Sep 282011

Sharon Astyk, well-known in prepper circles and a prolific writer on food and gardening, has posted a provocative essay titled, Agriculture with a Future Comes to Dinner which I would encourage everyone to read .

We have a food culture that is centered on grains which, for the most part, are grown unsustainably. In the Northwest we have some difficulty growing grains at all although Krista Rome in her backyard bean and grain project has had some success. So, what happens to our diet if wheat and rice, for example, were to become unavailable? Is it possible to make a big shift in our diet from wheat bread to root vegetables for our calories?

Ms Astyk makes the point that most of our calories right now come from not very sustainable grain production with the vast majority of our agricultural lands dedicated to growing meat, fodder for meat animals, dairy, grains or soy. Even our backyard chicken raisers are relying on purchased bagged feed.

Many of us have started to garden. But our gardens produce food around the edges of our diet—greens and flavorings (pickles, salsas, jams and jellies). We don’t have many high protein crops like hazelnuts (which is one of the few nuts we have a chance to grow successfully in our area) and we don’t grow enough calories to see us through the winter.

If we believe that we need to rely more on local food rather than food shipped to us from long distances then we need to start make a shift in our diets. Carol Deppe, in The Resilient Gardener lays out a plan for growing calorie and protein rich foods focusing on beans, squash, potatoes, corn and duck eggs. If you haven’t read The Resilient Gardener I highly recommend it. Ms. Deppe changed my way of thinking about garden crops and I’m now focused on calorie rich crops.

I found her discussion of beans fascinating as I’ve never been a fan of beans. After this crop season I’ve changed my mind completely and will have more to say about beans later as I am inspired to write a veritable paean to the bean.

At some point, we might all have to work together to grow calories for the community. Fortunately, potatoes, squash, beans and corn are all crops that do well here. We can even manage some grains like amaranth.

While we are planting community orchards, individuals should consider planting more fruit and particularly nut trees. Home gardeners should consider the caloric output of their garden plot.

Sharon Astyk writes: “The ways our diets must begin to shift is something I think that most people, even those most aware of the issue, have not begun to struggle with. It is an issue for backyard chicken raisers who are rightly proud that they are raising eggs and meat in their yards – and who also are raising them almost entirely on purchased bagged feed. It is an issue for permaculturists, enthusiastically replacing their yards with forest gardens, who have no idea what they are going to do with groundnuts and jerusalem artichokes, so who mostly do nothing with them. It is an issue for growers like me, who very much want to grow local staple crops for market – but who simply can’t make a living growing potatoes, beets and turnips, because people don’t eat those things in quantities sufficient, or pay enough for them. It is an issue for me, because my family loves rice and bread, but does not grow much wheat or any rice. It is not that we must eat wholly as we intend to eat, but it does matter that we begin the dietary and agricultural shift we inevitably face ahead of time.”

The whole idea of Transition is to get ready, mentally at least if not physically, for dramatic changes that might occur. Think about what you eat and how that might change in the future.


  21 Responses to “Transitioning Our Diet”

  1. I have a challenge for some or all 13 of us. Let’s have a Treasure Hunt. The treasure would be knowledge Some days during the winter are pretty nasty for even the best of us. What if we each come up with our dream game plan for surviving on Lummi Island for a year. To keep things manageable, we could decide on some parameters such as calories needed per person, anticipated heating needs based on average weather, etc) The key would be to keep it very simple and yes, fun. Reports would summarize how much of each category we would need and how do you plan to provide it..
    Island food – how much, how many calories, and from generally what source (home grown, foraged, bought)
    Water – source (no electricity from the mainland) remember, you’re cut off – no ferry, no Islander
    Power and Fuel for cooking, heating, lighting and transportation
    Shelter and for how many? My family would grow by eight if the mainland is bust.
    If you plan to barter for things, with which kind of items. (All my kids would be working for food)
    Money would be worthless and let’s say we all had a year to prepare for this (besides filling up the garage with a jillion RME’s to start your own trading post)
    Each submission could be posted here for comment, kudos or otherwise. Footnotes and web addresses would be helpful to create a survivalist reference library.
    It could be a fun project, with reports starting in a month or so, then continuing onto spring.
    Anybody interested?

  2. Mark your calenders – Oct 1st, Sat. at the Grange 7pm
    Jennifer Hahn, author of “Pacific Feast” will be the guest speaker at Foil’s annual membership meeting. She will be discussion foraging for over 50 edible foods available right here in our backyard.
    Yum Yum. See you there.

