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growing a million calories on an acre, the first year, starting with dirt

 
paul wheaton
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Recently, I did a poll with some past kickstarter backers about which kickstarter I should do next.  And then somebody commented with an idea.  Something about a person starting with an acre of dirt and growing plenty of food the first year.  

My brain started to reel ....    what about five different plots?  How about a control?  And not just anybody, but people with some gardening skills.  And we could limit imports.  

On the lab, each person starts with a raw acre.  A quarter acre must be flat and gardened "conventionally" (no mulch, things in rows, irrigate as much as you want).  The remaining 3/4 acre is to use the artisans best techniques.  But no off-lab imports.  Imports from the rest of the lab is okay.  

So this means five gardeners and ten gardens.   Paid gardeners, with two big bonuses at the end.  Maybe something like a $5000 bonus for hitting a million calorie minimum (and some other minimums).   And a $20,000 bonus for the gardener that grew the most calories (above the other minimums).  

This would be a series.  Maybe an episode a month starting in April and ending on Thanksgiving.  ??

This would have to be my most ambitious kickstarter ever.  Paying the gardeners and the videographers.  And the bonuses.  

And then maybe there could be something similar for the second year.  But maybe the best year would be the fifth year.

I would think that the gardeners would want to start january 1.  But they could start later in the year if they want.  But they might want to put up fence so they aren't just feeding the deer.  Maybe they want to build berms or hugelkultur.  Maybe they want to get a lot of mulch standing by.

If we want to have 100 gardeners apply, and then we select the five from that, then how much is such a gardener paid for the season?

So, this is an extremely ambitious idea.  My boldest ever.  Feedback?

 
paul wheaton
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Maybe there can be something open to other wheaton labs residents (ants, deep roots, boots ...).



 
paul wheaton
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It seems that there are probably 20 staple crops that need to be grown.  In both the quarter acre and the rest of the acres.  And probably some minimal amounts of calories for those.

Tomatoes, zukes, winter squash, grain, corn, potatoes, peas, beans, cole crops, daikon, lettuce, carrots, cukes, peppers, onions, melons ...

 
paul wheaton
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Urine is allowed.  Poop is not.
 
paul wheaton
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soy is forbidden.
 
Michael Helmersson
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I really like this idea. It could provide some serious credibility to permaculture and give fence-sitters some real numbers to roll around in their heads. Most people don't want to be pioneers, they want to be reassured that somebody else has already blazed a trail for them to follow before they start loading their wagon.
But yeah, it sounds like a big undertaking.  
 
paul wheaton
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Maybe this is called "the million calorie race"?

 
Michael Helmersson
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paul wheaton wrote:Maybe this is called "the million calorie race"?



Or "challenge"?
 
paul wheaton
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:Maybe this is called "the million calorie race"?



Or "challenge"?



I like that.  

The million Calorie Challenge

 
Michael Helmersson
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If the whole thing is carefully structured and monitored, I could see it being utilized as data for others to write articles, papers, etc. This is exciting.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Would it also be possible for other people to join in, not for money or prizes but just as a "Garden along" Yes we all grow in different areas and under different constraints, and I can see the point in trying to level the field but I feel that it would make it more interesting for people in other areas if they can read/see people who have done the same thing in their climate.
I would be very interested to see the difference in time and yield between the row garden and the "other" in my experience row gardening is more efficient in every way so it would be nice to see if sometimes it isn't.

Is 1million calories enough? I grow a lot of potatoes (For sale) 1/5 of an acre of potatoes is 1million calories on it's own. And potatoes do well in "new" ground.

 
paul wheaton
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Of course a few million people are welcome to "garden along" - i don't see how we could stop them.   Are you suggesting that we would add some video?

A million calories and potatoes:  There will be minimums for 19 other crops, so that will add some to the challenge.  But it also opens the doors to how a million calories is pretty easy, and what techniques will lead to, say, six million calories.
 
Robin Katz
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Why would soy be forbidden? It's grown and used by a large percentage of the worlds population. If it's grown responsibly and processed responsibly (fermented, etc.) it is a valuable food product.

Or are the concerns that soy calorie values would dominate other crops? I could see a scenario where someone just grows soy to get maximum numbers, which is fairly useless for showing that a lot of diverse food products can be grown on a small amount of land.

