Geologists and Engineers are Today’s Peak Oil Cowboys

Cowboy


Hello Penelope Trunk readers!  She’s a great consultant!

She “outed me,” though.  I don’t like to talk about my clients, but I do like to work with engineers, geologists, and those in the energy sector. However, I’d never name names.

These are men of action, and they know how to do things.  I have an ‘I-can-do-that’ envy.

Not all of these guys have woken up to the reality of Peak Oil.  The guy at Peak Engineering believes there are six reasons for this:

(1)  Everything still looks normal.

“Just look around you — there are no signs of Peak Oil”.

(2) Supply and Price

Older guys remember that when the price of oil goes through the roof, so do the investment dollars.

“For example, forty years ago the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico consisted primarily of small, four leg platforms in shallow water (less than 1000 feet). As production from these platforms declined and oil prices went up, so the industry was able to move into deeper and deeper waters, with considerable success.”

(3)  Technology- évidemment

(4)  Crying Wolf

“I heard this once before, and it all turned out to be exaggerated and misleading. Fool me once: shame on you; fool me twice: shame on me.”

(5)  Imagination

“We don’t serve neutrinos here,” says the bartender.
A neutrino walks into a bar.

(That’s an Internet physics joke)

Look at this great letter I got from a geologist in 2006:

Good Evening Peak Shrink,

I found your website a few weeks ago and have spent several evenings reading the stories and going through the site. After some debate while reading your website, I thought I might add a different perspective from a person that has the means and the past to deal with this issue in his own way.

First of all, I used to literally live in the oil field. I am a Professional Geologist by trade. I used to direct oil rigs drilling for oil. For many years I averaged 30 weeks a year in the field, babysitting drilling rigs. After a few years of gaining experience, I became a wildcatter with a fellow Geologist, started a independent oil company in [MidWest]and eventually found a nice oil field on the [MidWest] line. My partner and I found several other minor oil wells and we were eventually bought out by our rich [Western US] investors. I kept my royalties/working interest and now I find it most ironic, that I am spending my oil money in preparation for Peak Oil. I would add that I have watched my own oilfields hit Peak Oil and start their own decline curves, the same as they all will do worldwide, with time.

I learned about Peak Oil about 15 months ago from a wall street Market Watch article on stock investing, and since then I have dedicated a part of nearly every day in preparation for this event. I have read and own most all of the Peak Oil books. My library of books concerning Solar, Gardening, Root Cellaring, Organic Farming, Alternate Energy, etc., etc. has grown large enough to stock a small book case and I have read every one of them, several of them more than once.

I was divorced 16 years ago and raised my 20 year-old daughter as a single parent. Now that she is in college, I live alone. I have made several moves to prepare for peak oil. At first, I reacted as many of you have when learning and understanding the concept Peak Oil. I was in a daze for several weeks unsure of “what to do”. I overreacted by immediately purchasing a -40 degree sleeping bag, a water purification kit, a solar battery charger, a solar powered radio and a few other small items including a lot of ammunition for the several guns that I own. As I became more convinced that the books and articles were correct, I decided to make several moves that would enhance my country home and make me more self sufficient. I am in the camp of the early peakers. I think we are about there, but not quite. Mexico showed us a few things this year when they made up our lost Prudhoe Bay production (way to go BP). Now we have found what looks to be a major oil field producing from a new horizon in the Gulf. This all will help delay Peak Oil and give us time to get ready.

Fortunately, I live on 20 acres with lots of woods, a lake and a view, located in rural Nebraska. The house I built nine years ago is a very energy efficient home. I built this house to withstand the wind, cold and in general, the worst of Nebraska weather, 2X6 walls, R-50 insulation, triple pane gas filled windows, big garage protecting the house from the North winds, etc. Because I have a great job and with my oilfield money, I have taken some steps that many of your readers have wished they could do and some have. I feel very fortunate. Maybe I am still over-reacting, but these actions should make me more self sufficient and increase the value of the house, when the time comes for my daughter to sell it because I am not around. I try to take a conservative line just in case we are wrong about when Peak Oil will occur. If it’s later than sooner, she can sell this place and deal with Peak Oil in her own way. I have talked to her about it, starting to get her familiar with the concept. She and her boyfriend have been very receptive to the issue as much as 20 year olds can be. She thinks some of the stuff I have done is pretty cool and probably a little weird.

I have spent the last nine months designing and installing a 1.35 Kilowatt off-the-grid solar power system for the house. I was amused that the last time my daughter came up to visit, she headed directly downstairs to see how I was progressing on the project. She likes to look at the solar electrical equipment hanging on the wall in the laundry room. Not to mention the bright red Rolls Surrette batteries sitting in their enclosure being recharged each day. I have recently brought the system on line and hey, it’s not that hard to live with an all 120 volt solar powered house. My power company actually called me this week to warn me that I may have read the meter wrong because it was 1/4 of what is has been. I had to laugh and explain to her that the reading was right. The 220 volt stuff like the well pump is still on the grid and so is the fridge, the electric oven and the AC/Heating, but every one of those items can be swapped out for propane or wood and they will be soon. The only thing I can’t find a good alternative for is the well pump. My well is 450 deep and it takes a 240 volt pump to bring the water to the surface and pressurize a house. However, advances are being made even for that problem.

This summer I put in a 40 X 50 foot garden, importing the top 22 inches of top soil and removing same from the gardens location. Our soil here is pure clay so I overexcavated the garden area with a track Caterpillar and removed about 150 cubic yards of clay and replaced it with good black dirt. Since then I am growing veggies organically. No synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The entire garden is surrounded with multiple layers of solar powered electric fence to keep the critters out. It works well and the food is great.

The last project for this year is a high end wood burning stove installation. I am going to install a Vermont Castings wood burning stove. That little project is already underway as I am reinforcing around one attic roof truss that I must cut, to center the stove in the room. Once the truss work is finished, the stove installation will be easy. It will be in by the end of October. I have been cutting, splitting and selling all the wood from my acreage with friends for nine years, no more. The wood is now being stockpiled for me and the stove.

Last winter I purchased a Honda Civic that is currently getting 41.4 MPG, because I drive 97% two lane highway at 60 MPH, 20 miles to get to work. The Honda is not a hybrid. The car replaced my 3/4 ton Chevy pick-up that got 12 MPG.

My lake is stocked with edible fish and is self supporting with bluegills, catfish and bass. Fishing will be my retirement one way or the other. Either for survival or hopefully, for just the sport and an occasional fish supper.

So I have addressed several energy issues and self sufficiency issues the first year, and there will be more to come I would like an “on demand” water heater, a propane powered stove, high efficiency fridge (Sun Frost) and a root cellar. I would also like to add to the solar system to include 240 volt. We’ll work on that the next year. I don’t talk to many people about Peak Oil, when they see what I have done, especially the big solar array that sits beside my house and follows the sun, I just tell them it’s time to address the higher cost of energy and that I believe it will go much higher soon. I think they get the feeling that I am probably right, but little is said. Like the books say, everyone hates bad news. The one person that will talk about the future with me, is my electrician who helped me install the solar system. He thinks that I am doing the right thing and is making some moves himself. I have another friend who is well versed on Peak Oil, but has lived a sustainable life style for many years, way before we ever considered the concept of Peak Oil. He lives in a beautiful straw bale designed house on 20 acres that is heated solely by wood and grows and raises much of his own food. He has a wife and three kids. He is way ahead of me and I envy him. He has bees for honey, chickens for eggs and meat, goats for milk, an organic garden, a large greenhouse and participates in farming partnerships with his neighbors for other food items.

So in my first year I have enhanced the value of my home and my lifestyle. I feel nothing is wrong with that, and it gives me something to do during my free time. Are these things the right things to do? I think so but who knows really, Peak Oil has never happened before, and what will actually happen is anyone’s guess. But I do know the wolf is truly at the door and our Government as well as most people are doing nothing about this issue, and don’t have a clue that something bad is coming. Our railroads are in miserable shape and our government still protects the American auto manufacturer, so we continue to use oil for transportation at a ridiculous rate. Mother earth has had just about enough and soon we all will have to deal with reality, one way or another. The global economy is about to come to an end and as a guy with a degree in science, (geology) it will be most interesting to watch for as long as I can.

