Fossil Free Food

There’s no such thing.

Everyone knows that fuel is used to grow our food and that petrochemicals are used to feed and protect food. But it’s probably worse than we realise. Most food has more fossil fuel energy in it than natural, current energy. It takes about 10 fossil fuel calories to produce and transport each food calorie in the average American diet. That’s about three times as much fossil fuel as we spend on transport.

We’ve been trying to take fossil fuel out of food we grow here for a couple of decades now. If you’re realistic about it, there’s hardly any chance to make fossil free food these days. In the garden here we make a pretty good attempt. There are organic or self-grown seeds, no sprays, no artificial fertiliser, etc. We do use a two-wheel tractor (diesel so can use biodiesel), chainsaws, cutters, mowers etc, but we use a lot of Tommy Power!

There are always fossil fuels involved somewhere. It’s hard to avoid. Starting with me. I eat food that comes in a bag. Paper or plastic that bag was made with energy from fossil fuel. And of course I drove to town to pick it up, and it came to town on a big truck running on fossil fuel. And the food was made almost entirely with fossil fuels – big tractors (possibly with auto-satellite drive), loads of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, transport, sorting (by machine) etc etc The saga of our reliance on, our addiction to, fossil fuel continues. But if you want food with less fossil in it, buy local, organic, or grow your own. 😉

Where the rubber hits the road, or the spade hits the soil, we do a pretty good job. We use a lot of physical effort, sowing, weeding, harvesting. Here is a little glimpse of what it’s like to grow natural food avoiding fossil fuel and fossil chemicals.

There are three tools on show here: spade, 3 prong hoe, and swivel hoe (aka hoop/stirrup/oscillating hoe).

The spade, being used to dig and turn between rows of carrots. The ground in the patch is very weedy because it was broken, turned and planted for the first time this year. (The ground above and below has been cultivated for over a decade.) You can see the physical effort and technique employed. You can get an idea of the rate of progress – much slower than a big ol’ tractor! But no fossil fuels are being burned and no chemical sprays are killing the soil.

The 3 pronged hoe is being used to drag away the couch grass, and other weeds turned over by the spade.

The swivel hoe … ahh the swivel hoe. What would we do without the swivel hoe? It was one of the first tools we bought 20 years ago when we started. We have a 175mm (used in the clips) and 125mm. They are still going strong. The blades and handles wear out. We’ve replaced the handle on the 125 but had to use a broom handle replacement. The 175 handle is still original and we like it because it’s long and has a concave taper which enhances its handling. We replaced blades on both. (Check Dunmore Country School for them if you’re in Ireland.)

The clips are an example of light weeding potatoes, weeding tomatoes in the greenhouse and one of heavy weeding along the back wall of the greenhouse.

In 1999 we guessed that we had 20 years to change systems if natural cycles were to be protected from anthropomorphic destruction. Our guess was pretty good – nothing changed and here we are with climate breakdown …

Now we reckon we’ve got 20 years of fossil fuels left. They’ll always be around, but only in small quantities, as was the case before the industrial revolution. Why do we think they’ll run out? Because we passed peak oil some years ago and consumption is increasing. When everyone realises oil is running out, things are going to be very difficult as food supplies will shrink, transport capacity will shrivel and no one has any useful life skills any more – like carpentry, gardening, metallurgy, … Infrastructure will disintegrate as all those little plastic washers, valve, osmotic barriers etc which allow high tech to function will not be available …

So in the meantime, we’re enjoying growing fossil free food and eating and sharing it.

Time to get a swivel hoe?

Good and Bad People

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