We need to also ban all household products that contain toxins and that might end up in the sewage system, and we need to separate out industrial wastes into a totally separate treatment system. With these measures, the treated slurry should be safe to apply to the soil, especially if followed by a rotation of pasture or cover crops prior to that land being used to grow food crops.

Can we also ban the toxins that people ingest?

"medication residues pass out of the body and into sewer lines...."

It would be an interesting irony if we were to outlaw dumping into sewers the synthetic chemicals that physicians prescribe and insurance companies underwrite for human ingestion.

Observer,your comments as usual show a lot of careful thought.

Every point you make is a good one,but convincing the public that thse things are necessary is going to be one hell of a job.

Your point about meat being produced on more pastureand less feed is particularly important in that some seem to think that all our pasture lands can be converted to crop land.

This is not true,a very large part of our pastures are too steep, too rocky,or too dry to use for crops.


I have mentioned the possibility of trying to move the population of say NYC to the delta lands of the deep south where the sun lnows how and putting ten milliom people in tent cities so they can get busy with hand tools double cropping veggies.

Can you even begin to imagine the chaos involved in just transporting the ones willing to leave and the dalta county sheriffs blocking the local roads saying no to the military police escorting the refugees?

The little girls crying over euthanized kittens,the iold folks who will have strokes and heart attacks on the road?

The length of the line in front of the tent where the doctor writes the medical exemption certificates that will turn "field hands"into "house servants"?

Hell the riots alone will probably take out the first third of the people who would otherwise starve in the first few months.

I might possibly get the first dozen looters that reach my place,but I won't likely last very long unless we can form a very hard core local militia that simply denies outsiders entry into our community.

Dig a moat and stock it with sharks and crocodiles.

no good. both sharks and crocs are edible and would draw that many more would be visitors ;-)

Just think of the videos you can get for animal planet.

Animals disappeared from the Havana Zoo when they lost the Soviet imports.

How about putting those people to work building a canal system that would distribute Mississippi waters everywhere from Texas to the Carolinas, modeled after the huge canal network of China, as F.H. King proposed circa 1910. I share the disdain for the easy "if only we shifted to organic farming" talk, but I would very much like to see some serious discussion of the ramifications of King's proposal today.

Check out agriculture and EROI in most any environmental science text, Miller "Living in the Environment" and you will find that EROEI for modern ag is 1 to 10. Locavores are starting to deal with this.


We don't have time to climb out of THIS BOX inless bau continues merrily a long for a few more decades at least while new technologies are invented,researched and commercialized.Any reasonable time frame would have to be based on continued bau and probably not a "few more decades" but a century or more of Rand D.

We would need nanotech on the level of a sci-fi movie....or alchemy.

ccpo stated

I disagree completely that this is a good, or even useful, article. It is severely slanted to the doomer side (not necessarily bad in and of itself, but not useful for broad analysis)...

I believe this is an valuable article because it does not get lost in the myriad of details so many use to confuse and detract from the real issues at hand. It provides an excellent base for a broad analysis, one that so often does not get its due.

Goodchild's estimates of the available arable land around the world are in pretty good agreement with what I have read before. It also matches my life experience, starting as a farm boy in Oklahoma before the time of irrigation but after the dust bowl and re-enforced by my travels throughout the Midwest and Western states as an RVer in retirement over the past 12 years.

Back in the early days, when Dad depended on the rain to water the crops, and when we didn't have much except cow manure to spread for fertilizer, the crop yields were good but not great. As agricultural engineering took over and we had irrigation and fertilizer and insecticide and herbicides, crop yields climbed, maybe to double, but it was an increasingly hard fight to get any more from the land. BYW, corn was always a good crop. We had milk cows that grazed on the grass on the hillsides that could not be plowed, but they still required we raise alfalfa and feed them corn before they gave much milk.

The key thing I remember is that without water, we did not have a crop. That is true in most places. My folks moved to the San Joaquin valley in California in 1958, and we visited them many times. Around the Kings and Kern Rivers there were lush fields and green orchards, but to the west it was dry, dry desert. Then they put in the California Aqueduct and that land turned into lush fields and green orchards. This last year the water authorities told the farmers they would be cut back over 85%, receiving at most 15% of their former allotment. There simply is not enough water to share with the LA basin and the ecosystem of the Sacramento River Delta. Now you see dry, dry desert sprinkled with rows of dead fruit trees. It is a warning of things to come, for much of what the LA folks ate came from that "new" farmland in the 70s and 80s. Now it comes from Mexico and Chili.

I have seen the same thing happening in Iowa and Louisiana and Texas and Nebraska. Land has been pushed to its limit, water has been pumped until the wells run dry, and there is just not as much arable land out there as we once thought.

So I agree with the broad point that the amount of arable land is limited, and in fact I expect it will decline much more with time because of the growing lack of water.

Goodchild uses the number of 300 to 400 as the upper limit of people that can be fed by a square kilometer of farmland -- IF everything is working right. The world is at 470 per and counting. I doubt if these numbers are exact, but I think they are correct within a factor of 2 or 3, and the relative ranking is correct. The world already has more people than we can reasonably support -- I think the number of people already in the starving category number 800 billion or so.

Now, we factor in a changing climate and depletion of fossil fuels, both of which will severely affect the amount of arable land and the ability of getting the foodstuffs to the people that are hungry. I can envision farming in the great San Joaquin valley being reduced to the eastern side near the rivers that flow down from the mountains. My swag is a 70% reduction in productivity. Farming will be done with horses and mules (a great opportunity for future business growth), and the crops produced there will be fought over by the hordes of starving people in the LA basin (14m and growing), especially after water from the Colorado River runs dry and shipping food from Mexico and Chili costs too much.

Of course, whatever is grown in the San Joaquin valley for sale must be transported over the 4,000 foot mountains into the LA basin, but that takes fuel. Where does that come from?

My experience is with just one part of the world, but my vision of the future fits with what Goodchild is saying. Yes, he has ignored some of the other areas of agriculture, and maybe he expects more than he will get from cow manure. But his final message is on target.

I don’t have much patience with cobbled-together happy endings, but I think there are answers for those who are single-minded enough to go after them. Remember that you can’t save the whole human race, you can only save a few people; learn to use a gun and an ax; head for the country. Oh, yes, and get yourself a reputation as a good neighbor; they may not actually adopt you, but they might help you out when there’s trouble.

Oh yes, choose carefully where you hunker down. Be sure the water supply will continue running without power and in a warming world.

For those who might be interested, in addition to pushing LEDs at PrudentRVer my newest effort is publishing a novel on twitter, one line at a time. You can follow along at WasATimeWhen.

Sam Penny
the Prudent RVer

I believe this is an valuable article because it does not get lost in the myriad of details...

Perhaps what you are referring to are "the facts"? How can you praise an article for leaving out the details? Wheteher they are used to confuse or not is another issue and not justification to leave them out.

Mitigation is all in the timing. I don't disagree with you, and yet, I do. The key post made claims that simply are not so. There is enough land. Comments in this thread provide info that support this. What there is not enough of are people willing to demand things be done differently, or to simply DO things differently.

See my post further down in response to one of the farmers.


I disagree completely that this is a good, or even useful, article.

I find that to be the case with everything I've seen from Peter Goodchild. He has only a minimal ability to do calculations, and does roughly zero research to establish the numbers he calculates from.

I've no idea where he got his one hectare, plus grain and hay, per cow, but here in New Hampshire, from which farmers madly skedaddled throughout the 19th century, one hectare will provide both pasture and hay for one cow. (Grain? For cows? $20/bbl oil? same universe.)

I know I'm setting myself up for "put up or shut up", but probably the only thing I agree with X and KDoliso about is that the TOD staff have no clue about agriculture.

Jeavons claims his (low water use) system requires 4000 square feet to feed one person, including growing enough organic matter to sustain soil fertility, which works out to about 25 people/hectare.

A 25-year old maize study by Pimentel (who has been accused of using unrealistic agricultural numbers in his biodiesel papers) is I think outweighed by more long-term and systematic research which finds equal or superior productivity per hectare for organic over conventional agriculture. While small-scale intensive organic agriculture is more productive per hectare, it also requires more labour. This is a surmountable problem as while we have a shortage of good arable land, we have a longage of potential agricultural workers.

So if the permaculturalists are right we have the technical ability to grow the world's food without oil. However this does not provide a sustainable solution unless other prerequisites are met, including rational land and water distribution, decarbonised transportation, humanure, a long-term approach to soil fertility, population control, and of course massive cultural change.

Realistically we can expect overexploitation of natural resources to increase as food becomes more expensive and people become more desperate; food- and oil- exporting countries will protect their improving bargaining positions with higher prices while poorer, more corrupted or less agriculturally adaptable countries will suffer starvation, riots and social breakdown. Perhaps a few countries/regions will have the foresight to adopt a low-carbon permaculture approach, and these might then provide a model for the rest of the world.

Frank, Frank, Frank,

There is no one size fits all. It depends on the soil, the climate and how you do 'grasslands' management.

IIRC a hectare is about 2.5 of our acres. This is given by the Ag Profs as usual but its not.Like I said it depends on many factors.

If you can 'stockpile' fescue or some range land. If you have some spare corn to help winter them over. Do the ponds freeze and so on and on and on.

But I think he might be close to an overall average at that.

Myself I view livestock as having a beneficial effect on the land.
They will chew the grass to the ground and then ingest worm eggs. So again its all up to the farmer.

I ran some cattle and wintered them over a couple of times. They can eat the stuff I refuse to bale up.

Anyway..I liked his approach. It fits well with what I observe and most farmers today , at least here , are totally brain dead and suck the tits of the BiGAgBiz and BigChem folks.


The rule of thumb where I live is a cow to the acre. That's including the land for hay; grains and supplements are starting to be used here for milk production, but not for meat. (NB: 2.5 acres to the hectare.)

I also found this article to be overstating things. Simple repairs to existing but dilapidated irrigation systems would help greatly in east Asia. That's without even investing in more water-efficient irrigation - pipes or impervious channels instead of earth-lined ditches. There's a large amount of "fat" -- unexploited land productivity improvements -- in agriculture around the world. (However, not enough for everyone to have a Western diet as we know it today.)

The primary reason that 500 million people are badly malnourished at present is that markets are not being allowed to work.

US and European farmers have squeezed subsidies and trade barriers out of their taxpayers, so farmers in poor countries can not make enough to buy fertiliser or tools. And the "rulers" in many poor countries are more like robbers, so even if the poor farmers did obtain some capital, they wouldn't have it for long. So they don't try.

Hurray for humans!


Personally I don't think I ever heard of the man until I saw his piece here today.

He may be way off in some particular areas or aspects,I have no idea.

But painting with the broad brush,which is necessarily the only way you can paint in short a time and so small a venue as a guest post here,he is saying just about the same thing that any frank and no nonsense ag professional dealing in generalities would say-if said professional is also knowledgeable about world politics,peak oil,population,other resource restraints,and so forth.

Plus not in need of an establishment job.

You must realize that most such professionals have very good reasons to keep thier mouths shut-thier paychecks and thier pensions.Furtgermore they are usually very narrowly focused as reasearchers,as ag people work in an environment where immediate,applicable results are far more highly valued than basic research,which is more favorably looked upon say over in the physics or biology department.

If you expect a cow to forage entirely for herself,the amount of energy she can put into milkand a big fat calf is very limited,as she will need most of what she eats to maintain her own body.

But if you supplement her hay and grazing with some corn and maybe a high protien supplement,her productivity SOARS. THINK CARPOOL.If you travel alone in a twenty mile per gallon car,you get twenty passenger miles per gallon.Add a rider ,or two,and you get forty or sixty passenger miles per gallon.

The extra feed comes back to you in spades as milk and a fast growing new cow.And milk and the calf are the whole point of the game.You get much more milk and beef for the time and cash invested.

This is why pigs and broiler chickens are figuratively speaking force fed-to put the wieght on as fast as possible in order to get the most pounds of meat per feed dollar.

The editors may not be ag professionals,but they are pretty savvy researchers and do thier due diligence homework well as far as I can see.The only serious possible exception since I have been visiting was the space solar piece and I believe they ran it more to debunk it than to promote it.

And I do know some ag.Both hands on and professional.

Totally agree!!!...Do a bit of research on the author...Some folks think he is (at best) a bit of a nut...LOLOL

Totally agree!!!...Folks really need to be careful about coming to any conclusion about Prof Pimental's work...Lots of sane people wonder about his sanity...But please, do a little research about the man....because the work comes from the man....


You are obviously on the money,as usual.And Gail-you're just being a tad modest ,obviously,given what you know about the world in general.

The author is right on the money.

Real Oil Drum nuts with good memories will remember that ever since I have been here,I have been raving about how the typical person or organization whio thinks that they are going to be able to survive industrial collapse-if it happens -is so ill informed,niave,or just simply ignorant of the realities of agriculture that it makes me want to scream,cry, cuss,and break heads with sticks to get their attention.

I have had some backup from Darwinian, Airdale and Alan from Big Easy,but not much from anybody else.

People who have obviously never farmed in a serious way,and know absolutely nothing from a long term hands on pov throw links to idealistic websites at me as if they were bullets,but in this respect I really am like superman-I am am armored with reality and possessed of xray vision that allows me to see such claptrap for what it is.

I earned my armor and xray vision the old fashioned way-by growing up on a hardscrabble farm under the tutelage of people used to working like railroad coolies in order to eat and maybe buy thier kids a bag of candy and five dollars worth of new clothes for Christmas.

I caught the tail end of the horse and axe era ,hands on, and spent many a day as a child in the fields with my Old Pa ,who never went to school a day in his life and was yet a much wiser man than some people I know with doctorates.

I know Mr Murhpy well,he has been to visit us many times.His favorite presents,and he is very generous with them, when he visits in my nieghborhood,are drought,hurricanes,late frosts,hail,and politicians who decided that American apples are too expensive and that we need processed apple juice,etc, from China.

We lost our entire peach crop and eighty percent of our apples this year to late frost,although we are in a very good spot,statistically speaking,from that pov.Then we lost ninety percent of our cherries to excessive rain,and now we are running pumps to irrigate some of our gardens.

And some of the optimists think that I am being unduly cautious when I said that our personal survival plan is overly robust because it calls for two to two and a half acres per person of PRIME LAND.Plus the wood lot,the hillsiude pasture,the occasional deer and ground hog and turkey from the overgrown lasnd aroiund the nieghborhood.

Goodchild is if anything trying really hard to come on as reasonable and not a foaming at the mouth doomer.You can rest assured tat his infoemation is rock solid but I don't mean to imply that you should be able to sleep well when you go to bed thinking about it.

If you believe that ts is gthtf,and you don't have some sort of truly valuable skills that are transferable to life in a very tough and primitive world,such as dentistry,shoemaking,etc,you are going to be in a truly desperate situation.

If you move to an area with plenty of rain,a good long growing season,good soil,and so forth,you really do have a CHANCE OF making it as a newly minted one horse farmer-if you can put your hands on a fairly spacious homestead,and you get started now in learning how to do the work,and are willing to work half a day every day-either half will do,as long as it is an honest twelve hours.

And if you have an extended family to trade help as needed- old folks who can't really chop wood very fast,or chase down a loose pig, can babysit,cook, and make clotheing and repair tools etc.

And if you are good enough, to gain a years suppy of food ahead,and store it seculely,for the year that is surely coming when your crops fail.And you are also physically tough enough to hold onto it,and emotionally tough enough to watch your nieghbors kids starve so your won't until you make another good harvest.

Now I am still hopeful that if and when the situation gets really bad that by dint of draconian rationing of fuel and he diversion o trrsources into farming as necessary ,that we can avoid mass starvation in the US ,Australia,western Europe,etc.

I shudder to think how bad things will be in countries that have no oil of thier own and also import lager amounts of food bought with manufactured exports.

An for those who might be wondering if I have any professional qualifications to back up my personal background experiences, I do.

This is ag ,and you can take it to the bank,although I doubt they will accept it as collateral.

Class of 72
College of Agriculture
(and Life Sciences)
Virginia Tech

Ps I have been working on a piece covering this general topic in some detail for some time now which I had hoped to submit as a possible guest post but there has been a lot of coverage of the ag situation lately,including this fine article,and most of my piece would now look like poorly disguised plaigarism.

PPS Nothing in these comments should be interpreted by supporters and members of the various transition movements as criticism of thier work,which may well be the difference between life and death for a lot of people,except in the following respect:

Such strategies can produce huge amounts of food,and if there is some viable means of generating income,there is a good chance the rest can be bought or bartered.

But If things really do collapse to the point that the grid is down,you better get the hell out of Dodge in a hurry,cause you are not going to have the land,water,weather,acreage needed to go it all the way in hardly any city.

If you don't get started now your chances are slim indeed. If you get started at least a year ahead of the crowd,your odds of success will be greatly improved.

But not very high,unless you are tough and knowledgeable and pick a good spot.

Good stuff young FarmerMac,,

Class of 72? college or high school. I guess college. I got maybe 10 yrs on ye?

Again goodly stuff,

Got a neighbor down the road. Has about 7 donkeys(jacks and jennys) and a horse mare. Been thinking of getting him to breed me up a nice mule.

I have raised, bred, trained, shod and rode many horses over my time. Had a dozen in my corral at one time. But none anymore and I sorta miss them. But a mule beats a horse for work about any day. IMO.

Airdale-and I did have a good walking breaking plow around chere someers

I've still got my Old Pa's horse drawn turn plow,his cultivator,and his lay off plow that doubles pretty well as a potato plow.I don't know what happened to his spring tooth harrow.

But I don't have a horse or mule,and I have never trained one.I guess I really need to be thinking along those lines,but I'm a good mechanic and I keep enough diesel on hand to run as a subsistence operation for at least three years,and at the first sign of really imminent trouble I will double or triple that.I'm betting that our old tractors are good for my personal duration,with lots of tlc,and that if not good tractors won't be that hard to swap for,once the owners have no more fuel.

My understanding is a work cow is best. No shoes, hardier, better temperament and can produce milk.
If your a farmer you can make your our fuel. I'm experimenting with fodder beets this year. Last year a buddy and I started making apple cider. In my area freeze distillation is a great primary technique.

The Amish use oxen, ie cows that can be trained from the time they are calves. Go to and look for Longson.

The Hutterites, Mennonites and Amish will become our national survivalist heros.

Yes I have studied this. I found that Red Poll make the best oxen. Are good milkers and have good slaughter meat. A very gentle breed by the way.

I toured a lot of farms where Red Poll was being raised and fed out.

Excellent cattle and make good draft animals. If I get the chance I always wanted to get a start of them. Also you can cross for hybird vigor by using other Red Polls but of different lineage. Like perhaps Black Polls but Red still in the rest. Just different color.


OFM's comments hit a cord with anyone who has farmed for a living. Fortunately this is farming in the existing infrastructure. Break your back before breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While it is useful to point out the problems with the, "Back to the land" philosophy, it is more useful to point out what is the right direction.

As has been pointed out, there are a number of problems with the organic movement's belief that we can transition to a manure/compost scenario easily. It should also be pointed out the most of the successful long term agricultural practices through time use just this system and there is really no other choice except on virgin soils.

An ongoing discussion in most of the "Natural Farming" list serves is about how to maintain fertility through on-farm, input free agriculture. Discussions parallel those found here in terms of considering the eroei of different farming/gardening practices. The general consensus is this is possible and desirable depending on climate and fertility. Of course this presupposes the average farmer is also the average head of household and is interested in providing food for themselves, their families, and maybe a little surplus to trade. It also presupposes the average farmstead is about one quarter acre arable with committed acreage for heat energy production. The appropriate tools are the ones I use daily in season; shovel, hoe, wheelbarrow, rake, grub hoe, etc. Ok, I broke down and got a tiller after two heart attacks and five by-passes. I guess I have a little bit to learn about feeding the human organism.

In general terms forget the idea of converting all land into equivalent grain harvest as a ballpark calculation. Start with vegetable produce as the mainstay of diet instead. "Diet for a small planet," with all it's faults shows the calorie densities of growing food products. This is calorie densities on the land, not densities of calories in food.

Also, forget human densities of cities. As a child of the sixties, I left the big world a long time ago for the "hinterlands" as my NYC relatives refer to anywhere without Starbucks. Now I enjoy an abundance of space, time, nature, good food, poverty, unemployment, back breaking labor, lack of culture, etc.. One thing I don't need to consider is being so cramped on the land as to make anyone psychologically dangerous. Before anyone criticizes this as not applicable to the population as a whole, consider that city dwellers have made their bed and must now remake the bed.

Another advantage of the less well traveled road is an abundance of naturally occurring organic material to substantially improve your little piece of arable land. Most of the land in my region is not considered arable, i.e. can't be commercially farmed. It can be improved to the point of very good yields with a little work over a number of years. It is true winter comes early, but this is a good excuse to close the schools and go deer hunting. Most of my circle grow a good portion of their food now, hunt for more, trade for more, and buy what they can't get otherwise. As things get worse, I suspect this will continue more so.

Finally, forget thinking you will invent or rediscover a way to do "agriculture." Those degrees from past decades taught farmers to have a closed mind to anything but centralized agriculture. What we are talking about is farming, or even just humble gardening. The times are such that eighty percent of the population have to be farmers just as it was in 1900. If transportation becomes the horse, we would have the manure for farming and could start arguing about how horses waste good farm land and whether the land is good enough for human crops or just grazing crops. Good farmers don't starve, the rest of us have to learn quick. Regressive thinking? Yes, I think appropriately so.

Class of '94
College of Agriculture
University of Minnesota

Both my husband and I are graduates of our state's land grant university. He farmed before going back to school and so could fill in the blanks when he took weed science and soil fertility. As a non-farmer I was frustrated with soil fertility class because it was completely seperated from anything "natural" or even farm related. Fertility started with Leibig's experiments in a barrell and went from there to chemistry and chemical. Weeks worth of this...

Fast forward 15 years and we are back on the farm and trying to transition away from conventional corn/soy. Old Farmer is right-- this is back breaking. We're trying to do organic edible legumes- to supply our soil nitrogen. Sadly, there is a huge knowledge gap in how to grow crops without the chemical inputs/pesticides. I've asked the Agriculture faculty, gathered around morning coffee, if they could turn their research (genetics/lab bench) "on a dime" if it was critical to do so.... They just look at me like a curious creature in their midst.

Well now the roosters crowing. Better pull on those old jeans.


Unfortunalely you are correct in that the course was (for your purposes) oriented to theory rather than practical matters.

