Research and publications

This page lists and where possible links to the main research, publications or datasets in roughly chronological order (latest first) that we’ve produced either on the basis of our work at Vallis Veg or just generally. All publications are authored by Chris Smaje unless otherwise stated.

Book: A Small Farm Future: Making the Case for a Society Built Around Local Economies, Self-Provisioning, Agricultural Diversity and a Shared Earth. (Chelsea Green, 2020).

‘Commons & households in a small farm future’ The Land Magazine 29, 42-49 (2021).

‘Taking time on the farm’ Taking Time (2021).

Underlying data for my blog post: Nitrogen wars 10.04.18

‘The return of the peasant. Or, the history of the world in ten-and-a-half blog posts‘ (Aug 2017)

‘Limits to Logic’ The Land Issue 21 (2017)

‘Feeding Britain after Brexit’ Statistics Views (21.02.17)

‘Modelling the commons’ Statistics Views (18.05.16)

‘Hunting for the exit’ The Land Issue 20 (2016)

‘After Paris’ Dark Mountain (30.12.2015)

‘Growth, climate change and the war of numbers’ Statistics Views (08.12.15)

‘From growth economics to home economics: towards a peasant socialism’ (21.12.2015)

‘Dark thoughts on ecomodernism.’ Published by Dark Mountain, here.

Underlying data for my post ‘Of agricultural efficiency: the Vallis Veg mowing trial‘ available here.

‘The dearth of grass: cereals, civilisation and colonialism’ The Land (2015) Issue 18, pp.34-7. Available here. See discussion here.

‘Perennial cropping’ Permaculture Magazine, No.85. Available here.

‘The strong perennial vision: a critical review’ Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 39, 5: 471-99 (2015).

‘Three stories, many variables: the case of small farm productivity’ Statistics Views 2015.

‘Genetically modified crops: science, sociology and statistics’. Statistics Views 2014.

‘Kings and commoners:  agroecology meets consumer culture’ Journal of Consumer Culture 14, 3: 365-83 (2014).

Farming past, farming future‘ Dark Mountain 6 (2014), pp.65-74.

The permalogues: Chris Smaje of Vallis Veg on food, farming, and the Book of Genesis (Interview, September 2014).

‘Permaculture and the science of hunches’. An article commissioned by, but then not published by, Permaculture Activist Magazine as discussed here: available here.

‘From small seeds’ Red Pepper (Jun/Jul 2014) Issue 196, pp.8-9.

‘Peasants, food sovereignty and the Landworkers’ Alliance’ The Land, Issue 15, Winter 2013/14 pp.29-31.

‘Global hunger: three Christmas ghost stories’ Statistics Views 2013.

‘Social statistics, counterfactuals and the green revolution’ Statistics Views 2013.

‘The great quinoa debate’ Statistics Views 2013.

‘Can organic farming feed the world’ Statistics Views 2013.

review of R. Ford Denison’s book Darwinian Agriculture in Permaculture Magazine.

The Vallis Veg Small Scale Horticultural Trial Proposal is a grand-sounding title for a small bit of amateur research I’m proposing to undertake from 2013 onwards. Comments welcome on the relevant post or on this page.

‘A UK Agroecology Forum?’ discussion paper for Oxford Real Farming Conference 2013.

‘Agro-ecology – securing sustainable futures?’ Paper presented to the Royal Geographical Society Conference, Edinburgh 4 July 2012.

‘Ruminations of a tree fetishist,’The Land Issue 12 (Summer 2012), p.64.

Notes on Forming A Potato Co-op in Frome looks at the energy balance, labour inputs and costs of various methods and scales of potato production as a background to considering forming a local potato growing co-operative. The data underlying this report can be found in this accompanying Excel Spreadsheet.

‘City capitalists or agrarian peasants: where does the future lie?’ Campaign For Real Farming (October, 2011)

‘The ungreen city, or the polluting countryside?’ Significance: Statistics Making Sense Volume 8, Issue 2, (June, 2011).

Smaje, C. and Rowlatt, C. ‘Key policies for agroecology in the UK’ All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology Briefing Paper, February 2011. Available here.

‘Industrial or agroecological farming? Performance indicators for the UK’. Available here.

7 thoughts on “Research and publications

  1. Pingback: The Survival of the Richest | Veg Box Peasant

  2. I have had a quick look at your spreadsheet and anyone carrying out that amount of work deserves a response. It certainly opens the debate. As I know you will realise the calculation does not follow the standard methodology although that does not necessarily mean that your methodology is any worse than the standard.

