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"Urban Farming - 6,000 lbs of food on 1/10th acre"

I'd love to believe this.

How skeptical should I be?

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nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

I think I would be pretty skeptical.

I can see producing that kind of harvest in such a small space, my Grandfather did it in a much smaller one. What I cannot see are the inputs necessary to produce the "freedom" they describe. The freedom to spend all bloody day pulling radishes is not my idea of fun. They are either not living on twenty thou per annum or they have a damn good scrounging system for getting that which they would otherwise have to buy.

Ex: Those goats and chickens need litter, and wheat straw is $4.00 a bale. They will also require feed of some form; they cannot live on bugs, kitchen or garden scraps alone. If you are buying a dozen bales a week you will ultimately have a lot of "brown" for your compost, but you will have spent nearly fifty bucks to get it. Two hundred bucks a month, $2,400 per year. Over ten percent of the income cited. At that rate, given all of the other necessities, no one is going to be able to buy solar panels. Wheat and oats, maybe, but no new cars to fuel up with restaurant grease.

There is something missing there.

Also, while one may gain food security, man does not live on peas alone (we are not all foodies!). Well, maybe a pretty tedious one could....Otherwise, I think all of that is eminently doable, the Chinese have done it for millennia, but I would love to see a better breakdown on the inputs. I would be willing to bet that that guy retired from the Navy on a pretty nice pension, in addition to income from his investments, SS and veterans' benefits.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

There is!

As with any economic activity, the value of the product has to exceed the inputs necessary to produce it. Whether you are talking about imports of grapes from Chile or growing parsley in the back yard, if one can get it cheaper elsewhere than growing it people will do so. It is a typical cost/benefit analysis, and it is all in what you are willing to pay. The people in the video, when faced with eating something out of season, just don't do it. Others have no problem paying for such a convenience.

Ex: To get grapes in the winter one would need greenhouses, with all of the heating inputs that that implies. It is just cheaper to fly in grapes from Chile than to support the greenhouses necessary to grow them here. I have often wondered how greenhouses in Canada can cost effectively produce the tomatoes I see in our grocery store in Winter......

I used to keep a garden here. It cost a few hundred dollars a year, mostly in soil amendments and mulches, so it was a pretty good deal when one considered the overwhelming amount of produce that we could grow. Only, there are just two of us. Neither of us are foodies nor do we eat all that much. When we got to the point where we were filling closets with food we did not eat and giving most of the rest away the garden no longer looked cost effective either in time or cash expenditure. Sometimes a fifty cent can of peas is a really good deal compared to the inputs necessary to grow and can them.

A lot of people around here garden, and when even the food banks are replete with fresh produce, a thousand pounds of tomatoes can be a curse.

DailyPUMA's picture
Submitted by DailyPUMA on

I'm curious about the canning. That usually requires gas stove for boiling, or maybe it's electric via their solar? I've found that spider mites LOVE wood. I am curious how they cut down on their insect issues when they have all of those wooden frames everywhere.

The wood is literally a 100 lane highway for crawly bugs, unless the chickens eat them?

Submitted by lambert on

I knew I hated those wood frames, and now I know why! And if they're treated with something to keep out the bugs, ick! (Though maybe something like linseed oil would protect them...)

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Spider mites don't like water. If you are having a problem with them, usually a good spray, routinely, with cold water will eliminate them. Anything larger and the ducks and chickens would do a good job of taking care of them.

Also, they did say that they had an electric bill so I would guess that they have a regular stove and oven to account for it. There are some things that one just cannot live without and that is probably one of them. All of the alternatives (solar box ovens, etc.) are just so inefficient that they just would not be worth the time.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

I'm not sure they ever said that the backyard farm was their entire nut, and it's not for everyone, but if enough people who were able to do this actually did it, the overall effect would be highly beneficial. Calculating their input costs is easy compared to calculating all the hidden input costs for what they're replacing. Imagine oil at $300/bbl, easy to do given international turbulence. Given the long supply lines and industrial agriculture, all made possible by oil, I do not know what the alternative would be to their kitchen garden.

