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Anyone have what they'd consider a "closed food system"?

 
Posts: 170
Location: Appalachian Foothills-Zone 7
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Looking for examples of low input food self sufficiency.  Lofty goal, I know, but please share if you think you are close!
 
gardener
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Location: southern Illinois.
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Can you go into more detail as to what you mean?
 
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1946
Location: mountains of Tennessee
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Perennials are certainly a great start in that direction. I've harvesting my first year of sunroots lately & they seem like a winner in our area.

Another thought ... all those leaves that are dropping now are excellent soil conditioner & fertilizer.
 
pollinator
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The first thing I would want clarification on is how large of an area are you designating to be “your area” of the closed food system. Are you envisioning 1 acre, 5, 20, 100, 1000 acres? It’s easy to have a closed system in a fertile region with 200 diverse acres as the size of your system. It becomes near impossible if the habitat and climate is hostile and the land available is only 1/4 acre. Another question, are you including livestock in your vision? What about salt, spices & flavorings? What about seafood?
 
Gray Henon
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John F Dean wrote:Can you go into more detail as to what you mean?



Anyone who feels they get the vast majority of their food from their property without having to import manure, woodchips, hay, etc.  Any acreage, family size, etc.  Just want to know if someone thinks they are close to producing their own food, say 70-90+% would be pretty interesting, using humanure, urine, butcherwaste, foodscraps, etc for fertility, thus closing the system.
 
Gray Henon
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Su Ba wrote:The first thing I would want clarification on is how large of an area are you designating to be “your area” of the closed food system. Are you envisioning 1 acre, 5, 20, 100, 1000 acres? It’s easy to have a closed system in a fertile region with 200 diverse acres as the size of your system. It becomes near impossible if the habitat and climate is hostile and the land available is only 1/4 acre. Another question, are you including livestock in your vision? What about salt, spices & flavorings? What about seafood?



That's my question.  Want to keep broad to allow for a variety of answers.
 
author & gardener
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Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Working toward closing the food system for my husband and me has been a long-time goal. But it's taken a lot of experimentation and the addition of livestock and appropriate tools. Our goats and chickens supply the manure, and the addition of a heavy-duty PTO-powered chipper to chip branches from our woodlot supplies the woodchips. Our compost piles are in the chicken yard, and all kitchen and garden scraps go into them along with woodchips. This is the compost I use on the garden. Woodchips and leaves are my mulch. Dirty barn straw goes onto the polyculture pasture, where we grow things that we can eat too, like brassicas. I won't call these completely closed systems, however, because we still have to buy gasoline to operate the chipper. And even though our goats are primarily pasture and garden fed and we grow some of our own hay, I still by a small amount of grain for feed and also minerals.

I save my own seed, which I consider part of our closed system, but I still enjoy purchasing garden seed for experimenting, plus various forage plant seeds because we are still building diversity in our pasture. We're also incorporating more perennials in our food growing. Most of what I buy from the grocery store isn't what I consider a necessity, except perhaps salt. Our other "necessities" could actually be done without, such as coffee and sweeteners (still working on keeping honeybees). I buy coconut and olive oil, but we can make our own butter and lard. Vinegar, I could make for myself, but I don't at this time.

I don't think I could put a percentage on how much of our diet is homegrown. Breakfast is usually 95-98% homegrown, other meals less so. If we needed to, we could feed ourselves just on what we grow, but I'll add that food adjustments take time to get used to. In the meantime, I don't mind the additional variety in our diet.

EDIT to add that "low input" is somewhat relevant! If we aren't purchasing inputs, then we're putting a lot of our own time and energy into acquiring and preparing them!
 
Su Ba
pollinator
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Gray, I grow most of our own food, and could do 100% if we had to. For the sake of variety and convenience, I don’t do 100% at the moment.

I have 20+ acres. I supplement that with hunting, foraging, guerrilla gardening, and trading. A few things are store bought and again, they are a convenience rather than necessity. Hubby likes his Brown Cow yogurt and Fuji apples! I love grapes! The 20 acres is not a fully closed system, basically because the land was incredibly infertile when I moved here. In order to quickly get food to feed our farm, I brought in outside resources (green waste, lava sand, manure, epson salt, lime, boron, soil microbes, etc). To maintain fertility, I still do some of that although the farm now produces much of its own resources. Some resources it cannot self-produce enough of, such as calcium. I still bring in coral sand and bones. I also bring in ocean water. But since these are gathered from within my own district, one could say that they are not imported. Thus the reason I questioned if you meant 1 acre or a 1000. People have different ideas of what “closed system” includes. Just about everything for my farm comes from within a 10 mile radius (it’s 10 miles to the ocean).

I also bring in food waste to feed to my chickens and pigs, who in turn produce manure for my food production. I could indeed skip that, but to what benefit? Just to brag that I have a closed system? The food is not only free, but I get paid money to pick it up from the local businesses. So it generates farm income. Using this waste stream reduces the need for me to work harder to produce all my own livestock feed.

So while I have a good working system, it’s not completely closed. Yes, I could close it. But I prefer to just limit what I go out and buy to bring to the farm.

One other thought...........by closed system, just how closed would the purist demand it to be? Would bringing in gasoline to run garden equipment mean that the system isn’t closed? Would one need to revert to horse drawn, homemade equipment? Just something to think about,
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1946
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This was an interesting thing to think about this afternoon while digging up peanuts. TN Red Valencia peanuts in this part of Appalachia. Sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, & okra also do exceptionally well here. Beans & squash generally do good too. Chard & turnips are some more almost foolproof things here. Pumpkins & melons are almost as easy & reliable.

