Of pigs, peasants and pastoralists

I’ve been meaning to write a simple little blog post about the pigs I’ve been raising on my holding this year. But here at Small Farm Future we like to go for big picture analysis, and somehow the post has turned into a redesign for British agriculture in its entirety. Ah well, at least it enables me to riff on various hot topics recently featured on this blog: rewilding – particularly in the context of Miles King’s fascinating vision of nature-friendly arable farming; the affinities and tensions between livestock and arable, which in these modern consumerist times often figures as a vegans versus omnivores debate, but in the alternative farming world can also hinge on arguments about the respective ecological credentials of meat versus plant production, and more broadly in the longstanding historical tension between agrarians and pastoralists; the issue of whether organic farming can feed the world; and, lastly, the war cry of the latter-day agricultural improvers that we need to get people out of small-scale farming and increase the productivity of the land without increasing total land take.0 2015 09 21 Pigs in clover 2

But let’s start with my pigs. I have two weaners which I’ve been attempting to feed as much as possible from my on-farm resources, minimising the amount of grain or soy-based concentrate I buy in (no offence intended to any grain or soy-oriented readers…) It’s been going OK. The pigs are living in about an acre of mixed young woodland plantation, which includes an area of pasture and fodder crop. The fodder crops are alfalfa for protein (reasonably successful) and fodder rape (not so successful). The pigs have also been getting crab apples, some nuts, and a lot of vegetable waste from the market garden, including our reject potatoes. So far I’ve had them four months and got through just over one 25kg bag of concentrate. I’ll probably need to buy in a bit more before they’re finished, but I did get them relatively late in the year (July). I suspect the main limiting factor if I run this as a long-term project is going to be their soil-disturbing activities, which are quite profound even at a stocking density of 2 pigs/acre. A topic for further reflection and discussion…

Projects like this make me think about land use. What kind of land take is associated with these pigs? What else could or should I be doing with it instead? And if I were to generalise from what I’m doing, what would be the wider social and environmental implications? So in the light of the interim lessons from my pig project let me temporarily appoint myself God and redesign British agriculture as I see fit. I’m going to do it using the following self-imposed guidelines:

  • My agricultural output will be mixed
  • My British farmscape will need to furnish the entire calorific needs of the country’s population. It’s not that calories are the only important nutritional metric, but there’s no avoiding the fact that any plausible farm system has to meet its population’s energetic requirements, and this is among the more demanding tasks asked of it. I conjecture that in my mixed farming system, if I can take care of the calories most of the other nutritional needs can take care of themselves
  • Fertility will be organic, and largely self-generated on the farm
  • Farming will be small-scale and labour-intensive for a variety of reasons that I won’t dwell on here but have done in past posts and will do in future ones. You know it makes sense!
  • Livestock will be default, ie. they will complement the production of human food and not directly compete with it. In that sense, my pig project is much closer to default than grain/soy fed pigs, but it’s not quite default because of the fodder crops and the small amount of bought in concentrate
  • Trees on farms are good – for biodiversity, for the soil, for wildness, maybe even for timber. But people need to eat too

Let’s start by looking at existing UK agricultural land use, as reported in DEFRA’s Agriculture in the UK. Figure 1 gives you the lowdown.

Fig 1

Fig 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now let’s look in Figure 2 at what we’ve got in that cropped area.

Fig 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hmmm, this isn’t good. Not good at all. Happily, having arrogated temporary omnipotence to myself, I can soon put things right.

First of all, I have to profess my sympathies with Robert C, the upland sheep farmer who commented on my recent post about rewilding. His family have been farming sheep since the sixteenth century and they’re not going to be pushed around by Johnny-come-lately urban re-wilders. Plus, upland shepherding drives the whole of British sheep farming. Fair play, sir – to you and your kind, I allocate all of the sole right rough grazing for sheep farming. But I’m also sympathetic to the re-wilders – George Monbiot’s laments for the sheepwrecked uplands touch my soul. So I’m going to allocate half of the common rough grazing to the re-wilders, taking it out of agricultural production and getting some trees on it, while retaining the other half for sheep farming. Then I shall watch what unfolds from my lofty perch in the heavens before issuing my final judgment. May the best man win!

Now then, heaven forbid that I should invite the ridicule of the ag improvers by taking any more cropland, so I’m going to fix the cropland essentially at its current level of 4.7m ha. I am, however, going to add in the temporary grass, which is surely just cropland that’s lazing about and not reporting for work…and there’s no place for malingering of that sort in George Osborne’s Britain. I’m also going to add in the outdoor pig land. I don’t care if they’re outdoors – it if ain’t default, I’m calling a halt. So let’s do something more useful with that.

We’ll need to come back to the crop mix, but first we need to do a little more tidying around the edges of the cropland. As I mentioned, trees are good, so let’s arbitrarily (arbortrarily?) treble the amount of farm woodland (we can put a few pigs in it). We’ll do it by including the re-wilded commons in our woodland portion and then pinching just under a million hectares of the permanent grass. Hell, those aristocrats and horsey folk won’t even notice they’ve lost a smidgeon of their copious estate. We’ll also forest up the ‘all other’ land. I wasted too much of my youth as a data analyst pussy-footing around with residual categories. To any parcels of land that won’t clearly state their intentions I say this: I have a tree-planting auger, and I know how to use it…

So now let’s get back to the cropland. Dear oh dear. My fellow Brits – didn’t our parents tell us to eat our greens? Right, well we’re farming organically so let’s put a quarter down to legume-rich grass leys. Then we’ll have a quarter down to wheat, a quarter to potatoes and a quarter to vegetables. Oilseeds? No, sir. But I suppose we do need some oil or fat. Well, let’s have some dairy cows then. They can graze the permanent pasture and the leys. No concentrates, though.

