05 December, 2008

Amateurish Estimates of Independence

Anyone who's known me for any real length of time knows I have a sick obsession with spreadsheets. I can do anything, anything, given enough time and access to Microsoft Excel. It takes very little to set me off on a tabular tailspin, entering random figures, thoughts, plans, and daydreams into calculable formats.

Today's obsession came in the form of estimating the total amount of food, in kilograms, we consume in an average year with "we" being equal to one young adult male, one semi-young adult female, and one mid-to-large breed dog.

To the best of my abilities, I listed every major item of food we consume on a regular basis, obviously missing several along the way, but I think most bases were well covered. I then looked up acreage required to fuel our consumption of edibles, added these to the building space necessary to house us and to process all the treats on which we subsist.

Days like these make me wonder if I don't have a touch of the ole' O.C.D.

The totals were mind-boggling. I mean, in theory, I'm aware the average healthy human adult eats round about 1.5-2 kg of food, give or take, each day. But good grief! It's far less an intellectual understanding when you see the actual sums. With a wide margin of error, I'm sure, we eat 1200+ kg of food per year, and drink about 1400 litres of items like soda, coffee, tea, and fruit juice.

Upon seeing those average, yet still startling, numbers, I was prompted to delve deeper into what it would take to feed our small family without commerical assistance. None. No stores. At all. Point of fact...no way could we do it.

Oh, the space requirements aren't too bad. Around 5-10 acres would provide more than enough space for a couple milking goats, 60+ egg and meat fowl, 2 beef cows, 2 pigs, 3-5 lambs, a decent fishing pond, a honeybee hive or two (Ha! As if I'd raise bees), small fields for oats, wheat, and other grains, a large fruit grove and vegetable patch, and a little place for us to live, as well.

But the time, knowledge, energy, and dedication required to host such a variety of animals, to produce so many things like cheeses, oils, etc...it's all far too much for we two small folk.

Sure, we could go vegan and spare ourselves the hassle with meat, dairy, honey, etc...but that would suck nearly all our personal joy out of eating, so scratch that idea.

Alas, consumers we are and consumers we shall remain. Short of founding a mid-sized commune, I don't really see a way we'll ever reach that level of sustainability and self-sufficiency. Perhaps if we were old school, planning on five children who could each be assigned to various chores--But, we want one, maybe two kids, and enjoy too many things about relative urban life to go so far into the land-life.

Where does that leave us? Right where we started, I think. Trying to grow what we can. Trying to prepare for our few little chickens. Trying to buy local produce, if at all possible. Yeah...trying.

Perhaps this new found knowledge will serve to inform our eating habits. Maybe a few vegetarian meals per week wouldn't kill my carnivorous husband. Perhaps a little less milk in my coffee would do. After all, knowing is half the battle, right?


Margo said...

a fellow excel junkie!!! But you will only be TRULY sad when you start adding colour via conditional formatting, and then charting the results.

Trust me. I'm already there. I live to chart LOL

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Too true! My last job involved about 50% of my time being spent on measuring web and advertising successes via charts and trends, so if it's excel, I've done it lol. It's so very addictive.

Just trying to be green said...

I don't know if it's all that hard- most of the skills mentioned are fairly easy to learn. It's the perfection that takes work.

For example, I know how to milk (by hand or machine), butcher, make soft as well as aged cheese, butter, yogurt, garden, raise everything from cows to quail, prune trees and grow most kinds of fruit and vegetables. I've done them all, and I learned them all before I was 12.

Sure, people who, say, make cheese for a living have better cheese than me, but mine sure is safe and tasty.

And you wouldn't really need that many types of animal- you could do quite well with simply goats/sheep (sheep would have the wool as well as the milk and meat) and chickens/ducks (ducks are actually slightly better egg layers-bigger eggs, and more of them). Nor would you need that many animals- a good goat would give you a gallon a day, while a cow could give you way more than you could use.

Having said that, I'm not planning on leaving consumerism or the city completely behind. I am going to try and find the most efficient use of my 1/3 of an acre though.

And yes, excel is lovely. In fact, I have a project that I want to do with escel, but that will have to wait until after school ends.

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Greenie: Thanks for your encouragement! Alas, the experiment with spreadsheets was to see what it would take to maintain our current dietary lifestyle without commercial assistance..ie fresh milk every day, not just 9-10 months of the year (avg. lactation of a goat), and requiring extra animals for sustainable breeding, meh! lol

Frankly, I'm a little sad we aren't in a position to do something so impressive. But I'll be happy if we can grow/raise about 1/3 of our foods, for now.

Apparently, we're quite skilled with spinach and tomatoes, but all else is still pretty sketchy :)

Good luck with the quest to be a green student!

Just trying to be green said...

Yeah, maintaining the current lifestyle would be a bit hard! :P Growing 1/3 of that would be very impressive.

One of the things I'm trying to figure out is what plant produces the most calories for a given area. For example, potatoes and carrots actually produce more calories than wheat does, per acre. I think that's important for figuring out how to feed people on a small amount of land. (this will wait until after finals week, however @@)

Kelly the City Mouse said...

Greenie: Hell, just the tomato harvest we'll have this year should give us about 50 kg! lol We love our 'maters.

For calorie density, in addition to potatoes and yams, consider heavy legumes like kidney beans (340 cals per cup), plus they carry a lot of protein. Other great options are dwarf fruit trees...small, even urban friendly, planting but with full-size fruit.

I definitely understand waiting til after finals lol.

The W.O.W. factor said...

Quite a process you went through. I’m impressed!
Now you see why our pioneers and the next generation had huge families!
We wish we lived in the 1800’s…and we could. Actually 'sort of did' for a few years.
We would actually be better off! But today’s world is nothing like it was for our pioneers and homesteaders. Regulations, laws, taxes, lack of space readily available for the taking, etc. As today’s standards go, we are considered well below poverty, but we eat our own foods supplemented very minimally from stores. We certainly have no frills or thrills in our life, but we are content.
It’s refreshing to see your generation so conscience of consumerism! And trying to change your lives! Certainly takes dedication and tons of hard work, most would be scared off by those last two words.
Very admirable!

Kelly the City Mouse said...

W.O.W. - I really believe that all things run in cycles. Now, parts of my family have always gardened or owned productive animals, etc, while other parts have given that up for at least two generations. But what I love, more so than the back-to-the-land movements of my parents' generation, is the practicality of the urban homesteading and semi-steading movement. I think "practical" sums up a lot of the beliefs of my generation. We're not really dreamers or idealists. We're far more jaded than many of our forebears, but many of us see the necessity of home food production, greening our cities, etc. And, I think, that practicality leads to mixings of modern urban life and a healthful, greener lifestyle. There is still some potential for my generation (the "Gen Xers") to mimic a lot of the behaviors of our grandparents. Time will tell!