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Well said, Marcin.
I believe all options are ‘on the table’ Marcin. Yes, an open-source implementation for ‘modern’ technology-based agricultural implementation is obviously a worthwhile and well-placed allotment of time. As is the contemporary development, cherishing, and fine-tuning of ‘traditional’ and ‘indigenous’ skillways. Not to wax philosophicaly, but, truly, would one not learn as much in an afternoon flint-knapping chert as, say, they would tending to metal or a mechanically operated rototiller? Afterall, if one is truly ‘free’ they should be fully capable of walking into their nearby forest or meadow and eating their wild edibles and/or hunting the appropriately pleasing game.
Thank you for your open-source questioning, analysis, and transparency of intention as well.
Hey! On the subject of high-performance tools, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about current methods of manufacture for nanomaterials, and if you dig through this paper (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/bm800038n?cookieSet=1) for their methodology, you’ll find that the basic process involves a microfluidizer and a press.
Microfluidizers are ~$6,400 used, and ~two years ago a company called Microfluidics started flooding the market with extremely high-quality devices at (what I understand to be) relatively low prices. I expect the price of microfluidizing technology to do the same for nanomaterial fabrication that the exponential curve of technology advance did for desktop microbiology this year. Here are two posts I wrote on the subject.
When I first started digging into this trend I got very excited because I saw how it fit into and builds upon the OSE framework to increase the abilities of any small community to fabricate their own non-plastic high-performance materials; another step on the road to universal prosperity.
Bravo. I have always enjoyed people who use the internet and a personal computer to preach the evils of technology….
If LifeTrac is too high-tech, then why would a broadfork not be? Is that not also technology? Is not agriculture a technology? A technology more transformative of humanity and the environment than any since?
As to running the experiment, it already has been. Prior to mechanized agriculture, it took 19 people farming to feed themselves plus one additional person. So a village of 30 would require 28 people working full time with our broadforks to feed themselves and the two overlords who ensure the 28 work hard enough to stave off the black horse of the Apocalypse. (With “full time” meaning sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year, not the laughable modern 40-hour work week.)
No thanks. But anyone who feels led can certainly confirm the experience of 10,000 years of human experience.
As you have said repeatedly: transparency is the key. Only then can individuals make informed decisions. If that decision is broadforks, then have at it. Just don’t demand I join you.
Ric, can you provide any reference to your statements on the number of people it took to feed themselves, and what assumptions go into that figure?
I just knew someone was going to ask that! 🙂
I’ve been able to find a lot of places that use figures close to what I used, but nothing with good citations. I’ll keep looking. I was working from memory of a book I read (Pournelle? Asimov?) but no longer have. I figured Google would point me to a cited source, but alas. Here is what I did find: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TCEH/2000/four/Slouching2_4meaning.doc which has a table on the second page that is very close to the one I recall seeing in print. Unfortunately, no citation is given for the table data.
My memory was a little off: 16 farmers feeding themselves and four others rather than my 19 feeding themselves and one other, but it doesn’t materially change my point.
I also want to apologize for my last post coming off more harshly than I intended. It’s just that after watching three great-grandparents suffer through their latter years (and in one case, die) as a direct result of injuries sustained from farming in the “good ol’ days”, I get a bit impatient. The “simple” life exacted a heavy price that is often glossed over in the nostalgia.
Ric, thanks for the insights. Does anyone have counterarguments to this?
The numbers are indeed surprising to me, because in my experience, I think I could provide a 100% diet for myself in about a quarter to a half-day’s work, if I were to use manual tools. For example, a few goats, chickens, orchard, perennial vegetables, and greenhouse, perhaps some fish ponds – could do the trick.
What are your thoughts on the possibilities of 100% complete diets using modern techniques? The work of John Jeavons (Grow Biointensive), algal culture, perennial agriculture in highly integrated systems – comes to mind. Do you have any ideas what the state of the art would be today, if we used a smart system, with only manual tools? I am talking about temperate countries, not the tropics.
In any case, defining a clear route to an optimized, integrated package – which can be obtained by using just hand tools – is a worthwhile project. What are the limits? Could it be shown that by using the absolutely optimized techniques – non-mechanized food subsistence could be carried out in a small fraction of one’s time, such as 1 hour or under per day? This may be possible. I am convinced that this is trivial to accomplish with mechanical assist – if relevant techniques are truly open-source-wise transparent. but I also wonder what the limits are without the assist. This is a very fundamental question, and I am not sure anyone has figured out the answer yet – for the case involving modern, open source approaches.
