Talk:Food

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  • The concept of agroecology is best illustrated by a web diagram.
  • Emphasize that a lot of these techniques are new and have a lot of unrealized potential
    • Aquaponics began in 1976
    • Aeroponics started in 1944, but the first commercial applications were in the mid 1980s
    • There were experimental seawater-irrigated farms in the mid-1960s and again in the 1990s, but the first productive farm was started as recently as 1998
    • Open-ocean farms are still in the experimental phase. Expect many more in the coming decade.
  • Vertical farms (feed 40,000-50,000 people)

A general point: a lot of organic-versus-conventional thinking seem to assume that we either spray with petrochmicals or else accept lower yields. It must be understood that there are literally hundreds of organic ways of boosting yield. Mycorrhizae can double yield. Biochar can increase yield 30-50%. etc.


Add two new headings to permaculture page: 'aquaculture' and 'synergy'

  • Aquaculture is an important part of the puzzle. Yields are 4-20 times higher when you farm on water rather than land (source: Permaculture: A Designer's Manual by Bill Mollison). The principles of agroecology apply in exactly the same way as on land; in other words, what would be most productive is lakes, ponds, wetlands and oceans being treated as permaculture farms. Look up UN figures on how much area is available for this.
  • Synergy - give stats on yields of monoculture versus polyculture

  • Seawater greenhouses in deserts. (This could go in the Seawater-Irrigated Farming panel). The Sahara Forest Project (what an inspiring name!) synergizes several technologies advocated on AdCiv: solar thermal, seawater greenhouse and biomass.
  • Automated agricultural equipment. Robot farmers
    • Tractors and combine harvesters could be fully automated with today's technology. Application of GPS, vision system and cut-off safety boundaries near roads and habitation.
  • Algae. Spirulina was called by the UN the 'best food for the future'. Small-scale local production of spirulina has promise in alleviating hunger.
  • Insects. Over 2000 species are edible. Feed conversion ratios better than 2:1. It is difficult to imagine people changing their tastes.
  • Mushrooms. If we got a larger proportion of our protein requirements from mushrooms, both our health and our farms would benefit

According to the Director General of the FAO, we only need around $30 billion a year to build a secure food system [1]. He said in 2008, “The structural solution to the problem of food security in the world lies in increasing production and productivity in the low-income, food-deficit countries” (i.e. implementing local systems like permaculture in food-insecure areas of the world). The World Food Summit in 2002 came up with a plan to build a secure food system for $24bn per year. The Director General thinks his plan "would have assured world food security" if that $24bn had been forthcoming. For comparison, the EU gives subsidies of €45bn a year to farmers! [2]

Can decentralized growing really meet our food needs?

  • Can Britain Feed Itself? - a paper analyzing what level of local food-production would be required to feed Britain. In a similar vein Can Totnes feed Itself?. These papers conclude that self-sufficiency would be possible, but they wrangle with considerable difficulties regarding feeding cities. The missing element in their plans is controlled-environment growing - introduce decentralized aeroponics into kitchen cabinets, aquaponics in backyards and car parks etc. and it becomes much easier to see cities feeding themselves.


Two proofs of decentralized and urban food production are modern Cuba and the victory gardens of WWII:

  • Cuba: It has a pretty high population density (over 100/km2) and 80% of the population is in urban centers, yet they are approaching total self-sufficiency in food. This is done through a combination of community gardens (including hydroponics), private gardens and farms. They also implement the ideas on DIY biotech, with community biotech labs giving free services to growers.
  • Victory gardens: Wartime Britain and US had to become more self-sufficient, so vegetable patches, chickens, pigs, beehives etc. sprung up on lawns, flowerbeds, parks and verges. It was 'Food Not Lawns' in action. Britain grew 1 million tons of vegetables in victory gardens while the US grew 8-10 million. According to a recent book (can't find the title right now), a school near Gloucester had a quarter-acre (1000m2) victory garden run by students that yielded 8000kg of bacon, 50,000 eggs, 250kg rabbit meat and 250kg honey. Interestingly, during the war, sugar consumption went down 30% while vegetable consumption went up the same amount. This had beneficial effects on public health, including lower infant mortality.

How much land is needed to feed one person?