From my perspective as a retired researcher, any data (calories, nutrient content, etc.) should have some external verification or it becomes an approximation/guess of the actual values. Depending on how detailed you want to take this, an approximation may be good enough. BTW having a control plot is a great idea and essential to the whole process.

You may find through testing that nutrient density is much higher in these crops versus conventional versions, which would be a fantastic data point. The downside of testing is the cost for bomb calorimetry and nutrient testing, so if you go that route, only select samples should be tested to keep costs down.

This looks like a really interesting experiment.
 
Skandi Rogers
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paul wheaton wrote:Of course a few million people are welcome to "garden along" - i don't see how we could stop them.   Are you suggesting that we would add some video?



I was thinking that someone could co-ordinate people gardening along, Maybe everyone could make a Youtube video about it or perhaps the community could create an entire channel just with people's videos of the experiment, with the "official" videos pinned. Obviously there would be no oversight of the extra people so they would not be in in any official statistics but I think many people would find non official things interesting as well.
 
Mike Haasl
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I like this idea.  So the monthly episodes would be distributed to backers or the public in general?  The final output is a movie?  

I would want it to have a limited number of things they HAVE to grow so that they can explore different approaches.  It would make the outcome more widely believed as being adaptable if folks can grow varieties that aren't required by "the rules".  I'm sure the best gardeners would use your suggested plants which would further prove that those species are great.

Maybe a rule that no more than 20% of the million calories can be from a single crop.

It would be neat if there was some longer term prize for the perennial crop yield on year 5...

For gardener payment, I'm thinking they'd get X dollars at the beginning of the year to help with supplies.  Then if they harvested at least 50,000 calories at the end of the year they'd all get Y dollars.  Then the prize would be split between 1st and 2nd place 80/20.  That way there's still a reason to aim for second place if first place is a given.

Measuring calories for greens is possibly tricky.  

Side thought:  If someone had chickens on their plot, could the eggs/meat be part of their total?  Not sure if you'd want it to expand past growies...
 
T Blankinship
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paul wheaton wrote:It seems that there are probably 20 staple crops that need to be grown.  In both the quarter acre and the rest of the acres.  And probably some minimal amounts of calories for those.

Tomatoes, zukes, winter squash, grain, corn, potatoes, peas, beans, cole crops, daikon, lettuce, carrots, cukes, peppers, onions, melons ...



I like this idea. I think a fun challenge would be to see which ways of growing food would equal tasty foods. Like beans in a guild with x plants equals good beans.

Would animals be a part of the million calories?

 
paul wheaton
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Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.
 
paul wheaton
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Mike Haasl wrote:I like this idea.  So the monthly episodes would be distributed to backers or the public in general?



To the backers.  

I think high level backers could have a weekly interactive, and maybe access to some raw footage.  The normal backers would have access to the final episode each month.

 
Michael Helmersson
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paul wheaton wrote:

Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.



I'm stunned by this. If this is correct, it's wrong.
 
paul wheaton
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Mike Haasl wrote: If someone had chickens on their plot, could the eggs/meat be part of their total?



I am thinking that people can allow chickens (or other animals) into their plots, but the calories from meat or eggs cannot be counted for this experiment.

I am thinking that each person would be staying on the lab next to their acre.  So then there could be chickens next to their acre.  And since we allow other mulches ...  could a person grow a ton of grass and then use that as a mulch?  Do we have a limit?

 
Ellendra Nauriel
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paul wheaton wrote:

Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.




Not the heirloom varieties.
 
Carl Nystrom
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This sounds like a really interesting experiment! Is the idea to start with completely un-touched ground? Will it be covered in sod, and need to be broken by hand? Or is the idea that it will be tilled soil?

It sounds like a very ambitious project, and I like the side-by-side comparison aspect of it. I feel like the amount of work that is going to go into converting a whole acre sounds daunting (to me at least); What about making it two teams? One team works on a more conventional approach, the other focuses on permacultural practices. Really, an acre is more land than you need to grow a million calories, so having more workers concentrating on a smaller area might make for more impressive images and videos.
 
Robin Katz
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paul wheaton wrote:

Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.



My understanding is that they have patent rights on all genetically modified soy associated with their herbicide. Unfortunately this is about 95% of all soy grown commercially. I can see why you might not want to get into any disputes regarding this though.
 
Nick Williams
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:

Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.



I'm stunned by this. If this is correct, it's wrong.