You needed a survey course,something smilar to "business math".But the specialists need every iota of that theory,it's first grade stuff for them.Then they need to move over to life sciences and pickup another degree in mycology or genetics or something similar.

This is not going to happen overnight,obviously,but it is obviously happening.

And now that you know it,you are much better prepared to conduct your own research,formal or informal,and to understand what may or may not be happening on your own place.

Just like the guy who makes his living refitting commercial lighting systems for his living.

Most likely he was not specifically trained to specialize in energy efficiency,but simply opened his eyes and created his own niche,using his conventional engineering training for a different purpose.

I know it's late to comment, but I'll bring it up again at some point if I get no response.

My understanding about the legumes is that they do not put much nitrogen into the ground if you take away the pods. This is supposed to be especially true for beans and soybeans, which are high in protein (read, nitrogen).

Peas might do a better job of fixing nitrogen into plant tissues (NOT roots!), but it only becomes available if you put the whole plant back into the soil.

I know Native Americans used to plant the "three sisters" together, but I am getting the impression that the beans couldn't possibly be putting nitrogen into the soil while they are growing - nitrogen is used for protein synthesis, and for photosynthesis. At best, they would not-compete with the corn and squash for soil nitrogen, and enjoy the shading and the trellising corn provides. Then when the beans are harvested, the rest of the plant can be plowed back into the soil, or composted, but would have no more nitrogen per unit weight than any other green plant.

Legumes can fix up to 150kg nitrogen per Ha, about 100lbs/acre. All of the tissue contain N but the pods are especially high. The residue including roots will return N to the soil. Young tissues are higher in N than mature dried tissues.
Other plants can be much lower in N content, for example cereals, especially if grain is removed, or plants are grown under low N conditions. Some of the highest N fixing legumes are pasture legumes, alfalfa, medics providing they don't contain too many weeds.

Sweet Clover

Sweet clover is unexcelled as a legume used to improve nitrogen levels, especially at the end of the first growing season. In Iowa tests it produced 146 pounds of N as compared to 55 from alfalfa, 50 from red clover and 36 from ladino in the fall of the seeding year.

In the first year Sweet Clover hasn't started its seed production yet. Farmers have mixed feelings about it for hay because it can be an animal killer if it molds. I'm trying to get patches started around fruit trees.

The best fixers IMO are the vetch...Hairy Vetch is very good. Old timers used it to put N back into tobacco beds which need a lot of N.

There is also Crown Vetch...and used to be used on the roadsides.But not anymore.

Hairy grows best in the spring and possibly the fall but I can't get it to start from seed in the middle of summer..tried and sprouted by put on no growth so it is highly seasonal...Crown I haven't tried yet but I will soon enough.

Hairy is tender and very easy to control...excellent all around...excellent.


There's one of the roadsize vetches that turned out to be a pest, I think it is Crimson Vetch. I've got another kind of vetch growing, it looks like the Hairy Vetch except without the hair. I think its just called Purple Vetch.

For groundbuilding, I like Sweet Clover (actually not a clover but a pea that doesn't bother to produce a pod). It fixes more nitrogen than any other of the field legumes, its deep rooted, and can utilize sequestered phosphates unavailable to other plants. For cover crops it has the added complication of being a biennial that blooms in its second year. If you're a bird fan Gold Finches really like the seeds. If you have a plot that you don't want to touch for a while its really good, roots can go down six feet right thru hardpans.

Then when the beans are harvested, the rest of the plant can be plowed back into the soil, or composted, but would have no more nitrogen per unit weight than any other green plant.

But that nitrogen is still a net contribution as opposed to a break even or a loss.

Depending on other characteristics of the soil there can be some significant nitrogen contribution from azotobacter. It needs a lot of organic matter and is picky about ph. I think its the "azobacteria" mentioned in some of Steve Solomon's writing.

Hey old farmer; What did you put in that coffee you were drinking this morning, About half way through that post it looked like you got your glasses crossed. LOL

which post ,Herrmit?

Class of 67
College of Agriculture
California State University - Fresno


I think it is fairly obvious that the OBAU/F (Old Business As Usual/Farming) was a pretty tough row to hoe. I think it's also quite obvious that Climate Change is going to be a deal breaker for many a person attempting to feed themselves. What is not so clear to me is that you have actually studied and attempted to implement permaculture techniques, Fukuoka's methodologies, bio-intensive gardening, etc., etc. Perhaps I've missed some of your posts?

There is always a fair bit of hand waving that goes on in these threads as posters do not, cannot, remember everything ever posted. There is plenty of evidence that people can use various techniques to grow impressive amounts of food, yet you continue to say it is impossible. This is false. What I do accept, and it should be obvious to anyone who reads this site regularly, is that it is highly unlikely that the coming transition will involve 6 billion people farming. That is to say, a huge number of deaths from various causes is probably likely. But it is still incorrect for you to claim we *cannot* feed ourselves. We almost certainly will not, but that is not the same thing.

There is enough acreage in arable land alone (see other areas of this topic thread) to feed at least 9 billion people. But that's just a math problem sum. The reality involves the distribution of land, farming for profit, transport, prices, diversion for bio-fuels, weather events, etc. Will we ever feed 9 billion a healthy diet? No. Not likely. But not because we can't.

I think it unfair of you to regularly mix up the issue of farming techniques and the current global geo-socio-political wackiness. Yes, when discussing solutions, particularly at the societal level, we must combine the two, but in terms of helping people attempt to adjust to the changing reality and seek out survival solutions, there is great value in teaching, being open minded and in NOT making false claims.

I find it amusing that some of you old farmers harp on about lost skills, lost knowledge, unrealistic expectations and what some of you consider delusions, but not one of you has offered to take in apprentices to teach, or offered workshops, etc.

Great AgriSensei: None of you know what you are doing!

AgriAcolytes: Teach us Great AgriSensei!

Great AgriSensei: No!

What the hell?

Where, also, are the people joining together from this site to do some of what is discussed - other than some of our esteemed who are looking at making farmland an *investment*? Here's my open call:

I am now in the US. I am actively seeking a home, good neighbors, partners and like-mindeds to put word to deed, most likely in a LandTrust structure, but things are very fluid. I could just as easily end up trying to set up a community farm in a city somewhere. Regardless, I hope to have first crop up next spring, tho today I've got nothing but what we brought from Korea, and any and all willing to work hard to build something sustainable are welcome.

I am hopeful of a future that is better, but am realistic about a future that involves a fall before a possible new paradigm.

Feel free to keep screaming, "Can't be done!", or, get about GETTING it done.


CCpo,As an aside when threads get long,I usually address people by thier handles as I makes it clear what exactly you are responding to-sometimes I include the time too as 7/28/8;59 to identify your particular post.This might help clear up a lot of confusion from time to time.

I agree that we are making a mistake when we intermingle the political and the psychological -the cultural-factors of eating in the future with the technical factors of actual production.

And incidentally I do personally believe that it is technically within the realm of possibility that we could actually grow enough food to feed every body without the ff inputs,or at least w/o most of them.

But only in the sense that I believe we could(technically )build out a wind solar and geothermal electrical system so powerful we could quit burning coal.

Lets just take another toke and another slug and see how it could be done,command economy style.

Outlaw all new personal passenger vehicle manufacture with curb wieght over 2500 pounds,or more than 1600 cc engines.

Require that they be manufactured rust proof and modular and that all components be 100 percent interchangeable for ten years,and that any component,including the engine ,be removeable in one hour.

Make it against the law to move atruck over 4000 piunds unless it is loaded or onits way back from a deilvery.

Taxjet fuel at the same rate that motor fuel is taxed,and on a big luxury tax per ticket.

require all new construction to be superinsulated,and issue refundable tax credits to all low income homeowners to retrofit thier homes insulation wise,etc,and put in state of the art heatpumps.

All things of this nature combined would easily free up the energy and materials needed for the new uinfrastructure.

Add about another dozen or two such proposals,and shanghai all people out of work into the renewable energy buildout.

Of course the chances of anything along these lines actually happening approach zero in the mathematical sense.

Ditto the ag revolution ."POSSIBLE "technically(maybe) versus impossible practically

I'm fairly sure that it is possibly technically to establish a colony on Mars.But as a practical matter it will have to wait until we have the future technology that is "magic" in present day terms.

I have already been roasted by several others for pointing out that a lot ofyoung ag researchers today are ready and willing to work outside the bau box.the replies correctly and sadly point out that it ain't happening for the most part ,and they seem to think that it won't,but it will-just not soon enough,unfortunately.

I should have composed that comment more carefully,to reflect the inevitable time lag.

Human change comes slowly-and apparently never faster than a generation or two at a time.

It took three generations of forestry pros to admit that fire suppression is bad forestry,and the fight between the blank slaters and the evolutionary psychologists has lasted my entire adult life and is still not finished,and won't be until the last of the blank slate school graduates prior to about 1980 are retired or dead.

GETTING it done.

CCp, my own thought. I can't join you there but from over here in her majesty's kingdom I am trying to work on something practical as per and (Though at the moment my time/energy is consumed with trying to sort out my lack of health/wealth situation and trying to move things from my secret garden at an old persons home due to be destroyed next wk, to another neglected site (railway embankmo-viaduct). But hopefully will eventually get on to getting people clued-up and involved, just too late with any luck).

The bad news is that in fifty years we will all be living off crabgrass.

Why? There happens to be a lot of protein in jellyfish and there are increasingly larger blooms of them as a direct consequence of overfishing of fish stock. Eating insects I believe will be another option. If all else fails there's always Soylent Green... Dig in!

While there are a lot of ways to increase food production (e.g. use the oceans to grow Algae or somehow harvest plankton as a primary food crop), it is none too appetizing.

The question that I have is whether there is likely to be an orderly "build down" of population, or conflict as the solution, or both.

History would seem to suggest a mix of both, and in many parts of the world, there will not be a "build down", but Rwanda like collapse.

IMO, a sustained decline in food production of 30 to 70 % can only lead to war. War will, by its nature, destroy infrastructure such as dams and irrigation ditches that supply water. These wars will lower carrying capacity even more.


War is virtually gauranteed in such a situation as we now face,judging from the historical record.

Although I have no formal training as a historian or a military man,I have spent most of my life reading good books,including many histories including military histories and several military treatises,since I'm too lazy to work much.I might have spent my time touring the world or hunting big game in Africa,but that would have entailed lots of work earning the necessary money.

And I have made good friends with a dozen or so career military people,some of them very well educated officers.One is a historian and a brother in law.

All agree that if the peak oil scenario is correct and the peak is here that the odds of widescale war are very high.But they don't say so in public.

The one thing that might prevent it from coming is that most of the more powerful countries are now members of Nato,and the fear of a nuclear response to an ordinary invasion.

As i've said before,my personal opinion is that we will squek by in the US,but if there is an all out war,even if it doen't go nuclear,all bets are off.

I don't find this "inevitable war" notion at all convincing. Wars require (1) spare physical resources (not least oil), (2) a sufficiency of personnel loyal/cowed and willing to obey orders, and (3) a population sufficiently loyal and supportive of the venture. I question whether these conditions are anything like as present as they were in say ww2. Ww2 was only able to happen because a high proportion of the German population believed themselves (correctly) to be the victims of unfair collective punishment bullying by other nations. Such a sentiment does not apply anymore in Europe/Uk/Eire (Muslim colonists apart). Instead there is a strong sentiment of fervent anti-militarism. Meanwhile the coalition forces (and their economies) are exhausted from the ongoing Afghan and Iraq operations.

The only warfare of any scale I forsee in the eu/uk/ei is between the Muslim colonists and the various natives, and it's rather obvious which side would be the total loser in that.

I hope you are right but wars can start almost anywhere and spread like plague.

I did add that I thought since so many powerful countries are allies that it might not happen.

But weakness in one place enables aggression someplace else.

Saddam would have stayed home if he had thought we had the will and the power to keep him there.He miscalculated.

This is not to say I approve of occupying the Middle East,but only that weakness,actual or percieved,anywhere,changes the equation.

The cornucopians always claim that there is far more more potential sources of food and there are mouths to feed and it is only a question of the market/geopolitics/stupidity that leaves nearly a billion people short of food right now.

The fact is, we do have markets, which means buyers and sellers, winners and losers. The losers go hungry. We do have geopolitics, and wars, and insurgencies, and corruption and natural disasters and climate change. We also have more people than ever before, so there is less and less slack in the global food supply. More and more people are forced to live on marginal land - be it low fertility or in danger of flooding/earthquake or whatever.

As energy gets more expensive, it is as always the poor who will go without. Rich countries will be able to afford to feed their people (although some may chose not to!)

We are not heading into a cornucopian future. We are at the practical limits of the planet can support in terms of human life, and we continue to reduce that limit through over exploitation even as our population continues to grow.

There will be more Rwandan style events. Nigeria is looking increasingly like a failed state to me just now, but the population decline will be localised, violent, and hidden from the global media. Mass starvation was common in China until recent decades. A million people starved in India in 1943(?) in the midst of a good harvest under British control.

The future will be messy, bloody, miserable for billions of people. But there will still be corners of the world of relative peace and prosperity where the population remain (almost) wilfully ignorant of the global reality. It has always been that way. I knew a white South African in the early eighties, who was friendly, laid back, hopelessly pampered lifestyle, and completely unaware of the poverty and brutality most of the people suffered in his own country. He wasn't a bad person, just living life in the context that he grew up in.

Future generations will learn to live with mass poverty and starvation, just as was taken for granted by everybody until a few hundred years ago.

I agree with Amartya Sen that famines are caused more by poverty than by lack of food. So far, there has always been enough food, just not enough purchasing power of the poor. Here in the UK, virtually nobody starves; we take from the rich and give to the poor. We could choose to operate this social safety net on a global scale if we wanted to.

The (usually) unmentioned elephant in the room is that, pretty much by definition, no rational plan can sustain anything near the existing population.

(By definition, since man living rationally in the first palce would never have reached anything near this population level.)

To openly say the obvious, that any such plan would have to involve massive triage, has obvious political drawbacks.

And many of us feel, rightly, that we would never have advocated the policies that got man into this mess, so it's not our responsibility to present "solutions" which either claim to sustain the unsustainable or which openly speak the truth.

(After all, no one else has ever felt any responsibility to do so.)

But the result is intellectually and morally unsatisfactory.

Russ writes:

The (usually) unmentioned elephant in the room is that, pretty much by definition, no rational plan can sustain anything near the existing population.

Yes, overpopulation is one of those taboo zones for both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Time for Asimov's bathroom hypothesis (and apologies to TOD readers who've read it a hundred times before):

MOYERS: What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?

ASIMOV: It will be completely destroyed. I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor: If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want to and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom; it should be right there in the Constitution.

But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door: "Aren't you through yet?" and so on. In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies. The more people there are, the less one individual matters.

Hi Russ,

(By definition, since man living rationally in the first palce would never have reached anything near this population level.)

But, was not "man" created in the "image and likeness of god" to be superior to all the "beasts"? Was man not insructed to go forth and be "fruitful"? Does it not follow that, as god's chosen people", that sufficient prayer will result in devine intervention and a happy life for people with the "right" religious "faith"?

Rationality is somewhat hampered when an entire society is suffering from massive delusion.

You sure got that right.

In the old days that delusion was publicly explicit. In the 19th century there was a public ideology that the wilderness, the forests and wild rivers, were the domain of Satan, and that by subjugating the wilds for economic exploitation we were "reclaiming" them for god. Thus the seemingly odd term "reclamation" for destroying the primeval. The idea was that by conquering nature man was artificially restoring the Garden of Eden and thus returning to god.

Needless to say, big business found this ideology very convenient and funded its propagandists like William Smythe.

Almost nobody publicly talks this way anymore. Maybe James Watt was the most recent prominent figure. But lots of them still feel that way.

More specifically, corn is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life; the native people of the Americas lived on it for thousands of years

No. Corn is nutritionally poor, and the Meso-Americans suffered from eating it. Pellagra is common among people who live in rural South America, where corn is a staple. The spread of corn (maize) consumption caused an epidemic of malnutrition.

Only if you prepare it wrong as most of the world does because when the Europeans spread maize seed worldwide they did not spread the preparation techniques. Maize has to be prepared with an alkali ie lime or ash water to release the niacin to avoid pellagra. Look closely at your reference: people in Central America living on a maize diet don't get pellagra because they use nixtamalization. As well, traditionally one eats beans with one's tortillas or hominy. Of course, if you are so poor so as to only have one single item in your diet, and nothing else, you're going to become sick with some deficiency disease or another.

Yes, quite, but any food that requires soaking in an alkali before consumption is not the ideal food the poster seems to think it is. Other staples are inherently better.

Huh? Ash water! It's easy once you get used to it. And very tasty. How do you think people managed for 1000s of years? That way grinding is simple as the grain is soft and you don't need major infrastructure to mill grains the way Europeans do.

Yes, that is the brilliance of corn, and many other traditional plants. They do not provide complete nutrition. This makes them insect resistant. We, being humans, can add the vital nutrients from another source, or by special processing. We should be breeding LOW lysine corn, and then adding the lysine back from another source. Its not an accident that beans and corn tortillas are a traditional staple.

Tortillas are fine DrChas...but I far more prefer hoe cakes, cornbread and grits.

Tortillas are over done IMO. Yet some real grits, slow cooked and biled down just so, some butter and pepper and ham fat(red eye gravy) and your good to go.

In Lexington at Buffalo and Dad's..they might still be serving hoe cakes for dinner(thats lunch to city folk)..alone with white beans and all that great southern cookin.

Airdale-just run water thru wood ashes and you got enough lye to take care of that home grown corn...grits I say, grits

Sorry, Airdale - Buffalo & Dad's is no more - another victim of drive-thru BurgerDeath that all these brain-dead young'uns seem to prefer ...

Corn is a good crop, OK, but you better have a good-sized patch of ground. For one thing, your yield out of the same patch will fall off a cliff after a couple of years; and for another, racoons will eat your corn blind. And if you don't grow beans too, then you're wasting your time, energy, and garden space growing corn.

You need a grain ...

if your area can grow grain corn, then corn is the best crop to grow along with beans

You need 400 plants per adult for the year

I Grew all my food for over 12 years and ate corn everyday

We soaked and rinsed the corn till it germinated , but did not use lye , wood ashes or anything else.

The whole lye thing is a speed texture thing.

Mamba, according to your second link the Mesoamericans did not suffer all that much.

The puzzle started to be solved when it was noted that pellagra was rare in Mexico despite widespread consumption of maize. The reason appeared to lay in the different way in which the grain was prepared in Mexico. The people of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations softened the corn to make it edible with an alkaline solution-limewater. This process liberated the bound niacin (also known as niacytin) and the important amino acid tryptophan, from which niacin can be formed, making both "bioavailable" for digestion.

Of course corn, or any other grain or vegetable, when used as a single source of nutrition, would be poor. But according to the article the vitamins in corn, especially niacin, can be liberated by soaking it overnight in lime water as the Mesoamericans did.

Ron P.

"You cannot live by bread need peanut butter". But I never tried peanut butter with cornbread. ;-)


Your link above to "an epidemic of malnutrition" does not appear to support the thesis that Meso-americans suffered from eating corn. Rather, it suggests you need to soften the corn first.

The puzzle [of the association of corn with pellagra] started to be solved when it was noted that pellagra was rare in Mexico despite widespread consumption of maize. The reason appeared to lay in the different way in which the grain was prepared in Mexico.

The people of the Aztec and Mayan civilisations softened the corn to make it edible with an alkaline solution-limewater. This process liberated the bound niacin (also known as niacytin) and the important amino acid tryptophan, from which niacin can be formed, making both "bioavailable" for digestion.

The ancient practice of soaking the maize meal overnight in lime water before making tortillas was never transferred to those countries in the Old World to which maize travelled or to communities subsisting largely on maize as a staple food. This almost invariably led to the niacin deficiency disease, pellagra.

Compared to grains like wheat, rice, and barley, corn isn't that bad. It has moderate quantities of vitamins B-1, B-2, and even vitamins A and C. It is a poor source of calcium and iron (which however are not plentiful in these other grains either). I'd grow some other dark green leafy vegetables to go with whatever grain you've got like collards, for example, which are pretty easy to grow and are loaded with calcium, iron, and many vitamins.


If you examine the labeling on a bag of Masa Harina you will note that it says it has been treated with an alkaline solution.

In the south and the indians, used lye made from wood ashes. Called 'seeping water'.

You are wrong about corn. Very wrong.
I have made corn hominy using lye. Not that hard. I eat a lot of grits.
Not the storebrought trash for that is not treated. At one time it was but they quit that.


Yes. The conversation devolves, once again, on the ever intrepid "Oil Drum" into a pissing match about some minor side issue, in this case, corn in the Americas.

Hold on honey, someone on the Internet got something wrong!!

This little side road indicates with remarkable clarity the reason why we will not have an orderly, timely, humane, or appropriate transition to an effective and sustainable lifestyle. No, while the dorks argue over the tensile strength of Superman's cape, the rest of us will be fighting to the last man and woman for a handful of grain.

Good grief.

Peace Cherenkov, There's something seriously major going on underneath this rangling: people forgetting agricultural knowledge (or never having it), ie. how to nutritiously (and practically with relatively low technology) prepare a major grain or calorie source. We have a serious erosion of knowledge going on as well.


Maybe Nate has found a way to manipulate dopamine and serotonin levels with subliminal HTML and is testing it. IIRC he mentioned recently he wasn't going to be posting for a while. Hmmm...

OMG!!! have you examined the source code for this post?! ;-)

Dude... Made me laugh.

But there is an element of cultural triage here. Get it? We've lost an entire body of knowledge in a few generations. I'm eating up (pun intended) this whole corn/ash water thing. I'm like so going to soak my Bloody Butcher flint corn in the alkaline water from my wood stove. And I'll probably chuckle thinking of your comments. Tensile strength of batman's cape.

I hear there I have neighbors that make their own hominy- unheard of in our Norwegian community. Then they make corncob jelly.

Old timers use an ash hopper. Simple to make. Some boards nailed together to form a sort of chute, open at top and closed at bottom but a hole drilled with a spigot like deal to let the seeped water/lye mix exit the bottom of the hopper.

But I think putting the ashes in a bucket then adding water and straining might work. I guess getting the strength right is key but I used just a tad of Red Devil and some water and it did the job...took a while for the kernels to pop open but they did. Then I rinsed it like hell. Let it dry sorta and put it in a quart mason jar in the refrigerator...likely better ways to store I guess.

Trial and error since I never saw it done but just heard of it and there is info on it in the Fox Fire books.