That brings us to livestock. We’ve got a few sheep in the uplands and some dairy cows down on the farm. And we can eat the calves, of course. Apart from that, it’s tricky. How many default pigs can we have? Not many. Let’s say we can produce one default pig carcase per two hectares of farm woodland per year. And how many default hens? Depends on the farm size, of course. Let’s look at that next.

I’m figuring on about 10% of the working age population working as farmers – something I looked at previously. Maybe that sounds high. I think it’s probably a sensible, sustainable figure, and it may not be too far off the actual number toiling to fill the British plate when you count in all the people around the world to whom we’ve outsourced the most labour-intensive food production jobs. So that would be about 3.9 million farmers. Let’s say most of them live and work as couples. Then the average holding size would be about 6.7 hectares – not too dissimilar to my own humble plot, in fact. Assuming that these lowland farms have to do the bulk of the work in feeding the nation, each 6.7 hectare parcel would be charged with the nutritional welfare of about 33 people. And, coming back to the hens, how many default hens could we have on our 6.7ha? I don’t think too many. A bit of food waste, a bit of gleaning, a bit of grass and some insects from the field – shall we say six dual purpose birds to give us eggs and chicken pie? And let’s have some bees. Easy now with the honey. Default bees need it more than we do. But perhaps they’ll allow us to skim off 10kg a year.

I haven’t said anything about fruit and nut trees. Tough, I’m a veg grower. La Brassicata and I are going to be pretty darned busy growing your spuds and milking the cow, so if you want fruit and nuts as well you better come down to the farm and lend a hand. Actually, in this climate I think nuts are probably better thought of as an occasional gift of wild nature rather than a farm crop. And fruit production is quite specialist. But I imagine we can fit in a bit of top and soft fruit in our spare time – let’s say 200kg of apples and 50kg of raspberries.

Right, well there we have it. Agri-redux, courtesy of Spudman. Let me now plug in some figures to see what we can produce. Full details are on this spreadsheet and it’s a real back of an envelope job so I’d welcome any comments, especially if you want to challenge the plausibility of my yield figures or stocking densities. Absence of howling errors not guaranteed. Probably the key assumptions are a wheat yield of 4.3 tha-1, a potato yield of 20 tha-1, a grass-fed house cow producing 3000 litres of milk a year, dual purpose hens laying 200 eggs a year, and upland sheep farming producing 3 lamb carcases per hectare (an overestimate?) Most of those yield figures are quite low – lower than current yields from organic farming. But my suspicion is that there’s quite a surfeit of manure and other implicit energy subsidies in the organic farming of today stemming from our overdriven nitrogen and carbon cycles, our food imports and so on. I know on the basis of my experience that the figures I’m using should be achievable long-term with mostly on farm nutrient cycling, so they feel more properly sustainable or ‘agroecological’ to me. In any case, this way the result ought to give a minimal, baseline figure.

Assuming an energy requirement of 2,300 calories (9.6 MJ) per person per day, my figures turn out a national energy requirement of 2.25 x 1011 MJ and a total farm productivity of 2.58 x 1011 MJ – a ratio of 1.15 the latter over the former. So, my conclusion is that yes we can produce a decent, mixed and calorifically adequate diet for the UK population organically from its existing farmland. But only if we keep livestock numbers rigorously controlled and meat consumption low, and resign ourselves to getting most of our food energy from wheat and potatoes (see Fig 3) – which may not suit some folks. I’m sympathetic to the idea that we should diversify our diet away from simple carbohydrates. But I’m also sympathetic to the ideas that we should farm organically, with minimum tillage, on mixed farms and that we have to feed the population. So something has to give. I’d be interested to hear what other people’s priorities might be. As it stands, I’m projecting about 6-7kg meat per person per year from my system, something like a tenfold drop from current EU levels of consumption. And about 90 litres of milk (or 6-7kg of butter). By God, this is tight. Still, we can always go visit the candyman for a sprinkle of his magic Haber-Bosch dust. And, by my figures, there’s scope for trimming back the potato/wheat area a little. Or we could try to increase the margin in other ways – more labour input for diverse perennial cropping, a bit more farm specialisation (but not too much, we’ve fallen into that trap before…), urban farming with poultry and pigs as waste cyclers. And we do have to bear in mind that this is probably a minimum yield figure that we’re working with.

Fig 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now then, if we did away with the cropped area and grew grass instead we could put an end to all that damaging tillage farming. We could replace it with the most productive form of livestock farming – dairying – and bring in another house cow and calf, while keeping the other livestock, the fruit trees etc. But if we did that, we’d only be able to produce about 15% of the national population’s energy needs. That’s an interesting figure in relation to the old ecological rule of thumb that each step up in trophic level loses about 90% of the productivity of the previous level, which seems to be roughly borne out here.

There’s quite a move in alternative farming circles these days to talk up livestock farming – particularly in relation to extensive raising of ruminants for meat. Great claims are made for traditional range management, desert reclamation through grazing, carbon sequestration in grassland soils, grass-fed cattle, mob stocking and the like. I’m sceptical about some of them, though I find them plausible enough in the main. But I don’t find them plausible as a method of feeding humanity. They’ll feed small numbers of poor rangeland pastoralists and small numbers of rich grass-fed meat enthusiasts, but extensive pastoralism is no more viable as a plan for feeding contemporary humanity than hunting or foraging. That’s not intended as a criticism of people farming livestock agroecologically. If I took on a farm in present economic and ecological circumstances that’s what I’d probably do. And it makes sense to fit extensive livestock husbandry in where possible around more intensive provisioning strategies. But – as with Britain’s upland sheep – its role will be minor.

I think what this analysis shows is that, unlike extensive pastoralism, intensive, ‘organic’/ agroecological, local ‘peasant’ farming is feasible for national self-provisioning.  It may seem impossibly distant from how we farm now, but it’s not impossible as a provisioning strategy. And how we farm now may seem impossible in the not too distant future. So my punt is that the livestock of choice in the future will be the usual peasant menagerie: the house cow, the pig and the chicken, and not the pastoralist option of the ruminant herd. Though to make up the shortfall in the meat ration, insect and mollusc farming may have an emerging role too.

