[permaculture] Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point

E. E. Mitchamore Jr emitch at att.net
Sat May 20 15:21:19 EDT 2006

I have enjoyed this topic and learned a lot from it, but one of my pet perspectives was not discussed, and remains on my mind.  Please comment on the following:

Oil shortages and fear of shortages will cause significant transportation cost increases.  At some point, some transportation services, including for food, will cut back or go out of business.  I believe that, within our current financial system, transportation and distribution will be affected sooner and more dramatically than agricultural production.  Thus our supermarket system will face dramatic change. It seems likely that farmers will, for a while, have food that can't get to market.  Without an outlet for their products, and without income, the farmers will have to cut back on production.  Then what?  Will our financial system provide some interim methods?

I mention this scenario because it seems very probable to me, and something that we will have to deal with BEFORE the doomsday scenario of no oil/no food.

What say ye?

E. E. "Mitch" Mitchamore
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Forest Garden 
  To: permaculture 
  Sent: Friday, May 19, 2006 10:31 AM
  Subject: Re: [permaculture] Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point

  Hi Jerome,

  I am keenly aware the conclusions are not optimistic as I live here and am
  committed to my community.  You stated

  > .. I am wondering how real (the conclusions written about) are, as it
  seems to me that they are
  > not really taking into account the adaptability of humans and the
  > power of community. If we look at the Cuba example, when peak oil
  > (due to the loss of Soviet oil) suddenly fell upon the island in
  > 1990, people not only survived, but thrived

  First of all, yes, there is an incredable amount of ingenuity in humans, but
  the facts of the basic resources available still remain.  We chose the
  bio-intensive method for our basic analysis of what food could be grown
  because it is one of the highest efficiency methods for sustainable food
  producing known.  Perhaps you could get some more gain out of another method
  or some really interesing ways to grow food, but you absoluely have to have
  some area, oranic matter, experience, seeds, and water - in addition to a
  lot of creativity, hard work, and community connectedness.  Each of the
  million or so people needs to eat about 2000 calories a day.  The analysis I
  presented shows the facts of what resources are here in our area.  And yes,
  it is sobering.

  The second response I have is towards your comments about the sucesses in
  Cuba.  Yes, the Cuban story is quite impressive, and often brought up in
  permaculture circles as an example.  But it is not very relevant to the
  situation in the United States.  When the Soviet Union collapsed it cutoff
  oil, fertilizer, and other petroleum products to not only Cuba, but also to
  North Korea.  The example of what happened in North Korea is perhaps much
  more relevant to the Untied States than Cuba.  By Castro's efforts, Cuba had
  for decades in advance been converting land into owner cooperative
  agriculutral farms.  Cuba's basic story was  going form conventional
  agriculture to organic ag.  North Korea was much more like a developed
  industiral country with large scale agriculture and highly dependant cities.
  It is estimated that over 3 million people died in North Korea as the food
  systems dependant on fossil feuls collapsed.

  For a more detailed discussion on the two examples see the article "Drawing
  Lessons From Experience; The Agricultural Crisis in Cuba and North Korea
  Parts I and II" located at


  By its nature, this topic is a very difficult to discuss.  And I would
  sincerely appreciate comments after you've read the article.

  At a personal level, my family has been working very, very hard for the past
  three years to establish a small family farm to simply feed ourselves.  The
  undertaking is massive with the amount of fossil feuls we have used so far,
  and we are still a few years away from serious production.  As another
  example, Lawrence recently explained what he did to get four acres into high
  production.  The amount of fuel he used, and the energy he put into it
  personally, was substantial.  In Central Texas, these kinds of inputs and
  efforts cannot be replicated enough times over to support the current
  population as we simply don't have the resources.  And if we try to go much
  further out to find resources, we run into the needs of even bigger cities
  like San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas.

  It not a shortage of human ingenuity and community - its much more basic
  than that.