Also we did use to make lye soap and I watched that...with lye and lard. Its supposed to be more healthy for you than storebrought for its almost pure glycerin. Not all the chemicals of storebrought stuff.


Air've got it straight.An here in the Southeast ,its easy to grow some beans right in with your corn,ans some smaller patches of other veggies,and apples are super easy to grow and can ,and are easily dried,although drying fruit is rather time consuming.

And there are a lot of wild plants that can be used to advantage,such as wild "kreasy salad" and persimmons.

If tshtf,hunting and fishing will not help much beyond the first few months,as nearly all the game and fish will be wiped out,but later,after most of the people die off,the prospects for gathering a little wild meat on a fairly regular basis might not be so bad.

My smart old Pappy used to plant those purple hulled pinkeye peas(some call blackeyed) right in with the corn ...not too far from the house...and the peas would climb the stalks all the while trying to put some nitrogen in the soil as well.

My Mammy would stick some of those pods right in her wood range to slow roast for me to gnaw on as it rained outside and I sat near the kitchen window watching the ducks playing in the rain as a tadpole.

Purple pods they are. I just picked a canner full this morning and got another canner full or two to go. Coons got the corn but I got the peas at least.


My grandparents made hominy and I often ate it as a child,Delicious!

But my Mom is senile now and nobody can remember the exact recipe.

How about posting yours?

Hominy is simply dried kernels that have been processed by an alkaline solution til the shell pops open. Then canned or cooked right off.

I once tried Red Devil Lye but it scared me..Yet the shells did pop and it fluffed up like popcorn.

Better to use lime..not so dangerous. You got to rinse it a couple of times good.

I thought then that ifn I let the popped open hominy dry out that I could then run it through my grain mill and make real true grits but I never went that far. I still got lots of ear corn laying around and this fall might try again.

I saved all last winters wood ashes in a big plastic trash can so I can leach out the lye. Weak lye I think is probably best.

Now as to cooking the grits. Say you buy the grocery store type..its Instant and that I do not use. Nor the Quick...Quaker Oats has done a bad number on their Grits.

So I got a couple pounds from a stone mill down in N. Carolina last time I was over the a real downhome mill.

But I asked them if they treated it and they said NOPE. So its not THE REAL THING..yet its what I use. I got yellow and white.

Down there they only EAT the yellow since they are so used to it but I always liked the I got 10 lbs of it. Kept it in my icebox so the weevils wouldn't hatch out and they most certainly WILL if you do not put it up real good. Might even hatch out in glass jars!

So you got some grits to cook. Here is my way.

Bring a right sized pot with half full of well water to a good boil. Drop in handfuls of enough grits. This is an experience call for they will surely swell up a whole lot.I might use 4 big tablespoons for just my self and some will be left over. But its a judgement call and you can always add more water if you got room.

So bring to a good boil..and stir a lot or else it will surely stick to the bottom bad. The more it cooks down the more it might stick. Yellow is worse to stick than white.

So you let the heat down to get just a good bubble..and now it will really really start to thicken up real fast..add more water then...and keep on boiling them grits don't want half done grits...add some salt to taste about now..takes quite a bit...then simmer it on down..and then when judged to be about done..maybe like 1o minutes or 15 or so..judgement add the last water to make it about like good white gravy in should barely make bubbles now..then cover with a lid and let the heat way down..stirring so it doesn't stick on the bottom...

You can now turn the heat off if its down..try a taste...and let it sit. This does a couple wait til your eggs are done and it keeps it from sticking..I use stainless pots just in case that aluminum is like the urban legends say it does......good stainless and thick is the ticket..not cheap cookware.

So dip you up some in a small saucer...shouldn't be runny..add pepper. I do. Some don't. I put in a hens egg size of real cow's butter...and maybe some sugar or not..or sugar later or not..this is up to each person...some good red eye gravy in the middle of it is right good too. Or eat is with just salt , butter and pepper...

You learn each time you make it. And done right those grits are very healthy as well as tasty. Now remember mine are straight ground corn...ground not quite as fine as corn meal..a tad rougher..and not as fine as corn flour...and its ok if some black specks get in it for that shows you are dealing with the real thing. Part of the process.

But once you grind the grits? Better bag it and put in icebox..the moths/weevils will take it...a glass jar airtight might work.

Good luck. I am sure you outght to be able to find a miller around there somewhere or order on the net...white I like..yellow is far more countyrough.

Ifn you let the grits sit can try to fry them in a skillet the next day and pour syrup or molasses on them but they always broke apart on me and never browned right..

Airdale-its all in the technique,,,and not the recipe of quantities

PS. I got a feeling that the old timey Hominy Grits was like canned hominy but dried and ground..surely very hard to find those today..
but just good coarse ground corn that is not 'field corn' should do the White Hickory or Truckers Favorite..or any good heirloom corn...

Airdale said

You are wrong about corn. Very wrong.

I don't think so, old timer. It's just not that wonderful a food. I'd rather grow something that (a) doesn't require so much feeding (corn is a gross feeder) and (b) doesn't require special treatment to yield up its nutrients.

Only in an extreme emergency will anybody depend on corn for the bulk of thier diet.It's easy to balance the protiens out with some beans and anywhere you can grow corn you can grow the beans.

Corn is physically VERY EASY to grow by hand,compared to wheat or rice,and easy to harvest and lends itself well to the land in far more places than most other crops,and fits in well with other farm work-the days you need to be in the cornfield are not the same days you need to be in an orchard,or a cow pasture.Harvest can actually be put off for weeks or months if necessary.

And it is not especially hard on the land if you are subsistence farming and return the nutrients to the field rather than exporting them from your farm.

Amen ,

Corn may be a heavy feeder ... that is because it is a HEAVY producer

Easiest to hand raise and harvest , easiest to store , and keeps the best.

To the Native people of this land Corn was a GOD.

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During the mid 60's I read The Destruction of California by Raymond Dasmann. If memory serves he estimated that the California Indian population was about 100,000. The California population is now approaching 40 million

And the punchline is ..?


For the puzzled, (s)he's referring to The Return of the Living Dead. Intended to be a horror movie, but seen in retrospect as a comedy.

Most people are by now familiar with the evidence that carryforward stocks of grain are declining, while grain production continues to increase. Lester Brown tracks and promotes these figures, but one graph he doesn't draw is the history of per-capita grain production. I used his data at and drew the graph:

One of my very favourite quotes about population and ecology comes from an unnamed friend on the Internet:

Asking, "How will we get enough food to feed this growing population?" is a lot like asking "How will we get enough wood to feed this growing bonfire?"

The point of the quote is that most people have the ecological cause and effect of food and population exactly backwards. The real problem is not that a rising population requires more food, but that an increasing food supply drives populations ever upward. Given that general principle, the above graph hints at why our population growth rate is dropping.

Population growth rate is slowing only in urbanized, most industrialized economies.

On the other hand, population growth is exploding in economies that are under severe stress, like Mali.

Peter Goodchild writes:

Many of the false figures that appear in discussions of the future are the result of armchair gardening of the worst sort. Growing a tiny patch of lettuce and tomatoes is not subsistence gardening. To support human life one must be growing grains and similar crops high in carbohydrates and protein, and these foods must be in quantities large enough to supply three full meals a day, every day, for every person in the household.

Beautiful - but the tragedy is that most of the alternative/organic farming community just don't get it. If they got it, they would probably be doing something else. 'Sordid' numerical calculations are not their thing, since it's the 'spirit' that counts, not the counting. Above all, most of them DON'T SCALE UP. They ignore the fact that a practice that 'works' at some micro-level will not necessarily 'work' at the macro-level, and that orders of magnitude MATTER. They fail to distinguish between toytown and the real existing world. It's a pity - but perhaps they will learn something from reading Peter Goodchild's article.

Great stuff. Keep it coming.

I'm an organic farmer and I do get it. Peter Goodchild's article echoes my own thoughts and I've said many times on TOD that Organic Farming will not feed the World. I also say that economics and farming are incompatible. Farming isn't a business, if it is then it isn't farming - few businesses last more than a few years as they are unsustainable.

Having enough food to eat is the individuals problem and one they must solve themselves. I've solved the problem for my family and some of the community by being an organic farmer, as for the rest... well that's their problem. As you say I ignore the fact that it doesn't "scale up" and doesn't work on the "macro-level", because I couldn't care less whether it does or not.

I think people better get used to the idea that putting food on their table is their responsibility and not someone else's.

It's their problem until they zombify and head to your 'stead. Then it's your problem.


It ain't only the street wise city guys that are stocking up on ammo.You're lucky to find as much as a box of most calibers in Wal marts located in small towns out in farm country.

For those interested,imo in the long run twelve gauge shotgun, twenty two long rifle, and 30 /o6 and 308 are the most likely to be of the highest long term utility,because they are so popular.there are so many kinds of pistols and rifles these days that if ammo is gets hard to find ,lots of them will be useless after a few years, but twenty twos ,nine millimeters and 38 s are very common and 357s will shoot 38.I'm not much into pistols so don't take this to the bank,except for the twenty two.

I was put off by the author's assertion that there would be NO fossil fuel available and that EVERYONE would have to live on the arable land. This is simply not true. We will never run out of transportation capability and the transport of foodstuffs will always be a high priority. Long before the fossil fuel age the Romans transported grain from Egypt to Rome by ship.

While I agree that there will be hard times ahead it will take more profound thinking than was exercised here to get a good description of what is in our future.

To paraphrase: 'I have total confidence in the ability of human ingenuity to rise to the occasion and solve every problem caused by resource limitations. Don't ask me what the solution will be - it will involve technology and I, personally, am technologically challenged. But the specifics of the solution don't matter much; what's important is that we go on with business as usual fully confident that the solution will be found. Should our confidence ever waver we may give up the quest for the solutions to our problems and societal collapse could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.'

May as well go whole hog & profess faith in Jesus or benevolent aliens as have it in some unspecified future technological breakthrough.

Well that's a strenuous response to what I didn't say. Do ye take me fur yon cornucopian? Wow.

My point is only that fossil fuels aren't going to disappear overnight and transportation options, sans ff, are also not going to disappear overnight. While there are any humans alive in the future there will be towns and people trading goods for food. Farmers will want knives and hoes and beads for the women-folk. And there will be ox drawn wagons or bicycles or pack animals to transport goods. And probably the population will be 1/10th of what it is today.

While I consider myself the doomerest of the doomers, and no fan of Jesus by the way, I do try to understand how things are going to play out and over what period of time. I simply think that the article has so many oversimplifications about future scenarios that it neither informs with facts nor stimulates thought. Eskimos don't live on arable land.

jj ,yuor comments about not running out of enough fuel to farm in the short run are correct.

personally I believe that we have fuel enough and to spare to continue farming bau long enough -at least here in the US-to make the sooner or later inevitable transition to a new ag model.

The real question is whether we can manage the economic problems w/o guillotines in every town square and peak lead.

The population overhang is simply enormous and the difference between what might be technically possible and what will actually be done is as great as ther biblical distance from thr east to the west.

And incidentally Jesus is not the problem.The priests who have hijacked his reilgion are the problem.;-)

Taking some artistic license with his coment there, are we?

I didn't ready ANY of what you said into his comment. His point was that we are not running out of fossil fuels overnight. So it is silly to think that everyone will starve.

Food has intrinsic value. Fuel only has value after we have satisfied the need for food. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume food production and distribution will be continued as long as we can. Maybe some will starve for lack of funds... but that's always been the case thanks to capitalism. Maybe more will starve now. But to insinuate that we cannot feed 7 billion people anytime soon when only a few percent of fuel use now goes to food proudction/distribution is just silly.

Long before the fossil fuel age the Romans transported grain from Egypt to Rome by ship.

The point is, the Roman society collapsed, their infrastructure wasn't adequate or sustainable longterm even for a population of just 200 million or so.

Comparing an unsustainable society of 200 million with what could be 8,000 million for us in just 10 years gives some idea of the population collapse required without the oil essential to our intensive agriculture system.

You should not assume that fossil fuel is going to be the limiting factor for adequate amounts of food, plants require many inputs to thrive but as the Romans showed fossil fuel isn't required at all! - but without fossil fuel you can't grow many plants, net exports problems means many countries relying on impotrted oil will have almost zero oil long before the oil runs out.

No, that's not the point at all. Rome was fed for maybe 500 years by distant farms. Constantinople was a major metropolis for over 1000 years, fed by distant farmers, and still is. Come to think of it so is Rome. They didn't cease to be important cities because of a lack of fossil fuels or failed transportation infrastructure.

Some serious fallacies in this subthread of jjhman. The transport from Egypt to Rome was possible because at one end the ships could access up the Nile to a superb growing land and at the other end Rome was up the Tiber (and just across the Med). That doesn't apply to a huge number of contemporary cities. Furthermore the Rome supply wasn't built in a day, it developed over centuries which we don't have to spare. Plus the much higher populations now as pre-mentioned.

The notion that "we aren't going to suddenly run out" also hides a dangerous fallacy. Consider instead the corporatised-oilised system of food supply. That system could catastrophically seize up for other reasons than "running out" of oil. Running out of credit for one. Or a functioning currency for another.

So I think the Darwinsdog paraphrase was nearer to the mark than given credit for.

I am not sure the author of this POST is reading these comments but I would like to add some additional data to his values.

The "148 million square kilometers" of arable land.Being arable does that assume that it is 'open' and already in cultivation? Or how much of that is woodlands? How much is creek bottoms? Or areas that are easy to measure from Google Earth but how much is ACTUAL tillable of that amount?

If it includes woodlands then we have a huge problem. That being we will absolutely NOT be able to clear all that arable land. We must have fuel in the form of woodland timber. Fallen or otherwise. We must and so if you remove the forests then we will not be able to build shelters,heat our habitats nor cook our food.

Another issue. Foraging. Lots of those foragable species of plantlife are still around in large quantities. It takes a nut tree some time to grow and mature.An oak quite a long time. Hickory shorter. Gathering materials for usage such as the Native Americans used inner bark for twine and for other purposes much of those species are no longer in sufficient quantities. We have destroyed much of what the pioneers and NA(native americans) used.

You cannot slaughter hogs without quite a bit of water and heated at that. You must render down the lard. You must scald the body to remove the hair.

Tanning hides is not that easy. You need certain types of material. Not so easily found these days in the land.

But if one observes very closely the Cherokee Tribes and their usage of the land in the South Eastern areas you would find that they farmed extensively and also wisely used what nature provided. In fact the garden plots were owned by the women and passed down to daughters. The closest to my type of terrain is the same as those Cherokee Tribes was.

As for the rest of the USA? Good luck with that. The buffalo are long gone. We killed them off by immense slaughtering. An animal well adapted to what was here before we came to this area. Even so far as in Kentucky,,,there is a site we call Stamping Grounds over near Lexington given that name for the buffalo crossed the river and then stamped their hooofs to shed the water.


The "148 million square kilometers" of arable land.Being arable does that assume that it is 'open' and already in cultivation?

No, that's only 15 million that is arable.

From the post:
Of that 148 million square kilometers, the arable portion, as I said, is only about 10 percent, or 15 million square kilometers.

we arrive at a ratio of about 470 people per square kilometer of arable land.

A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from Pimentel’s hectare of corn is about 7 million kilocalories. Under primitive conditions, then, 1 hectare of corn would support only 3 or 4 people — or, in other words, 1 square kilometer would support 300 or 400 people.

That is all assuming we only eat corn.

Are these figure for real? Ok, we can produce 3 times the 7 million calories with mordern agriculture, but how much arable land is used for meat, houses and freeways?

I am still uncertain as to whether the woodlands have been subtracted out or not.

We must have woodlands. A stripped and bare landscape will sustainably support no one,eventually. We need to take as much care of our forests as we do the usuable soil that is cleared.

Of my farm over half was wooded. That half was the part I most enjoyed. The rest was work. Good honest work but still hard hard labor. Yet the land grew better and better as I worked it with tractors and tools and never put it back on food crops.

So 15 is all we have for crops then I take it.


Being arable does that assume that it is 'open' and already in cultivation? Or how much of that is woodlands? How much is creek bottoms? Or areas that are easy to measure from Google Earth but how much is ACTUAL tillable of that amount?

It does include fruit trees, pecan trees and such but it does not include woodlands or other areas that might be turned into arable land if only cleared and then plowed. In other words the rain forest is not counted as arable.... not yet anyway. However it does not include pasture, land that could become arable if we did not use it to feed the cows and horses. So if we turned this into arable land we would no longer have, not just beef, but also no milk products or horsepower to pull ploughs.

Arable Land: Defined by the CIA World Factbook is land with plants harvested regularly, including trees with fruits, nuts or rubber. Does not include land with trees harvested for wood. Does not include forests, permanent meadows and pasture, land that is barren or covered with buildings or roads.

Ron P.

Thanks Ron for the clarification.


Note that most pasture land isn't suited to growing crops, especially in a mechanized production system. This fact gets missed by a lot of folk (especially those in favour of a vegetarian diet).

The land that I own is too hilly to be tilled. Yet it was for a half-century. The result is that, after a couple of decades of pasturing, the soil on the hill-tops is still very thin, almost non-existant. I'm trying to remedy this with better grazing practises (MIG). I also tend to harvest hay (by scythe!) at the base of hills, mostly since thats where it grows best, but also to allow me to even the nutrient distribution. Winter feeding this hay (and much much more mechanically harvested purchased hay) near the hill-tops is helping, but slowly.

If I were to put the land back into cultivation, whether mechanized, or with draft animals, bald spots would quickly develope and grow. Soil and nutrients would move down-slope.

The bottom line is that sustainably (ie. low-to-no input) animal husbandry is far more possible than is the cultivation of crops. This is especially true on land that is marginal for cultivation (ie. mine).

Moreover, waning fossil fuel production may shift the balance further towards animal husbandry. I can imagine myself raising a great deal of sheep on my land (~140 acres) without hiring any help and using more than a few sips of fossil fuel (to get the animals to an abbatoire). I really can't imagine producing a cultivated crop without machinery. This year, even with the help of a walk-behind garden tiller (first) and a small tractor, I haven't been able to turn a quarter-acre of pasture into a garden. However, I've had my sheep graze about 7 acres in a controlled fashion. There will be no product from that garden this summer, but three ewe-lambs will reach reproductive maturity, five lambs will reach harvest-weight, and 30 pounds of wool were produced as a result of the grazing program. And the livestock really seem to be increasing the fertility of the land, while I know that I'm going to require more inputs and much more work for the garden to produce a crop next year.

When we bought our land, I was imagining a 5-acre market garden (ala Eliot Coleman) with livestock on another 5 acres (and trees on 10 acres). Now that I've got some experience and had some time to think about nutrient flows, I think the balance would be more like 50 acres of grazing livestock for 5 acres of garden (and trees on yet another 50).

On the farm of the past back in the 40s we would put out a small field of corn. Used it to grind for food, feed the mules and the milk cows.

Didn't take a lot of land..maybe 6 acres or so. Depending on herd size. We just fed the cows as needed at milking time,twice per day.

Then we sometimes put in a very small tobacco patch. For the money.
And then a big garden. This is what we lived on. And my grandmother raised a lot of chickens and traded those pullets and fryers to the roving peddler for flour and such.

Ran some hogs and sheep as well. Sold the wool. Slaughtered the hogs for meat.

This was the sum total..and on a farm with only about 30 acres cleared, rest was woods.

It worked well and we only had three mules and no horses. All horse drawn implements. My grandfather could lay off a corn field in two days with his walking plow. Cut a field of hay in another two days. A day getting it up in the wagon and in the loft.

The soil was good and ponds didn't dry out. We ate good and were healthy. Didn't go to town. Would help other neighbors as well with hay and hogs and whatnot.

The garden though was the mainstay. With out that we were in trouble.
Caught water off the roof into the cistern. No well. Washed clothes in a cast iron kettle outside. Wore no shoes except in the winter.

Took a bath in a washtub maybe once every other week or so. Went to a lake nearby to swim if need be. Caught a lot of fish out of it too.

Like as very very good for us young ones. Lots of girl cousins to play with. Woods and fields to roam.

I never forgot my upbringing on the farms of my youth.

Airdale-remember,,the garden was key to this,,we got off school when it was time to dig potatoes., no one worried too much about school though.


Your situation visavis pasture land and cropping is true in most places,and I suspect nearly all places that DEPEND on pastured animals.

Your comments are another nail in the coffin of the cornucopians,but they won't listen,it's much more fun being lied to than hearing the truth when the truth is bad news.

But there Is SOME hope of replacing SOME pasture with crops.Lots of small farmers around here are pasturing some good fields because they can make a little that way on beef w/o the much larger labor and equipment commitment needed to raise crops.This enables them to continue farming part time on farms too small to compete otherwise.

I suppose that there are a lot of small farmers in other areas pursueing a similar strategy,but my guess is that the total acreage they own is not enough to change the big picture much.

The one optimistic note in this piece was the possibility of supplementing agriculture with foraging, hunting and fishing. Certainly the author was being facetious.

Once people start to starve for want of food produced by the agricultural system, it would take a very short time for the populations of wild animals to be over hunted; state restrictions on hunting would be largely ignored and impossible to enforce.

If you look back in time when there were not restrictions on hunting enforced by the various State Conservation Departments, the populations of deer, wild turkey, and the like were decimated by those who supplemented their diets with wild game. For example, it is estimated that in what is now the State of Missouri the whitetail deer population was about 700,000 in 1700, but was hunted down to a mere 400 (that is right, four hundred) by 1925 with unrestricted hunting. The population is up to about 1 million now, with about 200,000 being killed each year under State control. Those 200,000 which are taken produce about 15,000,000 lbs. of meat and bone, or about 2.5 lbs. per person when averaged out over the entire state population (each deer field dresses to about 75 lbs.).

A quick google reveals that the "Global Footprint Network" calculates that we have 13.4 billion hectares - or 2 hectares per person - or productive land or water on Earth. That's 50 people per square kilometer (100 hectares per km sq). We might need a more sophisticated measure than the author uses. Some of this "productive" area might be less productive than the arable land he quotes, but some (cultivated wetlands) are up to twice as productive.

I am curious about this calculation, and about whether the author has tried to live off the land, and see how much is needed. I admit that I haven't, but I was a vegetarian for 15 years (until I got pregnant). He says he "has doubts about the wisdom of a purely vegetarian diet", which strikes me as a strange comment. Kind of like saying that he'd rather drive than bike. Yes, of course, but what we are discussing here is whether the vast majority of humans can be fed in a reasonable (not optimal) way long enough to implement population reduction. Also, are there communities where each person has about 1/2 acre (that's equivalent to 470 people per square km) and what are their limitations in terms of self-sustainability?