I am enjoying this evening writing this note with my computer running on today’s sun and it’s a great feeling. Makes me think that if the population as a whole will start to make some basic changes like I have, and many of you have, then we will be fine. We have just got to get started and that’s the hardest part.

Good luck to you all out there. I have enjoyed your articles. It’s interesting hearing from the folks across the rest of the country on this issue and what you are doing about it. Keep up the good work.

Former Wildcatter Eating Bass

 

He’s writing on his solar powered computer!

Or this engineer who wrote me privately;

“Keep in mind I am living in two worlds: in my professional life in a huge, conservative, fossil fuel extraction corporation, and in my private life in a small, liberal, renewable energy supporting community. My professional life is extremely lucrative and quite frankly boring, but it supports my personal life. Last year, I worked professionally on multimillion dollar work in coal mining and Canadian oilsands mining; but I also converted a car from diesel to waste vegetable oil which I drive regularly; installed a small wind turbine; installed a micro hydro plant and; took a course in photovoltaics.

Here is the thing: each world perceives the other world as a threat, so I am a threat to both, but the hard reality is that neither one can achieve their agenda without the other, and they are both in denial about that. I am sort of a bridge between both – I’m groping with what kind of bridge, but I guess one day I will figure it out.

 

This same guy cured his own severe diabetes through diet change, while traveling half the year on business trips.

These are the real tough “cowboys” in today’s world.  And these are men who’d like to think  that talking to a psychologist is in the same light as having their palms read, or signing up to compete in a high school popularity contest…but they know better.  Eating bass alone gets, well, lonely. They don’t like is to have to talk about their feelings or their fears. They prefer to fix and build stuff.  They like to solve problems, but maintaining a satisfying marriage is one of those things that they try to fix, but it just doesn’t stay fixed.  So being practical people, they look for someone who knows that we’ve got big problems AND can talk about the feelings stuff and specializes in fixing marriages.

And then they are shocked when I tell them I have to speak to their wives.

“Why the fudge do you have to do that?”

But I insist, and they are stunned that their wives are delighted to talk to anybody about how to get through to their husbands.  Even some psychologist who calls herself a “Peak Shrink.”  And if their husbands are willing to talk to a psychologist, they want to know how I did it.

How do you get him to talk to  you?

But that is secondary.  I tell her that that’s not the important part.  The important part is my teaching her how to talk to him. And visa verse.

I think part of the trick for why this all works, and they start really talking and cooperating with each other is that… I’m a groupie .

I admire the modern day energy cowboys.  I see them offering us hope for a better future.

 

Economic Collapse Brings Greater Simplicity to This Mom

Hi Peak Shrink,

My name is {removed} and I live in small town Ohio with my husband and 2 small children. I stumbled onto ‘peak oil’ via the back door…it started with food recalls which lead to investigating factory farms which lead to researching homesteading…you can see where this is going. Learning about peak oil has been a true blessing for me…a blessing in that it was the kick in the seat I needed to rally the troops and get organized. Peak oil became marching orders for my family and now we’re on the way to living simpler, more self-sufficient lives.

In the past year and a half, our garden size has tripled. We’ve added an orchard, berry patches and a flock of laying hens. We’ve found local sources of necessary goods, added rain barrels, composters, learned practical skills. But most importantly, we’ve connected with other like-minded families in our area to share successes and failures, ideas, produce, laughs. We’ve began to power down, simplify, declutter and really get to the core of the life we want to lead.

It’s kind of strange, but somehow, things are becoming so much more clear-cut for me. All the noise of modern life is falling to the wayside and the important matters- good food, good health, happy children- are so much clearer and easier to attain. It seems like the more desperate our economy becomes, the simpler my life becomes. It’s no longer a matter of keeping up with the Joneses or driving the largest car, attending the most elite preschool, owning the latest gadget; it’s becoming a matter of survival. While I’d never wish for the worst, events of the past year have been life-altering for me and in the best way.

Best wishes.
Simply Mom

**********************

Dear Simply Mom,

Thanks for your touching story.

I think most of us would say that we are glad we learned about peak oil, (after we recover from the initial shock and horror of the discovery). For myself, I went down various lines of reasoning, only to come back, over and over, to the same conclusion: I can’t keep living my old way.

Peak Oil, as you know, is just one of the many Peak Everything’s we’re living with. I agree that one’s life priorities come into clearer focus, with a clear understanding of what Peak Everything means. Survival simplifies things, no doubt. If I could give one bit of advice to those who are reading your story, it would be “stop holding on to the side of the river,” by that I mean stop trying so hard to maintain your previous lifestyle.

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.”

This will only cause you greater hardship and more pain. Embracing the great wave of change, as you have done, Simply Mom, allows you to flow with the current. It allows you to look for like-minded families, instead of being torn between two value systems, fitting neatly into neither.

If we can all see the gift in whatever life brings us, we will find true gratitude. Gratitude allows room for contentment, and contentment allows moments of exquisite happiness.

I wish you and yours a productive, safe New Year, filled with gratitude, contentment and moments of exquisite happiness.

Thanks for writing.

Peak Shrink

**********

Do you have a story to tell about how knowledge of Peak Oil, climate change, or the economic collapse changed (or is changing) your life and values systems? Share it with others by emailing your story to PeakShrink AT Peakoilblues DOT com.

Do you have a reaction to anything you’ve read here? We welcome your comments! Please do!

Update: Revolutionary War-Era Family Farmer Update: Blending Past with Future

Read the original amazing letter HERE.

Peak Shrink,

Well, I have been a very busy boy since we last spoke. I now am a part-owner in a wind turbine factory and a design engineer for a sheet metal fabrication business. I also manage a living history farm in [the Mid-West]. My goals are to implement a sustainable agricultural model to demonstrate sane agricultural practices to a very uneducated public.

This brings me to the issue at hand. I am designing a series of horse-drawn implements to replace the limited supply of old equipment available. Most of the machinery sitting around is 60 plus years old, some of over 100. I have been collecting older implements and studying the designs. I am trying to improve them and tailor them to modern manufacturing processes. (I plan to manufacture these items in our factory.) The lack of usable implements is one of the greatest obstacles to the reintroduction of draft animal power to agriculture.

I hope our outreach program will be successful. We have already had several visitors and inquisitive observers. We as a nation have much to do. I could easily disappear into our [Mid-West Farm] and quietly set up my new farm but is this really a service to my fellow man? We have to change course.

Revolutionary War Era Family Farmer

Hi RWEFF,

Wow! You certainly ARE setting your direction on helping us to “change course.” Thanks for the update!

Kathy
“Peak Shrink”

Update From “Massaging the Pain”

Original Letter here.

Hi Peak Shrink!

I’ve thought about you many times over the last few months and just handed gotten around to sending you an update. the first of May 2007, I moved in with a someone I’d known for many years. I first met him through a fellow employee and then he became a (massage) client. The house is paid for, except for a loan he took out to do a remodel/addition which he changed his mind about. He used the money instead to install double pane windows (at my suggestion and he’s continually amazed at the difference they make. The heater hasn’t come on once. It also helps that he’s becoming acclimated to lower temperature settings.)

The house is on a 1/3 acre and we’ve completely transformed the back yard, and half of the front. We’ve sheet mulched and plan to finish the other half and plant more cover crops, plants for mulch and plants for the chickens. Originally he was planning on putting in a lawn in the front and the back too. I talked to him several times about that and he finally realized it wasn’t such a great environmental choice. So after watching the clover growing under the fruit trees, he said “there’s my lawn! and he likes it a lot.

