Jon Bosak, a peak oil authority at TCRP, has written a brief on whether or not the agriculture industry of 1900 could support the 20 million people of today living in NY. This study is based upon the assumption that when peak oil hits, and an eventual decline occurs, transportation of food stuffs from around the nation–and world–will become too expensive and prohibitive. Bosak’s study finds that while it would be tight, NYS would in fact be able to ’survive’ off of the agriculture output of the early 20th Century.From his essay:
If the independent analysts are right in predicting the peak of production to occur around the end of this decade, then it’s not going to be long before we see the first impact of oil depletion on our food supply: the end of long-distance food imports. If you think it’s sweet to get drinking water shipped to you from Fiji because you like the shape of the bottle, enjoy it while you can; some day this will be the kind of thing you’ll tell your unbelieving grandchildren.
Proponents of “relocalization,” anxious to resurrect our local sources of food production and distribution, don’t need to worry about the future of their movement; a large invisible hand is going to take care of relocalization simply through the agency of rising fuel prices. But when everything is local, what will there be? When we can no longer afford to hype agriculture with inputs of cheap fuel, will we all starve? What’s the worst case? Could a completely sustainable New York State feed itself?
Providing a detailed answer to this question would require a team of experts and some pretty sophisticated computer modeling, but we can get an interesting ballpark estimate if we first consider what the state actually did produce a century ago, before it came to rely on oil- and gas-based factory agriculture, and then ask whether the level of production that we know was sustainable without large inputs of cheap fossil fuel could support the state’s current population.
Jon does a great job breaking down per capita what each resident could expect to receive from food grown within the state. (It would be interesting, however, links to see his references for the amount of food production in 1900.) I am curious to see if this included or excluded food that residents grew in backyard gardens and plucked from home grown fruit trees. All in all, it seems that we would enjoy plenty of potatoes and apples, but not much in the way of other veggies and meat products. I am curious too, why the amount of chicken and eggs produced in the state was so low. It would seem to me a few chickens per family or in the neighborhood would produce enough eggs (and male chickens for meat) to go around. Perhaps chicken wasn't such a staple of the American diet at the time.
All in all, it is a very interesting thought and a great short read. I hope that more thought and energy is put into this dilemma that is approaching us.
A couple of other quick thoughts:
And there wouldn’t be many cups of cheer to lighten the mood either; the pound of hops, seven pounds of barley, and seven pounds of rye due each person would produce a spartan portion of beer and a small amount of whiskey, with a little under two gallons of wine per year to round out a ration of alcohol bordering on the abstemious.That's why people like my Grampa were making batches of homemade fruit wine (peaches, pears, apples, etc), and using the old basement still to distill quality hooch from those batches. Where there's a demand, people will come through, I believe!
And I love his final thought:
Still and all, it’s not an end game that looks that terrible if we start planning for it. For those of us living close to the food sources upstate, it’s possible to face a postcarbon future with the hope that a massive effort to reclaim former farmland can yield enough to feed everyone in New York, even people living in cities.(emphasis mine)
What our city dwellers might have to trade us for it is their interesting question.