Using John Jeavons numbers (who actually lived on his diet, had several other people live on it for several years, and has devised a system that supports ongoing land fertility without manure), we might have a decent diet on 700 square feet per person ( whole different ballpark), and this includes, I believe, 60% devoted to compost crops. As Toby Hemenway notes about urban permaculture, you would not have to do this in cities, where food waste, urine, etc, can be available as sources of nitrogen, and tree clippings, dried leaves for the carbon component. Humanure would have to be composted. A square kilometer (10 million + square feet), after giving each human 1000 sq feet of living space and 1000 of food growing space, would support 10,000 people, not 470 (please correct me if I'm wrong). It's true that you quickly get into trouble adding animals - even chickens need dedicated land to grow their feed on. However, the most productive (in calorie per unit area) type of setting is the swamp where plans are grown along with fish.

A bigger problem might be water, as the breadbaskets of the world are precisely some of the areas threatened by climate change, and political will, which is lacking and will be the realistic cause of our coming disaster. I'll admit also that I don't know whether Jeavons uses mechanized equipment for compost-making. I fully believe DD that the task is otherwise daunting. This means we have to also devote land to biofuels, save some of the FF, design what runs on electricity - also complicates things further.

I would love to hear from more people who are actually growing almost a totality of their diet. Sharon Astyk, Jason Bradford?

I would also like to see a comprehensive plan. Jason Bradford and John Jeavons already have guidelines for what we need to be eating. at a minimum. I think Jason's includes eggs. How much compost will they require? How much fuel might that use up to move around? How many people would be involved in growing food?

I'm taking a permaculture class, and just yesterday we were involved in designing "self-sufficient" communities. We were grappling with the following questions:
- How would one slow the water flow to maximize crop irrigation?
- How would we maximize roof space and other vertical crop growing options?
- How would one site the buildings to create favorable microclimates?
- To minimize the energy used to cool and heat buildings?
- How would one site schools, shops, etc... and design light rail to maximize the efficiency of transportation? (presumably then some people might live up in the mountains where land is not arable - there are systems for transport that could involve a wagon loaded with water traveling downhill, pulling up a wagon loaded with food traveling uphill)
- What's to be done with garbage/human waste?

I do get the sense that the possibilities are more abundant than we think by analyzing a single aspect of the process. I also understand that there will be no worldwide benevolent dictator.

Another consideration is how much river bottom ground is counted.

There is a heck of a lot of it for the river flood plains are replenished by the settlement of nutrients from upstream.

All protected by levees. And when those levess start to break up for lack of maintenace? Then goodbye to thousands of acres of very rich bottom ground.

In fact as dams might disengrate or be uncontrolled the losses could be greater, or possibly less depending. There are catch22s all over the place.


As a farmer with real experience not only in raising crops and animals but also maintaining machinery and equipment,I will stick my neck out and suggest that your posed questions are mostly way off base and indicative of the fact that nobody in your class really has a clue.

Sorry to be so blunt but we may be talking about the lives of small children if you have toddlers.

Water flow in ditches can be diverted with a shovel and a few bunches of grass sod in a minute or two. Water in a pipe can be shut off at the origin by removing the end of the pipe from the source or with a valve-and if you have pipe,you have will have valves too.

The real question is where do you get this water from that is uphill from your garden space?

The real question concerning roofs is how you modify them to withstand the extra loads,the necessary attachments to hold containers w/o leaking,modifying surfaces to withstand lots of foot traffic,etc.

If you refer to capturing water running off a roof diring a rainstorm,it must go into a cistern of some sort.Crops exposed to rainstorms are not in immediate need of irrigation,and diverting the water to them would be wasteful.

As a long term question siteing of buildings is a very good idea to explore but in terms of actually doing something,within any time frame that means anything to you and me-unless you are verry young-you will be using existing buildings.

architects and engineers and others have answered the energy efficiency questions for you already,in great detail.All you need do is read thier work and maybe call in one occasionally to help with a particular problem.

Designing a community to minimize shipping from building to building is a great concept ,but only if you plan on moving to a pristine area and start out in an empty field.Otherwise the answers are self evident-you use whatever is available and locate the most valuable exsting buildings and work out from them,selecting secondary bldgs as close as possible from any suitable.

Building a counterbalanced tow line might work in a skyscraper-if for some reason there were to be lots of water on the roof.How will it get up there?

The odds of successfully building such a thing "in the mountians" in an energy constrained world where miles of cable and lots of big idler wheels with durable bearings,concrete to set posts,etc ?

Garbage will become nearly nonexistent,except for food scraps etc,which can be composted.Ditto all manures,including human.Matter of absolute necessity.

And then there is the real sixty four dollar question-if somebody shows you a busineess plan for running for instance a convenience store which is perfect in every way,except ONE-the location is simply LOUSY-WOULD YOU BUY IT?

If you are taking this seriously you will have realized that this is literally a life and death series of choices you are contemplating,and you will not handicap yourself by making an extraordinarily difficult job even harder by staying in a place where you NEED to garden on your roof(although if you are able to design a green roof into new construction it can be a very good idea) or HAVE to collect rainwater,etc,as a matter of course.

Can you point to a Sustainable Permaculture Diet ?

I mean a daily diet that they grow.

I'm sorry but this whole Permaculture Trip is a bunch of Hogwash.

Also , I suggest you go to Jeavon's Place and see what the people eat.

I do think Jeavons has tried very hard to help people.

Paraniod, all things are possible when starting with a blank sheet of paper for designing a self-sufficient community. Unfortunately, is far more difficult when trying to apply that design in the real World.

We're facing financial collapse, climate change and energy depletion and these things aren't going to suddenly happen once the self-sufficient community is built. They're happening now and they will affect every aspect of creating the self-sufficient community with the result that much of the design becomes infeasible for one reason or another.

What we are faced with is turning existing communities into self-sufficient communities using nothing more than what they already have. My WAG is that the failure rate will be very high. Permaculture is very good at minimising resource use and increasing utility of the given resources, but it is still limited by the resources it has to work with. Money, climate and available energy will act like Liebig's minimum on the growth of the community as well as the quality of the existing resources at hand.

Permaculture is a tool, but its still only a hand pick to help move a mountain. Also, many people seem to confuse the use of Permaculture with some kind of labour saving technology and in so doing massively underestimate the enormity of the task that lays ahead.

Amen, Burgundy!(to your 7/28/7;34am)

I feel like an old and wornout walking on crutches soldier rotating off the front passing the young new gung ho troops on thier way to kick the shit out of the enemy-troops who have not yet been under fire.

The permaculturists and the transistiom movement people don't really seem to have a clue as to what they are going to be up against.

Or at least the ones just reading about it don't.Probably some of the handful of real McCoys are figureing it out for themselves.

The Permculturists need to figure out how to stop importing there food.

How are they going to raise/store their 2000 calories a day and maintain/improve soil quality ?

Not by producing a book or promoting a conference.

People around the world depend on seeds (grains etc.) and tubers for their calories.

Mostly Corn , Wheat , and Rice ... potatoes , peanuts etc.

OFM, please keep posting your real world experience and gems of knowledge.
This city boy is wondering how he is going to get into the battle and survive. Have friends who have bought a 130 acre farm two years ago so seeing how they are getting on - I like to learn from other people's experiences & mistakes. Your points about visits from Murphy elsewhere in this topic are spot on, in my business have had odds of one in ten million come up let alone thinking about a year of drought or heavy frosts etc which you are going to get at least once every ten years or so.

Thanks!It's good knowing that you are getting thru to some people at least.I suspect there are many more who like you can extrapolate from other experience and see the possible pitfalls,but doers do and talk little for the most part.I'm free to talk as much as I like,since my doing days are mostly over.

One thing that occurs to me as a result of reading your comment is that lots of people may have an opportunity to move to a working farm owned by relatives or friends if tshtf hard.

Living quarters will be one of the biggest problems.

Due to possible problems with authorities such as zoning and building inspectors,you will have to "just do it" and figure something out.

Something that works well for several people I know of is a large camper trailer parked inside a barn,either existing or built for the purpose.A distant relative has taken in an out of work female inlaw with a small child by this means very recently and his costs are about as follows.

Elderly twenty four foot camper in good overall condition 1000 dollars.(I have not priced campers lately but given the state of the economy,I bet you could get a really big one in great shape for peanuts,relatively speaking.)

pole barn built to enclose three sides,porch roof extended out over open side-three weeks labor,two people, and about two thousand bucks in building materials-posts boards,nails,screws and metal roofing and siding.

electrical supplies,water pipe sewer pipe,backhoe hire 1000 bucks

Electrical load is only one twenty amp 240 circuit and two 15 amp 120 volt curcuits piggybacked onto his personal house which has two hundred amps fused incoming and had lots of spare spaces in he distribution panel for the three new breakers.

water and sewer lines and electrical lines are buried and up to standards,there is no piont in cheating yourself on such a job.Water is from a spring on he property that supplies the house and the camper sewer output is tied into his existing septic system.The septic system is "three bedroom" rated which in practical terms means it should work ok even for a very large family,and only four people will be using it.

The camper is more than adequate for one person,and two could easily live in it if necessary,especially with ample outside storage space available.

It will last indefinitely since it is not exposed to the weather and is much easier to heat and cool than it would otherwise be since it is not exposed to the wind or summer sun.

I estimate the "rental " value of this solution at this time and this place as being around two hundred dollars to two hundred fifty dollars per month,as a small house goes for four hundred plus utilities.

Breakeven,two to three years roughly.

future value-maybe nothing except the value as a shed for a truck or hay.

maybe priceless to my cousin as a source of rent in the form of shared or in kind labor if the shit really does get bad, or lots of free beer if he takes in one of his old drinking buddies with a social security check and nothing else.
Incidentally he stays in the camper more nights and evenings than not and the girl and the baby stay in the house all the time,as his wife enjoys the company and the baby,even if it is throwing a tantrum.

To put it another way, we can't all "head for the hills."

That is, we are long past "Peak Hills"!

Overhunting would be the least of the problems

North Korea (or Haiti) represents a good example of a population reduced to living off the land. The following narratives from N.K. illustrate what a starving population is reduced to. From pg 2- 8 North Korea Today

Food Shortage Causes Many Workers To Go Absent And Delays The Production Schedule At The Probing Machine Factory The probing machine factory employs more than 700 laborers. This factory produces machines needed in probing. Since the food crisis began last year, there has been a steep increase in the number of workers absent, which has caused many delays to the production schedule. Many of these laborers have left their homes to start businesses and many others are immobile due to malnutrition. These families collect tree bark and roots, which they grind up into a powder to make porridge. Many family members starve and are unable get out of their beds to move around. Many workers faces have turned a shade of yellow and they develop deep-set eyes. Many have lost so much weight that they appear to be made up of nothing but skin and bones and have hard time even opening mouths to speak.

…The Heoryung City Government of North Hamgyong Province has announced that, “between April and July, we can only distribute food rations for the first half of the month and we cannot afford to distribute for the second half of the month due to our current food situation.” In addition, they said that they would distribute potatoes instead of corn during August and September; they will distribute the new harvests in October.

I would like to say that this cannot go on forever but, then again, they have had repeated famines since the mid nineties. As one news anchor noted on a rare visit to N.K. ‘there are no cats or dogs or obesity in this city’.

Defense Secretary Gates has made the same observation

"Frankly, this is an army that's starving," Gates said. "The average North Korean, at this point, is seven inches shorter than his South Korean counterpart. This is a country where the famine of the mid-1990s has affected the physical and even intellectual development of those that are now coming into the zone…

Then there is Haiti, the poster child of a country whose population is devouring the land like locusts – only 3% of forested land left.

Dave Christensen (in red-lined jacket) consults with agronomists and missionaries in North Korea about how to grow and select Painted Mountain corn.

The simple answer is that the population declines to fit the carrying capacity of an earth without fossil fuels.

I do question the logic of 2 million kilocalories a year though - that suggests 6,000 kcl per day, which is too many surely, even for an active farmer. Most could survive on half of that, which doubles the carrying capacity of a square kilometre to 600-800 people, more than we actually need.

That said, all of the other points are valid. I suspect that the solution is a combination of pushing each variable marginally in our favour - if we can get to a population of, say, 5bn and improve the arable land to, say, 13% by being a bit smarter, plus add in fishing and hunting, we might still be able to feed a fairly large population. Whether we would want to, of course, is another matter.

Loggers in the 1800s have been documented as consuming as many as 9K kilocalories in order to fuel their aerobic output at the ax or crosscut saw. 6K for a farmer doing heavy manual labor during the harvest is not an unbelievable figure.

Yeah, I agree. I was raised on a cotton farm back in the days before cotton pickers, hill planting and herbicides. (Hill planting means you don't need to thin the cotton.) The cotton had to be chopped by hand in the spring and picked by hand in the fall. We also grew corn and hay. The corn had to be picked by hand but we did hire a hay bailer. Our farm was not big enough to afford our own hay bailer. But back then the hay had to be forked into the bailers. Nothing is harder than working hay all day.

Farming is hard backbreaking labor.

Ron P.

Well of course it was hard and thats why women back then bore several children. My grandmother birthed 14 on my fathers side. A lot on my mothers side as well.

That gives you free labor. The younger girls qualify to help with the younger and do a lot of the cooking and cleaning.

One man and one wife? Not gonna work too well. Someone gets sick and your in trouble.


Six thousand calories per day sounds about right for a soldier in a combat environment. Farmers also work long days.

I'm old and fat now,but when I was young and going to the orchard with my folks about daylight breakfast would consist of two or three large buscuits-made with lard,drenched with butter,and liberally coated with jelly.four or five lagre sausage patties-much bigger than the ones in fast food biscuits.A couple of large helpings of stewed apples,cooked with lots of sugar and butter.A couple of eggs ,unless it was three or four eggs.White pan gravy made with whole milk flour,and the sausage drippings.Two tall glasses of raw whole Guernsey milk-six plus percent butterfat.At least twenty four ounces .

And try as I mightI could not keep up with Daddy who was in his late thirties when I left home.

And by eleven oclock my belly was always tying itself in knots and I would have given almost anything if Daddy would have knocked off for "dinner" rather than working until five minutes till twelve.

Back in those days my belly was perfectly flat and the only fight I got into at school I just grabbed the other fellow -who was a lot bigger and a football player-and held his hands until the coach made me turn him loose.

Yes, I would like a reference for the 2 million C a year as well. I don't buy it. That means 5500 C per day, every day, for each family member. No way. And no, having worked crosscut saws, I don't buy that every member of a logging community was burning 9000 C per day *every day* either. I haven't been able to find a calorie calculator that bought that either.

Here's a decent one.

I plugged in 8 hours. 5500 C per day would mean about the same amount of work as everyone chopping, splitting, carrying, and stacking wood 8 hours a day, every day of the year. And to the real farmers out there, yes, I've been busting my butt over the past year trying to turn 10 fertile acres of weeds into productive land without herbicides. I completely agree it's sweat-buckets, back-breaking work. It's just not 5500 C per day, per person, 365 days a year work. I'll believe that when I see the well-done study that comes to that conclusion.

Here's another source, an article on the Tour de France at the Wall Street Journal. Tour riders burn between 7000 and 9000 C per day that they're riding. So we're being told that in farm families, everyone is burning about 2/3 as much as Tour de France riders, every day of the year. Again, I'll believe it when I see the study.

No one claimed that every logger was capable of a 9K kilocalorie output every day. These values were for elite loggers on days they really busted ass. Work days were from sunup to sundown and certainly exceeded eight hours labor. No one claimed that "every member of a logging community was burning 9000 C per day *every day*." You're correct that you can't extrapolate from such extreme values to a yearly sum.

But if you look at the original article, that's what Goodchild is saying.

A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year. The food energy from Pimentel’s hectare of corn is about 7 million kilocalories. Under primitive conditions, then, 1 hectare of corn would support only 3 or 4 people — or, in other words, 1 square kilometer would support 300 or 400 people.

He's extrapolating a number, that's highly questionable even for a hard-working adult farmer, to the general population. He may not be that ridiculously sloppy with the rest of his numbers, but I have a hard time going any farther with such a big problem to start with.

I'll be happy to believe that a large adult male farmer burned an average of 6000 C per day from May to October and 5000 C average per day the other months, if there were a study that said that. However, Goodchild doesn't mention such a study, he just throws out 2 million C per year.

And then he concludes that 7 million C / hectare means you could only feed 3 or 4 people. But even if you buy the 5500 C per hard-working, large, adult, male farmer, that means that you could only feed 3.5 hard-working, large, adult, male farmers per acre. What about the wife and kids? What about the non-farmers in the population? He's talking about a population that's only made up of hard-working, large, adult, male farmers!

Fair enough. I was only defending my post about oldtime loggers' caloric balance, not any claim Goodchild made.


You are right that it would not be a 365 day for every family member thing in regards to the calories.Having been there as a child and a very young man I would guess that two hundred fify days would be about right for the men,as some days are easier,and some are really easy,such as repairing tools when it is raining,etc.

Most of the women were working really hard but not at the very toughest jobs as the usual thing.Hoeing corn is hard,but not as hard as stacking hay for instance.

And farm laborers do often have to work at or near thier physical limits.
:Lots of jobs are time sensitive,such as gathering hay in front of rain,picking apples with a huirricane ion the way ,etc.

and farm workers and small farmers doing it by hand necessarily compete physically to succeed the same way small business owners do in very competive fields,with thier heads-flat out-as well as thier hands

Those elite bike riders wouldn't last very many years if thay had to ride that hard that long every day-probably not even a year would finish them off.even at thier age and even with the coddling they get in every other respect.

I have no problem believing the 5500 calorie number. Check this link for activites/exercise and look at the caloric rates per hour for a 190 lb. man. Also remember the raising of calories has to be yielded as we don't consume all of them. As many have noted the critters, insects, weather all cut down on the net before we harvest not to mention the trimming, cutting out bad spots, culls and associated damages as we use them and then the rats, insects, time, molds and etc. continue the yield loss during storage.

I swim 4 1/2 miles 2x a week along with some additional training it takes me just under 3 hours. During that time I am burning around 2500 calories so on those days my caloric breakeven is around 4500 calories. Thats just 3 hours of work! When I am done I am not winded breathing at a normal rates often capable of doing more. Now I also do a fair amount of physical labor around our place on the weekends and get a lot more physically spent than my pool workouts. While my rates are slower I am still burning a lot of calories. Unfortunately for me my penchant for good food and red wine still keeps me with a few extra pounds.
I also seem to remember in Stephen Ambroses' book on Lewis and Clark expedition that the experts had estimated the boat crew members were burning about 30,000 calories a day when they were rowing up the Missouri river based on the amount of food they were consuming per day while still losing weight. While I found that amazing I did not find it unbelievable. Dawn to dusk rowing against a current with heavy boats. Burn baby burn. I'm not sure my memory is correct but I seem to remember they were each eating around 15 lbs of meat per day. Plus a decent ration of hooch!
A moderate day of leaf raking would burn (8 hours) around 2800 calories making your breakeven around 4800 a day. Not that far off from 5500 now the wife and kids may temper the total a bit plus the winter and downtime but again don't forget the yield loss.

1. 190 lb men are not typical. As I noted above, the 5500 C average per day might make sense for a large man like that.

2. "The wife and kids may temper the total a bit plus the winter and downtime" - meaning that 2 million C average per person per year is extremely unlikely.

3. "Don't forget the yield loss" - but Pimental's numbers, which are the ones Goodchild cites, are for corn production in a non-mechanized system. Even Goodchild is claiming that 2,000 kg/hectare, about a third modern production, is a reasonable bottom line. That includes losses to "critters, insects" etc. What's your basis for saying that Pimental has overestimated?

Your wrong the mean weight for men now exceeds 190 lbs.

Yield loss for corn is not what we are talking about unless you are a freaking swine. I know of no one that eats 100% corn for their calorie intake. Grains are the least perishable of our foods veggies, meats, dairy, fruits you know the stuff we eat all have higher yield loss and perishablity.

Kids actually can require more calories as they are growing my son easily consumes more calories than I.

I'm afraid your mind is made up and you are oblivious to reason.

This is kind of a late comment - but I wanted to talk with my dad before I wrote.
My dad worked excavating in the 70's. They got a lot of contract work in tight spaces because they had a rep for not damaging things. Made extra money that way. Their secret was using men and shovels - old men (>40 - lol) because often the summer hires - university kids - couldn't keep up. My dad ate bacon, eggs, fried potatos, toast, juice, sweet tea for breakfast every work day. His lunch was 4 sandwiches (texas cut bread, 1/2 inch sliced meat, lettuce, cheese), thermos soup, fruit, veggies, 1/4 pie, 2 - 4 litre jugs frozen lemonade, thermos sweet tea, cookies. And when work was over he ate a large full supper.
When he started the job he had a 44 inch waist, it dropped to 40 inches and stayed there. These guys worked 8 - 16 hours daily depending upon workload - and true, they weren't shovelling every day. He tells me this wasn't as hard work as in the gold mines earlier on, and that wasn't as hard as exploration before that.
So my dad used about 4-5k calories in 1970, at a stable weight.
I don't have a hard time believing in huge caloric requirements if folks are physically working.
Regards, Al

Is there a database of food production output depending on location and inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, know-how, others)?

I see lots of isolated data points, never sourced, never located or averaged.

Looks like food production data is more secret than nuclear launch codes :).

Wikipedia has some data but the number of studies cited is very low:

Without public data, there's no debate.

This is a field study comparing organic and conventionl techniques side-by-side:

Included are different rotations, manures including green manures and different crops.

Yes this one is included in the wikipedia link I gave.

But this doesn't match what others are saying in comments and the variance with other studies is left unexplained.

That report fails to mention the important matter that organics lack pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, etc. Just more corporate propaganda for suckers.

This BBC article claims that organic food is higher in secondary metabolites. If true organically grown coca would have more cocaine.

I really don't think we have scratched the surface of what might be done to increase food production. Also I think there is aneed to think more laterally on this one. A few ideas for the pot:

1. Ocean farming -creation of upwelling zones in dead ocean using OTEC (increased amounts of sea-food and kelp can be used as land-fertilisers).
2. Forest gardening -use of the 7 'layers' from Canopy to sub-soil to vertical.
3. Healthier eating: protein rich diets are a main cause of some horrible ailments (and no I'm not a Vegetarian -I like a good juicy steak as much as the next man). Think Wartime Britain -limited meat, more Veggies = healthier population.
4. Vertical farms and better use of urban environment (may need fertiliser input -see 1.)