We’ve got 7 chickens. Four of them are seven months old and three of them are laying, and three are four months old. They are such characters, highly entertaining. We’ve planted a berry garden with strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, and close by are blueberries. There’s a 15 yr. old Valencia orange tree and we’ve added two dwarf Washington navel orange trees. Nearby is a dwarf persimmon which is now bearing fruit. We’ve had several tomato plants, but they’re gone for the year and sent off to the compost pile. My worm box (almost two years old now) is nearby. There’s an area for the flower/medicinals which we’re currently redesigning (sending annuals off to the compost pile and moving perennial lavender plants closer together with the echinacea next to them. I plan to add a lot to that area. Oh yeah, there’s six St. John’s wort plant getting established and I transplanted the lobelia. There’s a pre-existing dwarf Asian pear in there and we added a dwarf lemon tree.

Moving towards the back of the yard off to the side we planted over a dozen dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees (apples, pears, and plums) and the clover is planted underneath to fix nitrogen and beef up the soil fertility. There’s a 15. yr. old Beverly Hills apple tree. We just recently did two raised beds (using salvaged bricks) for the perennial veggies and we have three good sized areas for vegetables and in a few months we’ll be rotating crops which will be exciting and educational too. We’re both learning so much. I’m finally somewhere where I can start putting into practice what I’ve been reading about for two plus years since learning about peak oil.

Soon after moving in, I starting talking about Peak Oil to my new “landlord,” and he’s caught on rather quickly and started connecting dots much more so than a lot of other people. A dream came true, he said he does want my money and doesn’t need it, so he doesn’t charge me rent. He fortunately had retired over a year ago and so he has lots of time to spend in the back yard. We both have so much fun out there.

Oh yeah, I just remembered, there was about a two foot slope, so to prevent erosion and to help with water harvesting/permeability, we started a swale in one area where there’s a vegetable garden, and periodically I’ve been extending the swale in bits and pieces so it will go completely from one side to the other. I just have a few feet to go (quite an accomplishment as I think about it since the yard is 60 ft. wide (75 ft. to the back fence from the patio). We have a couple of areas with chairs and benches to sit and drink our beers and admire/enjoy our accomplishments. More to do tho…that’s okay!!! Having a blast!! My cat is a lot happier too. She can go outside, the yard is completely fence in, so sometimes she wants to go out and explore…

Anyways, I’m glad to hear from you. I still check your site, along with a few others quite regularly. Recently I had the “Evolve Your Brain” book in my hands and was thinking of letting it go and sending it to the thrift store or ???. If you’re interested, I would love to give it to you. I wish I could do more, for what you do, I’ve gotten so much from your website. I’ve printed out the majority of stories and put them all in their own special binder and when my landlord gets in a major funk/meltdown/despair/anxiety, etc. etc. I encourage him to go read the stories in there so he can see he’s not the only one dealing with these feelings and stages, and that they come and go….

Comment from Peak Shrink: I did want the book…

Next Letter:

I forgot to tell you that years ago, my new landlord used to be a commercial beekeeper (had 50 beehives at one point), and because of all of the press about colony collapse, he’s going to have another beehive next spring,(for pollinating, beeswax, and the honey). He’s sooo excited.

I think I forgot to tell you, we’ll be doing some rainwater harvesting too. In fact, just today the order of ten 55 gallon barrels arrived. now the next thing to do is for the order of downspout adapters to arrive, go get the hoses, etc. and figure out the first flush diversion thing. The chicken house was built with mostly salvaged materials, including some corrugated metal sheets that became the roof. It’s amazing the amount we’ve collected there. (The house is 8 ft. wide by 6 ft. high by 6 ft. deep. We used four pieces together to cover the 8 ft width and since they’re 7 ft. long, we used the extra length for the pitch.)

I’ll send the book first part of next week. I forgot to mention that I underlined a few key sentences. Hope that’s okay…

Next year I want to get more into the seed saving, seed storing, food preserving, making more cheese. This year’s been mostly about getting the gardens, etc. up and running. And, adding more vegetable crops to up the production. I did dehydrate some broccoli and summer broccoli this year. So most of the additions to the pantry are canned goods from the store. I bought a pressure cooker but haven’t used it yet. So many things I can’t remember them all…

Next letter:
I just remembered something else right after I pressed send, we’ve been using greywater for the fruit trees, etc. since July. We calculated the first month, and we able to divert 850 gallons!!! to the yard. We used 19 gal. buckets and 5 gallon buckets to add up the shower water, the dish water, and the laundry water. We’re using simple, low-tech methods since that’s what the books suggested. Less likelihood of breakdowns, etc. My “landlord” was very impressed to see all of my books, once I was able to get them all out of storage and we have them in bookcases all over the house. They’re organized by topic and tried to put them in areas closer to where we use them (like all the cookbooks are in the kitchen). I haven’t added them up lately, but I’m sure I’m past 800 by now since I’m on my 8th pack of 100 index cards for the “library catalog”.

Next Letter:

Peak Shrink,
I just remembered something else, he dug a trench for the three mini-refrigerators, with the freon and electrical removed, all different sizes, for cold storage for our root vegetables and apples. (Whether we grow it or buy it at the local Farmer’s Market it doesn’t matter at this point. Oh yeah, that’s another thing I’m looking into also, what to grow for the chickens and how much of it so we won’t be so dependent on the commercial stuff. I’ve got alfalfa seeds for the front yard (which isn’t ready for us to plant stuff there just yet), and already have clover, and buckwheat just starting out.

Sincerely,

Massaging the Pain

****************

Dear MTP;

You’ve done a remarkable job and you must continue to keep us updated on your progress! Thanks so much for writing!

Clinton: “We have to slow our economy”

Oh No! Mr. Bill! Don’t slow the Economy!

The frame causes the News Pundits at Fox to shutter. “SLOW IT? THAT’S JUST THE PROBLEM!”

But wait. Maybe we don’t like those choices: Do we want to see a growth in multinational public traded companies or a recession? I don’t make that choice globally, but I do have a say on the local level. I’ll give you a dumb example.

There is a herbal remedy that I swear by. It was manufactured by a company I trust, and it was expensive, and tasted horribly, but it worked. However, it is no longer manufactured by the company. So I’ve got to grow my local economy, and speak to a local herbalist about “producing” and “manufacturing” some version of it. This will cause a reduction in the Dow and an increase in my local economy. My local herbalist will produce the product by using no fossil fuels, and I’ll use none to buy it from her. If she’s already growing much of the stuff, it will cost her a nominal amount to plant a bit more in the spring. Her growth will be small, and if it works as well as my old remedy, she’ll soon have people all over the area asking her to sell them some, too.

Let’s stop here.

If she becomes the largest producer and manufacturer of this product, and begins to deplete the soil and drain water supply to have a “Go-Go” business aimed at world domination of this remedy, she’ll begin to contribute to the problem. (She also may be sued by the previous manufacturer, if they think her blend is a bit too close to their own). If, however, she continues to offer a good product at a a fair price locally, continues her “quality control,” continues to lovingly tend her herbs as she has done for decades, and to blend herbs and spices in her “just right” way, locally and in small, sustainable patches, she will make a “living.” I get to do my own “quality control” of the product I’ll use. I get to see her garden, know where she gets her fertilizer, and know and come to trust her as a reliable person of good character.

I’m attempting to slow the economy in one sector, and redirect it to another, more sustainable direction.

Corporations have led us to believe that they have always been with us, and always WILL be with us, unless we want to be crushed under a wave of starvation and bankruptcy. When the media speak about the “food economy” they don’t refer to the farmer who we buy our carrots from at the farmer’s market or the guy who grows our pigs. They talk about Nestle and Hormel. We are led to believe that it is an absurd notion that any small local grower can compete with these giants, and indeed, if we maintain our current psychological mindset, we stack the deck that way. As Catherine Austin Fitts points out, the guy or gal with the lowest cost of capital wins. She has an ambitious plan to reorient our economy in a local direction, and if that happens, it will hardly mean “slow growth.” It will, however, mean “green growth,” as our neighbors and friends have a vested interest in breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and eating healthy foods. If they don’t, we’ll stop buying from them, and their businesses will suffer.

