Peak oil and the psychology of work

The following is a guest post from Vinay Kumar, who lives in the small coastal town in Southern India. Vinay has a Phd in Neuroscience from M.I.T. and a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University. He works as a systems engineer and volunteers on an organic farm that he helped to create. He also provides technical help to local community organizations in India that are fighting polluting industries. Vinay is a friend of one of Herman Daly's former graduate students in India which is how he came across TheOilDrum. The below essay on the implications of oil depletion for human labor is a great example of the cross disciplinary ideas that can emerge at the intersection of the internet and education .

Ploughing the field the traditional Way - Manthralaya, AP, India. Photo credit: flickr/antkriz

Peak Oil and The Psychology of Work

This is a preliminary attempt to explore the relationship between the current predicament facing humanity arising out of an exploding population facing planetary resource limitations, in other words known as overshoot, and the psychology of work inherent in the human species. One reason to explore this connection is that the question of overshoot is normally framed in standard Darwinian terms. In the Darwinian framework overshoot begins with the availability of abundant resources that allows the population of a species to increase exponentially. This exploding population eventually depletes irreversibly the very resources that sustain the population and this leads to a large scale die-off and a precipitous fall in the species population sometimes leading to extinction. In this rise and fall, the behavior of the individuals of the species is often typical of any organism seeking to maximize its chances of survival and procreation.

However the human species, aided by a generalized intelligence, is perhaps unique in its ability to extensively craft its environment in order to garner a much larger portion of the ecological resource base to sustain itself. In the evolution of humans, there have been two signal revolutions that brought about a very large increase in humanity's ecological valence leading to profound changes in the human mode of existence and its environment. The first was the agricultural revolution that is now understood as having begun some 10000-12000 years ago. This allowed the hunter-gatherer humans to transition to a settled agrarian lifestyle eventually paving the way for the rise of urban civilizations. The second revolution was the industrial revolution that is a mere 200-300 years old but which allowed humans to rapidly dominate the planet as perhaps no other species had managed to before.

There can be no doubt that the availability of ecological resources played a defining role in these transitions – in the case of the agricultural revolution the key resource was fertile top soil of river valley ecosystems. The nutrient laden silt deposited in the flood plains of riverine systems such as the Nile, the Euphrates and the Indus ensured the initial success and widespread replication of settled agriculture. Similarly it was the availability of concentrated forms of different resources chiefly energy but also ores of various metals that were the principal enablers of the industrial revolution.

While the role of ecological resources in these signal revolutions is fairly well understood, the role of human mental faculties in their myriad manifestations is either unclear or the subject of severe controversies. But there can also be little doubt that human mental faculties – through innate predisposition and learnt skills and behavioral responses – must have played a fundamental role in these changes as well. My interest lies in understanding how our mental faculties contributed to these fundamental transformations, with the hope that this understanding will enable us as individuals and collectives to be better prepared for the inevitable turmoil that results from the decline in the availability of concentrated energy resources. In particular in this essay I want to explore how the human mind views and deals with the concept of work – both as an idea in the mind and as a felt necessity of human existence.

In physics work is the same as energy. In fact energy is defined as the ability to do work and therefore they are measured in the exact same units. In the biological world, all organisms have to do work in order to change and exploit their environment for their benefit. But it is not uncommon in the animal kingdom to have sharply differentiated work burdens across different members of a species, e.g. the work differential between the worker ants vs the drones, or the lioness vs the lion.

However, what work means to the human mind is something quite different from both the physical concept, and the forms observed in other animal species. The intrinsic tendencies towards work in humans (like most other mental faculties) have always influenced and defined their cultural and political systems and thus contributed to the rise and fall of civilizations. It is not difficult to see that both the agricultural and industrial modes of human existence principally involve the organization and concentration of matter using energy to overcome the inevitable tendency towards disorganization and diffusion (in other words overcome the second law of thermodynamics). The main difference lies in the fact that in the agricultural mode human work is an integral part of the energy flow whereas in the industrial mode human energy is replaced to a large extent by energy obtained from burning fossil fuels.

It is normally acknowledged in peak-oil circles (at least amongst those who do see the decline in fossil fuels as leading to a decline in industrial civilization) that the aftermath of peak-oil would witness the come-back of human labour as a prominent source of energy for economic activities. And this may very well happen for the simple reason that individuals would have no other choice. But it is worth looking at the psychological context in which this might happen if for no other reason but that our sanity may depend on doing so. And history is a good place to begin doing that.

It appears to me that throughout history humans have always distinguished between physical and mental work. It is a felt experience for most of us that we would rather be doing mental work as opposed to physical work. One could argue that most of us would rather do no work at all if our sustenance and comforts are somehow guaranteed. While that may be the case at the psychological level, at an empirical level it appears to me that a farmer would rather take up the job of a bank teller given the same remuneration, than continue with farming. Irrespective of why this might be the case, this phenomenon implies that it ought to be easier to find humans willing to do work involving less physical labour compared to more. And yet, most human societies historically have privileged mental work over physical work. Almost universally work involving a greater component of mental work lead to greater surplus accumulation and a more comfortable life. To me this is a conundrum and has serious implications for the coming post-peak world.

A clear indication of this preference can be seen in the themes found in the world's folk literature. No matter which corner of the world one looks at, one is likely to find many folk tales that begin with a clever and intelligent weaver or woodcutter who uses his mental prowess to end up as the prince or the prime minister of his country. On the other hand the chances of finding a tale in which the king ends up living happily as a labouring peasant are almost nil. This relative popularity of mental work compared to physical work has been a tremendous force – a kind of psychological energy – that has fueled our transition from a hunter-gatherer to agrarian and then to industrial modes of existence.

A significant example of how the relative popularity of mental work compared to physical work has defined the very fabric of most societies is to look at India. In India the principal form of social stratification, namely the caste system, appears to be based on the crucial distinction between mental and physical work. For those who are unaware of the main elements of the caste system (or varnashram as it was referred to in Sanskrit), humans were divided into four varnas (categories) which was determined by their profession or the kind of work done by them. This division was hierarchical and defined (for as long as it was possible to move from one varna to another) a direction for human aspiration. Thus at the top were the Brahmanas (the Brahmins) whose work was predominantly intellectual in nature, as teachers, priests, philosophers, etc. In the next category were the Kshatriyas who had jobs in administration and governance. At a lower level were the Vaishyas who were involved in business and trade. At the lowest level were the Shudras who consisted of artisans, farmers and other professions all involving a significant amount of manual labour.

It should be of interest that each of these varnas were further divided into several sub-castes also organized in an internal hierarchy. The relative position of the sub-caste within the varna had much to do with the manual labour component of the work that its members did. So for instance, the priests involved in conducting the rituals in a temple had higher status than those who were tasked with keeping the temple premises in pristine condition.

Throughout the pre-industrial period various ecological and cultural limitations kept a lid on the natural human aspiration of moving away from physical labour and towards mental labour and this contributed to maintaining societal homeostasis. It is well understood that in India the ossification of the caste system into a rigid and oppressive form determined by birth, served to severely curb the aspirations of ordinary people for millennia, but that it also provided stability and continuity to the political economy of the country even in the face of various invasions and political upheaval. Across the world, the fall of empires and civilizations resulted mostly from political overreach (as in Rome) or straightforward ecological overshoot (as in Easter Island) or some combination of these reasons. The relative role of physical and mental labour might have had only a marginal influence on the decline phase of pre-industrial civilizations.

Yet the industrial civilization has seen the most drastic change in the composition of people doing and willing to do physical work vis-a-vis mental work. The proportion of America's population doing agriculture has declined from around 50% near the beginning of the 20th century to less than 5% towards its end, no doubt aided by the explosion of less manual labour intense employment in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. But in addition and most importantly, it has opened up newer aspirational possibilities to ordinary humans that one could not even dream of in the pre-industrial age.

A recent survey indicates that 40% of India's farmers are willing to quit farming since they find it unprofitable. However in my own experience the number is closer to 100% when real alternatives are available, and economics is only part of the reason. Aspirational changes brought about by education and mass-media are at least as crucial a component as the economic crisis afflicting agriculture. A subtle version of this same phenomenon is the shift, amongst those who continue to be in agriculture, from food crops to cash crops. Even when cash crops are plagued by highly uncertain and volatile price swings, cash crops are preferred since they involve less manual labour.

A deindustrialising society will therefore need to not only deal with the scarcity of material resources but also work against the prevailing cognitive current of privileging non-manual labour on a scale unprecedented in human history. The problematic part is that this is not merely a political arrangement, but a manifestation of the individual's preference and is central to the aspirations of millions of humans today. What this implies is that the breakdown of the industrial civilization will also witness an unprecedented cognitive breakdown as well.

A variety of questions can be asked on how this will play out and what adaptive mechanisms we have at our disposal at both the individual and the collective levels. I hope to explore these and other issues concerning the relationship between our material and cognitive predicaments in future essays, and I hope that it will help the TOD readership to address these questions with much greater intensity than what it has done so far.

"Arbeit macht frei"--
As they said at one time in Germany.

A variety of questions can be asked on how this will play out and what adaptive mechanisms we have at our disposal at both the individual and the collective levels.

"Arbeit macht frei"--
As they said at one time in Germany.

We work the surplus humans to exhaustion, and get rid of them when we're through using them in transitioning to a better society.

Dubai is already doing this with their indentured Asian workers. I suspect it will become more acceptable all over the world as the years progress.

Was Nazi Germany a "better society"?

As long as you weren't "working for free" in a concentration camp.

Well, the destruction camp Auschwitz where over a million Jews were killed had the "Arbeit macht frei" statement on the entrance gate. I don't really believe the statement had anything to do with "arbeit", nor the kind of liberation you get when working.

I don't really believe the statement had anything to do with "arbeit", nor the kind of liberation you get when working.

I'm pretty sure no one else does either.

The Nazis put up 'Arbeit Mach Frei" over the gates of most all their concentration camps starting with Dachau, Camp #1 back in the 1930s.
They were really proud of their concentration camps(extermination camps came later).

It was their corporate logo.

It was also the intention of the camps in the first place. You see, the nazis provided unemployment benefits. Lots of unemployment benefits. And they legislated that everybody had a job, the government's responsability was to keep unemployment under control.

Of course, the government never fulfilled it's part of the bargain. Or put another way, a law is just words. Words, like the post above, do not match deeds. You see, one hectare field can (maybe) keep 2 or 3 people alive. A donkey would eat up roughly the same resources as a human being. There are about 1/10th of 6.8 billion useable hectares of agricultural fields on this planet (and that's assuming we clear every city, like, say New York or Washington, and every last house out of the way). So we'd need to kill 90% of all living humans to make this possible. And then of course 1/4th or so of them again, to allow for the donkeys. We'd have to abandon every city north of Marseille (San Francisco), and the list of "little changes" goes on. In other words, the solution presented here comes down to killing about 92.5% of all people alive.

Oh, and if past history is any guide, nature will kill about 50% of the remaining people, probably in a large famine, combined with epidemics. This is the "solution" to sea level rise that might (might) displace 10-20% of the world population, leaving more than enough space to rebuild anything that's lost. Any sane person would let the "disaster" happen, at the very least until realistic, non-genocidal alternatives become available (probably nuclear, first (better) fission, then fusion. Perhaps space-based solar power. Or perhaps something else).

Back to the nazis. Obviously anyone from the designated "responsibles", those who caused the misery of the poor, could not get unemployment benefits. After all, it was the fault of "the rich", "industrialists", and obviously "rich Jewish arms merchants" that unemployment existed in the first place. (this was how nazi germany called "the Jews". Of course, this term is far to indicative of what sort of hatred the Jew hatred really was directed against : hatred directed against the people accused of preventing "social justice" for "the poor"*. And that reminds far too many people of just what 4 out of 5 letters of NSDAP stood for : socialism).

* like today, "the poor" does not actually mean people who struggle to make ends meet. It meant, mainly, what you might call "progressive" youth. Anti-religion, anti-authoritarian "free spirits", deeply discontent about the economic downturn taking away a lot of their toys, and demanding first mommy, then daddy, and then the state fix "the problem". And of course blaming everyone except themselves. These were scientists, students, teachers, university professors and so on (getting an SS officer into bed was notoriously easy. So easy in fact that just about everyone, from Americans to Russians and even Chinese managed to steal rocket engine plans from Von Brauns underpants. Same with the designs for enigma (the keys were better secured, though not much).

You see, just because you make the government directly responsible for running the economy with people does not fundamentally change the world. Everyone still has a "balance sheet". And some humans, like people born cripple, or born mentally diseased WILL have a negative balance sheet, for obvious reasons. So nazi germany did the progressive thing : it pioneered abortion. Of course, this soon evolved in compulsory postnatal abortion (also known as "killing 'inferior' babies"). Once babies got executed, the same happened to aging cripples, and eventually to all of them.

But, centrally guiding the economy, many of these "industrialists", "rich" and "rich Jewish arms merchants" either simply ran away, or stopped their activities, most through bankruptcy, or simply choosing instead for doing nothing, and living off unemployment benefits. The economic results of this were not pretty. But then the "inferior" people (those "responsible" for the economic problems) would be removed from unemployment benefits, removed from health care, removed from pensions, ... and eventually put in concentration camps.