When I write posts like this, somebody usually says “yes, but what about the energy requirements?” and then bangs on about the land-take of horses or oxen. But most of the energy requirements in the food system relate to fertiliser synthesis and farm-to-consumer costs. Here, I’ve eliminated the former and the latter isn’t my problem. Hey, I’m growing your food for you, you expect me to worry about how you’re going to get hold of it too? You shouldn’t have bought that fancy townhouse! The world according to Spudman is a world of producer sovereignty, re-ruralisation and localisation. So if you want to live in the city, you’re gonna have to pay for the privilege. And if you want to call my vision ‘feudal’, it means you don’t know what ‘feudal’ means and, even more inexcusably, you haven’t yet read the essay I’m going to be posting up on here in a few weeks’ time about all that sort of thing. There, I think I got my retaliation in first.

OK, OK, so farm energy may still be a problem. But if so, it’s a hell of smaller problem with 4 million working the land than with 400,000 – and not just because of the direct substitution of human for fuel energy, but also because of the different kind of farming strategies involved. Give me 30 litres of petroleum a year for my on-farm use and I’ll cope OK. If, as Andy McGuire said here, our societies prioritised fuel use sensibly they’d make it (sparingly) available to farmers in preference to many other more frivolous uses and we could use if for centuries without facing such acute energy uncertainties as we presently do. But if I can’t have my 30 litres then I’ll plant 30 pine trees and make the damn stuff myself, or – as David suggested here – grow another biofuel crop, by trimming back the woodland or the meat. Really, when it comes to unsustainable energy use, farm traction comes low on the list. Meat comes in higher, but if you and my other 31 customers are really, really nice to me, I may just put a little chicken and bacon by for you for Christmas. Don’t eat it all at once!

Gosh, I’m feeling dizzy…I think I’m falling…what’s that I see? It’s a field…a field of…no, it can’t be…aargh!…oilseed rape. And where has all my woodland gone? Crash! Dammit, I think my omnipotent powers have deserted me and I’m back to the bare earth of the arable cereal fields with a bump. Sigh. Well, I’ll just have to work out how to deliver on that vision by normal, human means. Any suggestions gratefully received below…

54 thoughts on “Of pigs, peasants and pastoralists

  1. Very nice, Chris.

    I would have expected more animals to provide more manure. I guess I don’t know much about how manure was used in past sustainable farming systems.

    My personal fantasy tends towards pigs wandering in a hazelnut orchard, and fields of turnips for them to root up. But that is, as you say, a modern fantasy to suit the banks and the luxury consumers.

    Only gently off-topic. Do you raise chickens on what I think you are calling default feed, that is, with little or no sacks of feed? Do you use winter lighting to maintain winter egg-laying?

    I am interested in chickens for urban food waste management, but most of the information is industrial, scaled down to the backyard. So, lights and scratch are assumed.

    My French-cuisine-trained wife will be distressed our family butter portion will be cut to only 40 lbs./year, but we will have lots of good lard under your system.

    • Well, you need the grazing for the manure and the land areas are pretty tight. Populations were a lot lower in the past! So the (grazed) ley is key. But my yield figures are low so perhaps there’s a margin to play with.

      I’ve never raised purely default chickens – I stopped selling eggs commercially because of the bought in feed. And I’ve never used artificial lighting – more out of logistics than principles, though I’ve found they lay OK in the winter without it. I haven’t got any chickens at the moment, but I’m hoping to start up with a few again on a default-ish basis. Though the pigs, sheep and veg keep me busy enough…

      • I wonder if suntubes in chickencoops would help? Or putting them in the greenhouse in the winter?

        Why no oil seeds off the bat?

        “So if you want to live in the city, you’re gonna have to pay for the privilege.”

        Ha! That’s the best quote in the whole post. 🙂 Goes well together with JM Greer’s contention that people should be able to choose how much they want to pay for their infrastructure, and stop expecting to plunder the hinterlands to support their urban habit.

        • Yes, well said JMG.

          Oilseeds? Well, all that yellow annoys me, and I’m playing God, remember? Plus, nobody here grows it organically because of weed and pest problems. But if you twist my arm maybe we could grow a little – hey, we could feed the press cake to the pigs!

          • Sunflowers are wonderful. Pretty and hardy. Are there any that thrive in wetter climates? The Land Institute is working on a line of perennials. I would love to have diesel equipment run of veg oil.

            Would chickens benefit from more intense sunlight in the winter, rather than longer hours?

  2. Field peas? [I know, you anticipated another ‘soy-is-the-answer’ rant from me… so a curve ball to keep you focused :)]

    Field peas are legumes to help with the N equation, the grain quite edible and nutritious (though still not the protein powerhouse of another legume we shall merely hint about). The pea fodder not consumed by us is very hungrily consumed by your porcine pen poopers. And let us not overlook the value of rotation from wheat and potato…

    May I wonder aloud how ‘God’ has seen fit to provision the British Isles with default foods of other-Earthly origins? Wheat and potatoes both are immigrants to the fair island and if default is a goal, how does one justify their use? And as I feel duty bound to offer a bit of plant breeding history (sorry, my self control has slipped) it might be suggested that even as the potato and wheat(s) are not native the varieties now in employ by British agriculture are significantly different from their ancestors (indeed they would not fair well if they were to go ‘home’). My point is not to toss pig poop on your plan but to opine that there might be other opportunities to gain your dream and be a smidge more generous with the meat/fat portion of the diet.

