Can sustainable farming feed the world?

Tom Philpott over at Gristmill has an interesting post on the sustainability of organic farming vs. big agribusiness and "industrial-organic" farming.

Philpott writes:

To an extent, the problem is one of semantics, centering on the definition of "sustainable." To many green types, places like Whole Foods and Wild Oats teem with "sustainably produced" stuff -- everything from T-shirts to apples, chicken and eggs, even versions of Twizzlers and TV dinners. But the great bulk of it falls under the rubric of industrial-organic -- like the wares on offer at Wal-Mart, only a little less so, these goods depend on a culture of cheap and plentiful crude oil and labor.

The cheap-oil problem has certainly gained traction among greens. Blogs devoted to "peak oil" abound; this very blog seems like one at times. Most of these discussions, though, devolve into sniping about biofuels and hybrids. It's important to wonder how we'd get around in an era of super-high oil prices.

But I don't understand why more people aren't worried about what we'd eat.

I have long been wary about what Philpott calls "industrial organic" farming. In fact, most of the organic names you're probably familiar with are owned by huge companies that you may associate with poor agricultural practices: Cargill, Dean, Danone, ConAgra. Here's a fascinating chart that maps out all of the relationships between big food companies and their organic labels. Once you see this, you realize it's no surprise that these companies are trying to get the government to weaken their rigid organic standards with the National Uniformity for Food Act [H.R.4167.EH] (Sustainablog, Grist.)

For the time being, the violations that these big-box organics producers seem to be committing have to do with some of the additives that they put in their foods, or how many cows are crammed into a single feedlot. But I see another concern, more related to peak oil. The real benefit of small organic outfits is that they're not big enough to distribute to large companies like Wal-Mart, so they end up focusing on more local markets. This solves two problems: (1) the food is produced without petroleum fertilizer, and (2) the food doesn't have to travel very far. (As we reported a long time ago, given the choice between local and organic, local often makes more sense.) As long as we continue to encourage centralized and mass-produced organics, we can be sure that they're going to be traveling thousands of miles to get to our kitchens.  

So what do we do? It's sort of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if -you-don't scenario: while we should relish the fact that consumer desires appear to be forcing big agribusiness to apply organic principles, we are opening the door to a watering down of the standards by companies that don't exactly have stellar environmental and ethical pasts. Says Jason Mark of the SF Chronicle:

Critics also question whether the agribusiness model can harmonize with the organic ethic: A 100-acre monocrop planted with a single variety of vegetable and picked by migrant workers hardly fits with the organic vision of ecologically sustainable and socially responsible farming. The challenge is how to reconcile organic agriculture's emphasis on biodiversity and small- scale production with corporations' emphasis on uniformity and mass-marketing.

So what's a consumer to do? If you value foods free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms, by all means look for the USDA organic label and let your dollar be an expression of your values. At the same time, remain vigilant about efforts to water down the organic standards and work to ensure the integrity of the organic name.

But the best guarantee that your food will be produced according to environmental and social principles is to meet the people who grow it. Support your local farmers' market and become friendly with the vendors there. Or get a subscription with a Community Support Agriculture program, in which you get weekly food deliveries from a specific farm. Those outlets represent the original ethic of the organic food movement: That by knowing your farmers, you will truly get to know your food.

Update [2006-3-21 16:48:31 by Yankee]: The organic vs. local issue has come up again recently at Slate. (via Treehugger.) Here's another issue to analyze:
It's likely that neither Wal-Mart nor Whole Foods will do much to encourage local agriculture or small farming, but in an odd twist, Wal-Mart, with its simple "More for Less" credo, might do far more to democratize the nation's food supply than Whole Foods. The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.
I don't think sustainable farming can feed the world.  The U.S., yes.  At least for awhile.  

The catch is that a lot more of us are going to have to be farmers.  Maybe almost all of us.

So are you're saying that unsustainable farming can feed us in the future? :) Just kidding.

I agree folks with any available land will start to take advantage of it. I'd love to see more composting and roof gardens in urban areas. At least if we can start to grow some of our own veggies.

The real issue will be that every mile that someone drives for pleasure or natural gas used to power air conditioners will ultimately be a theft of food from the poor. Imagine the political battle over food vs. won't be pretty.

I think the best first move is to reduce meat consumption by 50%. Then all that grain we produce can feed more people instead of animals.

I think the best first move is to reduce meat consumption by 50%. Then all that grain we produce can feed more people instead of animals.

I don't think that's as much of a solution as many think.  It's only the last few months that cattle are corn-fed.  And they don't have to be.  

Animals are a good way to store energy, and a good way to make use of food sources humans cannot digest themselves.  The land used for cattle is too dry to grow people food.  The grain fed to animals is generally much poorer quality than the grain people eat.  

I suspect what will happen is people in some areas will eat a lot less meat, while people in others will eat more.  If you're living in cattle country, it makes sense to eat beef.  

This is not correct.  Just looking at the water angle, it takes 2500 - 4000 gallons of water to create 1 pound of beef.

Water needed to produce 1 pound of wheat: 25 gallons

With that same water you could irrigate the "land too dry to grow people food" and grow 10 times as much, calorie wise, in the form of vegetables, fruits and grains.

Animals are pretty much the worst way to "store energy", over 90% of the caloric value is lost as grains are turned into meat.

The beef industry says it's only 450 gallons, or something like that.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  And a lot of that water is to grow corn.  If we don't feed them corn, that water use goes away.

Irrigation takes a lot of energy.  The point of sustainable agriculture is to grow what grows naturally in your area, not to build more oil-powered irrigation systems.

Animals are pretty much the worst way to "store energy", over 90% of the caloric value is lost as grains are turned into meat.

OTOH, you don't have to feed them grain at all.  You can't eat grass.  The cow can.  

We are already using 56% of the water in the country to feed cattle in one form or another.

I'm just saying is that using meat to feed people is inefficient compared to using the same resources to grow vegetables, grains and fruits.

Whether or not it is possible to convert over all cattle ranching activities into ordinary farms is another question.

It depends on the climate.  Inuit lived on a diet composed almost entirely of meat for thousands of years.  It was a more sustainable choice than farming.  (Though if the climate keeps warming, that may change.)  
What do a small number of people (40,000) living close to the Arctic circle have to do with sustainability of the methods used to feed 300 million Americans?
The question is "Can sustainable agriculture feed the world," is it not?
>The beef industry says it's only 450 gallons, or something like that.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  And a lot of that water is to grow corn.  If we don't feed them corn, that water use goes away.

I agree. I have a suspecion that the statistics on water use is tainted by groups prompting animal rights or a vegetarian diet.

>OTOH, you don't have to feed them grain at all.  You can't eat grass.  The cow can

Most of the the feedstock that animals can consume is Legumes which don't require fertializer input like corn and wheat. Currently surplus corn and wheat is feed to animals because its available, and it bulks up the animals quicker.

You lose 90% of the protein, 99% of the carbohydrates and 100% of the fiber when you turn grain into livestock.

Percentage of energy return (as food energy per fossil energy expended) of most energy efficient factory farming of meat: 34.5%

Percentage of energy return (as food energy per fossil energy expended) of least energy efficient plant food: 32.8%

Source: Organic Gardening and Sustainable Agriculture Facts and Statistics

I happened to be reading Gene Logsdon's All Flesh Is Grass over my break just now. The author is promoting, in his fun to read way, pasture-based livestock farming rather than grain-based farming. How timely.

Ubik, you're committing a bit of a non-sequitor here...and Leanan is kind of at fault for bringing up a point that is largely orthogonal to your main point (50% reduction in meat production). It's a sad day when two people who agree waste their time arguing.

Your point about consuming more grain directly, rather than via livestock, is a fair one. The same goes for your point that meat consumption should be cut in half. But you are failing to address Leanan's point that livestock can convert largely indigestable stuff (ie. grass, legumes, shrubs, and brush) to human-digestable food (meat). And this can all be done with a bare minimum of labour or fossil fuels as input (see the book above).

My understanding is that 70% of grain produced in the US is fed to livestock (source: Joel Salatin's excellent, but unfortunately named, You Can Farm). This is absurd, especially when you realize that cattle, sheep, and goats are quite inept at digesting grain (but this is not true of pigs, chicken, and several varieties of farmed fish). Cultivating land so that you can feed livestock something that they aren't particularly good at digesting is a type of lunacy that will end with increasing transportation fuel costs. It is my belief that meat production would only fall slightly if land used to grow grain was converted to pasture for ruminant livestock to graze directly. Mr. Logsdon actually makes the argument that this change could bring an increase in per-acre production, and all with much less fuel consumption.

As for water, all the water consumed by a livestock animal is not wasted. With pastured livestock, much of it spread onto pasture as urine. In effect, you get some irrigation for free just by watering your cattle. The same goes for the protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. The pies can either be left for the benefit of the pasture, or used for vegetable production.


Well said.

There is a sustainable way to grow meat animals and vegetables on the same land.  This used to be called crop rotation.  Vegetable to grains to grass and back to vegetables again over a 5-7 year period.  Grazing the cattle on the grass is very efficient and there is that manure to spread on fields that are going into vegetables or grains.  You need wonderful design of the farm to allow water and fences to be in the right place as you move the animals around but it used to be common practice.

I can't find the link, but there was a Smithsonian magazine article a few years ago about intensive rotation where a small farm (less than 150 acres?) had cattle, pigs, chickens, grains, grass and vegetables all in a complex cycle one following the other.  I remember the chickens followed the cattle and picked apart the pies looking for seeds and grubs.  The chickens were modified free range using large movable pens (12 x 12 feet cages on wheels) that concentrated them over recently grazed land.  Everybody got moved daily.  Feed efficiency was very high and I think the only fertilizer was phosphorous in low doses.

High intensive grazing is making a comeback see Texas link here and Wisconsin link here.  Clearly if this can work in these two extremes the rest of the country could adopt.

The down side to all these approaches is they can only be scaled so far.  One operator can't raise 5000 head of cattle plus chickens and rotate crops, etc.  You need multiple farms/operations to do that large of production.  In a climate where everything is based on margin and volume this approach loses every time.  Hence the consolidation to very large specialized crop or animal production in recent decades.

With that same water you could irrigate the "land too dry to grow people food" and grow 10 times as much, calorie wise, in the form of vegetables, fruits and grains.

If you want to do that sustainable you need fertilizer too, or you'll end up exhausting the ground in a few years. That fertilizer would either be made by the famous Haber-Bosch process or come from animal dung.
> you want to do that sustainable you need fertilizer too, or you'll end up exhausting the ground in a few years

Not All crops deplete the soil.  Legume plants self fertilize, These include alfalfa, peas, soybean, and may others. Unfortunately the majority of crops planted (grains, corn, etc) require fertializer inputs. Prior to the use of chemical fertilizers, farmers rotated fields, where one or two fields might contain a harvestable crop and the remained where planted with grasses to revitailize the field. However, this is less productive because it requires about 4 times the land for same amount of crops produced. With the Green revolution (chemical fertializers) the same farmer could produce crops on all of his land.

Now the problem is reversing that process is going to be very difficult. In order to go back to the old system, farmers will need to aquired 150% more land than they currently own, or we need to shrink the population by 75%.

Although I suspect that we would not need to go all the way back if we plant a mix of Legumes and grains on the same fields (at the same time) and scale back fertilizer use. Perhaps we can get by with only increasing the farm land use by 30% to 50% (guestimate) and by curbing wasted food.

Do you also know that the average human from birth to just the age of 25 years.  Consumes no less than 4,500 gallons of water alone.  And this is at that min. 64 ounces of water a day.

The numbers quoted so often about the cow's wter per pound of beef. Hides a big truth,  Life takes water.

It hides another truth, Most cows are totally consumed by the industrial processes of the World we live in.  Not just the beef we get at the grocery.

Meat cattle can be totally grown off of grasses, and they do not have to be forced into feed lots.  We do that because we want to supply money for the stock holders( pardon the pun) in a profitable business.  

Sustainable Meat and Dairy are possible.  Getting all your protein requirements from veggies is very hard if you have to grow everything yourself.  Sure you can get a lot of proteins from wheat, oats and other grains, but Look at European Protein consumetion before Beans were added to their diet and you will see that it was pretty poor.  

A full blending of our food stuffs is what is most sustainable.  Goats, Sheep, Cows, for land that can not be used for farming. If you don't over tax the natural sytems to grow your food, you can get a lot more out of the land you do have.  We have a lot technology that we can use to increase our food production.  Someone on another thread, stated that they had Food fish, in a hottub in their back yard.  

We can live SUSTAINABLE!!  We just have to think out of the box we have been living in for so long. And there will be a population reduction, how that happens I don't know, but it will happen.  We don't like looking at that because we see our loved ones in the cross hairs, But if you take the massive use of Fossil imputs out of the mix, The population of 6,500,000,000 people is just to large.  We see the taxing of the whole system as it is.  

Again, I do not know, who lives and who dies, but 6.5 billion can not for much longer be the world's population.  

I don't know. I thought I read that 80% of the grain raised in this country is for cattle feed - that's a high number. It may not be evenly distributed across different areas as you point out, but I think encouraging people to reduce meat consumption would help us assess where we can make efficiency gains in grain vs. meat. I'm sure there is some slack in there.

I agree that all those grassy plains not good for wheat or corn would be good food for cattle, but isn't all that exactly the same stuff that people want to use for cellulosic ethanol?