  3. I’m game for the game and will also be going to see Ms. Hahn’s talk and no doubt buy her book.

  4. Back in 1968, I was stationed on the northern tip of the island of Okinawa. The U.S. Marines had a training facility nearby. They would bring up troops to spend a couple weeks in this training camp, before sending them on assignment to Vietnam. The camp was set up to simulate a Vietcong POW compound. The troops would be subjected to mild torture, and were required to subsist on worms, insects, rodents, and any vegetation they could acquire near their cages. This training experience seemed quite positive to the Marines, who found that they bonded more closely as a unit, and recognized their capabilities to exist under less than ideal conditions. I learned a bit also. Firstly, that I have a great deal of respect for Marines, and secondly, a belief that people can exist on much less than they think they can. LCDR John McCain (U.S. Navy) spent 5 1/2 years as a POW, along with many others. He had come from a rather privileged family, but survived the ordeal with remarkable strength, and continues to serve his country well. I am not too worried about the transitions I may face in my future here on Lummi Island, and will enjoy the closer bond we start to share, as life becomes only slightly more difficult for us. I’ll pass on the survival game. Thanks.

  5. A positive report on a training program but no desire to train?

  6. Semper Paratus!

  7. Wish I could counter with an Air Force motto but we don’t have one except maybe, “Don’t
    Mess with us or we’ll drop a bomb on your house.”

  8. I recently read a book called Unthinkable which was about who survives and why when there’s a disaster of one kind or another. Training and practice drills were a huge factor for increasing chances of survival. I’m in for the game. Except I’ve been working on this off and on for several years now, with still a lot to work out, so I’m not sure about the time frame.

    Shelter should include clothing, too, don’t you think?

  9. Setting some ground rules for the exercise would make the results easier to compare – such as the value of homes, stocks, and other assets.
    Let’s say we are all suddenly ‘broke’. No mortgage payments as our monetary system fell into utter collapse. My retirement savings disappeared overnight, along with retirement benefits. Those working didn’t fare any better, as all jobs OFF the island were lost. We have all become squatters in our homes for the year, as money is worthless, the lights went out, propane trucks quit running, and the Whatcom Chief is now padlocked to the dock for a year. The hardest loss for some of us was the internet, cable TV, and imported spirits. Oh, and so we don’t all turn into Mad-Maxes, private property rights must be honored.
    In other words, a reasonable stockpile of some things is OK, but no magical caches of fuel, food, or barter trinkets are allowed.
    Any other thoughts to keep it fair and real?

  10. Here’s some basic information I’ve assembled on Lummi Island.
    About half the Lummi Island (north of Sunrise Rd) is privately owned, relatively flat or just hilly.
    South of Sunrise mostly mountainous, forested and largely publicly owned
    Lummi Island totals 5,760 acres. Of that:
    32 % is publicly owned (BLM, DFWL, schools or others) – fair game for foraging.
    15 % is protected land (LIHT, others) – No foraging is allowed.
    23 % is both improved and under 10 acres (this is where we live) – make your own arrangements.
    30 % is over 10 acre parcels, mostly unimproved forest or farmland – barter with your neighbors
    (Source: Whatcom County Assesor data base, 2011)

  11. Thanks for the post Randy, I’ve wondered about growing more calories, too.

  12. My wife suggested I catalog everything in our pantry, in storage, and the freezer to see where we stand on calories and protein. That’s probably a good starting point for me. I think it’s about month worth, but may be surprised. I’ll let you know.

  13. After having a long phone with Crystine who owns UpRising Seeds she gave me some ideas
    FOOD: Chickpeas, Fava Beans (Negreta – Statissa – Broad Windsor), Corn (painted mountain)
    Black Pearl Beans – California Blackeye 46 bean
    Of course spuds, squash’s, and greens
    Compost and Meat:
    We had a flock of Khaki Campbell’s for 5 years at our place in Lynden we really like these birds.
    A Khaki Campbell (or just Campbell) is a breed of domesticated duck kept for its high level of egg production. The breed was developed by Adele Campbell of England at the end of the 19th century. The “Khaki” portion of the name refers to the duck’s typical color.
    Adult Campbell ducks weigh approximately 4 pounds. Campbells can come in three color varieties: khaki, dark and white. The Khaki Campbell duck is mostly khaki colored with a darker head. They are a cross between Mallard, Rouen and Runner ducks.
    The egg production of the Campbell breed can exceed even the most efficient of egg laying domestic chickens, with the breed laying an average of 300 eggs a year.
    In the late 1800s Adele Campbell purchased a Fawn and White Indian Runner Duck which was an exceptional layer (195 eggs in 197 days) and crossed it with a Rouen Duck in an attempt to create a strain that would lay well and have bigger bodies. The offspring were crossed with Mallards to increase their hardiness. The resulting birds were prolific layers. The “Campbell” breed was introduced to the public in 1898. In an attempt to create a more attractive buff-colored duck Mrs. Campbell crossed her original Campbells with Penciled Runner ducks. The resulting color reminded Mrs. Campbell of British army uniforms, so she named these new ducks “Khaki Campbell”. In 1941 Khaki Cambell Ducks were introduced to the American Standard of Perfection.
    Khaki Campbells become sexually mature at approximately 6 months. Khaki Campbell hens very seldom will hatch out their own young. Brooding behavior has been sacrificed in exchange for prolific egg laying ability in this breed. Mechanical incubators or broody chickens are used to hatch out Khaki Campbell ducklings. It takes approximately 28 days for a Khaki Campbell duckling to hatch.