    May I apologize in advance, but I have to bring up the humble soybean after all. At this moment there are few if any soybean cultivars amenable to fair cultivation on your island. This may change and the timetable for such a shift could be as short as a decade (less if some assumptions are played). Of course such a development will raise all the complaints and contrarian outbursts that we poor soy workers have become accustomed to. Oh well I say. Let them stick to their bangers and mash. If two non-leguminous main crops are sufficient for them, then I should turn my attention to assisting other peasants.

    Peas today and soy tomorrow. Wasn’t it a fellow Brit who suggested we give peas a chance?

    • Clem, the ‘default’ idea isn’t referring to indigenous origin – in that scenario we really would be up a gum tree, or in fact more likely a penduculate oak. The point is not to devote cropland to growing animal feed when it could be growing human feed at a much more efficient land to nutrition ratio. So the animals have to fit around the cropland, eating waste or grazing in pastures and woodlands that can’t be cultivated. The objection to soy or field peas is just that they’d need to go in the cropland – if they were being consumed directly by humans, then they could get the nod from God. So over to you and the soy breeders… Meantime, I have no desire to upset you or other leguminous folk, and I do have a bit of a margin to play with in my figures above, so yes let’s put some field peas in the crop rotation. I’ll recalculate the figures some time on that basis. Truce?

      • Truce? Why of course. My quibbling must be getting too offensive. Apologies.

        But peas ARE directly consumed by humans. And soy is consumed by humans already. One may be forgiven assuming soy an animal feed alone given the ratio of current production allocated to that use… but it is historically a human food in its center of origin. Soy has been prepared for human meals for over 3000 years. There are few sources of plant protein to rival the humble soy. Soy oil gets more attention in western diets, but this only for want of more western realization of the protein possibilities… and vegetarian appetites are much farther along in appreciating this. There still remain the odd naysayers – those with some minor complaints which do hold smallish nuggets of truth (raw soybean does contain a couple of anti-nutritional elements… easily ridden by cooking). There is an allergen in soy that a small piece of the population does well to avoid. And there is some reasonable evidence that if one consumes nothing but soy there can be undesirable consequences… and far be it from me to advocate such a diet. [and it is also worth mention that the antinutritional proteins can be bred out as can the chief allergen… though at the moment it seems food processing is a more economical approach to a remedy]

        So field peas as well as garden peas (fresh peas of bangers and mash fame) are already available for a British diet. Some soymilk, tofu, natto, edamame, and soy sauce could be tacked on to the menu by the culinarily curious. But right now you might find soy protein already incorporated in lots of manufactured foods like sports bars where protein content is necessary (also vegan and vegetarian foods as suggested above).

        Dry beans should also be proffered in this discussion of human foods of legume origin. I don’t have any idea whether dry beans can be grown in your climate (speaking of navy bean, kidney bean, that sort). The dry beans, peas, and soy are easily stored – on par with the ease of storage of cereals and easier than potato storage.

        To review then, N fixation by pasture legumes is useful, but their human consumption is very problematic – most easily achieved through livestock… which you’ve rightfully suggested is less efficient. N fixation by a large seeded legume of use in direct human consumption is both: useful as a benefit in soil conditioning and a stable, storable protein and oil source for human food. And I should also note that legume flowers offer more habitat for bees than wheat does (perhaps even more than potato… though I am not positive on this point).

        Dear me, it appears I’ve completely forgotten to mention lentils and lupines. So here… add lentils and lupines as legume grains with merit for the dietary future of an agriculturally self sufficient England. Perhaps Haber-Bosch is less important in that future than already presumed.

  3. On a different angle – aquaculture. If you built a pond, would there be any recourse to raising fish therein? Aquaculture is becoming an enormous source of animal protein on the global horizon. Yes, one still has the issue of going further up the chain and thus having less efficient resource use. BUT, fish offer biodiversity in the diet, ponds serve other purposes on a mixed use farm, and if stocking density is considered, a deep pond can lay waste to the stocking density of a pasture which is ostensibly a mere two dimensional feeding station [until pigs can fly].

    This is where I’d ordinarily throw in that some species of aquacultured fish can be fed a diet containing soy, but perhaps that thought could be tabled until the soy radar detector stops sounding off.

    Anyway, if you do ever find yourself playing God for provisioning all of Great Britain and as a result consider you might want to appoint an angel to oversee legumes for human consumption, keep me in mind. 🙂

    • Yes indeed, soy or other legumes for human consumption, no problem. The way I set up the cropland was pretty much a 4-way split or rotation between ley – potatoes – wheat – vegetables. The vegetable portion would include some legumes. But if you want to argue the case for a 5-way split with legumes getting their own show, then I’m willing to consider your earthly supplications.

      Aquaculture is an interesting suggestion, which I hadn’t really thought about. There used to be a lot of fishponds in the English farmed landscape, but with the preference for salmonids over bony veg-munching fish these days, that’s gone by the wayside. But there’s definitely a revival of interest (indeed somebody was negotiating with us over an aquaculture project on our site a while back – didn’t come to anything though). I think we may need to import some extra labour to focus on that side of things if we went down that route, but it probably wouldn’t be too difficult. There’s something about aquaculture (and also mushroom cultivation) that seems to capture the imagination of modern city-slickers in a way that spud culture just doesn’t.

      • Hat tip to his omnipotent ubiquitousness from a land of Poles :-).
        My childhood reminiscences of PL-village lifestyle tell me being food sustainable for a single homesteading was nowhere close to possible (regardless the almost free fertilizers, energy, fuel) mainly due to a lack of human workforce (although PL had unsustainable population growth then) and required high specialization in food production and bartering.(communist conditions under which currency one possessed was of not much of importance)
        Are U able to estimate how much time the application of permaculture practices would free in the-otherwise-time/labor-intensive peasant lifestyle?
        What I can recall are merry-go-round days of heavy labor from the pale dawn till dusk. Not much of a pleasure I must say. Fortunately as a kid I was assigned to less heavy tasks hence still being able to make use of then acquired skills of making sauerkraut, smoked sausages, and (a bit later on) producing quality moonshine :-).

