What Price For Food Security?

Source: TaxRebate.org.uk

One of the better Facebook pages I follow is the Weston A. Price Association. This morning I followed a link from them to an IndieGogo campaign from the Koanga Institute in New Zealand.

The Koanga Institute, for those not in the know, is New Zealand’s Permaculture Research Institute (PRI). They’ve also been supplying heritage organic seeds for the last three decades. Recently they’ve turned more of their attention towards regenerative gardening practices, particularly in the urban setting. Since I live in suburban Adelaide, this project has definitely piqued my interest.

However, so did a comment on the Weston A. Price page below the campaign link. A fellow Facebook user commented (I’m paraphrasing here) that $19,000 was a lot of money to grow food on 200 sqm, and how is that a model of food security?

OK, yes, nineteen grand is a lot of money by anyone’s standards. But let’s break that down, shall we? Here’s the list of projects Koanga plans to fund via the campaign.

We will be using recycled materials where possible but still need to fund the following:

  • 8 wicking beds with an iron surround with a wooden seat to sit a cloche on when necessary. All 8 beds will be connected so there is only one water inlet Total $500
  • Design and build aquaponics and grow bed system $500
  • Design and build wicking bed system for vertical growing $160
  • Design and build 2 vertical drum water storage towers with wicking beds on top to grow pumpkins to cover roof Total $280
  • Design and build fungi system $80
  • Design and build roof and south wall to protect concrete intensive production area $800
  • Add Robinia rails above all fences to train grapes/vines $250
  • Design and maintenance of a recording system so that all inputs and outputs are charted and available to all, done by garden maintenance person 15 minutes per day $1400
  • Designing and building a chlorine & fluoride filter that can be used to clean water so soil microbes are not killed $250
  • Build a small passive solar drier $180
  • Design and build a legal composting toilet so that humanure can be legally recycled in the garden… and get regional council approval so others can use the design and model $1100
  • Management of the urban garden for 1 year by garden apprentice 16 hours/week $9500
  • Caravan accommodation for Urban Garden intern $4000

TOTAL $19000 USD

Taking out the recording system ($1400), apprentice wages ($9500) and lodging ($4000) leaves a mere $4100 to build a food system that, with a little luck and a lot of hard work, will feed a family of four.

Let me put this further into perspective. The Squirrel household’s current food budget is $250 per fortnight, or $6500 per year. This includes all grocery purchases – food, prescription medications and vitamin supplements, toilet paper, the works. Generally the food component is between $180 and $200 per fortnight – $4680-$5200 annually. And that’s only for a family of three. In other words, we currently spend more per year on food than what this system will eventually produce. And I can guarantee you that the food I’m buying is nowhere near the quality you’d get from this kind of setup.

I’m going to take this comparison/thought experiment a step further. Say that the Squirrels built a similar system, for a similar amount of money. Our climate is a rough analogue of Wairoa, though our annual rainfall is rather lower. So we could reasonably expect similar yields and input requirements. (Our backyard isn’t large or sunny enough for an exact replica, but we’ll roll with it for the sake of the exercise.)

Say that our system could only replace 50% of the monetary value of the food we’re currently buying – $2600 for a nice round number.

The system will have paid itself back in 1.57 years, or a touch under 19 months. By month twenty, I’ve effectively halved my grocery bill forever with that one-off cash outlay a year and a half before.

Remind me again how this isn’t a model of food security?

Of course, the average householder wouldn’t be able to install a food system like this overnight. But that doesn’t negate the impact of putting in the system at all. Part of the beauty of the listed projects is that you can put them in one at a time, as funds permit. Only have $80? Start with the fungi system. That will save you some money on mushrooms every week that you can put aside for the next piece of the project. Won the bingo? Excellent, get a start on that composting toilet.

I’d even argue that the one-at-a-time approach is more efficient, over the medium-long term. If you only have one new thing to worry about, you can give it plenty of extra attention until it’s running smoothly. If you put in three new projects at once, you’re more likely to spread yourself too thin and have multiple sub-par results, or outright failures.

So you tell me – is the price of increasing food security worthwhile?

I’ll be back later – time for me to pot up some veggie seeds and start lowering my grocery bill.