Food Security

Food security isn’t something that most people have given a lot of thought to. But perhaps you should, because immediately upon the heels of any natural disaster, peak oil, drought or any number of other factors such as pests, pandemic or natural disaster, the world’s food supply can be severely threatened, even to the point of causing a nations collapse.

The world food stocks are in a global decline due to drought, disease, climate change, soil loss, acidification, peak oil, bioethanol production and pollution. These factors are worsening each year, reducing our global food security to alarming levels.

The answer to these problems is relatively simple to identify, but in real life, very hard to enact. What is required is localized food security that is non-dependent upon excessive energy inputs (ie., petroleum based) that meets the needs of it’s community and one that encompasses a long term strategy.

Although there are many thousands of community gardens, and millions of private gardens, their combined output remains woefully inadequate to meet even the basic nutritional requirements of 300,000,000 people. Consider how much the average American family buys each week at the supermarket. While this is probably excessive compared to other countries (we do have a severe obesity problem) the fact remains that it is the mega-corporations that are feeding America. Now multiply this fact by every developed nation around the world and most 2nd and 3rd world nations. The supermarket and the entire mega-corporate agricultural industry is the essential lifeline that is keeping billions of people alive today. And it is this lifeline that is now seriously threatened.

In particular, the umbilical cord is the sea of cheap oil that we have guzzled like a growing, gargantuan baby. As global oil supplies dwindle, the ability of the world’s corporate farmers who are totally dependent upon petrochemicals and vast fields to grow billions of tons of crops is also dwindling.

Without corporate conglomerates and mega-industrial farms and agriculture (and thousands of trawlers mining the oceans), the sad fact is, the worlds population could not possibly survive. This is a situation the needs to be changed, immediately and with all possible haste because of the coming global food crisis.

Localized Food Security

The definition of this is the localized growing, harvesting, storing, transporting, processing, packaging, marketing, retailing, and consumption of locally produced food. Understanding the logistics is relatively easy, but the actual production of localized food isn’t. In fact, it’s very hard to produce enough localized food to feed the population.

In “It’s Not Easy To Eat Local“, the author notes that it is prohibitively expensive. Testing the concept of “eating local”, the conference failed miserably to even find enough localized food at affordable prices to feed the attendees. This exemplifies what oil crash really means – food will be prohibitively expensive.

If and when (because there is much room for doubt) localized food production actually ramps up to full-speed, then (and only then) will “eating local” even be possible. Until then, it’s another vapor-ware type of promise for most of us, localized food production is at present, woefully inadequate and prohibitively expensive to meet the needs of the population. Notably, the conference above had only a few more then 100 people in attendance!

It IS “all about price” when you consider availability as they did, but in reality, there is much more then availability to consider too. Growing the food is a huge, huge factor and it is not as easy as it may appear. In fact, my own experience has shown me that it’s pretty hard to grow enough food to feed yourself.

I’m not really a green thumb, not yet and I work 7 days a week, so getting in the garden and getting it done right with seasonal variations, soil, planting and adequate watering takes time. And you make a LOT of mistakes. Personally, I find the idea of “growing all your own food” rather ludicrous because 99% of us simply have no idea how to do this or how much work and calorie expenditures this is going to take. I’m very certain I’m expending more calories then I’m taking in right now, making this effort a net loss, but the experience is absolutely invaluable.

But this is indeed what needs to be done on a community level. The days of transporting every morsel of food we eat an average of 1500 miles are soon to be over. Localized growing is the only option we have. Localized food security means learning from all the mistakes we’ll make as budding gardeners and unskilled and untrained preservationists and dealing with all sorts of problems that will seriously impact that actual consumable caloric output.

Learning How

It takes years to develop the proper skills, knowledge and experience to even meet half of your daily calorie requirements. Unless you have been blessed with perfect soil, abundant sunshine, ideal weather and an absence of bugs, parasites, rodents, you’ll discover like I’m discovering that “growing your own” isn’t easy at all.

The motivation to do this and stick to it, learning from your mistakes must be there too. Hungry people are highly motivated (and dangerous), but hungry people make terrible farmers. The likelihood that a crop will be ruined, or the seeds eaten (think Irish potato famine for case histories) or the sheer impatience of hunger pains of having to wait and adequate length of time before you can really have something worthwhile to eat.

Without a survival food storage, the majority of people simply won’t make it. It takes (at least) one entire season or longer for a crop to produce harvestable food. Factoring in crop loss at every step due to bugs, infestation, depredation, honeybee loss, variable climate, drought, theft, processing loss, preservation mistakes, and even personal illness and health conditions, the idea of “feeding yourself” or even the community becomes dicey as hell.

If like me, you don’t live in an area with good soils, long growing seasons or adequate sunshine (all three are factors here), then growing your own becomes extremely challenging. This year, I built earthboxes, and they’re working okay, but they’re not perfect and they’re inadequate to meet my individual needs. At best, I can grow some vegetables, but nothing even close to my daily calorie requirements. I would need a greenhouse full of these containers to do so (for one person).

We’re a nation of “know nothings” when it comes to personal survival. And we need to immediately admit that fact. Dishonesty or denial of this fact isn’t going to help. We’re all alive and owe our existence right now to the experts that do exist, and they’re scattered pretty far and wide. Fewer and fewer farmers are being used to feed the world. Using my town for example, not one of these people lives here. So we’re left with forging our own path and making our own mistakes, which we must do right now while we have a small window of time left to us to survive from these unavoidable mistakes.

Book learning just doesn’t cut it either. I have a personal library that I keep adding to, but it’s inadequate when it comes to understanding everything that you need to know. There is no replacement for experience (and proper climate, soil, sunshine, etc.,). If we are really serious about localized food security, we must start immediately to implement these efforts, because if we don’t, we are all facing severe food shortages as the world powers down.

Energy Decline and Costs

There is another side to this issue that bears mentioning too. Earlier, I mentioned that food will become prohibitively expensive due to the lack of localized growers. That’s true and this will take quite some time to change. The other reason food will become prohibitively expensive is the mega-farms will start shutting down as localized growing attempts to ramp up. Their market base will shrink. Their farms and their productive output will shrink too as oil supplies dry up or become so prohibitively expensive in their own right that farmers simply quit. Whatever they do produce will be outrageously priced.

Food IS oil and vice versa in our modern society. I’ve covered this issue before, but in a nutshell the planting, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, processing, packaging, distribution, storage and selling of food today is only possible because of the ocean of oil we consumed. Those days are soon over. When the oil goes – we go. Nothing has been found to replace the portable energy found in oil, nothing. The only way to prevent our demise from happening is localized food security.

Take a look around in your community. What is grown there? Does it depend on huge quantities of outside energy inputs (oil or hydro or whatever)? What about fertilizers and insecticides? What kind of harvesting and processing equipment is used? Does that depend on a constant supply of cheap oil too? How far does your localized food actually travel before it’s available to you to eat?

Or better yet, check out the stocks of food in the grocery stores near you. America has a 3 days supply of food on the shelf and a limited back up of food in warehouses in distribution centers. A single seasons crop failure can have national impacts. Bear in mind that we’d not be importing food anymore from Mexico or Argentina or Chile because oil prices would prevent that. How far has that food on the shelf traveled? The American average is 1500 miles. Will that food selection and variety always be there when oil reaches $100 a barrel? $200 a barrel?

The answer to these questions for most of us is depressing as hell. Now examine your growing season, how climate change is affecting this, whether an adequate water supply can be truly relied upon, soil composition and compaction, and a host of other factors. Can your community actually “grow your own”? I’ve traveled a great deal of the western U.S. and the answer is most definitely “NO” for many cities and towns I’ve visited. There are too many people to support with too few resources and all too often, too little water.

Some towns are simply going to dry up and be entirely abandoned. The city of Perth, Australia is facing this crisis right now. Throughout many dry and desert areas of the U.S., there is almost no chance future water supplies will be adequate to permit the feeding of millions and millions. This will cause massive migration waves (and a huge ‘homeland security problem’) as people flee their dried out towns in hunger.

Someone else can chime in regarding the eastern U.S. states. But the issues of population density, water, soils, climate and the all important required “skills set” is the same everywhere, throughout the world. There is a reason why countries face famine and it ties directly into the available land and human resources, and often, because of too many humans, who usually resort to extreme violence (war) to horde or control what’s left.

