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!