Cellulosic ethanol is definitely not sustainable.  If we are going to be growing large amounts of biofuels, forget it - sustainability is impossible.
My meat consumption over the last two weeks has been very low.  Though I am getting protein, Whey protein derived from milk production, beans, corn and oats.  Corn is not the best food that everyone thinks it is, Hominey corn grains treated with a chemical process ( I believe it is Lye ) to take the protein and make it digestable by humans. Very little of Corn proteins actually make it into our systems. Beans and tree nuts and milk are the best sources of proteins for humans. Behind Milk and beans is the meats, first starting with fish, then in the white meats( fowls and some pork)  and then finally the red meats.

But in general my red meat consumption has been nearly ZERO for the past two weeks. mainly because I am moving and need to eat down my food stocks. Which is largely tied up in dried beans and grains.

Most of the people in the world cannot digest milk once they are adults.  The exceptions are northern Europeans and some African peoples who have traditionally been herders, like the Masai.
And the reason the Masai don't have a problem is because the milk they do eat is cultured, and also not pasteurized.  When pasteurization began (in the 20s?) that's when all the milk problems started (proteins are denatured when exposed to high temps).
Cite your source.

Lactose (as in "lactose intolerance") is a sugar, not a protein. AFAIK it doesn't get denatured by heat.


Human protein needs are vastly exaggerated my "modern" countries:

A mountain of nutrional science reveals the health benefits of a very low animal product diet.  Unfortunately, the power of agribusiness and the junk food industries use their immense resources to progagandize the public into thinking meat and dairy are necessary (totally untrue - even the USDAs position paper on vegetarian diets admits this).

Frankly, meeting nutrional needs is a simple thing, as evinced by studies showing populations in robust health despite consuming a diet of 90% or more of a single plant protein source (corn in the case of the legendary Tamahara Indians).  There is no such thing as protein-deficiency with a diet made of real food (i.e., scientists who want to study it have to create a frankenstein diet devoid of protein to see deficiency symptoms).  The term used is protein-calorie malnutrition, which happens not because of a lack of protein, but because of a lack of food.  Most plant foods have more than WHO recommended % of calories of protein.  Of course for best results many whole plant foods should be eaten, but that's obvious.  

Food will sure cost more. The obesity problem will solve itself, but it's a 'careful what you wish for' case. A lot of people by now barely know how to "cook" processed-to-death calorie-loaded food. With food costing a lot, veganism is likely to be enforced onto the poor just by cost.

As it stands, naturally skinny people (with inefficient digestive tracts or metabolisms) are envied. But come a famine or simple extreme cost food, they will envy people like me with a metabolism that puts a hybrid moped to shame. Guess who'll live longer? The person that seemingly gets 100 miles per calorie! Meat will get really expensive, becuse meat production is so inefficient. The most efficient diet is veganism, which is sure to be a shocker to nearly every American, who is used to artery-clogging red meat.

A calorie of meat takes feeding the animal killed, at the 10 calories of petroleum per calorie of animal feed. Since the animal uses up many more calories than is yielded on slaughter, the problem becomes obvious. Bye, bye Outback Steakhouse! That is some food for thought for Americans!

Humans are OMNI-vores, our systems are built to eat vertically everything that lives and breaths. But we have to mix and match a lot of things. We can live totally on meat, or maybe totally on veggies, but the best use of our bodies natural systems are a mix of the foods available to us.  

I do not think that the poor will be reduced to eating veggies alone.  

But you are right, few folks know how to cook, If they can't read the boxes directions.  I buy in dry and in bulk whenever possible or practical.  My neighbors don't blink if they see me bend over and grab some plant and eat it out of my front or back yard, even if to them it is just a weed.

Wrong.  Humans are omnivores ONLY in practice.  Our bodies are designed herbivorously.  Comparing our anatomical characteristics with other animals, and we line right up with Herbivores: long intestinal tracts, starch-digesting saliva, teeth for grinding, lack of any real claws, etc.  Thus when humans eat much meat/dairy, they get sick.  The grand prix of nutritional studies, The China Study showed how even eating a little meat raised the risk factors for disease.  This would not happen to true omnivores - their very acidic, short digestive tracts process the meat quickly, unlike ours.
Hold out your index finger, place it on your fron teeth. These INCISORS are for cutting meat, move to the side these pointed teeth are called CANINES they are for tearing flesh. Keep moving your finger and AHAH! Molars these are for crushing and grinding plants.  Our dentation (form following function) implies an omnivorous diet.  
   Early cave paintings don't show prehistoric man planting maize or wheat, they show hunters killing animals to eat.  When food was scarce they grazed on veggies.  Only upon the discovery of agriculture did humans begin to congregate in large enough numbers to damage the enviornment.  Our closest primate relative, the chimp is omniverous. Furthermore we have enzymes in our pancreas to break down meats.  Deer and cattle do not.  The have complex digestive systems which contain bacteria to convert cellulose to absorbable carbohydrates.  I have had many freinds who were vegans and none of them looked healthy. Their hair did not shine and their complexions were poor. I would be interested to see a large study of blood chemistries of Vegans, Couch potatoe cardiac time bombs, and those with a healthy balanced diet.  I think the smart money is on #3.
We humans aren't quite herbivores either. Being a primate-platform species, we are more like frugivores. We can't eat grains unless we process them first, by cooking. Which of course takes exosomatic energy. Prior to cooking, grains are nondigestible by humans and other primates.

Furthermore, humans, like some other primates require an external source of vitamin C. Tomatoes, and citrus fill the bill. The discovery of using two sticks to make fire (making sure one is a match) and tomatoes allowed early humans to leave the tropical forests. The invention of Fire is what started us off on becoming the automotive ape. Using exosomatic energy gave us our niche - to use up all the fossil fuel and put the carbon back into circulation. Ice ages started becuse carbon sequestration went a little too far, reducing the greenhouse gas.

Maybe some other fruit, but not tomatoes.  Tomatoes are a New World food, unknown outside the Americas until Columbus.
Farming is easy when there is no social unrest and time to paln and plant. Some regions of the US are to dense and to dry or just otherwise unfit for agriculture.  I think in the event there were a true famine, there would be many years of violence before we could stabilize into an agrarian based society.  Somalia produces enough food for its people, it is just not distrubuted.  
I have wanted to respond to some time, now. It is always weird when a new name appears, because we can't figure out which one of us you are. I think it is your name, it weirds some of us out. Welcome. I totally agree.
John Jeavons says something half-joking about this:

"I don't claim that in the future everyone is going to have to be a farmer.  Only those who want to eat will be farmers."

BTW, I was going to report this over at TOD NYC, but since we're talking about food here, I'll give you the update from my local area:

After much prodding by myself and my local councilwoman, the Community Board will probably approve two locations on 82nd Street for New Greenmarkets on Saturdays and Sunday. One will be in a schoolyard and the other in a church parking lot. Starting in July, I will finally be able to walk to a greenmarket!

I highly recommend that people start getting more involved in their local community governments.

Not the current world population, but perhaps the population as it was in Malthus' time. Which brings us back to dieoff...
The Philpott post illustrates exactly what's wrong with almost every writer about sustainable ag that I've seen.  They're advocating something (doing local organic ag on a large scale) without a bloody clue whether it has any chance of working or not.  It's all very well to complain about the unsustainability of conventional ag, but if you don't have the first idea whether your alternative solution will scale or not, it isn't very responsible to advocate it until you do know.
I disagree, Stuart. Philpott himself may not have the wherewithal to investigate this issue himself, but by highlighting the abuses and disadvantages of industrial organic farming, he may motivate someone else to do the relevant analysis. People with potentially good ideas shouldn't silence themselves just because they haven't thought through every aspect of their beliefs.

We may not be able to feed the country or the world with local organic agriculture, but if more people demanded it, we would at least have more of it (i.e. more people might go back into agriculture and it might actually become profitable). Wouldn't this be better than not advocating local organics at all?

World Changing pointed out an interesting report a couple of months ago:
The study, the largest of its kind to date -- 286 farm projects in 57 countries -- concludes that sustainable agriculture protects the environment in these countries while substantially improving the lives of farmers who adopt the resource-conserving practices.
Yields increased by an average of 79 percent during the study, according to corresponding author Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in England. Working with colleagues in Thailand, China, Sri Lanka and Mexico, Pretty found nearly all of the farm projects increased their yields, and harvests of some crops like maize, potatoes and beans increased 100 percent.

It also looks like Sus. Ag. practices not only used less fossil fuels, but improved carbon sequestration.

Deja Vu.

I've been watching the very same thing in almost any suggestion from die-hard environmentalists - whether it is organic farming feeding the whole world, windmills powering each car or relocalizing billions of citizens back to farms. It all looks exactly the same to me - the last thing people talking about these things care about is whether they can possibly work or what will be the price of them.

It is the "green sound of it" that matters, nothing else. But what does green mean? For example, nobody gives a second thought on the fact that Mesopotamian civilizations ruined their topsoil and collapsed even though they were using strictly organic farming.

And we're also ruining OUR Topsoil, with almost entirely Industrial Farming. Different 'Green' sound, I guess.  Maybe it's just the color green we should fix.

It's too easy and lazy to suggest that the Greens just argue for processes because they think it sounds nice.  No, not everyone has the science right, and sometimes not even close. But to say they don't really care if it works or not is just silly.  You're just picking on an easy target, and then expanding that to say that since some fly implausible suggestions, that noone in the environmental movement has any science to back up their position.

Mesopotamia killed their topsoil, huh?  Didn't know that.  Of course, Iraq is in the heart of a vastly Desertified area, too.  Was that really all because of the organic farming by the Greens of Ur and their leader Ralph Nebukadnezzar?  I do realise we've done this before.  Rome's Appian Way was, from what I hear, one way to get wood into the city, since the reachable forests got farther and farther away.  And pretty much the same on Easter Island and on Mesa Verde, so I'm told.  The forests went first, for building and fires, then the topsoil and water-tables fell apart..*(at least that was the Mesa-Verde breakdown, as I heard it)  Haiti might make a good set for the Movie version, since it's happening there, too.  But at least there are greens supplying lots of deforested peoples with things like Solar-Ovens to allow them to at least cook and boil water without spending most of the day looking for wood-scraps.

Farming for vast populations is bad for the topsoil.  But we are talking Sustainable here.  One thing about Sustainable that most don't realize is that it not only means a lot of hard work, it also means a vastly smaller population base.

The Areas around Ur,  (( The name Dan Ur is from my own fiction, bit it is based on the City mentioned in the Bible and in old world maps ))  and present day Iraq and Iran Were at one time lush, but you throw in a lot of people that can stress the natural systems and you get sahal and then desert.  We also do not know really how the weather systems change all those 1,000's of years ago.  As a historial record the Bible does mention Draughts and other drying weather actions.  Peaple in large part can cause a damage to their living areas by over taxing the system.

Factory Trawlers that harvest vast amounts of fish and process it on board then dump the wastes back into the ocean are not a great use of the foods from the ocean.  They might harvest fish that they don't want and every fish they don't want dies, Thus kill vast amounts of the ecosystems that other might be able to use.

Again we are to many people for Sustainable living.  

The actual reason was irrigation - minerals from the water used for irrigation clogged the soil with time and made it unusable. Deforestation and soil erosion finished what was left.

Now, you can argue that we should find a way to go along without irrigation, but this (for 90% of the world) would mean a drastical drop of harvests and the supported population.
I'm afraid I don't have an easy answer for this one.

>The actual reason was irrigation - minerals from the water used for irrigation clogged the

It depends on the water source. Irration that uses water from rivers or above ground sources is fine. Water from below ground sources usually contain some levels of salts that build up over time. Eventully the soil becomes too containmented with salts and crop yields fall. There is no easy or cheap way to remove deposited salts from the land once the accumulate in the top soil. Some above ground sources of water might be contaimented from industrial runoffs, or naturally contain salts or other containments.

I suppose natural rainwater could be stored in near by ponds or small lakes to address short term rainfall shortages. However this method probably would not work in dry regions, such as the US southwest, and of course these water reserves take up land.

It's easy to understand how irrigation salts up the land. Unless you have runoff, the salinity builds up, and the land becomes useless.

Here is what happens. Irrigation water contains a tiny amount of minerals and salt. But, like rivers flowing into a salt lake where water evapourates instead of drains to the sea (or feedwater in a boiler not periodically drained) the crap builds up just like bioling water on a stove but adding ocean water as it biols. The Great Salt Lake and Dead Sea illustrates this in the extreme. And oceans are salt collectors having operated for billions of years.

So, if Iraq was fertile, irrigation made it the desert of sand blizzards it is today. River water takes longer than well water to trash land, that's all.


I am up-in-the-air on this point. On the BBC last night, they related a release the Chinese just made(grateful to any who can post a link to this) last night. The Chinese say that their policies prevented 400 million children from entering the world and that they were all better off for it. This point  which is very close to your focus is also the point of thinking in the late 60's early 70's, to be forgotten in the 80's. 'Soylent Green' is the obvious TOD reference point. JD's comments recently must be taken into consideration.

Margaret Thatcher

And we're also ruining OUR Topsoil, with almost entirely Industrial Farming

This one is true. But the proposed remedies I hear in the line of organic farming and relocalization are ignorant at the least. I imagine they are coming from people that never grew food with their own hands. I've done that and I'm telling you - it ain't going to happen, not without a massive die-off. For me to insist on that means to insist on a die-off. That thing I could understand, but I don't understand who are the first to volunteer to be culled?

Same thing with renewables powering our civilization. What about a simple math? What is the ratio of growth of fossil fuel usage vs growth of renewables? How can you possibly hope on one overtaking the other?