I think its our focus on meat-rich, monocultural, fertiliser and pesticide rich farming that is the issue. If we carry on down this path then, yes, we probably will face some very serious depletion problems.


Wow! Creating upwelling zones in dead ocean using OTEC. I am blown away. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. But I feel a lot more like crying.

Ron P.

Yes. My keyboard is too slick with tears to type accurately.


And I have to make another trip to my beer keg to handle that one.
Or open another fifth of Four Roses.


OK, now you have all had a chance to settle down and stop the stitch from hurting so much what's the problem with trying it?


I think the monoculture which is most inappropriate is human bodies. Spreading their tentacles over the ocean and former forests sounds ghastly.

There is a perfectly good place for tens of billions of humans: spread out in the future, if we're not silly enough to preclude it.

Well, the author gives me my mandatory dose of doom for the week. To summarize his position, Malthuis was wrong only because he overlooked the advent of cheap energy. Which begs the question, what are the author and other like thinking folks missing at present?

I like GliderGuider's contribution.

One other take away is that we (humans) can't stay here, we must move out into the solar system soon. This is an alternate way by which the author's thesis can be true, but one which recognizes the inventiveness of mankind.

One other take away is that we (humans) can't stay here, we must move out into the solar system soon.

Now I know damn well I'll cry.

Ron P.

I'm going to go hill the potatoes....

Where is the line for tickets?

How much arable land is there on Mars?

Moving humans out into the solar system is a species survival daydream. If we want to ensure the survival of the species, we can do that just fine here on Earth.

The way I look at it is this:

The cost of getting a relatively few people off the planet and set up for long-term independent sustainability in a hostile environment is going to be enormous. We don't have the capital, the infrastructure or the knowledge needed to do that. We also don't have the time or the political will.

Much better to start out where the environment is already suitable, and figure out ways to help as many people as possible make it through the coming disruption. I really don't see what advantage going out into a fundamentally hostile environment would give us over the next hundred years. Within that hundred years we will either be a sustainable species (within whatever parameters you choose) or we will probably be toast. If we become toast, I don't see how we could nurture off-planet colonies. If we become sustainable I don't see the need for them.

Since I think we will in fact become sustainable (though probably not voluntarily) and the species will continue, I regard the dream of extra-planetary diaspora as yet one more technology-driven distraction. Kind of like fusion power...

I have a modest proposal....

I assume that it is a "Swift" idea. . .

Cummon GG, it's MAN'S DESTINY to boldly go forth at warp speed and colonize the galaxy, terraforming all wet space rocks and feeding our hundreds of trillions with McDonalds hamburgers & fries. Erecting the Golden Arches from the Orion Arm to the galactic center is what MAN was MEANT to do. Happy motoring among the stars. :)

Indeed, and when/if we do find an earth-like planet, we have clearly deserved it since we have been such great stewards of the one we found ourselves on!

If some species is already trying to live intelligently on that planet, we will also completely be in our rights to wipe them out (maybe save a few for zoos or reservations) and take over.

Perhaps all those who claim that we can just go terraform some other planet into a productive food growing situation should first have to prove themselves by terraforming some unproductive bit of earth territory.

Perhaps some desert area in the US southwest for practice, then the Sahara Desert to really show us their abilities?

Needles, California is an example of terraformed desert on Earth watered by the Colorado River. The transformation of a little patch of the Mojave Desert is easy compared to doing the same on Moon or Mars. A more apt challenge would be to terraform several acres of desert doing something similar to the closed missions in Biosphere 2. If the people want to go outside, then they would have to use spacesuits. If they receive any help from the outside other than materials dropped by parachute, then the mission would be a failure.

It is true that there is a lot of land on the moon. The dirt is very loose and friable, from what I understand, and should be very easy to plow. Great views, too, if you stake your claim on the near side.

Just a few little challenges to overcome, like air and water.

we must move out into the solar system soon.


Can't solve overpopulation and resource depletion problems that way -- do the math on what it would take to move 3 x 109 people out to, say, the asteroid belt. Then post the blueprints for your magical energy device.

You want a refund because the laws of physics don't have loop-holes specially for you? Apply at the complaints desk, handily located in the Alpha Centauri system.

Malthuis was wrong only because he overlooked the advent of cheap energy.

Yes, Malthus was wrong for that reason. He's wrong now because we are far into overshoot, so there won't be a drawn-out, stable suffering at the limits of the food supply; there'll be a crash.

"The other problem with the 10:90 ratio is that with “low technology,” i.e. technology that does not use petroleum or other fossil fuels, crop yields diminish considerably."
So are we saying that mobile phones, electric cars, electric rail transport, manufacturing ammonia, nitric acid by electricity , wind and solar power are all "low technology"?

Does Peter Goodchild not realize that most of the productivity of maize is due to plant breeding, yields have increased 50% since 1984, and FF use per acre has declined >25% since then.

Peter may as well envision a world where we have not metals, no wind and no sunshine; then we will not have cheap energy when FF's are exhausted. Renewable energy may not be as cheap as FF but its a lot cheaper than muscle power, its ludicrous to suggest we won't use it and all return to the countryside: This is another Paul Pot's Year Zero!
Extreme Doomerism

Despite the improvements in productivity, yields, and use of fossil fuels, the amount of land available stays constant while population grows. Plus, huge yields and healthy soils are not particularly compatible, especially where monocropping is practiced to induce high "productivity" and "yields."

The trend in the graph below cannot be sustained for much longer. Goodchild has observed that arable hectares cannot be increased very much. That leaves the human population as the variable most likely to change.


While the author has some good points, both he and several comments above ignore the efficiencies of small scale food production and market gardening, even near or in urban areas. We have the technology, and it's all low tech or low fossil fuel inputs. Not only that, it's widely available in books, from "10 Acres Enough" (circa 1870) through Eliot Coleman and McGee's excellent container gardening book.

A small area, intensively cultivated, produces a large amount of food. In fact, my small garden is much more productive than an equivalent area of farm. There are all kinds of gardening techniques that work even on a tiny scale. I have grown cover crops of clover in large pots and turned them under, still in the pots, for an excellent yield of tomatoes and basil. Assiduous scrouging of compostable material yields a huge amount of free compost even in a city. I don't practice permaculture in its true sense, but I steal a lot of ideas. I used the permaculture idea of building swales on contour lines on a tiny scale in a sloped garden and packed the swales with used horse bedding. Worked like a charm. The swales hold rainwater twice as long as my raised beds. I raise 70% of the vegetables that we eat on 500 square feet. The input is an annual application of three pickup loads of used horse bedding from 4 miles away. It could be done by bicycle cart, although it would take a while. The output of a composting toilet would work, but I'm right in the city. Maybe later on that one.

As for the insect shortage, plant to attract beneficial insects. I planted a narrow border along the sidewalk with sage, lavender and flowering annuals. It is abuzz with insect life.I don't neaten it up as winter approaches, just keep debris off the sidewalk. Beetles and other beneficial insects overwinter there. In the oldest raised beds, with established borders, the predators and prey have come into balance and insect problems are down to a low and tolerable level. The same concept works in a large flower pot.

A market gardener of my acquaintance is gardening without animal inputs. He used some horse manure to get started, but now he uses just cover crops and legume rotation. He says organic gardening is the only thing that can feed the world.

Several of the world's large cities (Moscow, Havanna, Hong Kong, several capitals in Africa) raise 35-50% of their food right in the city. It is well documented that after the breakup of the Soviet Union, 3% of the arable land, in private gardens and small farms, produced 50% of the food.

As for the article, way, way too much doom and not enough hands on organic gardening experiments.


If you're doing it on 500 square feet outdoors thats (20 by twenty five feet,smaller than a lot of living rooms) you must have a very small family and eat like birds.Not even Asian peasants are that efficientand they are generally acknowledged to be the worlds best.

You don't mention your growing season.

And the inputs that you and your buddy are depending on are going to be unobtainium as soon as tshtf.

And for some reason most folks seenm to think that no formal research is being done,or has ever been done, on low input techniques by the colleges and universities that have ag programs .

Nothing could be farther from the truth.Some body who thinks I don't understand organic farming or sustainable agriculture because I took my degree in ag from a big land grant ag college is a nincompoop.(this is not aimed at you personally hamster.)

I does mean that I have finished university level courses thru organic chemistry and the first two years of botany as well as animal health and physiology,soils,etc.,as well as the principles involved in controlling pests and diseases-which are incidentally more or less identical to the ones taught in medical schools and practiced on people as preventative medicine.

Industrial ag exists because given the day to day realities of our place and time it is by far the cheapest way to produce huge amounts of perfectly good food.It's not the producers fault if food marketers have convinced the consumer to eat mostly junk food.When the market calls for it, whole grain flour will be on the shelf in a matter of days or weeks even if never seen it that particular store before.

It has been obvious to most academic ag professionals for some time that the writing is on the wall for ag bau and lots of them are ahead of the curve.

It has been obvious to most academic ag professionals for some time that the writing is on the wall for ag bau and lots of them are ahead of the curve.

I wish this was the case here, Mac. My undergrad work was in zoology at the cellular & subcellular level, and grad work in ecology & evolution. I'm the odd man out here at the ag research station where I'm currently employed. Everyone else is one of those 'academic ag professionals' you speak of. Seems like they're all still living in the Earl Butz era. This is a backwater: podunk science center affiliated with a podunk university in a podunk state, it's true. Yet it shouldn't be too much to expect some token efforts toward sustainability or at least soil & water conservation. Seriously, altho some of these fellows have their narrow fields of expertise, I question many of my colleagues' grasp of basic biology. Sad but true.

DD,you are at least ahead of the curve at your station.

And ag is like any other field in that the old dogs stick with the tricks that they know, because old dogs don't readily learn new tricks.Thier reps are on the line and they have a lifetime invested in the status quo.They will never change,but they will retire someday.

At the U I attended we got all our basic sciences in the other colleges-biology from the biology profs,chemistry from the chemistry profs,in the same room at the same timeas the chemistry and biology majors.

I believe this is true today at most agricultural colleges that are a part of major universities,and you can bet that the young guys are a lot more aware of the big picture than the dinosaurs you are stuck with.

But it will take a while yet for the old geezers to move out.They aren't going to rock any boats.

The name of the game is gatga.Go along to get along.

But they gave us the system we have-and despite it's many shortfalls,it has been miraculously productive-so productive that we now have three times more people than we can hope to sustain.

Govt moves slow,but once moving,it can move with a vengeance.Witness the space program when the soviets beat us into orbit.

We need just one nasty agricultural Black Swan of the negative kind big enough to get the attention of the powers that be to get things moving.

I suspect that it will not be too long in arriving,giving the number of new problems popping up e very year.

Then the research system will get seriously to work creating the new production system .

As I sit in farmer meetings hosted at the local FSA office(which was once the Soil Office and the USDA office but now combined) listening to a presentation by the Ag Profs of the Extension Office by the Land Grant Universities,,,in this case UK(univ ky) I notice that mostly they are spouting the mainstream political agendas.

IOW they are directed from on HIGH. Do this and do that. Its coming from TOP DOWN...and if they want jobs they will do as ordered.

Yet I think it has become pervasive to do this. First its easy and you don't want to rock the boat....SO??? None speak of the destruction of the land. The huge takings of the woodlands. The demise of the fence rows where trees protect against wind erosion.

One hates to interrupt and become the target of many farmer stares and motions to STFU. So I go but I try to peek under the cover like a camel's nose under the tent. So to spake.

Yeah its all about , like unto Earl Butts(Butz) get big , get bigger, plant more,use more N,P,K and so forth and so on. But a good presentation on NRCS and the SOILWEB thingy..

But folks,,its a lost cause. Big Gov is leading from behind IMO..humble though it is.

So I quit going. The time for antidotes is long gone. The big ag profs are NOT IMO going to 'go there' or if they do they come under that microscope over yonder.

My take. So todays farmers are on a round gerbil exercise wheel. They can't stop running. They can't take a breath and if they do they go get drunker than greased owlshit. To take off the edges. To suck it up and go on.

Thats the way your humble servant reads the tea leaves.

"Its all GOOD."...go with the flow, don't mess on the parade grounds...

-yet if you watch them closely you sometimes get a brief glimmer around the eyeholes..a sorta 'shitsky..were are screwed' sorta thing.

So just how many here on the forward looking world of TOD ever really go to any of these meeting? How many? HUH?


This is too much!!! Old farmer, I'd suggest you come to your senses, bust out your books and dig your brain.

If only you would get your hands dirty with just 0.21 acres you could be well fed with the following menu for 1 person:
65 lbs of beef per year (US average consumption) 0.13ac
60 lbs of chicken per year (US average consumptio) (conversion 2:1 at 50 bu) 0.02ac
53 lbs of bread per year (US average consumption)0.029ac
3 ears of sweet corn every third day 0.029ac
half a head of lettuce every third day 0.001ac
half a head of cabbage every third day 0.002ac



If you believe that yields like the ones you quote are achieveable by and large in the real world ,I've got a bridge or two for sale-all you need to do is put up the toll gates.....

I have been in libraries more days than most people,I assure you,and one of the first things that I learned is that just because it's in print doesn't mean it is so.
Of course it occurs to me that maybe you are just indulging in a little fun-I can either laugh with you,and enjoy it,or at you,while feeling sorry for you.I can come to no conclusion because I am unfamiliar with your usual comments,although I seem to remember your name

If you believe the production figures you quote are realistic,you probably also believe in the space based solar power postand Santa Claus too.

Old farmer: I must conclude that despite all your bragging, you don't know much about farming after all.

Conservatively: 500 lbs beef/acre; us consumption 65lbs beef per capita; do the math.
Conservatively: 100 bushel corn/acre; conversion 2:1; us consumption 60lbs chicken per capita; do the math.
Conservatively: 34 bushel wheat/acre; converts to 1800lbs bread; us consumption 53 per capita; do the math.
Etc. etc..

Sorry, there goes your credibility as a farmer.

Sorry ! I was interpreting your figures as results achieveable in the real world on small plots as a strategy for self sufficiency.But afterall,thats what this discussion is about,getting away from
big biz ag as usual.You can't grow chickens beef corn and wheat all on the same small plot silmantaneuously-not to mention some fruits and veggies.

So what are you giong to live on ,manna from heaven?

yes the INDUSTRIAL AG system can grow wheat and corn at even better yields,but only by inputting the ff energy and the combined technological might of the rest of the general ecomony.

but this does not translate well to the homestead for many reasons.

Not simultaneously at all. Just adding up the respective acreages 1 person needs for the several foodsource amounts to about 1/5 of an acre. (and that includes the veggies and you can make up your menu as you see fit). If you wanted some fruit (like Georgian peaches), I am sure you could add a tree here or there. Just tell me how many you want to eat in a year.
1/5 of an acre can easily be "worked" by 1 person without FF. And you can dump your own fertilizer on it as well as that from your livestock. It'll take some sweat though.


I believe it is reasonable to assume that the climate in the mid south eastern US is at least as good as the average of the US ,and good enough as an estimated world average..

As a working farmer with a drgree from a good ag school and a background as a hillbilly baptist descended from sharecroppers way back,having hoed corn by hand,and having mowed orchards by hand,and chopped firewood by hand,and having been visited many times by Mr. Murphy:

I have prepared a personal shit in the fan survival plan for my immediate family.

It could be more robust but I believe it is ADEQUATE.


Why? the news from California or India today?

Blights.we need to fallow the land periodically to allow time for disease organisms to die off.

Crop keep up soil health and productivity.

frost.we lost ALL of our friut this year,excepting a few cherries and a handful of apples.

Storage buildings,pig pen,chicken coop and run.woodshed.small lake for emergency water and irrigationand a few bluegill for dinner.

Woodlot.trees don't grow back very fast.

Storms .last year high winds during a thunderstorm nearly destroyed our biggest garden.

Rats,jap beetles, red mites,grasshoppers,fungus,deer,groundhogs,thieves,

the little kid that comes every day to play with yours at supper time-a VERY SKINNY KID,probably.

I won't turn that kid away,but I want my own dinner too.

A year of food in storage for the year your crops fail.and that year will come.

Winter.nothing much to eat except what you put up.

working space to travel thru fields.

necessity of cultivating many more varieties and species than usual to fill in the times between crops that have short harvest seasonsand to assure that SOMETHING is producing and readyand going into jars and barrelsand sacks.

Needed space /pasturage/ feed supplements/ for a dairy animal and a draft animal and at least some meat in the diet.

need to use techniques that are less than totally optimized for high production,in order to have time for other necessary activities-reparing house,cutting firewood,etc.My Mom used to work around four hundred hours per year just drying apples and veggies-after harvesting and hauling them to tye house,which was my job.

Beginning to get the picture?

I'm reasonably sure we will have enough to get us thru -not certain.planning on using tractor and hoarded diesel at first and probably as long as I am able to work.betting on getting SOME FUELas needed for tractor.

And a little extra for bribes and barter would be very handy too.

That list is brilliant.

It is of course why most people slowly (and quickly) opted away from agriculture. I personally garden so poorly that the Front Range (of the Rocky Mountains) hail and temperature weirdness and my ridiculous hand watering yield about the same paltry amount every year.

As CCPO says, I am learning what I can from the agrisenseis on this site. I hope I do have enough time, because we ain't leaving the city just yet. (I'm working on it).

Nothing of what you say contradicts really my picture: I told you it would take some (a lot) of sweat. But if you do, and if you are truely using good farmers experience and brains, you can and will mitigate disasters and what not and have left to share with a skinny kid now and then or pay a bribe here and there.

I bet that there is no hardworking hillbilly (baptist or not) in your neck of the woods that with a bit of land is not well fed. Although, I think the baptist kind will generally do better as they are not addicted to booz and pot. But that's another story.

We are well fed.And perhaps we are SOMEWHAT less addicted to booze and pot than the average of the country overall.

If you are producing your own,you will get no beef whatsover unless you have adequate pasture,hay and grian,in some combination,to support an steer and that can't be done HERE on less than two acres acre per steer,without ff inputs, unless you buy feed during bad years.

Our plan allows for one cow for six or more people,thus having some milk most of the time and a calf to barter or slaughter as fits circumstances.Elderly dairy cows make excellent stew and hamburger.We could not work a beef cow into the plan except by figureing on keeping more acreage open for pasture and hay.

And lots of things just don't work worth a hoot below a certain scale.If you want to be reasonably sure of growing a useful apple crop,you need at least eight or ten trees at varoius stages of growth from just planted to good for fire firewood,with at least three or four varieties-which enables good pollination,reduces risk of frost getting them all,staggers the harvest season fron
june til October,and allows you to have "keeper" varieties.We usually still have some apples that are wilted but perfectly edible in May in our root cellar.

Ten mature trees ,depending on the variety,location,rainfall and age of the trees might yield as many as four hundred bushels of apples in a really good year.Or as few as ten bushels in a bad year.

(we once picked eighty eight bushels of Rambo s(aptly named are they not?) off a tree located about twenty feet from a spring on very rich bottom land soil,supplemented with plenty of 10 10 10.
That is a local record so far as I know and may be disputed by others who have never seen full grown apple tree of the old traditional varieties ,or a full grown hog.Google Hogzilla.a good part of that yield resulted from "picking over "the tree three or four times over the space of three weeks or so,allowing smaller,greener apples to continue to grow.
Probably not even one tree in ten thousand is in such a good spot,or received so much tlc as that giant rambo.Now that I have said such a yield is POSSIBLE -ONCE-UNDER TRULY EXCEPTIONASL CIRCUMSTANCES -it will probably turn into an AVERAGE yield in a few months on the pollyanna sites.
A good crop on the trees planted nowadays may be any where from five bushels up.)

It's not hard at all to grow nice fat four or five pound cabbages sixteen inches apart in three foot rows by the acre if you use modern equipment,insecticides,and plenty of fertilizer.Farmers at higher elevations around here do it as a matter of course,and Va moumtian grown cabbage earns a premium in local supermarkets.

I will be lucky to average a third of thier yields as a subsistence farmer using conventional lineages,no insecticides,manure and leaves etc as available in lieu of synthetic fertilizer.

Scaling down can be tough too.

And even if you can grow a particular crop successfully,you need to grow enough of it to justify the necessary investment in time and equipment to make it worthwhile.

We could easily grow some cane type sorghum ,but not enough to be worthwhile.

So I will agree with you that the yields you mentioned are realistic-under the bau paradigm and apologize for my remarks about bridges.

But my remarks are equally valid within the context intended -hand labor,no fossil fuel, average conditions of rainfall,soil ,etc.For instance there is almost zero cabbage grown south commercially south of my place but there are thousands of acres starting a just a mile or so north,due to the higher elevation and cooler weather.ditto Christmas trees which are unfortunately not edible.

And there are other considerations that necessarily require the use of more land than one might think.

Productivity falls off rapidly in a field as you near a woodlot because the ground will be shaded part of the day.Ditto near house or barn.

It's not wise to work right up to your property lines.A few feet left un cultivated by both owners on either side of the line makes for good nieghbors.

When you plow or cultivate you need space to turn at the ends of the field.

Spaces kept clear as possible may be absolute necessities for fire breaks in some areas.

We have very serious problems with wind blown dry leaves from October till March here.

A fire in the woods,which-knock on wood- has never happened close to our house could cost us everything.

Right now we have gasoline and electrically powerd machinery that will suffice as ersatz fire equipment,and the fire department is only a phone call and a ten minute drive away.Later there may be no fire dept,or the response time may be much longer.

People need a little space they can call thier own.My mothers most important source of personal fulfillment and recreation when she was able to work was her flower beds and ornamental plantings scattered around the place.

There will be things you want to hoard that may come your way,such as a big old truck that can be used as a storage building.

You will really need a nice little spot with shade and a grill and a picnic table and some comfortable chairs if for no other reason than to get out of the house which will not be air conditioned and may be crowded.

I wasn't saying to raise a steer on 0.13 acres: just 65lbs of beef. 500lbs per acre is surely not asking too much. Yields of 1500lbs are not exceptional.

Just to say that all I threw out there was very, very conservative. And you won't need (much) fertilizer at all. Just recycle your waste on your land. Stay away from broad spectrum insecticides as much as possible: God's beneficials will come in and help for free. Mix your cabbage with carrots, corn and beans: you will have less problems with soil issues. Etc.. What do you know about farming, other than what you have always done before?

If you can't get the yields I mentioned you just did not use your brains and/or did not put enough sweat into the thing.

"Proverbs 28:19
He who works his land shall have abundance of food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty".

