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Cost/profit of growing one's own food - data recommendations?

 
pollinator
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I've been improving some mostly-unused public land near me.

I'd put the cost at $0.20 in seed (fava beans from the grocery bulk bin) and maybe two hours of labor thus far.

Next year I might do a soil test, or just decide to grow non-edibles. Perhaps I should talk to whoever planted the tomatoes at the edge of it, either way.

I won't invest much in it, because I'll never really control it, but it's way better odds than a lottery ticket.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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rookie wrote:
Hey, how did you know about this? How can I find out more about Native American agriculture?  I'm very interested and all I can find on the internet are things about corn and buffalo.



I've heard lots of good things about the book 1491, and I enjoyed the related article here in the Atlantic Monthly.

One of the sad coincidences is that chestnut blight took out the staple crop of the first Northern area to be colonized, possibly giving what would be the US a bad first impression of indigenous systems. That book also takes the hypothesis that it was disease, rather than direct conflict with colonial systems, that killed most of the people.
 
                                            
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rookie wrote:
Hey, how did you know about this? How can I find out more about Native American agriculture?  I'm very interested and all I can find on the internet are things about corn and buffalo.



OT, but I heard mention of the book The People Of Cascadia over the weekend as an amazing book regarding the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. As it's written by someone very interested in sustainability, I would hope that it has mention of the horticultural/agricultural heritage of these tribes.  That might be a good starting point. (I currently have it on my wish-list for after all my wedding expenses pass)
 
                          
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Agriculture as it is now is a Faustian bargain, a Malthusian trap, as it were.  Traditional cost analysis is a short-term proposition.  Income stream vs. expense stream.  Sustainability refers to larger timescales, and that's where we're most vulnerable.  So growing food is essentially an insurance policy for collapse.  But there are even more important things to take care of.

Since the economy takes the first hit, the first vulnerability is people's debt.  Edible landscapes on mortgaged properties are kind of an illusion, propped up by the steady ability of homeowners (a misleading term) to pay their monthly mortgages.  The threat to their jobs and their salary is much greater than the savings afforded by backyard gardening.  So where this can make the most difference is within the context of land that is bought and paid-for, a rarity these days.

 
                    
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mos6507 wrote:
Agriculture as it is now is a Faustian bargain, a Malthusian trap, as it were.  Traditional cost analysis is a short-term proposition.  Income stream vs. expense stream.  Sustainability refers to larger timescales, and that's where we're most vulnerable. 



This makes me wonder about things like: What if the first logging industry in the US had been set up in a sustainable  fashion?? Imagine if it had? If the  mind set of that industry had always been eco-friendliness & sustainability?

It makes you think about how larger timescales will still show results that have a huge impact.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Dianne Keast wrote:What if the first logging industry in the US had been set up in a sustainable  fashion??



That would've been an odd thing to do. European diseases had caused a major population collapse, and efforts at managing the forest had been abandoned to focus on...well, the end of the world, basically.

By the time colonists had sufficient numbers to make a large-scale logging industry, the forest had become overgrown, and the most sustainable thing to do was to cut it back somewhat: sustaining such dense growth would have maintained low biodiversity and low productivity.

The resulting early settlements did maintain sustainable woodlots, though, often for at least a century.

How about this one: What if Europeans had somehow developed a taboo against killing beavers or touching their fur? America would have been a much different place.
 
                    
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Hi Joel,
Yes I know it was improbable for it to happen that way, but just like you beaver idea, if you pretend it was so it creates a whole new picture.

Thanks for the part about sustainable wood lots, I did not know that bit.

I guess the point I'm making is that it all adds up, look how the negative practices have added up in just the last 200years.
The positives add up too, every little bit of what we do today can impact larger timescales. Just because we may not live to enjoy the results of positive change we should still create a better more sustainable future for our children & grandchildren & so on.
 
                        
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paul wheaton wrote:
If you said that to Sepp Holzer, he would probably slap you silly.

Based on his teachings, I would say that you could measure on the dollar value alone.  In fact, measure your organic, first rate product against the cheapest crap you can find and you should still come out dollars ahead.  By far.

Think about it:  plant once and harvest year after year without any further effort other than the harvest.  Doing the harvest on your own land has to be way easier than going to the store. 

Yesterday Sepp was exasperated about all these American fools who still go to the grocery store and spend obscene amounts of money for horrible food when they could have first class food from home for damn near free.




We are not at all unfamiliar with more needs than money, having a large family.
But some things we have lately discovered like making our own bread. The King Author Whole wheat flour is all our local stores carry in our small city, but at nearly 5$ a 5lb bag, it is still very close to the day old bread store prices, here how.
First of all I cook sourdough breads, so only flour and some salt and water (potato water for starter) and extra's like Honey (which we have to buy till our bee's get up and going) is from what I have read the better bread to make and eat simply because the wild yeast once mixed with the ingredients actually eats and weakens the gluten in the wheat, thereby making it better for your body to digest.
Second my loaves weight about 2 lbs (and yes, it is lite and fluffy bread) and the store weight about 16 ounces now, they just dropped from 20oz loaf.
And third, if you can read all the ingredients on a store bought loaf, your my hero, and yes I learned to speak using phonics, but these ingredients just defy me at times.