Time Is Of The Essence

There’s little time left, realistically speaking. And we are now 100% certain that our esteemed leaders remain totally clueless of the severity of this issue. No matter what we do, even if we start immediately, we have serious life-threatening crisis on our hands for the reasons stated above (arable land, too many people). Multiply this in every nation throughout the world and you will begin to grasp the dangerous situation we are all in. Unfortunately, it’s too late and cannot be helped. The only thing that can be done is to honestly fess up to the crisis and the situation we have placed ourselves in and start dealing with it now, on our own, while we still can.

Learn everything you can about growing food. Work with others in your community to bring about awareness and attention to this issue. Start planting and raising your own garden and animals. Learn about composting, greenhouse growing and water preservation techniques. There are some technologies like aquaculture that will probably become huge lifesavers (and big businesses) that have the potential to meet community needs. This methodology has yet to be widely supported, which makes little sense considering it’s incredible potential, but that will hopefully change very soon.

Community cooperation will become absolutely essential. Finding others within your community that you can work with is challenging enough. Attend the local farmers markets and find out if there are others who are at least aware of the issues. Attend community meetings and speak up. Expect the usual condemnation and ridicule, since business as usual is the only thing people seem to still understand. Go prepared with facts regarding the oil and climate crisis and leave this material with those who show an interest. It won’t be easy, but it will ultimately be necessary.

Community leaders will bear the responsibility to enhance these efforts, with tax breaks, zoning laws, designated land plots (donations) and community support. Of course, this assumes the community will remain relatively intact, of which I have some doubts. There is a lot of uncertainty about the future we all face, but this really doesn’t matter. It is a future largely of our own making and we now have absolutely no choice.

But if anything is certain, it is this – alone, we will die, alone and many probably violently – together, we may indeed live if we can learn to cooperate and communicate the essential skills and knowledge that we will need and take action while there is still time. Only time will tell which path most of us will take. I suggest you choose now, while you still can.

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4 thoughts on “Food Security

  • May 31, 2007 at 9:02 am
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    Thanks!

    So, is it already too late for GT-GH development efforts? (you know of what I speak) and is this the only possible viable solution (locally) assuming sufficient time remains to act and a concerted/competent effort is applied and further assuming I/we would ‘wish’ to prop up the henious human race and thereby prolong, extend and deepen the devastation we wreak on all Life on Earth?

    What say ye, Obi-wan Kenobi?

  • May 31, 2007 at 9:33 am
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    It’s impossible to say if it’s too late. But “there is no try. There is only do.”

    If it were too late, I’d give up on my own efforts – and I’m not going to do that. Meltdown continues, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit. I’m done when I drop and not a minute before.

    I’d like to think that there are some that should be ‘saved’. What about those that are rejecting civilization and advocating tribal living? Are they not worthy? Or even the few remaining aboriginal tribes, hopefully they will manage to survive despite our interference.

    As for our civilization (I understood your context) – you don’t really want my answer again, do you? You already know what it is.

  • May 31, 2007 at 11:35 am
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    Well, we clearly have only two choices: to do nothing, or do anything we can, and it’s not really in our nature to give up that easily. So all we can do is dig in as quickly as we can and learn all the self sufficiency we can and teach our children. Knowledge is key at this point. Some will survive even the worst,worst case scenario. We’re just going to see natural selection kicking in bigtime again. All hail Darwin. In the meantime I’m just growinfood

    very well written article BTW

  • June 24, 2007 at 8:18 pm
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    You may have noticed that the vast majority of people cannot afford homes with actual land around them. Most homes built in the last decade are on postage-stamp sized lots, and many (actually most, if you ignore the flaky adjustable mortages) can’t actually afford a single family detached anymore. The price of land is now far beyond the average family’s ability to buy it, even urban land. So learning how to grow food won’t help at all if you live in an apartment, condo, or townhouse. Anything you planted in a common area would just get stolen. Communities aren’t going to cooperate. There’s really nothing most people can do but live it up while they still can, because starvation or suicide are the only real outcomes.

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