The intention, at the start, was to make these people work. "Arbeit macht frei". After all, surely they could match the income they generated by themselves under the benevolent direction of the (nazi) state ? Of course, this sort of thing is now referred to as Nazi's "slave labor", which it was.

Needless to say, the benefits of all this labor by "the rich", "industrialists" and "rich Jewish arms merchants" failed to materialize under state direction. It *was* better than nothing, though, and things even slightly improved. "Improved" meaning that the freefall of the Nazi economy slowed to a mere fast slide towards oblivion. The camps, despite the slave labour, despite the death penalty for anyone failing to perform, failed to pay for themselves. Worse than that : there was a war, on 2 fronts by now, and Nazi germany was facing more than just money difficulties in keeping open the camps. There was no gas, no heating, no food, ... and to top it all off : there were no more guards left. Needless to say, this lead to a few major and a lot of minor revolts ... which were costly for the state ...

After so many "solutions" (many plans were called solutions) the "final solution" was thus devised : "close" the camps. We all know what this meant for the people inside the camps.

"Arbeit mach frei" - this is a socialist slogan from the (mostly bygone) industrialist era. It's intention is to emphasize the socialist position that the labour force should directly control all of the economy.

We all know where this position led Germany.
We all know where this position led the Soviets.
We all know where this position led Mao.
We all know where this position led Zimbabwe.

We all know where Venezuela's going ...

FEMA Camps?

Under blue tarps? Hey maybe we can make shelters out of thin film solar panels.

You got it completely wrong,oelewarpperke.

Nazi concentration camps were for the 'Enemies of the German People' which were mostly socialists and communists in the beginning.
Hitler began filling 'unofficial' concentration camps such as Oranienberg with Communist Reichstag deputies outside Berlin even before he took legal power(Goering being the Police Chief of Prussia), right after the Reichstag Fire.

This made it much easier get the Reichstag to give him dictatorial power.
In fact, at that fatal Reichstag session only the Socialists voted as a block against Hitler's motion to assume supreme power. All the conservatives and Catholic parties voted for Hitler.

"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one," Hitler told the Reichstag.

He also promised an end to unemployment and pledged to promote peace with France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. But in order to do all this, Hitler said, he first needed the Enabling Act. A two-thirds majority was needed, since the law would actually alter the constitution. Hitler needed 31 non-Nazi votes to pass it. He got those votes from the Catholic Center Party after making a false promise to restore some basic rights already taken away by decree.

Meanwhile, Nazi storm troopers chanted outside: "Full powers - or else! We want the bill - or fire and murder!!"

But one man arose amid the overwhelming might. Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrats stood up and spoke quietly to Hitler.

"We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible."

Hitler was enraged and jumped up to respond.

"You are no longer needed! - The star of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!"

The vote was taken - 441 for, and only 84, the Social Democrats, against. The Nazis leapt to their feet clapping, stamping and shouting, then broke into the Nazi anthem, the Hörst Wessel song.

Democracy was ended. They had brought down the German Democratic Republic legally. From this day onward, the Reichstag would be just a sounding board, a cheering section for Hitler's pronouncements.

Hitler's political program was to put an end to
democracy and run the country like the army which meant that lazy leftist good-for-nothings would go to concentration camps and be made to work for Germany.

There were no more stupid elections in Germany until after the war either--Germany was to be administered efficiently by Nazi Gauleiters/Party Bosses.

This is what most conservative teabaggers in the US want for their leftists too.

It's not a socialist idea at all but a military one.
The first concentration camps were set up by the British during the Boer War in 1900.

The very idea of closing the only US concentration camp at Guantanamo makes conservatives hopping mad.

The marketing appeal of the concentration camp concept is undeniable.

Maj, don't bother, someone is off their meds or something, don't engage.

IMO, it's even more pointless to ignore them.

Conservatives have no idea how insane they sound to 99% of the human race.

You have no idea how ignorant you are sounding to this conservative. You guys have no clue what others really think, you just know we don't agree with you so we must be fools. Well the joke is on you most of us true conservatives don't believe either side has the right idea.

Everything I see here is based in fear and greed just like you claim the so called conservative is.

Yes its your lipstick on a pig, like Planned Parenthood or Acorn buts its all the same old scam when you get it boiled down. You that promote socialism and giving up by giving in may be the last to get the axe when your leaders take over but either way without democracy or GODs intervention you will have a harder fall than the rest of us..

Aside from the moral callousness of considering any racist totalitarian dictatorship a "better society", you really need to do some studying. The German standard of living suffered pretty badly during the war even before the Germans truly started losing (i.e. getting firebombed).

Moreover, one can't honestly separate any aspect of Nazi society from the war which was integral to its ideology, and which of course ended with the total destruction of the country. Any economic "betterment" brought about by the Nazi regime during the mid 30's was due primarily to manufacturing armaments, which obviously had to be used at some point... There is really nothing good to be said about the Nazi regime, no matter which side of the concentration camp fence you are talking about.

I was hoping your response would be that you were being sarcastic. If you mean what you're saying literally, that's pretty disappointing and disturbing. Disgusting actually.

Here's an analysis that a colleague of mine uses in speeches - he (in addition to doing complicated math equations) is a non-fossil fuel farmer and uses oxen to farm (below from a recent email from him)

Here’s a quick calculation I did for my oxen presentations that has really struck home for me the challenge of breaking the oil addiction:

1 kWh = ~370,000 kg-m of work. Bill and Lou, our oxen, have a total weight of around 1500 kg. They can comfortably pull 10% of their weight for a draft of 150 kg. This means they would have to pull for approximately 2.5 km to generate 1 kWh of work. They can cover the distance in roughly an hour. That is 1 kWh, $0.06 of petroleum....

The examples are numerous - fossil fuels increase our compensation per hour of labor dramatically..

I expect that when tshtf we will find that small technically sophisticated farmers who can use fuel and fertilizer very efficiently will be able to pay prices that simply price every body else excepting the military, the cops, and maybe the uber -rich out of the petroleum market.

This assumes these farmers still have paying customers of course.

Eating comes first.

My own expectation is that when TSHTF we'll have rationing that will allow farmers, the military, and cops first call on the available fuel, at controlled prices. The ueber-rich won't be able to get much more fuel than the hoi polloi. At least not legally -- but that's what black markets are for.

When Britain introduced rationing in WWII, restaurants were exempt. This was so that rich people, who recieved a ration the same as anyone else, could go and eat out as much as they wanted and therefore not suffer like the others.

I expect that any fuel or food rationing of the future will have similar cop out systems for the rich.

I agree absolutely. Never underestimate those with power to advance their needs over others.

Where are the military cops and ubers going to get their food??
Never threaten a farmer...............

And furthermore I doubt that even if the rich can get hold of significant quantities of black market fuel they will be able to enjoy much happy motoring.

I think that they will find it expedient to stay within thier gated communities, else thier cars will be pelted with rocks from every fence row if the locals can't find or devise better weapons.

I expect any half wit could figure out a dozen ways to wreck a car or even a large truck at small risk to himself.

Just think about the supply chain that they depend on.
The days of their money are numbered.
All that needs to happen is the adoption of a parallel currency that actually exchanges value for value.
It could be any script at all as long as trust is the basis.
We are definitely living during a turning point in history.

I can't say too much about the super rich, having almost no personal knowledge of them , but I suspect some of them will manage to establish little kingdoms of some sort where they can live pretty well.

But the ordinarily rich -the kind that are building million dollar vacation houses all thru the mountians-are going to be busted for sure.

A starving hill billy with nothing for his kids supper will not hesitate to loot such a house for anything that can be sold, swapped, worn,or otherwise used-and he is most likely to burn the premises to cover his tracks and give the figurative finger to the owner.

I will do it for sport. And don't over-estimate the "super" rich.
All they are is sociopaths that got lucky along the way.
No man is that good.

5.3 kWh to plow an acre with a 12 in moldboard, at least that part of it isn't so bad. Little consolation though because it will take 5.3 hours to plow that acre.

May your Winter Solstice food rite release dopamine into your mesolimbic pathway.

Having just plowed up an acre of pasture to create more gardening area on my farm I question these numbers a little bit.

I used a 45hp tractor with a 3 bottom plow and it took a couple of hours (in 4wd and with the differential lock engaged). Now this was heavy pasture and not ground already being cropped which would be much softer and not requiring the cutting of heavy roots or pulling through rocks. But I question the practicality of the numbers.

I googled this subject and found a lot of references and some of the numbers are interesting. One presumes that their numbers were related to plowing existing fields.

ref 1 stated that 2 horses using a single bottom plow could do 1 1/8 acres in a 10 hr day. 3-4 horses using a 2 bottom plow could do 2 1/4 acres in a 10 hr day.

ref 2 stated using a 1 bottom plow that horses could do 1.46 acres a 10 hr day.

ref 3 stated that when plowing virgin prarie using horses the max that could be farmed in a YEAR was 8 acres.

Depending on the ground; level, hilly, soft, hard, rocky, prarie, etc you will get really different numbers. I think that the oxen numbers above are pretty much best case.

It would be interesting to see what Airdale, OFM or Todd think of the numbers.


Here is what the book, Traditional American Farming Techniques, 1916, has to say: "...The farms of Lyon county (IA) average 210 acres and those of Henry County average 123 acres. In Lyon there are 22 acres of crops per Henry only 11 acres...

"In Tompkins County (NY) of 586 farms, the acres per horse ranged from 15 acres on farms of 30 acres or less to 49 acres on farms of over 200 acres...

"Three or four horses is the smallest number that can be most economically employed in the use of machinery best adapted to the production og farm crops..."

So, terrain and size matter in animal efficiency.


We had three mules. Most times just hitched up two and the other was backup in case one got sick or whatever...threw a shoe,,;;;;

But my grandfather would also at times hitch a troika. Three mules. I have never seen this done before or since. I sometimes drove those mules at about 10 years or so of age. Sometimes we just tied the reins to the wagon and used voice commands. Like picking corn. Gee and Haw.

They knew what to do. So we walked along the rows ,pulled the ears and threw them in the wagon. Giddap, whoa, gee and haw. All you needed.

Mules are smart. We took very very good care of the mules. I remember working in bottom land in summer those mules sweated very heavily. Very heavy. But they were in prime shape and pretty large mules.


The number wasn't collected data, I just took the mentioned 2.5 km/hr speed and calculated how much area a 12 in plow would turn in an hour and extrapolated from that to get the time to plow an acre. More detailed analysis in this pdf at Tillers International.


I never plowed but a few furrows with a mule myself-we had one up until the nineties that we worked occasionally but he (It really )was more of a pet from the old days than anything else.Daddy and some of my uncles worked him a little to keep him from forgetting his job.I remember seeing the horses and mules used very well but by the time I was big enough to really work them, we had tractors.

But Daddy and one of his old buddies visiting today worked horses and mules regularly in thier younger days and our visitor worked oxen regularly as a very young man.

I suggest that the following high end estimates be taken with a grain of salt for various reasons, including the fact that the older you get the better you were in the old days, the field sizes were estimated, the days were apt to be of greatly varying length,there is as big a difference between draft animals as there is between men,and finally-they worked small acreages mostly and would be apt to set a killing pace that could not be maintained for more than a day or two by niether man nor beast for reasons of bragging rights and to take advantage of soil conditions that were just right,not too wet, not too dry.Even the weather has a LOT to do with this-you can work a lot harder on a cool day with a breeze-for a while at least.

My Dad's Gilbert friend says that in ten hours he could plow UP TO two acres with an ox team and up to four acres with two horses if the going was easy and "You was man enough to keep up with the horses".

But an average "good day" was more like half of that acreage.My Dad obviously thinks Gilbert's high end estimates are too high but he will not actually say so until no one is around.

Both agree that depending on how rough the ground is that a week or more might be required to work an acre of "new ground" the first time, meaning land recently cleared by hand with axes, mattocks, and fire.

This of course is because of roots, stumps and rocks.Every year the job would get easier until after five or six years the small stumps and roots would be mostly rotted or uprooted ( "grubbed out") in thier words and only the larger stumps left, which might still be there for many years depending on the size and species of the tree.

When it was practical to do so, rough cleared ground was often fenced off in small sections and grazed intensively -meaning the horse or cow was deliberately kept on somewhat short rations to suppress and kill off the sprouting stumps.This made the job of plowing a year or two later much easier of course.

Your post reminded me of the garden I started from a stony backyard. It took me several years to get all the fist sized rocks out of it. And with a rotor tiller which had four tines on it, it would take at least several hours of hard work to man handle that thing around, It did not have but two tiny non-power wheels on it, all the drive was to the tines. I was working less than 1,000 sq feet, not 43,560 sq ft which is an acre. That first year we had so many scrubs and trees to dig up it took a long time.

This would be a good time to use the no-till method that some farmers have started to do around here, might help on some of the labor.

All I know is it is not easy to grow enough to feed 4 people, unless you really plan it correctly and the weather holds and you have good storage methods. If you are working you'll need no less than 2,000 calories per person per day, in a year that amounts to 730,000 calories on the bottom side. It's a mixed bag of things you need to be healthy, so you can't just raise rice, or corn, you have to have greens, fruits, nuts, legumes, grain and root crops. Providing the base calories with a monocrop will do more damage to your health and welbeing than most people think about when figuring up what to grow.

