Posts Tagged ‘food availability’

Marshalling Our Resources

Our world is finite. That makes the resources within it, technically, finite. Those that don’t regenerate within a human lifetime are simply more finite than others. Even those that regenerate within amounts of time that we can truly understand run the risk of being made finite. When you harvest more salmon than they spawn, when you cut down more trees than you plant, you make a resource that should have been regenerative, finite.

What matters in the here and now, though, is not when (let alone if) a particular resource will run out. What matters is what we are doing to make sure that we aren’t squandering it for our children and their children. This is everything from how quickly we are extracting and frittering away precious ores to whether we are building or poisoning the soil in our yards.Will we need precious ores in the future? Maybe we will have figured a way around them, but let’s not use them all up, just in case. Will we need healthy topsoil in the future? Yes. So let’s not screw it up any more than we have.

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This is what you get when you have an overabundance of a resource. If it costs more to harvest an apple than it will sell for, then it doesn’t get harvested. There was a bumper crop of apples in 2015 in every part of the country, driving the price down so far that it simply wasn’t worth it for this farmer to harvest his full orchard. So they stayed on the trees until they fell of their own accord.

Now, leaving the fruit where it falls isn’t all bad. It feeds the small critters on and in the ground. It returns nutrients to the base of the tree itself. However, each harvest that doesn’t come in puts the farmer one year closer to selling out to something else. Something like a strip mall or a “house farm.” (Where I grew up, I saw a lot of farms become just bunches of suburban houses. The most disturbing ones were when they kept the farm name but replaced the crops with lawns.)

So, using an apple farm as our example, what can we do to truly marshal our resources? This farmer already has a couple of sidelines. He sells both apples and cider. I took this picture at a mush bowl, which was awesome. And potential income using his acres that are dormant in the winter. This is how you have to think when you’re a farmer. “This is what I have, now what can I do with it?”

Let’s look at the apples in particular, though. What we tend to be taught is that something is good for one thing. If you grow apples to sell, then that’s what you use them for. If you grow corn and the price falls through the floor, tough luck, right? The same with pumpkins or pork. But let’s talk about pork for a minute. Could you fatten some pigs on the harvest you can’t sell? Pick up half a dozen suckling pigs as soon as you figure out that you can’t sell enough to make ends meet. Run them in the orchard under the trees to pick up the apples as they fall. You have fenced in the orchard, right? Or, if you haven’t, what about chicken tractors worth of broilers? I’m sure you can fatten chickens right up on all the sugar that’s in apples. Just hope they don’t eat the seeds.

(Since starting this post I have learned that the current overabundance of commodity crops- particularly wheat and corn- are causing grain farmers to buy small numbers of cattle to fatten up on what it isn’t worth selling. This will have an unknown effect on the price of beef in the coming year as those cattle aren’t included in the national headcount. The things you learn at stock expos . . . )

What about that cider thing? Fresh cider you have to sell pretty quickly. Even if it’s pasturized, it doesn’t have that much of a shelf life. Hard cider became a thing, though, because when you take all of your unpasturized cider from the fall harvest and stick it in your root cellar to drink all winter, by spring, it has fermented into small cider. (Small cider or beer being alcoholic, but to a lesser degree than “regular” cider or beer.) If you’re more deliberate in the fermenting process, it probably won’t take as long and will yield something with an alcohol content that’s more in line with what we expect these days. Fermenting also has the side benefit of prolonging the shelf life. All of those apples that you couldn’t move in the fall? You’re selling in liquid form well into the next growing season, easing the cash flow.

If we really want to prolong the shelf life, then we make apple wine instead and freeze it to make applejack. I’m not sure if this counts as “distilling” since it’s cold, not hot, but you might want to check the laws before you go and sell it. However, this would have the potential of spreading an unsellable harvest over maybe two or three years.

