Jun 202011

Guest Post by Mike Skehan

This question occurred to me, while sitting on a stump at the Curry Orchard, peering over the waving grass fields, “Just how many people could Lummi Island feed on a sustainable basis?”  We’ve got a ton of gardens on the island, and they all seem to produce lots of veggies, so this should be no sweat to plant a few more beans and potatoes to feed the rest of us.

A few keystrokes later, and the Internet provided me with most of what I needed. Walter Haugen, a local farmer, produced a variety of crops and was curious enough to log everything for a whole year. That’s an effort by itself counting all the labor, harvest quantities and fuel consumed.

It worked out to something like one acre could feed about 2-1/2 to 5 people, depending on crops, weather and how good a farmer you are.  I took the lower number and dumbed it down to 2 people per acre based on my own experience of planting gardens for the last couple of years, and not having much to brag about.  To put it another way, an acre should produce enough to support the farmer and one other person in the beginning.  Now were getting somewhere!

Let’s say there are 1,000 people on Lummi.  All we need to do is find 500 acres of bare, cultivatable land, with good sun, slope and available water.  That shouldn’t be too difficult.  Back to the computer.

Satellites whiz overhead daily measuring all number of things.  Several are dedicated to looking at vegetation types, land cover, man-made improvements, wetlands and more.

So with a bit of time looking over the map, a pretty good idea of the island topography itself and doing some measuring, I came up with roughly 500 acres of land that could be plowed and farmed for food.  The cows, sheep and llamas won’t be too happy, but they probably provided dinner if half of us needed to drop our hammers and pens for a rake and a hoe.  That should support about 500 farmers doing the work, and 500 to start doing everything else.   As soil gets more productive and farmers get smarter, my 2:1 ratio should climb to 5:1, allowing more of us to build the houses, cook the food, teach the kids, catch the fish and do all the other chores that never seem to get done.

If this little scenario makes any point at all, then consider the fact that us Islanders will be inviting our family members to ‘shelter in place’ with us, and the population could soar to several thousand nearly overnight.  More food for thought!


  15 Responses to “Feeding Lummi Island”

  1. This is a great question with lots of varied opinions. There’s much discussion on the internet on this topic. So many variables: location, type of diet, water supply are only a few of the variables. For example, if one plans on subsisting on a vegetarian diet it takes less land than if large animals are a part of the equation. If you are going to continue to eat beef and pork then a significant portion of the acreage has to be dedicated to animal feed. Even if you are limiting your animal diet to small animals they still need to be fed. In the hypothetical example that Mike puts forward, one assumes that the island is somewhat isolated and forced to feed itself. At that point outside inputs to revitalize soil (like lime) may not be available. We would need to go to a permaculture model or the Jeavons http://www.amazon.com/Vegetables-Berries-Thought-Possible-Imagine/dp/1580087965/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308579960&sr=8-1 model of gardening and raising food. Jeavons suggests that a good portion of available land be fallow or raising crops of green manure so that the soil gets needed inputs. “He figured http://forums.permaculture.org.au/showthread.php?2676-How-much-land-does-one-person-need-to-sustain-themselves 1/4 acre for vegetarian diet with grains and legumes as the core and year round vegetable production in central california, (USA zone 9?). The vegetables don’t take up much space. You could get you vitamin needs off of weeds if you had to, but 1 year of protein and complex carbohdrates (grain and dry beans) is the hurdle.”

    Growing grain can be done in our area as demonstrated by Krista Rome http://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/group/smallscalegraingrowingbeansavingorganicallycascadi/forum/topics/the-other-grains-backyard?xg_source=activity
    in her Backyard Bean and Grain project. But it isn’t easy. Carol Deppe (The Resilent Gardener) http://www.caroldeppe.com/
    has a lineup of squash, beans, potatoes, corn and duck eggs to provide the balanced diet one needs to survive. I don’t recall her defining the amount of land needed to meet a person’s annual food needs.

    It’s a very complicated question with too many variables to come up with a certain answer. My own experiment involves about 2000 sq ft of actual garden beds plus a small orchard and some arbored fruit (grapes and kiwis). My goal was to try and produce half our food with in five years (on a vegetarian diet). 2000 sq ft won’t be enough although we will be able, by preserving of food and extending the growing season, to eat something (even if it’s a pickle) from the garden every day of the year. It won’t be enough to survive on without doubling the size of the garden.

    Supplementing gardens with more organized farming would seem to be necessary. I’m still fascinated by the description Dave Dickinson gave during his talk on Village Point history (at a recent LICA meeting) that the entire area bordered by Blizzard Rd and Tuttle to Legoe Bay was all in farmland at one time.

  2. This is a very good discussion. One of my teaching colleagues wrote his dissertation on Mules in the South anti-bellum and post- bellum. His census showed a steady decline, of course, with the rise of mechanization. To do subsistence farming without diesel, horses and mules have to come back into the picture. And then you need backsmiths again too.

  3. Here’s another useful link from F.A.Farms http://www.localharvest.org/f-a-farm-M15945
    Scroll down and there’s a list of food that can be grown, by season. Click the Icon, and you get a ton of recipes for each food produced.
    Top that one, Fred Meyer.