    RABBITS -There are more than 45 breeds of rabbits in the world, but only about 17 have a “commercial” (large, chubby, meaty) body type which are preferable for meat production. Characteristics which make some meat rabbit breeds better than others are a higher meat-to-bone ratio, quick growth, fur color and ease of care.
    1. Californian Adult Size: Medium (7-10 pounds/ 3.5-4.75 kilograms) Californian rabbits were developed in the USA in the 1920’s to provide good meat and fur production. Californians are a cross of Himalayan, Standard Chinchilla and New Zealand white rabbits and are currently the second most popular meat producing rabbits in the world. The body is plump but fine-boned. Californian rabbits look very similar to the Himalayan rabbit with a predominantly white body and black on the feet, nose, ears and tail. Their average litter size is 6-8 bunnies.
    2. New Zealand Adult Size: Large (8-12 pounds/ 3.6-5.4 kilograms) Despite the name, New Zealand rabbits were first bred in America in 1916 for meat and fur production and are currently the number one meat rabbit in the United States. They come in several different colors (black, red and white) but the white rabbits are the most popular for meat production because of their large, broad, and muscular bodies. When mature, bucks weigh from 8-10 pounds and females from 9-12 pounds. New Zealand rabbits are ready to slaughter as fryers after just 2 months. Their average litter size is 8-10 bunnies.
    3. Florida White Adult Size: Small (4-6 pounds/ 1.8-2.7 kilograms) Although this rabbit is quite small, it was bred in Florida in the 1960’s as a meat rabbit which would also be functional for laboratory use. The fur is white with good density and texture, and they have a compact, meaty body, short neck, and small head.
    4. Palomino Adult Size: Large (8-11 pounds/ 3.6-5 kilograms) Palomino rabbits have a smaller bone structure than other meat rabbits which gives you a higher meat ratio. But they take a bit longer to grow. Bucks are 8-10 pounds and does usually range from 9-11 pounds. Litter size is usually 8 kits but can range from 6 to 12. Palominos come in two colors: Golden & Lynx. The Golden has an orange/brown golden color (as the name suggests) and the Lynx has a bit more grey or silver tone in the fur. They have a very docile and friendly temperament.
    5. Beveren Adult Size: Medium (8-11 pounds/ 3.6-5 kilograms) The Beveren is one of the oldest and largest breeds of fur rabbits, originating in Belgium. Their coats can be blue, white, black, brown and lilac. They are a rare breed but well tempered, clean, and smart. The fur is rather long (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches), dense and glossy. The breed is hardy and well suited for meat production because of large litter size, the young grow fairly fast, and the does are typically docile and make good mothers.
    Learn more about raising meat rabbits in the eBook Raising Rabbits to Survive. This comprehensive eBook gives even those who’ve never even raised a goldfish the courage to start on their own journey to freedom by raising rabbits.

  14. Gary,

    Thanks for taking on the meaty part of the discussion!

  15. Shelter should include clothing, too, don’t you think?

    Definitely. I am well-known in prepper circles for my large bag full of brand new peak oil undies and socks.

  16. I have BIG ideas on fuel but I have this company to run. I would love to spend more time building the prepared community. You have been a Great Pied Piper for our future well being

  17. Gary, you know what they say, “Busy people are the one’s who get things done.”

  18. Here’s an interesting find:

    I was researching how to make pectin from nettles. Turns out, if you remove the pectin you end up with fabulous fibers that make a fairly fine cloth–an alternative to cotton. Alpaca fiber for winter woolies and nettles for cooler summer clothes? Heh heh. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place. Needs some experimenting, of course, but apparently isn’t too hard to do.

  19. More on the idea of local clothes, a video about a 150-mile wardrobe:

    Thanks to Tom Kimball for finding this.

  20. I have had success growing grains, for sure, but they are far more labor intensive and don’t yield as well as potatoes, beans, and dry corn. My household is going to focus this year on eating more of those things and less rice, etc. I did grow a lot of buckwheat that we’ll use for pancakes, but although it’s easy to process, it takes a lot of space.

  21. […] In an earlier post titled “Transitioning Our Diet,“ I quoted extensively from an essay by prepper and food writer Sharon Astyk who, conclusion, wrote, “It is not that we must eat wholly as we intend to eat, but it does matter that we begin the dietary and agricultural shift we inevitably face ahead of time.” The point of her essay was that in hard times, foods we have become used to might not be available. […]

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