        I’d like to ask how much energy (& from which resource) has He-Whose-Name-Is-Ineffable – foreseen for heating our peasant homes?

        Are we in- or off-grid peasants?

        As to aquaculture I was told the nation of Brits had adopted a wasteful habit of fishing for pleasure and the logical act of taking the caught fish home makes ppl look at the fisher with askance.
        Gosh! My Lord! 😉

        • Thanks for commenting, Jura.

          Yes, freshwater fishing in Britain is a strange business indeed, but perhaps a portent of things to come elsewhere.

          On heating energy, no I didn’t look at that. A challenge undoubtedly, but no more so in this relocalised farming vision than in a ‘business as usual’ scenario. Well, perhaps just a little more challenging to heat detached rural homes. The government says it wants to build a million more houses by 2020, which presumably will mostly be gas heated, albeit well insulated. So here’s a plan – why not build them all on farmland and slap an agricultural tie on them? If they’re well insulated they won’t need much more than a small patch of willow & a masonry stove to heat them, if that. Job done.

          On labour inputs, well I’d be interested to hear more about your experiences – your dawn to dusk farm, was it producing just for itself or for commercial sales, what were its main labour-absorbing activities, what kind of financial demands did it have to service, what was its level of mechanisation? Generally, I don’t think it’s as hard as people often assume to self-provide, and the labour shortage often arises in relation to external financial pressures. Still, I agree that labour would be a key limiting factor in the scenario outlined above. I think the house cow plus vegetable garden would together amount to quite a time drain – it’d be interesting here to think about ways of collaborating/commoning with the grazing and milking, possibly using high-ish tech milking inputs.

          • Houses built to PassivHaus (http://www.passivhaus.org.uk/standard.jsp?id=122, http://www.passiv.de/en/02_informations/02_passive-house-requirements/02_passive-house-requirements.htm) standards in rural Austria are getting away with space heating from systems of a few kWth. This is a problem for the village District Heating System operators as these well insulated houses are not worth connecting to the thermal energy grid due to the cost of connection vs the low energy sales.

            I’ve visited a PassivHaus school in regional Austria that was built mainly from wood with sheep wool and cellulose insulation. The wood was grown within 150km of the school. The school was heated with a woody biomass heater that could use local forestry and timber processing wastes.

            As I say in this blog post: http://pragmaticsustainability.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/taking-home-building-community-region.html, reducing the energy required makes it much easier to deploy renewable energy systems.

          • As to the activities:
            as the “polish shed” was the most lax of the communist block with regards to private property so we still had some of it. For example a farmer was obliged to work in a collective, state-controlled farm for ~8 hours a day. but still had to find time to take care of his own property. ( it used to be a common practice to plow your own field during working hours) )
            As I mentioned I only had a bleak reminiscences of the times as in early 80’s I was a kid and only visiting my family who lived in a village so i was not privy to join men in their activities. My visit mostly happened during summer holidays (but not only). What I can say for sure:
            Garden jobs and daily cooking was at the feminine side of the job division. Animal milking as well (but yet sausages, fish smoking was a men privilege). Men were supposed to be a bread-winners (ie source of currency) and of taking care of family’s fields but most importantly bartering & maintaining proper “guanxi” with others ( in order to gain access to a limited and otherways inaccessible item)
            (bear in mind it were times when it a house was inhabited by multi generation families)
            I can remember at the beginning they used bulls to plow their fields then the tractor entered the scene and became a highest accolade a farmer could receive (ie receive a coupon allowing to buy it). When the season of potato digging out came I can remember it was almost obligatory to come. & the whole country spread family appeared as one in order to give a hand. Early autumn was the time of preserves. (non of the westerners could even imagine how precious a mere twist-off jar was).
            I believe If I had paid a visit to such governed farm nowadays I would find lots of activities to be streamlined. Just wonder how much time I’d save.

            As to heating & energy saving I ‘m rather taking the stance of JMG and do not believe there will be enough means to maintain the gas network in farmer areas. But I agree that a strawbale house with a rocket stove and solar (and water accumulator) would get you through the soft version of winter a very few of calories.

            My and my wife live in a town of 200 000 inhabitants but have a allotment/parcel garden of 400 square meters (no animals allowed) And we carefully planed it with the aim of maximising the amount of organicaly harvested crop. Although We spend there almost whole dayswe can hardly garner 1/4 of fruits and vegetables needed.
            Well .. I’m still working on increasing the output but it takes enormous amount of time (just constructing a “composting hacienda” in Joe Jenkins style and the raised beds took us a year).

        • Thanks for that further info, Jura. Very interesting. Maybe I could come back to you at some point in the future to find out more about your experiences?

          • Chris: Anytime.
            I used to spend a lot of time hitching around my country and managed to make pretty many observations.

      • An entrepreneurial friend of mine was interested in setting up an aquaculture business. We visited an intensive acquaculture business in NSW. Effectively intensive farming for fish. Very much high input with respect to energy and feed. And constant monitoring to detect disease outbreaks in the crowded conditions and ensuring the fish in each tank were the same size to prevent cannibalism.

        A lower input approach by stocking an outdoor freshwater dam with suitable fish/crustacean species that can thrive with little management is appealing. We have some small dams on our block that could potentially be stocked. The creek has freshwater crays, probably eels, possibly some native fish species and allegedly trout so we could get some non-commercial catch.

        One problem with farm dams in Oz is the enthusiastic participation of birds like herons. White faced herons frequent our block. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-faced_heron.) Birds like herons will happily eat the lot unless the fish have good hiding spots. That pesky rewilding again 🙂

        My understanding is that in pre-industrial farming environments in the UK and Europe pretty much everything could end up in the cookpot. This would tend to limit consumption by wild animals. But there were elaborate regulations covering who could eat what game and when. Transgressions could see harsh punishment. Family tradition has it that one of my great-uncles was a very competent poacher with a hand catapult. He used catapults for hunting as they were quiet so didn’t attract the attention of gamekeepers and could be quickly hidden. If he’d been caught he might have lost his right to live in one of the estate’s houses.

