Grow more food with far less energy?
(No. 5) Plus, maybe our secrets are becoming less hidden. By Ty Montague and Stephen P. Williams.
Small farms for a big country
For years I’ve envisioned an America where every person who wanted a small plot of land would be granted a couple of acres in which to grow food, raise animals or just enjoy the scenery. These landholdings would be connected through a vast, high speed train network, to make it easy for people to sell their crops, visit others and participate in the larger society of the cities. High speed internet would connect all of us. The government’s primary function would be to build the transportation and provide the Internet.
We have more than enough land in this country to offer a bit to every citizen who wants it. Yesterday, a visit to a tiny farm on the North Fork of Long Island made me realize that a family could do very well with far less than even one acre. Naked Farm, located in East Marion, is just 1/10th of an acre large, and is a no-till, no chemicals, no soil-compression farm. Michael Chuisano, 65, started the farm a few years ago after working in New York city throughout his adult life.
The farm is a one-person operation, and Chuisana’s motto is “Done by lunch,” because he rarely has to work into the afternoon. Apparently, his biointensive style of farming can on one acre produce the same amount of food as five acres of the more industrialized farming we see in the bigger fields across the country. The mounds that support the veggies are built primarily of Vermont compost. He doesn’t use chemicals or machines to cultivate the produce. Here’s a video of the Naked Farm:
Chuisano’s one-tenth of an acre is smaller than many American backyards. In fact, his spread is a fenced in area behind a modest ranch house, bordered by someone else’s lavender farm. I was amazed to see how much produce — carrots, lettuce, beets and more — was growing on this tiny plot of land just up from the beach. The farm is surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to keep the deer away, and vibrating stakes keep the moles away. Chuisano recently built an owl house, lined with mulch, and attached it high up in a tree overlooking the garden. He’s expecting an owl to move in soon and scare the hungry squirrels away from his veggies. They particularly like beets.
Chuisano, who took a course in bio intensive farming that’s offered online and in person a few years ago, sees a connection to Sicily, where his family is from, and where farmers practice similar low-energy input, high yield farming. Imagine if many of us, in all the urban neighborhoods and rural areas of America, grew food in this way, rather than relying on industrial agriculture for our meals. We’d be much healthier, for sure. We’d be better prepared for economic uncertainty, or even societal collapse. And the farms would go a long way towards solving a host of other problems, like food insecurity. Not to mention giving the farmers peace of mind.
by Stephen P. Williams
This strange phenomena tells me we need to pay attention
Almost all the sea turtles that hatched on Florida beaches in the past four years were female. When the eggs are incubated above 89 degrees F, the turtles only birth females. When they are incubated below 82 degrees F, they only birth males. Between those temperatures the turtles give birth to males and females. Scientists say the sand is so warm now that the future of turtles truly is female.
The Secret is Getting Out
An episode of Bill Mahr’s show, Real Time, entitled “New Rule, Let the Population Collapse” (above) made me realize that some of the questions we are asking in this newsletter may not be the taboo subjects they once were, but instead are hitting the mainstream (if you can call Mahr’s views mainstream). This gave me a bit of hope.
His monologue begins with commentary on the U.N. secretary general’s announcement that the arrival of the 8 billionth human on planet earth in November will be an opportunity to celebrate human diversity. “Great. We can all starve and choke together” Mahr quips. But he then begins to connect a few important dots, pointing out that climate change is but one of the problems created by overpopulation… that we are beginning to suffer from a wide variety of critical resource scarcity issues. He goes on to point out that the really strange thing is that it’s fairly obvious to even a casual observer that we have to consume fewer resources if we want a sustainable society. Which, he points out, is why it’s so bizarre that there is a growing movement of folks who think we need even more people on the planet, not fewer – a movement headlined by none other than Elon Musk.
Musk recently proclaimed that “the biggest challenge facing humanity in the next 20 years is population collapse.” (Not because of ecological collapse or climate change, but because people are not having enough children, by choice.) He has also said that “Earth could sustain many times the current human population and the ecosystem would be fine.” In the past, I have been a fan of Musk’s many accomplishments, but I gotta agree with Mahr that these pronouncements seem completely unhinged.
But then Mahr says something else I find particularly interesting. He explains why Musk’s idea is crazy, using the data from the Earth Overshoot Day website (uncredited, unfortunately). The segment misses the relationship between overpopulation and fossil fuel addiction and there is no discussion of the effects that a shrinking population might have on our current economic system. But hey, you can’t have everything.
The larger point is that though the episode doesn’t cover all of the important issues connected to overshoot, it lands some vital ones: we live on a finite planet; endless growth and endless consumption are not a viable strategy. The fact that he is talking about this stuff at all is good news. One final thought: it made both Stephen and me wonder if we should re-name the newsletter. The issues we focus on are increasingly less taboo and it made us ponder if the original name is already out of date? What do you think?
by Ty Montague
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