We actually EXCEED the yields you mention in some cases-those cases being the ones where we are well situated as to soil and climate,and use the synthetic fertilizers as well as such manures as we have or can readily obtain.

My nieghbors a mile up the road get twice the cabbage yield you quoted.But they are CABBAGE SPECIALISTS,GROWING CABBAGE UNDER IDEAL CONDITIONS,using lots of fuel and fertilizer.

The yields you quote are averages obtained by commercial large scale operators who are using optimized techniques dependent on scale and location.

We generally get more peaches per tree and more per acre than our competitors in Georgia,but THIS YEAR we have no peaches at all.Earlier I thought we would have a five percent crop but every last one fell of due to frost damage.This is due to the fact that we have very good soil and manage our SMALL orchard much more intensively than growers in Georgia manage thier large orchards.

They probably make more money per bushel per tree or per acre than we do however,which is why Goergia is known as peach country an Va is not.

A few years back I could get a really big dump truck load of chicken litter for 125 dallars-the cost of hauling it,basically.

Chicken litter is now locally unobtainium,unless you buy it bagged,dried,sterilized,after passing thru the hands of half a dozen middlemen.

So I can't get the yield of say green beans for instance of somebody who can still get free chicken litter and also has land ideally suited to green beans.

And in which cases,as per the beef,you depend on supplements,or else a much longer growing season and better rainfall than we get here.

Our beef yields are less but right in line with published research results for growers operating under similar conditions.The grass starts growing here in late March ,peaks in June,does little many years in July and August due to dry weather,and by September the days are getting pretty short again.

Raising corn at well over a hundred bushels per acre to feed a steer in addition to the grass and hay it eats requires a lot of ff inputs,but it does not require much acreage, per pound of beef,as you correctly point out.

But we can grow corn at maybe forty bushels per acre by using such manure as is produced on the place if we use a horse instead of a tractor.

Most people don't seem to realize that there is never enough manure or mulch-unless yopu haul it from somewhere off the farm.

Now there are people posting here in this very piece who are getting huge yields-on a very small scale-by hauling home mulches and organics of all sorts.

Under the terms of this discussion,they won't be doing that,as there will be less waste,the owners of it will reclassify it as a resource,use it or sell it,there will be no truck or fuel for the truck,etc.

This whole discussion ,I will remind you once again,is geared to small acreages,hand labor,and few or no outside inputs.

As far as trying new things goes,I spend plenty of time on the net and talking to other operators and reading the news.We try things that look as if they might work-meaning work under actual circumstances with reasonable labor inputs.

If I can find evidence that the new techniques are still in use after a couple of years,I look into trying them more closely by taking a tour or buying a book.

About five to ten percent of so called new and improved practices actually stand the test of time.

I generally buy three or four books a month,and I read them all.

For instance we started hauling bagged leaves home from the curbsides in town years ago,every time we saw them when we were in town.That's a lot of mulch at a very reasonable price,given the fact that we go to town anyway.

After watching our nieghbors use roundup for a few years in thier orchards with no immediately observable ill effects,we started using it this year.I don't like it,but the squeeze between costs and prices leaves me very little choice as a commercial operator.

As a hobby farmer I could do things differently.

4 of us on 10 acres for a total diet

plus some to sell to pay taxes , electricity to pump water...

so I agree .. 2 1/2 acres/adult is needed


Did you get my recipe/procedure for cooking grits? Making them? Etc.

Remember high heat will scorch the starch in corn products. But after cooking you put a lid on and let it sit til it gets cold and stiff and it almost falls out of the pot/pan. I use a heavy quart size saucepan...thick bottom..stir a lot,,then simmmer slowly.

Salt and pepper and butter it in a small saucer then eat up. Like it sweet add sugar and milk...Called Indian Pudding way back. Or SeepingWaterCorn..whatever.

Lots of info on the web but most cases you are dealing there with the Quaker Oats 'quick or instant' trash which is terrible and not real grits.


If anyone wanted to try eating dry corn I would suggest trying this ..

Buy some whole dry corn (health food store)

Soak for 24 hours then rinse for 1-2 days ( until just germinating)

(If it does germinate, you know you have good healthy corn)

Place in blender with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and a little water and a pinch of salt

Pour batter in a waffle iron .... Corn Waffles


oldfarmermac, that would be 500 square feet of raised beds and mini-swales, actual growing area, not a 20 by 25 foot block. I'm growing that water that comes out of the end of the hose. I turn water into high water content vegetables and eat them. Seventy percent of vegetable consumption may seem very little, but fragile, perishable, mostly water vegetables have a tremendous amount of embedded energy. Besides, there is no comparison between broccoli cut fresh from the garden and steamed and broccoli that has spent a week traveling.

Actually, my comments not directed at any particular person, but more challenge to the notion that there is a fixed amount of arable land per person required. It depends, as you pointed out, on the growing season, and as others have pointed out, on how many roots you are willing to eat. And it very much depends what is done with the land.

The ag extension guys are not totally unaware of the need to develop local production for calorie crops, it just occupies 0.1% of their attention. People used to grow grains and dry beans locally in the 19th century. Now we have no record of the varieties grown. There have been some tiny variety trials.

My own experience is in edible gardening in small urban spaces. I keep tightening it up, getting more local, trying new things, finding local sources and solutions. As the market gardeners grow more locally, I try to support them by stocking up in season with storage onions, potatoes, corn and other things things that I don't grow. I've been at this for a long time, and I don't notice how far I have strayed from the mainstream diet until I go somewhere for a professional seminar and am astounded by the buffet. Melons and strawberries in March? Lettuce, tomato and cucumber salad? My lettuce has bolted by the time that I get a brief and wonderful deluge of fresh cucumbers and the tomatoes won't arrive until August, and then all at once. In October, I pick the green ones and pack them in newspaper in shallow boxes. They will ripen slowly, not as good as a fresh garden tomato, but not cardboard supermarket tomatoes bred to tolerate being shipped from Chile or Mexico, either. We have eaten the last ones in January some years.

The main agricultural crop in the U.S. is grass clippings. We have far more acreage in lawn than in any other crop. We have grown used to out of season foods. We have grown unused to eating locally. There is a huge amount of slack in the system. As I rely more on what I can grow or source locally, I find that the food at my house has taken on terroir, its own sense of place. The cucumber deluge will be eaten fresh with abandon, pickled and turned into relish to jazz up winter meals.

We could grow some calorie crops on all that lawn, too. I've grown grains in raised beds to get the feel of it, to work out the timing, the requirements, the threshing and storage of hand grown grains and understand the yields in this place, with low tech methods and the varieties that I can get my hands on. A big fat lawn is an opportunity to grow not just vegetables, but some dry beans and grains. Yes, yes, the water comes out of a hose and the seeds come in the mail. That is less of an immediate issue than the fact that it takes years of practice to learn how to grow, process and preserve and cook food.

We'd best get on with it.


thanks for your reply it makes things a lot more transparent.

For instance the total area you utilize is obviuosly much larger,the water is available on demand,and you are one of the few willing to eat whatever is in saeason,and a lot of it,and do without it when it's out of season,once you have used up your preserved supply.

And I will hazard a guess that the work is more like recreation to you,that you are slim and that you work in a job that does not require a lot of calories.

One thing you have not made clear is just how many people are getting that 70 percent out of your raised beds.One or two ?Or three?

I applaud your efforts and I aopologize for commenting in a way that might be interpreted as an attack on your personal integrity.

What I do intend to attack is polly anna feel good coverage of efforts such as yours that blows your impressive accomplishments up into unworkable feel good nothing to worry about scenarios.links don't generally point uot that most places are subject to freezing waeather for instance,when they trumpet your results.

I agree with your other comments,about lawns for instance in particular,and if you are a regular here you will already know that I do not defend or advocate the continuance of the big biz ag model,other than to point out the obvious truths that is has worked in the past and that we simply must keep it working for quite some time yet while we work out a way to transition to a new sustainable ag paradigm-otherwise tshtf for real.

Whether we can make the transition in the US is open to question, but I believe we can do it,but that the process will take many years.I foresee a massive die off in many parts of the world,assuming that the energy doomers are correct.And I believe they are,but in that respect my opinion is only that of a well informed layman.

And referring back to my remarks about the academic ag professionals being ahead of the curve,I need to clarify that the PROFESSORS AND THOERITICIANS don't run the extension services,they are run by buearcrats who are like all other bueracrats-taking the safe approach,looking after the constiuents who can compliain,making sure the pension is safe.
The young guys coming along HAVE HEARD ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY,ETC,in thier basic biology classes, and they will be rerady to shift gears when the oppuortunity arises.
But anyone who will spend a few hours searching organic farming and sustainable farming techniques will find that the actual researchers are onto it.not all of them of course.And not all of them wear the ag hat.lots of them are in biology departments,etc.

Kinda like a thread a while back where somebody ask if some add on gimmick would improve his mileage,and somebody else replied"what do these people think auto engineers do between coffee breaks anyway?"

oldfarmermac, for growing space requirements, the references that I like are "Square Foot Gardening", John Jeavons as mentioned above and Steve Solomon's early books, before he got all polemical.

Here's the calculation that I use: 40 square feet person for all the green stuff people can put in their faces (120 square feet.) I have a 70 square foot herb bed plus some pots. I grow heirloom tomatoes and some Italian market garden varieties, for fresh eating, sauce and making condiments. I have three raised beds and the mini-swale garden, each 70- 90 square feet, which I rotate in the tomatoes, alliums, green beans, cucumbers and summer squash, winter garden, and cover crops. Not everything happens at once: the tomatoes come out and cover crops go in, this year's summer vegetable bed gets next year's fancy onions, one of green stuff beds, which doesn't get enough sun for summer crops, rotates to fava beans with a nurse crop of oats, etc. Trellises help to maximize space. I get a lot of mileage out of my flower borders next to the sidewalk, not included in garden the space calculation. They are decorative in summer, are key to integrated pest management, grow some medicinal herbs and provide seed crops for seed saving. (what's that funny looking flower in your flower bed? ... a flowering radish)

Because it is an intensively managed small space, I can do things not even small scale market gardeners would bother with. For example, I planted a patch of Bantam corn, which had very spotty germination. With only a dozen plants surviving, I will have to hand pollinate with a paintbrush. I also scattered a handful of saved leek and beet seed in the mulch under the corn. The leeks and beets will germinate unevenly in the fall and early spring, providing food with no more effort than some weeding.

Yes, the sh*t could hit the fan, the ravening hordes could come for the case of granola bars stashed under the couch, and the infrastructure could collapse. I did some work for the city and I have an all too clear grasp of that one. However, the most likely near-term failure modes include:

Close to zero small business revenue for three months of winter due to economic dislocations.
Clients defaulting on work already done and good ruddy luck ever getting anything.
Clients canceling projects, of course after considerable effort has been invested in proposals.
A prolonged and unusually severe stretch of storms paralyzing traffic and shutting down commerce.
The storms wiping out most of the winter garden and burying the rest under a foot of snow and ice for a month.
The storms killing all the browse and forage for urban chickens and goats, forcing the owners to rely exclusively on expensive feed for two and a half months.
Same storms causing a power outage and partial loss of freezer contents.
Relatives, friends and friends of relatives showing up back in town, in dire straights after the meltdown of jobs, businesses, prospects and living arrangements.

That's what happened last winter. I'm hoping for better and planning for worse for the coming winter.


you are now sounding like you are for real.Please don't hold it against me that i am pretty skeptical of a lot of what I see on the net.

We account ourselves pretty good gardeners here and in very smal and very intensively worked plots I can get yields nearly as good -for a month or two when the weather is just right.My kale will turn off close to that kind of yield(forty sq ft is much more than I can eat!) in May and June for instance.

But the labor requirements are such that it is much more practical to go with lower yields and more square footage.

And I am EVER SO GRATEFUL that you have gone on record here and stated in no uncertain terms that THINGS GO WRONG sometimes.

That all too pertinent fact is all too often forgotten.

Nice to make your acquaintance, oldfarmermac. I look forward to future correspondence.

Some of the things that went wrong (and things are continually coming unstuck) could be phrased as instructive crises, or dangerous opportunities.

The lesson of partial freezer failure is to go to the aggravation of pressure canning some of the local chickens in the fall, instead of freezing them all, and perhaps just buy a case of canned organic green beans as a back up.

My friend with the city goat has a Saanen, the princess of dairy breeds. The Saanen requires dairy ration to keep producing milk, and lots of it in winter because she's a big girl. The Saanen won't eat nutritious garden weeds, like purslane, that goats are supposed to like. She won't eat cull potatoes or the root vegetables that allowed Europeans to overwinter more than just the breeding stock.

My first thought was plan for it. Plan, budget, build storage for, and stockpile enough feed to get through the winter.

My second thought was that there are more suitable city goats than a Saanen. A smaller, sturdier breed like an Alpine or a Nigerian dwarf would not give nearly as much milk but would be easier to keep alive in hard times. And starting with a young doe and raising her to eat what you grow would simplify life.

My experiments in growing grains in a raised bed in the garden got pretty good yields, in fact a surprising amount for a 4' by 8' space. The kicker was the threshing and winnowing by hand. It could be scaled up to a patch of someone else's lawn. A couple of big pails of roughly cleaned grain has possibilities. Stored in the basement, it is an alternative to purchased feed for my other friend's city chickens. It could be traded to other people for use as a cover crop. If the grain wasn't needed during the winter, it could be cleaned, soaked and eaten for breakfast. Barley can be malted and made into beer. That would make me some friends.


Hamster,since you are able and willing to put in so much time,you might try cooking some of the feeds such as old potatos your dairy goat won't eat.Boiling in a large pot should be maybe a sprinkle of salt.

Also try adding a small amount of purchased feed to the pot if bioling alone doesn't work.

Since you apparently need to heat your house some of the time,you can do this on cold days and not use any extra energy.

Thanks oldfarmermac, good to know. I'll check it out.

Your comment about the time involved in all these subsistence activities is well put.

The challenge is to come up with a business model that works at all levels of commodity price volatility, all levels of economic and infrastructure disruption, all levels of climate shifts.

Right about now, you're saying "ain't gonna happen." Exactly. I have a small business to keep limping through current economic commotion. Any subsistence activity has to work short term, or it has to be planned as a long-term investment to be supported by current revenue.

The gardening, pickle-making and suchlike are part of my business plan. My goal there is to maximize the return on a small space with the time and capital that I have. The small garden space isn't going to produce every calorie, even every vegetable calorie, that we are going to eat. What it produces is an enormous vegetable value: fresh green stuff for three solid seasons with some winter vegetables, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, ingredients for sauces and relishes better than anything that I'm willing to pay for. I buy space hungry, calorie dense potatoes, big winter squash and corn locally. I buy brown storage onions and grow green onions and a bed of the expensive stuff: cippolinis, Italian torpedo onions.

The other thing the garden generates is practice gardening. After years of growing one bed of fancy potatoes (check it out, heirloom mashed potatoes!), I have an excellent grasp of what it would take in terms of time, work and inputs to turn part of my neighbor's lawn into a potato bed large enough for both households and miscellaneous destitute relatives. If I had to.

This is my problem with the downer doomer mode. Many things can go wrong, and many things are already going wrong. I'm still convinced that doing what we can, where we are, with what we have, while keeping our day jobs as long as possible, is a better use of time than sitting around having fits over the state of the world. Or for that matter, grabbing a gun and running for the hills as the author suggests. Right, head into an unfamiliar culture, discard the two forms of capital that best cushion a person in hard times (social capital and the fertility of an existing garden), dump obligations to family members who already have worse problems, learn a whole new skill set while abandoning current income producing activities and making new friends... Got it.


P.S., oldfarmermac, if the potatoes are green or have large soft brown spots, do you cut it off first or just throw the whole thing in the pot for the goat?


I don't really know a lot about goats,better check with somebody else but my guess is that the rotted spots would contribute mostly to poor palatability rather than anything else.The green portions of spruoting potatos are generally accounted bad news,but goats might be able to eat them safely.I doubt if she will,as they are rather bitter to taste.

I suggest you trim out both green and rotted portions as the prudent thing to do until you can check further.The rotted spots are probably nearly worthless from a nutritional pov anyway.

And if you can easily obtain almost any food discarded by your nieghbors ,it will serve very well for chickens as part of thier diet, if you boil it long enough to kill any pathogens present.

In practice out in the country,lots of left overs from fast food restaurants,etc, are fed to hogs,but you can wind up in jail for doing so if you don't t6ake the prioper precautions-namely sterilization.

What happens is that the employee who takes out the morning garbage puts the left overs-which are counted and written off by the morning manager-in his car instead of the dumpster,Many a pig and puppy is fed this way but very seldom will you hear it mentioned as it means a fine and a lost job.

But it is stil perfectly legal sfaik for a retail store to donate unsalable fruit and veggies to yuou for use as animal feed.

When we used to make a lot of wholesale deliveries,we often hauled home large quantities of all sorts of not- fresh- enough produce from green beans to cantaloupes to watermelons to pumpkins that we fed top our hogs and cows and they loved it.

I would not hesitate to feed any left over bread,pastry, dairy,or vegetable product to a goat of my own,in modest quantities,and see no reason not to dump any chicken broth ,skimmed off fat,etc,that might be left over from cooking one of your hens in with the goats food-if she likes it.

But if you are personally attached to the animal as a pet,or if she is worth a lot of money,go slow!

The green portions of spruoting potatos are generally accounted bad news,but goats might be able to eat them safely.I doubt if she will,as they are rather bitter to taste.

Do go 'round tasting green taters. They have solanine, a narcotic alkaloid and a carcinogen. Go light on the fried green maters too.

I am certainly no expert on farming/gardening, but I think that this article is very interesting:
Published on 22 Jul 2004 by San Francisco Chronicle. Archived on 25 Apr 2005.
Berkeley: Urban farmers produce nearly all their food with a sustainable garden in their backyard

Years ago I compiled this graph and I look at it very often since then because it explaines so much:


Goodchild is a wonderful writer, he appears reguralely at countercurrents and I recommend everyone to search his name there and to read some of his textes.

Of course no one is a "doomer" only because he states what is so obvious, but humans are vain and they like to see themselves in the role of actors, not as receivers of their fate. Hunger, famine and starvation are normal processes in nature.

Maybe one of the worst crimes, the fossil-fuel society commited, was to prevent people (by UNO food aides etc.) from fighting for their food in dignity and grace and so to reduce their number in a normal way instead of starving slowly with bloated bellies and all the horror that comes with it.

It is the collapsing industrial civilisation that is unnatural and creates monsters, not nature, which seems to be cruel because it follows its rules without moral.


I'm very familiar with the concepts presented here. I've read the works of Kunstler, Pimentel, Derek Jenkens, Jared Diamond etc. Also that great book by Clive Ponting: "The Green History Of The Earth." The author of this article says alot with this quote:

"We must also consider that in apocalyptic times it will certainly not be possible to stroll over to the tap and use a hose to pour unlimited amounts of water over one’s plants; on a large garden, the water is whatever the sky decides to send."

There is an assumption being made here that we are headed (And I guess, quite quickly) toward "apocalyptic times." There seems to be fairly wide-spread belief that the peak of world oil production will be followed by a sharp, cliff-like drop in production and society (Western that is) as we have come to know it will be thrown into calamity or "apocalysm."

I would point out that if the world-wide peak of production and fall-off resembles at all the US peak of production and fall-off (A very likely scenario I would contend) then we are not headed toward apocalypse. We are headed and are actually right now experiencing a long, drawn out decline. Unless you live in a very arid part of the globe I'm pretty sure you'll still be able to use your freakin' garden hose.

...if the world-wide peak of production and fall-off resembles at all the US peak of production and fall-off (A very likely scenario I would contend) then we are not headed toward apocalypse.

When US oil production peaked we here in the States began importing the difference between domestic production and demand. As world production peaks, what planet do you expect us to import oil from, to make up this difference?

You know DD, I started to reply to that post until I saw yours. You said it far better than I could have.

Sometimes I wonder if people really think before they write such silly comments. "We peaked and not much happened. Why should we expect it to be any different when the world peaks?"

I am going to quit reading these comments for awhile. I need a good stiff drink and I am going to have one. I have read enough illogical posts to last for awhile.

Ron P.

Hi Ron. I've been reading & commenting on TOD now for nearly a year & a half. Is it just me or has the intellectual level dropped substantially over that period? Please keep up your interesting & informative posts. I enjoy reading what you have to say. We may have disagreed over what caused the Cretaceous/Paleocene extinction but in general, we've been in pretty good agreement about most else.

The level dropped?

DD asks.

I think its just newbies coming on board and telling us how we are not getting the big picture..

They think we need to be brought up to date with the way it their minds that is.

I see this well meaning advice thrown out.."well go get a farm etc....." I havent' been on the farms most of my life already.

Or like "we will go to other planets soon and we can grow stuff there and we can eat it and we will be happy....and like the Kaliforneay Girl on the YouTube..."Hey we can make stuff and the land is free and yada yada..." shit like that..

Etc....and so on...


Demand is already way down. According to the headlines OPEC is bracing for lower oil prices for the foreseable future because of the economic collapse and demand destruction. As far as production goes, we are only in year 4 of the first post-peak plateau. How long will the plateau last? How many more to come?

The cycle appears to be: demand surge, price spike, demand collapse, price collapse. How many times will this cycle repeat? I contend that this could continue for many years. And in the meantime I still get to water my goddamned garden with a hose hooked up to city water.
Get a hold of yourselves people!

How many times will this cycle repeat?

That depends on the Q factor, the applied and stored energy, and the strength of the weakest component in the circuit. My out-of-thin-air guess is twice more before something breaks irreparably.

You irrigate your garden with water that has been expensively treated to drinking standards? That's ... disappointing, from the point of view of the 2 billion people without access to safe drinking water.

Everything's OK as long as you get to live out your life in comfort? That's ... disappointing, too.

You get hold of yourself. I'm no where near any arid land or desert, yet here in the middle of Europe we have a hose pipe ban. And they're becoming increasingly common, even in rain drenched places like the UK.

Rain drenched?? ROTFLOL
Here in the south east (where most people live and most hose pipe bans) the annual rainfall is around 600mm or 24 inches so around half of New York or that other well know rain drenched city Sydney, Australia:-)

Maybe you also think we still have fogs like in the old Sherlock Holmes stories? Admittedly we do have many cloudy grey skies.

Seriously though, the weather is becoming more unpredictable with some long dry periods and periods of heavy rain rather than being evenly spread.

Disclaimer - big city boy, no agricultural qualifications, never grown anything, wondering how to get into this farming thingy when kids at one of top 3 schools in country, wife in denial, last 1,000 years show opportunities & power in cities.....