Now you tell me what to think about the "greens", or at least for the majority of them. For me they are the other extreme on the government, the big corporations, the oil and coal industries etc. - both extremes collectively pushing us to a brave new world too much resembling Venus.

Of course, I need to say there is a pragmatic group among the environmentalists, ready to make the necessary compromises and some of them are here in this blog. But they are definitely dragged by the stream and can not afford openly to confront the majority. IMO, this is one of the problems with having more liberal views, that you can not stop believing that people will reach the answers by themselves, and you just need some patience. I believe in this too, but to a certain extent.

And no, "greens" are not an easy target at least not in the MSM. The vast majority of the people like the ideas proposed and this is the core of the problem.

The Die-Off is guaranteed to all of us at birth, the questions that always remain are 'when and how?'  If you want to create your own answer for those two, you wouldn't be the first to play God.  It just sounds like you're resigned to seeing it as a Kill-off, instead.  But nobody has to sign-up for the 'Culling'.. we're all on standby, whether we want to be or not.  In the meantime, most of us will drive on forward, trying to keep living, trying to keep our families and communities going, trying to see some solutions.  Getting fixated on this 'Die-off' is unconstructive.  A sudden, mass extermination may happen, it may not. A genocide, a yearlong Hurricane, Famines, whatever.  That's just moody-crystal-balling.   There is some advice you get when canoeing through rapids which suggests that you watch the water-flow of the path you're trying for, NOT the rocks on either side.  It seems that if you focus on a boulder, you can tend to steer yourself right into it.

It seems clear enough to me that we have far more people than we can ever feed, be it industrially, organically, from the seas, without the artificial input of this cheap energy.  There's an ominous animation that shows the expansion of human populations as a Global map (sorry, no link) that just explodes when electrical service started spreading across the planet (pretty much contemporaneous to most other energy and technology advances in the Indus Age, of course).. Well the animation could well shoot right back down, but it won't go down to zero. I dont think that it's the end of Humanity, and I don't think that's a reason not to understand why the next or the seventh generation after us will still have to find energy, food, shelter, all that.  We will still have tools, we will still use electricity and chemistry, and I daresay Transistors, Radios, Lights, etc.  We know what survival advantages we gain from our Tech Developments, and will not be just falling into a mass-amnesia that this capacity is out there.  As production gets pinched by energy and material availability, the Business/Product-Design Model of Planned-Obsolescence, and ThrowAway-Everything might have to revert to one of 'Buy ours, cause they actually last'

"How can you possibly hope on one overtaking the other?.."

  -aside from Hope springing eternal, with some of us anyway..  I don't know whether I do 'Hope' that.. I just see that renewables WORK, and many of them are items I can build myself from local materials and even scraps (Solar Hot Water, Solar Ovens, WindTurbines, Solar-Ammonia Refrigerators), and that built well, can last a long, long time, so I put my energy into having them. The ones I CAN'T easily build, like PV panels, I will invest in while I can.  I don't presume for a second that they will allow us all to continue living the way we do today, or with the population the planet now carries.  I just know that they work, and the ones I have now will likely still be working for my Daughter, decades from now. (DieOff notwithstanding)  I also know that Millions of other people (though not hundreds of millions) at least believe that these are tools which we SHOULD be implementing, even if they haven't plunked down the cash for their own yet.  It might not add up, since it can't be the only argument in the formula, but it's something solid that we've got in hand and can be starting with, while we try to find the better-battery, all the other things that do come out of the woodwork when we're in a flaming tailspin..


If you allow me one little advice - leave your daughter to build her own world. She may not want the things you want for her.

It will scale just fine when all the overweight corpse eaters such as Philpott himself are gone.

I suspect that a great deal of the SUV driving McMansion living people also fall into this category.

I will not cry for them, or their tragic colons.

 the people are encouraged to grow some food for themselves.

instead of having cows eating the grass, use the grasses for mulch

water use

leanan if we dont feed the corn to the animals then we would have a surplus which would mean we wouldnt have to grow that corn so it would save huge amounts of water.

refridgeration of meats? you dont need to cool a lot of veg

in england we have a ubiquitous green box system, a lot of areas have competing companies, the food is far superior to supermarket organics, in my town they drop it off in someones garage and we all WALK to pick it up

I was just reading today that usa produces 10 billion chickens a year, thats a lot of feed, chickens dont eat grass.

1 cow takes 6 barrels of oil to get to market, you have 100 million head of beef cattle.

If there is anyone out there that thinks a vegan diet is uses more energy and can prove it I will start eating meat. COME ON PROVE MEAT IS MORE EFFICIENT

 Britains oldest man was vegan lived to be 111 he went to work till he was 104,

"he went to work till he was 104"

OK, NOW I'm depressed!

if we dont feed the corn to the animals then we would have a surplus which would mean we wouldnt have to grow that corn so it would save huge amounts of water.

Actually, I don't think corn is sustainable.  At least, not grown in large amounts.  If we're to practice sustainable agriculture, I suspect it will be more like horticulture than agriculture.

refridgeration of meats?

Nope, not sustainable if it has to be refrigerated.  Meat will be saved "on the hoof," preserved, or kept only during winter. (That is a common pattern, with the animals allowed to forage during summer, then killed in the winter.  That gives you food at time when it's scarce, and also allows spares you from having to feed too many animals over the winter, when they can't forage.)

I was just reading today that usa produces 10 billion chickens a year, thats a lot of feed, chickens dont eat grass.

They do, actually, though that's not all they eat.  We could probably do with fewer chickens in the U.S.  But some areas would benefit from more chickens.  They could be fed scraps or fend for themselves, and provide eggs. is one charity that provides animals such as chickens to poor families who can't otherwise afford them.

Britains oldest man was vegan lived to be 111 he went to work till he was 104,

And Jeanne Calment, the oldest person ever, ate meat every day, drank, and smoked until she was 117.

I just want to know one thing, Leanan:  how the hell do you know so much?   Well, maybe two things:  how can you be nearly omni-present on TOD and still have time to do anything?
6 barrels of oil per cow? at 100 million head? thats 600 million barrels - at 21 mill per day thats 30 days of our energy just for cows. 1/12? i suppose they all dont come to market in one year but still....
Most meats are stored the best by drying.  As are some veggies.  We can all pull examples of old meat eaters or old vegans out of our hats.  But we are OMNI-vores by design.  I still do not think that humans can sustain a non-meat eating population for long.  Just look at most Native cultures they ate everything that was edible.  

Virtually every animal on this planet is edible to humans, but only some veggies are. If you follow the food chain it does end rather close to the simple plants, but our systems are designed to eat a lot of the living creature on this planet.


hmm eating the wildlife might not last too long with the numbers of omnivores you have.

Gorilla's have large cannine teeth and are vegan.

You have 100 million acres of soya in USA

Now I wonder how much of that is fed to animals?

You could dry them and distribute them,

In the 2 months I spent in cuba I ate a lot of the national favourite "rice and beans"
The should have gone for soya their black beans got a bit boring.

The last critical step in the food/energy equation is reducing one's consumption of animal products. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are high-energy, high-impact foods. It takes 40 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef and every kilocalorie of eggs produced in America requires 39 kilocalories of energy.(18) Simply put, America could feed most of Africa with the grains we feed to livestock.(19)

A vegetarian diet also dramatically reduces your risk of heart disease, the nation's number one cause of death. You can choose to make the vegetarian switch gradually thanks to a host of great vegetarian "meats" now on the market, from veggie burgers to soy sausage.

China has been eating Tofu for some time

Tofu will save you,
convert now or be doomed.

Vegan for Life
Hasta la victoria siempre!

>Gorilla's have large cannine teeth and are vegan.

Gorillas aren't human and have adapted to a vegitarian diet over millions of years. Thier DNA has diverged from Humans. Chimpanzes which are a closer relative to humans do eat meat.

>In the 2 months I spent in cuba I ate a lot of the national favourite "rice and beans"

A true natural vegetarian diet is unheathly. This is because the Human Genome lacks the ability to produce  vitamin B12 which is essential for red blood cells and the nervous system. Most processed foods (including cereals) are artificially fortified with B12 to prevent health issues. Heres a link:

If you become a strick vegetarian and you will surely perish before your time, and there are documented cases of vegetarians dying from lack of B12.

>China has been eating Tofu for some time. Tofu will save you,convert now or be doomed

And two-thirds of the Chinese population is infected with hepatitis and face some malnutrition related deseases. See Link:

While you're at it, read this article:

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond


Great apes eat insects and grubs

Chickens don't need feed they pick at insects in the grass and fallen seeds. They also eat almost any food waste offered them including cooked chicken...pretty creepy.

You need feed to force chickens to grow fast but if everyone raised a few very little feed is needed.

Britains oldest man was vegan lived to be 111 he went to work till he was 104,

More to the point, a review of the scientific evidence shows that the more you focus your diet on plant foods, the healthier and longer lived you are.  This is true of both correlation studies and direct interventions.  Vegetarians and vegans outlive meat eaters by a bit (a no brainer), but more importantly, they enjoy a higher quality of life, since all those pesky "diseases of kings" basically only hit those who munch from the meat/dairy/junkfood aisle.  Unfortunately, most people miss the forest for the trees.  The get confused by all the hoopla about individuals studies, etc., and miss the simple universal that the mass of studies show that the best results come for people who eat lots and lots of plant foods, and little animal products.

On the other hand... we deployed synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, and genetically modified stock with a strikingly similar lack of knowledge. The risks were simply externalized to the population. Read the industry rebuttals for Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

It is easy to be seduced by the concept of technology. But look carefully the next time you are in the grocery. There are aisles and aisles of waste. 100 permutations of denatured cereal grain with cartoon characters on the boxes, shelves upon shelves of cake mixes, thousands of plastic containers filled with corn syrup. That's the reality of our agribusiness.

The rest of the miracle is marketing hype.

Stuart Staniford,

I assume that you are familiar with Cuba's experiment in sustainable agriculture; something they were forced to take up when Soviet oil dried up. Scaling up seems to be the wrong phrase to use here. The entire point of sustainable agriculture is decreasing the amount of outside energy inputs, including energy used to transport and process raw foodstuffs.

The point is to make agriculture local, not to figure out new ways to allow industrial agriculture to continue.

As to the question of whether organic farming will work or whether people have "a bloody clue whether it has any chance of working or not," it seems that sustainable agriculture has been around for thousands of years, right? I mean, clearly agriculture was organic before the industrial revolution. And people seemed to live well enough.

If thousands of years of organic agriculture is not enough to convince someone, hell anyone, that organic agriculture works, then I don't know what proof would be needed.

Whether organic agriculture can support a population in severe overshoot is another question. The answer is obviously no. Do we have a choice? Sure. We can continue as we have, destroying the atmosphere, our soil, the waterways, and the ocean, ultimately causing the destruction of humanity, or we can start working towards sustainability, switching to a much more agrarian society and working towards reducing the world's population.

Of course, the chances that we will the those things are next to nothing given the propensity of humans to devolve into tribal units which fight only for their own survival and not for the species as a whole.

Oh well.

If thousands of years of organic agriculture is not enough to convince someone, hell anyone, that organic agriculture works, then I don't know what proof would be needed.

I, like most here, have seen a couple articles on the Cuban Green Revolution.  Unfortunately, they seem to be written by those I would call 'true believers' in organic farming movement.  "Not that there is anything wrong with that."  Frankly, they are probably the only ones who care enough to write about it.

What I would like to see though is a more detailed, objective analysis showing various crops, land usages, fertilizer inputs, etc.  Perhaps we could get an idea on how to replicate it.  We need specifics on just about everything.  

However, given the current state of events (Governments getting LESS friendly, agribusiness making it unworthwhile, etc) I do not see any useful information for a while.

Also, the "Cuba experiment" that some people romanticise about miss a fun little point. If Cuba is such a great "ecotopia" please explain why Cubans risk life and limb trying every method short of tunnels and rockets to escape. Methods included but not limited to trucks turned into boats, inner tubes, the occasional plane, "coyote" smugglers, etc.

Obviously, the "ecotopia" is less pleasant than high-energy living. What makes things more dangerous here is that while Cubans were indoctrinated into cooperation, we Americans are indoctrinated into always competing and never cooperating. Cooperation and sharing is seen as communist by the right wing media and in red states.

  1. Cubans are almost as inventive and motivated as Haitians to get to America. It's surprising more Cubans don't come since if they can sneak over the border they get to be citizens. Unlike Haitians.
  2. You are aware that Mexicans, Dominican Republicans, etc, also come and live in America? Unlike those countries, America has liberals and libertarians to keep us free and rich. So far.
Of course people will try to escape to a place where cheap oil means prosperity. Of course people will try to escape political oppression.

That is a big fat duh.

Where will we, in this bloated world of consumerist fantasy, a place only too willing to allow neo-fascist policies like the so-called "Patriot Act," go when TSHTF? Where will our little boats go? Where will we run to when the party is over? Will our government suddenly decide to help us? Will our government decide to set up organic farms, liberate corparate farms for local farming? Will it provide free education to the populace as to how one can use permaculture to survive?

I think not. Think New Orleans. Think educational system. Think environment. Think health care. Think hunger.

OUR GOVERNMENT HATES US. And people who support that government, hate Americans.

Those of you who confuse our cheap energy lifestyle for democracy are insane. We do not elect the president, an electoral college elects the president. Gerrymandering has all but assured that some 98 percent of incumbent congressmen return to office. Democracy? Yeah, right.