We are trained from kindergarten on up that 1+1=2. What we need to relearn is that sometimes 1+1=pigs. Or 1+1=applejack. We need to relearn how to take what’s in front of us and instead of seeing how it won’t work for us, being a little creative and figuring out how it can work for us. We have enough resources. We just have to be smart about it.

 

If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of the justice system- check out this TED Talk. If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of gender, check out this one.

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Thought For Food

Monday I went to the panel presentation “Thought for Food.” It had a good group of people to discuss food availability and security as well as the impact local businesses and purchases can have. The panel consisted of Becky Elder, Larry Stebbins, Christine Faith, Craig McHugh, and Mike Callicrate.

Probably the biggest thing I got out of it was that if the folks in Colorado shifted 25% of their buying power to Colorado, 31,000 jobs could be created. They figured that could mean something like 5,000 jobs in El Paso County. So all of you out there that are still working on your holiday shopping? Make those purchases from local artists, craftspeople, farmers, and shops. You’re not just helping your neighbors, you’re also helping yourself since a strong local economy is better able to weather things than one that outsources everything.

The next on the list for me is that within 30 miles of downtown, there are two farms. That’s two farms to feed about a half-million people. Even if you don’t think Peak Oil is real, or you think we’ll just magic up a new cheap fuel source- what happens when we have the sort of storms Boulder had earlier this fall and I-25 washes out? Our food mostly comes down from Denver, and if they can’t take I-25 either the food won’t get here, or the prices will be jacked up because they have to go all the way out to Limon before coming down 24. Assuming 24 is in good shape after the storm. That’s a really, really precarious position. I’m not terribly fond of Phoenix and Las Vegas because they wouldn’t, you know, exist if it weren’t for cheap transportation of food and water. I’m starting to think that Colorado Springs really isn’t much better.

Speaking of water- did you know that the US flushes six billion gallons of potable water every day? I knew it was bad, but damn. Using grey water is legal in Colorado Springs if you have the right permits. If you don’t, consider sticking a bucket under your bathroom sink drain to use the grey water from the sink to flush your toilet. My family used to do it with pond water when the electricity went out. It works really well. You are putting the water right back into the system instead of into your yard, so I don’t see how anyone could complain. If you do go the permit route to use greywater on your garden- take a really good look at what you are putting into the water. Dr. Bronner’s is pretty benign, but other than that, be very careful with soaps and detergents. Of course, watching them kill your plants might make you start to question what they’re doing to you.

Speaking of rules- the video is worth watching if only to see the variety of answers when they were asked how to deal with HOAs.

It’s not all problems, though. The whole panel was full of solutions. They included everything from growing public food forests to feed the hungry hoards when the trucks stop to ways to support the small-time grower so that everyone can benefit from the neighbors with green thumbs. Becky said that instead of fearing the hoards, we should work on empowering ourselves. Don’t forget, though, that no one is sustainable by themselves. Mike, who is behind the Public Market plan, hopes to provide a truck to go out and gather the produce from small growers so that they don’t have to spend their profit on gas to get the food to the Public Market. Craig mentioned that a 1,000 square-foot, four-season greenhouse costs $10,000 to build. The annual income is around $25,000.

Possibly the most inspiring part of this was that they do have hope. Their hope doesn’t rely on government policy, or a change in the local ecosystem. (Someone mentioned that urban food deserts have nothing on us- we are a desert!) Their hope relies on people putting in a beehive and a couple of 4×8 beds. Their hope is that the young, strong backs can pair with the elderly who have knowledge and quite possibly have land. The reason that Denver and Pueblo have more school and urban gardens is because the people demanded them- and then made them happen. How can we support more gardens in Colorado Springs? Buy produce from your local gardeners. The same with honey, eggs, milk. Yes, it is more expensive than buying the same from Walmart. However, you are investing in both your personal health and the health of your community. Humans are social animals, and community is why we’ve survived as long as we have. We just have to remember how to build them.

“Fear is forgetting that everything is alright.” ~Becky Elder