So, whatís the solution? The answer to peak oil is peak soil. The more
people who have their hands in it and have a little of it under their
fingernails, the better placed we will be to feed our communities and,
indeed, the world.
There are different things you can do to be part of the solution. If
you are a gardener already, keep up the good work this spring and try
to scale up your growing, if your time and space allow. More
importantly, try to bring some non-gardeners into the fold this year,
perhaps by organizing a backyard or community gathering on Kitchen
Garden Day. If youíre not a gardener, this is the year to start.
If you canít garden because of where you live, make as direct a
connection as you can with someone in your area whoís growing and
selling food whether itís through regular purchases at a farmerís
market or membership in a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.
Your support helps protect that farmland from development and helps
keep that farmer farming.
We canít change what President Bush or OPEC will do today, but we can
change our own actions and thatís a good place to start.
Amen, brother Charlie, Amen. Gardening is a revolutionary act. A blow
against the Empire. Grow like your life depends on it.
By the way, wanted to complement you on your pot and large spoon. What
do we want? Freedom. When do we want it? Now. Si, se puede.
I was fortunate to catch last night a showing of the documentary "The Power
of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" with questions and answers by
Roberto Perez, who featured quite extensively in the documentary. He made
some interesting observations, including that Cuba didn't try to go 'organic
during the special period, they were simply trying to survive. They just
needed to grow food where & when they could and with what they had on hand.
The community spontaneously started doing what they could to deal with
shortage. They were fortunate to some extent that they had a political
system which could quickly ramp up resources and technical assistance.
I am not a great fan of the word 'organic' given the loose way the term is
thrown around. I appreciate the Cuban persepctive, they just grew plants to
survive. It also made me reflect on my few years experience. I started down
the line wanting to grow better lawn so I learnt about soil & humus & the
like. That led on to growing things & eventually deciding I had better start
eating what I grow. The extension has been sharing produce & plants with
neighbours & workmates. Now others are also growing in their back gardens. I
have been involved with the local permaculture society which runs back yard
vegetable garden tours. That is an excellent way for people & communities to
explore, in a low key manner, back yard practitioners of vegetable growing,
in more sustainable ways. Its nothing grandiose or sponsored, merely some
people who are interesxted in opening their gardens & others interested in
viewing, with some publicity to link the 2.
Relatively few people have voluntarily chosen to make the switch to
exclusively local foods. But in some cases circumstances have resulted
in the abrupt disappearance of global trade, and it has been
demonstrated that people can survive and restore food sovereignty. Take,
for example, Cuba. Until 1989 Cuba's major trading partners were the
Soviet nations of Eastern Europe. Cuba exported sugar and imported most
other foods, as well as fuel, machinery, and chemicals. In 1989 about
three times as much Cuban land was planted in sugar cane than was
planted in all other food crops combined. Fifty-seven percent of the
calories in the Cuban diet were imported. But the abrupt disintegration
of the Soviet-allied governments and the Soviet Union itself resulted in
the sudden loss of these trading partners.
The loss of its trade partners meant a loss of two-thirds of Cuba's food
supply, as well as the fuel, machinery, and chemicals upon which its
agricultural system depended. Compounding the shortages was a tightening
of the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba in the early 1990s. The food
shortage was so acute that diseases of malnutrition became widespread.
Lacking the "inputs" (such as chemicals, fuel, and hybrid seeds)
required for industrial-style monoculture, Cuba was forced to transform
its farming system. Food production was decentralized, and farmers in
each region were encouraged to diversify rather than specialize. Urban,
family, and community gardening, which had always been features of Cuban
life, were officially encouraged, and a program ot public education and
model farms was undertaken to spread knowledge about biological farming
methods. The Ministry of Agriculture even replaced its front lawn with
By 1999, Cuba had become a nation of food producers. Urban gardens alone
produced more than eight hundred thousand tons of food, mostly
vegetables. There is no way to compare this sector to pre-1989 levels,
because until then this sector was considered insignificant[ and not
counted. However, this remarkable statistic shows that cities can
produce food, though not in the style of acres upon acres of grain
fields; instead, intensive cultivation of yards and parks and rooftops
can ensure a steady supply of fresh produce to urbanites (for more on
urban gardening, see chapter 3).
The prospect of a crisis is obviously not the only compelling reason to
revive local food production. There are many benefits of local food,
starting with flavor, continuing through nutrition, and definitely
including community economic stability. But it's good for us who live in
a culture of constant convenience consumerism to be reminded that the
time-honored methods of producing food can still feed people perfectly
For most people in most places throughout time, the food available has
been organic and local. Organic was all there was until the
mid-twentieth century, and anything beyond local, to the extent that it
was available at all, was an expensive luxury, out of daily reach for
average people. Abundant globalized food may not always be available to
us either. It is easy for me to imagine the United States, or the whole
world, in suddenly different economic circumstances, with an abrupt halt
to all international trade, as Cuba faced in 1989, that forces a
transition to greater dependence on community-based food production. The
skills and practice of food production are important to revive and to
prevent from disappearing.
With Monsanto, and others, trying to corner the seed market, the above
may be our last line of self defense. Gardening is a revolutionary act.
yup, as the joker Perez stated, 'Cuba became a giant experiment for the
possible flow ons of peak oil'. The economic melt down came dramatically &
hit hard, quickly. 'Organic' is a luxury term for wealthy developed nations,
Cubans simply wanted some grub to fill their stomachs. Without fertiliser or
fuel to run tractors or pesticides they had to make do with composts, hand
or animal traction & natural predation & pest control. That is, I think, the
amazing thing about the 'cuban experience'. It is not that the nation had an
overnight ecological conversion, its not that the people decided to eat
better or become more sustainable, Cubans simply did not all become green
one morning. The changes they had to effect were results of a horrendous &
massive tear in their social & economic fabric. Either they quickly made do
or they starved. Westeners can go for a visit & marvel at 'organic' food
frowing, urban agrictulture etc etc. We can go home thinking we have seen
'the way the world should be'. For the average Cuban I reckon they view a
world 'the way it had to be' simply to survive. Although the changes are
impressive, and I give a huge amount of credit to the people in the way they
adapted, the standard of living I think now is quite some way off what it
was before the special period. More than that, I would not wish to replicate
the utter shit they found themselves in which led to the dramatic changes in
their lifestyles. The western world may yet have to live through it as well.
In Cuba we have a glimpse of how change can be effected, but we also have a
glimpse at the misery that can accompany such change.
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