Dimitry Orlov has written about how, before and during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians were able to live on, or supplement their diets with kitchen gardens on the outskirts of metropolitan areas. They were able to get to and from the gardens because of excellent public transportation. If I had to live on what we grow, we'd starve. But we grew a lot of food this summer--lettuce, leeks, beets, broccoli raabe, okra. We put in carrots, parsnips, bok choy, spinach, rutabaga, turnips, and more leeks and lettuce for a fall harvest. The input costs have mostly been borne in this first year--and of course couldn't be done without manure, compost, lime, seeds or seedlings, all made possible by car. But this is the first year, and I'm learning what works, what doesn't, building up the viability of the soil. A lot to learn.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Absolutely! "Victory Gardens" like this are the future, and that is what the Master Gardener's programs across the country were really set up to facilitate. Locavore type set-ups of that sort, and your own, make a whole lot of economic sense but I don't think that anyone will ever be able to actually live off of one of them. Not here, anyway.

That was what I was wondering about. He and his extended family gave the impression (to me, anyway) that this was their means of support, and the infrastructure that I was seeing in that video could not be supported on twenty grand a year without an absolutely fantastic scrounging operation. If it was I would love to meet them; one of my responsibilities is scrounging, to make three thousand into ten thousand so to speak. If so, they are REALLY good.

Jay's picture
Submitted by Jay on

Please explain scrounging in this context. Sounds useful and I'd love to hear examples.

My general brief this year at the community garden has been to grow the vegetables that are more expensive at the grocery store, and to see what grows and what doesn't. I hear you about the September tomatoes and squash. Luckily, I hate zucchini. But I'm thinking that next year I might have a go at canning tomatoes and pickling some cukes, to try and extend the benefit of the garden year-round. We wouldn't be self-sufficient, I'm not sure there is such a thing, but we could approach it.

One of the benefits of experience is efficiency; over time there will be less googling and fretting about what to plant, when, how to do it, taking care of critters and other problems, getting the soil into good form.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Once you get things like your soil into good shape and all you need to do is maintain, it gets a lot easier and cheaper. As you said, most of your expense is in the initial stages. However, that initial expense can be quite expensive.

An example I am working on right now is a, from scratch, herb garden at the Demonstration Gardens. The person who designed it and will be maintaining it is a retired radiologist. She is used to spending what she wants to spend, and does not really recognize that we are not supposed to spend our own money on such projects. We can, and do, but we are not supposed to, and anything really spectacular is going to be noticed by those who care about such things.

So! Her design has a couple of hundred feet of brick pathways and two brick plinths. As it is situated in front of a turn of the century school house that was moved to the site, the brick should, ideally, match the building. Antique paver brick is expensive; around a dollar apiece. I found some, on Craigslist, from a building whose chimney was being demolished for around thirty cents apiece, but a couple hundred feet of five foot wide pathways and two plinths is still an expenditure that we really cannot afford. Especially insofar as the head of the Garden Committee had determined that next years' big expenditure would be a seventy foot pergola, replete with an eight foot wide paved walkway. A similar type of expense on a similar type of material. We REALLY cannot afford both.

So, in my neighborhood there is a late nineteenth century general store that has collapsed and is now covered up in Kudzu. In seeking the owners to find out how much of the brick we could buy from them and for how much, I found that the owners were some group in the Middle East, represented by a law firm in Atlanta, that routinely buys up properties, sight unseen, whose property taxes have lapsed. As the place is a real liability and has no land to speak of they are willing to sell the property for an initial ask of two thousand dollars. I think that maybe, since I have brought its' liabilities to their attention, I can get it for less.

So, fifteen hundred plus dollars worth of brick in cash that we really don't have, or, as we are a 501c3, a tax write off for maybe $2,000 to some Middle Easterners who invest in real estate for tax write offs for a brick mine? That is the "scrounging" question that I have been working on this week.

Last year it was a greenhouse. Of course, there is the ongoing scrounge of mulch, lumber, cement, pipes.......

You can do a lot with scrounging, but sometimes it can get a little involved. I can see how we can do things that someone in a more upscale, urban environment cannot, but the principle remains the same.

nippersdad's picture
Submitted by nippersdad on

Forgot to add the small world story:

Turns out that the lawyer who represents the Sheiks(?) offices are two blocks from where I grew up, and he also went to the local high school (Go Red Devils!). You will be amazed at the small world stories you encounter when you start to scrounge around, and they can be very useful.