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How did people survive without Petroleum?  RSS feed

 
Todd Parr
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Benton Lewis wrote:how the Amish farmed when they did not have tractors and all, let me know.


The Amish still don't use tractors or electricity.  I don't know about a good book that talks about their lifestyle but Amish people are mostly really friendly and have no problem talking to you about how they do things if you have any in your area.  I don't know if all the Amish people have 80 acres, but it's possible.  They do have a very strong sense of community and have community barn-raisings and such.
 
r ranson
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My hunch is that it would take the entire population in an area to be devoted to growing and preserving food;


Depending on where in the world they were, between 60 to 95% were involved in producing food, shelter, and clothing (don't forget clothing - that's huge and closely tied in with food production). 

It's really difficult to talk about generics since each location and culture did it differently.  Then there's time.  England in the 10th Century had a vastly different approach than England in the 14th which changed to more than double output and half labour (so basically quadruple output) needs in the 15th.

My favourite source for information is cookbooks from the time I'm studying.  That and agricultural manuals.  The Book of the Farm by Stevens goes into great detail for all things farming in Victorian England (pre petroleum).  Stevens is writing on the cusp of the steam age - but most of the methods are with hand tools or livestock like oxen working the field. 

   But the lone family doing it after one day getting tired of modern life and heading towards the woods seems more myth for the vast majority. 


I've seen examples of this happening but very few of them have resilience.  One has to generalize and one needs a lot of equipment (which takes space) and the equipment to maintain these.    This is probably why community was so important in the past. 
 
Wes Hunter
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Benton Lewis wrote:No gaps now and I understand it perfectly thanks to this extremely informative post.  I would give this revelation another apple if I could! 


I have a book on my shelf called Farming For Self Sufficiency by John Seymour.  When I finished reading it the first time, I was disappointed.  It was all about food production, and I expected there to be more.  But as I thought about it, I realized that's really all there is to it.  Given a place to live, and given the ability and will to work (and learn), surviving (and thriving) mostly just comes down to food acquisition. 

This food acquisition can (and does) come about in multiple ways: horticulture (garden scale), agriculture (field scale), foraging, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, trading. 

But this was no lean, meager existence suggested.  Seymour was a proponent of not just surviving, but living well, including the importance of things like community and conviviality.

So where, honestly, is the gap in your understanding?  You say you don't understand how people lived without petroleum, but what exactly is it you don't understand?  There have been multiple examples given, for both past and present.  What specifically is the Permies community failing to communicate?  (These are not rhetorical questions.  I'm trying to honestly understand what isn't adding up.)
 
Wes Hunter
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It might also be worth noting that the earth produces food.  It's just what it does.  Plants grow.  Some of these can be eaten by humans.  Some can only be eaten by animals, which can then be eaten by humans.  On the whole, this is no great feat; it's just how things work.  Famines are the exception.  Abundance, or at least sufficiency, is the rule.  It's not as though humans populate an inhospitable planet in which they must fight for every calorie.  No, the earth produces food.
 
Benton Lewis
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Maybe the answer I'm looking for would be too comprehensive, but I asked to see the responses I'd get.  When I was very young, like elementary school, if asked this question, I may have answered something like hunting, fishing, eating wild plants, and growing gardens after I was told what petroleum is (i'm just interested in the food production aspect).  It was said that I should focus on a specific group of people and learn how they did it because everyone used different methods and that is a valid point. 

Supply chain management focuses on the flow of materials from point of origin (starting at raw material level) to point on consumption.  I would like to know the complete supply chain of each food and element used in food production by a people to survive long term.

I've never seen a comprehensive answer to this question.  I just remember general answers that say what a people ate without describing how they got those things to eat, what detailed farming methods they employed, and how the food met their dietary needs in detail.

If it is said they used a mule to plow the fields then I'd like to know how the mule was fed.  Was a mule fed off the surplus of one field they were used to plow?

The question can be answered with a very general response or be very comprehensive and technical, depending on the knowledge/desire of who answers.  Just thought I'd ask and see.
 
Burra Maluca
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Benton Lewis wrote:
If it is said they used a mule to plow the fields then I'd like to know how the mule was fed.  Was a mule fed off the surplus of one field they were used to plow?


In a scenario like that, the mule would likely be tethered on land just beyond the cultivated area to graze.  Around here, they would be brought closer to home at night for safekeeping and the tether moved daily.  They might also be taken to the olive grove and tied to a different tree each day to clear around each one - function stacking! 

To get specific answers, you really need more specific questions.  People aren't going to write an encyclopedia for you. 
 
Benton Lewis
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Burra Maluca wrote:
Benton Lewis wrote:
If it is said they used a mule to plow the fields then I'd like to know how the mule was fed.  Was a mule fed off the surplus of one field they were used to plow?