  • Growing Power apparently grows enough for ten thousand people on 5 acres[3] using aquaponics and other methods. That's about 2m2 per person
  • Takao Furuno fed 100 families on six acres. They ate an omnivorous diet of ducks, eggs, 15+ kinds of vegetables, rice and more, delivered to their door. Instead of chemical fertilizer, he used ducks. Instead of insecticide: ducks. Instead of herbicide: ducks. Six acres is 24,000m2. Making the overly conservative assumption that each of the 100 families had an average of three people, that is 80m2 per person.
  • [4] "The data I keep coming across on the web and in gardening books suggests that, to provide an adequate, year-round vegetable diet (excluding grains) for a family of four using standardized organic gardening methods, you would need a garden plot about 4000-5000 square feet" That's 1000-1250 square feet per person, 93-116m2
  • [5] "On approximately two acres-- half of which was on a terraced 35 degree slope--I produced enough food to feed more than 300 people (with a peak of 450 people at one point), 49 weeks a year in my fully organic CSA on the edge of Silicon Valley . If I could do it there you can do it anywhere." 2 acres = 8094m2. For 300 people, that's 27m2 per person. For 450, it's 18m2. He goes on to say, "In a good but somewhat sloppy design, you need about 500 square feet ( 47m2 ) per person MAXIMUM. In a very good design, 200 square feet ( 19m2) will do the job."
  • [6] ""It takes about 15,000 to 30,000 square feet of land to feed one person the average U.S. diet," he says. "I've figured out how to get it down to 4,000 square feet. How? I focus on growing soil, not crops." " 4000 square feet = 372m2
  • [7] "Ecology Action has dedicated almost a quarter-century to rediscovering the scientific principles that underlie these traditional systems. The people in Biosphere II in Arizona have been using techniques based on those outlined by Ecology Action: they raised 80 percent of their food for two years within a "closed system." Their experience demonstrates that a complete year's diet for one person can be raised on the equivalent of 3,403 square feet!" 3403 square feet = 316m2
  • [8] 1000 square feet = 93m2


  • Hydroponics: [9] "SH garden produces 2 kilos of vegetables a day per 20m2 space."
  • [10] 20m2, according to one of the guys who designed food production systems for NASA (probably aeroponics, though he doesn't specifically mention aeroponics in the video).
  • [11] Getjan Meuuws of PlantLab, who develop mathematical models for growing plants: grows 200g of vegetables in a day in 1m2. A system like this literally allows you to grow all your vegetables in your kitchen.


  • At the very inefficient end of the spectrum: [12] "The current typical American’s food footprint load, including area left to meat, is approximately 2.1 acres. Traditional Victorian wisdom was that two acres would feed a person." 2 acres = 8094m2.
  • "Richard Bradfield has grown enough to feed 72 people per hectare [139m2 per person] by the techniques of double planting and multiple cropping, and with the use of cuttings for livestock feed. These results,8 as published and also as described to me by Bradfield, were obtained in the Phillipines, which has only a nine-month growing season and less than ideal weather conditions." The colonization of space by Gerard K. O'Neill

So figures vary wildly for organic farming. I tend to believe the higher estimates, 300-400m2, as there's a lot of hype around organic farming issues. For controlled-environment growing, figures are consistent at about 20m2, coming from credible sources based on actual experience. -- Balatro

Quantitative analysis

Given the agricultural resources available and assuming population peaks at 20 billion, as long as the individual footprint is below 6,900m2 of crop and 16,785m2 of pasture we're fine.