It is time to slow the mega-economy of multi-nationals, and to reject the notion that “bigger does it better.” But leveling the playing field is something that will happen only when the cost of continuing to dance with the corporations is just too expensive, (economically and environmentally), or they can no longer produce the goods we want or produce them as cheaply as our local farmers and merchants will.

I have no doubt that the transition will be devastating for city dwellers who have had to rely on mega-farms to provide them with food. It is an unfortunate reality that as food prices rise incrementally, their motivation to seek alternative places to buy food, or alternative methods of food storage will be lessened. But it is a huge waste of resources for rural folks to visit their mega-food supermarkets weekly, instead of planting gardens and shifting their buying habits to local, organic farmers. Suburban dwellers, as well, can increasingly look toward farmer’s markets and CSA deliveries to increasingly replace their canned goods and frozen foods for seasonal eating. Even insisting on more “Locally Grown” produce in the supermarket is a step in the right direction, especially if you know who those local producers are. Learning to buy local food in season, and stock up and store it for the off-season also supports a local economy.

Many Community Supported Agricultural farms have more customers right now than they can service, and it is the loyal customers that will continue to eat. Any decisions CSA’s make to expand their customer base or the likelihood of new CSA’s sprouting up to meet local needs, will take capital. Capital comes from local people. This takes vision and foresight.

In the meantime, as smarter folks than myself have pointed out, the mega-economy may kill off many of our lifeline farms before this shift to local agriculture takes place. Our local dairies may not be able to tolerate yet another bad year of falling milk prices and rising corn prices (thanks to ethanol). A bankrupt dairy can be bought for pennies on the dollar by mega-dairies, or even worse, sold off as more subdivision land (although the housing bubble has impacted that…). Folks, you heard it here: the farm you save now may be your future lifeline.

But none of this can be accomplished without a radically different view of what we mean by “slowing” or “expanding” our economy. If it’s not publicly traded (selling stocks on a stock exchange) it isn’t considered a PART of the economy. If it is publicly traded, it has the benefit of lower capital in the form of drug money and OPiuM (Other People’s Money). To grow our local economy, we need to get educated about economic realities–especially we “living things-focused” sorts and social activists. It is absurd to “fight the corporations,” while funding them. Withdrawing our support and redirect our dollars in a different direction sends a much more powerful message.

Check out Solari.com if you are interested in learning more about how to fund and grow your local economy. The economy you save may be your own.

Laying with Oxen

I didn’t know what I was walking into, when DH and I agreed to have dinner, for the price of a bag of food for the food pantry, with our buddy. She got excited by my interest in oxen, and she wanted me to meet a friend of hers to continue the discussion. We walked into “The Grange Hall,” and there were 10 tables neatly set with paper table cloth, Styrofoam cups, (yes, I know) real plates and dinnerware and pickles. The average age, I’d guess, was 75. This was a holiday party, but let’s be frank: It was a Christmas Party, and we said our prayers before the meal. It was a good meal, too: roast pork, twice baked potato, chopped broccoli and a variety of baked and sweet breads, with all the decaf coffee we could drink. A dessert of ice cream and frosted brownie followed. Pleasant women in aprons cleared and served each course.

After a brief bit of “business,” in which those members present decided who would be getting the charitable donation this year (same as last year) and voting in an officer or two, it was time for The Party. It started with the dinner guests getting a 1/2 sheet with 25 letter combinations, all representing a Christmas song (for example: GRYMG, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman), and DH immediately went to work on it, considering it his trivial life mission. Those of us who were a bit trivia challenged, however, were soon rewarded with Tick-Tack-Toe in which we were to simply try and get into the mindset of our Mistress of Ceremony, and put down nine words she might list that reminded her of the holiday season. The first that could think what was on her list, with three in a row, won the price: Hersey’s (TM) kisses. This was more my speed, and I quickly wrote down words like “Santa” and “Holly.” One by one she’d call them off, until one lucky winner shouted “Bingo!” and were rewarded for their efforts. I was not one of them.

Then, a play was put on, in which “Martha,” Noah’s wife, had a diatribe against G-d. She stood, as any keeper of a farm house does, endlessly, washing the floor. “The Holy One” sat in a white sheet, saying only “Noowww Martha!” to her long list of complaints. She was all excited when she saw Noah building in the back yard. She had assumed he was building her a new kitchen. Instead, he built an ark and filled it with animals: Animals she needed to clean up after. Her complaints were against the past, and all the trouble it brought. By the end, she told us of the sky clearing and seeing land again, and began to reflect on her life. She had her family and animals around her. She was close to what she loved the most. G-d’s litany of “Noowww Martha,” began to change it’s meaning. Instead of attempting to appease her, he appeared to be the Eckhart Tolle of the biblical era: NOW! Martha. As Martha got more present-oriented, she began to shift her perspective, and decided, after all, things just weren’t so bad. She acted it well, but still, my applause was probably more enthusiastic than was warranted and maybe my interpretation a bit too elaborate. Still, I enjoyed it.

Onto requests for someone who could play the old piano, but the Mistress of Ceremonies gave herself away by saying she’d do it, so those who could play sat silently. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “I’ll be home for Christmas” was sung by all, many in the room having probably sung these words themselves during WWII while stationed abroad. I was filled with emotion, and have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that only two songs were played, and only one verse of each. The festivities ended too quickly, but soon enough for the crowd to have a reasonable farmer’s bedtime.

For me, I was only beginning to get the info I needed on oxen. My educator, I’ll call him Frank, had a thick accent that made it difficult for me to understand him, despite the fact that he grew up in this area his entire life, as did his parents. His cadence was different as well, and spoke about towns with abbreviated names I had not heard before. He could rattle off which 4-H’er in all of New England might be giving up their oxen soon, because they’d be heading to college. He showed me a pair he was considering buying, in the Oxen pin-up calendar. When asked how much a team of oxen cost, he said “Tween two, seven hundred and three, three hundred for a good ‘n.” ($2700-$3,000). Without a pause, he warned me a few times against getting one breed for oxen, and honestly, I wouldn’t dare attempt to remember, lest any of you potential oxen buyers out there be lulled away from a perfectly good pair on my misinformation. Nothing seemed to discourage him from considering me a potential oxen owner: not my small plot of land “You could have ’em on one or two acres,” or the cost of keeping them: “If you get the hay from the field, instead of once it’s in the barn, it’s cheaper” and he seemed hopeful that they might even pay my taxes pulling timber, as “so and so” was able to do.

“I grew up in Boston” I told him, “I’d never held a chicken before I got my first batch almost two years ago.” He simply nodded his head, not the least bit impressed at what I considered my appalling lack of credentials. I found out later only one thing seemed to interest him. I met my female companion at the feed store later that week I learned what it was: the steepness of my land. This, apparently, would require my getting a younger pair and allowing them to develop their mountain legs.

“Did Frank show up at your place?” she wanted to know (I had promised this bachelor meatloaf, his favorite meal…) “Nope, why?” “He was going to stop over to see what your land looked like.” To quote James Taylor “Watcha gonna do with folks like that?”
Frank drove his first pair when he was seven years old. A neighbor saw him eye-ing his team, and promised to allow the boy to work them on the way to and from school, which he did for years. He got his first team at age 16. “Better to work them 15 minutes a day, than three hours on Saturday” my buddy told me–no slouch in the oxen know-how department herself. She “calls” the oxen events at the local fair, and knows all about the oxen “IQ” course that her ex-husband developed to bring brains along with bronze into oxen contests. A stroke left him unable to continue, so she took over. “You can lay right down with them if they know you,” she told me, no doubt knowing my fondness for resting. This I knew, because I remembered seeing those milk-maid teens lying lovingly on their cows in the barn during the fair last summer. The bovines barely seem to notice.

I researched the Grange, and I was both pleased and frightened by what I saw. The full name is: The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, and it was formed in the years following the American Civil War to unite private citizens in improving the economic and social position of the nation’s farm population. The National Grange was one of the first formal groups to admit women to membership on the basis of equality with men. It remains so today. “Founding members determined that a fraternal organization would be best able to combine loyalty and democratic ideals to provide service to others.” Loyalty and democratic ideals? To what end? To assure a strong and viable Rural America. Their mission is to the “elimination of direct government farm programs so as to assure a competitive and efficient farm system.” “In working together, the Grange is able to provide assistance when the government can’t and individuals alone aren’t strong enough. By working together the Grange builds community and people. All Grange activities are for the purpose of developing leadership, improving community life, and expanding opportunities for all people.”

