Category Archives: Economics

Gardening With Don Quixote

The below couple posts notwithstanding, I labor under no misconceptions about the ability to provide a significant portion of my family’s food via my own efforts gardening or otherwise.

Suffice it to say that I’m just making a tiny dent. For now. All the fresh tomatoes and figs, and herbs, and hot peppers, and later on the Japanese persimmons – those are delicacies I am truly happy to have. But I realize I’m not producing enough of any of them (well, maybe the hot peppers) to equal a year’s portion for the family. Let alone all the other fruits and vegetables we four would consume in a year.

Lets just say I am working toward something like such a goal. Which is why I’m expanding an automatic watering system out at the Polka Farm, for instance, although by the time we can actually move out there, the immediate size of our family may be down to two.

Really though, I gloss this over a lot, but it’s good to realize that if one really is intent on not having to rely on the so-called just-in-time expensive grocery store food, even if just for vegetables, one is in for considerable work.

Aside from the preparation of a very large garden plot (a task not at all to be scoffed at), one might need to grow the following amounts, according to various sources that sound reasonable to me:

→ Tomatoes (my favorite) – 8-20 plants (I grew seven this year, and while they were very productive plants, I am sure we will use up all the frozen sauces and tomatoes I was able to preserve long before a year has passed).

→ Potatoes (not my favorite from a waistline standpoint, but quite the sustaining vegetable) – 40-120 plants. That would eat up lots of garden space.

→ Sweet Potatoes (that’s more like it, better for you but pretty much just as sustaining) 20 plants. Actually, I would probably grow more of these and much fewer “regular” potatoes.

→ Summer Squash – 16 plants.

→ Peppers – 20-30 plants (I am growing 18 hot pepper plants alone, which indeed has provided a year’s worth of fresh heat plus hot sauces. But sweet pepper plants are far less productive.)

→ Peas – 100 plants or more.

→ Onions – 160-240 plants.

→ Spinach – 40-80 plants.

→ Lettuce – 40-48 plants.

→ Carrots – 40-160 plants.

→ Cabbage – 12-40 plants.

→ Green Beans – 40-80 plants.

And that’s just for starters. Add in various other family favorites, add in herbs. Then consider how much room this many plants requires. And then consider the time required to preserve those vegetables for winter use.

The result is that one family member would have to make gardening pretty much his or her full-time occupation, if the goal were actually to provide the year-round vegetable and fruit needs for the entire family.

So yeah, I realize that at this stage in the game my gardening efforts amount to hobbying, not farming. And yeah, I realize how much more work would be required to pull off what my forebears did a hundred years ago or so. But hey, I’m retired now, and I have more time than I used to for tilting at windmills.

Also posted in Factory Food, Food, Garden

All You Need To Know Today

Since the end of the recession, the gross domestic product has grown 11 percent, the Standard & Poor’s 500 is up 83 percent, corporate profits have swelled 53 percent — and median household income, in the most up-to-date numbers, has fallen 4 percent – Jared Bernstein, former Obama White House economist

Also posted in Business, Corporate, Government, Politics, Verbatim

Hello. I’m Bob, And I Am An Addict

I am addicted to factory food.

If anyone should know better, it’s me. I have attempted to grow and produce an increasing percentage of my family’s food for years now. I know how much effort it takes to produce my own food, and I know the costs hidden behind the grocery store prices. I know the U.S. food distribution system is not even close to sustainable.

Yet I keep going back to the grocery store for more.

This is because I am like (most of) you: I only have so much money with which to pay unavoidable expenses and purchase life’s necessities. I have researched my monthly expenses and, based on past costs, I have allocated a set amount to cover the cost of food. I know that my family would be healthier and my local region would be on an ever-so-slightly stronger economic footing if I would frequent local farmers markets and buy pasture-raised meats and home-produced eggs all the time instead of once in a blue moon.

But I am afraid I can’t afford to devote a larger portion of income to food.

There is hope for me, however. Economic pain, too, but hope. Ironically, it comes from Mexican drug cartels.

I found this out after two recent grocery store trips in which I found that two small, hard unripened limes were being offered for a dollar at one store, while the other was offering a single lime for the price of 80 cents. In the recent past, good, ripe limes were being offered at the rate of five or, sometimes, 10 for a dollar.

Food prices in general have been rising at a very fast pace so far in 2014, but the soaring price of limes has just been extreme, so much so that I attempted to find out what’s behind it, and eventually found this.

In a nutshell, U.S. grocers import most of their limes from Mexico, even the Key Limes you thought came from the Florida Keys. The most important lime-growing regions in Mexico are under the thumb of the cartels. The drug cartels, like other organized crime ventures before them, have learned to branch out. Among many other things, they have become adept at siphoning money out of the lime market, and also the Mexican avocado market – at every level. Read the various news articles listed in the Google link at the end of the previous paragraph if you don’t believe me, or are interested in details of how this has transpired and what the implications may be.

I personally had believed that our food distribution system would be more likely to fall apart due to increasing fuel prices, since studies I’ve seen say more than seven units of fossil fuel energy are now consumed in order to produce one equivalent unit of food energy. I had not considered that extortion from organized crime might become so prevalent that it would cause people to seek more local and sustainable sources of food.

When Life Gives You Lemons - You Don't Need No Stinkin' LimesFor me, I happen to have an abundance of really good lemons. And while I realize that lemons just aren’t as good as limes in some cases, in others, they are. I’ll for sure be using my own lemons before I pay 80 cents for a puny drug cartel-controlled lime. And, while it’s just a tad too cold around here in winter to plant my own lime trees, people locally do grow them in big pots and protect them in cold weather. I might just try that.

On a more serious note, though, the lime fiasco and the major increase in grocery prices overall (due in large part to the major increase in fuel prices) just foreshadows the inherent weaknesses in a system where we obtain a large portion of our food from giant agricultural operations located thousands of miles away, while ignoring local growers because their operations are too small for a Kroger or Walmart to consider.

Eventually, I believe, we’re going to have to buy more of our food from local sources. But the rub is that good, local food will cost us more. Unless we grow it ourselves.

Also posted in Big Ag, Energy, Factory Food, Farm

Point Counter-Point

“From the Occupy movement to the demonization of the rich embedded in virtually every word of our local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful 1 percent.” Tom Perkins, venture capitalist founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

“With profits at a record high as a share of the nation’s gross domestic product and wages at a record low, it’s entirely proper that Americans question the legitimacy of the 1 percent’s wealth.

“If the voluble members of the 1 percent wish to reclaim some legitimacy, they might become active in campaigns to raise the minimum wage and make it possible for workers to form unions without fear of being fired. After all, some CEOs have unions of their own devoted to boosting their pay: They’re called corporate boards.” Harold Meyerson, author and columnist, Washington Post

Also posted in Corporate, Poverty, Verbatim, Work