It's effectively correct. Not technically ALL soybean plants, but the supreme court ruled that Monsanto can enforce their patent on any soybean that contains any genes associated with Monsanto's soybeans, so it's very difficult to prove that the commodity, open pollinated beans you buy don't fall under the patent. It's pretty screwy.


I like this idea though. Seems like a neat challenge.
 
paul wheaton
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:

Robin Katz wrote:Why would soy be forbidden?



Monsanto owns the patent on all soy.




Not the heirloom varieties.



All. 100%   100.00000000%.  Including heirloom.  Including .... all.

All.
 
paul wheaton
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Carl Nystrom wrote:Is the idea to start with completely un-touched ground?



Correct.

Each gardener will pick their acre on the lab.  It could be forested, or it might be grasses.  


What about making it two teams?  



I think that there will be pay for a gardener.  If a gardener has five people helping out full time, that seems okay to me, but there is no further pay.
 
paul wheaton
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My understanding is that their stuff about the gmo stuff was from 15 years ago.  Since then, they applied for and received the patent for all soy.  

On this note, we are done talking about soy.  If people want to continue talking about soy and monsanto, please take it up in the cider press.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Corn produces about 22 million K-calories per acre. Therefore, a million calories could be produced on 5% of an acre. That's a plot 45 feet by 45 feet.

Wheat produces about 6 million K-calories per acre.

11 beehives could produce about a million K-calories of honey.

One range cow produces about 3 million K-calories of milk per year, and requires about an acre of land.

Based on my visit to Wheaton Labs,  I would use goat milk to meet the challenge of producing only a million K-calories of food per acre.
 
Dc Stewart
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The experiment could focus on a comparison with commercial production levels before large-scale irrigation and heavy use of chemical fertilizers appeared circa World War 2. In this case, the dreaded "Survey of Literature and Discussion of Existing Methods" section of the proposal might consist of collecting and calculating a caloric yield estimate for a 1-acre mix of the 20-odd plant types, using pre-WWII references. For example, the table below is from a 1917 USDA farmers report:

Edit: Wow! comparing the numbers here with Joseph's numbers above shows just how much the yields have increased after 100 years of scale increases and genetic boosting.

Human Food From an Acre of Staple Farm Products

1917bulletin.jpg
[Thumbnail for 1917bulletin.jpg]
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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I like this idea, but even better to compete with industrial ag numbers (without allowing destructive practices on the lab land).  A ghost competitor of a theoretical industrial acre or reported yields from an agribusiness.

Or reported numbers from a "conventional" acre garden in the general area of Montana.

--
A general observation--

The biggest stumbling block with this idea is that there are too many different things that are appealing about it to compare or measure, and picking a focus and keeping it apples-to-apples may mean sacrificing some ideas that are really exciting but not quite as relevant or as measurable.

My tendency is to proliferate possibilities, not focus on decisions, so I may be unhelpful in some ways here, but I'll keep throwing out possibilities and questions for now.

Dc Stewart wrote:The experiment could focus on a comparison with commercial production levels before large-scale irrigation and heavy use of chemical fertilizers appeared circa World War 2. In this case, the dreaded "Survey of Literature and Discussion of Existing Methods" section of the proposal might consist of collecting and calculating a caloric yield estimate for a 1-acre mix of the 20-odd plant types, using pre-WWII references. For example, the table below is from a 1917 USDA farmers report:

Edit: Wow! comparing the numbers here with Joseph's numbers above shows just how much the yields have increased after 100 years of scale increases and genetic boosting.

Human Food From an Acre of Staple Farm Products

 
john verner jorgensen
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[quote=Robin Katz]

From my perspective as a retired researcher, any data (calories, nutrient content, etc.) should have some external verification or it becomes an approximation/guess of the actual values. Depending on how detailed you want to take this, an approximation may be good enough. BTW having a control plot is a great idea and essential to the whole process.

You may find through testing that nutrient density is much higher in these crops versus conventional versions, which would be a fantastic data point. The downside of testing is the cost for bomb calorimetry and nutrient testing, so if you go that route, only select samples should be tested to keep costs down.

This looks like a really interesting experiment.[/quote]

Speaking of nutrient density, can anybody tell me where to find science on the difference in nutrients between organic, conventional and preferably permaculture. Also on how this has changed in the past decades/ventury?
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/42415182/long-term-field-experiment-in-sweden-biodynamic-agriculture-


Here's a study worth a glance (1-minute read). Measured protein quality as well as quantity, and biodynamic had an extra structure visible on plant chromatography that conventional didnt.
 