Our house sits on 1/5 of an acre, I have plantable land of about 2,500 at the max, with other things growing in the yard that are edibles, but they are on their own. I could survive here alone, but I wouldn't be able to feed all 3 of us.

Having people go from city life to gardening/farming will not be possible in the short term. With die off and eating down the stocks left over and planting everywhere you can with every method available is what it looks like in the years ahead after TSHTF. Even then it'll be rough on most people.


No Till is not the panacea most think it is. First you must do Massive Chemical spraying. Massive.

Second you need the right equipment. And some fields, at least here, are not amenable to no-till. Creek bottom ground perhaps. Its better for rolling ground. No till in the river bottoms usually. It all depends.

It does prevent erosion and wind losses. I notilled my pastures after I threw the 'operators' off it and ended row cropping. Sowed it in hay and made far more profit.


airdale, there are no-till approaches that don't require chemical spraying. Whenever the crop is harvested, a cover crop is immediately planted to keep weeds out. When it comes time to plant the cash crop again. the cover crop is flattened and killed with a roller.

Hi Charles,

One thing that I had sense enough to appreciate even as a kid was the fact that we had sufficient open land ( by then )to make it a fairly rare thing for the old guys to decide to work up a little garden spot by hand, which they seemed to enjoy doing in the same way that modern vacationers enjoy camping out and pretending to be civil war soldiers.This activity inevitably assumed the nature of an athletic contest that lasted from breakfast till dinner (lunch to most people).Of course being just a kid I couldn't keep up but I was old enough to think I could and had to try.

If we had been pagans I am sure there would have been monuments reected to the glory of the bulldozer and the tractor.....

A few months ago we had a lot of discussion on the site about survival or subsistence farming.I posted a higher estimate than anybody else as to the amount of land needed to make a reasonably safe long term go of living without a supermarket.I strongly suggest that anyone seriously interested in the subject soberly consider what old codgers had to say in various comments about why so much land is needed.

One line will suffice for those with expandable imaginations-what will you eat when your half acre per person is totally wiped out by for instance a hurricane force wind or a flood?

My folks were never straight up and up no bones about it subsistence farmers so far back as family lore runs reliably , but in the aftermath of the Civil War they came close because employment opportunities were so scarce.But even then a man could usually earn a few dollars occasionally selling a wagon load of apples to be hauled away in barrels by the rail road or a little moonshine or some coonskins or something.

The cultural imperative of self sufficiency came with us from Scotland and Ireland and was strongly reinforced by the aftermath of the civil war and lasted right into my own lifetime.So we grew potatos right along when I tried to explain to my Daddy that we could buy them from a nieghbor cheaper than we could raise them ourselves.Such remarks were considered to be evidence of such childish ignorance that they went unanswered until a year came when the frost totally wiped out the apple crop which we depended on for most of our cash income when it was explained to me in some detail why Daddy was gone from home every single evening all week until midnight.He had gone to work in a factory to make up the lost income.

We are still growing potatos. I can still buy them five to ten times cheaper in terms of working at our trades and professions on a regular basis.(One hour of welding repair work at the going rate will buy as many potatos as I can raise in five hours or longer.)

I guess since this is the safe and sane thing ( given the long term point of view and an awareness of the dirty tricks Mother Nature and the economy play on us occasionally ) to do this makes us liberals according to some people but our dictionaries are older ones and we refer to such attitudes as conservative. ;)

It's too bad this fine old word has been hijacked and sexually abused. ;(

I also know that if the weather does not hold some crops are toast, I have seen it from time to time. Even this year we had 21 inchs of rain in Oct. I wonder what that did to crops locally. Living off the land be it growing your own or gathering things can be a touch and go endevour these days. Back when the Natives were here, they seeded things and many different foods were available. Now all the area is in scrub oaks, not many acorns, pines with no big seeds, and few if any food plants.

If I was going to try and survive off the land I would be doing a lot of things differently. I don't expect to be around if things get really nasty, my medical issues won't allow me to be to far away from civilization for to long of a time.


All about right OFM. I can remember hanging plows on huge tree stumps down in river bottoms. What I hated was hoeing corn rows for some other farmer who put in a lot of bottom acres. The horse drawn cultivator was to me a thing of beauty.

We also did NOT have Johnson grass and nodding thistles back then. Some horse cane. The plants and weeds were just far different back then and made the work easier. Invasive species has worsened the conditions today.

Johnson Grass would have been hard to work. Can grow 12 ft high. The only way later was to turn stock in a taken field but in my youth there was none of it as yet. Hogs will easily dig up the rhizomes and kill it out after a while. Cattle and horses will eat it when young and slowly eliminate it but others fields will blow seeds on yours!! Then you got trouble.

Nodding thistle is a noxious weed. Bromesage indicates you need lime. A whole lot of neglected fields turn in bromesage havens. A big waste.


I had a set of hitch mounted 3 bottom plows with trips and colters.
I put it behind my IH574 and it was a tad,just a tad, too much plow for that tractor,a diesel.

But I could break new ground it is was in 'condition'. Meaning the time was exactly right to plow. The old saying is this "never work ground on a windy day". And with just the 'right' moisture the soil will work far far well as NOT clod up,unless its largely clay.

So I was asked to plow up about a half acre for a guy up the road. His soil was not in good condition but I got the job done. Took around 2 hours as I recall. I think my plows were 14 inch, but could be wrong for I let them go a long time ago. Never use a plow anymore and if I do I use a chisel plow. Which I did have a very nice one and could plow MORE ground with it than a moldboard plow,which my three bottom set was....moldboard.

You have to make sure your plows or disks are nice and shiny. Scoured off so to speak. Makes it far easier and less power.

Tires make a big difference as well and also a good set of front weights. I filled mine with a solution in order to get more power and drive from the back tires.

I think I could do an acre in about 6 hours on my silt loam. I have planted an acre in corn several times on new ground. Of course if its full of saplings just having been bush hogged down then you are going to likely hang up and it will be slower going.

You never never work wet ground. You just ruin it if you do.

Its an experience kinda thing. Just like tobacco in a barn goes into and out of 'case'. So does the soil. Rocky and poor soil I wouldn't set my 'watch and warrent' on.

Mule power. I used to walk behind my grandfather and him using a single walkbehind moldboard plow in new ground(had been worked in the past but now pasture). It was not slow..just a walking pace. Turn times counted. A good mule makes it easy. I thought he might could do a bit more than a acre from first light to dinner(noon).

A uncle I lived with for some time used a horse and mule together and a riding two bottom plow. Likely do twice what my grandfather did in the same time.

This is all guess work and remembrances. We just did not plant a very large amount of acres back then. Not in corn and not in tobacco. We planted just what we needed and 40 bu/ac ...we seemed to have plenty enough. We didn't see it...we used it on the farm.


Could someone build a machine with gears and have the oxen somehow provide the motive force for it and therefore leverage their ability to produce useful work? I recall seeing irrigation systems powered by draft animals. How about outdoor hydroponics powered by oxen. No need to plow the soil at all. Just make the nutrient solution flow to the crop beds. I'm kidding but my point is we need to be thinking creatively and outside the box.

BTW, I don't know the weight of this piano but it looks like it is being pulled by a mere human and I'll bet he covers 2.5 km with it in less than an hour.

deleted got caught by FMagyar

Someone steered those oxen for 2.5 km, harnessed them up, made the harness, etc. so there is quite a bit of additional energy that must be accounted for.

To do much with animal labor one must have spares in case one animal gets lame, sick or otherwise cannot work. Further, these spares must be rotated into and out of work because an animal cannot work that hard all the time, i.e. there must be rest periods. Eight hour half-days were not unusual in animal powered farming while the spare set of animals were in the shade and eating.

Animals eat about the same amount of food (though different in variety) per kg as humans. It takes quite a bit of grain and pasture to maintain work animals so the ballance is even worse than the given 1kw per hour. While a small tractor only requires a few sq feet to reside upon, little maintenance when not working and just a little fuel. The basic argument against animal-human work is well founded and the transition back will be a killer and not just an academic experiment in psycology so one might get to write a paper.

Good points. My father told me that it used to take him 1 to 1 1/2 hours to get a team fed and harnessed in the morning and an hour to finish up at the end of the day.

There is no possibility of a quick transition back to primarily horse farming. One of my grandfathers was a draft horse breeder in the early 1900's and from the stories I remember I am pretty confident that it would take a generation (20 years) at least to recreate the stock needed. Maybe much longer. And each horse needs about 5 acres of production just to feed it. We won't be able to spare the land.

We will be using diesel powered farm equipment as the primary tool for the duration of this situation. The ability to grow massive amounts of food very efficiently as we live through the coming drawdown is essential. Big scale ag is not going away any time soon and we need to have strong growth in small scale diversified farming all around the cities to cut the transportation costs.

If we cannot figure out how to make the basic structure work long enough the bottom will blow out and we will see a catastrophe. IMHO


In the winter and off season and when not working a lot you feed them far less.

You use corn for energy and hay for roughage. We would stall them when working them after they rolled and horsed around some.

Rest of the time we left them in the horse/mule lot and they didn't need that much feed.

Back then we did not have to plant hay crops. Seems that we had a older variety of 'red top' that produced good hay feed. We put it up loose in the loft and just forked it down as needed.

Very effecient doing it that way. Very little wasted. We fed the corn on the ears as well. Both to the cow herd and the mules. No cracked corn.


"Animals eat about the same amount of food (though different in variety) per kg as humans. It takes quite a bit of grain and pasture to maintain work animals so the ballance is even worse than the given 1kw per hour. While a small tractor only requires a few sq feet to reside upon, little maintenance when not working and just a little fuel. The basic argument against animal-human work is well founded and the transition back will be a killer and not just an academic experiment in psycology so one might get to write a paper."

I very much agree... plowing fields with animals will only become viable when that is the cheapest most efficient source of power. I think we have quite a few alternatives before that occurs... and if/when it ever does, we will have endured many years of societal collapse, war, disease, starvation, etc... ie most of us will be dead.

This thread is spot on.

It will only be after a whole lot of people have died and the technological infrastructure collapsed totally that there would be enough land to make animal powered farming attractive compared with other much more efficient energy sources.

One possibility I have enjoyed thinking through is wind powered electric farming. You plow the fields when the wind blows. 100kW runs a tractor and that is a small to moderate sized wind turbine. The slighly complicated part is running the cables to the tractor, but there are several schemes that would work.

Lighter tractors with batteries, and several of them, 2 juicing up while one works. Better than cables all over the place, not something that you'd want to accidently cut one afternoon.

The big thing that gets me is who is going to be replacing everything? If the system crashs, it'll be decades before things settle out. And some places when the machinery breaks they will have to farm by hand or move, or die. We really live in a complex system and we take a lot of it for granted, even us who read this forum and should know better at times take things for granted.

The windmill breaks, You cut the power cords, a fire happens, Ligthening strikes, a storm shows up, it does not rain, it rains to much, and tonnes of other things all make survival harder.

Pray for a slow decline, prepare for a crash.

Your battery tractor idea is a possibility. (Look at modern irrigation systems which pipe water to all parts of fields to see the kinds of systems that can get electric power to all parts of fields.) You need a battery replacement every few minutes (100kW from a 20 kWhr per cycle battery pack only lasts 12 minutes, and that requires a 40 kWhr rated battery pack to have a reasonable life which is already several thousand dollars in lead acid batteries that will have to be replaced after a few thousand cycles.) You may have to be careful not to cut cables, but you have to be careful with most things when farming. Farming equipment has much lower safety requirements than consumer equipment because the people running it use it all the time. Either way can work...but most people around TOD seem to like simpler systems.

The maintenance and replacement is important...but how complicated is it really? Wind turbines are centuries old technology. Sure we computerize them and use fancy fluid dynamics simulations to design them, but basically they require strong-light materials and the expertise and materials to build an electric generator. The electric tractor isn't any more complicated. Point is, we are not going to forget how to build these basic systems. Sure there will be problems. Humans are evolved to solve problems. We seem to be less good at planning ahead beyond next year.

But the central point is that much of the discussion of agriculture around here is largely irrelevant because large scale agriculture is not going to go away when oil becomes scarce.

If I had some mules or other stock then I would not have to be out bushhogging a lot of the time. Using fuel when animals would crop it instead. A big savings.

Also you recycle the manure. Tractors can't do that. And your also 'easy' on the land. Another plus.

You can't see these things unless you are doing them.

We never never had to mow the lawn. We did not have weed eaters either. Animals took care of this. Chickens,ducks and geese as well.

I never never pushed a lawn mower. Never. The fence rows were clean also.

You folks are not thinking about this logically.


Someone steered those oxen for 2.5 km, harnessed them up, made the harness, etc. so there is quite a bit of additional energy that must be accounted for.

I think the yoke in the picture up top would take a couple of hours to hack out with a hatchet and will probably last a generation, maybe two or three.

So the way I see it if we go the labor route instead of another energy source we can plan on spending the rest of our lives maybe just getting by correct?

Forget the social entitlements there will not be any. Forget helping others you will have enought trouble helping yourself. The only help you will get from the goverment will be a trade off or should I say a sellout of your neighbors.