However, before you mistake this talk for a ringing endorsement of the organization, I believe they have deviated from their more conservative, anti-governmental involvment and a dislike of corporate mergers, as the National Grange does advocate policies that make many of my local farmer friends cringe: NAIS, GMO’s, and energy advocacy policies are among the many. These are hard times for small farmers.

I will assure you, however, that we will find ourselves with strange bedfellows in these upcoming times, and we may want to re-examine the principles advocated by the historic Grange. Mission Statement includes:

* We give our members the opportunity to meet with and get to know their neighbors in a safe, family-friendly atmosphere
* We provide a place where children, youth, and adults can grow, develop their talents and social skills, and learn leadership techniques
* We provide our members with the opportunity to discover and solve community needs
* We give assistance to individuals in crisis
* We provide a great place for community networking
* We have a grassroots approach to local, state and federal legislative change
* We give our members a voice in state and federal government forums.

As I continue to fight against the promotion of NAIS, biofuels and GMO’s, I’ll look into the wealth of human capital that exists among the aging members of my local Grange. I’m more interested in how they live than what they say. Another old farmer complained to me several months ago: “Global warming doesn’t exist!” He can’t see the point of conservation, either. Then again, he uses less than $30 a month in electricity, heats with wood, and picks “weeds” in April to drink as a spring tonic. He’s going to show me which ones to pick and when. He probably thinks herbal remedies are “hooey!” I still want him on my team.

I doubt my Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) members would agree with my attitudes, but I keep thinking about what Willie Nelson has said: “We’re still here trying to get the word out that 330 farmers are quitting every week.” These Grange members keep showing up, like they have for 60 years or more, still sending the food pantry their collections and money, still bringing in the harvest or a warm supper when illness strikes their neighbors.

I’ll avoid talking about my disgust with agribusiness livestock practices, NAIS or GMO’s, when Frank comes over for his meatloaf. He, himself, is a dying breed that still thinks you don’t need 100 acres to keep an oxen pair, or that, maybe more surprisingly, a clinical psychologist can lay down with oxen and not get fleas…that is, if the land ain’t too steep.

Visions of the New Suburban Lifestyle

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

“Our biggest mistake is that we see ourselves as separate from the natural world. We then project that sense of separation onto every other living and nonliving thing with which we interact.”

“Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees from an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruit swelling on many branches–pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits and flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as social builders or simply help keep out weeds. Others here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliage–hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. There bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky.” 1. (reprinted with permission of the author).

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Now imagine that this scene is repeated over and over in every yard in the suburb you live. Now imagine it occurring in every suburb in your region, your country, every country on the globe. You walk down the street, and you can smell the green, hear the buzz, feel the aliveness.

Imagine the “community food preservation” week-ends where large commercial kitchens come to life with friends and neighbors “putting up” their food for the winter. They can, for a small fee or trade, buy jars right there, or bring their own. Solar or wind runs the dehydrators. There’s a trading table for those who have too much of one thing and too little of something else.

Afterward, there is a large harvest supper with local musicians singing and everyone, including the children, are dancing. There are fewer children, but everyone knows them and looks after them. The Parent-Teacher Association members are there, discussing which of the overabundant foods available for community sale, they’ll use in their school kitchens this year. The local baker brings out the fresh breads, and requests that more barley be planted next year, as she was short this winter. In the lean years, there is regional food sharing.

The Homeowner’s Association Board is there planning out a larger community garden next to the playground, and how to more efficiently re-use community graywater. Long ago, they did away with such barbaric restrictions as “no clothes lines” and “no food gardens.” The insanity of trying to move livestock far away from permaculture, or “labeling” every chicken seems like some urban legend that didn’t really happen. If that was the case, where did you get the manure for the gardens? Who needed to know when an escape-artist goat got over the fence, except the person who lost it? That couldn’t have happened, or did it?

All the plantings were things that were not edible, can you believe that? And petroleum chemicals sprayed on lawns that no one could eat? Chemicals that ran into the drinking water? What was the point of that? Then they’d bag the leaves, grass, and clippings, in petroleum-based plastics, and have trucks carry then away. What about soil building? And those people back then spent hours and hours caring for these lawns, and hid away the food gardens like they were bad, or something, if they could have them at all. They thought you needed thousands of acres to grow food, and that it took huge machines and pesticides to kill off bugs. Wasn’t it obvious how hard they were making it for themselves? Didn’t they know about Peak Oil? Forest Gardening? Permaculture?

It doesn’t make sense to have lawns anyplace but the ball field, and this kept short by the sheep. All of that sure must have been expensive. Boy, what were they thinking?

Your neighbors do more walking and are home a lot more now, because they do much less shopping outside of their own neighborhoods. “Mall” is an antiquated term that most children now spell as “maul.” Those were turned into fields or alternative energy areas or forests, a long time ago. We shop now in local town centers we walk, bike or hop a train-ride to. There is a age-cycle swapping that happens where families with older children pass down their “stuff” to families with younger children, and seniors pass on furniture and other things they no longer need as they move into smaller, senior apartments in the complex. These items now go to young couples just starting out.

Your political activity is radically local. You care who your most local representatives are, because very often, it’s you or someone you know. Homeowners Associations have become a powerful block that promote local agendas, especially those having to do with the quality of their community life. Feeding, clothing, healing, and socializing with the people who live there are the top priorities. Nobody talks about “promoting growth” unless they are talking about permaculture. We’re all in the business of promoting life, the earth, our survival. We don’t separate work from living. The slogan “The personal is political” takes on new and reality-based common sense.

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People radically overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, yet they radically underestimate what they can do in a decade. None of this requires “Governmental intervention” to get started. All of it requires personal initiative, reaching out, getting to know other people, discussing your own priorities. It won’t likely happen in every suburb. The question to ask yourself is: “What am I doing to make it (or a vision of your own choosing) happen in MINE?

Superbia! Checklist 2
Easy Steps
1. Sponsor community dinners.
2. Establish a community newsletter, bulletin board, and community roster.
3. Establish a neighborhood watch program.
4. Start neighborhood investment clubs, community sports activities and restoration projects.
5. Form weekly discussion groups.
6. Establish neighborhood baby-sitting coop.
7. Form an organic food co-op.
8. Create car or van pools for commuting to and from work.
9. Create a neighborhood work-share program.
10. Create a mission statement.
11. Create an asset inventory.
Bolder Steps
12. Tear down fences: opening back yards to create communal play space and a space for neighbors to mingle and a community garden.
13. Plant a community garden and orchard.
14. Establish a neighborhood composting and recycling facility.
15. Plant shade trees and windbreaks to create a more favorable microclimate.
16. Replace asphalt and concrete with porous pavers and greenery.
17. Establish a more edible landscape—incrementally remove grass in front lawns and replace with vegetables and fruit trees.
18. Start a community-supported agriculture program in which neighbors “subscribe” to local organic farm’s produce.
19. Create a car-share program–purchasing a van or truck for rent to community members.
20. Begin community-wide retrofitting of homes and yards for energy and water efficiency.
21. Solarize your homes.
Boldest Steps
22. Create a community energy system.
23. Establish alternative water and wastewater systems.
24. Establish a more environmentally friendly transportation strategy.
25. Create a common house.
26. Create a community-shared office.
27. Establish weekly entertainment for the community.
28. Narrow or eliminate streets, converting more space to park and edible landscape, walkways and picnic areas.
29. Retrofit garages and rooms in your homes into apartments or add granny flats to house students or others in need of housing.
30. Establish a mixed-use neighborhood by opening a coffee shop, convenience store, and garden market.
31. Promote a more diverse neighborhood.

