Solutions for Self-Reliance

Energy Wasted to Fill the Shelves

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Society’s dependence on commercial produce and energy production is at an all-time high. In fact, that is probably why most of us have chosen to adopt resilience strategies and attempt to live more sustainable lifestyles in the first place.

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However, the facts are undeniable. Society has become so dependent on commercial food production and the energy costs associated with manufacturing, processing and transportation that we have become a mere shadow of what our ancestors just a couple generations ago were able to accomplish.

Although most of this change can be attributed to the instant gratification mindset that many people have adopted in recent years, the blame does not rest solely within our own communities.

The Alarming Truth

According to the US Department of Agriculture, it took 12 fuel calories to deliver 1 calorie of consumed food in 2002. In 2007, it took approximately 14 fuel calories to deliver 1 calorie of food. We can assume that this upward trend means it takes about 15 calories or more to deliver 1 calorie of consumed food in 2013.

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These figures factor in the fuel required by the agricultural sector, transportation costs, retail costs, and food related household energy consumption. Unfortunately, the figures may be grossly understated because the USDA study does not take into account the cost associated with waste disposal, water provisioning, and food system governance from the USDA and other organizations.

If we convert these figures into thermal energy terms, it means that the average American is using approximately 1.3 gallons of gasoline to create a normal 2,500 calorie diet on a daily basis.

If we look back to the early 1900s, we find that these figures were actually reversed. In other words, more calories were delivered than it cost in energy expenditure to deliver them.

This significant difference is attributed to multiple factors including changes in the oil trade, an instant gratification mindset, and stricter government regulation just to name a few.

Another contributing factor is that the rising costs of agriculture have forced people away from traditional self-sufficient lifestyles and has thrust them into the corporate workforce where there is often not enough time in the day to properly manage even a small scale agriculture operation designed for a single household.  Basically, people are content buying produce grown thousands of miles away.  In 1900, this wasn’t a possibility.  Everything was locally grown and there is an inherent degree of resiliency built into that model automatically.

What it boils down to is our society has become less resilient because of its direct dependence on large commercial agricultural operations. If you aren’t sold on this idea, go to your grocery store.

How many of the products on the shelves right now were produced locally compared to those that were trucked thousands of miles before reaching the shelf?

Possible Solutions

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are many small-scale agricultural operations that are successfully producing more food calories with less energy. This is nothing new – but without widespread adoption, it almost becomes a moot point.

The number of solutions far outweighs the problems in this case; however, we need to spread the word about our rising dependence on the “system” so others understand the gravity of the situation.

Most of the topics we cover here at Resilient Communities are a direct response to this alarming trend toward full dependence on a system that is bound to fail.

What can we actually do right now to remove or at least reduce the dependence of our own households and that of our communities on big agriculture?

Conservation is huge. A couple generations ago, it was unheard of to be as wasteful as we have become as a society. Everything was reused whenever possible and if we re-create this mindset now, we will greatly reduce the costs associated with agricultural production on any scale.

It’s no different than saving for a vacation. Every little bit of cash gets us closer to that goal. Likewise, every little thing we do to conserve energy and resources compounds into a more efficient lifestyle model that guarantees future sustainability.

Greywater recycling is a perfect example. If more people started reusing greywater for agricultural purposes, the costs associated with food production would decrease. It may not be noticeable at a single small farm in the Northeast, but as a nationwide initiative it certainly has an impact.

From a technology standpoint, we discussed drones last month. This is an excellent way for us to leverage new technology that wasn’t even the thought of in 1900 to bring some degree of efficiency back to agriculture.

Advancements in urban gardening techniques such as vertical gardening, aquaponics and aeroponics mean that even urban dwellers can produce at least some of their own food; thus reducing this country’s dependency on big agriculture and ultimately, government bureaucracy.

Finally, buy local!  Not only do you get fresher foods for your family, but you are supporting the local economy.  That said; remember that just because an operation is local doesn’t mean it is efficient.  Urge local growers to conserve and use organics farming methods whenever possible.  Alternatively, join a co-op that already values these resilient ideals.

Our dependence on food is increasing annually and our dependence on energy sources correlates directly to this food dependency. The only way to increase our sustainability is to break the current agricultural model and adopt new strategies that ensure our longevity.

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