        • The WIKI article says the white faced herons are protected in Australia. Bummer. If they weren’t one could harvest a few of them to salvage some of the loss of fish.

          We have Great Blue Herons here… with the same result – they will work a pond. I don’t see that many herons (and they are spectacular critters). The few aquaculturists I know with open ponds suggest a dog is sufficient to keep predation levels down.

  4. Hi Chris, Happy 50th Birthday!
    Excellent analysis but it would be even better with a more detailed nutritional target. Rather than assuming that ” if I can take care of the calories most of the other nutritional needs can take care of themselves” why not try to provide an optimal human diet. A good macronutrient split might look like this – 20% carbohydrates, 65% fat and 15% protein by caloric intake ( http://paleoleap.com/question-of-macronutrient-ratios/ ). I suspect that this would be more challenging and to make matters worse we can’t produce good plant based fats in the UK so had better get most of it from animals. Some of which could be wild fish. The UK’s fish hunters caught 650,000 tonnes from the sea in 2013. Probably no need for farmers to get involved with fish farming. Hazel nuts may also make contribution – they do grow quite well in this country. Although the fat isn’t as good as animal fat when fed on a more natural diet than grains and soy.
    Could I also politely decline Clem’s offer of breeding soy for us. We already have a range of peas, broad beans and climbing beans varieties that yield really well over here. I expect we will be getting most of our protein from the meat, fish and dairy anyway.

    • Hi Paul, nice to see you here again – even if you are sharing embarrassing personal information about me with the world! (Thanks, by the way). You’re right to question my assumption that the other nutritional needs will take care of themselves, which clearly they won’t on the basis of my figures and your figures. I think I allowed that sentence to creep into the final version of this post without the necessary revision. Marine meat is definitely an omission on my part but I’m not sure how sustainable the existing sea fishery is. I’ll have to look into it when I revise all these calculations. Mussel and insect farming as I mentioned previously may help some. Hazels too, and more beans in the rotation as per Clem’s comment. Still, I’m not convinced that your macronutrient split will be so easily achievable with organic and low tillage methods, which leads to some interesting dilemmas on what to prioritise. I’ll try to re-run the calculations at some point with protein and fat included and see what it turns out. Thanks for prompting me in this direction (I thought you probably would…)

    • Hi Paul,
      You may well decline any offer from these quarters, but please offer an explanation of how you come to this point.
      The potential introduction of an adapted soy for the English environment is not a given at this point (so far as I can see from this desk) but there is sufficient push in a couple places that I look for it to happen eventually. Of course you would be free to ignore it if it causes you discomfort of some sort.
      Having a suitable range of peas and beans of many types already available is a great comfort. Diversity is very valuable. Is there some point at which more diversity becomes problematic?

      • Hi Clem,
        The easy way for me to answer your question is to state that I believe that soy is an inappropriate component of a diet. BUT I do not wish to engage in an argument about that here because I recognise that this would be unfair to put you through it and you have already made your position clear on that topic. Lets just disagree.
        The difficult way then – diversity. I completely agree with you that nutritional diversity is a good thing. I like to include as many different species as possible in my own diet. More importantly I believe in the cultural diversity of food as well and I mean real regional diversity born of variation in soil, climate and cultural practice. I feel that I live in a country with a weak food culture that needs to be rebuilt. So I’m resistant to globalisation of food. Some time ago you commented on a piece Chris wrote on Dutch dairying – “I may have actually played a small part in pressuring some of the Dutch dairies”. Well I regard that as bad behavior and wish you hadn’t done it. So when I read that there are varieties of soy being developed for our climate I couldn’t help but feel here we go again.

        • Paul:
          Am I reading here that you would deny others the opportunity take advantage of market possibilities because of your personal beliefs?
          You are correct in gaging my counter belief that soy is an excellent and thereby appropriate component of a human diet. And if you want to agree to disagree, that’s easily accomplished. But I do find it odd for you pass judgment on someone else’s behavior when said behavior is legal, responsible, and most arguably it’s only ‘offense’ being it’s confronting your controversial opinion of it.
          I went back to the Dutch dairy post you refer to and find my comments there both accurate and wholly defensible. If you have something more to offer than your personal opinion on the matter please do.
          I think we can agree on your point of building and maintaining food cultures. But in order to have a vibrant and diverse spectrum from which to build and/or remodel such a food culture it would seem to me more choice is an asset. Certainly a new choice can be inadequate, or somehow unacceptable and thereby it should be dismissed. But to prevent even trying… seems a bit overbearing and wrongheaded to me.

          • Clem, it seems that you believe that globalisation has a diversifying effect on food cultures and that I am wrong headed to believe that it has an homogenising effect. Again completely opposing and strongly held opinions don’t make for good discussions. I apologise for bring it up. lets just disagree.
            I have seen food cultures which are dear to my heart, being gradually destroyed by globalisation and formed the opinion that this is wrong. I reserve the right to express that opinion and if I had the power to resist market forces and prevent the introduction of soy in the UK then I would. But we can’t all be Gods like Chris can we?

          • Clem, Do I sense from this that you wouldn’t object to a short exchange regarding one aspect of soy related nutrition? I’m interested where you stand on phytoestrogens? I read the this article http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/ which appears to be very well researched and balanced. I spent my career working in the baby food industry where we employed a great deal of time and money ensuring that estrogen mimicking compounds did not get into the baby food from packaging or agro-chemicals so I admit to possible over sensitivity on the subject. Having said that and referring only to this aspect of soy nutrition I have concluded as follows:-
            1/ In my present state of vigorous middle age a moderate consumption of soy would not be problematic.
            2/ Should I (or more likely my wife) develop any of the conditions for which phyoestogens are helpful then soy would be a good source of them and I’m a fan of food as medicine.
            3/ Should any of my daughters ever get around to producing grand children for me I would advise them not to consume soy during the pregnancy and breast feeding stage nor feed soy formula or baby food to the children ( probably best to avoid endocrine active foods until they are physical mature).
            Am I being wrong headed again?