Reference

1. Dave Jacke (2005) Edible Forest Gardens: Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture. Chelsea Green

2. Images and text from http://www.davewann.com/publications/superbia/

Somebody said it couldn’t be done…

“Somebody said it couldn’t be done

but I, with a chuckle, replied

that maybe it couldn’t, but I would be one,

who wouldn’t say so ’til I tried.

So I buckled right down, and tackled

that thing that couldn’t be done, and I did it.”

It is a phrase my mother used to say. It has something to do with not believing conventional wisdom, and putting effort into something, even if someone says it is likely to fail.

Do you live on a small plot of land, maybe, say, 1/10th of an acre? Think the idea of growing enough food to feed yourself is just plain dumb? What if your land is mostly concrete?

One family worked at it, and a few weeks ago, they harvested 100 pounds of vegetables in one day. Six THOUSAND pounds in one year, a record they would like to break this year. They are hoping for FOUR TONS. Yes, they had to take up the 40′ x 30′ slab of concrete in the middle of their back yard, and work each year to condition the soil. Then, there was that hundred foot long concrete driveway. Yes, you might say, but THEY live in warm California. Still, they’ve got 350 different types of edible plants. PLUS, they have chickens, ducks, and goats, brew their own biodiesel, cook in a solar oven and have solar panels for their electrical needs.

Their goal was simple: “We seek to live more environmentally conscious, simple, agrarian and self-sufficient life by bringing about change in our daily lives – one step at a time.”

What about you? It isn’t too late to do something this year. What will YOU do? Soil preparation is always a good idea. You could put in a rain barrel to collect water. Throw some seed balls in that empty lot around the corner. Growing food is never a waste of time.

No, you can’t change the world overnight. You can’t do everything all by yourself, but the truth is, you don’t have to. Do one thing. Then, pick something else, and something else. Take inspiration from pictures and videos like these.

And keep chuckling.

“Corn:” It’s not just for gas tanks anymore…

It might puzzle some to hear the pronouncement that food prices will rise as a result of corn being sold for ethanol. You might think: “I don’t buy that much corn. I could do without corn, if I had to.”

But corn as food is more than fresh or canned corn. It is also strange names like maltodextrin and more common ones like corn syrup. You might think of corn syrup as some quaint cooking additive. I remember only one brand from my childhood, and it is still sold today: Karo Syrup. I say I remember it from my childhood, because the only time I used it was in a cooking class in 4th grade. I’ve been able to quite successfully make meals from scratch, never needing to use Karo Syrup, and yet American food manufacturers are addicted to the stuff. Corn sweeteners now supply more than 50 percent of the U.S. nutritive sweetener market, and corn starch provides over 90 percent of their starch needs. And the amount used in manufacturing has risen 20% since 1985.

And US consumers are eating more as well, in these manufactured foods. In 1970, our daily consumption of corn syrup was 2 calories a day. By 1999, corn syrup consumption peaked at 215 calories a day. It now averages over 200 calories of corn syrup consumed each day by those in the US. USA is the world’s biggest producer of corn and it’s biggest consumer as well. China is a distant second, and actually consumes more than it produces.

Tonight starts Passover, and, for many observant Jewish households, they will have completed the job of cleaning their cupboards of foods they don’t eat over the next 8 days. One of these items, for many, is corn. While eliminating corn on the cob and canned corn is easy enough, to rid one’s diet of corn additives and sweeteners is another matter entirely. Just for a lark, Dear Reader, clean out your food cabinets of anything containing corn syrup or sweeteners, if you haven’t already, and see what you’re left with. For many “average Americans” who shop in the traditional supermarket, the answer is “not much.”

DEXTROSE, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUPS, MALTODEXTRIN & CRYSTALLINE FRUCTOSE

Remove anything that says “dextrose,” “high fructose corn syrup,” “maltodextrin” or “crystalline fructose” for starters. Those will be in instant puddings, and almost all ‘ready to eat’ meals. Corn products give them all the proper textural characteristics during freezing, thawing and heating. Check your peanut butter, ketchup, mayo and mustard too. Candies, prepared bakery goods, even luncheon meat has corn products. Goodbye yogurt, granola bars and cottage cheese and most all bottled soda. Also check for words such as MSG (monosodium glutamate) and xanthan gum. Those are also now made from corn.

Even body powder and shampoo has the stuff.

While manufacturers may be more careful to point out products containing highly allergic foods like peanuts, no efforts have been made for those suffering corn allergies. Medicines such as asprin now might contain corn products. Check the vitamins, too. Vitamin C and E are now made from corn. Citric and lactic acid from corn can also be found in hundreds of food and industrial products.

And alcohol as well. Whiskey for one, and U.S. fermentation of corn-derived dextrose is making brewing with corn more popular in beer.

One site states that over 25% of all products in supermarkets contain corn and that’s probably a conservative estimate. A new area for corn refiners is also the bioproducts: organic acids, food gums, and an increasing array of vitamins.

CORN PAPER, CORN DRUGS…

But food manufacturers aren’t the only one’s hooked on corn. It’s used in manufacturing paper and textiles, as a flocculating agent, anticaking agent, mold-releasing agent, dusting powder and thickening agent. Microbiotic research is also opening up new avenues for corn products. But that’s not all. The Corn Refiners Association hopes to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels by making industrial chemicals and plastics out of corn. And we haven’t even mentioned agricultural feed and animal additives such as lysine and triptophane and antibiotics.

The corn manufacturers have come a long way since their start as a “starch” in the laundry business.

CORN FOR FOOD, CORN FOR FUELS

So when there is talk about the cost of food rising, consider this: Ethanol-blended fuels account for 12% of all automobile fuels sold in the U.S., and that figure is estimated to climb prodigiously.

The ‘Prospective Planting’ report issued March 30th, proudly reports that 90.5 million acres of corn will be planted this year, an increase of over 15%, and it is expected to yield over 13 billion bushels. Such a harvest would produce ample corn supplies to economically meet the needs of all the sectors that rely on it, according to officials at the Renewable Fuels Association.

“American farmers will continue to feed the world while renewably fueling our nation.” And they reassure us that the corn prices which are higher than they have been in recent memory, will be resolved as soon as these new levels of production hit the market. Otherwise, they say, even with these high prices, food should only increase a modest 3-5%. But wait. With the power of exponential function, this means that a $1.00 can of food will rise to $1.27 in just 5 years and a $200 a week food budget will rise to over $255. Multiply that by 52 weeks and that is an almost $2900 yearly increase in food costs in 5 years. And we haven’t yet figured in the effects of rising oil prices on our food costs.

“The market is working,” said RFA President Bob Dinneen.”This level of production also helps put to rest (or at least it should) the sky-is-falling arguments about food v. fuel. As efficiencies improve and new technologies are developed in ethanol production and other sectors of agriculture, we can continue to feed and fuel this country.”

But for how long? Currently, 114 ethanol biorefineries nationwide have a capacity to produce more than 5.6 billion gallons annually.Additionally, 80 biorefineries are under construction and 7 are expanding that will add more than 6 billion gallons of capacity when complete, doubling the current annual production. That’s a lot of 15% increases in farmed corn production each year.

Can the US continue to devote more and more farmland to corn, and at what cost? What is not being planted in favor of the more profitable generous government handouts for ethanol? More and more products now contain refined corn products and that’s likely to increase dramatically over the years. How will these new products containing corn fair, as they compete with US Government subsidized-ethanol in the corn commodities markets that they use. Good for corn farmers. Bad for world-wide consumers who would rather eat than drive.

I stick by what I said in an earlier rather lengthly post: There will come the day in this country, when hungry people will walk by acres of walled-in crops that we used to consider ‘food,’ and are now considered ‘fuel.’ Many right now are living in a world where they can no longer afford staples of their diet, like the Mexican and their tortilla, because it’s just more profitable to drive corn than eat it.

