Are You Prepared for Peak Chicken?

Peak Chicken

three-step-chickensWe have all heard about peak oil. But have you heard about “peak chicken?” Or peak almost everything else that composes the modern human diet—dairy, meat, corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, vegetables, and sugar?

According to a study in Ecology and Society,1https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/ we’ve already been there and done that. We peaked on just about every food-related product considered critical to human survival, except farm-raised fish, in or before 2010.

Thank goodness for carp, catfish, and tilapia! If you don’t like those, you might want to start working on some new recipes and get used to them….

Once you get your head around the idea of peak food—meaning that food production is stagnant or declining—then do an Internet search for “world population clock.”

Sit back and watch as the world’s population increases before your eyes.

It is interesting to watch, until you do the math and realize that declining food production + increasing population = a big problem. Suddenly that population calculator looks a lot like a ticking time bomb, and the $60,000,000,000,000 (global public debt)2http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/ question is: “When does it explode?”

The truth is that we don’t know if, how, or when the bubble will burst.

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Reason to Worry

But according to the authors of the Ecology and Society study, we should be worried. Their findings show that 20 of the 27 key resources for human survival peaked within the 50-year period ending in 2010.

The fact that so much of our food supply peaked within the same time frame makes sense at an intuitive level. Growing food with current industrial processes requires adequate water and fertile land suited to maneuvering large equipment. When we run out of fertile land, we develop undesirable land by leveling or clearing the earth, adding synthetic fertilizer, and pumping in water for irrigation. That works until we exhaust our water stores and deplete easily accessible nitrogen sources.

As land, water, and fertilizer become less available, the natural result is that food production declines, prices go up, and distribution gets contentious.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in wealthy countries like the United States have been insulated from most of the deprivations of peak food.

  • But if you live in rural Mexico, you probably already know what a 733% increase in the cost of a staple like tortillas feels like.
  • Or if you’ve lived in parts of Venezuela in the last few years, you know what it’s like to go to the grocery store and find the shelves inexplicably empty.
  • In India, farming-related debt is so high and weather events are destroying crops so frequently that suicide among farmers has reached epidemic levels.

These are just a few examples of peak-food-related issues already occurring around the world.

According to the USDA’s Agricultural Projections through 2022,3https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf “Although agricultural prices decline in the near term, continued growth in global demand for agricultural products holds prices at historically high levels.” This means that for those of us who live in the United States, Japan, or the EU, our days of food cost stability are numbered as developing countries are expected to outpace us on demand, economic growth, and strength of currency in international markets.

Additionally, the USDA’s Food Price Outlook, 2017-20184https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/ for the U.S. indicates that the most notable inflation increases in food have occurred, and will continue to occur, around the perimeter of the grocery store.

The Rise and Fall of Peak Nutrition

Poultry, dairy, eggs, seafood, and fresh fruits—the most nutritious foods available—are becoming less affordable, and this is expected to get much worse.

In response to price increases, such as the market price of beef going up 10 percent in two years in the U.S., consumers have already diverted their budgets from nutrient-dense natural foods to prepackaged, high-calorie foods, which tend to be less nutritious.

Just as it makes intuitive sense that peak food would follow quickly on the heels of peak land, we can also assume that trading fresh, healthy foods for processed foods to make ends meet will lead to peak nutrition—after which our collective public health will begin to accelerate in its decline.

So, is there anything we can do to change our food future?

In light of their disturbing findings regarding synchronous peak production, the authors of the Ecology and Society study suggest that we need a “paradigm shift” in our use of resources if we are going to be able to adapt to our post-peak realities.

That seems like a polite way of saying, “we need to radically alter our methods for growing and distributing food, or we’re in big trouble.”

Finding Answers

The good news is that you, I, and other members of The Grow Network community are already starting to work on this. The peak calculations were based on data from the 2013 FAO Statistical Yearbook5http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm. That report includes figures reported by international governments like Gross Domestic Product, and is dependent on financial information provided in tax returns and financial statements.

All the home-scale food growing taking place around the world is not included in determining these peak food calculations.

The study also does not take into consideration the black markets and barter markets that are already prevalent throughout much of the world, and may be used by two-thirds of the world’s population by 2020.

Unfortunately, for the same reasons that these data are not included in peak calculations, it is impossible to determine how much of an impact home food growers, barter economies, and black markets are making in relation to peak food.