          • Paul:
            Thanks for the link to Patisaul and Jefferson’s paper. The subject of phytoestrogens is complex and due to their pharmacological properties is not to be taken lightly.

            The 3 items you’ve listed as guidelines are not too controversial from my vantage point. I would caution that if a medical indication for estrogen is prescribed that care be taken relying on food sources entirely. At least in the case of soy and the major isoflavones there are very wide ranges of isoflavone levels – even among lots of the same variety grown in seemingly similar environments.

            I would also agree that artificial formulas for nursing children be avoided in favor of breast feeding. And a mother’s diet during breast feeding is going to matter – though a complete and total avoidance of soy may not be warranted.

            I have only skimmed the Patisaul & Jefferson paper thus far, and most of what I’ve noticed thus far is in line with other research I’m aware of. If you check out the table at the end (that they pulled from USDA tables of isoflavone concentrations in foods) you may notice that processed protein concentrates are particularly high sources while more traditional foods like tofu and soymilk have much lower concentrations of isoflavone.

            I’ll take a closer look at the paper to see if there are results or conclusions there beyond those I’ve seen elsewhere.

            From the perspective of a plant breeder I can offer that isoflavone concentrations of soy can be modulated through selection – though its is very unlikely they could be completely eliminated as they appear to play a role in plant health. Environmental influence (hinted at above) plays an incredible role in final seed concentration of isoflavones and has hindered efforts to deliver a reliable genetic solution.

            From your comment on your career efforts to limit/control estrogenic compounds in baby foods I gather you appreciate the difficulties in merely measuring the chemicals (the wide array of different chems and the rather small concentrations involved).

            If you’d like to explore soy issues further I would suggest we retire to my blog – Gulliver’s Pulse: https://gulliverspulse.wordpress.com

    • “Probably no need for farmers to get involved with fish farming.”

      Fisheries are depleted almost everywhere. In the US, a lot of the fish sold is farmed, like catfish, salmon, and tilapia. I think the old Chinese practice of adding carp to one’s holdings is a good one.

      • I believe fish farming actually contributes to the degradation of the natural fisheries through over fishing to provide food for the farmed fish. Local pollution through disease and waste products as well. I also believe that the nutritional status of farmed fish is significantly inferior to wild fish.
        I agree that small scale fish keeping for personal consumption is a good thing but unlikely to make a a significant contribution at the level of analysis that Chris undertook.

        • Does it? In what way, and does that apply to small operations like were the case in China historically. Bohemia, too, has had carp ponds for centuries now — we Czechs are partial to carp at Christmastime — and I have not heard of problems with it. Carp are bottom feeders and I doubt you have to destroy river fish to feed them? I would appreciate more info. Never looked into it, but I heard in Chinese subsistence farming this was a significant source of protein.

          • My comments were referring to large scale farming and salmonids in particular. I must admit I don’t know much about small scale keeping of fish. If Chris was planning to replace the available sea fish (10kg /per pearson/year) he would need to produce 330kg of farmed fish per year to feed the 33 people. I was imagining that with slow growing fish this would require a very large pond but may be I am wrong. Do you have any figures for this? What would they be fed? Chris already has pigs and a compost pile calling for his waste. I worked in Poland for a short time and remember my colleagues looking forward to carp at Christmas. They told me that in communist times the carp would be kept at home in the bath to make sure that they had one for Christmas and that some people still did it. I wonder if Jura has one already?

  5. What a fascinating number of responses on this piece. I’m enjoying it immensely. I do wonder, Chris, if you may have shortchanged the old pig in your calculations. The great thing about the pig is its ability to fit in just about anywhere and thrive on whatever is left over.
    But most importantly is that we should all join in congratulating you on hitting the half-century mark!
    Cheers,
    Brian

    • Thanks Brian. Yes agreed, very interesting responses both here and at resilience.org. And you’re probably right about pigs. I’ll try to come back to this exercise some time next year with some more sophisticated calculations based among other things on the feedback I’ve got. In the mean time, no more arguing about soy in the ranks there! I’m the one who does the arguing around here, OK…

      And thanks for the birthday wishes. But I’m in denial…

    • On the pig… in my village in Beskydy (northern Moravia), in the old days, great granny’s only job was to wash the dishes after meals. Extended family, many dishes. We did not use soap for dishes, just hot water, in two largish bowls. All washings, fat, etc along with what people left over, went into the pig bucket. Then cooked potatoes were added. Yum! I often stole one a potato piece going in… they were super tasty. This was the slops, I believe, in English. When the fruit trees dropped a lot of overripe fruit, the pig was released to nose around and clean up.

      • @ Vera
        I Live some 60 km from Ostrava. and Beskydy.. eh… Beskydy.
        I wouldn’t be myself now without them. Now their slopes are turned into more and more rape monocultural fields. They are so verdant and the yellow colour fits so much. It looks marvelous but it lacks the buzz, drone sound of a proper meadow.
        Shall U happen to be in the area drop in for a home made beer (or wine)

      • As to pigs.. we have a small cottage in central Poland in a poor, rural area, and when we first came there we saw farmers pigs wandering freehand in a forest.. Later on we realized they can smell chanterelle mushroom and we followed them so that to find the place of their frequent and numerous occurance.
        Lovely and wise animals.
        I do also remember there was a big bucket for all kind of organic scrap and if there was not of it steam cooked potatoes were added to acheive a proper mass.
        I think if pig is present there is no need for compost pile. there will be no any organic matter left.