If you were in Atlanta Georgia, you wouldn't be useing your hose much longer.

And incidentally,I was in South Carolina just twenty minues or so south of Charlotte a little while back.

A local landscaping company,a lawn and garden type place,had dozens of some kind of big potted palms -tree sized- out for sale.

Used to be that I would have to drive quite a bit farther south to see that.

We're not in a cycle yet because the main driver of the economic collapse was the housing crisis, not peak oil.

Kram was talking, I believe, about the shape of the Hubbert curves, and contending that the global curve would be like the US curve, which he judges to be quite gradual rather than apocalyptic. Your response has nothing to do with what he said.

"... if the world-wide peak of production and fall-off resembles at all the US peak of production and fall-off (A very likely scenario I would contend) ..."

And why would you contend that? The US peak was cushioned - even rendered moot, for a time - by, among other things, the cheap and easy availability of imported oil. This current world-wide peak, despite all the frantic grasping for similar cushions, will not enjoy those advantages.

Better think it through again.

Better read my response to darwinsdog above, and think through it again yourself.

I am glad you pointed this out. Darwinsdog was very harsh with his reply about the intellectual level dropping off in the comments section. What was obvious to me was the ability to read is dropping off considerably, with Darwinsdog and Darwinian leading the pack.

What was obvious to me was the ability to read is dropping off considerably, with Darwinsdog and Darwinian leading the pack.

That's strange--the very opposite was obvious to me!

I find the responses to your post Kram, very odd. Considering the fact that the ASPO seems to agree with your assessment on a slow global decline. I dare to think any of the responders put themselves above or even on par with the ASPO.

The only thing that has changed about The Oil Drum since I started visiting 3 years ago, is now everything is APOCALYPSE NOW! I see a lot of present and former contributors have started their own blogs that actually talk about some solutions, albeit none are BAU. I wonder why?


Yes it's a bit funny being castigated for not joining the apocalyptic bandwagon. Also I think one poster refered to me as a "newbie," which is funny since I've been a member of TOD for several years. I've only recently become a frequent poster (After losing my job building utility trucks) so maybe I just seem like a "newbie." Anyway, as I said in an earlier post I am very familiar with the issues surrounding peak oil. I first got interested in the subject in 2003.

Why is everything APOCALYPE NOW? Well for one thing this society (US, Western anyway) definitely has a death wish (Derek Jensen has this right IMHO.) Just take a cursory glance at the doomsday movies and asteroid/disaster television programming, The History Channel/PBS/TLC - all spew this nonsense out at regular intervals. Then of course we have the christian Rapture maniacs. Apocalypse and this doomsday insanity has it's origins in religion, after all, which is reason number one to be skeptical.

Kram, There is no "apocalyptic bandwagon", just numerous independent minds that have arrived at the same conclusion. The reasoning for expecting some sorts of discontinuities have been repeatedly mentioned on this site and elsewhere. See for instance my own effort at

OptimisticDoomer, I think you'll find that ASPO are nerely forecasting the oil supply assuming everything else continues bau-ically. They don't get into the various collapse theories, which depend on different expertise. The probable-collapsists don't think ASPO are wrong or inferior, just they are addressing a different question.


I would include myself as one of the "independent minds" at TOD. I am intimately familiar with the topics presented here. I have studied and followed the various predictions/claims of "Peak Oil" proponents for 6 years. It was the poster of this article on food production that refered to "apolcalypse." A large majority of people who responded to the article apparently believe that an "apocalyptic future" is axiomatic with the peak of world oil production. That's what I call a bandwagon. And it's one with which I disagree.

All these discussions about how many acres of ag are necessary for food production for x amount of people - this is all fine and dandy on a theoretical basis, but it ignores (And the survivalist/apolcalyptic mentality refuses to entertain) the fact that we humans are SOCIAL animals. We live and thrive in societies that have complex interdepencies. Not everybody needs to be a farmer. Arguably, with the decrease in the amount of FF's a larger portion of the society will be involved in food production, but hey folks, newflash: It not going to be snap your fingers and it's 1854 again.

This go-it-alone-out-in-the-wilderness stuff is complete mythology; even if you don't starve or work youself to death you'll go crazy from the isolation.

I don't think many here are disputing your final paragraph about go-it-alone in the wilderness. And I with many others here also don't think it will be snap your fingers and back to 1854. Rather it will be a whole lot worse / more "interesting" than 1854, because then there was an organised society with a huge amount of accumulated tradition and resources which we have now destroyed or lost, and instead become desperately dependent on the precarious corporatised oil-fueled systems. You haven't challenged any of the points I raise in that article In default of which your disagreement with the "apocalyptic bandwagon" seems to be based on avoiding of challenging questions, rather than a balanced reasoned approach. I for one haven't been persuaded and I doubt, many others.

From your post;
"2. There are no alternative fuels for transportation which are sufficiently scaleable to offset this decline within the next few years (for either technical or social/political/economic reasons)."

You state below:

3. Over the next 1-5 years there will be a decline of oil and other energy supply of several percent due to shortsighted under-investment, creating an energy crunch and an oil crunch.

So tell me why electric vehicles cannot be scaled to replace a few % of present oil supply and why other energy supplies would decrease?

"4. The design of the global financial/economic/corporate system of the past century is such that its functioning depends on continuing growth of key resources, especially cheap easily-produced oil. And cannot continue for long once that growth ceases.

The financial system may depend upon growth of some resources, but not one source of energy, and it's debatable if growth can continue with a rise in energy prices. Sure growth may slow with rising energy prices even decline for a few years during the adjustment. Energy accounts for 10% of US GDP, that leaves a lot of room for other parts of the economy to grow with higher energy prices.

why electric vehicles cannot be scaled to replace a few % of present oil supply and why other energy supplies would decrease?

I agree that they could be scaled to replace a few %. But I don't see this as a great get-out. The USKetc is already in rather more insolvency "long emergency" than it admits. Due to people not being able to afford the cost of new cars, or the investment in the charging setups, and retraining, combined with lack of political commitment, the few % seems likely to be a max. Even with that few %, that would leave a lot of people strained by liquid shortages, and the new bother of having to rearrange their lifestyles and workstyles around the new constraints of recharging and speed and range.

Of course wind, solar etc are to be expected to increase but I'd think that in the next few years this will fail to offset decreases in just about all sorts of fossil fuels.

The financial system may depend upon growth of some resources, but not one source of energy,

I think you seriously underestimate the key role played by cheap oil. We already see how the cessation of oil growth from 2005 has arguably caused the present financial/economic problems, and Gail agrees with me on this so it must be true.

Energy accounts for 10% of US GDP, that leaves a lot of room for other parts of the economy to grow with higher energy prices.

Again I think you underestimate the key role that cheap oil has played in enabling a century of growth. I think energy accounts for more like 100% of (non-Amish) US GDP. Quite how much horsepower or cowpower do the US use? They don't even use their muscles to tighten a screw anymore.

Some positive developments might be possible if there were useful governments to enable them. But as I also say in my discussion of collapse theories:

Governments of scientifically-illiterate congenital incompetents will take charge of tackling the following daunting problems in the difficult context of constant shrinkage disputes and while being incapable of admitting or planning for the reality of population overshoot anyway.

I post this in the Drum Beat, but perhaps it is more relevant here.

An anecdote from today's headline

Hard times drive more Michiganders to fish for food

State officials say many people may be like Miller: loading up the tackle box and heading for the lake or river as a way to cut grocery costs and have cheap fun as well.

So the author is going to grow potatoes on a cliff while the rest of us have to fit into 10% of the land.

On the coast I live near, planting a potato on bare rock and covering it with seaweed would result in the 15M tide washing it away!

But seriously seaweed makes a good mulch and provides useful nutrients. Many hours spent with my grandfather collecting the stuff and spreading it on his allotment.

Some seaweeds are edible, called laverbread in these parts, usually eaten sprinkled with oatmeal, then warmed in hot bacon fat and served with bacon for breakfast.

But using the coast for subsistence gathering will support only a few or you sweep the cupboard bare.
An enlightening conversation about clay pot irrigation
and also Todd if your out there remember that terra preda soils contain huge amounts of broken clay

Hi Earl,

Hey, it's been a while. I Haven't posted much lately because when I come in from the garden mind is mush from the heat. Nate does have a couple of key posts from me, one of which may go up soon.

We have clay soils and my terra preta project is going well. My big test project this summer has been self-watering containers, like Earthboxes.


OK guys don't see space colonization in the future of mankind, me, I don't know. And while I can see that many of you possess and apply considerable intellectual horsepower to your general position, a number of your opposites are your intellectual equals and see things entirely differently.

Review Einstein's mass dilation equation along with distances to stars orbited by potentially habitable planets then compute time frames for travel to said stars and compare with human lifespans. If you do this your uncertainty will evaporate.

Your vision is limited...

I can envision violation of the laws of physics just fine. I've read lots of scifi, after all. The difference between us is that I can distinguish fact from fiction whereas apparently you can't.

(Why do I even bother responding to such drivel?)

Really, you dont have to envision violation of the laws of physics to postulate extraterrestrial development.

For a start, you dont have to go all the way to other stars right away. There are plenty of resources within the solar system.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming about space travel and it is POSSIBLE that maybe we will invent a new technology that will enable us to get there.Someday.An anti matter engine might serve nicely.

Somebody may build one-a few generations down the road.

Our ancestors would never have believed in passenger jets or cell phones.

But for the time being,I'm afraid DD is right.

I'm an old sci fi fan myself.

And the best thing about it,other than that it teaches you to think outside the box,is that it enables you to easily distinguish sci from sci fact after a while.

Serious space travel has to wait until somebody invents something hundreds of times more efficient than rockets..and many times cheaper to boot.

The technology may exist even today inside the head of some young Einstien or Newton or Hawkins, but it sure doesn't exist anywhere on this planet physically.

We have only been using technology for 100,000 years, and have managed to visit the closest satellite. It would be very rash to predict what we will do in the next 100 Million years, let alone the next 5,000 million. My guess is we will travel a little further than 250,000 miles.

The only certainty is we won't be using FF energy, any more than we will be rubbing sticks together to make fire( except on Scout's trips) , those technologies will be considered "primitive".

We won't need food or water either, these are both so primitive-eventually our techno experts will also do away with the troublesome aspects of relying on oxygen to survive. Let's all meet at a convention and wear our Spock ears.

Since we have been using food, water and oxygen for 2Billion years and FF for only a few thousand years, I think it's a smaller stretch of the imagination that we can replace FF sooner than food or oxygen. I appreciate your optimism I guess I am more of a realist.

2 Billion years?? What species are you, Neil?

I'll make you one prediction. I'm a hundred percent certain the species Homo sapiens sapiens will not exist in 100 million years.

All animals are descended from organisms that have been using oxygen for 2 Billion years, I didn't say our ancestors were the same species. Is it relevant that our ancestors or descendants are the same species?

Do you think it's going to be harder to switch from using FF than switching from using oxygen? just trying to put peak oil in perspective.

Aside from needing oxygen to burn fossil fuel, trends indicate we'll switch away from breathing before we abandon fossil fuels.

At the top of this thread, jpintx was talking about "the future of mankind." So yes, species is relevant.

Your viewpoint is a little too far off to be useful. We're concerned with the details of the transition over the next century, not what happens in 100 million years. Try zooming in by 105 or so. Then the next century will be a noticeable part of your perspective.

Anyway, Darwins_dog is right. Allee effects will bring the population of humans down to zero sometime within the next 100 million years.

It would be very reasonable to doubt whether homo sapiens will survive 10,000 more years.

Back when the issue of how to keep safe radioactive waste for 10,000 years, the scientific panel concluded that they could not reasonably be assured that the United States would exist past 150 years from the present.

At any reasonable estimate of the rate of evolution, within 30,000 years, homo sapiens will evolve to something quite difficult to recognize from today's examples.

I personally doubt very much that humans will be extant two centuries from now. But if by some miracle our species manages to hold out over the next 30K years, our descendants will be virtually indistinguishable from us today, just as our ancestors of 30K years bp were.

When you consider that we may have rebounded from a 15,000-person bottleneck to today's 6.7 billion, it's hard for me to see how the species itself could go extinct, short of a "Canfield ocean" style cataclysm. We are enormously adaptable. I can easily imagine that there will be humans 10,000 years from now. Flat screen TVs and liberal democracies maybe not so much.

There is very little genetic variation for a species of such inflated census number as extant Homo. The genetic & demographic bottleneck responsible for this lack of variation came at or very near the time of speciation and it occurred in Africa. 15K is probably far too large to account for such a small effective population size in a species of such huge population, in such a short period of time. The bottleneck was probably more on the order of 150 or 1,500, rather than 15K. These facts say nothing about the likelihood of extinction or its avoidance in the near future. All species are equally "adaptable," until they go extinct, as all do, including our own. Nature isn't beholden to that which you find hard to see.

Oh come on! A species with billions of members capable of surviving in any climate at all on all continents vanishing after two centuries? Ha! Your misanthropy is getting the better of you. Theres no credible picture you can paint of a collapse that leads to human extinction.

Every species that has ever gone extinct, vanished two centuries after some previous moment in time.

As for humans, we are large animals, which can be maladaptive in hard times.

Also, our primary survival strategy is to grow large brains to figure out how to burn the environment and use the energy so liberated to kill rivals and process food sources. This strategy (I hope you agree) destroys the environment, which ultimately destroys us. That's pretty maladaptive.

Every species that has ever gone extinct, vanished two centuries after some previous moment in time.

This is a completely tautologous statement. Every species that exists had to pass through time. Wow, a lot of information implied there.

As for humans, we are large animals, which can be maladaptive in hard times.

Humans aren't classic K strategy specialists that die out when their very particular ecology crumbles. They're highly adaptable omnivores that can live anywhere, eat nearly anything, have a highly adaptable reproductive cycle, and can engineer their own environment to a degree no other species does.

This strategy (I hope you agree) destroys the environment, which ultimately destroys us. That's pretty maladaptive.

No, I dont agree. It alters the environment; You can produce models where its maladaptive and causes die off because resources are exceeded, but extinction just isn't in the cards.

can engineer their own environment to a degree no other species does.

Stromatolites "engineered their own environment" far more radically - they oxygenated Earth's atmosphere. The resulting oxygen-burning animals ate them practically to extinction.

We do "engineer our own environment" too - in the last few thousand years, we deforested Asia and Europe and used the wood for ships, housing, and heating. We also hunted most of the world's large land animals to extinction. In the last few hundred years, we deforested the Americas. In the last 100 years or so, worldwide, we mined out all the easy coal and pumped out all the easy oil, drove most whales and large fish nearly to extinction, pumped most of the world's great aquifers nearly dry, and melted away the great glaciers and ice caps.

While doing so, we built a Parthenon and a few pyramids too.

Stromatolites "engineered their own environment" far more radically - they oxygenated Earth's atmosphere. The resulting oxygen-burning animals ate them practically to extinction.

First it took a lot more time than 200 years. Second, thats hardly engineering.

Like stromatolites with oxygen, we are now busy concentrating CO2 in the atmosphere. As you say, it's hardly engineering. These are merely waste products.

Neither humans nor stromatolites care that their enduring legacy is a gaseous waste product, the production of which destroys prerequisites of their survival.

Congratulations on completely ignoring my point.

Every species that has ever gone extinct, vanished two centuries after some previous moment in time.

This is a completely tautologous statement.

But being tautologous doesn't make it any less true, rather all the more true.


Unless we do ourselves in by means of the BOMB or something equivalent,I can see no reason why we won't be around indefinitely.

Since we are now so widespread,no disease or predator can get us all-once the planes ans ships move no more.

If civilization collapses,there will be many small and isolated groups scattered around.

I agree about our appearance down the road.We do'nt need to evolve physically any more as we are now so adaptable and capable that working together we can whip any other large organism with sticks and stones.

Of course a technical society will eventually emerge again,and the next time around the bugs or the weapons might finish the job.

It's very odd that one of the most critical subjects for the whole question of limits keeps getting skipped over. Nature has perfectly good solutions for growth systems, triggering them to mature to begin their period of mature vitality well short of the otherwise unavoidable limit of having their growing parts all coming into conflict with each other.

I think the evidence that we are approaching the limit of essential economic resources is quite clear, but that's not the critical issue really. The critical issue is that not even asking how to end growth makes the universal "expert opinion" that we never need to learn how. It means "slam into the limits with the maximum force possible" is our growth limit plan.

What is completely certain even before you approach the point, as soon as you observe that a system is growing in fact, is that a point WILL come when to avoid a ending in self-conflict a system needs to switch to maturation to keep within its limits. As in any art of steering, whether a canoe on a winding river, or guiding an exploding world economy to stabilize within its limits, it takes time to turn and if you're late in starting you likely do it quite badly.

Generally that means starting to think of how you'd make the turn BEFORE losing control... and have gone past all the good opportunities to do so.

With our one rule, "just go faster", just "hoping" our effort to find new resources and efficiencies will delay the inevitable, I think we've already gotten to the point of losing control of our problem. The point is we have not even begun to discuss how we'd end our growth habit. That's a real problem a great deal bigger than global warming or the energy crises or other numerous major strains on the planet and human societies. These discussions about "what to do" about the developing collisions, as well an everyone else's too, are very largely skipping the real steering problem entirely.

All the chatter about farming, fishing, etc is all predicated on one assumption -- that people will be free to migrate to the farm/coastal areas. This is a grave error. At the first sign of a food shortage, democracy will fail, a dictator will rise, all food stocks will be confiscated by the dictator's army, and anyone physically fit to farm will be enslaved.

Some likely outcomes:
- all educated women are immediately executed
- gays and artists are the first to starve to death
- anyone without an extended family will starve to death, slowly and painfully
- a new religion will sweep the world, probably based on sun worship

It is quite humorous to read all the comments about this article and few see the likely outcome.

Moral of the Story: Get access to farmland, and make friends with the local thugs.

Ahhh hah...been a member for 55 minutes and this is the message in a bottle.

"Get some land"....see what I mean Ron?

Airdale-like just get the land and do it!!! Yeah!!!

Sorry fella but you were in the spotlight.

Moral of the Story: Get access to farmland, and make friends with the local thugs.49 out of 50 people alive now will not die of old age.

There. Fixed that for you. The previous moral did not follow at all from its antecedents.

few see the likely outcome.

On the contrary. But most folk here prefer to talk about the possibility, and ways and means, of avoiding the "likely outcome."

Q: What has ever been among the first applications of any new technology?

A: Military use.

Q: What is the newest technology?

A: DNA synthesis.


Now that is a truly scary thought,and one that has crossed my mind many times reading authors such as Stephen King. Any one who has not yet read The Stand is intellectually deprived of both some great entertaimnent and some great insights.

Tptb in the field say it is very hard to do a good job weaponizing the microfauna,even harder than building atom bombs.

Let's hope they are right.The NKs or somebody might not really care if they take out themselves,as long as they take everybody else with them.

Usually I can read all the posts on an article, but not this one, wow 131 posts!

I have a different take on reductions in food production due to energy depletion causing increasing food prices. I see a problem as we move forward for the lower socio-economic strata. The super wealthy, the wealthy, the upper, upper middle, will all pay what is needed to get food, really good food. However, the middle, lower and lowest paid people are the ones that will be so stretched to make their payments for mortgage, rent, utilities, and all the other stuff needed, that skyrocketing food prices will make them have to scale their lives down from having their own shelter to rooming with other people, walking away from their mortgages, selling their cars or abandoning them, and eating food with much less nutrition.

As this scenario intesifies as the price of oil continues to rise and with it the cost of food, or the economy tanks, those that can pay will still have what they need, but the have nots will end up homeless, scrounging to survive, begging or stealing what they need to make it through another day.

In a sense that is happening now for many people. But imagine a hundred million in the US living that way. Crime will be so rampant everyone will have bars over their windows and guns at the ready. Guards will work the parking lots at grocery stores so people can come and go without being robbed or begged for their food, and get paid for by tips a sort of pay for protection plan for those that can afford it.

It will become a world of the haves and have nots of food consumption, on a scale that dwarfs anything ever seen before and it will get worse with time as oil depletes farther.

The US uses about 2% of energy for food production and 1.3% for transport, that's about 45 Billion dollars worth of energy or about 0.35% of GDP. Energy prices have a huge impact on using cars, electricity and NG at home and work, but really very little impact on food costs.
Energy used to process, and market food and the energy you use to cook it are about 3 times larger, but still a small part of GDP(1% on present costs).
You will use more energy driving to the supermarket than the energy used to grow and transport food to the supermarket.
People may be homeless but they don't have to be hungry in the US and basic foods never have to be expensive. I don't think we will see people walking around with ribs showing but we may see people walking around suburbs a little more often.

We need to focus on the big problem; changing from ICE vehicles to electric and mass-transit. Food is a distraction but a great doomer theme- "just imagine if we have no oil and no way of growing food and no way of transporting it to cities!!"

The price of fertalizer rose exponentially in 2007 and 2008 and dropped a few months after the price of crude oil peaked in 2008. The production of ethanol has linked the prices of food and fuel together in the market. The price of natural gas, needed to make nitrogen fertalizer, rose along side crude oil. The global price of food correspondingly rose and fell. Your statement, "energy prices have... very little impact on food costs," is inconsistent with the data.

Blue Twilight,
You are looking at a change in the US exchange rate with all commodities peaking mid 2008.Everyone was long commodities and short the dollar. Longer term say from 1970 to 2009, food prices in real terms have declined while oil prices have increased. Food prices also spike with droughts, shortages of fertilizer, wars.
When we are down to 5-10% of present oil consumption, then food supplies could be at risk if other energy resources are not available to replace them. The US produces enough ethanol to fuel all farm operations.
Just look at your own budget, how much do you spend on basic foods( flour rice, potatoes, milk meat), not coke, toilet paper, soap, fast food meals, restaurant meals( where you pay for non-food items) compared with gasoline/ electricity NG ?
If you cut down on meat, basic food costs would be only a few % of a typical house-hold budget. About 100 years ago food was about 50% of peoples income, and they were basics not rice crisps or burgers and fries.

Written by Neil1947:
You are looking at a change in the US exchange rate with all commodities peaking mid 2008. Everyone was long commodities and short the dollar.

Are you arguing that these factors will disappear during the falling edge of peak oil and therefore should be disregarded? There were reports last Fall that due to the high price, farmers bought less fertalizer which could reduce the yield this year. There are interdependencies in the system that are not obvious upon a cursory examination.