Anecdotally, though, we know that there has been increased interest in home-based food production:

  • Just look at the number of self-sufficiency publications showing up on supermarket and bookstore shelves over the last ten years.
  • The number of farmers’ markets have increased by nearly 500% over the last 23 years, according to the USDA.6https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
  • There’s been an explosion in intensive growing practices—raised beds, vertical gardening, companion planting, permaculture, aquaponics—methods that use significantly less inputs than industrial agriculture while producing a superior product with excellent yields.
  • The Obamas put a garden on the White House lawn, and Oprah started a farm in Maui.

These are all positive signs that a transition to more sustainable food-growing processes is already under way.

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A 3-Step Solution

Taking a closer look at the details reveals that our current “peak food” problem is really more of a “peak industrial farming” problem.

What the Ecology and Society study makes absolutely clear is that we cannot feed the world using only industrial farming methods because they depend on resources that have peaked, or will peak, in the near future—such as constant nitrogen inputs, spray irrigation, and mono-cropping on cleared land.

However, we can continue to improve our outlook with regard to peak food by choosing to support a few clear, actionable solutions:

1) Diversifying What We Grow
2) Reintegrating Local Farming Into Our Communities
3) Supporting Community Food Security

Let’s take a closer look at these solutions…

#1. Diversifying What We Grow

sweet-potato-vinesThe fact that our key resources list can be narrowed down to just 27 items that include corn and sugarcane is both an indictment of our modern diet, and a mandate for change.

The Case for Corn

Corn, for example, could be an excellent “calorie crop,” meaning that it has the potential to provide a high calorie-per-acre yield. It has culinary versatility: corn bread, polenta, grits, tortillas, eaten on the cob and off the cob, popcorn, and as a supplemental feed for poultry and pigs.

But less than 1 percent of peak corn grown today actually makes it to your table directly. The rest is inedible for humans as it is grown specifically to go into our cars as ethanol or to be used as feed for livestock like cows, which would never touch it if they tripped over it in the pasture. A good portion of the corn used in our human food supply is corn syrup that is arguably a leading contributor to epidemic rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Fields of monoculture corn swaying in the wind might even seem pretty—but don’t walk barefoot in those fields because they are loaded with toxic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides that require protective gear to apply.

For the home grower, corn can be a fun food to grow as part of a balanced diet, if you have the space. You need to grow enough corn stalks for good cross-pollination or you need to hand-pollinate, and you have to take some extra precautions to prevent contamination from cross-pollination if you want to save your seeds.

But an even better option is to focus on more nutritious foods that don’t make the peak list.

Think about cabbage, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash. These are also versatile in soups, sauces, and pies, and they can be mashed, added to breads and pasta, roasted, and fried. Pumpkin and squash take space to grow, but there is no reason that they can’t be grown in vertical space. There are compact varieties of sweet potatoes like Bunch Porto Rico that can be grown in containers. These alternative calorie crops also store well without additional processing and they are relatively high in nutritional density, according to the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index.7https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods

Mix these alternative calorie crops up with a long list of other highly nutritious foods that you can easily grow at home or pick up at your local farmers market, such as tomatoes, chard, beets, turnips, arugula, watercress, lettuce, and you will be on your way to post-peak food health and happiness.

A Not-So-Sweet Staple

Now for a not-so-sweet subject: sugar. Sugar is a staple of our diets … really?!

Why is something that significantly increases our chances of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease (according to the American Heart Association) a resource considered necessary to our survival? Sure, it’s got calories, but they are non-nutritive.

If you consume your calories as sugar, you must either overconsume other foods to make up the nutritive difference, or run a nutritive deficit. Both roads lead to poor health.

Currently, roughly 898,000 acres of sugarcane and sugar beets are grown commercially in the U.S. alone. That amount of land, replanted using intensive farming methods, could grow enough healthy vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products to feed 400,000 people a healthy, balanced diet.

If you’ve got an incurable sweet tooth, how about satisfying it with a source that takes almost no land to produce, is good for you, and the production of which actually increases crop productivity in the immediate area? This is not some manufactured miracle sweetener that we will later discover causes cancer. It’s the oldest known sweetener on the planet, so revered at one time that the pharaohs of ancient Egypt were buried with it in their tombs, while indigenous communities risked life and limb to extract it.

Of course, you guessed it: The miracle sugar alternative is raw honey.

Raw honey is loaded with good nutrition. It may also help reduce the intensity of seasonal allergies, which are expected to increase in length and severity as a result of climate change, resulting in greater losses in productivity. Keeping bees near your garden increases pollination rates and raises yields. Since every third bite of food we eat requires insect pollination, and most of this is done by honey bees, adding honey to our key resource list makes much more sense than sugar.

If you want to keep your own bees, try a top-bar hive. You can make it out of scrap materials and it does not require expensive extraction equipment. If you can’t keep bees, buy raw honey from your local beekeepers to encourage more beekeeping activity that benefits our entire food supply.

stevia-growing-in-herb-gardenOr how about growing stevia? Stevia is an acquired taste, but once you adjust your palate, it becomes a viable alternative to sugar in beverages.

The leaves have negligible calories and can be boiled with teas and iced to make a sweet-tasting soda alternative. You can grow stevia from seeds obtained from a reputable supplier or you can grow it from cuttings. The plants do well in containers and can overwinter indoors in zones 7 and below with adequate light. When you harvest leaves by trimming the plants between leaf segments, similarly to how you harvest basil, the plants will become bushier and even more productive.

Corn and sugar are easy targets because there are delicious, available alternatives. But there are endless ways to diversify your diet:

  • Swap rice for bulgur, quinoa, lentils, or split peas.
  • Try goat or duck as a beef substitute.
  • Use buckwheat and amaranth flour instead of wheat.
  • Substitute sunflower seed meat for almonds.

Study your shopping list, identify the things you buy regularly, and then seek substitutes that can be grown in your community. You may be surprised at how much variety is available when you make the effort to look for it.

#2. Reintegrating Local Farming into our Communities

peak-chicken-peak-eggs-fullThe expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has never had more relevance than it does right now.

Checking Into Chicken

Chickens are fairly easy to raise at the home scale and they add fun and beauty to a landscape, so if you are seriously thinking about raising a backyard flock, now might be a good time to start. Make sure you know your LORE (laws, ordinances, rights, and entitlements) before taking the plunge. Also, talk to chicken owners you trust or do research to determine best practices in buying and keeping chickens in your area.

If it’s against the “LORE” for you to keep backyard chickens or you don’t have the space, how about rallying your community to turn underutilized common areas onto vegetable gardens and raise egg chickens or egg ducks there? Not only does this concept make common space meaningful again by doing something productive with it, but it can create opportunities for new farmers to enter the profession, and opportunities for residential “lawnscapers” to become organic “foodscapers.”

baby-ducks-and-chickensLaying Off Lawns

And this leads us to another method for countering peak food—let’s overcome our lawn addiction. North Americans devote 40,000 square miles of prime growing land to lawns.8https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers That is more land than we use to grow wheat or corn, it requires half the American residential water supply to grow, and it uses heavy doses of post-peak nitrogen and chemical products that end up soiling our waterways.

In the era of peak food, we really need to kick our lawn habit to the curb.

If you are a DIY type and you already take care of your lawn and landscaping, swap your holly hedge for blueberry bushes, replace flowers with flowering herbs, grow veggies anywhere you currently grow annuals, or build raised beds right over your lawn. Fruit trees like paw paw, jujube, Asian pear, mulberry, and elderberry are less needy than many ornamental trees like dogwood or flowering cherry, so use those as your starting points for planting a “foodscape.”

Surround the trees with a living mulch of Russian comfrey and borage. As the trees grow, prune them for good airflow and a less dense shade profile so you can grow shade-tolerant spinach, lettuce, and peas under the trees. If you have good southern exposure in front of your trees, plant fruit bushes there, plus herbs like chives, lemon balm, and mint to attract beneficial insects. You can also vine grapes up the trunks, making use of that vertical space.

herb-spiral-for-microclimatesIf you are not the DIY type and you spend on lawnscaping, reallocate your budget toward foodscaping to support a new generation of growers.

Many professional farmers and landscapers are excellent machine operators, soil scientists, irrigation experts, and pesticide applicators. But they may not have the expertise to grow a variety of foods without the aid of heavy equipment or purchased fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

To beat peak food and take advantage of prime growing land located within our populated communities, we need more small-scale farmers and growers skilled in controlling pests without chemicals, adding fertility with organic inputs produced onsite, minimizing water usage through smart planting, and applying intensive planting methods to increase food production.

There are plenty of people who want to do this, but we need to create the economic opportunities for them to be able to make a living at it.

To get started, talk to your current landscaper about having them do the work for you. If they don’t have the skills and they aren’t willing to gain them, talk to your local agricultural or gardening extension office, farming schools, vendors at farmers markets, or nearby permaculture schools to find people who are able to help you.

To keep costs low, you can make agreements to let student farmers sell surplus crops and keep the profit in exchange for doing the work. There are also a lot of budding permaculturists who offer their consulting services at discounted rates to develop their resumes and client bases.

Finding ways to grow food in our homes and neighborhoods should be a priority for anyone concerned about peak food.

#3. Supporting Community Food Security

Planting food instead of lawns not only increases food production, but also raises awareness of the importance of doing so. A surprising number of people are not even aware of the issues surrounding peak food. An even more surprising number of people are aware of some of these issues but feel powerless to do anything about them.

By bringing food growing to the forefront of our daily lives, we create opportunities to share our knowledge and help others collaborate with us. Our window of opportunity to beat peak food gets smaller the longer we wait and as weather becomes more erratic and resources less available, so the sooner we spread the news and help others get involved, the more impact we can have.

If you have any doubts about the urgency of building food communities, look to China for guidance. The Chinese government has encouraged its food corporations, through loans and preferential economic policy, to purchase and accumulate companies from around the world that grow and process food products (e.g., Smithfield Foods). This is part of a concerted effort to ensure food security for China’s growing population. And, it might be a wise policy given the reality of peak industrial food.

Yet not all governments are this proactive, and even when food is stockpiled or production is secured, distribution systems may not be fully developed. Also, goods may be distributed with preference for specific populations, like wealthy cities and wealthy citizens.

Realistically, unlike the Chinese government, most of us here don’t have $5 billion to buy up 25% of the pork production in the U.S. “just in case.” But most of us do have some kind of grocery budget and/or a food-growing system in place. Instead of spending our money and resources to support a post-peak industrial food system, we need to redirect our efforts toward local and sustainable food-growing activities.

Home growers can set up food-swapping networks with other growers to exchange products and increase diversity. Non-growers can take their food budgets to the farmers’ market and buy direct from local producers, or pick up weekly baskets from a local CSA. Greater demand for local food means more local growers. More local growers means more food security when declining industrial farms can no longer meet the food needs of a growing population.

We can adapt our eating and growing habits, and make the paradigm shift required to overcome peak food, if we acknowledge the problem and meet the challenges individually, and in our home communities, through thoughtful effort.

We can reach critical mass and cause real change in our society.

But the clock is ticking . . . .

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(This is an updated version of a post originally published August 14, 2015.)

References   [ + ]

1. https://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss4/art50/
2. http://www.economist.com/content/global_debt_clock/
3. https://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/projections/USDAAgriculturalProjections2022.pdf
4. https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/
5. http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3107e/i3107e00.htm
6. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NationalCountofFMDirectory17.JPG
7. https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/95/andi-food-scores-rating-the-nutrient-density-of-foods
8. https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/edible-ground-covers

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34 Comments
  • geraldc

    Need to be very careful what state / county you are trying to grow food in yard. One grower in Atlanta Ga. been fined $5,000 already for have food plants in yard and another one somewhere else, just do not remember where. As for growing stuff “organic” not possible outside but “organic like” as close as one can get. Think about this, are any road crews spraying ditches anywhere around you ? Are any aircraft spraying in area ?? Are any lawn crews spraying anything next door ?? Are you using any water from any where ?? What is in the water ??
    There was a RoundUp drift test done on 3 farms 500 miles apart for 3 years. At end of 3 years RoundUp Ready weeds were found up to 15 miles away from each of 3 farms. So unless a greenhouse is used with 2 tanks of distilled water which all air is flowing thro then we have no way to know what is in air or water. Greenhouse air needs to be 100% changed at least every 4 hours. Oh this water distillery and tanks need to be inside a building also

  • welove2go

    I tried to give this article a “5 Star” vote, but my vote wasn’t accepted. There’s only one vote recorded, so there must be some type of glitch for the voting on this article. Thanks.

    • Hi – Yeah, the rating tool has been a bit buggy lately. Thanks for the attempt… I re-started the rating tool, so you should be able to rate the article now. Thanks – Michael

      • welove2go

        Thanks, Michael. However, I just tried again, and the rating tool still didn’t work. I’ll check again later.

      • pete

        Great Article, I will forward to others for their education. Thanks

  • Jane Scroggins

    Great article! I’ve got to try some of the crops you mentioned. But don’t leave out Sorghum, it not only produces a natural sweetener it also produces grain. We raised it when I was a child and it’s my next project next year. I’m 68 with arthritis I’ve raised enough tomatoes that I can’t use them all and take bags to my neighbor! Pumpkins take space but are easy to grow if you can keep the squash bugs off. No idea why a lot of places forbid chicken they don’t smell unless you don’t clean the pen, they make great pets, are funny and affectionate and give eggs! Much cleaner and less intrusive than cats! If you have a space problem get bantams, the eggs are small but they really make great pets! And why everyone doesn’t raise blueberries is beyond me! Easy, delicious, and in the fall they are bright red longer than any other shrub. You almost lost me when you used the Obamas for an example but hey, the thought about making a garden was good! I just can’t see how hiring someone to make a garden is an example, doubt Michelle gets her nails dirty!
    My church is partnering with a village in Haiti, putting in a clean well and building a school. I’ve wondered if there were easy to grow crops that we could introduce to help supplement their nutritional problems? I haven’t visited there personally, unable to travel but just wondering.

  • Kerry

    Yes, this was an exceptionally good article. Really glad to have read it.

  • Bonnie

    Fantastic, informative article. Thank you

  • Daryle in VT

    Since the rating device doesn’t work, I think I’ll print out a few copies of this article to use as non-toxic fertilizer. This article makes more errors than a minor league baseball team in the second game of a double-header, at night, with half the field lights burned out.

    • Hello Daryle – Colorful analogy. What is it that you disagree with here? Thanks – Michael

      • Daryle in VT

        Michael,
        Are you a real, trained editor … or do you just play one for this series of articles? Since you asked …

        Let’s pull a few lines out of the text. “less than 1% of peak corn ever makes it to your table directly, the rest is inedible for humans …”
        The truth is slightly more than 1% of the corn grown in this country is SWEET CORN, the kind of corn that may in fact go directly to your plate.
        The rest is FIELD CORN which technically includes popcorn. In addition to animal fodder, field corn is the source for corn meal, corn flakes, tortillas, corn chips, corn flour, etc. Not edible? Go do your research, a lot of people eat these products.
        Cows don’t eat cob corn in the fields because they are ruminates, they don’t digest chunks. Hogs do eat corn cobs, different gut.
        “Don’t walk barefoot in (monoculture corn) fields because they are loaded with toxic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that require protective gear to apply … ”
        Why do you feel the need to walk in a farmer’s field anyway? He (or she) is trying to grow enough food to feed America and have a few dollars left over to live on.
        “plant enough stalks for good cross-pollination or you will have to hand pollinate …”
        Corn is self-pollinating. The male tassel at the top of the stalk drops pollen onto the female silk on each ear. Cross pollination occurs when when two cultivars are crossed in an attempt to produce positive improvements in the offspring.

        This is from just one section of the article.
        So, Michael, you may have been proud to publish the article, but I stand by my observation. Just how much does it cost these days to grow egg ducks on common grounds? Where do the funds come from? Do the ducks take care of themselves? Think about those logistics!

        • Haha – I asked you that question 88 days ago. In the time it took you to respond we have published 80 more blog posts. And, I notice that you only came up with 1 legitimate problem.

          Your point about field corn seems trivial. This article wasn’t about corn, so the topic was approached at a high level. The fact that a small percentage of field corn is milled for human consumption doesn’t at all negate the author’s factual point that the vast majority of corn grown in the US is used for animal feed and ethanol. If your argument is that the number should be 98.5%, instead of 99%, I would encourage you to round up.

          The only other fact you argue here is about corn pollination. In one instance, I should have removed the word “cross.” Good catch.

          We’re trying to help people grow their own food and medicine. I don’t mean to be rude, sir, but I got no time for ya!

    • Marvasavae

      Daryle, I’d be interested in knowing what parts of this article are in error. As I read it, it seemed to be well researched and stated. If it is not, I’d really like to know in what way(s) it is in error. Provide more specifics and less snark, please.

  • This is absolutely right on target and should be required reading for everyone. The article has many insights that I didn’t know about and will now incorporate. I am trying to follow this path presently to the best of my ability and certainly appreciate any wisdom from others that might help me. Thanks to Tasha for researching it. By the way, I couldn’t get it to take my excellent vote either.

  • Good post. Something else that is worth mentioning is that we Americans eat too much. When you think about this expansively, you can see that it might be great for the economy short term, but it increases demand and thus increases prices across the board. A common activity among many Americans is to exercise more so that their bodies will burn more calories and therefore they can eat more without gaining weight. This is just insane. Would you run your car around the block for an hour so that you could go to the gas station more often?

    It is said that one in three persons in America is considered obese. We really need to get a handle on recreational eating. I am working on this myself, drastically reducing my intake of sugars and empty calories, eating as much as my body needs rather than what my appetite wants, and getting exercise in “useful” ways, such as gardening and housework, rather than going to the gym.

    We also throw away too much food. Those expiration dates are usually “sell by”, not “use by”, but people are routinely going through their refrigerators and throwing out everything that’s past it’s “expiration date”. If you’ve cooked too much, then freeze the excess for later consumption. Manage your leftovers better by putting them in glass jars so that you can see what’s in there and not forget them till they’ve grown fur. Got sour milk? Freeze it for later use in cooked recipes that call for milk or buttermilk. I’ve been doing that for years and we’re still alive and healthy. If your garden has grown more than you can use or put up for the coming year, share with your neighbors.

  • Great information.

    I was actively involved in the Liberty Movement. Lackluster progress diverted my interest to self-sustainability. My motto became, Self-sustainability is the ultimate Liberty.

    I am going to send a link to your important article to my 500 name mailing list.

  • I am a vegetarian so I do not have meat or chicken bone in my compost so I have no animal problem. I do get rabbit who live underground and she does eat my greens in the beginning but not any more. I guess just coming out of the ground they are hungry for greens. Now my garden is doing great. I have second suggestion during winter time when you cut tomatoes or peppers just take out the seeds and thrown direct in the ground where you want to grown them. In spring you will find lots of tomatoes and peppers plants. Any kind of seed if thrown during winter the plants were health and huge. I have lots and lots of tomatoes. One plants give 15 tomatoes at one time. I have not have had this kind of growth before. Just give a try.
    thanks
    almas

  • Arlene Craig

    I enjoyed reading this article. Well done Tasha.

  • Ladislav Toman

    “…40,000 miles of prime growing land to lawns.”
    I take this as a misprint. Surely you wanted to say “40 000 square miles of lawns”??!!

  • Anna Lee

    You really hit all the important points about this issue! Great post! Maybe on my BEST list! Thanks for your thoughtful and concentrated writing on the subject.

  • Josh

    Fantastic article!

    It might be worth investigating a bit further the use of corn for ethanol. Labeling this as simply “bad” or “good” could be an oversimplification. Especially when comparing the production of ethanol to the production of gasoline and diesel, there are some definite advantages to ethanol production from corn and/or other crops. Ethanol, for example, does not require drilling a mile or more into the earth. Drilling that far into the earth has got to be energy intensive!

    In addition the left over corn mash after ethanol production can be still be used to feed livestock, if you’re into that sort of thing. I believe they are called distiller’s grains at that point.

    There is ample politically driven misinformation out there to wade through, supported by the powerful oil industry.

  • Pam

    thank you…I thought I was doing a good job here. I realize now I have “a good start.” Since I live in New England and it’s November I have the next few months to rethink my homestead. for openers, my lawn in front of my house will be the only part of my small parcel that will continue to be “lawn.” Information is power…please keep it coming.

  • Peak this … Peak that … Peak Chickens? I love it. Marjory, you always make us think. And you’ve given us a great deal to think about – even if you did write this back in 2015. I would, however, like to throw in my two-cents worth and extend the argument to “PEAK PHOSPHORUS”.

    As most people know Phosphorus is the P in NPK. Like the N and the K, Phosphorus (originally mined as Phosphate rock or salt) is critical to life. Without phosphorus, we can’t produce food. Phosphorus is as essential as water, carbon or oxygen! Phosphate rock is extracted from just a very few mines worldwide. It’s believed that the largest, most potential mines are in tiny little Morocco (an Islamic state that is not always friendly with the US). The largest producing Phosphate mines are in China; which currently dwarfs all other countries combined. Those other countries include the US (#3), Russia (#4), Jordan (#5), Brazil (#6), Egypt (#7), Saudi Arabia (#8), Tunisia (#9), Vietnam (#10).