When Hitler took over some neighboring country’s early on he did it through lying promises and was elected to run their country by people wanting a chicken in every pot you might say. He gave them everything he promised until he had all the power then the trap was set and it was to late the guns were all accounted for and taken and then freedom was removed.

Just maybe all the brain power liberals are spending on how to survive with less could be spent on creating new ways for us to have more for everyone and still be green? We have unlimited power the only think lacking is getting our brain power focused on more not less.

It seems fairly likely that as long as the machinery on hand lasts that we can grow staple food and distribute it with biofuels grown on our existing farms.

And the current inventory of equipment and trucks could be made to last a lot longer than most people would ever believe , given that the mechanics and machine shops and so forth would have very little to do if bau collapses.

I think we will have a decade or maybe two decades, barring war, to get our act somewhat together once a real crunch hits.A lot can be accomplished in that length of time even with severely reduced supplies of fossil fuels-once our attention is focused, IF our attention is focused.

We will after all have millions of unemployed hands, a great many of them very highly skilled, available at very low wage rates-a lot of them will probably be more than willing to work for room and board plus a pittance.

Given this kind of labor supply manufacturing and installing a domestic solar hot water heating system for example might cost no more here than it does in China today-perhaps even less.And we have a huge industrial and commercial base that can be converted to a very large extent to the support of a conservation industry-the people making doors and windows for new construction could keep on making doors and windows for refitting existing houses, etc.

Actually if we were to put ourselves on a serious wartime footing and put the effort and resources into conservation and renewables that we are putting into buying oil and supporting a military several times larger than we need to defend North America we could almost certainly turn the corner safely to a new American order based on sound ecological and political principles.

Of course the likelihood that we will actually do anything that makes so much sense is slim.

Today, Right now we have millions of people out of work. We have thousands who don't have houses that once did, they live somewhere, but most likely no where near the jobs. Who amoung our leaders, or us for that matter is going to direct people to what you are talking about?

I don't see Washington doing it, and I don't see the states doing it either. Do you want the job? Or because I suggested this thinking stream am I the one that needs to start the process? After all I did locally tell people I was running for President in our last election. When I am on my own computer, I guess I need to post a few of these thoughts to my blog and e.mail my mailing list about it.

How many people really want to see a REAL change in the status quo I wonder?

Charles E. Owens Jr.
President for 2012, The Free Right Now party.

Hi Charles,

I guess you didn't read all the way to the bottom line of my comment.

I have commented before in more detail on this.Imo our only real hope, and only a very slim one to be sure, is that we experience a Pearl Harbor event that is of sufficient magnitude to get our undivided attention.

A continuous stream of (hopefully) smaller catastrophes might work better.

Katrina is being forgotten. If we had another one this year, that would jog memories. But another one (or two) next year would get us very worried.
In fact, we need to be repeatedly reminded of the danger.

Big, bad surprises are mostly soon forgotten. 'It can't happen again'. When it does happen again, we start to get worried, and on the third beat we swing into action.

So my best wishes for next year are a series of terrifying catastrophes linked to global warming, peak oil and financial blow-up. Hammer the message down, so to speak.

If we survive those, and if we are smart about dealing with the consequences, we might have a chance of saving (some) of our arses.

One problem is that we have a tendency to over-react. 8 years after 9-11, we still can't carry liquids on planes. And the nature of the disaster focuses our response. This calls for patching up jobs. A hole in the roof can be patched with a tarp. Even millions of tarps will not patch excess rainfall through climate change.

Our set-up for providing solutions seems to present a few difficulties: when we are scared we become focused, and our responses will be conservative, and when we are happy we become inventive, but we lose the focus.

So we need to get afraid to acquire focus, and then we need happy times to invent solutions, then we need to be scared enough to examine the proposed solutions thoroughly. Maybe the best thing to do would be to launch a million billion micro-solutions, in the knowledge that the best adaptations will survive.



A series of wakeup calls might indeed be better than a single event for the very reasons you point out.

Even better, your series for three or four years followed by my blockbuster.

Yeah I saw it, but I got off track. Sorry.

It would be nice to have something to galvanize people to the issues at hand. But most everybody I talk to locally think the world will be around pretty much the way it is now in 20 years. There don't seem to be any clues that things are changing faster than they have in the past.

If say one country bombs another in the middle east we might see the event you want to happen.


We get a new generation that knows nothing starting every 20-30 years so unless you expect civilisation to 'fall off a cliff' within a couple of generations (40-60 years) ploughing the fields will be all that is known with nothing missed.

Of course Gramps is going to be sitting in the corner moaning about how things where a lot better when he was a kid... So no change there then...


sorry to nitpick, but that guy isn't plowing, he's cultivating that field. the field crop, is left behind in small green rows.

This is a great start on the subject. Thank you Vinay.

Just the other day we had a group of 15 young people over making gingerbread sculptures, age 12 to 18. I listened to them demand an opportunity to move to the city. They all commented on how dead they felt in our small town, how dead all the people around them were, to a person they swore they would get out as soon as they could.

I made some comments about the natural planet, excitement from outdoor activities that I have shared with most of them, and I talked about growing things. They all showed such distain for farming, (one girl lives and works on a farm) but acknowledge that "someone will do it". This was particularly disturbing to me as I thought I was seeing some back to the earth trends in most of the youth in our area. There is not a one of them that is working toward producing something, (other than IT content but I do not include that. That is support for the producing jobs only).

Perhaps this is just a faze or even just a seasonal mentality but the force and passion with which these kids spoke was very real.

In truth there is not enough work to go around and we will need some nonproductive occupations. The problem lies IMO in the fact that the nonproductive jobs offer 1000 times more money than the productive ones. If this is going to continue then the nonproductive incomes should be taxed at 75% in order to finance everything social. However that would just lead to the non-producing jobs to get 10,000 times the money of the producing jobs and we are no better off.

I talk to many many parents and everyone of them would go to great extremes, from bribing, tricking, ordering them and worse, to keep their children from working a production job. The distain that is expressed when the adults talk about someones child who is doing some "menial" job is intense.

Again what it comes down to is HOW MONEY WORKS. We are at such a low point in the evolution of society now where we reward the worst societal behavior with the greatest wealth. And do give me that "money is just a means of exchange" B$. Money has left the whole means of exchange realm a long time ago.

Bottom line is we have no shortage of great ideas for how the future can work but it always comes down to the fact that there is NO GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE without extreme revolution.

And therein lies the ENIGMA!!!!!

We always crave what we don't have. Urbanites want open spaces and less hurried life - rural folks want excitement, less physical labor and fast pace of life.

Its much more complicated than that.

We took a group of kids up to Portland OR yesterday to meet up with a bunch of friends who live in the city. The city folk don't know how we all can stand to live in such a berg. They then proceeded to treat us to lots of what the Big City has to offer, much of it was free or low cost. Bottom line the kids we took up are more convinced than ever, checking craigslist for rentals etc.

What we crave is more, bigger, better, faster. There will be no big back to the land movement unless it is forced.

What we crave is more, bigger, better, faster. There will be no big back to the land movement unless it is forced.

It will be forced, not by the gov't (which would sooner keep people in camps), but by reality, survival.

The cravings for "more, bigger, better, faster" is an addiction fostered by our economic system and can be cured.

The more, bigger, better, faster has been around for a long time, otherwise Those big rock piles in Gaza would be sand dunes, Rome would not have been a world leader, etc etc. It is part of our DNA I think. We, that also reason after seeing that the More, Bigger, Better, Faster can lead down a road to distruction, try to convince others that it won't give them the world they think it will. How many people do you know that fight their cravings, ones that are harmful to them?

I know that some of this is our economic system at work. But if you look out there down the slopes of history, you see mankind always wanting more, bigger, better, faster. It is not just the way we are right now, it has been around long enough to have been bred into our makeup. Look at kids and how they play and you can see it real easy. Ask anyone who lives in a tent if they would want something better, or a hut, or an apartment. Granted some people like where they are just fine, but it is not the general rule in my opinion.


The Hadza are a counter example. One of the few hunter-gatherer economies left on the planet, they are surrounded by agricultural-pastoralists. They trade with their neighbors, primarily - indeed almost exclusively - for jewelry and stuff to fill their pipes (both tobacco and cannabis). The majority of men own only a knife, clothes, bow and arrows, and a pipe. They like it that way, or they most certainly would have moved to a nearby urban center or taken up sheep herding. Let us never forget that our society (and the ones culturally preceding it) is not the whole of humanity.

I hope they survive long enough to be examples for the rest of us.

But africa is changing a lot these days.


On the same day in the same place as you I met with a 20ish sheep rancher who is taking time off from his OSU engineering studies cause he has 1000 animals to manage. Another 28 yr old friend and his girl are eager to get out of Portland and move here to farm.

The local grange here just got filled with 30 new members and half are under 40.

You experiece is true but the sociology is schiziod now.

Jason - I agree and I have seen examples of both.

"...the sociology is schiziod now.."

I agree and to that I would add the economics of localization is schiziod now.

We need an iPhone app that will show us how to get there from here.

Are u making fun of my iPhone?

It does have an ifarm ap but I am not sure it is gonna help.

What you guys are seeing is the typical normal distribution of personality types.
If you Bell Curved them with a complete cross section of our culture (not age dependent).
You would see the kids distributed in a cluster that is skewed to the more "excitement and action" side rather than the "serene and calm' side like their elders cluster would be. The skew would be the age effect. Make the 10-20 yr old's blue dots and the 60-70 year old's red dots and it would be obvious.
More than one variable at play here.

I live in a major marijuana growing area. Interestingly, many of the kids follow in their parents footsteps, i.e., keep growing with their folks or start their own operation. Yes, dope growing is farming (although there are a lot of sophisticated operations that are indoors and hydroponic).

So, why do any of the kids stay in the boondocks "farming?" First, there is significant money to be made. Second, you get a lot of time off after you're done. Third, because you have money and time, you can do things regular working people can't.

Therefore, it seems to me, that the rewards of regular farming have to be changed (as well as not having to go into hock forever to get started).


"So, why do any of the kids stay in the boondocks "farming?" First, there is significant money to be made. Second, you get a lot of time off after you're done. Third, because you have money and time, you can do things regular working people can't.

Therefore, it seems to me, that the rewards of regular farming have to be changed (as well as not having to go into hock forever to get started)."

Growing pot (or any illegal activity) hardly counts as regular work of any sort. I grew up on a farm, and we did very well without growing illegal crops. My dad now rents our land to a family that farms over 5000 acres of mostly corn and soybeans in central IL. The use the biggest machinery that they can get. Why? Because it is the most efficient in terms of fuel and resource use and time spent.

If you farm regular crops via animals and hand labor, then you will be living at a near subsistence level. This has been true in all places throughout history for the simple reason that it is inefficient... you have to work all day just to provide your own food and shelter, with very little left over for extras.

Hi rruff,

Well, my long departed, horse-farming relatives would certainly take umbrage at being called "subsistence" farmers. Some had farms in northern Ohio and Nebraska. I also have friends in Delaware whose families farmed with horses into the early 50's.

But, let's take a look at the family you mention farming 5,000 acres as well as my comment up thread about the size of old horse farms. For the sake of argument, let's say your "family" is made up of mom/pop and three adult kids - four families. That's 1,250 acres per "family." Using horse-farm size, 5,000Ac would support 20 families at 250 Ac/family or 40 families at 125Ac.

Was life easy? Of course not. But, they had enough income to get by. I know in the case of the Delaware family that the old man was overjoyed to get a tractor since it took him about 4 weeks to plow down for spring crops with horses.

Finally, you skip over the capital cost of farming today.



Another side note along the lines of Todd's. I read a study about 20 years ago (no way to find it at this point) that was done by some grad student at one of the ag schools. He compared the net return of an 80 acre Amish farm to a fairly typical "family" farm grossing $250K a year. He used some reasonable methodology to normalize the income of the Amish farm into dollars. Many of the ways they make their living are not directly comparable other wise. The surprising result (to me at least) was that they, on average, netted about the same amount of money. But the real kicker was that it is extremely rare for an Amish farm to go bankrupt while the typical industrial farm is always in danger.

Big equipment means big debt. If it was not for government ag welfare (er ..price supports) every time there was to big of a surplus or a crop failure a lot of the industrial folks would go belly up.

And we could really get into a discussion of how the govt subsidies make the CAFO operations profitable. But another day.


Wyoming... The Amish are in fact an excellent example since many of them live about the same as our ancestors did 150+ years ago. You may think that is a fine life, and they seem to like it, but they do not own any of the modern devices that we take for granted. No cars, computers, TVs, etc. They could not afford to own these things and continue to earn their living as they do now.

Todd... I don't understand the interest in how many persons a certain parcel of land could "support". The land is supporting more people than ever because the yields are greater... that is more food for more people. The number of people who are making their living *off* that yield will always drop as it is done more efficiently... and that is a very good thing... since the greatest component of wealth is the amount produced (minus expenses) per man-hr of work.

The Amish are a good example of people who are able to support themselves on small parcels of land. Anyone can do this now... the only trick is to lower your living standard to theirs. Since much more efficient methods are possible, a farmer can also live *very* well these days (by any standard) provided that he uses these methods and does so intelligently.