Before you go off half cocked and get all flag waving on me, go to this site:

Read it.

People should not be afraid of their government. Government should be afraid of the people.


Had a feeling you were going to try to adopt that. I am the real V. Go straight to hell.
Go straight to hell.

Wow, you really have a way with words, and intelligent and logical argument, too!  ;-)

It just may be that humans fighting each other as tribal units is the way the human species advances.  Tribal units have been around a long, long time and we should consider that what we see today probably isn't remotely representative of the tribal diversity a mere 200 years ago.  Humans will survive this trauma.  Why?  Because evolution dictates it.  No doubt our numbers will diminish.  Some tribes will do better than others.  Those tribes will flourish.  All's well in the world.
>The point is to make agriculture local, not to figure out new ways to allow industrial agriculture to continue.

How can we do that when most of the population lives in dense urban areas where there is no land to grow food. How can a person living in a one bedroom apartment grow food and in any direction of a major city there is a 30+ mile radius containing nothing but homes built on tiny quarter area plots of land contaimated with pesticides, and the reside runoffs of consumer products. None of that land is fit to grow food on (at least for my consumption).

>the question of whether organic farming will work or whether people have "a bloody clue whether it has any chance of working or not," it seems that sustainable agriculture has been around for thousands of years, right?

What was the global population level at a thousand years ago? How about a Hundred years ago? Can you put a popped popcorn back into its kernel?

>or we can start working towards sustainability, switching to a much more agrarian society and working towards reducing the world's population.

Not to worry, If we can't do ourselves, nature always finds a way for us!


How can we do that when most of the population lives in dense urban areas where there is no land to grow food.

Obviously, many of us will have to move.  Just as well - those high-rises won't be very livable without a steady supply of electricity.  There probably won't be many jobs, either, as the economy tanks.  The new welfare and food stamps: go to work on a government farm.

What was the global population level at a thousand years ago? How about a Hundred years ago? Can you put a popped popcorn back into its kernel?

No, but you can reduce a population in overshoot.  Hopefully we can manage a soft landing rather than the dieoff so many fear, but one way or another it will happen.

Re: Can sustainable farming feed the world?


Population Numbers from the Census Bureau.

Population Clocks
U.S. 298,348,445
World 6,504,865,878

20:59 GMT (EST+5) Mar 21, 2006

I think little comment is required.

So, 6.5 billion times 2000 calories a day times 365 days a year. We need 4,748,552,090,940,000 calories of food a year. Would that number start with a Q?

Before we can't produce that amount, IMHO I bet we'll have distribution/storage problems...that make me favor local over organic even more.

It's better to green your diet than your car

    17 December 2005

THINKING of helping the planet by buying an eco-friendly car? You could do more by going vegan, say Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago.
They compared the amount of fossil fuel needed to cultivate and process various foods, including running agricultural machinery, providing food for livestock and irrigating crops. They also factored in emissions of methane and nitrous oxide produced by cows, sheep and manure treatment.
The typical US diet, about 28 per cent of which comes from animal sources, generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tonnes more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan diet with the same number of calories, say the researchers, who presented their results at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco last week.
By comparison, the difference in annual emissions between driving a typical saloon car and a hybrid car, which runs off a rechargeable battery and gasoline, is just over 1 tonne. If you don't want to go vegan, choosing less-processed animal products and poultry instead of red meat can help reduce the greenhouse load.

From issue 2530 of New Scientist magazine, 17 December 2005, page 19

I say people buy an eco-friendly car FOR a vegan, in appreciation.  J/K.  What a shock, eating higher up on the food chain requires a lot MORE resources!?  Amazing! ;)
"Before we can't produce that amount, IMHO I bet we'll have distribution/storage problems...that make me favor local over organic even more."

Indeed... Seems that I've heard more than once in connection with those perennial African food crises that the amount of food isn't the problem, it's getting it to where people need it. If that has been a problem in pre-PO situations, we can only expect it to get worse in post-PO times.

Actually, getting the food to where it's needed isn't the problem either. The problem is simply that the people who are starving are destitute, so nobody can make a living supplying them with food.
Does anyone on this thread have a figure for the area of land required per peron to grow a full years supply of food?  Assuming reasonable quality soil to start with,and only such compost as would reasonably be available locally.  Also, and not least, assuming the necessary knowledge and experience to cultivate the land.
I have seen a figure of 1.2 acres quoted on dieoff,, but it was not clear if this was using fertiliser or not.  As a starting point for a self sustaining community of whatever size, this is a fairly essential bit of knowledge.
I'd like to know this too.  I expect it will vary greatly according to the assumptions made, such as  the regional conditions, meat/vegan, fertilizer, etc.  

Farming 1.2 acres is not trivial.

John Jeavons and Ecology Action put the figure at approx. 3500 square feet for a vegetarian diet.  More info can be found here:

John Jeavons is referring to a specifically sustainable method called biointensive. The idea is basically a closed system of farming, fertilizer used in the first year if at all. All other needs are compost from your fruit trees and composting plants. In this case corn is great because it provides more compost per square foot than anything, plus calories!! With this system you can grow enough soft fruits and vegetables to feed 40 people on only 1/8 of an acre. You could feed a family of four all their caloric needs in less than 4,000 square feet. I believe the current agri-business number is about 9,000 square feet PER PERSON!

Is sustainable agriculture possible? Yes, if we all tend our own gardens... I think everyone in this forum should own this book: How to grow more vegetables. Even "organic" farming is unsustainable as they use naturally available "fertilizers" instead of man-made ones. It's like nuclear power vs. oil... (kind of)

The amount of land it takes depends a lot on lifestyle, an issue at the heart of the idea of ecological footprint.  For food production alone the estimates range from less than an acre for many countries to 4 acres for the average resident of the USA.  Taking into account energy production,
The Earth's biologically productive area is approximately 11.2 billion hectares, or 1.8 global hectares per person in 2002 (assuming that no capacity is set aside for wild species). Global hectares are hectares of biologically productive area with world-average productivity. This standardised measurement unit, or 'ecological currency,' makes comparisons of demand and supply possible across the world.

In 2002, humanity's demand on the biosphere, its global Ecological Footprint, was 13.7 billion global hectares, or 2.2 global hectares per person. Thus in 2002, humanity's Ecological Footprint exceeded global biocapacity by 0.4 global hectares per person, or 23 percent. This finding indicates that the human economy is in ecological overshoot: the planet's ecological stocks are being depleted faster than nature can regenerate them. This means that we are eroding the future supply of ecological resources and operating at the risk of environmental collapse.

More detailed results for EU-25 nations and over 120 other countries around the world are included in the attached data sheets.

Ecological footprint analysis confirms what many on this board believe.  Either lifestyle must become worse for most first-world people, and/or global population levels must be reduced signficantly. Note that the calulations above assume that NO productive area is set aside for other species, which is not what I would hope for.  

so basicly we are 1,496,119,152 people into overshoot if we do not take enviromental damage into acount?
About that number.  Let's call it 1.5 billion people too many for the planet to support.   Of course, we could reduce that number through many of the steps discussed here, including burning less oil and gas (and coal), eating less meat, and buying local, in-season foods.
I've come acros this fascinating study that should serve as a good model of what we may come to expect regarding our food needs post carbon.

"Historical statistics of Japan's population tell us roughly what the population of Japan was under conditions of traditional agriculture and before imports of food began. The population of Japan appears to have been steady at around 30,000,000 from around 1720 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868.(116) We see from Table 2.16 that Japan's population has increased about 4.2-fold (126,500,000 ÷ 30,000,000), that is, roughly quadrupled in the 130 years since the Meiji Restoration of 1868."

"Thus Japanese agriculture was dismantled in the 1960s as the country transformed itself into one of the world's leading industrial powers. However, as we have seen in Part One, with the coming scarcity of oil and natural gas, and as problems such as global warming, ozone depletion, chemical poisoning, acid rain, and so on become increasingly severe, the current political-economic system appears to be heading for multiple crises in the early decades of the 21st century. In order to alleviate or avoid severe food crises in Japan in these decades it may be necessary to reinstate certain aspects of Japanese agriculture that were lost in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But that may not be a simple matter, as will be explained in later sections" (35).

"One important factor in self-sufficiency is diet change. Japanese people may have to return to a more traditional Japanese diet, eating what is grown locally and what is available seasonally. There will almost certainly not be the fuel available for mass transportation of food, the maintenance of the cold chain, supermarkets, restaurants, and so on. Many (young) people may not be able to adapt quickly to the change in diet. It will be very hard for many people to make large and sudden changes in diet. It would make some sense to start thinking about this now, and begin to make gradual changes in diet. Gradual change to a more appropriate Japanese diet would be a good first step towards attaining self-sufficiency in food."

"Writing in the Ecologist(184) Peter Rosset shows how the received wisdom that large farms are more efficient and productive is actually a myth. Measured in terms of total output rather than yield of a certain crop, small, intensive farming is more productive. Small, organic, family farmers will tend to intercrop or multiple-crop because (as in the example above) diseases and pests are far less likely to cause significant damage, and thus yields are better. But then you cannot harvest with a machine. In Yunnan, rice is harvested by hand.(185) Small farmers are more likely to keep a couple of cows, some chicken and a few goats, and to practice a rotation system, again because that helps to keep down unwanted plants (weeds) and reduce
disease damage. No chemicals and no fossil fuels are necessary, and the closer you come to an imitation of a natural ecosystem, the better will be your productivity. Your health will be improved too, because the food that is produced in this way contains no synthetic chemicals, but embodies nutrition from the soil, and so is "healthier". Animals (including humans) in harmony with a diversity of plants equals soil fertility and a balanced, ecological way of living and eating" (55).

I think Japan might do all right.  They are environmentally aware in a way Americans are not.  Very conscious of conservation.

Japanese Putting All Their Energy Into Saving Fuel

Can you imagine Americans turning off their cars at red lights?  

Japan's retirees are choosing gardens over golf

Unlike the U.S., Japan has preserved much of their forest and farmland.  

The much larger population is a concern, but even that may not be too much of a problem.  Japanese women are resisting marriage and motherhood, and the birthrate is very low these days.

As I've wondered about this, I'll ask. If the Japanese are an environmentally aware culture and are conscious of conservation, why do they support the practice ocean driftnet fishing? From what I've read, that method of fishing has very severe environmental consequences and the Japanese do a lot of it. And they practice whaling, justifying taking a 1,000 or so annually in the name of "science". Tnx.
Not all Japanese support it.  But fishing is an ancient tradition in Japan.  Many villages have no other industry.  Traditionally, fish was the only meat Japanese ate.  And even that was for the wealthy only.  (Though officially, the reason they didn't eat meat was their religion, I suspect the actual reason was ecological.)  Their sudden wealth and population increase in the 20th century meant a lot more demand for fish.  

Japan is not above exporting their shortages.  One reason they managed to save their forests is they imported wood from other islands.  

Before they switched to oil, of course.  Obviously, Japan is not an ecological wonderland.  I just think they will handle peak oil better than we will.  

That's probably not saying much...

I'm in Japan at the moment on a university exchange.

You're right they do switch their cars off at lights, even the buses do it sometimes. The public transport system is incredible. All great, but its swings and roundabouts with their 'environmental awareness'.
I have an incredibly complicated waste disposal system (sorted into different days and bins for: combustibles, kitchen-waste-combustibles, plastic, PET plastic, uncombustible, glass, food-type-metal-cans, polysterene food trays. BUT unlike England, where I'm from, they don't recycle a lot of it. They burn all the paper and plastic..... and I don't think they use the resulting energy for fuel... I may be wrong.
The Japanese are extrodinarily wasteful which might account for their percieved awareness - they have to recycle (or burn) in order to maintain a liveable space on this tiny island. Everything you buy is packaged to protect from nuclear fall out you might be mistaken for thinking see here. I've even been aghast at individual strawberries being sold with packagaing around them. Lonely planet tells me that 24 billion disposable chopsticks are used every year in Japan. Most analysts attribute this to Japan's love of cleanliness which is great in some aspects but means that their landfills are filling to the brim with packaging that makes consumers feel like their purchase is brand spanking new and exceptionally clean. The idea of 2nd hand stores has only really come about in the last 5-10 years; most from the older generations still don't really think its socially acceptable to use hand-downs.

Oh and my dad tells me a sustainable area for individual farmers (in UK) is an acre and a cow. That was the dowry in ye olde times. (hi dad)

IMO  Per person 1000 sq. ft.( not using machines, or minimal use allows more intensive planting),optimum conditions and tending 2x a day + irrigation, some vertical crops as they are easier maintained that way. Incredibly labor intensive without machines, or chemicals. For ex. japanese beetles here in midwest require hand fighting couple times a day for periods of two or three weeks.
  As Leanan says we in U. S. might be sustainable, but most of us farmers.
  Before fertilizers corn around here was only grown in creek/river floodplain.
One piece of old technology that may benefit the Acreage required is going to be glass.  Greenhouses can grow year-round in otherwise short-seasoned climates (tho' the climate is no guarantee, is it?)  I read an article about a Mainer with a greenhouse that produced so well in Fall, Winter and Spring, that he left that 'field' fallow for the summer and took a vacation.

I agree that Local is going to be a key factor, as well as homegrown (and as veggie prices start reflecting trucking costs, it'll happen on its own), and tho' I'm pro Organic and Community Supported Farms (CSA), that doesn't mean you don't take advantage of the sciences that can be applied without tainting your food and soil.  Good article on the possibilities of Electric Tractors at MotherEarthNews, for example..  Farm Economics can be boosted by leasing the corners of the fields to WindGenerators, too, in the right states.  

Powerdown doesn't mean use the last three days of the internet to learn how to make a stone axe again.  It'll be a step FORWARD, just one away from that Jeep Cherokee, perhaps.. but the knowledge that built the thing won't be gone just because the tank is dry.

Obviously it depends on agricultural methods and diet.

William F. Ruddiman has tried (for quite different purposes) to use the Domesday Book (a survey of England carried out in 1089) to figure out how much deforested arable land was required per capita to support the English population at that time (which the Domesday Book estimated at 1.5 million). According to the Domesday Book, 90% of the arable land in England was already deforested -- quite an astonishing figure, when you think about it -- leading Ruddiman to an estimate of 9 hectares of cleared land per person. A hectare is 1/100th of a square kilometer, about 2 1/2 acres. So, some 22 acres per person.

Of course, not all of this would have been under cultivation -- perhaps some of it wasn't used for any agricultural purpose, though people generally don't deforest land just for fun. And crop yields would certainly have been very low by modern standards (even without chemical fertilizers). This was, as Ruddiman points out, England in the Iron Age. The most productive methods available at the time used heavy plows pulled by teams of eight oxen -- that's right, eight. That was undoubtedly beyond the capital investment available to most individuals, and this may have limited production severely.

Grow as much of your own food as possible. It's organic, controlled, clean and tastefull.In random order of appearance.

I'm completely in favor of animals. Working animals in particular. I like horses, just don't know how to handdle them for example. And I like animals like pigs, rabbits(nice fur!), goats and chickens(or ducks, whatever)

Half the world are vegetarians, by the way, and they are doing quite fine. Strong, healthy people in general.

You CAN farm part-time.

I can go fishing 5 minutes by foot from my place and eat fresh seafish the same evening, from end of May up and into October(which is different from usual beginning of May to end of September, and in winter Codling, which is now almost extinct)

The point about large scale farming is that the value of labour is factored in as a major input. It makes 'economic' sense to farm for a lower yield but utilising less manpower.

Organic farming is by its very nature is much more labour intensive. There are many crops and many products produced from the same unit of land.

The argument that grain should be reserved for human consumption is not so simple. It makes sense to eat meat in hilly, moutainous, swampy land or other not suitable for grain or vedgetable production. However in Northern ares it may be necessary to supplement the animals food with an enhanced protein and energy supply during the long winter. But this keeping of animals creates new inputs such as manure that allow enhanced diversity and productivity. To imply keeping animals and supplimenting their food with grain is wrong is simplistic, but should be viewed in the context of the whole operation. However the habit of grain feed lots where the animals are kept in large numbers, withproblems of waste dispersal is another matter.

The simplistic use of statistics on water use is foolish, water is a local phenomena. A cattle beast living in hill/moutainous country or Northern Canada will use water that is otherwise not used by humans.

Can organic agriculture support the population, definitely in some locations indefinitely. Can inorganic agriculture support 6.5 Billion people indefinitely, almost certainly no, as fossil fuels are finite. Can similar yields be obtained with lower organic inputs, in most places yes. However this may not true where there is substantial irrigation, de-forestation or after long term industrial farming.

However the historically recent practice of wasting human manure needs attention.

Given a reasonable climate such as in New Zealand, it is quite possible to feed one's family on quite a small area (except meat). A greater area of land is required for reasons of safety from blights, freak weather etc

"However the historically recent practice of wasting human manure needs attention"

Exactly what I meant in my earlier post to grow as much of your own food as possible (yes that's labor intentenisve, saves you a trip to the gym)

Thank you.

labor intensive
The one acre per person has to be interpreted in terms of the quality of the land, and diet. For a two people a quarter acre of potatoes is , if well cultuivated more than enough. An eight of an acre of vedgetables again produces an excess.

For example a 3*4m green house will grow enough tomatoes for a year, assuming reasonable soil and water,along wth several crops of lettuce.

However this is not true in rocky moutain terrain or desert where there may be a water constraint.

The area required is primarily related to the local climate and terrain.

Statistics are usually misused.

The best advice is to take up gardening even if urban, and get a feel for what can be done.

Exactly.  Obviously, U.S.-style factory farms are not sustainable.  But that's hardly the only way to do it.  

I don't think growing grain in monoculture, as currently practiced in the U.S., is sustainable, either.  But permaculture, mixed organic crops, etc., are a lot more labor-intensive.  Possibly to the point where we will all be full-time farmers.  

I don't have time to dig up the link right now, but I've heard at least one agriculture researcher say that without GM foods, we can't feed the world.  And he said this outside of any discussion of fuel use or scarcity.  He was discussing African nations that can't grow enough food to sustain their populations and rely on imports, but his comment was simply about the future - if we don't create plants that need fewer insecticides and are more drought resistant, given population growth, we can't feed the planet.

In America we are extremely fortunate that even the poor (for the most part) are fat.  The other billions of people aren't so well off.

Dang, where did I put that link?  I'll try and find it after I get the kids to bed tonite.

And so, we're back to Malthus, I guess. Without the Green Revolution, the population would never have gotten to where it is today.
Yes. World population would be no where near what it is now without the fossil fuels dependent Green Revolution.

What people also tend to forget is that despite this fossil fuels miracle, due to inequities in wealth and the distribution of food, about 1/3 of the world's population is malnourished anyway. So much for the Green Revolution.

Things go downhill from here. Sorry for my pessimism today but that's reality. Any self-sustaining agricultural commmunity anywhere in the world, I don't care if it's Zambia or Cambodia, is better off right now than I am in Boulder, Colorado when the SHTF. Not to mention Phoenix, Arizona, which I believe I mentioned in an earlier post.

Sometimes it is fascinating how much verbiage can be generated by what should be seen as a given. We are in overshoot and no amount of double-speak can fix that. Will population crash? Of course it will. That is inevitable once the cheap energy subsidy crutch is kicked out from under us.

The question is will we use the little time we have left to put in place the knowledge and local infrastructures necessary to ensure that some portion of the population will have the resources they will need to fend for themselves post-oil?

Some people will no doubt disagree -- that is the nature of denial -- but all must surely agree we live on a sphere, that all power sources are limited, except direct solar income. So, given that, shouldn't we work towards that sustainable future now? I mean why wait until the environment is ruined beyond recovery?

Reason is a beautiful thing. Please use it. We need a complete paradigm shift, not a new way to extend the faulty paradigm we have now.

couldn't agree more. We could try to create a thread : what paradigm for a new future ? Should it evolve around a notion very much used in thermodynamics : Equilibrium ? What philosophical ground would you create for such a new way of life ? With what dreams are you going to fuel it ?
Planning for your grandchildren when building and consuming.

No new ideology, economical system or philosophy needed, only thinking ahead.

If most people has such a view most problems would be solved, especially as manny technological areas are advancing.

Cherenkov -
   I have to say, there are several different European viewpoints in this single strand, but really, the following is just too much -

'Some people will no doubt disagree -- that is the nature of denial -- but all must surely agree we live on a sphere, that all power sources are limited, except direct solar income.'

The population of Germany, where I live, is the same as before WWI - and just coincidentally, WWI was before massive industrial fertilizer use, pesticides, tractors, but certainly after trains and canning. Hmmm - you think that Germany could feed itself without oil, and still run an industrial civilization, creating things like high-efficiency rotor/generator wind mills or solar cells, or high efficiency rooftop water heaters, or maintaining things like a high speed passenger rail, high volume freight rail, and  efficient canals? No, I guess you wouldn't. Same with the carefully nurtured forests here, which were first clear cut centuries ago - think people learned? No, all just denial that long term planning and industrial technology can actually co-exist.

What is denial is not recognizing the fact the oil won't go 'POOF' from today to tomorrow, that NG will actually last decades to manufacture fertilizer as population declines - again, use Europe as a completely appropriate model. Buying fertilizer as a way to export Russia's NG isn't exactly new - I knew someone in that export business in 1994, shipping from Kaliningrad worldwide, while the idea of Iran or Algeria as a major source of fertilizer is a strange thought  hmm? Sustainable enough until population falls, leading to more sustainable methods? Again, this debate stretches over decades, not days or months. And yes, human populations do seem to decline without die-off, even if the MSM seems to suggest that a gently declining population is a sign of decay. Maybe you haven't listened carefully enough to such subtle propaganda when thinking about 'die-off'?

I do think the U.S. is heading for really hard times (and yes, there is a chance of cities going 'POOF' from that - but war is another subject, like a 10km wide cosmic fastball in the Pacific), and the Chinese and Indians are facing some definite challenges, but you keep coming far too close to another European tradition -

'We need a complete paradigm shift, not a new way to extend the faulty paradigm we have now.'

I have a glancing historical awareness of what Europeans in general tend to think about dying off and paradigm shifts, at least in some concrete cases, whether Britian's India or Germany's Reich.

This is not a personal accusation, but at times, I can seriously imagine you enjoying the non-existence of billions of no longer fellow human beings -

'I mean why wait until the environment is ruined beyond recovery?'

Why not let them try their best, using knowledge and social awareness to stop the 'overshoot' from 'ruining' your pragmatic and fact based opinion that we are all doomed. At least in the case of Europe, your opinions are really easy to contradict by looking out my window, bicycling the paths, taking the train, or even using the soon to be extinct car or plane paradigm. To show my sad and deluded denial of your vision - ever wonder about dirigibles? The 20s and 30s, not exactly a time of an intensive oil based economy, did alright demonstrating the concept, and using solar cells, much better engineering and materials, intercontinental transport in comfort and low environmental impact only returns us to the past, not the future you think we don't have. But wait, maybe I should be thinking ships? Like, in the 20s and 30s? Humans have always used tools, then assumed the tools determined reality. You are right about 'paradigm' shifting - what would be wrong with taking 5 days to travel to another continent, using solar power (you granted that as being available in humanity's mass death future) and navigation satellites, while connected to the Internet, as a way to spread expertise - would wind engineers creating wind  farms world wide, with mainly local materials but also carrying essential highly industial components fit as denial? None of that requires anything but a paradigm shift, but notice, I didn't abandon my delusional belief that technology doesn't lead us to hell and damnation. That it often does, and as long as we are human, most certainly always will, is another discussion.

Really, not being able to buy strawberries in February is not the first sign of collapsing civilization, neither is the bankruptcy of McDonald's.

And do you mean the paradigm of the Age of Reason? As that one appears to be sinking before our eyes in a sea of true believers, I can't help but keep trying to extend it, even with its faults. We agree that some visions are more comforting than others, but seeming to accept the necessary? unavoidable? pre-ordained? death of billions seems to be a sort of denial in itself - one suggesting that ingenuity and hard work are just a way to dodge the reality that we are all doomed.

But, if like Kunstler, you hate how people live in industrial/consumer economies, try to find a better reason to get people to change instead of what at times almost feel like revenge fantasies.

Again, peak oil is not 'POOF', we are all dead and good riddance.

I know what things are like here, and the raptorous American dreaming of die-off always seems so provincial. But considering how much I hated growing up there, at least I have some sympathy for anyone wanting to see it swept away.

Hi expat,

I really enjoyed your reading. I'd like to call for a little empathy though - if you lived in USA, you would very easily embrace the idea of a die-off as appealing :) That was a joke... or almost a joke. More seriously, I fear this country is headed for a real hard head-on crash with reality and is making its situation even worse by trying to fit the reality in its delusions.

The problem is actually very deep, because the apocaphilia is not only an American syndrome, but is a part of the crisis of values of the whole Western civilization. Hopefully that litlle pain ahead will bring us back the joy of living :)

Just saw you did show empathy... Funny :)
You hit the nail on the head.  One way to accomplish such a shift is to establish "outposts" supporting new paradigms.  This is a goal of the Post Carbon Institute.  Their mission statement:
Post Carbon Institute's mission is to assist societies in their efforts to relocalize communities and adapt to an energy constrained world. We believe that production of oil and natural gas will peak soon, climate change is worsening, and the current global economic system is unstable and reinforces huge disparities. Our response is to promote drastically lower consumption, greater local self-reliance, and more cooperative and inclusive communities....

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem!
Nader vs. Gore?

Ethanol vs. Oil?

Vegetarian vs. Omnivore!! - The Mother of all Unresolvable Debates!  

Weak and wan, pale and sickly vs. grain-fed, obese and cholestrolic (is that a word?)

TOD discussions will not ever ever ever resolve this.  But...

Does incorporating animals into a holistic system make sense?  Of course it does.

Can humans survive without dumping poison or oil on/into their food?  Of course they can (but not beyond overshoot).

Is industrial-style organic production unsustainable/undesirable?  Of course it is.

A lot of good points have been made in the above posts, but personal preferences have a way of sneaking in as accepted doctrine.  Why do I have pointy teeth if I'm s'posed to be eatin' potatoes?  And what's a potato w/o butter?  If you don't want to eat that steak, fine, I will!

Just to say... I have been an employee of the world's largest organic wholesaler (Earthbound Farms) AND the world's largest organic retailer (Whole Foods).  Whatever you do, you can do it sustainably or unsustainably.

Scientists have argued for years over the most 'productive' systems - corn fields in Iowa use to always win - but they never counted oil, military, gov. subsidies, etc.  Now, integrated mixed plant/animal agriculture seems like it matches or beats those cornfields.  (Sorry, no links w/ #'s)

I grew up in wonderful NorCal beef and dairy cattle country.  Cows to excess trash the land but they don't use a drop of water - rain fed stock ponds - and ranchers grow much of their own feed (silage), again, rain watered.