    For me the biggest problem is that there is no doubt that any system that uses labour as a substitute for machinery will have a lower GHG emission. But this ignores the extreme GHG emissions from people in today’s society. It also commits a large number of people to a form of serfdom (some may actually enjoy this but I suspect most people would not) and reduces the time for other exploits (however these may be judged).

    Looking at the broad concept any movement of soil incurs the same energy expenditure since it is based on simply moving soil against gravity (and cutting) so how ever the energy is applied it is a matter of soil weight x force of gravity. The energy may be through eating porridge or burning oil although I appreciate it is accounted for differently. All farmers of any type would rather do less work if the same results were achieved from less effort.

    I also argue that there is a moral obligation to produce as much per unit of land as is economically possible – but I suspect that is extremely contentious!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to comment on my analysis. Not being an agronomist I’m not familiar with the standard methodologies you mention (I struggled to locate studies looking at energy balance at different scales of production), so I’d be very grateful if you could point me in the direction of any relevant work.

    I take your point that moving the same amount of soil will incur the same energy costs. I suspect that smaller scale methods in fact move less soil per unit area – this may affect yields and other variables, though this was at least partially accounted for in the methodology. But it also seems to me that current large-scale farm technology is designed to optimise labour (and ‘quality’), not energy, so I’d speculate that it’s over-specified for energy efficiency, though of course I’d be interested in your views on that point.

    I agree that all farmers would rather do less work for the same result at any given margin – the problem is that incrementally this process has culminated in a dysfunctional agricultural and economic system. I also agree that substituting human labour for machinery would create hard physical work that not everyone would relish (though whether it’s serfdom or not would depend on the nature of the associated property relations). On the other hand, many people are oppressed by meaningless office work and seek physical exercise as recreation; in my opinion, there’s no particular reason why we should single out physical farm work for disparagement.

    I also agree with you that there’s a moral obligation to produce as much per unit of land as economically possible, so long as it’s done in concert with sustainability objectives. But the problem is ‘economic possibility’ – small farmers can produce as much per area as large-scale farmers, but not at prices that make it economically possible. I suspect that large-scale, capital-intensive farming will turn out to be a historically short-lived consequence of our failure to internalise ecological and social costs in food prices – but no doubt that too is extremely contentious!

    Anyway, thanks once again for taking a look at my analysis.

  4. Dear Chris,

    I am also not an expert in the field, so I am afraid I cannot commend on your spreadsheet. However, I was pleased to find it on the web, as I am trying to compare the energy use of various potato systems and any information I can find is helpful in that respect. However, I was wondering where you obtained your inputs. It would be helpful if you could add your sources of information in the sheet. For example, where did you get the information that 1 kg of potatoes equals 3.72 MJ?
    As for further information on this topic, there seems to be some research done in Iran. The most recent paper is: Pishgar-Komleh, S. H., Ghahderijani, M., & Sefeedpari, P. (2012). Energy consumption and CO2 emissions analysis of potato production based on different farm size levels in Iran. Journal of Cleaner Production, 33(0), 183-191.
    Another study is from the Netherlands: Haverkort, A. J., & Hillier, J. G. (2011). Cool Farm Tool – Potato: Model Description and Performance of Four Production Systems. Potato Research, 54(4), 355-369.

    It may be useful to compare your work with their approach.

  5. Esther

    Thanks for your comment and for the additional citations. I did try to document the data sources and assumptions on the spreadsheet (you can follow this up by looking at the columns labelled ‘Data Source’ and ‘Assumption’ and then referring to the details at the bottom of the sheet). According to my spreadsheet I derived the energy value of potatoes from the DEFRA Observatory indicators, though actually I’m not sure that’s true! I think the more likely source is Paul & Southgate’s book ‘The Composition of Foods’.

  6. Hi Chris,
    I’ve been reading your blog all evening instead of cooking my tea. I got here from your great piece in The Land magazine. Kudos. My belly is rumbling painfully now but before I go I have to ask – can you make “Notes on Forming A Potato Co-op in Frome” and the associated spreadsheet available again? Both links don’t seem to work. I am SUPER excited about reading them because I’ve been helping a young market garden here in the bleak Pennines analyse the potential of a potato business with the help of spreadsheets. It would be great to see what other angles you’ve come up with.
    Thankyou for the marvellous writing!

    • Hi Hywel
      I’m honoured that Small Farm Future has kept you from your tea! Apologies for the broken links to the potato analysis, and thanks for drawing it to my attention. Hopefully they’re now fixed – let me know if you have any further problems accessing it. I haven’t looked at that analysis for a while now – sadly the potato co-op never got off the ground, although I’m building up my own potato production at the moment, so perhaps I’ll post an update on potato-y matters soon.

      All the best


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