The price of food on my receipts has increased tremendously this decade unlike in the 1990's when it was static. While the price of crude oil rose in 2007 and 2008 food prices increased. While the price of crude oil plummeted in 2008, food prices continued increasing. The price of nearly everything I purchase is going up, up and up at a rate that dwarfs the CPI-U. Pay attention to the current trend rather than average it away with 40 years of data.

From my receipts from Walmart:

24 oz. wheat bread:
July 2009: $1.23
Oct. 2008: $1.23
July 2008: $1.23
July 2007: $.97

Betty Crocker Carrot cake mix:
July 2009: $1.16
Oct. 2008: $1.08
July 2008: $1.08
July 2007: $.97

16 oz. peanuts:
July 2009: $2.08
Oct. 2008: $2.28
July 2008: $2.28
July 2007: $1.97

20 oz. chunk pineapple:
July 2009: $1.08
Oct. 2008: $.98
July 2008: $.98
July 2007: $.74

5 oz. can of Tuna:
July 2009: $.72
Oct. 2008: $.68
6 oz. can of Tuna:
July 2008: $.58
July 2007: $.50

Written by Neil1947:
...flour rice, potatoes, milk meat

These are a minor part of my purchases. I use little flour, I have many years supply of rice (thus I do not have the data for recent price fluctuations), I grow my own potatoes, the price of powdered milk is increasing and I buy little fresh meat due to infrequent trips to the grocery store. Your generalizations are off base.

Because the production of ethanol relies on fossil fuels, it will perform poorly during the falling edge of peak oil.

I was just pointing out that energy used for growing and transporting food is only 3.3% of US energy use, and only 0.3% of GDP, not a big part of the cost of living.
Buying basic unprocessed foods that enable people to have a healthy diet is very inexpensive.In $ Australian about $US0.80, rice and flour are about $0.50/lb retail( wheat is $5/bu=$0.25/lb flour wholesale). A 24 oz loaf of bread will require 1lb of flour and a small amount of yeast/ salt and oil and $0.20 of electricity. I buy a 22lb bread mix for $11 (which has yeast included). If you don't want to bake bread you can make damper on a wood fire( like the biscuits served in southern US with gravy).

Most of your cake mix and bread cost is packaging and processing costs, NOT the price of grain or fertilizer or transport.
Buy tuna in larger sizes as 5oz cans are very expensive per oz(again packaging). Peanut have very little packaging seem to be a good value considering 1lb has twice the protein of a 1lb steak. Fresh fruits and vegetables range form $0.50 to $5 per lb so are usually cheaper than canned. Milk is $4/gallon(less than petrol which is $5/gallon) in Australia. Pasta is $2.50/lb, cheese $5/lb, and olive oil about $30/gallon.

Food costs are high due to marketing and processing not farm or transport costs of basic food items.

I would maintain that the average person in US or Australia spends more on gasoline, NG and electricity(10% of GDP) than they spend on all basic food items. You may be different, but you didn't tell me what you spend on food( including more processed items) compared with energy bills. I would guess the average US family spends about $150/week on energy and $120/week on food cooked at home. A family could live very well on milk, eggs, rice, flour, pasta, cheese, peanuts, some vegetables, grits and hamburger steak with a few luxuries for a lot less than $120/week.

An extreme oil shortage may put a strain on the food industry, but it's likely to show up in rapid price rises of highly processed junk foods such as carbonated drinks, packaged cereals, frozen dinners, cakes,cookies donuts, crisps that use a lot of energy to process and are low density so require a lot of energy to transport or require refrigeration.

Peak Oil, Peak NPK, unreliable weather and more mouths to feed are working together into a perfect storm. The partial remedies I think could help include

food switching As FAO point out we could get more starch from potatoes than grains. The average adult's yearly starch needs could be grown in just a few cubic metres of soil either at home or nearby. Instead of a large T-bone steak we could eat bean burgers with just a few grams of added animal protein.

urban commercial farming I think community gardens will keep unemployed people busy but not grow much food. However hydroponics and raised furrow beds can be done with less inputs like machinery and herbicide. Water and nutrients can be recycled. Professional growers might have to be cut some slack on property taxes. The farms could be located next to railway lines to get fresh produce downtown. The train could bring compostable garbage back from the city.

19th century cropping 2-3 year fallowing and burning off weeds could reduce the need for plowing, spraying and fertilising though yields will be poor.

Our diet would be repetitive and bland but many of us would avoid starvation.

We are never going to have peak Nitrogen or peak Potassium unless we run out of atmosphere or the oceans, while we have wind and sunshine we can have these in a usable form.
We may have peak Phosphorus, but will never run out with basalt rocks containing 0.10-0.5%P. Recycling may become popular again when we get to using basalt dust.

While we spend 3% of our energy use growing and transporting food is it really doing to be an issue?

Basalt containing 0.25% apatite would need fine crushing followed by acid beneficiation then heavy transport costing all up maybe $1 per kilo. A dollar of superphosphate would give maybe 100 times as much phosphorous but that's a guess. Same goes for potassium from greensands or glauconite.

Peak N via Haber processes comes with Peak Gas which is why gas fired electrical generation is not the lower carbon answer to coal. Maybe the trick is to recycle as much NPK as possible on the local farm and use just a smidgin of store-bought NPK to top up. I see no way to get thousands of truckloads of solubilised basalt dust to the prairies when there is no oil.

Use a little imagination, how about moving basalt by electric rail, basalt deposits are common, but it may pay to go for the highest %P, just as we move limestone around the countryside. Ground basalt should weather fairly fast especially if grown with acid secreting legumes or used with nitrate fertilizers.

I agree with the tone completely, but picking corn as the crop to save the world just ain't gonna work. It's water and nitrogen hungry as the day is long. There are many better choices.
I also agree with oldfarmermac. I've seen how little can come off prized fruit trees without spraying them with oil-based sprays. What the bugs don't get, the deer, raccoons, rabbits and groundhogs cart off. You won't only have a land problem, you will have to deal with all of the critters, fungi, and bacteria that like your crops better than anything else. Not only pesticides and fertilizers are a problem but also, things like traps and bullets...anything that you buy in a store today is going to be expensive or non-existent.
I have been looking at sustainable agriculture/agroforestry/permaculture for about a year. I'm not a nutball about it, and certainly not taken it on as a religion like some. As a field biology major, there are many techniques that make sense. One of the concepts is that modern farmers spend a lot of their energy trying to keep the land from turning back into forest. Here in Pennsylvania (Penn's Woods) a fallow field will succeed into woodland in 30 years even though it doesn't make it to a climax community for a couple of hundred years.
I don't think that even with perfect 'sustainable' techniques, 7 billion is sustainable. We have gone into population overshoot, and it will come back to haunt many.
I spent the first year or two when I became in the know about peak oil trying to inform people. I've stopped wasting too much energy on that. I've instead taken oldfarmermac's advice and 'run for the hills', turned my suburban acre into high-yield gardening, I am working on converting 19 acres of traditional farmland into a permaculture farm. It's a lot of physical work. I think that Mike Ruppert of From the Wilderness was the one who said, "If you believe in Peak Oil, one of the first things you will do is to get yourself into shape, because there is going to have to be a lot more physical labor than before." (something to this effect)
I'm also thinking that the time to do this is now or yesterday. Gas prices are not too bad and there are a lot of things machinery can do once in minutes that would take me hundreds of hours to do by hand.
If you understand food production, and peak oil, you should be scared. Most farmland is sterile, sustained by fertilizer and irrigation. Getting it back to where it can grow crops on its own is a process that some say takes 7 years.

If you can find this on the net, look for "A Farm for the Future" which I think I first found via TOD. The BBC took it off their web site, but there might be a copy floating around. One of the nice things it does is pokes holes in the idea of going back to using draft animals. Farming like that, is a lot of hard work.
Even the Amish here are hurting from the recession. They had been making a lot of their money by sending young men out into the building industry. They haven't been living off the land for a long time. They use diesel generators to cool, to dry, and propane for cooking and heating. There is very little woodland left and so, the average Amish family would have a great deal of trouble making it through one Pennsylvania winter without oil/gas. When you start to look closely at most of the current systems, you begin to understand that without oil, they would simply collapse.

I'm rambling, but there are some thoughts to chew on.


Growing Corn and Beans with a hoe is the best chance at sustainability at this point.

Peter, I'm a bit late to this discussion. For me at least this is a timely post.

I gather that we use about 5% of our energy in agriculture, and on that basis I don't see that agricultural output will be immediately threatened by energy decline since I assume we will manage some how to prioritise. Furthermore, with conversion ratios of 7 to 10:1 for meat, we have a substantial buffer there where high meat prices may encourage us to eat more plant produce.

However, there are some threats. The point you make about people living everywhere and reliance upon transportation infrastructure and supply chains to get produce from field to family is a good one. Should this infrastructure fail then this could create supply problems. Similarly, outsourcing fertiliser production seems a poor choice to me since this may threaten future supplies.

I think another problem exists in the farm subsidy systems of Europe and N America. These have in effect enabled food production to rise way beyond the natural market limit and have in effect fed the population growth to which you refer. These food surpluses have fed large parts of the developing world, many of which cannot afford to buy the food, hence subsidies are provided in these countries to make this expensive food affordable. So this situation is quite mad where subsidies are provided to grow expensive food and subsidies are also provided to poor people to consume it. we need to ask what is the source of these subsidies and I'd argue that it is the excess net energy from FF that provides the OECD with this wealth. I think there is a serious risk that these food surpluses will begin to disappear together with the subsidies in countries that used to consume it and there is the prospect of famine and unrest in these countries - many in N Africa.

The other problem of course is that maintaining agricultural output and shifting away from meat may simply allow the population to grow even more. Without measures being taken to curb global population growth then we are on a steam train heading for the buffers at full speed - its just we don't know how far off the station is.

After reading a lot of comments, I left this site and found myself reading the following article - which reminded me of how callous people can be. I expect when you are hungry enough, anything becomes possible.

Maybe with this technology a lot of folks will survive .....

This is the only technology we need.

Only about 10 percent of the world’s land surface is arable, whereas the other 90 percent is just rock, sand, or swamp, which can never be made to produce crops, whether we use “high” or “low” technology or something in the middle.

From where this came from? World arable area is truely 20% of world land area. If you add forests its another 30%. Infact some sources say its as high as 60%. Degrees of arable-ability may vary but still you can't round that 60% to 40% average production even if you ignore magic of large numbers.

As David Pimentel showed in 1984 in his “Food and Energy Resources,” with non-mechanized agriculture, corn (maize) production is only about 2,000 kilograms per hectare, about a third of the yield that a farmer would get with modern machinery and chemical fertilizer

You did the common mistake of ignoring the green revolution seeds (grs). These radiated seeds are not natural, therefore demand more water and soil-nutrients that are naturally available in soil, result is dependency on fossil fuels. Take out the fossil fuels and not only the mechanized agriculture has gone but also the use of grs. Infact the underlying logic of perception of yield dependency on mechanization is false, mechanization reduce the human labor, it not increase the yield. Infact mechanization is a yield dropping variable due to higher losses because humans are capable of more extraction of grains when working by hand than the machines. Seems like you never visited a non-mechanized farm in real world before writing this article.

More specifically, corn is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life; the native people of the Americas lived on it for thousands of years

Such kind of americo-centralistic generalization is nothing less than hilarious. You ignored or may be unaware of regional dependency of crops. Out of 400 million human population between 0 A.D. and 1500 A.D. only 20 million or 5% were living in americas and not all of them depend on corn. How did you ignored the rice and wheat?

I would think so. A hard-working (i.e. farming) adult burns about 2 million kilocalories (“calories”) per year

Are you crazy? Total bullshit data. Round the number of days in a year to 400 and divide 2 million by it, yes you got 5000 calories/day. What "hard-working (i.e farming) adult" you saw burning that many calories in a day? Even athletes don't consume that much. The hard working farmer weighing 75 kg or 170 lbs would be consuming no more than 3,750 calories/day. This wide error of 25% made the whole calculation unreliable. How did you equate the food of the hard working farmer with the rest of the family, the newly borned 1 month old kid don't consume anything close to that nor do the 7 year or 10 year old boy nor do the 65 year old father of the hard working farmer. What about the balanced diet?

Educate yourself with somewhat better calculations at

No, cows don't take up lands. There is something called straw. You can feed them on it. You don't have to worry about calculations about manure as long as you are giving back to soil as much in mass as you had taken out. Ultimately all the manures of all humans and animals must go back to the farm. Since energy is massless and both food growing and digestion are chemical reactions and since there is no loss of mass in chemical reactions the amount of nutrients remains the same, just the form chance. Once you put the manure back in soil the cycle is complete and you can continue living on the farm as long as the sun exist.

Ah, don't count the meals, count what is in the meals.

Nice try but the article is basically useless for any value addition in wisdom. The knowledge of the writer is too narrow to only one crop.

"More specifically, corn is one of the most useful grains for supporting human life; the native people of the Americas lived on it for thousands of years

the statement was "Native Americans"

and they did not eat wheat or rice

"Out of 400 million human population between 0 A.D. and 1500 A.D. only 20 million or 5% were living in americas and not all of them depend on corn. How did you ignored the rice and wheat?"

Link Please ?

How many people were in North America during the Clovis Civilization ?

you can continue living on the farm as long as the sun exist.

This sounds very nice, but doesn't account for civilization, which requires farmers to export "surplus" to cities, thus depleting the soil over time.

The danger of soil loss must be balanced with a need for centralized development of warfare technology, without which one's culture is eventually colonized by a technologically-superior rival.

Ofcourse the soil nutrients at a farm cannot be 100% recycled but the nature provide a way out of the problem by river floods. Every few years (and in case of nile every year) the river and associated canals flood depositing fresh sediments on soil re-establishing a healthy quantity of nutrients in soil. In that perspective making empires is actually good for the empire, it decrease the probability of too much nutrient deposition on soil. After all, egypt continue being an empire for many thousands of year depending on the six fertile deltas of nile.


Not all input mass is captured in animal/human waste, as some is in gaseous form that 'leaks' from your closed system.

You don't have to worry about the carbon compounds, the plant can always get carbon and oxygen and water from environment to make these compounds. A farmer's worry is NPK. These are generally not lost in gaseous form.

Say..aren't you the dude that has real slaves? And likes to have fun , Dick and Jane type, with the female slaves? Or was that another but the 'tude' sounds sorta like you.

Corn is for more than humans. You cannot work a mule or horse and get them by on just hay. Not enough time and doesn't deliver the energy of corn.

Yeah we ate a lot of oughta try it some time. But we feed a lot to the draft animals....and you simply are not going to work ground without draft can garden but the rest?

And if you want LARD from your hogs you slaughter then you better finish them out on CORN. Nice white good lard. Hard to get by without it.

Well where I hail from anyway. I always keep a big can of it around but I also use olive oil when its needed.

I notice Italians eat grits as well. They just call it polenta.

Airdale-grits = corn = hoecakes = corn dodgers...etc...But we also eat a lot of biscuits as well ya see. But hush puppies and fish? hard to beat...back to Dick and Jane...

Masa , tortillas, tacos , enchiladas, pupusas, atole ,tostadas,

Just need to grow 400 plants per adult per year

You did the common mistake of ignoring the green revolution seeds (grs). These radiated seeds are not natural, therefore demand more water and soil-nutrients that are naturally available in soil, result is dependency on fossil fuels. Take out the fossil fuels and not only the mechanized agriculture has gone but also the use of grs. Infact the underlying logic of perception of yield dependency on mechanization is false, mechanization reduce the human labor, it not increase the yield.

Interesting point and something I've meant to comment on for some time. Many of our high yielding crops have been developed with high nutrient and water availability as a baseline, allowing both higher yielding plants and higher density planting. Plus, this can be achieved without the cost and bother of adequately maintaining the organic content in the soil. Take away either or both and yields crash due to the necessity of vastly increasing the growing space per plant and lack of crop health due to the degraded soil.

Take away pesticides, herbicides and fungicides (say due to shortages or due to being unaffordable) then yields nosedive commensurate with the reduced usage. And this is without factoring in Climate Change, any loss of mechanisation due to FF shortages, loss of services provide by a degraded ecosystem or financial hardship.

One of the reasons I feel that Organic Farming cannot feed the World.

Modern maize and wheat cultivars out-yield older land races( pre 1930's) about 500% with good fertilizer levels and some pesticides. With lower nutrition they out-yield the land races about 200%. Without pesticides and fungicides the modern varieties yield a little less but many of the old land races are totally destroyed by rusts, smuts and corn borers because they have no resistance to these pests.
In the US fertilizer and pesticides and fungicides use about 1% of total energy use, mechanical planting harvesting etc another 1%.
Why would we not continue to use fertilizer and fungicides??
We could manage with organic farming using modern cultivars and manual labor BUT why would we not use electricity to manufacture fertilizer and electric tractors? We are not going to run out of wind, hydro or solar electricity.

"Why would we not continue to use fertilizer and fungicides??"

Well, leaving aside the destruction of the environment, degradation of the soil, pollution of the water, incrementing Climate Change and causing an epidemic of health problems. Like I said, possibly due to shortages or due to being unaffordable.

Remember, our financial system acts like a command and control system for our synthetic, economics driven economy and its had a wooden stake driven through its heart. In the ensuing economic chaos its perfectly possible that the whole system of extraction, production, import, export, shipping and delivery via intermediaries will seriously malfunction. Not to mention the effect of collapsing commodity and credit markets on farmers ability to purchase anything when they're on the verge of bankruptcy.

And like I said, take away or reduce the availability of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and most important of all water, then yields will simply collapse regardless of the cultivars used. Adopt organic techniques and overall yields will collapse. Why? Because the key to overcoming the problems will be plant spacing, rotation and fallow periods.

Is there anyone alive who has grown their total diet ?

In The USA ??

Several months ago I pulled together notes on food security for a presentation. They are here, if anyone is interested: . There might be a fact or two that hasn't been aired yet in this discussion.

I saw the film "Food, Inc." last Friday night - most worthwhile. If you have the chance to see it, watch not only for the film's overt messages but for vulnerabilities of the corporate food system to shocks of one kind or another. Our food system is an exercise in folly. To make matters worse, we've sold the last of our grain stockpile in the U.S. U.S. national food stockpiles are gone, unless you count, say, MREs.

"Only about 10 percent of the world’s land surface is arable, whereas the other 90 percent is just rock, sand, or swamp, which can never be made to produce crops, whether we use “high” or “low” technology or something in the middle."

Tell that to Bill Mollison, David Blume, David Holgren, Masanobu Fukuoka, Emelia Hazelip....... the list goes on and on.

This piece starts with a fundamentally wrong statement. Should it therefore be credited much?

Hi Gail,

Thanks for posting this - it shows the approach of the typical industrial mindset. For what its worth I'd like to add something of own (via others!) perspective:

One thing I will agree with is that we humans have a problem...

As R. Bruce Hill points out in his book "Infinite Nature" (Chicago Press, 2006), humans have been modifying nature for a very long time - for instance when the Europeans came to the Americas they did not find a pristine wilderness, but one that had been adapted and modified by its indigenous habitants who had been recently absented by death from diseases brought by the first European explorers.

This 'modification' of 'nature' is an ongoing process. Currently it is being done with another 10:1 ratio - that of the energy input/output of calories - that is takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to create and deliver 1 calorie of food (an average figure - it depends what that 'food' is).

The big problem in discussions like this is the 'trying to predict the future' aspect. The oft quoted 'not with a bang but a whimper' is a sobering reference to where our real challenges lie.

One of the biggest is the 'monoculture of the mind' a term coined from
Vandana Shivas
book of the same name. The old adage if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything gets treated like a nail springs to mind.

As a species (that is a distinct form of life) we have a lot to learn about the hidden world that is the living soil, and to confront the seemingly intractable problems of nutrition and poverty.

I agree that permaculture suffers from the woo woos, as does any cult. In fact a little known English gentle man who went by the name of A. Guest wrote a definitive booklet way back in 1949on Gardening Without Digging in which he estimated that his approach “shows a saving of at least 40 percent over the digging method”. [And this chap was an ex miner, used to hard labour! So even his ‘60 percent’ remaining might equate to a modern humans 100 percent or more!] However, the main point he makes is that organic matter is the key, added to the surface (not dug in) of the soil as happens in nature (at a rate of one cwt to 10 sq. yds = 50kg per 8 Sq. m initial treatment, with an ongoing one cwt per 20 yds = 50kg per 16 Sq. m per season). It might be noted that there is rumour that a certain permaculture founder contacted the Good Gardeners Association (of which Mr Guest had close ties) around circa 1970. Seems you just can’t keep a good idea down (or stop it turning into a cult or being appropriated by an ego or two!) And as the Humanure experiment has shown, this organic matter is not the sole preserve of a cows rear end!
As for efficiency – the concept of the Agroforestry, an idea initially developed by another Englishman, Robert Hart points out that one can work with nature entirely, and let the ‘natural (i.e. human-made) ecosystem’ work symbiotically to provide the necessary fertilisation and harvest. While the harvest is not as great in quantity as the industrial agro model, in terms of overall energy in/energy out, they are extremely efficient, in that if only human labour is used in their upkeep and harvesting requirements, the fossil fuel energy input tends to zero.

Various examples abound in as varied environments, from the side of mountains, to traditional farms (Japanese). however, the one thing that characterises all of them is the willingness (and ability) to step (Galileo like) outside of the traditional dogma. While arguments about what can and can’t be done will rage for ever, little attention is paid (apart from the few who just get on with it) to the actual business of exploring the possible by doing it. Witness the revival of the allotment system in the UK, which can, amongst other things, to provide fresh fruit and vegetables to an average family of four.

But ultimately it means getting out of the armchair…

So given the possibilities, what are the probabilities? And there in lies the dilemma. If someone can get bleached for asking someone to be quiet, what hope is there?

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper


One last word on 'Leavers and Takers':

"One thing I know people will say to me is, 'Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?'"

"That of course is an inane idea," Ishmael said. How many times must I say this? Your problem isn't agriculture but rather your insane notion that all the food in the world belongs to you. In a very real sense, humans have practiced agriculture right from the beginning. Humans everywhere and everywhen have always encouraged the regrowth of their favorite foods, and that's all agriculture is. Most surviving Leaver peoples are primarily agriculturalists and not hunter-gatherers at all. The difference between you and them is not that they don't practice agriculture but rather that they don't practice it as a never-ending war waged on the community of life around them. The Leaver life-style isn't about hunting and gathering, it's about letting the rest of the community live--and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers." He paused and shook his head. What I've been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is 'back there' somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward."