Thursday 30 May 2013

Permaculture: Our Urban Design Part 3 - Utilities

Food Movement: Wheels, Water, Rail, and Air

by Philip Ackerman-Leist                                                        

This is part 3 of our serialization of Chapter 4 (Energy) from the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". This excerpt looks at the challenge of moving food from farm to plate. 
Distribution drives the food system. It’s currently the fastest-shifting sector in our food system, in part because it’s market-driven and steered by technological development. When we don our energy lenses, we quickly see that a local farmer bringing food to the local market in a pickup truck is efficient only if the distance between the farm and the market is very short. The more a food transportation vehicle is built for moving large amounts of food across significant expanses, the more energy-efficient that vehicle tends to be (see fig. 4-5). Ironically for the local food advocate, transportation efficiency actually peaks with oceangoing ships, declines slightly with rail and more so with diesel trucks, and finally diminishes with the iconic farmers’ market pickup. It’s only in compact cities and small rural towns that energy efficiency can jump back up with the farmer back in the driver’s seat—or rather, the saddle. Bicycle transport wins the efficiency game in linking local farms to consumers right in the neighborhood.
Rebuilding local food systems faces two contrasting challenges with transportation:
  • Underdeveloped expertise and infrastructure for moving local food from the farm to the local consumer efficiently and cost-effectively.
  • The daunting influx of inexpensive foods from distant places that overwhelm the nascent local food marketplace.
Inherent in both challenges is, again, the issue of scale: scale of production, scale of processing, scale of distribution, and certainly scale of purchasing, all of which impact product availability and price. When we hit the distribution issue, we see the challenge of taking on the Goliaths of the food world with nothing but a slingshot in the form of a pickup truck.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Can Rebulding Local Food Systems Help Promote Renewable Energy?

by Philip Ackerman-Leist                                                        

This is part 2 of our serialization of Chapter 4 (Energy) from the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". This excerpt looks at some areas where small to mid scale farming might have the edge. 

Read Part 1, Read Part 3, Read Part 4, Read Part 5, Read Part 6, Read Part 7
Farming is about energy flows. “Food production” is about a terminal point in the act of agriculture.
As soon as we begin using the word “farming” again, all of the implicit associations with farming begin to reemerge in our shared thoughts and language—planting and harvesting seasons, the cumulative wealth of generations, the farmscape, the role of farms within the community. Suddenly, place, time, and the stewardship of inherited traditions all start to become important again. We can quantify production, but we can qualify farming. That is to say, we can instill it with values, not just interpret it through metrics.
These days, when we attribute values that we think define good ecological farming practices, we generally tend to speak of “sustainable farming.” Sustainable farming is the careful management of energy flows, not just to get to one final product at the end of a season but to ensure that those energy flows allow for a regenerative use of the land far into the future. What better way to think about food and farming than through a pie chart? Figure 4-4 clearly depicts the sticky fingers in the energy pie at this point in time. It’s obvious: we are overly dependent upon photosynthesis that occurred millions of years ago to fuel the growth of our modern farms through fossil fuels. It’s also worth noting that fertilizer and pesticide production is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels, not just for powering the manufacturing process but as primary components for many of those products.

Rebuilding the Foodshed: Fields of ENERGY

by Philip Ackerman-Leist

Over the coming days, we'll be sharing material from Chapter 4 (Energy) of the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". This is a heck of a chapter, one that takes a look at the complex relationships between food systems, energy and waste. If you eat food, grow food, use energy, create energy, or make waste, you'll find yourself fascinated.
Food is energy. Food provides energy. Food requires energy. Food and energy are virtually synonymous. They even share a common unit of measure. But that doesn’t mean that they are in balance. To the contrary. And nowhere is that imbalance more evident than in the United States.
As soon as one opens wide and espouses the need for a food system that’s balanced in terms of health, equity, and ecology, it becomes apparent that much of the discussion is about how to extract one’s ecological footprint from one’s mouth. The problem is that, in terms of energy, our ecological footprints are estimated to be somewhere between seven and ten times the size of our mouths. In other words, it takes seven to ten calories to produce and deliver the equivalent of a single calorie of food in the United States.1 These food system calories eventually add up to an estimated 19 percent of America’s total energy consumption.2 (It is important to note here that we typically measure calories in our diet as a “small calorie,” the amount of energy needed to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. When we measure energy on a larger scale, we call it a “kilocalorie” or a “large calorie” and denote it with a capital C, as in “Calorie,” since it is defined as the amount of energy needed to raise one kilogram of water one degree Celsius.)
Do we simply go retro? Techno? Heck, no. A total historical reversal to preindustrial conditions is just as unlikely as a technological absolution for our modern-day petroleum-based gluttony.

So Much Wasted Energy - Rethinking food waste

This is the final part of our serialization of Chapter 4 (Energy) from the latest Resilience guide, "Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems". This installment shows the big problem we have with waste, but also suggests that this is an area where we can all wade in. 
Like everything else in the food system, food waste isn’t that simple. Unlike everything else in the food system, waste knows no bounds—that is, it cuts across all components of the food system. Food is lost and wasted in every sector, from production to consumption. However, the pervasiveness of food waste also means that it’s one of the biggest opportunities for rebuilding local food systems. Before making that argument, though, it is important to understand the issue of food waste in more detail.
Technically speaking, the term “food loss” is related to losses of quantity and quality of food in the initial production, processing, and distribution stages. “Food waste,” in contrast, tends to refer to the loss of food in the later stages of the food chain, ranging from storage spoilage to kitchen prep scraps to unconsumed prepared foods. The distinction between these terms can be helpful, but for the sake of simplicity, most discussions opt to avoid misconstrued nuances and simply use “food waste” as an allencompassing term.27