Nikki Roche
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This is the first "reality TV" that I'd be interested in watching in a long time. I like the idea that there would be basic similarities (i.e. certain required crops), but that they would be able to do their own thing with hugelkulture, mulch, etc. It would be interesting to hear their reasonings and expectations and then see the realities, so even if I'm not in the same climate, I feel like I would learn something.
 
paul wheaton
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I really need answers to this question:

If we want to have 100 gardeners apply, and then we select the five from that, then how much is such a gardener paid for the season?



My guess is that the first fully paid month is april.  And the last fully paid month is october.  And then there is a $5000 bonus for harvesting more than a million calories.  Plus the $20,000 bonus for the most calories.  

In order to budget this all out, I would need to know how much coin to put on the table for the gardeners.

 
Dc Stewart
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According to this website, the average hourly rate for a gardener in Montana is $14.25

GardenerJobs

I suppose that the initial prep and planting of the acre would entail some weeks of full-time hours; I have no idea how much time would be required afterwards for maintenance and harvesting.
 
paul wheaton
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Dc Stewart wrote:According to this website, the average hourly rate for a gardener in Montana is $14.25

GardenerJobs

I suppose that the initial prep and planting of the acre would entail some weeks of full-time hours; I have no idea how much time would be required afterwards for maintenance and harvesting.



So at $2451 per month, it would be perfectly average.

7 months.  5 gardeners.    $85,785.



 
Greg Martin
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Hmm...stray thought.  Paul, would you entertain some sort of Deep Roots type sponsoring of the lot/gardener?  Something like a person could sponsor one of the gardener/teams via a Deep Roots purchase?  Maybe a bit more than the normal Deep Roots package to cover improvements?  Just thinking it might help bridge financials.  The Deep Roots/gardener backer would just have to be ok with staying off the land until this runs its course....3 years or however long this runs.  Nutty?
 
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paul wheaton wrote:

Dc Stewart wrote:According to this website, the average hourly rate for a gardener in Montana is $14.25

GardenerJobs

I suppose that the initial prep and planting of the acre would entail some weeks of full-time hours; I have no idea how much time would be required afterwards for maintenance and harvesting.



So at $2451 per month, it would be perfectly average.

7 months.  5 gardeners.    $85,785.


I think the hours needed would be pretty high in April and May and then much lower through the middle of summer and then picking up again at harvest season.
 
paul wheaton
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All true.  

And I suspect that a good gardener is gonna have a hard time giving up their workee job to do gardening in montana unless there is coin through the whole summer.  

This is a wild idea.  And to pull it off, we will need gardeners that will be there for the whole program.  So the mission is to put the bait out there and get a hundred applicants - and then pick the best five.   And then maybe a few of the applicants that are not selected will join the bootcamp in the hopes that one or two of those selected will bail and they can jump in and try to harvest that coin.  

And, of course, we would need a videographer.  

My rough guess is that this would be a kickstarter that would need something like $120,000 as the bare minimum price.  That is a super tall ask of our kickstarter peeps.

 
paul wheaton
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Greg Martin wrote:Hmm...stray thought.  Paul, would you entertain some sort of Deep Roots type sponsoring of the lot/gardener?  Something like a person could sponsor one of the gardener/teams via a Deep Roots purchase?  Maybe a bit more than the normal Deep Roots package to cover improvements?  Just thinking it might help bridge financials.  The Deep Roots/gardener backer would just have to be ok with staying off the land until this runs its course....3 years or however long this runs.  Nutty?



Huh.  I hadn't thought of that.  

Usually, we have a kickstarter and the kickstarter covers our operating costs.  But that's because we have a business plan that needs about $10,000 and then we get something more than $10,000 - and that provides operating capital.  But this kickstarter is bolder:  we would need about $120k minimum.  In fact, since kickstarter keeps 10%, we would need about $135k - far more than most of kickstarters get.  So if we get barely funded, we won't have operating capital for our other stuff.

So, yeah, maybe some deep roots stuff would be good.
 
Ever since I found this suit I've felt strange new needs. And a tiny ad:
Free, earth friendly heat - Kickstarter going on now!
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/paulwheaton/free-heat
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