    As you can tell, most of these countries aren’t exactly our closest allies. For the last decade or so, China has been stock-piling Phosphorus. China actually FORBIDS the export of Phosphorus to any country. Conversely, the US stock-piles almost no Phosphorus, and in fact export some of what we extract from our mines in FL and NC.

    Experts agree that – best case scenario – the WORLD will run out of Phosphorus in 80 years. (Some experts claim that 30-60 years is more likely)**. If the global population continues to expand — even sooner. If a larger percent of the population demands more meat (which is the current trend) — much sooner. If we don’t make better efforts to preserve and reclaim Phosphorus (recycling animal and human manure) — Much Much sooner. If the US cannot convince China, Morocco or Russia to share – we could be without Phosphorus in 20 years or less. That’s “Peak Phosphorus”.

    So have we started to conserve our Phosphorus? Have you ever driven by a pond, lake or stream during the summer that is literally glowing green with algae? That’s because of Phosphorus run-off. By the way, all that algae soaks up all the oxygen and all the fish, water-life and plant-life suffocate. And, like all the other toxins we dump into our groundwater and waterways, all the Phosphorus eventually gets down to the gulfs with similar results.

    Well aren’t we at least recycling the Phosphorus put down by our farmers? The Phosphorus that doesn’t run-off into the ground water is absorbed by plants. The plants are consumed by livestock and humans. Our bodies use a little bit but pass most of it out as excrement. In 1945, 60% of Agricultural Phosphorus came from manure. in 1950, it was down to 50%. In 1965, it was down to 30%. Today, it’s down to 11%. If you can picture this graph – it’s exponential !

    FYI – the Chinese government PAYS it’s citizens to recycle humanure. The US government all but FORBIDS it’s citizens from recycling humanure.

    Hmmm, I wonder at what point countries will start waging war over Phosphorus instead of oil?

    **http://phosphorusfutures.net/the-phosphorus-challenge/peak-phosphorus-the-sequel-to-peak-oil/

    • Patrick

      Cool topic! Apparently phosphorus comprises about 0.1% of every rock so it is very common but just not very easy or cost effective to collect, kind of like all the gold in sea water. I’m looking forward to what technology they’ll come up with to do that effectively!

      • I’m not a botanist nor a geologist, but I believe what you said about Phosphorus (P) having trace levels in almost all rock or soil. I also believe that most plants have the ability to extract it from the soil, use it to grow, and pass it on to animals and humans. UNTIL we’ve DEPLETED our top soil of the “P”. Just like we’ve done with the “N”, the “K” and dozens of other essential and trace elements, minerals and vitamins. So perhaps the small “Marjory-type” homesteads can stave off this Phosphorus problem by simply recycling poo & pee. I guess my concerns lie with corporate agriculture and mass production; something I don’t think the Billions of people on this earth will ever get away from.

  • “… We peaked on just about every food-related product considered critical to human survival, except farm-raised fish, in or before 2010. Thank goodness for carp, catfish, and tilapia! If you don’t like those, you might want to start working on some new recipes and get used to them….” [2nd paragraph]

    I know what you were trying to get at, back in 2015, with this “farm-raised fish” concept, Marjory, but since then we’ve discovered that most of these fish are as bad if not worse than the factory raised chickens. Feeding these fish GMO corn and antibiotics is no better than feeding GMO corn, antibiotics, and growth hormones to cows, pigs or chickens. In fact, now they’re genetically modifying the actual farm-fish to grow twice as fast. I’m still a huge fan of aquaponics, but if anyone can screw it up, American Corporate Agriculture will.

    I think a better course of action would be “Peak Rabbits”. Not that I think there is any statistical evidence indicating any mathematical peak or maximum production exists for Rabbits. Which is exactly why I think this very fast growing, fast reproducing, low-fat, weed-eater bunny could address this “world population ticking time-bomb”.

    Marjory, I’d love to see you breakdown Cuniculture the same way you did in “Raising Meat Chickens” and maybe produce a streaming video for 72 hours of “Raising Meat Rabbits” . . . wishful thinking? Maybe even a cost comparison between the two? Cost of food/pound of meat for each? Square footage required, manure management, hides vs feathers, eggs vs none, LORES for both . . . etc.