So in the end the one Item I see is your labor, so not only is Sepp right about the worthless store food, but the labor we put into our own food is what is supposed to happen to keep us moving and fit till the day we lay down in the earth.
I can only see what our society calls progress as going backward. The real progress is raising as much food as you can where you live, teaching your children to do the same, and reaping the benefit of knowing you did you best to stay as healthy as you could and taught others to do the same
 
                                
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  I've been keeping so so records over the past couple of years.  Wish I had kept better ones as it would be easier to calculate with numbers.  That's changing this year as I'm going into research mode.    The question of what does it cost to produce ones own food is a good one.  Can it be done or does it cost less less then it costs in the grocery store?  My answer.  It depends.  Depends on how you do it, how your system is set up, access to resources and their costs, ability to scrounge, asthestics, patience and whole number of other factors.

Right now and over the past couple of years there is no doubt that my own produce is way more expensive then if I bought it in a store or farmers market.  I'm spending on set-up costs, equipment, mother plants, infrastructure and whole lot more on labor as I slowly build the system.  I spend more on gas carting what I need to the property then I will in a few years time.  That's why I don't think in terms of one year, or two.  I think in terms of 10 and 20. 

  My first year I spent over 500 dollars on seed and mother plants(perennials and shrubs that I can propagate).  If I had had the money I would have spent more.  That amount was the cheap and I'll be patient plan. So five thyme plants instead of twenty.  My plan calls for twenty and this year with propagation I'll have that twenty.  I'll be propagating my two gooseberry bushes as they are big enough now etc etc.

  If you learn to save seed that saves yearly costs.  I will probably spend more on seed and plants this year but that's for new things.  I've managed to learn how and save a lot of the seed for the veggies I regularly grow.  Last year for instance I spent 5 dollars on a couple of new varieties of tomato plants but the bulk of it was seed I had left over and saved.    If you don't save or grow seed it will cost every year.
 
  If you buy inputs like fertilizer, organic or conventional it costs.  I did spend some money on those sorts of items while working towards the goal of getting as much sources from my land as possible.  I planted things like comfrey and nettle which are now big patches and will be using those as sources.    For the first couple of years I brought in compost and topsoil because I needed it and didn't have enough going.  Now I won't need too. 

Then there's cost vs labor.    If you buy everything new of course it cost more. You'll get it quick though.  If you buy ready made garden stakes and all sorts of the other gidgets and gadgets that any garden center says you need to have then that costs money.  If you buy new things every year that all costs.  If you buy things that can be saved from year to year then it's only the initial costs.  If you go to auctions and are patient you'll pay way less for tools.  If you go diy and create things, reuse and recycle, are patient enough and have the time to scrounge for free or very low cost items then it cost less. 
 
Then there is the whole asthetic thing.  I use my aunt as me as a comparison.  It's very important to her that her garden and everything in look 'good'.  So she goes and spends a heap load on nice ready made iron trellis things with curly cue scrolls.  Me, I use things like an old iron bed frame I found in the dump.  My garden stakes are not uniform, they're a mixture of saplings, metal fence posts, pipes and whatever else I can find that is rigid and tall.  I don't care what they look like as long as they work.  Hers are all uniform and bought in a store.    She has also spent a lot of money on edging for her raised beds.  Mine are made form scrap cedar boards that were torn from the side of my house.  She bought her composter.  I made mine for nothing out of scrap I scrounged.

  I talked to her about hugelcultur last night as I know she wants to do some more beds this year.  She even has a pile of old fire wood that she has no need for.    She looked it up.  Nope, it's a no go.  It looks messy.  She'll just do what she did before and bring in a few hundred dollars of soil.  Boon for me though because I'll be getting her old wood.  It will just cost me the price of gas and the time it takes to get it. 

Her method is what I call the "ready made method" mostly from Walmart that's where she gets everything from and has very little desire to do anything different. 
 
  Although I would say that right now my input costs are comparable to hers, I'm doing way, way more with my money and in the long term will have way more at less cost. 


Then there is the issue of how you calculate the cost of an integrated system which is a goal of permaculture.  I pay for feed and bedding for my chickens.  I get eggs from them.  Just calculating with those factors my yearly average cost is about 4 to 5 dollars a dozen.  However they also keep the grass mowed in the area they range in(saving labor and gas costs), eat bugs, I use their bedding and manure as a soil amendment,  they clean up my garden in the fall (weed, pest control and fertilizer) and I can use them to prep planting areas.    All of these save me time and money.  Putting a monetary value on all of  it is difficult though. 


 

 


 
                        
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Thank you, very well spoken.
 
steward
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I've been improving some mostly-unused public land near me.

I'd put the cost at $0.20 in seed (fava beans from the grocery bulk bin) and maybe two hours of labor thus far.

Next year I might do a soil test, or just decide to grow non-edibles. Perhaps I should talk to whoever planted the tomatoes at the edge of it, either way.

I won't invest much in it, because I'll never really control it, but it's way better odds than a lottery ticket.



How'd the fava beans do last year, Joel?
 
                    
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Susan Monroe wrote:
I believe food stamps can still be used to buy vegetable seeds, but how many welfare people do you know who grow anything?  I've never seen one.  But I've seen them at the grocery store with a ton of junk food.

Real food is too much like work for some people.

Sue



I think that is an over simplification. One feed store I go to for some of my supplies is in the decaying urban core, it is a rather rough and tumble neighborhood.  There are a wide variety of people that come into that store to buy seed, fertilizer, fruit trees, veggie transplants, and young chicks. It is my experience that some people of limited means (ie, 'poor') are still in touch with a tradition of gardening, fishing, and hunting. I wouldn't know that based on what I see in my suburban supermarket.

Look to Detroit and attempts to regenerate the collapse city via gardening. Look to New Orleans and how people gave out Mirlitons and tomato plants to help others restart their gardens after the disaster. Gardening is not just a luxury for people who are well off. It can be a viable economic strategy for anyone with access to a bit of land.
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