  • Protein from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and mushrooms. Around 150g of meat (including fish) per person per day.
    • The protein requirements for one person can be met from 15m2 of aquaponics (UVI figures - see aquaponics article). This area is simultaneously growing vegetables/herbs. Say 5% of protein is raised aquaponically, that would require 0.752
    • Less than 2m2 of indoor space would provide 100g of medicinal mushrooms per day. (It can be done in less than 1m2, but let's say 2.) Say 5% of protein comes from mushrooms, that requires 0.2m2
    • The presentation linked to in the article on ocean farming says 26m2 of ocean farm can grow enough seaweed to provide a person's protein requirements. This could be converted into fish fairly efficiently. This is a footprint of zero, as it's out at sea. Probably 10% of our protein requirements could come from the ocean.
    • Eggs: A chicken can lay 200 eggs a year, so one chicken per person seems a good fit. That's a footprint of about 10m2 for eggs. That's about 3% of protein requirements.
    • Spirulina - 100g/day/4m2. If average consumption is 5g/person/day, footprint is 0.2m2 and it provides 2% of protein.
    • 60g of legumes per person per day = 109.5m2 @ 2t/h yield. Probably less hydroponically, but there seems to be little research into hydroponic legumes. 60g of legumes would be about 12g of protein, but people could more realistically be expected to eat 30g/day, which is 6g of protein, or about 5% of all protein.
    • Meat: With rotational cell grazing, land can simultaneously produce pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens (both for eggs and meat) and also trees for nuts and fruit. If pasture can achieve the yields from Polyface Farms, then 1000m2 of pasture can produce: 45kg beef, 32kg pork, 750 eggs, 50 meat chickens (say 75kg of meat), 2.5 turkeys (say 10kg of meat) and 2.5 rabbits (say 10kg of meat) - a total of 172kg per 1000m2. If people eat 150g of meat a day, that's 54.75kg a year. That makes a footprint of 318m2 each. However, average yields are unlikely to be half as high as those yields; it is possible, but not likely.
      • Beef is by far the most demonized food in discussions of global food systems, but it need not be so bad. Extensive grazing takes 61% more land than growing grain to feed animals in feedlots[13]. When you consider the superiority of cell-grazing to extensive grazing, it should be competitive with grain-feeding.
      • A rabbitry can produce 2kg of meat per week (280g per day, enough for two people with no other protein source) in just a few square meters, say 10. If 5% of all protein comes from rabbits, the footprint is 0.25m2. A rabbit grows 28.8g a day[14].
      • Chickens can be raised in orchards among fruit trees to the benefit of both species. No extra land in needed.
  • 1000g vegetables per person per day = 10m2 of simple hydroponic greenhouse space, 1.5m2 of vertical aeroponics
  • 600g of fruit per person per day = 73m2 @ 30t/ha yield. (This space can also be used for grazing, particularly poultry.)
  • Cereals to provide remaining carbohydrates. If people eat 400g rice/day and yield is 3t/ha, they need 487m2. However, people only eat that much rice because varied sources of carbohydrates are scarce. 150g (183m2) is better. Fish can be cultivated in rice paddies.
  • Total of 2800 calories per person per day

These figures represent an abundant, rather than adequate, food supply. All that comes in at under 700m2 per person if you add it up. However, adding it up is the wrong thing to do. What makes the analysis tricky is polyculture: it is not a matter of one patch of land growing rice and another patch growing fish; the same land can advantageously produce both rice and fish, and at a higher yield than producing them separately. Most analyses of agricultural footprints assume monocultures and add up figures. Polyculture makes the maths harder, but the outcome more optimistic.

Vegetarianism is not the way to reduce footprint. Poultry birds take up little land and can advantageously co-exist with orchards or vegetable patches. Fish are very space-efficient and take up nearly no land, not to mention their potential in aquaponics. Rabbits are extraordinarily productive; it always baffles me that they have failed to become one of the world's major meat sources. Two things bloat the agricultural footprint: grains and cattle. An ideal diet, if minimal footprint is the aim, would get all carbohydrates from vegetables (including starchy ones like potatoes) and would exclude cattle. It is not necessary, though, as there is so much pasture - 335,694 billion square meters in the world[15] - thousands per person no matter how explosive population growth is. The key is to convert as much pasture as possible to polycultures, especially silvopasture and rotational cell grazing.--Balatro 08:23, 18 June 2011 (CEST)

Many reports talk about increasing yields of rice and wheat as though that were all that is required to feed the world. This overemphasis on grains is part and parcel of the broken food system. Growing a lot more rice is not the answer; rice will never have the yield of vegetables; whereas rice yields 3-5 t/ha, potatoes yield 40-50. (Potatoes have 88% the caloric content of rice.) The figures above make it clear that the overuse of grains is one of the main reasons our agricultural footprint is so high; I suspect it is also one of the main reasons diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity are so rampant. The solution is replacing a large chunk of our grain intake with vegetables --Balatro 19:16, 4 June 2011 (CEST)

Aeroponics benefits summary

  • 98% water saving
  • 99% space saving
  • Energy-efficiency
  • No pesticide/ no crop lost to pests
  • No fertilizer
  • Local/ No transport
  • Fresh
  • Tastier
  • DIY/ swadeshi
  • Nutritiousness
  • High yield
  • Constant yield
  • Automation

Foods for the future

  • Tilapia
  • Moringa
  • Rabbit
  • Chickens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Insects like grasshoppers , crickets, cicadas etc.