In a scenario like that, the mule would likely be tethered on land just beyond the cultivated area to graze.  Around here, they would be brought closer to home at night for safekeeping and the tether moved daily.  They might also be taken to the olive grove and tied to a different tree each day to clear around each one - function stacking! 

To get specific answers, you really need more specific questions.  People aren't going to write an encyclopedia for you. 


If you know of such an encylopedia let me know!  I don't expect an encyclopedia post.

The mule being tethered to the non-cultivated area is an example of sustainable human farming being dependent, not on human agriculture, but on wild areas.  I can see replacing wild buffalo in the prairie with cows and living off eating cows as the staple but its not the excellent human farming practices there that did it, it would be relying on the wild areas to feed your cows. 

Permaculture seems to be about humans growing all the food they need to thrive, without relying on non-renewable resources, and relying on plants humans planted in an area. 

I'm not sure any peoples lived with just human agriculture alone before petroleum, without significant reliance on the wild. I live in the southeastern united states...no praries.  From what i read, knowledge about what they ate and their way of life has been lost, as they were seen as savages and people did not want to learn from them. Who knows what the wild food population was like before

Your explanation of how the mule was fed was specific and helpful, thanks!  I can see it working if the mule is fed elsewhere than just the area it was used to farm.  My comment about human agriculture being heavily reliant on non-farmed food sources before petroleum was not meant to diminish your answer.
 
Judith Browning
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This five page thread might have something of interest to you  https://permies.com/t/29025/Hierarchical-Paleo-Permaculture-Hunter-Gatherer

I used to follow it...I liked the groups line of thinking. 

The last reply isn't so long ago...maybe you could get some answers there?

 
r ranson
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If you know of such an encylopedia let me know!


I've mentioned a few in this thread already and tips on how to find more.

another starting place. They mention which specific books they used in their research.  They also demonstrate how much more can be gained from first hand experience than from books alone.
 
John Weiland
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Benton Lewis wrote: The mule being tethered to the non-cultivated area is an example of sustainable human farming being dependent, not on human agriculture, but on wild areas.


Among other things, the birth of agriculture in its myriad forms would likely have come about to complement, in some attempt at greater predictability, food acquisition from the wilds.  I have not seen a specific Permie definition of homesteading, but just from the wiki entry we get "Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale", which does not address the sources of sustenance as either wild or cultivated.  There may be "space station" scenarios in the future where all inputs are synthesized, but at what point is the human consumer "not wild"?  Even concentrated, localized, Permie-style cultivation approaches will rely on inviting the wild microbes into your soil and septic measures.  I guess in the end, I can't imagine any earth-bound scenario that does not involve the flow, to a greater or lesser exent, of the wild into the cultivated and vice versa.  In addition to the good practical references already offered, a great philosophical discussion on the issue can be found in the late Paul Shepard's works...."Nature and Madness", "Thinking Animals", etc.
 
Wes Hunter
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Benton Lewis wrote:I've never seen a comprehensive answer to this question.  I just remember general answers that say what a people ate without describing how they got those things to eat, what detailed farming methods they employed, and how the food met their dietary needs in detail.


If you're looking for specific locally applicable information, I would again suggest Google Books.  Maybe identify a historical group that was native to your area, and use that as your primary search term.  Even then, though, there will be plenty of overlap, so that a group that may have been geographically distant might still inform your present situation.    I downloaded a book titled Iroquois Uses of Corn, after hearing a fascinating presentation on the benefits of their no-till system.  It's still useful and informative, despite my distance from New York.

Whatever you find, you're probably going to have to mentally fill in some gaps.  Use your common sense.  If you learn, say, that a given crop was widely planted and used, but no specifics are given, you can probably safely assume that the ground was in some way fertilized, seeds were planted at the appropriate time, and the crop was harvested when ripe.  This pattern just can't be diverged from that far.  You might not glean the exact way in which this was all practiced, but you can probably get awful darn close with a little mental exercise.

If you are, rather, just wanting general information on how a whole host of people groups did and do survive without petroleum, then I would suggest that might be a research endeavor best done by oneself.  There's a lot of ground to cover, and with the level of detail you're seeking, it's asking a lot of the folks here, when that information fills books and books already.