There's a book about this, by a fellow named Bremse or something, called "Better Off".

very good book, actually worth buying if you don't have it.

surprised that no one in this thread mentioned permaculture. Industrial ag is efficient only in terms human labor input not in net return on energy invested. Western industrial methods exported to India have caused mass suicides, production levels went up slightly but costs doubled and tripled. There are no government subsidies to bail them out.

Permaculture is still in its infancy, we need a revolution in agriculture as significant as when the plow was invented.

We need to go a step further---
Get rid of any agriculture that is not neutral or adding topsoil, works on a zero carbon input of fossil fuels, and cannot be sustained by real solar inputs.

And where has owning a car, tv or computer gotten us? Right smack into the mess we are in right now. When the rest of us are hunting for food in the empty store shelves they will be having dinner, and knowing that they might be without a TV, but they have the dinner.

We will have the TV and no one to sell it to for the dinner we want.

The problem is that the vast majority of people don't know how to farm like the Amish. Or even how to live like they do.

And in this mess is not just the USA but China is moving more and more people off the farm and into the cities. When it crashs we won't be the only ones in a fine mess.


Those Pot growers might not be in an illegal business after the gov't comes tumbling down, Pot for food might be a new market.

I live in Maastricht, the Netherlands, which is one of the unsung drugs capitals of Europe. Because it is the Southern most Dutch city we get all of the South Europeans, Germans and French who drive up here looking to buy dope legaly. This amounts to approximatly 4000 drugs torrists visiting a day. You can always spot a koffie shop because of the amount of customers going in and out all day long.

I expect this will only increase over the short term while things get worse but if it becomes too costly to drive here and not make a good profit on drugs returned and sold then the local economy will likely collapse.

Yeah I wondered about that when I was posting. Where is the pot grown that is sold? The US seems so backward at times. We'd be able to save so much money on our prisons, and taxes on the sales could be like they are on cigarettes.


OR growing pot AS food. The seed has large amounts of whole proteins and the leaf is edible, too.

"And where has owning a car, tv or computer gotten us? Right smack into the mess we are in right now. When the rest of us are hunting for food in the empty store shelves they will be having dinner, and knowing that they might be without a TV, but they have the dinner."

Don't forget the obvious... if it gets to the point of starvation, those sparsely spaced farmers with a bunch of canned food will not be able to defend their stash.

It could be fun though.
And the bodies will make good fertilizer for the coming spring.

Reminds me of an S. M. Sterling novel, Dies the Fire, where the world changes for the worst.

Lets hope some people think about long term rather than short term gains. trying not to kill the golden goose of the amish.


"Lets hope some people think about long term rather than short term gains. trying not to kill the golden goose of the amish."

Starving people will only be capable of "thought" when they've been fed. And surely there will be plenty of roving bands of thugs if society completely collapses. If your survival strategy in that event consists of a semi self sufficient farm, then... good luck.

Don't forget the obvious... if it gets to the point of starvation, those sparsely spaced farmers with a bunch of canned food will not be able to defend their stash.

But if some of said canned food is poisoned and only the stash owner knows which...

Around here the Amish and Mennonites are fairly well off. They have good land and they bring their children up right. Some hire out and do very good work.

They have an excellent community and they take very good care of each other.

I envy them.Yes they drive a horse and buggy to town. Hitch it in the parking lot. No one fusses about them. They are well accepted here abouts.


Wyo, I try to read all your comments and superb articles, since you're living the stuff the rest of us talk about.

Here, there are Amish who augment their income by feeding city-slickers, and I've gone a few time with my kids classes. Though the visits are short, you can readily get some insight to how they run their farms. A few random observations:

1) Nothing is wasted, but a lot is cobbled-together. Fence posts are made from scrap wood, scrub trees, sucker rod, and whatnot. Hog pens have some hog panels, but also spare sheet metal, layers of other fencing, and even scrap metal.
2) A farm is big, but a lot of people live on it. Several houses -- maybe one big, two small, and a handful of barns.
3) At least some use tractors. The one I was at had 10, some old Fords and Fergusons, some newer ones. All were small, though, by local standards, and all were standard gas engine and 3-point hitches.
4) Chickens, pigs, and dogs were readily apparent. A few horses and buggies.
5) Young folks are still young folks -- it was obvious that some of the girls weren't thrilled to be helping with dinner prep and serving. Guys were scarce -- they seemed to avoid being around while the house was "invaded", except to handle the horses and buggies. Not terribly talkative, either -- probably takes some getting to know them.
6) Workmanship wasn't all that great -- a lot of the barn work and house repairs were on the shoddy side, besides being cost-constrained. Older construction actually looked better, like maybe that particular group was struggling to maintain skills, or was just short of money.
7) The younger women were unable or unwilling to talk much about where different food items came from. It was all cooked from scratch apparently, but I wasn't positive there weren't a dozen veggie cans from Costco out back in the trash.
8) From a city standard, lots of "junk" everywhere near the house and barn. Nothing ever gets thrown away. I was used to it from my country upbringing, esp with some poorer rural friends, but my wife and some others were unimpressed.

Anyway, I am sure they could afford cell-phones and computers, if they wanted to. Especially if cell-phones cost $2 per month like a cheap plan in India. We're used to amortizing a continuing upgrade in wireless networks and new computer technology, but as things slow down the actual cost of these "desirable" technologies can drop quite a bit too.


I was not aware that there were Amish using tractors and such power equipment. I do know that some Mennonite sects use pwer equipment and have vehicles.

But the real point is that somewhere inbetween industrial and subsistence farming there better be a sweet spot where we can generate enough food, with a reasonable efficiency, to manage the drawdown in population that is coming.

I noticed some comments above from the permaculture advocates indicating that we need to completely stop any kind of farming that does not create or at least maintain the soil. I think that this position is seriously misguided. Executing it at this time would guarantee mass starvation and total system collapse. The dieoff would be far greater than a mangaged drawdown. Permaculture techniques do not lend themselves to feeding billions of people.

I see the type of farming I am doing as a bridge between today and post-drawdown (when ever that is) when things like permaculture can be put into play on a large scale. I freely admit that what I am trying to do and propose we do on a large scale may not end up working, but if we don't find that bridge there is only an abyss. I am hopeful others are out looking for bridges as well and best of luck to them.


We had lots of free time in the winter. Also once planting was done. Also bad weather days. Lots of leisure time in my youth on the farm.

We went fishing a lot. Hunting as well.

It was a very good life and very healthy. You didn't need a doctor and I never seen one.


Kentuckys third largest crop, maybe larger, is pot.

Owlsley County is reputed to be largest. Its said the small town stores have signs that tell State Troopers will get no water here. Whatever.

But folks there are supposedly never go to trial for the grand jury doesn't return a true bill. Or whatever a grandjury does.

A mostly poor area and they must have something to get by on. I heard a story that even the preachers carry pistols there. Not seriously but it was a joke with some truth to it.

Never been to that county. But there are places where its not wise to go tromping around carelessly.



You have arrived.

As far as non-productive work goes, I agree, there needs to be some as long as the money economy exists, just to keep people in jobs.

A good example of a completely parasitic industry that provides non-productive work to millions is the health insurance industry. And it appears our government is hell-bent on preserving those non-productive jobs.

Thing is, looking ahead at the inevitable collapse of industrial civilization, ultimately most of the survivors will need to be in productive employment.

The heyday of the corporate teamplayer was over with the end of America's Second Gilded Age (1981-2008).

So I see the propping up of non-productive jobs as only a temporary, transitional measure.

"As far as non-productive work goes, I agree, there needs to be some as long as the money economy exists, just to keep people in jobs."

I sure don't agree with that. Instead we should get used to the idea of working less, having less, and discover all the best things in life (which are free) that we've been ignoring lately.

I'm all about job destruction (through intelligent efficiency) rather than job creation.

I see a number of people expecting that once oil production goes into its big decline the average work week could become shorter. This seems like a mistake. Some of the stuff that machines used to do for us will have to be done with human labor. Seems to argue for longer work weeks, not shorter ones.


Thank you. My experiences in working with young people has
been quite similar. The very ugly forms that extreme revolutions
have taken historically ought to be a cause of great worry
for all of us.


There is no doubt that physical labor will once again play an increasing role in human society with the acceleration of deindustrialization. But it will be and will need to be a physical labor combined with mental labor. The earth we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren is much impoverished. Agriculture, and indeed all aspects of work will need to be done much more intelligently than was the case before the industrial era. Survival will require this.

Industrial monoculture will collapse along with industrialism itself. Permaculture or something like it will need to replace it. That means brains and science plus sweat and hands on. It also means E. F. Schumacher's ideas will finally get a work out.

It will be a requirement that one be able to improvise, to reason, to cobble things together, to maneuver, to do many things -- survival will require it, because the old cookie-cutter methods, automation, the production lines, the detailed procedures, all this will stop working, at least on anything like its present scale. We'll be working in the junkyards of industrial era, we'll need to be alert, physically adept, innovative, flexible and able to learn -- survival will depend on it.

From '65 to '76 I was a Marxist truck driver, first in the NYC garment center, then delivering office furniture as a Teamster. Heavy physical labor and hard drinking Friday nights -- all to organize the proletarian revolution. Ok, we were a little premature. Still, I have very fond memories of those days. (I was probably one of the very few truck drivers to lay in the back of their truck trying to think of a simpler proof of the fundamental theorem of algebra.) In the garment center, a lot of my buddies were ex-cons. The very worst of them were far better human beings than the suited thugs who sit at the pinnacles of power. As a whole, those workers were the salt of the earth.

Mao may have screwed things up in many ways, but he wasn't wrong about combining mental and physical labor. And he wasn't wrong about trying to keep people from swarming to the cities. What a disaster China is. (Of course, what a disaster we are too.)

Old people shouldn't be allowed to post here -- they just aimlessly ramble and reminisce.

EDIT: The reason physical labor gets a bad rap is precisely because industrialism and automation have taken the thinking out of it. I believe many of the craftsmen of the middle ages had tons of fun!

As an old person who at one time drove an art truck in NYC am I allowed to reminisce and aimlessly ramble? I will anyway ;-)

I knew of a couple of drivers who studied physics and did calculus in the back of the trucks between jobs. We did a lot of very creative thinking solving 3D spatial problems of how to move and transport some very unique pieces of very heavy art without damaging them. So got to do the heavy physical work and creative mental work as well. The best of both worlds and we didn't have any supervisor breathing down our necks either. Those were great times.

BTW just because someone is working in an office cubicle it doesn't mean they are doing any mental work at all, most are wasting away both mentally and physically.

This sounds like the late Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher.

People who do manual labor and have incredible minds have always intrigued me.

davebygolly -

It seems to me that those who extoll the virtues of hard physical labor haven't seriously done all that much of it for any length of time.

If one has to do it day in and day out for a living, it is neither virtuous nor edifying. Rather, it is mind and body-destroying drudgery. Many of those old farmers literally wore themselves out.

Nor is one likely to have many philosophical and elevated thoughts when completely exhausted from spending twelve hours behind a plow whilst looking up a mule's arse. It doesn't take much thinking to plow a field. Actually, the less thinking you do, the less awful it will be.

Not to be a cheerleader for fossil fuels, but I think we should all recognize that if it weren't for such, we would probably still have some form of slavery in the US.

Fossil fuels have become our new slaves, but the slaves are showing signs of getting old, tired, and weak. So at some point we may go back to slavery, but of course it won't be called that, regardless of how inhuman and oppressive it gets.

When you get right down to it, humans have no qualms about sucking the lifeblood out of other humans if it provides gain for themselves. This has been, and continues to be, the story of the main struggle all throughout human history. The parasite and the host.

There is a limit beyond which it is no good, true. But I didn't just drive a truck, I loaded, unloaded it, unloaded boxcars, and in general did a whole lot of very physical work in those 10-11 years. I don't regret any of it. Would I have wanted to do it at the same pace as I got older? No. It's also true that after we worked our tails off and did our runs, we'd go to the Carmine St pool and swim, or head for a bar/pool hall on the waterfront -- still on the clock.

But most of us do way too little physical work and would benefit from doing more, but in a far less stressful and cooperative environment. I know local mail men who used to like their jobs now hating it because of the pressure.

What the social order will be after industrialism know one knows, but I have some hope it may more egalitarian, if only because the labor needed will be intelligent labor, not slave labor. The soil and the environment is not the one enjoyed by the ancients -- it will be lot harder to make a living out of it. Nor will there be some big advantage to conquering more land to be cultivated by slaves. The advantage will go to those who know how to work the land intelligently, intensively and sustainably. I hope.

