Searching for “Plan B”

February 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm
Contributed by: Chris

If you were wondering where I’ve been for the last week, I just returned from a trip to Oregon along with some associates from The Oil Drum and the Post Carbon Institute. We went up there to meet with various farmers who are pursuing the sustainable agriculture and farmers market approach to relocalizing food production, several agriculture professors, a restauranteur who buys all of his food locally direct from farmers, and other like-minded souls interested in peak oil and relocalization. As we believe that food production and distribution is particularly vulnerable to the risks of peak oil, we wanted to know how much can be achieved through local food production and distribution using methods that use as little fuel as possible, and without the use of petroleum-based herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer.

The people we met were truly amazing: focused, smart, dedicated, and very hard-working (14-hr days are the norm for these folks). Farming is an incredibly difficult thing to succeed in at any scale, and my hat is off to anyone who does it. Small intensive organic farmers must compete with the economies of scale enjoyed by big commercial agriculture and food distribution in an incredibly low-margin business (somewhere on the order of 5% I would say). Large scale farmers who produce commodities like grain and grass seed (a major product of the Willamette Valley) have it even harder in some ways, with the costs of fuel and fertilizer see-sawing wildly from year to year, while having to borrow enormous sums from banks in order to plant the next year’s crop. And of course all are subject to the weather, which has been growing increasingly unpredictable.

I believe that within the next five years, as terminal oil depletion becomes a tangible reality for the average citizen, backyard vegetable gardens will become commonplace, and more people will seek low-energy lifestyles. However, there is an enormous gap between the demand for food, and the supply from small scale organic farmers operating through farmers markets, which accounts for less than 5% of the total food supply even in the best markets. So there is an enormous amount of work to do to “fill the gap” that will open as oil depletion sets in.

I don’t have a “Plan B” yet, but I learned an enormous amount in just a few days this week, and I am filled with ideas and motivation to come up with one. The future may very well find me with a shovel in my hand, scratching a living out of the dirt along with millions of others.

If you have had similar thoughts, or have explored your own Plan B options, please write me or submit a comment to share your perspective.

–C

3 Comments

  1. I’ve read the “Mother Earth News” magazine since the 70′s. Among other useful things were articles leading to excellent gardening books. Even in North Dakota, we are able to grow a large portion of our vegetable needs in the back yard!

    Comment by Douglas Hvistendahl — February 21, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  2. Our plan B is to deepen and reinvigorate our sense of community. We will suffer or thrive together. There really is no plan B for individuals, as we and our safety and health depends on the safety and health of our neighbors. The millions of people that live in suburbs and cities will not be able to leave. Most invested deeply in where they are given the state of the housing market. We are all less mobile. Time to turn to your right and turn to your left and get to know the people around you.

    This is not a bad thing! The anomie of the suburbs as they have been for the last 60 years is toxic. Some people hate the movie Revolutionary Road about life in the burbs. But there is something there!

    We’ve built hyperlocavore.com to encourage people to dig in and thrive where they are!
    Hyperlocavore is a yardsharing community built to encourage people to grow food together, reinvigorate their communities, eat fresh food from much closer to home, teach the kids that food doesn’t come from factories, and introduce people to the unutterable pleasure of a real tomato!

    “Survivalism” is a fantasy. Community is reality.

    Join! It’s free!

    Comment by Liz McLellan — February 23, 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  3. I enjoyed reading your article and the two comments. I am a small scale gardener myself. In Sweden (Europe) where I live, we have a system with alotment gardens; small pieces of land, with or without a little hut on it, that you can rent very cheaply. Mine is without a house, only 150 square meters of excellent soil, that I rent from the city of Malmoe where I live, The Scania soil is said to be 10+, that is WHO or whoever, had to break their scale to incorporate these Scania soils.

    For me it is pure pleasure and recreation to work on my miniature piece of land. I actually imported my first tomate seeds from Richters in Canada, because I had heard abourt the wellknown Brandywine seed that they had. The first year I had one beef tomate weighing as much as 900 grams, almost a whole kilo! I use no pesticides. I put in a lot of labour, but I find it extremely pleasing. The sensation of being literally grounded, of getting to know your own land, the earth you walk on, is very enriching. My piece of land brings me an abundance of fruits and berries, vegetables, herbs and masses of beautiful flowers. I have become very interested in lilies for example…

    In the alotment area where I am there are a lot of people from different parts of the world who have come to Sweden. I guess in their home countries it was more natural than it is here to still grow your own basic vegetables etc. This makes an interesting meeting between worlds. We learn from eachothers’ food cultures. It pleases me to know that some of these people who might have a hard time economically at least have found this great means to get joy and pure food products in their lives.

    Comment by Anna Bring — April 8, 2009 @ 3:55 am

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