  4. Two quick notes to hopefully add to this conversation, which I agree is a good one!
    1. We need alpacas and/or sheep for clothing fiber. Both produce fibers that can be handspun and knitted or woven into clothing.
    2. My blog also provides month by month recipes for food grown specifically in Whatcom County:
    More are usually added weekly (though I’m a little behind right now on posting them–I’ve got them created, though).

  5. Once upon a time (previous times — 2000 to ~2006 or so) — there was the Lummi Island Subarea Planning ‘activity’, resulting in a report still available in the island library, online at the Whatcom County Planning Department and even from private citizens like me, who squirreled away a copy on my computer, CD, etc ((by special request; price = a good cup of coffee or glass of wine & company to share it with). In that report, you can find a ag soils overlay for the island, I believe — turns out we’ve quite a bit of prime ag soil still available.

    I’d have to add dairy, eggs and meat to the mix, not doing well on a pure vegie diet (sorry folks; I learned that the hard way). That requires less prime ag soil but more water. And then, of course, there’s fuel to heat water, homes, etc (“Long Live Coppices and Alder!”)

  6. Also, farming requires year-round effort, preferably timed appropriately to the season (as in: put up fences and other structures during the low-growing season) — and a seriously tuned-to-the-local-universe (pests, seasons, etc). It’s not for everyone. That’s one reason why people flock to cities when jobs are available; even often when not. As Maynard Krebs used to say (today’s test of how chronologically enhanced you are) it’s “like … WORK!”

  7. Wynne,

    I’m pretty much in awe that you used a Maynard Krebs reference.

  8. I thought it was Maynard T. Krebs.

  9. oops. My mistake. It was Maynard G. Krebs. The “G” stood for Walter.

  10. Does anyone have any links, resources or information on how I can buy or put together a starter seed pack that would include a wide enough variety of food crops to sustain someone? I have seen some advertised online in the past but half of the varieties were not suitable for our region. It might just be easier to get a list of seeds and purchase them individually since I am prone to heirloom varieties and such. But having a well thought out list is a head start.

    I was encouraged about the ability to grow wheat here on the island when I arrived home the other day (after being away for months) and found 20-30 wheat plants with full, fat seed heads growing where I had put down straw last year. I remember seeing errant seed heads in the straw, but it at least shows that wheat does grow readily here on the island.

  11. Interesting conversation ! A few years ago I enjoyed a book on the subject of sustainable farming by Masanobu Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution, the do nothing farming method.
    Another thought is on those pesky invasive species plants… many are great edibles, Blackberry and Japanese Knotweed, for instance, also Filbert is a big weed with protein potential and Jerusalem artichoke is an edible pest tuber with lots of protein. I’ve enjoyed many articles lately by Nancy Ging on gourmet wild edibles and local foods, there is also a class @ NW Indian College teaching delicious preparations of traditional wild foods. Once I fed 75 people a wild salad which was picked by 4 friends over a few hours,skills I learned while working at an herb farm selling wild edibles to the Four Seasons and other hotels in Seattle. I need the easy way because my bones have declined the classic version of gardening. This year I planted in 50 gallon drums [tall] with 1/2 bale of hay and compost on top copper slug tape will make it harder,no bunnies, little weeding,I hope it works.

  12. What a great idea Kathleen has. Please let us know how it’s going from time to time. David T has some really neat ‘square foot’ gardens. I’d love to know the yield on those.

  13. Kathleen, I want to hear more about how you eat that knotweed.

  14. Klayton, I’ve bought some survival seed packages but have no idea how they will do if I need to use them. I think your idea of making your own package from local seed companies is the best way to insure the seed would germinate. Stored properly there are many veggie seeds that will keep a long time. Most important is to learn to garden and to save our own seeds. Steve Solomon is of the opinion that if hard times come the small seed companies will still be in business. There are several individuals in Bellingham who are trying to get something going in the seed business and one, Uprising Organics, that is up and running. If all of learn how to save some seed and also support the locals who are saving and selling it we will, hopefully, be able to grow what we want in the future. I did buy a pack of survival seeds from this outfit http://hometownseeds.com/.

  15. I agree that selecting, planting, harvesting and saving seeds (tubers, etc) of nutritious vegies is a good start but don’t see much value (for myself) in some special ‘survival seed’ product. Better we work together to develop and share a diverse group of seed types, rotate growing them out, etc.

    As to grains … we’d need harvest, process (grind) and store the seed. There’s a good reason that grain mills have been the center of village life in places like northern Europe where grains were essential for both human food and fodder during the winter. Carol Deppe has good reasons, especially for the geezer or nearly-geezer set, for focusing on corn, potatoes, beans etc.

    Incidentally, I just planted out some Ireland Creek Annie bean seedlings that I saved from last year (I started them under a 5-gal busted water container with it’s bottom cut off, to keep them from slugs etc — quick, easy and foolproof — all good for feckless gardeners like me). Ireland Creek is a great dry bean — was wonderful in last winter’s soups and even without any seasoning, even salt and pepper. I should plant more, but so much else needs doing. Got the seed from Seed Savers Exchange in 2009. They didn’t offer it this year (they often rotate offerings according to their grow-out schedules), but as I’d saved seed that was just fine.

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