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: "Jerome Rigot" <rigot.3 at osu.edu>
  To: "permaculture" <permaculture at lists.ibiblio.org>
  Sent: Friday, May 19, 2006 8:57 AM
  Subject: Re: [permaculture] Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point

  > Hi Marjory,
  > Your conclusions are not very optimistic.
  > http://www.communitysolution.org/ for additional info and for the video).
  > Havana is a large city, probably over 1 million people, and according
  > to your conclusions, it should not have been able to sustain the
  > people inhabiting the city. But they were sustained, and one way
  > people were able to survive was by developing community gardens,
  > square-foot gardens, container gardens, roofs gardens, etc... all
  > over the city, creating a local urban agriculture and local urban economy.
  > So, would this be impossible to happen in Texas?
  > Jerome
  > At 09:08 AM 5/19/2006, you wrote:
  > >A small group here in Central Texas did some analysis on what would it
  > >to grow enough food locally for the existing 1 million population that is
  > >Travis County.  You know the 'lets all start a victory garden' scenario?
  > >The Jeavons bio-intneisve method of food production was assumed along
  with a
  > >vegetarian diet.  From the bio-intensive method, 40 beds per person are
  > >needed which amount to 4,000 sq.ft.  We assumed each household could
  > >800 sq.ft. at home (actually a bit optimistic and would require cutting
  > >a lot of trees, but close to real), and all available park land, other
  > >public lands, greenbelts, vacant land, and exisitng ag land was converted
  > >bio-intensive gardens (not potlitically possible but the resources are
  > >there).  Well, there wasn't enough land, so then it was scaled it down to
  > >each person only having the 12 bio-intensive growing beds (in
  > >12 beds are for actively growing and the remining 28 are for compost and
  > >fertility crops).  The assumption being that the compost crops could come
  > >from somewhere else - that is not really very realixstic, but worth
  > >at.  We still had only about half of the acreage we would need.
  > >
  > >Then we looked at the other big requirements - compost, experience,
  > >and seeds.  In Austin, we actually compost the biosolids from public
  > >and make what is known as dillo-dirt.  We have several other large
  > >composting companies in the area which produce large quantities of
  > >The 'soils' in this area are typically rock, caliche, and clay - so
  > >is essential.  Adding together all of the commercial compost production,
  > >some assumptions about exisitng home composters, we have less than 1% of
  > >minimum required for the most resource consrving method of food
  > >known.
  > >
  > >Central Texas is the meeting place of 5 very different bio-regions and
  > >weather patterns reflect that diversity and are extremely challenging.
  > >spoken with many of the local farmers who produce for market and the
  > >consensus is that it takes at least 10 years to be able to consistantly
  > >bring to market - or to consistantly be able to provide for yourself.
  > >my limitied 3 years of working with to grow my own food I will testify to
  > >every minute of the ten years being necessary.)  So there is the problem
  > >a long apprenticship and a question of having enough experienced people
  > >teach.
  > >
  > >Although we get approximately 34" of annual rainfall, it comes at
  > >times.  The experience of those who are working towards complete off-grid
  > >living have found that at least 35,000 gallons of storage are needed for
  > >family of four (for thier drinking, hygene, and food production needs).
  > >six month drought is common here.  Although people in the city may be
  > >to rely on the public system for thier needs, this does demonstrate the
  > >dependancy on that public system functioning properly for food
  > >
  > >And finally seeds.  The conclusion we reached was that if the descent was
  > >slow enough, then seed production could keep up with demand.  But a
  > >increase in demand could wipe out available seeds in a very short time.
  > >
  > >We don't have any hard statistics on the locally grown food in our area,
  > >from surveys of farmers markets, the consensus of what we know is it is
  > >less than 0.1% of what is needed.  Overall, it will not be possible to
  > >sustain the 1+ million people here.  It would take massive amount of
  > >cooperative work and education to  provide a spartan, survival diet for a
  > >redcuced population.  And, these efforts need to have been started years
  > >ago.
  > >
  > >I believe this situation is very similar to most of the US and many of
  > >'developed' countires of the world.  An unpleasant combination of too
  > >people and too few resources, which even the immense creativity of
  > >permaculture and other methods will not be able to offset.
  > >
  > >Marjory
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