But on a practical note, assuming you're coming more from the former rather than the latter approach, the good news is that that information is not necessary to get started.  Just start.  Identify what you want to grow and raise, and grow and raise it.  Some stuff will work, some won't.  You'll need to make changes--some small, some large--as you go.  Nobody jumps into a perfect system because they did all their homework first.  And how boring would that be, anyway?
 
r ranson
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The mule being tethered to the non-cultivated area


In some parts of Europe, this would usually be a fallow field and the manure from the mule or ox would revitalize the soil.  See The Book of the Farm, I mentioned earlier for specifics on what pre-industrial draft animals required in their diet.  Before that, they would have been run on common land - there are many records of taxation from the middle ages that discuss this.  There are also many references from what is now called Spain that talk about the specifics of how farming was done in the middle ages.  Another excellent resource is your local SCA.  They do in-depth research and publish practical guides on every aspect of medieval living (from how to grow, spin, weave and sew your own undergarments to different callorie rich ways of fermenting liquid (beer and mead))

In Asia, there were fewer draft animals, most of the work done by human labour.  These cultures had a much larger urban population to support so a smaller number of people were working the land, providing clothing, shelter and food needs.  See the book Just Enough that I mentioned before.  The fiction of Mo Yan, specifically Life and Death are Wearing me Out has detailed, first-hand accounts taken from Mo Yan's own experiences of pre-petrol farming in China.

In other parts of the world, they had managed wilderness.  But grazing draft animals there was risky.  Placing the livestock in a fallow field stacks functions - feeds livestock and rejuvenate the soil.  Maybe that's the key that's missing.  That thing permaculture calls 'stacking functions'.  My ancestors selected tasks that gave the most value for the least amount of work.  Any work done was never just one job.  A fence kept animals both in and out.  But that's only two functions.  Where my family came from, they had hedgerows.  A hedgerow kept animals in and/or out.  It provided wind breaks.  It provided fuel for cooking.  It provided fruit and berries (so fewer fruit trees were needed which gave more space to high-calorie crops like wheat and barley - the barley made beer which provided over half the calorie and nutritional requirements for the physical labourer, the mash left over from the beer was fed to the livestock).  It provided wood for tools and basketry material.  It reduced erosion.  It helped hold moisture in the soil.  It provided shade for farm labourers.  It helped define boundaries which made less strife among neighbours.  It provided a home for pollinators and a source of sugars (tree saps and honey).  All this for about 10 hours work every 3 to 7 years.  A fence requires about 4 hours maintenance a month.  A hedgerow makes far more sense to me than a fence.

In North America, few people used livestock.  In the place where I live, it was wilderness and managed wilderness.  There are several good ethnographies including the accounts of Captain Cook and others who journeyed with him.  But the best source of information I found was a local natural historian who studied these books then went and tried the different techniques they wrote about.  He had first-hand knowledge and even though he was a white man, he was often called on by the local First Nations to teach their children their traditional skills. 

Seek out your local ancient.  There are still people alive who farmed before petrol. I'm sure they would love to tell you how they did it. 

Seek out frontier booksThe Hudson Bay Co. produced several manuals for hunters, trappers, and homesteaders on how to survive - very specific manuals which covered how many pounds of wheat they need per active male adult doing such and such tasks each day.  How much for a woman doing the same tasks, how much for children of different ages.  What tasks each member of the house hold did.  What food needs they had.  What tasks they would do throughout the year.  A lot like Mrs. Beeton's book I mentioned before, only with more focus on roughing it. 

Go forth and try it. This is the best way possible to learn just what is possible where you live.  Books can only tell you what worked in specific conditions in specific locations in specific cultural.  That's what people like Carol Deppe have done.  She read about First Nation methods of growing and preserving foods and tried it.  She discovered what worked in her location and what didn't.  here's a thread about her squash.  She read books on how people ate corn in the past, and then she went and experimented until she discovered a recipe that worked for her which she talks about here.  I read her books and trying her methods, I discovered ways that grow food that require far less effort than I thought possible. 

I underlined some of the references that might help.  If this doesn't help find specific examples, maybe the question isn't specific enough?  Like was mentioned before.  It might be easier to pick one historical example and start a thread about how they farmed and thrived in the past.
 
r ranson
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Another example: Napoleon Chagnon wrote an ethnography on the Yanomami tribe in South America.  This book was written before they were introduced to modern (petroleum) methods of farming and covers specifics on farming, gathering, hunting, trading, and logging.  Instead of using livestock to revitalize the soil they would log an area, burn the brush, till that soil and grow crops there for 3 to 5 years.  When the soil was 'exhausted', they would do the same in a new patch.  The forest would reclaim the old field and it would be ready to log again in about 20 years. 

There are thousands of ethnographies out there that go into details like this.  If your local library doesn't have one on the culture you're interested in, they can get it in by interlibrary loan. 
 
Erich Sysak
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In Farmers of 40 Centuries King describes huge numbers of people engaged in collecting waste and material for composting. I get the impression this is the main activity of many.
 
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