(I want to make this clear: I am for the full implementation and researching of mechanical and hand-tool methods in all aspects of farming)
This is relative to the ‘culture’ of the farm, I believe. Now, imagine, if you will, the humble nature and work ethic (not to mention diversity of businesses) coming out of an Amish farm. Now, obviously, much of this undying and committed family work practice is strictly based in a religious and spiritual path that intertwines and threads its way among the community and among the families.
BUT, those Amish can farm…let me tell you…while modern Americans let their farmer populations fall under 2% (2%!) of their entire population, the Amish kept farming. When we see a sudden resurgence of younger Americans going on to perform the CSA-thing or WOOFING–there are the Amish farming like they’ve been farming for quite a long time. Supporting each other in down years and up years alike. As any farmer knows, no two seasons are alike. Ever.
I worked in and among the Amish of southwestern Wisconsin and they had a truly amazing diversity of farm business. What’s more? They spent their time ‘feeding their families’ by tending to their wholesale accounts (be it turkeys, goats, chickens, hogs, produce etc.) and growing their food for themselves quite easily; in and among their wholesale crops or to the side in a small hybrid garden plot.
Farming is labor-period. Hand tools or mechanical. Why do tractors have roll bars? Because, they are heavy machinery and they are inherently unstable and dangerous. So is a horse. My point being: farming by tractor is not any easier on the body nor is it necessarly better than farming by horse or oxen etc. If you’ve ever spent a day on a tractor performing basic tilling, rotovating, compost maneuvering…it takes a toll on your body. Now, I’m not avowing that farming by either one is better than the other but, rather, that one should (ideally) learn to farm in both manners. OR, at least, have the experience and data to commit to one or the other. But, I believe the notion that farming by horse and/or oxen eliminates the length of work or the duress of work is a misnomer. A horse needs new horseshoes…a farmer spends an afternoon fixing the hydraulic hook-up for his forklift attachment. Apples and oranges. I say, what one is more skilled in should take precedence. And, i have to tell you…my business partner’s wife has a draughthorse and I’m excited to learn how to work it. And you can guess whom I’m going to seek assistance from: my Amish neighbors. Food for thought. Tools for all–whatever form they take shape.
Check this article out: Intersting Amish Article (FYI, many Amish have discussed creating their own circular economy and veering away from our banking system altogether)
I should note one plain fact: If I need to move buckets upon buckets of compost and/or mud and/or supplies…I want the convenience of my tractor. If I’m going to till under my cover crops, or harvest my winter wheat…I just may think long and hard about enjoying the company of two stud draughts.
Obviously, my linking ability is catered to sites like blogger. I apologize.
The Amish article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vandana_Shiva
(Marcin, please delete the previous attempt to re-post the interesting Amish article…I posted a wiki page to Vandana Shiva. HA!)
Ok…the link here: http://www.energybulletin.net/node/47713. My apologies.
Joseph, very interesting points.
It should be added that horse work can offer a much more narrow range of functions than a high performance tractor with hydraulic take-off power. Horeses have limited use in construction.
But what do you mean trator work is no easier on the body than work by horses? I have never done work with horses, so school me.
I have so far performed the following the following tractor-related tasks: seeding, harrowing, plowing, augering for planting trees, trenching, backhoeing, digging, electrical power generation, hammer milling, brushhogging, putting large haybales on a roof, etc.
What do you mean tractors are as hard on the body as horses? With LifeTrac – and hydraulic power – all tractor motion is controlled by two levers, and you don’t do much walking. The quick attach plate offers quick interchangeability of implements. It seems that with horses, you have more involvement with the actual work and implements. Are you referring to the bumpy nature of the work, and the part of switching gears on a tractor, or steering without power assist? Please tell us which parts of tractor work wear on your body. My only complaint on lifetrac is that the ride is bumpy – but I don’t even have a spring-loaded seat yet.
Let me point out this first: I have not used a tractor beyond 55 hp…I’ve had no need to date. I could actually accomplish anything I need on a 100 acre plus farm with a 40 hp Kubota, say. And, I concur with you, that a horse ‘probably’ has a more limited range of tasks.