  • Patrick

    I liked the discussion on crop varieties and home gardening but the premise of the article is wrong. The myth of overpopulation and peak food is an old one. Yes, resources are generally finite, but let’s look at oil as an example. “Experts” thought the world would run out of oil, but guess what? We devised fracking and are now producing so much oil, that the price of a barrel of oil has been well below $100 for so long now and not to mention that they keep finding other deposits of oil. The article gave Venezuela as an example, but Venezuela’s problem isn’t population. It’s their crappy economy because of their crappy socialist government and policies. Africa, for example, has millions of square miles of land fit for cultivation but the problem there is, again, dictatorial governments and lack of economic opportunity. There are hardly any property rights in African countries so people don’t have a chance to own a piece of land and till it or any incentive to improve the land they are on because they don’t own it. As for the tortilla prices skyrocketing in Mexico, that was because of the short-sighted environmental nuts demanding we add more ethanol to our gasoline and create more flex-fuel cars. Well, corn crops were diverted to producing ethanol then so global corn prices skyrocketed. Agricultural technology continues to allow us to do more with less. Also, there is no shortage of land. When I last drove through central California for example, I saw so many farms with “for sale” signs. The environmentalists have just made farming not profitable. They restricted water usage for farmers and make it difficult for desalination plants to be built. The last was that was finally built in CA took something like 20 years to get through all the permitting. So with water being so expensive, that cost gets added to the price of food hitting poor people the hardest.

  • Jeff

    Patrick, we agree on much, but perhaps not all.

    The premise of the article is a bit of a stretch: “Peak Chicken … Peak Food” ? I didn’t totally understand the concept of “Peak Food”, but Marjory doesn’t make stuff up for fun. She repeatedly referenced a study done by ‘Ecology and Society” so – hoping to obtain a better understanding of this “Peak Food” concept – I checked it out. They’ve done a lot of research and attempted to draw a lot of logical, albeit, anecdotal conclusions. There are a lot of variables involved in their theory — it’s not as simple as the more straight forward, single resource discussion of “Peak Oil” or “Peak Phosphate”.

    I think perhaps a discussion of TRENDS would be more appropriate and tangible than the vague reference to Peak Resources. For example, Patrick, you used the example that “Experts thought the world would run out of oil …” That’s neither true nor the definition of Peak Oil. The concept of “Peak” refers to a variety of measures that demonstrate the severity of a particular shortage.

    For example, at some point it may become to expensive to extract those last drops of oil. They are still underground but perhaps other forms of energy are more economically viable than the elaborate techniques for oil extraction. A real example of this is Peak Gold. Even though the cost of gold per ounce has reached relative record highs, many gold mines had to close down. Not because they ran out of gold, but because they ran out of economically extractable gold. I would suggest the same may be true for Phosphate. As you say, it may exist in trace amounts in nearly every rock on this planet — but, by the time you collect all these rocks, transport them, break them down and extract the Phosphate – the cost of fertilizer would become prohibitive.

    Peak Gold and Peak Phosphate are easy to explain (albeit hard to resolve). Peak Population is much more difficult to define. You mentioned Venezuela – I agree there are extenuating circumstances but you can’t deny that the problem isn’t exacerbated by their over-population situation. I’d also like to reference Syria. Much like Venezuela, they have a really shitty government that can account for a lot of their problems. But if you’ve ever walked the streets of Aleppo, you’d know that hour by hour struggles revolve around where the next loaf of bread is coming from. They have a severe food shortage, and a equally problematic population problem. Another example might be Puerto Rico: a better form of government but a population that was recently devastated by hurricanes. Their problems would be far less severe if they only had half the population. This is true for every natural disaster that occurs anywhere in the world: the more people we pack into an area, the more deaths and injuries are going to occur, the more buildings will be destroyed, the more homeless that will have to housed and/or hospitalized. Does this equate to Peak Population? Maybe not, but at what point do we draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough – this old planet earth (and the other animals that inhabit her) just can’t endure any more humans? I think one of my greatest concerns is the increasing threat of another deadly virus or plague. They’ve occurred in the past, and they’ll occur again. But next time, because of the world’s dense population and advanced transportation, our species may not survive. Would you consider THAT Peak Population? Too bad it will be too late !

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