But maybe we can just return to sugar as a sweetener in our food. Oh wait. Sugar is being used as a biofuel as well. Never mind…

Continue Reading

Revolutionary War-Era Family Farmer Fights Back with His Own Green Revolution

Dear Peak Shrink,

I have had a rather bizarre awakening. You see, I became prepared for peak oil quite inadvertently. It all started in the 1970’s. I was born and grew up on a farm that had been in our family for thirteen generations, dating back to a land grant from the King of England, in the mid 1700’s. We had weathered many storms throughout history, the Revolution, Civil War, World Wars, recessions, depressions, all descriptions of crisis. None prepared us for the 1980’s and the coming storm.

I graduated high school in 1981 and attended [Southern USA] State University with an agronomy degree placed firmly in my sights. Then the farm crisis hit coupled with drought…. after drought. The red cecil clays that comprised our upland farm bordering a river parched in the unrelenting southern summers with the continued absence of rain fall. This was to be for a dozen summers.

My father had bought into the modern way, using increased amounts of petroleum inputs, technology, and mechanization to reduce labor inputs and increase yields. Our operation was a model of progress and my father was the recipient of numerous awards for his outstanding successes in conservation and environmental stewardship. But, we now found ourselves deeply in debt and a mortgage sitting on our lands that had been debt free for generations. It was only a matter of time until we were insolvent.

My father’s, our families’ friends, were in the same sinking boat. Some committed suicide, others slipped into either unscrupulous activities to try and generate revenues to survive and hold onto their lands or alcohol and drug addictions to numb the reality. Families disintegrated under the pressure. I can particularly remember one of my father’s high school friends, sitting in our yard, sobbing. He was a dairy farmer and cried like a baby that he could not buy his family a gallon of milk. The USDA had seized his assets and had liquidated all his livestock to cover his loans. Our community was ripped apart.

I had dropped out of college, relinquishing my scholarship in my freshman year to work on our farm as my family could scarcely afford food, much less pay hired labor. By the mid 1980’s, it was apparent that we were soon to lose our farm. I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the Naval Nuclear Engineering Program. I showed up to the recruiter’s office in rags with a tooth brush and the best pair of tennis shoes that I had. He asked me if that was all I had and I nodded to confirm his suspicions. He took me down to the local K-Mart and bought me a pair of jeans and a shirt for the trip.

I had never realized the true extent of our poverty until that day.

I completed the training program and received an honorable discharge from the Navy in the 1990’s. I had had six years to sit in the belly of a submarine and contemplate where we had gone wrong.

After a very angry period of time, in which I lashed out at my father, I came to realize that we were caught in circumstances that were beyond our control. True, he was the Captain and had made the calls that took us into a fatal descent. However, he did the best he could with the knowledge and circumstances that he had.

There was a larger problem…. I began to realize that it was not just his fault. Agriculture, or should I say agri-business was clearly on the wrong track, dependent upon expensive and toxic inputs. I began to study past models and technologies that were not capital and petroleum intensive. I scoured the country side buying horse drawn implements, purchased a team of Clydesdale / Percheron cross mares, and travelled to visit an Amish community. I drilled my grandfather for information as I had been far removed from the old ways. I suddenly discovered a quite unexpected knowledge source, my father! He had grown up using the antiquated model that I was trying to piece together, abandoning the methods in favor of modernization.

Out of the original 1000 acres that my family had we had managed to save about 100. I was determined to be a farmer and knew it would probably be a solitary existence and had prepared myself to be a life long bachelor. If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans. It was at this time I met my wife. I explained my dreams and showed her all I had accomplished in my quest for simple living with no petroleum inputs. To my amazement she was delighted. We met on new years eve and were married three months later. She has been the best friend that I have ever had and we have a daughter and two sons.

My wife inherited 52 acres at the foot of a mountain in [Southern USA]. We moved up there and built a log house from the ground up and I farmed and cut furniture blocks doing the work with my horses. We now live in the Midwest as the developers gobbled our mountain up, driving the native folks out. The cost of living and tax rates sky rocketed with the value of the real estate. We were in the way of progress and most of the new comers had liquor budgets higher than the yearly income of our small farm.

I sold our farm and had enough money to buy a farm in Iowa. We certified our farm organic and I began to study every peice of available info on sustainable production techniques that I could find. We joined the Practical Farmers of Iowa and operated a small dairy using rotational grazing techniques versus modern confinement feeding scenarios.

We now home school our kids. The skills we teach… basic metallurgy, blacksmithing, and forging, sustainable livestock husbandry and crop production methods, home butchering, food preservation, carpentry and lumber processing ( I have my own sawmill ), basic mechanical skills, sustainable forestry, sewing, knitting, and quilting, cheese and butter production, alternative medicine ( herbs and native plants ), horsemanship and driving skills, etc.

I also have an alternative energy business and we install wind turbines, solar thermal, off grid water management, and P.V. systems. I have recently purchased the Energy 10 software from the Sustainable Building Industries Council. We plan to start constructing natural homes as requested by many of our customers. The technical side of this business stemmed from my training and experiences that I received while in the Nuclear Power Program, riding and repairing ships and submarines. While I have had my nose rubbed in the fact that I don’t have a true college degree, only military training, I have used it to the best of my abilities. We are currently constructing an experimental photovoltaic system.

To sum it up… I guess after years of ridicule for being such an odd ball and going against the grain, we are about as ready as we can get for peak oil. Now it is my duty to try and help my neighbors. Some will seek us out others had just as soon starve as they had to give up their current lifestyle. I have found out a few things in my twenty year journey…. one, a strong dedicated family unit is indispensable, two, my faith and Judeo Christian values sustained me through some unbelievable times and will continue to do so as man only has hope and honest hard work to rely on, three, community does matter. I know that calling one’s self a Christian in this day and time is probably not in vogue. Most of the blogs I read blame those who practice this religion for the majority of the problems facing the earth’s inhabitants. It was my faith that perpetuated my abandonment of technological idols. For me there is one true God and it isn’t a hybrid automobile, Al Gore, or George Bush. Every time that I have placed my faith in human beings they have failed, usually miserably.

Well, that’s my spill…. I’m going to bed now, have to get up early and do the chores before church. Being a hick just isn’t that bad.

Hick Farmer Gone Green

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Dear HFGG,

I read your letter, (after I dug it out of my spam box, who knows why…) with a strange sense of pride and awe. Despite the fact that I’ve never met you, and have only read your story right now, I feel like you represent everything good and decent about being a farmer from a long and proud line of farming families: hard working, resourceful, pigheaded (you just wouldn’t be defeated), and a lot of other good things I can’t think to say right now.

I am so sorry that we have lost so many of our multi-generational farmers. I feel the loss myself very deeply. Such a tremendous waste of enormous talent. And how fortunate that you were able to return to your father for a source of valuable information and support. He must be tremendously proud of you.

It is so reassuring to know that you and your family will continue to remain strong throughout the coming ‘trouble.’ I’m just so glad that you are there, happy and proud with your family and strong in your religious beliefs.

I will read your story again, and publish it as an inspiration to other readers. If you have any other additional advise or information to share with my readers, I’d be delighted to get it from you. Thanks again for writing and living such an inspiring life.

Peak Shrink

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Do you have a story to share about your own Green Revolution? Write me at peakshrink@peakoilblues.com

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Footnote:

Here is a letter for all of you who have been waiting for the end of the world “a bit too long.” As Franklin Sanders once said, (to paraphrase): “The day after ‘the end of the world,’ there will be people waking up wanting breakfast, and there’l be somebody they’ll pay to make it for them…Measure your wealth in ounces, hoofs, and acres…” ( See his Building Real Wealth CD, with Catherine Austin Fitts for more great info…)

If there was ever a time to support local agriculture, dear readers, the time is now. Take a great school like the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst: it has a very good agricultural program, The Stockbridge School. Stockbridge has 250 students enrolled, studying subjects such as “Turfgrass Management” (think: golf courses) “Horticulture,” (think: flower shop) and “Equine Industries,” (think: riding). The “Fruit and Vegetable Crops” degree, the “farmers” of the bunch, have 8 students enrolled.(!) It is a very good school, with a strong focus on organic methods, and yet, out of 250, only 8 could even consider something as basic as farming as a profession. Why?

Just think of that joke about how to make a small fortune in farming: Start out with a large fortune.

In my area, we’ve lost 6 dairy farms in the recent past. The number of farms with milk cows declined over 97% between 1940 and 1997. Those dairy farmers will get $1.49 for 100 gallons of milk selling to agri-business. Personally, I couldn’t imagine even carrying the 100 gallons to the truck for $1.49.

Now, it is true that those mega-chains will sell you milk cheaper than your local farmer will. Ask yourself which you’d rather get to know, now, and develop a relationship with. Those dudes and dudettes standing there every week in the late Spring and Summer offering you their lettuce and tomatoes: They are your farmers, and if you hesitate to spend a bit more, or can’t be bothered making a special trip to visit them every week, wave them goodbye. They don’t DO charity work. It cost them more to bring you wholesome, locally grown food than it does that giant chain store. But there are hidden costs such as environmental pollution, ( loss of genetic plant and livestock diversity, health risks from pesticide consumption, etc. Plus, locally grown food TASTES better. The question shouldn’t be “Why is local agriculture so expensive?” It should be: “Why is agri-business food so cheap?”

If I sound like I’m lecturing, I guess I am. […stepping on the soap-box…] I saw eggs in a supermarket for $1.39 a dozen the other day, and I know that I can’t offer you my eggs for $1.39. I wanted to ask the farmer who sold them (probably for a fraction of that $1.39) what he/she is feeding those chickens, to keep the price that low. I couldn’t, of course. They don’t give you a name of the farmer, or a location where I could drive to check out the look of those birds. So I can’t check out whether or not they are still feeding them arsenic.

But I do know this: Those birds don’t wait in line, all excited, like mine do, to go outside. They don’t get organic feed year round or alfalfa (which they love) in the winter. No one grabs and pats the rooster who has decided to attack them and says “Don’t you do that, buddy, that’s bad manners.” There are no roosters mixed with the hens in agri-business. There are no yards that chickens go into, even in most of those labeled “free range” chickens. There is no “pecking order” because they are stuffed too closely into cages to even move (4 to 5 hens confined to an 18 x 20″ cage) and have already had their beaks clipped. They have 24/7 lights and, after months of putting out eggs, they are made into your fast food McNuggs. It’s not humane. I doubt it’s even healthy. It’s just business.

There was a time when we could pretend it didn’t effect us, but, gentle readers, that time is over. When you are looking over your budget, and wondering what to cut out, please, remember your local farmer. The farmer’s mouth you feed now, may soon feed your own. You’ll eat more healthy, to boot, saving on medical expenses later…
I just hope all of my personal efforts and the efforts of so many others in my area, will stop the loss of all of our farms before the agri-business begins the ‘great turning.’

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Response from HFGG:

Dear Peak Shrink,

Yes you can print the letter. If this story or should I say journey can help others then I have been successful. In my travels I have found that we have sacrificed eons of knowledge on the altar of technology, technologies that can so easily fail us, pitching social and cultural traditions on the scrap heap. This is knowledge that is not easily regained and has been a twenty year quest. Was it a fool’s errand? History will deliver the verdict. However, it is not an impossible errand and people do not have to starve or go to war over resources unless they choose to do so. I consider our farm and the path we have taken to be a bit of an “ark” to teach others. No , I do not consider myself to be any type of Messiah…. only a servant, self serving in nature. It is not only my duty but in my and my family’s best interest to assist in the creation of as many success stories as we can. We, as a society, have forgotten that true communities are not just geographical locations but are collections of individuals, independent minded but with a common bond derived from mutual basic needs.

No sane person will accept the yoke of slavery willingly.

HFGG

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Postscript from Peak Shrink:

You know about that Farm Boy I talked about in an earlier post? I’ve got another story for you, this time about a Farm Girl. She’s a bit depressed, you know. She’s quite a talented young woman; she can give shot to a horse and feed pills to a pig. She can birth a calf and label every tree in your yard, cutting down the ones you don’t want. She can grab a handful of your dirt, and tell you what you can and can’t grow on it. She can look at my chickens and tell whether another hen or the roosters have been pecking at their feathers, but she’s unemployed. She can’t find work doing any of the wonderful things she can do, and she hates the idea of having to get a job in fast foods. She thought maybe she could take care of exotic animals (because she knows darn well that no one with the farming livestock can pay her a living wage to do what she can with their barn animals.)

Like my Farm boy, I tell her not to give up. She has to work. She’s gutta feed herself now, and might get a factory job while she tries to figure out another angle, but I tell her ‘the times they are a changin’. She looks at me with quiet amusement. She can’t quite figure out why I’m so darn excited about what she can do, or so optimistic about her future. I’ll hire her when I can to help me care for my chickens, and in the Spring, if she hasn’t found herself a crappy job, we’ll work together in the garden. But my heart aches for her. She lives in a rural community, and her essential skills are not valued or put to use because her family doesn’t have a farm they can put her to work on. The local dairy farmers can’t hire her at $1.49 a 100 pounds of milk. Her high school training program will even be dropping most of the livestock she trained on, because they just can’t afford to keep them anymore. Besides, what’s the point? With agri-business, farming is an antiquated skill anyway, right? Like wheelrights or blacksmiths?

Is anyone listening? Apple orchards are folding in New England and Washington (and in Australia), because apple juice concentrates are imported in mass quantities from China. We can import lamb from Australia more cheaply than we can grow it up the street. Japan can import sushi cheaper from India than from their own country. Jamaica dumps milk on the ground because powdered milk floods their market at a cheaper rate, thanks to the World Bank loans they got into. They are trying to hold onto the banana exports they ship to the EU, but they are “subsidized” and therefore an “unfair trade practice.” Soon, they’ll be importing bananas from Costa Rica, because the labor unrest there can be more easily suppressed. It is happening all over the world, folks. Eating your fossil fuel breakfast from food growing in another country. And it will all go away when we run out of oil. But by then, the orchards will be all cut down, the pasture land for the sheep will be sold off to development, the fisherman will have sold their boats, and the dairies and bananas that were locally produced (and the know-how to do it) will be gone.

Sure, you can be afraid, but then get mad and take action, wherever you live. We all need a “fair trade” policy right here at home, for our local farmers. As individuals, if we don’t care whether our local farmers eat (that goes for the city people as well), will we be surprised when they don’t care whether we do? Take a drive (yes, I’m aware of the irony) and visit a farm. Promise to become a “retail” customer, if they can figure out how to make you one. Promise them a decent wage for their labor, and make a friend. One by one. Have them plant an extra tomato for you in the Spring, raise another lamb or hatch more chickens for your egg breakfast. Join the CSA, and demand more local produce in your supermarket, and tell them you are willing to pay a fair price for it.

This story proves that organic agricultural practices can work. Of course they can. But farmers need help from all of the ‘consumers’ in every country around the world. Increase the amount of money you spend for local agriculture, even 10% or 20%, to save your local farmer. The international community thought Japan was crazy when they refused to turn over their rice farming to high-rises. Did they know something we didn’t? Feed yourself locally, and fund your local agricultural efforts. The mouth you feed might be your own.

And, if you’ve read down this far, local agriculture may not be feeding the cow you eat ‘pot scrubbers.’ You know, that fuzzy plastic thing you might have on your kitchen sink? Turns out feeding them to agri-business cattle helps them gain weight (see: Efficacy of plastic pot scrubbers as a replacement for roughage in high-concentrate cattle diets). I couldn’t make that one up if I tried, and I have a very active imagination.

Great new agri-business slogans: “These chickens have a one-third less arsenic.” or “Our cattle are fed only sanitized pot scrubbers.” Or how about “There have been no published studies linking the dramatic rise of childhood autism to genetically modified foods (and we’re ignoring the one on mercury in childhood vaccines).” (It has gone from in in 10,000 in 1987, to  1 in 1000 to 1 in 167. Of course, no one can do a study like that in the USA, because there is no way to identify genetically modified food in everyday food products…bills requiring the labeling GMO’s in our food have been repeatedly rejected.)