But, for example, animals are often just as efficient in accomplishing the goal in mind. Let’s see: You have a vast vista of multi-flora rose. Acres. Anyone who knows this plant knows it is an utter pain. It’s one of those fast-spreading vigorous plants that will literally keep you away from that land. You could attempt to cut it back but it will grow back, without fail. In this case, if you have the capacity, a herd of goats would do you best. You could provide them with a rotational grazing option. They’d voraciously eat the stuff. You’d, over time, eliminate the multiflora as you seeded the pasture to your liking. You’d have a yield of goat’s milk and/or goat cheese, goat-milk soaps if you so desired, baby goats, and goat meat. All in place of having to repeatedly cut back multiflora to no true avail. Of course, you could attempt a vigorous multiple-sweeps harrowing (after some type of sickle-blading) and a rotovation and an aggressive planting strategy of covercrop and trees etc. The point is: options options options. It’s up to the farmer’s skills and wants and the farm’s capacity. Obviously, the closing remark here could also be: “Well, goats are crafty. I would need fencing. I would need the time to move them and monitor them. I would have to milk them etc. and this is inherently more involved than a day or so of cutting back the weeds and tilling/rotovating followed by a day of planting.” I agree. It universally depends ( a true permaculturist’s answer )
Anyhow, yes, Marcin: I mean a tractor–even with a springloaded seat–has an inherent bumpiness and up and down physical nature to it. Many days this past season, the farmer whom I stayed with spent hour upon hour on the tractor–either preparing fields, mowing back weeds and grasses (he acknowledged with the proper infrastructure he could have rotationally grazed these back…but he lacked the time and personnel to work such a system), collecting branches and debris for his gabians, digging pocket ponds etc. and by days’ ends he was wiped and sore as could be. The tractor is physical. Now, obviously, it’s a completely different type of durress and stress on the body. Potentially, and I have no definitive research or data on this, I would imagine a tractor could be worse on your spinal column than any horse-operated farm endeavor. Similarly, I would be curious to know, for example, how standard carriage rides into town over the course of decades impact the backs and bodies of the Amish. It’s a coinflip. As of this time, however, I would easily avow if I needed to cultivate my rows of produce I’m going for an Alice ‘G’ type model over my team of two draughts. I can get that done in about 30 minutes to an hour per acre with the ‘G’ depending upon crop, planting methods and soil consistency.
There is no mistaking with a multi-functional tractor one can accomplish an amazing diversity of tasks with far less labor-hands and you can interchange implements ad nauseum (if they are on-hand) allowing for the completion of a diversity of tasks…horses, on the farm, are primarily pullers and pushers–but I’m sure they could be used in a pulley attached system as well. I wouldn’t know in full earnestness as I haven’t worked directly on a horse-operated farm, unfortunately. What I have noticed, however, is that the horse-centered farm seems to have a ‘pace’ and an ambience all its own. The energy of these animaly truly weaves its way into and out of the farmer, the family, and the land.
I’ve heard it tod to me that oxen are the ideal working animal for beginning animal worker/human relationships. They are less ‘spunky’ and easier to manage. Draughthorses are amazingly powerful animal that require an abundant amount of training and ‘know-how’…the Amish have worked with them for centuries. For example: I could operate a new tractor competently within 5 minutes…I highly doubt I could do that with horses. It would take, in my opinion, several steps: Getting to know the personalities of the horses, getting to know their work ethics, getting to know the implements, establishing my authoratative role with the horses etc. None the less, what a skill set to teach and use at your own discretion. I believe I mentioned it earlier, but Tillers in Ohio is a great organization in the U.S. that is teaching anyone and everyone on horse-powered management, animal husbandry and traditional farm skills: http://www.tillersinternational.org/. For what it’s worth.
Marcin: on the question of how much time would be required to feed yourself.
My family of four was able to grow a limited variety of vegetables on a city lot in Michigan. Tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, and very small amounts of greens, radishes, and virtually unlimited green onions (the things were more like weeds than crops). We never needed to purchase tomatoes, green beans or cucumbers; we could grow enough during the summer to eat our fill and still preserve enough to last the winter. But that is a pretty boring diet and was maybe 25% of calories at most. The amount of work it took seemed to me as a child to be perpetual. Our lives revolved around planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, preserving from Memorial Day to mid-September. I’m sure that memory is colored by the mentality of a small child who would rather sit inside and read, but even now looking back on it, my father put a great deal of time into that garden for what seems to me a fairly limited return. Space constraints meant we used only hand tools (and just plain hands) for everything.
There were probably things we were doing wrong that made more work for ourselves, and the limited variety had as much to do with lack of space as anything else. I’ve read enough books on kitchen gardens to know that other people get more for less work. But as Joseph pointed out, farming is *work* no matter if it is done with manual methods, draft animals, or modern tractors. Your estimate of 25% of your time spent in food production corresponds to late 19th century, if the table I linked to is accurate, which means four waking hours spent in the fields, or 7-8 people of a group of 30, which is still significant. My wife and I spent a year at Arcosanti (http://www.arcosanti.org/). Typically there were 5-6 people in the gardens and they provided less than 50% of the calories for the 70 or so full-time residents. All food was consumed at harvest with nothing preserved for winter other than garlic which, like green onions in Michigan, are more a weed than a crop in central Arizona. Chickens were also raised for meat and eggs, but predators took a toll and egg production was never significant. I understand that some fresh blood in the agriculture department has improved the situation dramatically since we left, but I doubt even with the improvements that the majority of calories are coming from on-site. I could be wrong on that; we haven’t been out there to visit since mid-summer. We should do that soon; then I can have more than opinion to report.
As far as the discussion on hand tools vs. animals vs. mechanization, I have to admit a personal bias toward mechanization due as much to family lore and personal preference as anything rational. I suspect the answer will turn out to be a mix of all of the above that will depend on site conditions, climate, local ecology, and the skill set and personal preferences of the group.
And might I add that this impromptu post is generating an awesome discussion thread.
Concerning horses, a 1200 lb work horse would take 1-3% bodyweight per day of dry biomass http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/AG_Equine_2008-01pr.pdf. At roughly 7000Btu/lbm and an average of 24lbs a day this is 168,000 BTu of energy or about 1.5 gal of gas equivalent. This is about gallons of 821.5 gallons of gas equivalent/year if all things were equal, which they aren’t. Anyways my point is there is plenty of energy that goes into a horse and a tractor could run on the same fuel.
Also another point about horse farmers is that they simply can not even come close to competing in any commodity production. Having grown up next to both Amish and big ag in southwestern wisconsin I have to say the amish I know make their money off of finished goods like garden produce, finished wood products, or baked goods. The horses and such seem to be a lifestyle preservation, but are not an economically competetive option. I suspect if we went back to this mode of farming we’d be at food production levels close to the 1900’s but with 6 times the population! I think for better or worse once humanity choose mechanization there is no going back without some serious upsets.
Nick, how do you define ‘commodity production’? What is ‘economically competitive’? How do we appropriate economically competitive to a highly industrialized/mechanized agriculture that subsidizes the destruction of land and the advancement of inedible food products? Not to mention, the use of hazardous materials in almost every common product sold in our stores? I’m just saying…there are two sides to every coin. More production, Yes. But, what exactly has this done to the common person at the baseline level of a human being. I believe the answers are many, but, by and large it has been controlled by the hands of mental midgets (I apologize to any short persons on this board).
Isn’t a significant part of this discussion reapproaching what we define as a ‘living economy’? And, if so, does this not also redefine how we view ‘commodity production’?
I completely agree that with a properly manufacutred, ecologically-minded machine, we can perform more work per/person, per/hour, than a team of oxen/horses within a work setting that requires a bounty of 10-20 persons; i.e. an Amish family. HOWEVER, I also avow that in the Slow Food economy, in the P2P economy, in the sustainable trade community and in the open source community, we should welcome a hybridization of all three of these. Let’s build the machines. Let’s create a true opportunity for value of life and a non-committal and acquiescence to the ‘slave’ economy. BUT, let us also provide open-source information on hand tool use, manufacture, production etc. as well as animal driven agriculture, tasks and traditional skills. Not only will this prove infinitely valuable in the overall culturizing of our communities, but it will simultaneously preserve our cultural heritage and temper our roles in the continuum of civilization. This conversation is so multi-faceted that if we strictly allot our attentions and minds to our engineering and mathematical capacities we will fall prey to the same errors we have seen repeated ad nauseum throughout industrialized civilization.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no debate between what more we can produce with what amazing machine we can manufacture (which is obviously an interesting pursuit and worthwhile accomplishment) but, rather, it is how we welcome mindful ways of producing logical and appropriate amounts of food to our situation(s). In locally-minded economies, in nationwide networks, in globalized sustainable trade communities.
I would argue that our food crisis that exists, in relation to ‘third world’ impoverished nations or first world impoverished inner-cities and rural communities (hell the food that is offered in our supermarkets), is not (I repeat NOT) a factor of “how much we can produce”. It never has been. With that in mind, we know we can produce a lot, but we have to poison it with re-agents and preservative or destroy it in a high-heat process to preserve it. We can produce infinitely enough food to feed this planet. YET, our economic system, as it currently stands will not allow for this. Rather, it allows for the destruction of our landscapes (which, oddly, could also easily add nourishment to our bodies–untouched) and the preservation of massive amounts of wealth into the hands of the few while creating the newest technological buzz to rectify the glaring ailments of said system by applying a bandaid (i.e. a GMO seed, for example) to a wound the size of a shopping mall. We all know and recognize this.
So, again, I believe: develop new, smart, open-source technologies. Check. But, simutaneously, research,implement, and promote hand-tool use, development, improvement and non-mechanized agricultural techniques, methods etc. A library of techniques from which to apply, as Ric says, “that will depend on site conditions, climate, local ecology, and the skill set and personal preferences of the group”. All of these are relevant in an energy descent situation. Why would we want to limit our capacities to machines? Particularly after reading Mumford…
(Nick, your page can not be found, unfortunately)
Joseph, firstly I must say I am of course very sypmathetic to your argument and also your viewpoint about slow food, sustainabe food, quality food ect. I am not at all for big ag chemical farming. When I was in grade school in southwestern rural wisconsin 20 out of 30 of my classmates (my family included) were from small diversified dairy farms, when I graduated 3 of them remained. All the small dairy barns were replaced with a couple of mega 1000-2000 cow dairies and all decent land went to large scale corn soybean rotation. It is ugly, unhealthy and certainly unsustainable and given the nature of monocrops potentially deadly.
What i meant by commodity production was corn, soybeans and wheat and yes without brute production one probably doesn’t stand a chance in these markets, which is perhaps one reason horse farmers aren’t growing corn and soybeans to sell and what I meant by economically competive. I am aware that the government intentionally bails out failing grain farmers annually to keep control of production and prices. Yet I think that the real subsidy is cheap energy which lets farmers get away with horrible farming practices by simply applying petro derived fertilizer. With such a cheap energy base it seems it essentially lets us bypass having to work within an ecosystem. Look at fertilizer, previously farmers had to rotate crops and let good land rest in hay for a few years to recoup the nitrogen, now it comes from oil. Of course we have chemicals doing there thing in this mix as well. Anyways the cheap energy subsidy goes on further downstream, cheap energy subsidized corn makes cheap energy hogs, chickens, soda, packaged stuff called food ect. So then when the average (now poor) american goes to the supermarket his cheapest option is the cheap energy subsidized variety and he buys it. It is a viscous cycle and hard to break, but I personally think peak oil will do an effective job of this in the next decade.
I still don’t think total production is at all trivial. I personally know some fairly dedicated permaculturists and other self reliant types and have not yet seen them achieve beyond ~60% of total personal food production. Where is the rest coming from? I suspect most of it comes from the petro ag system we all are ripping on, unless you are super wealthy and can afford the choicest hand grown organics for 10x the price.
Anyways I’m in agreement with your approach to experiment with a variety of technologies wether it is hand tools, horses, or machinery for a variety of different situations. I’d personally just be suprised if we ended up throwing out much of the mechnization that seems to have made our current production levels possible.
The horse reference page is here http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/AG_Equine_2008-01pr.pdf
[…] A contribution by Marcin Jakubowski explaining the logic underlying the Open Source Ecology project. […]
All well said. Let’s also not forget that we need to just eat lower on the food chain. Then the way we grow larger food crops, whether by machines or by hand tools, becomes less of an issue. It can be decided on a case-by case basis. [http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=Duckweed Duckweed as food] or microalgae [http://openfarmtech.org/index.php?title=Small_Scale_Spirulina_Production_Plans
like Spirulina] could provide part of the diet. Lastly, hydroponic and aquaponic systems can potentially be much less labor-intensive, providing significant amounts of food on a small space.
Nick, points all well taken. Rasmus, great points as well.
I was busy for a bit there…but wanted to get back to this page. The end discovery, as always, remains: the results of these various projects and the results of the global village network will (more than likely) dictate what needs we have. i.e. what type of mechanized production, what forms of efficiency, what ecologically minded practices we adhere to will all be dictated by the actual village group, specialized (if one so chosses) production fields so chosen, etc. And, within all of this, a wonderful principle Marcin has always publicly declared is: The infinitely greater amounts of free-time one has to research and explore. Surely, in this instance, I could develop a personal affinity and acumen in traditional tools building, usages etc. IF nothing else, this knowledge base would most-certainly inform our mechanized tool building process at many corners, roadblocks etc.
Obviously, the global village network appeals to me greatly. SO, with that in mind, I will willingly give my efforts (and what little finances I have) toward completing any of these projects.