So just to summarize: sunlight + plants + animals (including us) is a sustainable, recyclable system, AS LONG AS IT IS DONE TO SCALE (and not in the desert).

Br. Paul's Organic Cotton and Vegetable Farm

Brother Paul Desmarais of the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre of Lusaka in Zambia is a happy man. He has just demonstrated that cotton can be grown organically, and furthermore, at yields up to more than twice the national average. That is quite an achievement as cotton is notorious for consuming the most agrochemicals of any crop, some 21 percent of that consumed worldwide; and most people have been led to believe that cotton cannot be grown without chemical sprays.

"I am confident that anyone can grow cotton organically in Zambia", says Br. Paul, beaming from ear to ear. You need to do only two things: increase the fertility of the soil with organic matter, and put extra local plant species into the cotton fields to control insect pests."


Kasisi has actually been growing organic vegetables several years before, and the results are even more stunning. Land was contracted out to a company which started growing in 2000, the organic yields were 40 to 60 percent those of conventionally grown crops, but increased in successive years while those of convention crops decreased. By 2004, the organics were out-yielding the conventionals by 2 to 3 fold (see Table 4).

While yield increased year by year under organic management, production costs decreased (Table 5), partly on account of setting up costs during the first year, such as liming and rock phosphate amendments, and partly because the labour required for pest control diminished as soil fertility and plant health improved from compost and green manure, and the organic integrated pest management regime became more mature and effective in preventing pest attacks. The carrot crop was introduced when the soil fertility had already been built up, so there is little or no difference in production costs over the three successive years.

Complete article posted at:

More articles on sustainable/organic agriculture from the UK based Institute of Science in Society posted here:

I am really frustrated with this thread having been one of the small-scale organic farmers you are all talking about.

Look, organic methods are good for the soil, pests and lots of things.  BUT, when you take a crop off you HAVE to replace the nutrients - N,P,K,Ca plus trace elements.  Organic methods are not a free lunch much less, energy free.  Where in the heck do people think rock phosphate comes from?  The farmer's back yard?

Most of the "methods" people read about like permaculture or biodynamics simply rob nutrients from one location and dump them on another one.

I would suggest that readers take some time to check out for a realistic look at organic/sustainable growing.  There is also  (The sustainable agriculture and researach program) and  And, finally, do a search of for posts by "Dairyman Dave" or, maybe "dairymandave."  Sorry, I don't know how to do direct links here.

Further, some areas have technical problems with things such as no-till.  California is one area where no-till hasn't be adopted to any extent but it would take a book to explain why.

Yes, organic methods can produce reasonable yields but is is no more a panecea then ANWR or ethanol.

Finally, the bug corps simply buy lots of compost and dump it on their fields and use organic pesticides. production.

Well, not quite finally, the University of California at Davis did a significant trial on organic processing tomatoes a number of years ago and, from a cost point of view, it didn't pay.

Now you've done it.  Bob's going to post about humanure again...  ;)

It might be true.  It seems that everyone has heard of the book, Farmers for Forty Centuries about Chinese agriculture and night soil.

But, with everyone making methane from poop, I guess the fields will just have to suffer.

But, with everyone making methane from poop, I guess the fields will just have to suffer.

Maybe we can have our methane and fertilizer from too.
poop too.

Maltin, founder and CEO of Organic Power Ltd., a company based in Somerset, has been keen on anaerobic digestion for many years. "Anaerobic digestion converts biomass directly to useful fuel without any intermediate steps, the conversion efficiency is very high compared to other alternatives such as bioethanol or biodiesel." He says. "It can handle a variety of wet substrates ranging from green garden waste, septic tank wastes, kitchen waste, energy crops and a variety of other organic materials in industrial byproducts or wastes." (See "Dream Farm" SiS  27; and "Dream Farm II", SiS 29.)

There is no loss of nitrogen into the atmosphere, so all the nutrients can be returned to the soil as fertiliser. "And, as the materials digested are organic matter, they can be considered carbon neutral." He adds.


Some 200 m tonnes of municipal solid wastes are generated each year in the European Community, 4 60 to 70 percent of which is probably organic. In addition, hundreds of tonnes of livestock manure and crop wastes are produced on European farms. Much of this organic waste is going to waste in landfills or incinerators. The UK topped the league of EU nations by sending more than 70 percent of its municipal wastes to landfills in 2003,5 releasing methane into the atmosphere and poisoning land and water.

Instead of which, the organic wastes could be treated in anaerobic digesters to provide methane for fuel, rich fertilisers for crops, and much cleaner land, water and air.

"Using biogas produced from organic materials in the UK and uprating this to renewable natural gas could provide 20 percent UK's vehicle fuel." Says Chris Maltin.

Organic Waste-Powered Cars

As I am a happy swede driving a faboulus Volvo V70 on Biogas (RNG) or sometimes CNG I enjoyed this quote from your link.

The case of Sweden 2

Sweden leads the world in using natural gas as a vehicle fuel and in particular biogas. The population is sparce, so it is difficult to invest in large infrastructure. In the western part of the country, a gas distribution system exists which imports mainly from Denmark. In the rest of the country, methane gas is distributed from a number of biogas plants where methane is produced locally, typically owned and operated by the municipalities. Much growth in the use of natural gas vehicles was achieved through joint ventures between carmakers and bus and taxi companies. There are now around 4 500 natural gas vehicles in Sweden, 40 percent run on biogas. The Swedish Natural Energy Administration have allocated 1.5 m euros for the national organisation and co-ordination of clean biogas or clean natural gas infrastructure development, and the Swedish government has proposed a 20 percent lower taxation on company cars when choosing clean fuel vehicles, and support of 30 percent of the investment in plants upgrading biogas to vehicle fuel. There is permanent tax relief on biogas and a moderate tax level on natural gas. There are more than 230 biogas plants in Sweden and about 130 of these are located at sewage water treatment plants. Sixty percent of the total Swedish biogas production comes from these plants. The other main source (30 percent) is from landfills.

I can add that the tax is further reduced to 40% reduction for company cars and the tax for owning your own is also further reduced as it is now calculated partially on CO2 emissions.

Many cities public transportation buses run on RNG which means a lot for developing the system. Personally I have had no technical issues so far with my RNG driving experience.

If you understand swedish :) the fourth session on the swedish government commision for Oil independence was held today, topic: Reducing Oil dependence in construction, industry and power production. You can watch it here:  (link in right margin. I guess the conclusions will someday be available in english version.

Hello Leanan,

No, I am not.  :-)  This thread is more suitable for a discussion on edible bug biomass-- a largely overlooked source of protein.  Now, I am no expert by any means, but I believe research is ongoing for the development of highly nutritious and very cost effective 'edible bug flour' and other such protein replacements for human consumption.

From this link:

"If cockroach food is scarce [which is virtually any garbage--BS], adolescent cockroaches can live on a very reliable resource -- their parents' feces."

Now that is sustainability!

Imagine growing trillions of cockroaches, then dehydrating them, next irradiating them to kill any potential germs and viruses, them milling into flour.  People worldwide eat all kinds of bugs now [Ever watch Fear Factor?]

Consider the photos is this link [I would like to try the cicada bread myself]:

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

How about the knowledge to farm? People used to farm "sustainably." It was just called farming before the green revolution. Many of the people who have learned to farm have slowly been displaced by agribusiness over the past century. How long before we have to start from scratch again (Although many of us are already hitting the dirt in hopes of averting prophecised starvation)?
I have a reprint of a farming book that was published in the 1900's, Traditional American Farming Techniques, as well as a number Agricultural Yearbooks published by the USDA in the 1930's and the 1943-1947 yearbook(They weren't published during the war.).

While we have a quaint idealization of the farmer spreading manure on his fields, there was a high degree of awareness about chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  The most fortunate thing is that the absymal pesticides used then (mostly arsenates) were replaced with less absymal ones.

Although my folks weren't farmers, I grew up in the 1940's knowing a neighboring farmer who still used draft horses.  This guy was a soil killer.

So, to sum up:

#1 Priority:  we need to have way lots less humans.

This way we can sort of rove the shrinking areas of our globally-climate-changed planet that we can tolerate.

We can carefully harvest the bounty of such areas for periods of time, but will have to move on and let nature do its thing -- maybe every umpteen years, global climate change and roving bands of marauders not with standing.

Will we ask for volunteers to die off, or just play planetary roulette and see who gets bumped off first?

#2 Priority:  (After the die-off.) Just 'cause we'll be roving soon, it does not mean we'll ignore our impact.  It may be that we'll have to rove back to an area left not too long before, so we probably won't want to develop a slash & burn approach.

Maybe a "roving permaculture with a twist of Johnny Appleseed whimsy thrown in."

#3 Priority: While many of us roam, we will want some folks to volunteer to be stationary to do some stuff that is easier done that way.

For example, stationaries could learn to grow food in vats through new and innovative ways (what's that protein stuff called again -- Kyorn?). And the stationaries could work on "nucular fusion" and "hydrogen wind socks" and various free energy devices.  They could also run casinos, stock exchanges, and print a "Wall Street Journal" just for kicks.

Maybe some settled folks will want to manufacture some stuff that the rovers could use.  The rovers could trade pelts and other goodies harvested whilst roving.

All in all, the chances of survival are slim.  If we come up with some gee-whiz technological solutions, they may improve our chances a bit, but we'll probably blow such opportunities by blowing each other up over oil, water, and soil resources and the like anyway.  It's just what we do.  And we do it well, I might add.

There's a slim chance that some creature will evolve from out species to do some cool stuff later, but we truly do not and can not know, eh?

So my thought is that we do the best we can where we are with what we got and realise that the proud and mighty usually fall far and fall hard, while the poor and lowly usually clean up the crap left over and then over some period of time grow to be the new proud and mighty (repeat).  Is there progress?  Reincarnation?  Damnation?  Salvation?  Yes, my MWAG is that there is.  (MWAG: "Mystical Wild Ass Guess.")

No easy formulas.  Nope.  Sustain absolute vulnerability while tending the garden and keeping a weather eye on the chart on high, 'cause you may have to run, or duck, or genuflect, or just walk away and start all over again some place else.

Make mistakes, get messy...and have fun!

Good night, sweet peak oil dreams, and good luck!

What can be done in a small space?

Living in the heart of the city of Chicago I have a backyard garden with roughly 468 square feet of plantable ground in good sun.  In the warm half of the year I use a lot of tall cages and trellising to grow as much vertically as I can.  The cold half of the year I grow low under protection.

I harvest pretty much every day of the year.  I'd guess it provides me with about 1/3 of the food that I eat by weight, more in summer, a little less in winter.  It's less by calories as I grow veggies, herbs, and some fruit but buy grains, olive oil, butter, cream, sugar, avocados, mangos, etc.  This small garden also provides a lot of high quality food for my girlfriend, her parents, and my friends and neighbors.  All on about an hour a day of work, about half of that time is spent harvesting.

I have a 24 foot by 12 foot hoop house and the rest of the garden beds are under low tunnels for the cold months.  I use Eliott Coleman's technique of passive double protection, a light summer weight spun bond row cover fabric suspended a few inches above the crops on wire wickets underneath a clear plastic tunnel.  Choosing appropriate crops for each season, with emphasis on mid to late summer planting for mature cold hardy crops to hold deep into winter, followed with succession plantings of fast growing salad greens harvested young through late winter and early spring.

I keep an indoor 5'x3' seed starting table going from mid July through mid April to provide transplants.  This is moderately energy intensive, using twelve 30 watt 4 foot flourescent tubes 15 hours a day.  But it provides a steady stream of high quality transplants which allows me to keep the entire garden fairly densely planted year round which enables the steady harvest.

I don't use pesticides or fertilizer, but as I harvest, replant and weed I hand collect slugs, grubs, caterpillars, beetles, etc. which feed my fish.  I grow seedlings in soil blocks made from compost and garden soil and watered with fish tank water.  Any plants in the garden showing significant infection, infestation or blight are removed, destroyed or eaten and usually immediately replaced with something in a different family from the seedling table.

I use a fair amount of energy, plus the plastic and row cover must be replaced every 2 or 3 years.  But I think these inputs are of significantly lower impact that those for what it replaces in the food I used to purchase.

But the big win is eating some really fresh, high quality food every day.  I almost never waste any time staring into the cabinets or standing with the refrigerator door open trying to decide what's for dinner.  Instead I step into the garden and get what needs to be eaten.

And between gardening and bicycling for transportation I get plenty of low impact exercise each day without making any special effort.

Regarding backyard aquaculture, I'd  be curious to learn what is a good rule of thumb regarding the growing of edible fish, in terms of say pounds of fish mass per 1,000 gallons of pond water. The assumptions would be 1) a relatively shallow  in-ground pond,2) a climate such as in the Mid-Atlantic states (where the pond would freeze over for short periods), and 3) some sort of homemade water recirculation system with filter and/or fixed-media biological treatment unit (the latter could be nothing more than a drum filled with rocks through which the pond water would trickle).

What types of fish are best for such a freshwater pond, in terms of yield, hardiness, and ease of raising?

Hold on a minute!  I have in-laws near Lincoln Square.  Chicago, under all the concrete and asphalt, has some of the richest soil I've seen in a long time.  I suspect Chicago, like the Great Black Swamp land under Detroit, was formerly heavily sedimented swampland.  

Said inlaws can grow beautiful tomatoes in the warmer months by doing little more than dropping seeds in the ground.  Must be nice to have great soil, but that means your experience may not be as representative as you think.

This article argues that the oldest parts of a city are often the best parts for sustainable living.  People settled there first for a reason.  They tend to have rich topsoil, a good water supply, shelter from the elements.  

I wouldn't be surprised if old cities have topsoil beneath the pavement.  New developments do not.  The topsoil (unsuitable fill) is removed and sold to farmers and others who need it.  It's too valuable to pave over, and it's considered a poor foundation for roads and buildings (since the organics eventually rot, causing settling).

That's funny, I live just south of Lincoln Square.  Yes, the soil here is good.  Probably as important we have good water.  Mine's not even metered which was nice when I was running soaker hoses almost continuously during last summer's unusually long dry spell.  But most areas have their advantages too, milder winters, more sun, less wind, much more open land, etc.

Few of my neighbors take advantage of what's possible here.  And some of those, as you say, just toss a few tomato seeds on the ground and take what appears.  I gardened that way for years before I started to take a more active approach.

I grew up in a tiny farm town called Loda in downstate Illinois where home gardening was common.  Most families had a garden and many had apple, pear or walnut trees.  Perhaps that's still the case today, but I haven't been back in years.  My parents had 6 acres so gardening didn't need to be very space efficient and my parents could do the cultivation with a little riding mower/tractor.

I think many people have the impression that for gardening to be worthwhile it needs to mimic industrialized agriculture and be done on a big scale.

However, I've learned that gardening can be quite rewarding even in a small space. In most of our cities we have a lot of small spaces growing grass.  It doesn't take much effort to garden these small spaces and with a little practice they can be quite productive and provide great quality food.

Some debate what great new technological advances we need, but many don't bother to take advantage of simple technologies like hand trowels and bicycles that are readily available and can go a long way toward satisfying our needs in a pleasant way.

A hoophouse is a little more costly and complicated way to garden, but still very reasonable.  It makes it easy to harvest a salad for dinner in a few minutes, even in the middle of December when I get home long after dark.  For me it changed my garden from an occaisional hobby into as  integral a part of my daily life as my refrigerator.

Gardening and biking.

That's the life.

These two activities alone, engaged in by most of us people, would solve so many of the problems we face.

Not only for the obvious contributions -- food, exercise, reduction in consumption and pollution -- but for the way these activities change those who engage in them.

As Several posters have noted most of us will have to be farmers on our own land.  

We can get a lot of the big things out of the way by buying from local farmers and Local Farmers Markets, but if you like certain plants and the food they provide, grow them yourself.  

The wild plants in my yard would not give me much food value, for very long, but I can incourage several of them to grow instead of the grass which gives me almost no food value at all.   But If I wanted to have a sustained food supply beyond looking in the wild, Which most Urban dwellers can not do.  I would need to plan and Plant crops for my region and do a lot of work in getting them water and such through the drought or hot summer months.  I have captured rain run off from my house roof and porch roof, with simple and crude methods and been able to store up to 250 gallons of water for a season. (( 250 gallons was my storage capacity, not the limit of my rainfall )) Given that I did this so crudely someone or even myself with better methods could store a large portion of my water supply for plants.  1/4 inch of rain on a roof that is 12 feet by 20 feet could yeild 40 gallons of water.  

But all this takes time and as our world changes we are going to get a lot more time to try and live closer to the ground.  

We can not hope to dig up cities and grow food on the land under them. That land is not SOIL but DIRT. SOIL is a living breathing sustained ecosystem.  DIRT is what you get when you dig up a pavement, The hard pan, very very low ecosystem at all.    

If you want to make your yard better, don't haul anything off of it, except rocks. Anything organic grown on the yard, stays there.  Get any good book on Composting, Premaculture,  Wild foods,  Organic Gardening,  Cooking Wild foods,  Sprouting,  Native plants for you area,  Herbs and Herbal healing that you can afford to get and keep a well stock informative library for your own use or for others.   My own Library is about 200 to 300 books strong.  But I have collecting for 30 years, Since I was 11 I have collected books on these subjects.

But in the face of the whole world, I don't know. Cities will have to totally reformat and spread out into the country, and A lot of the Country can't grow sustainable food for everyone.  Look at Arizona and then At how many native americans lived there before Europeans got here and you might be able to double or triple that population, But not much more.  I do not think that the Whole worlds population could go back to a none Fossil imput growing culture and still keep the same numbers we have today.

But on the other hand I do think that a lot of the Thrid world's populations outside of cities have a better chance of making it if they have not forgotten the old ways of doing things.  

In the end this is all opinion, I don't know what will happen.  I just know that I have lot more survival skills than I have had to use, but that I can use them if the need arrives.

I suspect that if you limit "us" too active TOD posters we must become local leaders of companies, communities, municialities, social webs of trust, and so on rather then farmers. To only farm would probably not utilize a limited resource in an optimal way, people who can do more than that should do more than that. But you have to begin somewhere, there are lots of ideas for that here.
Suburbia makes sense if you consider the amount of food you can grow there if all else fails. Much more than the city. All those McMansions can be midget farmhouses, with goats and chickens in the garage. Goats can live on browse such as trees and bushes as well as grass and clover.
Sustainable can also mean less pesticides and fungicides using labor. IE, twice as much labor equals half as much pesticides, etc. So if we cancel social security we can put all the old people to work farming little one acre lots for food. Which is what may happen if Bush Jr. gets his way on social security defaults.
See, I told you he was a deep cover agent for the loony left.
       "What is sustainable?" is a really tough question because the systems involved are so complex (energy, mineral, hydrologic, soil, microbiologic, ecologic), our understanding of many of these systems is not nearly complete and in the end they are all inter-related, everything everything being hooked to everything else. What are the limiting resources?

     The roots of the organic movement began with the first use of mineral fertilizers back in the 40's when people observed negative changes in the soil. Only recently have we begun to understand what was going on in the soil with those original fertilizers. The basis of the organic philosophy is that of the Noble Savage, which is basically the idea that things natural in nature are all in a peaceful, stable balance. This is not true, of course, as things in nature are very dynamic across time but it was a strong paradigm in western culture at the time. But the philosophy leads to the basic principle of a ban of anything synthesized by man and the use of things natural. On the other hand, more fossil fuel is generally used in organic agriculture than conventional because more ground has to be covered to achieve the same total yield.

        IMO "Sustainable" is what can keep the human population going with the most resilience and least trauma during transitions between sources of a resource and across technologies. Our numbers may well be unsustainable. It also seems to me that the most limiting factors currently are fossil fuels, fresh water and arable soils. Hence the transitions to the use of the other forms of energy. Producers have to be able to make choices at the individual level and the market is the best mechanism we have for that. The problem with the market is that prices don't capture the external costs very well if at all, they are get distorted by subsidies and taxes and that due to uncertainty they don't capture future costs very well. Some have argued that the price of gasoline would have to be increased by $5 to account for the environmental costs, such as increased CO2, and defense costs of having sufficient military engagement to maintain access to supplies. I think the problem with conventional agriculture is that the price signals on which producers have based their decisions have been distorted by the above factors. Adopting fossil energy intensive practices was rational while that energy source remained inexpensive, susbstituting for animal power and human labor. So now we have a high energy input agriculture that is very vulnerable to input price shocks on the energy side.

    Also, the dynamics of the inter-related systems have not been well understood. For example, now that we are better understanding how variable the climate can be with respect to rainfall, having a higher soil organic content increases water holding capacity and thus provides greater resistance to drought. A big plus for the organic side, irrespective of what this means for carbon sequestration. On the other hand, I expect conventional agriculture, being based on economic decisions, will adapt considerably more quickly than will "organic" agriculture, being based on a philosophy.

        I fear that the prices consumers are willing to pay for "organic" foods relative to conventional foods are based on false perceptions of value (safer, more nutritious). When things get tighter, I wonder what choices this society of fickle consumers will make. Thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I suspect that "being green" looses out very quickly to having food, having water and having electricity. Hence in the Northwest I suspect salmon and irrigation water will loose out to having hydropower. IMO in many cases organic agriculture is worrying about the wrong things (emphasizing the philosophy rather than principle of sustainability). To worry about the right things takes a lot of careful analysis, most of which have yet to be done on either side.

        For a quick read on some of the more global issues on food security, see this book (available on-line and hardcopy):

Outgrowing the Earth: The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperatures (2005, L Brown, Earth Policy Institute Amazon) on-line version at

Feeding the Ten Billion: Plants and population growth (1998, Lloyd T. Evans)

For an eye-opener on soils:
Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Daniel Hillel, 1992

        In the strict sense used above, urban society is not sustainable from a soil perspective. Foods humans eat are essentially mining the land as most of the carbohydrates are consumed in the sewage treatment process and the remaining sludge is applied to limited crop ground. It seems to me that this has to be particularly true of vegetable and fruit crops. Overall, I think both conventional agriculture and organic agriculture need to morph to a sustainable agriculture.

    Some more stuff on sustainability vs. organic.A person who blogs a lot on these issues is
Muck and Mystery

    Some relevant posts of his thatI've spotted (find under "Agricultural Systems" and "Natural Systems" categories on right search menu):
    * Agricultural Problems (9/04)
    * Fine Grain Analysis (6/05)
    * Habitat Management (4/05)
    * Nitrogen Transport (6/05)
    * Secret Ingredients (3/06)
    * Tree Fluffers (5/05)
    * Grassland (2/07/06)
    * Horse Puckey (2/06/06)
    * More About Muck (3/05/06)
    * Nitrogen Transport (6/8/05)

Another blog is Resilience Science (Garry Peterson, McGill School of Environment)

   A recent post: Ecosystem Tradeoffs and Synergisms in Agriculture

A government source on sustainable ag:

ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable Agriculture: An Introduction (2005, html, pdf)
Applying the Principles of Sustainable Farming Fundamentals of Sustainable Agriculture (2003, html, pdf)

I do think we have a big problem, with population way into "overshoot".  But that does not necessarily mean massive starvation.  Fossil fuels won't disappear overnight, and we could use their slowly diminishing amounts for agriculture if we gave that priority over wasteful uses such as the single-occupancy vehicle and shipping out-of-season food from afar.  We could stretch the available food better via equitable distribution and eating less meat. We could slowly build up the knowledge needed for organic farming, and slowly move people back to the farms and convert suburban lawns to gardens.  If, very big "if", that were coupled with a global one-child policy, the population would peacefully decline at about the right rate to fit the dismantling of industrial agriculture.  Alas, this is very unlikely to happen, as human nature tends towards greed and excess reproduction.  The needed new paradigm of a steady-state economy will be rejected by most until it is way too late.  For now we have pundits talking about a "birth dearth", while a billion people live in absolute poverty in urban slums - probably the first to "die off".  Again, it's not a technical crisis, it is a cultural crisis.
vtpeaknik, I think you've hit the nail on the head.

This is a cultural problem, not a technological one in the common usage of that term.

I think Magnus Red is right on when he says that it is about planning ahead for your grandchildren.  That kind of planning would be a fundamantal shift, I think.

We need more leaders who have spent significant time raising and educating children, and who have thought about what it takes to sustain a few generations.

Our current leadership is made up of hollow suits who know only about climbing the corporatist ladder to corporatist "success."

We'll get there.  Meanwhile, we help each other through.

Might be pretty painful for awhile, but there is a chance we can mitigate the pain significantly.

This has been a rich, fertile thread of comments to read!

This is the first comment to address what I've been thinking:

Oil isn't going to vanish overnight.  Crisis?  Yes, but mostly in that oil is going to become prohibitively expensive for us to keep using it the way we do now (transporting single individuals in a big SUV 20 miles each way to work five days a week).

I don't see the industrialized world on the cusp of starvation.  If old vanished overnight, then yes, we would completely crash.  The reality, I believe, is more along the lines of soaring prices, depressed economies and a transition to new technologies driven by the crunch.  We'll transcend this, but there's going to be plenty of hurt involved.

End of the world?  No.  Back to the Stone Age?  No.  Everything's going to get a lot more expensive because transportation is going to cost a bundle -- especially here in the States where we have at rotting rail system.  Fertilizer will get lots more expensive, but it will remain available.  Trucks will still get it to market, but you may spend a LOT more on food than you do now.  For most folks that means no new TV or computer, or cutting out cable TV and vacations.  Soaring prices will push down demand for oil so it won't head up indefinitely.  We'll build more nuclear plants (and better ones), we'll use more alternatives, we'll build better transit and shipping.  The global econonomy will suddenly find cost advantages in producing where consumption occurs.  The modern world will continue in the post-oil age:  it's just that the transition is going to be painful.


I also join this scenario. But with that little "if" - if some coutries (guess which) do not choose the path of war as less expensive in the short run than moving away from oil. This is the only real threat for humanity I see in future, otherwise technically we can/will get along, eventhough it will not be easy.

Mike Davis's book, Planet of Slums, which is a longer and more detailed version of the article you linked to, is now in print. It really does make you think: this is what die-off would be like. No need to speculate about the future. Just take a trip to Lagos or Mumbai. And his diagnosis of the cause is relevant to this thread, too: 30 years of free-market fundamentalism and Washington Consensus have simply pushed hundreds of millions of people out of peasant agriculture, all for the benefit of first-world agribusiness. It's not so much a die-off as a slow-motion kill-off.
Anyone else feel like with all this great discussion, we're still just barely glossing over the complexities of this topic?

I have been grappling with this question since I started dabbling in organic gardening more than a decade ago.  I can't imagine coming up with a good answer.  People can't even manage to define sustainable, much less decide whether we could produce "enough" food for everyone on the planet.  I'll add a few cents to the discussion that help to clarify and complicate at the same time.

  1. Climate change.  I suspect this trumps just about everything else.  It's really difficult to grow much of anything without water, and one of the problems predicted for climate change is greater drought punctuated by more intense storms.  This is a great recipe for soil erosion, but not for growing crops.

  2. Insects.  On the one hand, climate change is likely to make many insect pests worse.  On the other hand, insects represent a vast source of food that people are currently unwilling to take advantage of.  If things do get really bad, the ones who survive may be those who get over that aversion and figure out which insects to eat, and rodents for that matter.

  3. Knowledge.  As many people have pointed out, there is a great deal of ancient and modern knowledge that can be applied to increase yields and grow crops that are resistant to problems.  Unfortunately, as we have found with modern agriculture, old ideas are easy to throw away and hard to discover again.  Jeavons' works and various crop rotation schemes will help immensely, if enough people can learn them fast enough.

  4. Human-power.  It continues to amaze me that so many people can't imagine using human power.  If it doesn't involve a tractor or oxen it isn't possible for some reason.  It's pretty amazing how much work a decently trained person can do with a good tool.  The work isn't necessarily that hard, if we don't insist on doing the hard way that requires a tractor.

  5. Humanure.  This has got to be one of the most valuable things that we throw away now.  Between this, nitrogen fixing ground cover rotations, and growing crops that don't require such tremendous nitrogen loads, I'm less worried about future nitrogen needs.  Notice that this requires a good deal of knowledge to do safely.

  6. The market.  I know many of you believe that markets are a concept for the past, but I think that the longer we stick with markets, the better.  I expect to see food prices rise significantly as we pass peak, so that food production will become clearly important again.  I just hope we can figure out a way to put a value on good soil, so that farmers who destroy theirs are put out of business.

  7. Chaos.  Have you seen the "Seven Samurai"?  Or on the other end of the scale, "A Bug's Life"?  Armed gangs/mobs/armies can completely destroy a good farming scheme in minutes.  All it takes is killing the people who really understand how things work, and suddenly all the organization falls apart.

I suspect that when historian monks write the history of this new millenium, they will write something very much like Jared Diamond's Collapse.  While people could have grown enough food for everyone, chaos, soil destruction, climate change, etc., etc. all got in the way and in the end the population shrank.  If I were a doomer, I would leave out the bit about the historian monks :-)
Kickass. Wish you would post your thoughts more often. Out of the 7, I would say I agree with you on 2(of them), disagree on 2, and am up-in-the-air on 3. We need to discuss more. On your side with my mindset, however.
Climate change is definitely an issue.  The UN published a report a couple of years ago, that found food production was falling world-wide.  Among the reasons: dropping water tables, soil exhaustion - and less predictable weather.  Even without peak oil, they predicted the U.S. and Canada would be consuming all the food they produced by 2020 (due to growing population and falling food production).

As for human power...I think a lot of people resist that idea because they are still hoping to maintain advanced technology.  If we are all laboring in the fields, we won't have the time and energy to, say, get PhDs in nuclear engineering, maintain the giant server farms that keep the Internet running, or make silicon for solar panels or computer chips.  Or educate our children to do such things.

I'll also add that switching to human power will come with some problems.  Unless we take drastic population control measures, it is likely to increase the birthrate.  Children are free labor on farms.  Even in China, rural families are exempt from the one-child rule.  Urbanization is one factor that has slowed the population growth rate.  If we all start farming again, I expect family size to increase.

I am learning to garden the last 5 yrs. from a 75 yr. old neighbor . He has been on the same place over 50 yrs. During the last 5 yrs. we have basically lost out 2yrs. due to dry weather, and deer. The previous 50 he does not remember one as bad( we are in the midwest, so not considered terrible droughts overall, just dry enough long enough).  He will not set up irrigation, I will this yr. His thinking is it hasn't been necessary, so he will presume is not likly to repeat again( he  now has health pbs.  too).
   As I said previously Japanese beetles are a serious threat, and deer the other worst threat. He says these are both new, the last 10 yrs( He is giving up the plot away from the house and putting up temp fencing for the plots near the house, again for the very first time.
    I am amazed at the learning curve and difficulty of gardening, and great respect for his knowledge.
  I have worked very hard to get manures and enrich my soil , but it is nowhere near what his is- 50 yrs. of some manure and yet  growing food each year.
    kjmclark I am afraid you are right- lots of things to get in the way; so I will mitigate the factors I can.  Good post! As said before, jokoul ?(  different thread); keep our eyes focused not on the rocks, but where we want to go after we are in the rapid.
Shoot the damn deer. I would never ever advocate anything illegal (And please do quote me on that!) but with a crossbow and some discreet butchering you can have a great supply of lean meat (Makes great jerky, pemmican, sausage when you add lard)) and hides.

I do not know where you are in the midwest, but up here in Minnesota we have not had a really bad drought since the seventies. There are some drought-resistant varieties of many crops, too.

Have you tried jerusalem artichokes? Huge yield, and they grow like weeds.

Heeheehee!  Eating the deer was my first thought too.  Just make sure you stay away from the nervous system.  Brain-wasting diseases are becoming a real problem in wild deer in the Midwest.  We have wild rabbits that eat our tulips each year.  We've been letting them eat the clover in the yard for ages.  I just convinced my wife this past winter to let me snare trap some to learn how to do it.  Apparently the varmints learned of my plans, and haven't been back since.  

This works for other things too.  We have garlic mustard taking over some woods near our house.  We pull it every year, but we're planning to start eating it as well.  It's quite nutritious, but you have to cook it or the garlic taste is too strong.  Eat your dandelions!  They're great for you and it's much cheaper to eat them than to pay to get rid of them and buy greens at the store.  Let purslane and lambsquarter grow in your garden, and eat them too!

It's pretty amazing how many wild plants are edible and how much we've forgotten about this in the developed world.  Same thing for organic farming.  It all works much better when you have to knowledge to work with the soil.  But there's so much there to learn.

Buying some jerusalem artichokes this spring. A neighbor had some in the city and we never could get rid of them, only tried digging. The kind of problem I think we will all be grateful for in the future.
 Yes the crossbow is an upcoming purchase.
  I was thinking surely there is some kind of maise that requires less nitrogen, and  is drought resistant.
For more than sixty years my family has grown Black Mexican corn. It is nonhybrid and was used by Native Americans in New York state (where, despite the name, it apparently originated) and is hardy. I've never used artificial fertilizer, never watered or irrigated, and it does fine. In honor of Native American tradition, I often plant the way they did, with three seeds and a little fish. If you want to save the fish for yourself or your cats, use guts from bigger fish--amazingly good fertilizer.

For heirloom seeds I recommend Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

BTW Black Mexican corn tastes extraordinarily good and because of its dark color has far more flavenoids than most corn varieties.

Another way to deal with deer (though I've never tried it myself) I just picked up from Lehman's website: They recommend using human hair (free from barbers) as mulch and allege that the odor keeps deer away from plantings.

Might be worth a try.

It's been said that subsistance agriculture, that is agriculture practised without a lot of petrochemical input, returns about 2% net, calories in calories out. The major inputs being water and air and of course our old friend sunlight, along with a fair amount of work. But agriculture as a practice runs the gamit from simple burning to encourage the grasses for the grazers that you hunt all the way to the modern American version. Which has a negative return of calories in and out of anywhere from 10 to 1 to 50 to 1 depending on who's punditing and where you start and end the count. As an organic farmer selling to WF I have to tell you that I think of the chain as one big bait and switch. But that's an aside. Realistically food will be the the major challenge in a world without cheap oil. It will be difficult to maintain soil fertility without hydrocarbons on the scale we'll need to. I too am suprised that food isn't more of an issue in the post oil discussion world.
One reason mechanisation of farming developed is that it is more energy efficient than draft animals. Burning straw, stalks, or corn cobs in a steam tractor resulted in more product left over to go to market. Tractors can sit all winter without feeding them while horses or oxen must be fed if they are to be available next spring. Farm animals need to eat grains and vegetables to stay healthy which leaves less for people. We were growing fuel on our farms for millenia before steam engines which sort of moots the food vs fuel debate.
We can sustainably feed 10 billion people if we use APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY. We can sustainably feed 10 billion people if we STOP SPENDING SO MUCH ON WAR. We can also change what we eat as mentioned earlier. I've long wondered if earth worms could be a substitute for beef and pork in our burgers and sausages. Anybody know the mass per acre of these microrganism eating nematodes? These little critters manufacture topsoil as they graze and extract very little mineral content doing it. No bones about it.
Rooftop gardens of specialty crops like spices and some veggies needs to be institutued where appropriate. Hydroponics needs to be more extensively used. 90% of the western diet comes from less than a dozen species.  A supermarket could hydroponically manufactuer 90% of what is sells while using a small fraction of the land and water and fuel now used. We could use a fraction of our war budgets giving this technology to the third world.
Can we do it? YES! Will we do it? There's a good chance if the rich see it is in their own best interest to do so. More expensive fossil fuels could be the driving force. The Iraq fiasco has shown Americans that it is too expensive to steal other people's oil. Dropping bombs instead of food only makes more enemies. The best way to defeat an enemy is to make friends with them.
I have always advocated dropping catalogs instead of bombs.
Turn all those people into consumers--avid shop-till-you-drop materialists . . . . Hey, it beats religious fanaticism;-)

The U.S. genius is for marketing more than for manufacturing, though we used to be good at making lots of stuff and may do so again in the future.

Alas, my plan depends on relatively cheap energy to get the goods to the people via UPS or whatever, but if you want to get birthrates down, there is nothing like the prospect of owning a car and other goodies.

We may not like cars, but the love of autos has gotten, e.g., Italian and U.K. birthrates down to some of the lowest in the world during the past fifty years.

Look at it this way: You can either have a fancy lifestyle (car, ski trips, boat) or you can have a baby. Lots and lots of people opt for the material goodies.

Sad to say, but materialism is one of the main forces driving down birthrates. Also, it is a good idea to educate women, because the more education women have, they fewer babies they bear.

After the posts on emphasizing local food and urban gardening, I've been pondering the following. If one considers how and when urban centers were initially located (with the caveat that I'm not a geographer), it seems to me that they were located in the midst of resources to support the inhabitants - local food that could be transported by slow animal power, access to fresh water and a source of fuel for heating and cooking (wood, coal, peat) - as well as commerce - waterways and so on. Old river deltas and valleys built up by flood sediments. Good soils are key to transforming the sun's energy but such soils take decades to develop and are not at all homogeneously distributed. My hunch is that because of this site selection a century or more ago, many cities are now located on top of the best soils in the region because they have grown out over what used to be the most productive local farms on the lower, flatter ground. The productivity difference between a deep loam on the valley floor and a thin, rocky soil on a hillside has to be at least several fold.

Now builders out compete farmers for the remaining ground around urban areas. Farm land around midwest cities goes for upwards of $7,000 per acre, an investment that is far more than can be justified by crop returns. Were I a builder, I'd much rather build the roads and trench the power, water and sanitary infrastructure through dirt rather than rock. But from the long term perspective, shouldn't soil productivity be a criteria for locating developments? For example, if one looks at the  Sacramento area or the rest of the San Joaquin for that matter, if food production is a concern then the developments should be going in on the hills rather than the valley floor. That delta ground is some of the most productive land in the world (ignoring the water question) but it is being covered up by housing and associated infrastructure. No matter how much a house owner grows in their yard, I doubt it will ever be as productive as it would have been as farm ground by the time one accounts for the soil covered by the housing, streets, sidewalks and so on.

Is this a failure in urban planning for the future? What does society do about it if anything or does the solution stay with the markets? Green belts were established for quality of life, not sustainability. What is the tradeoff between energy for transporting humans vs. more efficiently capturing and transforming the sun's energy? And so on.

I try to go for a nice long run at least three times a week.  Almost everytime I do this, I see this huge fat man on a bicycle riding along.   He passes me twice along the river trail, so I know he is riding at least 10-12 miles.   Not bad for any man, but especially for this guy.    Having seen him for over two years it seems, I have noticed that he never actually loses any weight.   I mean he is still as fat today as the first day I saw him.

A couple of weeks ago, as fate would have it, that he was adjusting the seat of his bike just as I was running by.   For some reason, I felt compelled to speak with him (I usually am in the zone during my runs and don't speak with anyone).

He seemed friendly enough so I just blurred it out - "Man, I see you out here every day, rain, snow, or shine - you are a die hard"  He smiled.  Seeing his reaction I continued  "But guy, you don't seem to be dropping weight".   He then laughed (he did seem to be a good natured fellow even though he was a very tall/large man) and replied "I'm not out here to lose weight really, I am out here conditioning for peak oil".   I was stunned.   He continued "One day I am going to have to ride this bike, pulling a trailer, 10-15 miles to the farmers market or just out to a field somewhere to pick some edible grains".  "I will lose weight when we run out of oil, I'd like to have a buffer when the shit hits the fan".

I don't think this fellow will care if the food he is eating is organic or grown with a hoard of fertilizer a farmer was saving.   This is the sort of person that is going to do well in the future.   Now I don't know if this guy was homeless or a millionare, but he has a great head start.  This is the sort of person I see rigging up solar panels to car batteries and growing pear trees in the future.

The future will mean a lot of hard work and long bike rides for us all.   If he can do it, so can everyone else!

Great story!  You might post it on the current open thread so more people will see it.