A place where one woman has gathered resources and information to help her family survive in an uncertain future; together with occasional personal musings.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yay, it's time to talk about food security, which is almost like playing the old self-sufficiency game I played with Dad when I was a kid. How close to food independence can you get on five acres?

Well coincidentally, five acres is what I've got. Now, the house, Homero's shop, and various impermeable surfaces take up about three quarters of an acre, collectively, so really I have four acres. I am assuming that I will have to feed five adults. Now already, we have a problem. I think even the most intensive gardener would say it would take an acre to feed a person all year, and that doesn't even include any space for animals. So let's just be up front and say complete food independence is not an option.

So what's the goal, realistically? How about, not starve to death in the absence of grocery stores or gas to run to costco. That is going to mean cultivating better relationships with our neighbors and building a better trade network. In the last two years, I think it's safe to say that the farm has produced enough animal products to keep us all in animal products year round. Per year, we could reasonably expect to be able to butcher one pig, two or three goats, and ten to twelve chickens. That would be, collectively, about 200 to 250 pounds of meat. Or, about 50 pounds of meat per person per year. Additional sources of animal protein are the aproximately 4000 eggs that a flock of twenty good layers will produce in a year (a young hen will lay at least 200 eggs a year), and the 200 gallons of milk that two good does would produce (while also raising their own kids, I mean.). A gallon of milk is equal to a pound of cheese. Add those in and nobody's going to suffer from a lack of protein.

However, we of course have to subtract eggs and cheese and most likely meat from the total for the trade network. I assume we will be trading a variety of stuff, most likely Homero's labor as a mechanic, but right now I'm only dealing in food. So let's say we can subtract twenty percent of our protein total for trade.

Okay a little math:
250 lbs meat
200 lbs cheese
1000 lbs eggs (at 4/lb)
__________ +

1450 lbs total animal protein
300 lbs trade network
______ -

= 1,150 pounds animal protein /5 people =
230 pounds protein per person per year.

Or about 2/3 lb/day. That's more than enough, even factoring in hard labor. And we can do it on the land we already have dedicated to animals. Well actually I haven't considered the inputs of hay and chicken food. Our land cannot actually support all those animals. Unless we butcher almost all the large animals every fall, leaving only our two milk goats and the buck and the chickens. Then we might be able to get away with a smaller amount of hay, but we can't get away from the nessecity of buying feed for the animals.

Plant based foods. We have eight fruit trees right now: an apple, three pears, a plum, and two cherries. These are all small immature trees that need a few more years before they begin to bear in appreciable amounts. We do have a mature pear but it's old and doesn't bear very well either. Also, one hazelnut bush and an unlimited number of wild blackberries. Next spring I'd like to plant another dozen trees, at least six apples, assorted other fruit, a couple of walnuts. Also I'd like to put in a dozen or so blueberry bushes and some raspberry canes. I need all those apples for the apple press, to make cider and apple wine. I need nuts for easily storable, high caloric density winter food and possibly for oil.

I am one of the world's worst gardeners but I'm going to have to get better. We have an excellent suply of fertilizer in the form of goat and chicken poop and the art of composting will be important. We have room for about 1/4 acre of garden, which theoretically is plenty for greens, tomatoes, herbs, squash, beans, cucumbers, etc. Raised beds. A guy whose blog I follow is growing potatoes in four by four by six foot high towers, which allows you to grow a lot of otatoes in a small area. Potatoes are a great staple crop, maybe the only one possible here.

Well I think worry hour is over for now. Food security is a large topic and I'll be on it for a while.

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