I have done hard physical labour, and miss it.
I worked in a Westinghouse plant making large generator parts; I mas laid off in the early nineties. I believe that my work on the health and safety committee may have had something to do with it... but I digress. I enjoyed the mental/physical challenges- moulding and moving seventy pound wire coils, and flame cleaning leads (a process involving putting the leads (usually of varying sizes) of a large winding coil into a small furnace, dipping them in an alcohol/water bath, and then removing the loose insulation, all without burning or annealing the copper), amongst other jobs. I had to buy a new suit the day before my wedding because my shoulders had grown two inches in the 3 years I worked there.
Of course, there were downsides. I still have contact dermatitis from working with styrene solvents; RSI was rampant in the factory, and it was a good 18 months until my hands returned to normal. There was a continual conflict between workers and management over work pace, which I now realize was not from worker laziness but from an effort at self-preservation on the part of the workers. My peers saw my job as a failure, and of my not living up to my potential. And I did indeed make more money at the jobs that followed. And my son didn't have any birth defects, and so far I have no cancers(not uncommon in the plant, though not statistically provable because of sample size).
My point? People enjoy and prefer using all their capabilities; however, in practice, they will do the things that are most likely to result in a longer, more satisfying life, and make them more attractive mates. We are, essentially, in a competition for calories. Until the cost of a grown calorie is more competitive with that of a mined one, most of us will continue to be trapped in offices. The closer the ratio, the more human labour required. I generally agree with Wyoming regarding subsistence and animal powered farming; what I would hope for is some way of getting more people working on growing and making things, and gradually becoming sustainable. Perhaps a tax structure that paid you to become a hunter-gathterer(with a progressive tax rate depending on how much fossil fuel you use).

I do manual labor for a living (carpet cleaning).

Perhaps you may disagree, but my mind seems as alive as it was when I left graduate school 17 years ago.

I think a combination of manual labor and intellectual labor is the ideal actually.

About 10 years ago I was still doing what the pictured man is doing only with a JD4440 and an 8 row cultivator. I usually cultivated 2 or even 3 times on conventional corn if the herbicide didn't work too well.

The first time left a lot of weeds just as the man in the picture is doing. They will grow and sap the yield if he doesn't get them in another pass or by hand weeding and next year he will have a bumper crop of weeds. My yields were generally in the 130 to 140 bushels per acre range.

With the advent of Round-Up and Round-Up ready genetically modified corn, I switched. Now I do no cultivating or pre/post plant herbicide application. I just spray it once when the corn is about knee high. There is no moisture loss from cultivating. My yields have increased to the area of 150 to 160 bushels per acre. In a good year with plenty of applied fertilizer I can get up to about 170 on the better land.

The amount of diesel used going across the field once with a 16 row sprayer is dramatically less than cultivating.

If the man in the picture could plant GM corn and spray with Round-Up using a small mini sprayer he would liked consume less energy than what it takes to feed 2 draft cows for a year. His yields would probably rise as would his income.

He could eat the cows if they were not sacred in India. Animals compete with humans for energy. Their numbers should be held in check before human population is held down. Not much chance of that in India or the United States for sure.

With the advent of Round-Up and Round-Up ready genetically modified corn,I switched.

I don't suppose you consider a bushel of your GM corn to be an abstraction now, do you?

The oxen are the energy source in the photo, thus it is they that are the abstraction.

I believe it is the sun which is the energy source, and the oxen are just a means to turn that energy into mechanical force.

At least some of our species are intelligent and creative. With time, and the continued depletion of the planetary reserves of stored solar, more and more of this subset are likely to improve the means by which we convert current and near current solar energy into work, including farmwork.

Happy rebirth of the giver of life.

I believe it is the sun which is the energy source, and the oxen are just a means to turn that energy into mechanical force.

No, no, toilforoil, It seems you are committing a fallacy of misplaced concreteness by reifying, (or is it RA-i-fying) the sun's rays ...I think this might force us to reexamine Quantum Theory and the whole Wave/Particle Duality issue.

Now perhaps if we could build a solar furnace capable of concentrating enough (non abstract)solar energy to roast a whole ox, then we could get some "REAL" work done, though I wouldn't want to gore anyone's ox or sacred cows in the process.../wink, wink.

Irrespective of why this might be the case, this phenomenon implies that it ought to be easier to find humans willing to do work involving less physical labour compared to more. And yet, most human societies historically have privileged mental work over physical work. Almost universally work involving a greater component of mental work lead to greater surplus accumulation and a more comfortable life. To me this is a conundrum and has serious implications for the coming post-peak world.

One answer to the conundrum is that being able to do the "mental work" requires much effort, sacrifice, opportunity, etc. in preparation. Not everybody has the educational opportunities or the drive to get through medical school. And as Nate Hagens often says, people discount the future relative to the present. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

It is also the case that you can't separate out the mental from the physical. Part of the problem with physical work is that it is also tedious, and part is that it is very tiring. But tedious non-physical labor can also be tiring (e.g. telemarketing), so you then go out for a walk to feel better. I know many people in high tech that desire to quit and grow avocados (and some that have). Former Wall Streeters make even stranger life changes.


Work will still have to get done even without abundant oil to provide cheap "horse power". One sees unsettling parallels between the callous economics/politics of the oil age and 17-19th century slavery. It is interesting for example that the same geographical regions of the US that fought so hard to retain manumission in the 19th century are also those that now contain large "conservative" factions that are the most ardent about maintaining dependence on oil viz: i) invasion of countries in the Persian Gulf, ii) under investment in public transport, iii) profligate use of energy for automobiles, air conditioning etc , and iv) global climate change denial. Unfortunately the threads of history are ties that bind.

What's wrong with using wind turbines to generate electricity to perform hydrolysis on water? Sure, there's not enough platinum for hydrogen fuel cells but we could probably recycle it from current cars and other things. It won't be cheap, and it won't be how things are now, but it would work to some extent. Not everyone has to go back to a horse and buggy.

I had to look up manumission - It is the act of freeing the slaves, but you imply the opposite..

However the reason for this post is that the author seems to be assuming free choice - Given a choice one would just potter around dabble in some 'intellectual' work to keep oneself amused, engaged etc. while flitting from interest to another, or even develop one particular skill to the max.

Humans, other than adivasis, or forest people are conditioned towards seeking betterment, this is certainly true of Indians,Chinese and Westerners. Which is why Evo Morales(President of Bolivia) is suggesting a shift to living well, not living better at the cost to others or the environment.

What the author is not stating or overlooking is that all transition to mental work class involves an unequal relationship with those doing the manual labor. India in the past used caste to enforce this unequal relationships, we now use degrees(and the money it takes to acquire them) to put manual workers in their place.
In an ideal country Sweden? Denmark? (who still strive for betterment and progress) maybe the relationship might be more equal, with manual labor making atleast as much as middling mental workers.

Going thru college and developing skills - and sacrificing years etc. etc. Anyone would do it when there is an assurance of stability and the good life. Let us see now when all it guarantees is 50K debt.

"free" is an interesting concept when applied to macro economics, and how it distorts behavior

ten or fifteen years ago Bill Gates said something like: "what if communications were free - how would that change how we communicate and share information?"

I think for the past hundred years, energy has been "free" or at least well well below the true burdened cost. I know in the fifties they used to say that nuclear energy would be so abundant it would effectively be free.

right now money (paper dollars) is in effect "free" with interest rates at zero and the Fed printing fast

"free" distorts behavior:
- always leads to waste
- always leads to mis allocation
- never lasts

the problem is, these are all hindsight judgements. while you are at that "all you can eat" table, you are not thinking about the consequences. often times you can't imagine the consequences

young people often live as if life were "free". they act as if they will live forever, and overindulge whenever they can.
"the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom"
old people are a lot more parsimonious

i think humans are not built to understand "free". we grew up as a species when everything all resources were constrained

i feel a Kunstler rant coming on

I come from a farming family, farm still running in Slovenia... my cousins not so interested in running it. My parents in UK had a 2 acre smallholding, we were selfsufficient, only had a rotavator & ourselves. We kept small herd sheep, goats... geese, ducks, rabbits, bees, chickens. Small orchard, herb garden, fruit, veg. Hard work... but organically done & manageable. In the UK there's a BIG resurgence in self-sufficiency, even from kids, teens & upwards. Deep-bed organic gardening means only digging once! 1m wide trenches, organic companion planting. Many Co-Ops thriving around here in Brighton, for veg, all organic. People getting allotments a lot younger ( plots of land from Council to grow veg on for cheap rent.) . People growing in their gardens, patios, windowboxes. We're not afraid of work, we're all aware of the way the world's headed. Yes, I'm au fait with slaughtering animals... I used to help my Dad butcher & gut at age 10.
I'm an Artist & teacher, I sell pretty well. Self-sufficiency feels natural to me... in our big garden, & my big allotment. I grew 100 cabbages this year alone, aswell as my other work, exhibitions, art fairs. I have an 8 year old son & get him involved as much as possible. It's easier with help, so we're getting my sister involved, & friends... everyone on the allotments are really helpful, anyone who grows is & we swap plants/ produce/seeds. Brighton buys more organic food than anywhere in the UK, so it's a great area for this... as it grows it too. I'd love to buy an acre or two when we can, but until then we'll continue as we are. Self-sufficiency doesn't really need ploughing, so we're OK! It's an interesting article though. However, most creative people I know are intelligent, love mental & physical work, & find it refreshing to do both. Office jobs are boring. More people every day are waking up to the idea of becoming a producer, not just a buyer.

Most but not quite all of my male relatives and friends and their children from my grandfather's Missouri farming days left farming for city jobs.
--Following WWII there was a shortage of workers and it was easy to find jobs. During various summers I worked on a trash truck, shoveled wheat and emptied box cars to feed Europe, built Graham-Hoeme plows on an assembly line, dug water traps and worked for a non-union construction company building a Route 66/Rock Island overpass west of Amarillo. Physical labor was not bad for a young male but I felt sorry for some of the older workers with 5th grade educations, deteriorating bodies and no long term prospects other than unemployment. I was glad to finish my education and find a better paid relatively sedentary occupation. Today I might be inclined to apply to a cheap ag college.

Great post. An impressive example of how TOD often looks at issues on a world scale (the occasional article about raising chooks in US backyards excepted).

The author is spot on, manual labour has been considered the lowest form of work for most of human history. And looks nothing much changed, from what Vinay says about Indian farmers. A transition from an industrialized to a more labour-intensive society would be a shocker .. keeping those chooks in the backyard isn’t go to cut it. There seems to be an element of romanticism about returning to a ‘simpler way’ in the developed West, but if an event like PO hits hard and before we are prepared, the results will not be pretty.

I can only think of one instance in modern history of a deliberate attempt to ‘pre-industrialize’ a country. That was the Pol-Pot’s “Year Zero” experiment in Cambodia, and I’m pretty sure that didn’t go to plan.

I can only think of one instance in modern history of a deliberate attempt to ‘pre-industrialize’ a country. That was the Pol-Pot’s “Year Zero” experiment in Cambodia, and I’m pretty sure that didn’t go to plan.

Mao sort of did that kind of thing, sending the educated city-folk to the countryside for more meaningful work.

Yes, Mao perhaps didn't use the extreme all-encompassing methods of the Khmer Rouge, but it’s a variation on the same theme. Not good results, either. The Great Leap Forward ended with the Great Chinese Famine for a reason.

A few comments:

1) Humans seem to work, at a very fundamental level, on mimicry. The easiest to spot example of this is in the way that yawning is contagious. It's also why laughing can be and why it's hard to look at someone smiling without turning your lips skyward too. This is a very subconscious thing. What I mean to say is that it's difficult to say what humans truly want or desire when those wants and desires are manufactured by the images surrounding you. If all your peers smoke cigarettes chances are you'll smoke cigarettes. The role the ubiquitous industrial techno-media complex in shaping homo sapiens is something worth considering.

2) It seems we have a repetition of the common story concerning the rise of civilization. First it was hunter gatherers, then agriculture and then industry. If only it were so simple! How do we categorize Native Americans who did extensive land management with fire, coppicing, weeding, sowing seed, etc. but never tilled? That's a fundamentally different Technique than the Mesopotamian form of agriculture that sprang up and spread through a complex of factors not least of which included the development of Monotheism (a potent combination of a particular food production technique with a dangerously powerful social technology). For other examples of different techniques that fall outside the binary, we could consider parts of the Amazon where industrial-scientists have recently brought Terra Preta to light. This is a rich dark soil that was formed through specific techniques employed by humans at the time... a kind of slash/char agriculture. Furthermore, consider the way that traditional Chinese agriculture differs from the traditional Euro-American agriculture.

3) I mean to suggest that this notion of a monolithic "Agriculture" that somehow replaced a monolithic "Hunter-Gatherer" existence is an approximation that covers up more than it reveals at this juncture in history. Things are much more muddled and complex, but we should not limit the way we approach our situation with a kind of binary approach that allows us either an Industrial existence or some redux of 19th century western agrarianism. There is much more richness in the possibilities of future technics -- ecotechnics to borrow a term from Greer.

There are techniques of food production that are much less labor intensive than tillage grain agriculture. If we are entering an age of declining energy, we should consider how our techniques might grow in lightness. Masonobu Fukuoka offers us the koan-question to guide our process (this is not a quote, but more an approximation of what I take to be Fukuoka's spirit -- criticism/insights welcome), "What can I not do to make things work better next year?" This makes the question of food production a path of wisdom, seeking to unite the body and mind to act in harmony with nature.

I, thus, imagine monasteries in the future where monks will dance through fields carrying sickles, arms full with pails of spore slurry with which they water trees and inoculate mulches with mushrooms, stopping to shit on a bare patch of ground, their excrement full of seeds they intentionally eat to create seedballs of a scatological sort.

For fans of the movie Office Space, here's a relevant quote:

[Peter, Michael, and Samir are chatting as they hang around the printer]
Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.
Michael Bolton: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

I would suggest some input from horse and mule farmers, about horse and mule farming. My Wife and I run a small sheep dairy in central New york. I make hay, spread compost, clip pastures, skid fire wood, plow, disc, and cultivate, with three horses, and two mules. I also am starting a horse logging business just to keep busy in the winter. Most work horses need no grain to cultivate or make hay. Hard days of plowing, or logging are the cases were some would be necessary. Our horses eat first cutting hay in the winter, and follow lambs on pasture during the summer. Easy to move to a new paddock every two or three nights, with single strand of poly wire and a few tread in posts. There are amish and non - amish horse farmers and loggers spread all over. You can see pictures of our farm here:

Very Good!
Your animals eat grass, like their evolutionary history prepared them to do.
Grains are reducing out topsoil, aquifers, polluting our waterways and oceans, and are very poor nutrition, and have put 6 billion people on this planet that are probably going to die soon.
Of course, Haber helped immensely.

Mule Man Donn,
I see from one of your photos that you have lots of Cheese aging, do you sell it? The one thing I tried this year was cheese making, I've just gotten the egg out and cracked it so far, it'll be several years of work before I'd be anywhere near where you are at the craft.

I'd be interested in having a cheese making conversation with you sometime.

Oh and I love the design on that sink in your kitchen. Very cool indeed.


Nice operation! Are those Friesian sheep?

Thought about writing a book?

Noticed a similar farm at

A horse and a mule have rather small stomachs. You watch them in a pasture and they graze a bit, fool around a bit, sleep a bit and then graze a bit more. This is normal.

For this reason you need to feed them grain, corn, when you work them and need energy..and not enough can be generated for lots of work using just pasture or hay.

To ride them for pleasure? Yes. To work them? No.

Cattle are different. Other stock also but horses and mules are the way they are. Oats will do perhaps but corn has very good energy.

Thats how we did it in my youth. I also bred , raised, trained and shod horses. At one time I had 18 of them. I raised them in Lexington Ky and on my home county farm as well. I never made a cent on them BTW. Never.

Yet I did enjoy them. I miss them some what but ride an iron horse now.

I raised American Saddle Bred, Apps , and Quarter horses. Saddle bred were the best all around and by far the most intelligent. But not good work horses. Quarter horses were not good for draft use. Stock work? Yes.



Humans need approx. 2000 calories per day

Draft Horse needs 22,500 calories per day


I see the figure all the time of 2000 calories a day for human needs. This figure needs to be taken with a gram of salt. An average sized man doing manual farm work for 10-12 hours a day would eventually weaken from malnutrition and be unable to work if he was only given 2000 cal a day.

Some years ago I hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. I budgeted 4000 cal a day between resully points and consumed 6000 cal a day or more at towns along the way. I still lost 20 lbs over the course of 5 months.

I can tell by the amount I eat during the farming season that I am well in excess of 3000 cal a day on average and I lost about 10 lbs over the full course of the season and was down 15 lbs at one point.

I don't know if the differences in caloric needs based upon activity will ever be critical overall, but they do make a difference when it comes to estimating how much food you need to grow if you are planning on suppling most of your needs via your own manual labor.


I dropped four pounds on a single day of hiking once. The change in elevation was 7000 ft and I didn't pack any food.


I agree completely

I should have said 2000 plus . Calories are fuel and we burn them , accordingly.

Same for any animal.
A roaming cow versus one in a feed lot. A laborer versus a couch potato.

Somewhere I read that the Mayans only spent a few hours a day to get basic needs.

Corn , Beans and no draft animals.

Humans need approx. 2000 calories per day

Draft Horse needs 22,500 calories per day

Not directly comparable. Horse can get significant calories from cellulose. Our scrawny little caecum can only digest a few grams a day.

Many years ago few would have said you could finish beef cattle with out grain. Today it is quite common, although most are not raised that way. The lighter, warm blooded breeds you mentioned will need a little higher energy diet than a draft breed. Another difference may be that when our draft animals are on pasture it is a high quality pasture full of food; not just a paddock that they have been standing in all summer. I am sorry if I appear snarky but, this is a frustration of mine. When folks here talk about oil and gas drilling I believe they know what they are talking about, and it is based on their own personnel experiences. This is not true for many of the comments about farming. As I mentioned earlier plowing and discing many acres day after day for a large acreage of grain crops will in all likely hood require some additional calories; just as you or I would need additional calories to work that hard day after day. I work my horses and mules 4 or 5 days a week, 8 months a year and they need no grain. I will feed a little grain to a pregnant mare or a lactateing mare, (if she needs it).

Working horses and mules is also one of the funiest, most challenging, and rewarding things I have ever done.

No offense intended, just to set the record straight. Donn

Donn, Email me about the cheese questions I asked if you will, I know it time to spend with family, so whenever you have free time is okay by me. But seeing your pictures got my curiosity up.


A horse and a mule have rather small stomachs...

And they are hind gut fermenters as opposed to cows which are ruminants. The more complex digestive tract of the latter can extract more energy from cellulose than horses can.

And your point is that horses and mules do live of of grass or they don't? Just asking. This is important because there is often a discussion here about the future usefulness of draft animals, and their feed requirements would be an important part of that estimation.

They obviously do, but the pregastric approach to digest cellulose extracts more energy from it than the hindgut fermentation strategy employed by the equines. Hence the ability of cows to get by lesser quality forage. That would give bovines the edge on feed cost requirements if employed for draft, the downside is they are slower and need to take a substantial part of the day off to ruminate. Oxen can make it all the way thru plowing season without any grain in the third world (dropping weight of course). Horses would probably drop weight faster than oxen without grain. Note the undigested material in the manure of a grass or hay fed horse.

Replace the 2 draft animals and equipment in the picture
and have the human push with this .....

that is how I raised my corn and beans

Complete diet on approx 2.5 A/human ....

with the addition of Olives for Oil, vegetables and trees/vines.

What is the crop that he is cultivating ... maybe corn ??

When I expanded our garden a couple years ago, my father-in-law, who is from India, took me aside and asked me discretely whether I should get someone to help out with all that labor. It seemed he thought the garden work was beneath me. It took me a while to come up with an appropriate response which is to mention the irony that he'd be happier if I paid someone for the opportunity to go to a sterile gym and do my work there and then additionally pay someone to do the garden work.

He still doesn't like to see me outside working.

It is hard to predict, especially about the future.

Taking into account everything I have learned, here and elsewhere (The Black Swan...)
The world is headed for a series of very hard crashes, interspersed with longish periods of misery, and efforts to rebuild.

The Human world being the complex place it is, it is impossible to predict which elements of the system will go down first, possibly pulling down a few others into the abyss. Even a slow tightening of the tap will result in major 'events'. There is a natural tendency for things to cluster. Planetary systems cluster in galaxies dispersed in a nearly empty universe. It is appropriate, that America graced the world with the word clusterf*ck. We can expect at least one complex cluster of snafu's, possibly a super complex cluster, but we could just as well get a mega hyper complex series of superfailures. (I have a uncomfortable feeling things are looking a bit like that, right now.)

How we react to these events will very much depend on how the story unfolds.
If we experience a slowly growing stream of misery, interspersed with relatively local catastrophies over the next few years, we will become very motivated to tackle our several predicaments. And the catastrophe that befalls us first will determine what we do about things first. If financial crashes push the middle class faster into poverty, we well get impoverished mobs and a very small upper class: fireworks.
If we lose a lot of harvests, things will get hungry, and that is what we will get busy about first. If distribution systems pop, we will become local very fast, and very hungry in the process.

Again, everything depends on when what goes, at which speed, and in which order things break. If we're lucky, things will happen in the right sequence, with the right intensity, so that we become motivated to get it right this time. Miracles do happen. Life started somewhere, somehow.

If things go relatively well for the next few years, and we start to get cocky, we'll probably go straight into the wall.

I'm afraid we will need a steady diet of misery to nudge us into the right frame of mind.

happy holidays (droopy's voice)


Many ideas have come and gone about animal farming. I would suggest a book called "One Straw Revolution" by Fukuoka.

The idea is to work smarter with nature and not waste a lot of energy fighting nature. It is really a mental thing with quite an anti-western mind set.

One will have to give up the beautiful waxed off-season fruit, 1000 mile salad and 800 mile potato (in the US). But you do not have to kill yourself to live and have some surplus to sell as an animal farm would suggest.

"But you do not have to kill yourself to live and have some surplus to sell as an animal farm would suggest."

Not sure what you are trying to say ??

I met and talked to Fukuoka.

The problem with physical "work" as opposed to mental work is actually very simple: Physical work offers no opportunity for leverage. You can only do as much as your body will allow.

Mental effort offers the possibility of unlimited leverage. Ideas can be built upon ideas to stretch human potential to formerly impossibly high levels.

I have said this, or something close to it since I first heard of "peak oil". I am much more terrified of "peak thought".


Physical work offers no opportunity for leverage. You can only do as much as your body will allow.

Really? Think about it ;-) I think Arquimedes would disagree with you, "give me me a lever and a place to stand and I shall move the earth", (well maybe only a wheel barrow full of it)

BTW this place is not far from my home and it was built with simple chisels, levers and pulleys, no magic at all, the tools are all still in his shed. It is amazing what one man can do when he puts his mind to it!

"Really?" Yes, really. Of course. If pressed, Archimedes have to admit that the actual distance you could move the earth would be so immeasurably small as to be of no conceivable consequence whatsoever. That's altogether unlike the metaphorical leverage you may be pretending to misunderstand.

In the end, a person can put out on the order of 100 watts intermittently, more in short bursts, and that's about it. True, these days it's often convenient get 10 watts of useful power out of a 100 watt machine, leading us sometimes to guess low about what can be done with 100 watts. But it's still just 100 watts, a drop in the ocean.

Not that it couldn't be interesting, or at least amusing, what a man might do with those intermittent 100 watts - given, of course, that he submits to a wacky monomania and keeps at it to the exclusion of all else for an entire lifetime...

Uhh...I think that was my point wasn't it? A little thought and you get things like the wheel (indicated nicely in your illustration at F) and the wheel barrow. This "ideas" did not come from the labor of the back but from the labor of the mind. There is so much we take for granted that was gained by mental effort before physical effort could be magnified. Recently in a fascinating lecture...

Alfred Crosby lectured on the art of throwing, from his book "Throwing Fire, Projectile Technology Through History"

He makes the case that "you are what you throw" and discusses the history of throwing from the bare arm (pretty weak as humans go) to the sling, the bow and arrow, and finally to cannon and the rockets that took humans to the moon. Pure thought used for one goal, to throw things further and faster.

This is just one example of the many ways in which a bit of thought took humanity down a path that gave us more and more leverage over time, fromt the sling to the rocket, from the wheel barrow to the dump trunk, from semifore flags for communication (a battle winning breakthrough, as simple as they may seem to us) to the internet.

Oil is important, but it is useless smelly gunk deep underground or sea without the combined effort of years of dedicated thought. Humans are NOT driven by oil, they are driven by food first (yes, you can't think without it) and then by THOUGHT. What an astounding invention the wheel barrow must have been when it was first conceived (and those other "leveraging devices, the shovel, the plow, the harness for using animals for work, and one of my favorites, the sail over a boat.


Inventions that changed the world. By now, we can fill a nice big book with them.
Thing is, inventions that truly change the way things are, are few and far between.
Most inventions don't make it. Shaping stone into tools was word-changing technology, once upon a time.
Romans in Gaul invented a beautifully simple and efficient way of harvesting wheat with an open cart carrying teeth on the open side. Completely forgotten until combine harvesters reinvented the concept.
Today's patent offices are stacked to high heaven with inventions, most of which are little used, soon forgotten, obsolete or useless.

It is a matter of course, that we had better be inventive, if we want to survive the mess we made. However, I wouldn't bet on an invention to save us. It could happen, but I won't count on it. What is more, inventions have a tendency to generate the unexpected. Watson of IBM was certain the world needed little more than three computers. Einstein wasn't very happy that his work in physics enabled the building of the atom bomb. I would be scared to death of any invention that would save the world. As we enlarge the scale of our endeavors, the impact of the accidents that could happen grow out of proportion.

I think we should become ultra-conservative, and look to cultures that survived very long for inspiration. The oldest cultures on earth are nomadic or semi-nomadic. They are evidently well equipped to survive in difficult terrain: Hottentot, Australian aborigine, tribes in Siberia and the Istans and more than I can number in the America's.

Agricultural societies often commit suicide in the long run. The once fertile lands around the Mediterranean are slowly being farmed to death. There used to be forests in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Israel. There used to be lions in Iraq. The Romans stripped the north of Africa of it's wild-life: elephants and lions and tigers and giraffes. And most of the fertile land went with them. Egypt, before the Assouan dam, had yearly floods, and Egypt was the breadbasket of the 'world' at one point. Now they have to apply fertilizer to grow cotton.

Nature likes redundancy. If we could recreate the human world into small, self-providing communities, lots of experiments could be tried and compared. If one community starved, others would survive, and maybe learn from what befell the community that starved.

We should be very conservative about our resources, obsessive about reducing the scale of all our endeavors, prefer re-use to new products, prefer non-use to recycling, we should be very wary of hierarchies, and very very wary of the mis-use of power. We need to go back to smallish groups of people working together. We are very good at making friends, if we have a common purpose.

We should huddle down below, 'cause hard times are a'coming, and tall trees catch a lot of wind. Those who do so will produce the survivors, if survival is possible.

