Foodmageddon: Grow, Glean, and Forage Over Two Million Calories for a Year?

Our grow-your-own project is underway. Right now, we’re in the planning stages. In February, we get a month of “business as usual,” to order and plan for the upcoming decrease of fossil fuels in our food system. Starting in March, we’ll only have a quarter of our trips to the grocery store and less shipping available. Planning has begun in earnest and in this post, I want to go over some of the basic food stats we’re up against.

Two Million Calories in a Year

We are a family of two and a half people, plus a dog and seven chickens. Two adults eating 2,000 calories a day need 1.46 million calories in a year (2 × 2,000 × 365). A one-year-olds need 1,000 calories a day, so 356,000 calories for the year. We’ll need that again for our dog. Each chicken needs about 230 calories per day, so we’re looking at 578,650 calories (7 × 230 × 365). That puts us well over two million calories (closer to 2.8 million total).

We’re going to meet that caloric need through vegetable gardening, foraging from our neighborhood, and gleaning what would be left over from the fossil-fuel agricultural system if those fuels disappeared.

Vegetable and Fruit Gardening

We’re going to try to grow more than we think we need because gardening is never a sure thing. The Inca and people living in the unpredictable Andes grew a variety of foods and potato varieties in a plethora of environments to ensure that something would thrive each year. That’s because they had to deal with the El Niño every two to eleven years: imagine your climate being inverted once every decade. By diversifying their food system, they could be sure they’d have enough to eat, come what may.

We typically grow a wide variety of vegetables (or at least try to):

Full Sun: Tomato, cucumber, pepper, beans, corn, beets, garlic, carrot, broccoli, potato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra, eggplant, sweet potato, sunflower, kale

Mostly Sun: Peas, lettuce, mustard, parsley, mint, basil, thyme, oregano, cilantro, squash, pumpkin, kale, carrots

Partial Sun: Onions, radish, spinach, arugula, chard

I’ve made a list of the calories per pound of much of what we grow.

Plant Calories/lb
Asparagus 85
Bean, bush, dry 1440
Bean, pole, green 141
Beet 197
Broccoli 153
Brussels Sprouts 196
Cabbage, early 118
Cabbage, late 118
Carrot 186
Cauliflower 113
Celery 64
Chard 86
Collards 139
Corn, dried 1751
Cucumber 68
Eggplant 111
Kale 227
Kohlrabi 113
Lettuce, head 70
Lettuce, leaf 70
Muskmelon 153
Mustard 121
Okra 150
Onion, sets 181
Parsley 119
Parsnip 341
Peas, dried 1188
Peppers 181
Potato, early 354
Potato, late 354
Pumpkin 117
Radish 101
Rhubarb 97
Rutabaga 170
Spinach 104
Squash, summer 74
Squash, fall 204
Sweet potato 389
Tobacco
Tomato 82
Turnip 126
Watermelon 138

While we’ll be living well in the summer, by the winter, we will have moved on to what we can store. The big calorie sources will be potatoes, dried peas, dried beans, squash, onions, beets, carrots, kohlrabi and sweet potato. To that we’ll add what we can can (tomatoes, green beans, pickles, okra, applesauce, etc), and dry (tomatoes, strawberries, apples, etc.). Finally, we’ll have our greenhouse going, which should provide kale, spinach, and other cold-hardy greens.

Gleaning

The first year of such a scenario would be easier than those that follow because a lot of crops will be put in before diesel runs dry. Therefore, we can hand harvest wheat, corn, soy, and whatever else is within biking distance of our home. These will be big calorie sources. Additionally, we’ll be growing our own oats, flax, amaranth, and corn to supplement what we can harvest. Maybe we’ll try some upland rice. Also, we should be able to get bushels of apples from the various abandoned apple trees around here, as we have in previous years. Here’s the calorie break-down.

Food Calories/lb
Apple sauce 412
Apple Dried 1256
Apple Fresh 95
Raspberries, fresh 260
Raspberries, dried 1740
Strawberries, fresh 151
Strawberries, dried 1800
Flour 1679
Soy Beans 2024
Oats 1765
Rice 1655
Corn, dried 1751

Preindustrial people were constrained by what they could store and it is no coincidence that wheat, corn, and other seeds, which store well, were depended on for settled life.

Foraging

We’ll also be eating out of the “uncultivated” resources of our neighborhood. This spring we’ll tap the maple trees across the street in the town commons for syrup. We also have an oak grove that will give us plenty of acorns to mill down into meal to cut our flour. The village is also rife with black walnut trees. All of these are great calorie sources.

Food Calories/lb
maple syrup 1664
acorn 2268
black walnuts 2965

Animal Products

Our final source of calories will be both domestic and wild animals. These will form a small but significant portion of our diets. At home we have bees that make honey — a sweet treat as sugar is less available. We also have egg-laying hens. This year we’ll let them hatch out some chicks, half of which will be males. Once they reach full size, they’ll be butchered.

We may try to get milk from a neighbor and make cheese to store for the winter.

The Badfish Creek will provide us with fish. We plan to net suckers in the spring and fish for other species throughout the year.

In the neighborhood there are tons of squirrels and rabbits, but we haven’t decided if those are a resource we will tap. Rabbits are so prolific that eating those that venture into our yard will not significantly reduce the local population. We will also go deer hunting in the fall, as this wild meat is healthy and abundant here.

Food Calories/lb or unit
egg (per egg) 78
chicken (per lb) 1037
venison (per lb) 715
fish
(per lb)
781
fish, smoked (per lb) 530
cheddar cheese (per lb) 1831
rabbit (per lb) 784

We can talk about the ethics of meat in an upcoming episode, but if you’re interested in my thoughts on meat now, you can listen to Low Tech Podcast, no. 8.


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