Our cattle are the weak point. To close the loop we'd need to have a few less cattle & dedicate more space to raising hay for the winter. A better rotational grazing scheme would also need to be implemented. That's a work in progress. So, ignoring cattle since that is probably not feasible for most backyards ... HOA's tend to frown on cattle.

If it became urgent we could eat all the squirrel we wanted. Pretty sure I could catch 5 per day by baiting some live traps. I think rabbit tastes much better & makes better fur so I'd start raising some pastured rabbits. Plenty of meat that way. Our chickens give us daily protein with eggs. If we wanted to eat the birds I'd get a rooster or two. Our chickens free range most of their food & have their own garden but to truly close the loop during winter I'd need to raise more grains & seeds. Maybe raise some BSF. I could hunt this property for deer, turkey, & other small game but I have better hunting available elsewhere so the wild animals here are just friends. Adding a couple of milk & meat goats would be easy enough. They are fairly self sufficient. There is a nearby river with fish.

When I first started gardening about 25-30 years ago I realized it made good sense to eat what you grow & grow what you eat. That has generally been my focus with gardening. For the most part I save my own seeds & could do better if it was necessary. I make it a point to eat something grown here almost every day of the year. A greenhouse would provide more year round options. If I gave away less or raised slightly more & preserved more I could avoid grocery stores entirely. Wouldn't have everything desired but it would be tasty, filling, & nutritious. There are just some things we like that won't possibly grow here or are more work than it's really worth. So we shop for those things. My garden area for the past few years has been about an acre. Roughly 1/4 has seen continuing soil improvements from onsite & has been actively gardened. I'm slowly but surely expanding & improving it but it supplies about 50-75% of our food now. Without fossil fuels or other outside inputs. It takes some work & some learning & some practice but it's quite achievable. It could be ramped up to 99% without too much problem. This hugelbed provides an amazing amount of food. Salt would be tough but fortunately it's cheap & easy to store. I could always hike to get some via this trail but that would be off site. Several days walk offsite. It's more likely I would trade some honey for the salt. Honey is excellent barter material for almost anything one might need.

Buckwheat flour. It is very tasty. Chickens, bees, & people like it. Hard to complain about buckwheat. Easy to grow & good for building soil.

I consider vanilla beans their own food group. No idea how to solve that problem. The point being ... no one is an island. A little cooperation with friends & neighbors make the task easier for everyone involved. My suggestion is start small with high probability foods & work your way up from there. Some annuals, some perennials, & some nuts. Various fruits too. Don't forget asparagus. Once it's established it's good for many years. Get the soil right & the food will come. One day at a time. One step at a time.
 
pollinator
Posts: 593
Location: Canadian Prairies - Zone 3b
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Wonderful, thoughtful responses from Leigh Tate, Su Ba and Mike Barkley. You guys rock!

I would only add the small observation that Earth herself, this ball of rock with a skin of seething life, is not a closed system either. We depend on our co-planet moon as a pendulum that regulates our rotation, and a fickle ball of thermonuclear gas that keeps us warm and may fry our clever inventions when, you know, the star(s) align. So, to my mind, any subsystem of this big system is fated to be un-closed by definition. But that doesn't stop us from trying.
 
Leigh Tate
author & gardener
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Mike Barkley wrote:The point being ... no one is an island. A little cooperation with friends & neighbors make the task easier for everyone involved.


Douglas Alpenstock wrote:I would only add the small observation that Earth herself, this ball of rock with a skin of seething life, is not a closed system either. We depend on our co-planet moon as a pendulum that regulates our rotation, and a fickle ball of thermonuclear gas that keeps us warm and may fry our clever inventions when, you know, the star(s) align. So, to my mind, any subsystem of this big system is fated to be un-closed by definition.


I think these are really, really important points! Twelve years ago, my husband and I started out all starry eyed, thinking that it was simply a matter of replacing all aspects of our modern lifestyle with more natural ways and means. Self-sufficiency (then) meant we were going to do it all ourselves. It didn't take long to realize that there simply isn't enough time and energy to do it all ourselves. Now, I would say that any measure of success requires learning how to simplify our lifestyle and be content with whatever basics we can manage. That being said, we humans are social beings. Folk who prefer isolation is the exception rather than the norm. My idea now is that we are better off being co-dependent on a small community, rather than dependent on a large industrialized system.

Douglas Alpenstock wrote:But that doesn't stop us from trying. :-)


I agree with this too. By being a goal, we have something to work toward, and I say some progress is better than none.

One thing I realized early on, was that the only things we took to the landfill were from items we had purchased: plastic packaging, disposable use, damaged, broken, etc. Some things can definitely be re-used, glass peanut butter jars, for example. But most of it has to be discarded. But! Everything we produce on the homestead, stays on the homestead because it has a use. So, for us, working toward closing our systems means buying less and making do more.
 
Mike Barkley
gardener & hugelmaster
Posts: 1946
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Someone asked how I process buckwheat. I let the chickens & bees process most of it since that's considerably easier than making flour.

Buckwheat pancakes & other breads are awesome though. To make that flour I pick the seeds by hand. Usually by scraping them off the stalk with bare hands. That is slow & tedious but it tends to reseed the area in the process. Sometimes I cut larger batches down with a machete. With either method they get dried out for a few days afterwards. Then I rub them between my palms & winnow them in the wind to remove the non seed parts. Then I use a molcajete to grind it into flour. If I want to remove the hulls I crush it slightly first then spend time gradually removing the hulls. That is very slow. That part is a bit of an art & takes some practice to be efficient. I don't mind the hulls so I usually just grind it all & remove only the easy pieces of hull with a sifter. An electric food processor does it faster. I don't own or want a food processor so I use the molcajete.
 
Su Ba
pollinator
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Leigh, excellent observations and so true. I concluded the same things on my own journey for self sufficiency.
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