Merry Christmas

A very interesting article. When I look around my supermarket I am always literally amazed at the abundance and variety of produce on offer. I then remind myself that it is all there thanks to cheap abundant oil and gas and a shiver goes down my spine. The thing that concerns me most is that we have built our 'advanced' systems - such as the food system - which are designed to work at the margins. There is precious little room to accomodate disruption.

The more I research food security the more scared I become. When people had to work hard for their food security they knew what their priorities were. Now almost no one even bothers to think about food as a fundamental component of life. Now food is just 'used' for pleasure. Boy, are we in for a shock.


When I look around a supermarket, I am often surprised by how little food is actually there! I know that sounds odd, but I want to do this experiment sometime, just to find out...take all of the excess packaging on foods, all the colerful boxes and labels strapped to even the tiniest box, the little plastic sacks inside of boxes, and put it on one side of the store, and then take the actually edible food and put it on the other side. I think you would be astonished how little real food is actually in the vast floor space of a supermarket.

In rural KY, we still had "general stores" when I was growing up, where when you come in and asked for X pounds of flour or sugar or cornmeal or beans, you got them in a sack, no decoration, no multicolored labels, no containers in containers. The excess packaging and shelving that goes to the landfill every year that was used only to occupy shelf space (thus squeezing a competitor out) or to catch your eye ONCE, the energy used in this would be enough to feed another few million humans in itself. Never mind that it makes the store much larger than it need be to take up more cubic feet to be heated and airconditioned and lit.


This post intersects with 2 of the areas of research I have most interest in:

1)that our cultural 'carrot' (aspiration for vocations that increase ones social status/power) is based on high material throughput much of which is not correlated or even negatively so, with both fitness and happiness/satisfaction


2)our neural experiences pre-fossil fuel were limited by what surplus human and solar flows could achieve - there was novelty all right, but for a small % of the population and infrequent compared to 24/7 modern stimulation smorgasbord. There is a mental ratchet effect - a sensitization of sorts - to continued escalation within the mesolimbic reward pathways - mundane things like shoveling the snow out of a driveway that take time away from internet, games, stock trading, driving a car, even talking on a telephone create mini-dopamine crashes that result in 'preferences' that avoid manual labor in lieu of more interesting (more neurally satisficing) activities.

In short, mental rather than physical work is more fun and has led to moving up the mating ladder, cet. par. The main inference for this which wasn't explicitly stated in your essay is that the 'mental laborers' are going to have an incredibly difficult time adjusting to a world where fossil labor takes up a smaller % of our total physical work - its one thing that some % of population will have to go this route, it's quite another if they will be able to.

One question I'm curious about - I wonder how many of the Brahmanas in India would psychologically be able to transition farmers/laborers?

Thanks Vinay for a thought-provoking post. I look forward to the next installment - that is - if you have more free time for mental work...;-)

I know a few Brahmins (the caste endures to this day) in/from India and none would transition to farming or physical labour. They have lived privileged lives, are accustomed to having many servants and don't believe in getting their hands dirty as it is viewed as being beneath them. If they actually do feel the transition, it will be with their servants doing the heavy lifting. Perhaps I am making a wild generalization based on a limited sample size and a western point of view, but from what I've seen, I don't think so. Any Brahmins out there who can enlighten me?

Just one point about the top post.

Whether humans prefer intellectual work to physical work is moot. Anecdote: Many of the people I know, in the present setting, seem to seek out a mixture - jobs where training and intellect combine in what is to them some kind of worthwhile enterprise. Woodworking, part-time farming, dancing, restorative painting of historic buildings, etc. etc. Few wants to spend their day in front of a computer screen.

Intellectual work is more lucrative and fulfilling ..because it affords Power.

The scribe controls the contracts. The law-maker controls who goes to prison. The priest promulgates spiritual values, that is moral principles for society, that affect many registers, dimensions.

The mathematician suggest new ways of reckoning, changing relationships between different parties. The scientist, the technician, is paid and admired for his or her innovations. The philosopher is listened to because he tries to get it all together. The money lender, the banker, those who control the medium of exchange and store of value hold tremendous power. (See the US today.)

Today, that is all pretty much called Govmint, in many OECD countries.

All these professions or avocations require education, that is some sacrifice from all the rest. That sacrifice is consented to or imposed in various ways. The caste system in India is an example. Scholarships in the EU another. The Nobel prize supposedly rewards ...etc.

Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death) and Otto Rank argue, from the fact that humans are symbol-using creatures (symbols being deathless), that we assuage our anxiety about our simultaneous animal nature (animals being subject to death) by privileging our symbolic selves over our animal selves. It would follow quite naturally (it seems to me) that we would privilege mental work over physical work.

Another book which discusses the division of labor is Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen`s The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. He has a long discussion of what is an elite, what it is in general that they do in a society, how they try to maintain their status. The most interesting part of his discussion (I think) is when he brings up why humans don`t value the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder (bringing in the inputs from Mother Nature: oil, crops, coal, water, wood, fish, minerals mined, etc.) most since they provide the BASE for the whole structure. Humans value the people at the top of the structure, the supervisors, teachers, preachers, gov. people, etc (G-R has a list of these jobs). It seems like a horrible mistake, akin to valuing the decoration on a house, not the foundation....BUT then Georgescu-Roegen explains in detail why the top class prevails.

So why do they prevail? Humans, according to G-R, are subject to "biases and frailties" which give us problems which the elite get paid to solve. I suppose it`s a "bias and a frailty" to need a course of antibiotics for one`s child`s ear infection cured. We aren`t machines.

An elite class is generated by the energy situation prevalent and by the technological circumstances. What is so interesting now is that for the first time, "elites" are such a huge number of people compared to the bottom rung. It isn`t sustainable but no one wants to be first off the island, because that violates the rules we humans play by.

Is there the risk that if you give up your elite status too soon then you risk being a relatively powerless (historically they have been) farmer, fisherman, miner, trapper, etc. the evolved or next elite (elites circulate said Pareto, this is in the G-R book) will act decisively to tax you or just take what they need from you, using their new justifications? Or, possibly, farmers, having the food, might become the new elite, from their group a king will emerge, along with a new landed gentry!! It is so hard to say what will happen. But if that does happen, lots of people will ty to gain the kings favor, surely! And some of them will not be farmers!

It is also hard to just walk away from a cushy government job, some might say. Others might just want to stay in the competition for publications, honors, prizes, grants, or they crave the intellectual stimulation of the city fray. People seem like they don`t think in practical terms---("here`s the energy that`s left, here`s what you need for food, etc"--this reasoning carries no weight if the logical conclusion is "go live on a farm") .--they think instead "I`ll get through because I`m smart, I`m cleverer than the rest, I`m an ace! And I`ll prove it by staying in my office job in the city."

The thing is to "surf" the situation, like the Internet. Trying to stay employed while keeping a view of the longer energy situation in mind.


Thanks for the reference. Your comments about the relative numbers
of people at the top rung vs bottom rung is spot on. I think for
now the strategy of having ones feet in both the worlds - the money driven mainstream economy and the more eco-sensitive alternative approach makes a great deal of sense considering the current


As to my comment posts on mules,feeding of them, land worked with them and all the rest.

I do NOT care about replies that are 'sourced' by Rodale or any other orgainization..

Understand. This is what I 'experienced'. In a certain part of the country, on a certain type of land and with certain breeds of whatever.

Citing other shit is rather meaningless to the issue.

It depends on a lot of factors. Those were MY FACTORS and I stated it as such and always do this.

So please if you cannot reply with YOUR OWN experiences then don't reply at all. I don't care except for reality. Not bookshit.

Get thee behind the ass end of a sweating working mule and then give some examples. Book stuff is questionable. I prefer 'hands on knowledge'.

Airdale-compech? I know that Eytalian word is spelled different. You get the msg anyway. Arguing others experiences is a dead ass waste of time if they are NOT telling it like it is AND its just quoting from something they read and didh't experience . I lived it and thats the end of it.

Also from this time henceforth I will be replying with far less and with fewer comments on such issues. I am busying putting my mother in a nursying home and taking care of my wife...therefore this is a time sink I really don't need.

Also figure it out for yourselves then, if you can before you die off.


Take care of family first. I know I will miss your posts, but understand where you will be, because of family issues.

To everyone, have a peaceful Christmas and end of the year.



You hang in there buddy and I wish you the best of everything,especially with your family.I back you up to the hilt on every thing you have posted about farming-generalizations don't mean diddly, there are too many differences from one place to the next.

I have some personal news I would like to discuss with you if you care to post a throwaway email address.

My point was that I spend time on TOD that I could use elsewhere, so it is a tradeoff. I need to be splitting wood but I am instead getting my 91 yr old mother situated and handling her estate. As well as taking my wife of 48 years to Dr. appts and helping her get along in her new apartment some hundred miles away.

Yet to me it is important to keep up with the latest on TOD as to coping with the very uncertain future coming at us.

To this end I try to post some of my experiences of the past when indeed I and my grandparents did live a far far different lifestyle and how we did so , day to day and season to season.

Yet when met with comments that are derived from data that is suspect I tend to become somewhat irate since I think its important to discuss more the methods of WORK than the physchology of WORK.
Apologies to Nate.

It is my opinion that academia has not helped us. In fact it has set in motion processes and methods that are destroying us and nature. For instance chemical spraying is IMO destroying wildlife at a very rapid pace yet someone will extoll the virtues of it invariably.

IMO they are still living a lifestyle that is unsustainable.

Mules in this example are a godsend to man. Perhaps oxen as well.

Its far far more than weighing the amount of grain or hay used. There are areas which are as hidden as perhaps oil drilling is.

What am I trying to say? Only that we need to more and more embrace what was sucessful in the past instead of subjecting it to modern scientific discussions and dissection.

I worked and still are immersed with those who do NoTill. In fact most of No Till was developed in Ky I understand. Yet those in the cities think it will , as always , be the answer. It is NOT an answer. It is just more destruction.

It boils down to this. Do you want vast quantities of junk food or wildlife? A thousand mile Caesar Salad or be able to view growing forests and enjoy REAL nature instead of BS trash on the LCD TV.

Watch endless Cooking Shows or actually cook real food?
Work with your hands and skills or trade chits of paper in a bullpen?
Steal oldfolks savings on schemes or contribute to real endeavors.
Live in New Yawk on concrete or besides a wild woods and grow real food?

Oprah or Thoreau?

Airdale-sustainable life or a slow death and mass dieoffs?
When I am finished with my mother and my wife is taken care of I will be on my way back to my farm and those suffering woodlands and dying wildlife. Better than this city I sit in presently. Perhaps I can make a slight difference in my own way and time. Or at least in the acres I do have control of. A good mule from my neighbor down the road might be in my near future. Gathering up some rusting horse drawn equipment and honing my blacksmithing skills,,,IF my cancer does not and has not returned. Life is uncertain.


Soon as things ease a bit I will try to get one. I have access to hundreds via my domain but takes some housekeeping.

I noticed you had been absent for some times lately. It was living hell getting my mother into a nursing facility. Still working on the legalities of it and her estate.

Best wishes for the New Year. We just got the tail end of a midwest blizzard here in St. Louis.


But the assumption is always made that humans evolved working very hard at the food quest. But hunting and gathering has been studied for some time now, among the world's remaining h&g populations, and except for people in the far north, most of these reveal a rather modest work week - 25 to 30 hours a week - devoted to the food quest and firewood and water collection activities. When the wild plants and game thin out around a camp, people have to walk further and further and at a certain point, it just becomes too much and they move their camp.

I think that this highlights the pattern of work and leisure likely to be most satisfactory and healthy for human beings. Physical activities involved in meeting the basic needs that exceed these limits may be perceived as arduous, but too little physical activity leads to the onset of metabolic problems which accelerate aging, such as obesity. The physically unfit person is seldom at their best mentally, either.

Most of us are "naturally lazy" beyond a certain point, but where this point is probably varies from person to person. I suspect that the standard deviation of this value may be due to natural selection optimizing the use of intelligence in making the food quest as efficient as possible.

There should not be such a division implied between mental and physical work, in any case. The real divide is cultural - consisting of the gulf between social classes who have varying levels of skills and resources. And of the higher status often accorded to the activities -whatever they may be - of those in the more privileged group.

This (excellent) article is making the rounds on Facebook, which is where I first found it. I am curious though, if it were not for civilization's devaluation of Nature, would the elevation of mental work be the norm? Hunter-gatherers spent a few hours a day, at most, obtaining food; agriculture was a huge step downward, in time spent, in health, and away from sustainability. (So it grew populations? -- so cancers grow cell masses, but it doesn't let them be sustainable; in fact, the growth actually prevents the sustainability.) The best options seem to be to focus on things like permaculture and edible forest gardens -- the creation of findable, gatherable food; and on fostering the acceptance of city food animals like rabbits and chickens; in conjunction with a re-valuation, both of Nature and of community and connection.

I just can't see anything changing for the better without examining the whole 'humans above animals' thing. I am quite comfy living as just another animal in the cycle of 'eat and be eaten,' and while I'd prefer to continue on alive, isn't that the norm all over? Or, isn't one of civilized humans' main foibles that of the pretense of elevation? And isn't that what got us to this point, after all? --diana