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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Free energy = free food = loss of appreciation for food

For the past century we have had free energy in the form of gas and diesel oil. Let me illustrate. Suppose you need the energy to move 1,000 pounds of corn 10 miles to market. Here are three ways to do it. All calculations are roughly adjusted to current dollars.
  1. Hire a porter at $200 per day for 20 days to carry it on their back at 50 lbs per 20 mile round trip. Cost = $4,000.This method was used for several millennia.
  2. Hire a driver, wagon, and team of horses for one day to make the 20 mile round trip. Cost = $400.This method was used for many centuries.
  3. Hire a driver and truck at $2/mile which includes driver, deprecation, repairs, fuel and oil. Cost = $40. This method has been used for a less than a century. This is only 1% of the cost of the most prevalent method used in the history of man. 
By historical standards, $4/gallon of gas is basically equivalent to free energy. Think about that the next time you fill your car and stop by the grocery store to pick up Gatorade as you take the kids to soccer practice.

During most of the history of mankind, people spent 70%-90% of their time to get food. The rest of the time was spent getting clothing and shelter. When they weren’t totally exhausted, they made babies to help them with the work. The only soccer the kids got was kicking a squash around when their parents weren’t overseeing their weeding and watering.

Because of free energy, we have basically the equivalent of free food – it costs us much less than 10% of the time we expend for work and other activities. Here at Backyard Farming, we advocate spending much more time and energy to generate food. Backyard farmers have an appreciation for food that has been lost in our society. One of our goals is to restore that appreciation in more people. We encourage you join our efforts and be an advocate for backyard farming. 

Uncle Dale


Jennifer said...

Very interesting perspective, Dale. I bet two byproducts of our food system, waste and gluttony, while poles apart, would both diminish if people had to spend more energy getting their food.

David said...

Uncle Dale, I've always contended that our bodies were designed to work hard and sleep well and not be bottled up in a cubicle under stress and with no exercise. Oh, yes we might wake up with an ache or two but a little work will smooth those aches right out. I also thought that since 3/4 of the earth is covered by water that we should be spending 3/4 of our time fishing. What do you think? Foraging, hunting, fishing, and gardening are the things in life that just seems right to me. I seriously doubt that our pioneer folks ever heard a complaint from their kids about being bored.

Have a great food searching day.

Dale Johnson said...


I love your philosophy.


Unknown said...

This is so true! We're terribly spoiled. I did an article for The Local Cook last year where I had researched that in the early 20th century, families spent about 43 percent of their income on food but by 1980 we spent only about 19%. Big difference! But because we've become use to spending the other 24% on entertainment and such, we think it's outrageous to spend more on good wholesome food and gas to get it to us. Yes, gas and food are going up, but maybe it's not a bad thing. Maybe it will help us re-evaluate our priorities. And kids helping to grow food is a GOOD life skill in my book!

Anonymous said...

I remember when you told this story in AREC306. I've since told many others about it (usually when they complain about gas prices). I don't know if you had enough of a participation percentage to read the evaluations, but I wrote down that the stories you tell in class (like this one) really makes the class connect to the material better and is a really great learning tool.

Keep up the good work Professor Johnson.