      • Pigs rock. My sister kept some Wessex Saddlebacks for a while. Did a magnificent job of getting rid of persistent blackberries in a paddock – and all the other vegetation but that’s another story. I remember picking a few bags of apples from roadside trees in the Yarra Valley and feeding them to the pigs. The sheer enthusiasm and speed with which they dealt with those apples … My sister also sourced various food wastes from local agriculture to feed them. But you do need a protein source and a balanced diet with other nutrients or they won’t do well.

        And the taste of the meat! Not the pork-scented cardboard that comes from intensive farming. With some very healthy dollops of tasty body fat – 7cm thick on one we slaughtered – that my sister used to make traditional pork pies, I’ve been using for other cooking and so on.

        And it can be used for soap-making but as Maree is a vegetarian I use vegetable oils to make soap.

        • Right U r.
          We need to drive ~150 km in order to buy a half of the & organicaly fed animal. ask

          as to :”But you do need a protein source and a balanced diet with other nutrients or they won’t do well.”

          As ur sister whether the pigfeed contains nettle.
          It helped so much AFAIR. Cutting nettle for pigs was a penalty taks for kids who misbehaved

          • Jurka, I will be sure to come by when I visit! 🙂 That would be lovely indeed. My folks are from around Valasske Mezirici. Say, did you cut nettles for the chickens for winter feed? We didn’t but I hear some families did. Nettles are high in minerals.

          • @vera
            “Say, did you cut nettles for the chickens for winter feed? We didn’t but I hear some families did. Nettles are high in minerals.”

            As a kid I by alll means tried to avoid the penance of cutting nettles (but for pigs not for chickens AFAIR) by not being caught red handed while misbehaving, but yes I sometimes did.
            I must admit we collect it even today. At first for ourselves & use dried nettle leaves as a tea adjunct. Secondly for preparation of liquid nettle slurry to be used in the garden.
            We also give a hand to a farmer with scytheing nettles a for the pigs we later buy from him.
            Once we took CZ hitchers whom we drove to “republiki Valmezu” :-).
            We are based in G l i w i c e.

        • Agreed that pigs are great. ‘Course, it’s now illegal to feed them food waste here – as fine a piece of anti-peasant legislation as I ever did see. But, food waste or no, they do eat quite a lot, so in a crowded land of smallholdings, organic production and default livestock there’d be a limit to how many could be raised – though possibly not quite as low a limit as I indicated above.

  6. Almost all our food waste feeds our six chickens. As they are modern hybrids, they lay all the year round, although I doubt if its worth trying to eat them.

    When I was in Hungary some years ago I had some of the local fresh water fish – Carp from memory. No ‘fishmeal’ involved. I also remember the lake at Moritzburgh in Saxony, again full of carp that were harvested each winter – the shallows were alive with them

  7. @Paul
    They told me that in communist times the carp would be kept at home in the bath to make sure that they had one for Christmas and that some people still did it.
    The story U were told is sooo damned true.
    Economy of scarcity had a tiny disadvantages :).
    We had to catch it and put into another container in order to have a good plunge.
    The good side of it was that the fishy being wasn’t fed during its “bath tub” time and loosed much of fat & muddy taste.
    (btw I was told the in the pre WW II times the carp was a staple dish for Christmas supper but only amongst the poorest only, those belonging to more well heeled classes tended to dine with a fish of less common occurance (AFAIK pikes))

    I wonder if Jura has one already?

    Ah! Those times of capitalistic economy ;-)!
    All good customs are gone.
    Most ppl do not even have the bath tube installed after having switched to a shower cabins.
    Jura has still got one and will never resign of having it.
    (in case of scarcity is back I still might fit some swimming food reserves in it :-))
    But even he gets his carp from a stall on the 23th of December.
    Although he witnessed HPLC test results of the carp meat clearly revealing high-above-norm level concentration of antibiotics.
    One of a few concessions he made to the times of globalised times of abundance.

    • No, not yet, we would get the carp a few days before Christmas. Letting it swim in the tub was so much fun! But my mother flipped one year when she killed it and it continued to jump all over the kitchen. I handled the killing and gutting after that. Good experience for a kid.

      I just checked into what carp eat. They said they bottom feed on all sort of insect larvae (esp. nonbiting midges) and water snails. Do eat some plants too. They don’t feed on small fish, but will bite a piece of fish on a hook. There must be some stuff that the keepers of the big commercial ponds put in, or have put in historically. I just haven’t found it yet. And I don’t want to know what they feed them these days. Sludge?

      For each family (of the 33) to get 1 carp (about 3 kg) you’d need 110 fish per year. Not so hard if one has a good pond. I have a friend who grows trout in a tiny aerated pond. I think gets about 50 good size trout a year.

      • Once more on carp — some bloke in England is growing them in a defunct trout farm. He says:

        “Unlike trout and salmon, which require processed pellets made from wild fish, carp are virtually self-sufficient. Neither do they need huge quantities of fresh water.

        Apart from a daily helping of homegrown mealworms, they browse the muddy depths where a carefully managed pond ecology nurtured by cow manure provides for all their needs. “Carp are a bit like chickens,” says Hepburn.”

        And apparently some Chinese carp are vegetarian feeding on tiny critters, plants and debris.

  8. Chris,

    While it wont work for everything isn’t there an opening for ‘smallholders’ especially near cities/towns concentrating on market gardening possibly wit a bit of farm work? I am told that 3 acres is as much as you can manage without machinery and on a very small holding it might be possible to get some quite high outputs.

    • Yes, I’d go along with that – market gardening was always a mostly peri-urban pursuit until we sub-contracted it to Spain.

  9. I’ve had a day off with the Lurgi

    Amish farming looks very interesting – it seems as though they make a lot of money by eschewing farm subsidies & machinery………….

    Looks like a fascinating subject for another piece

  10. Pingback: Globalizing home sweet home | Gulliver's Pulse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *