Friday, March 19, 2010

Market gardening during an economic crisis‏

Hi Fernando,

I listened to Rawles's interview and even if I like his blog, I think he's too radical. I'd like to hear you and I sent an email to C2C as you asked.

I email you today to ask you about veggies during the economic crisis in your country. I'm working for an organic market gardener and I'm planning to run a small scale market garden in two or three years. I wonder what were the availability and prices of vegetables in post-2001 Argentina ? Are there CSA or box schemes ? Do people started to plant private gardens (that's competition for the professionals indeed) ? Is there a strong market for seedlings (which would be a direct result of more people gardening their yard) ?

Regarding security and transportation, I suppose it would be wise to have my garden on the edge of a small town, so that I'm not isolated and I don't have hundred miles to drive to sell my products. What's your opinion ?

Your readers interested in market gardening should buy Eliot Coleman's "The New Organic Grower", it contains relevant informations for those who want to start such a business IMHO.

I read Don Williams's comment about self-sufficient agriculture on the meat prices surge topic and I disagree about fertilizers being a problem. Before we mined phosphate rock, we had to make do with cow poo and other organic matter !! Crop rotation, greem manures, composting grazers' poo : these are the solutions. And don't forget humanure, because it's the only way to fully close the nutrients cycle. China used it for thousand of years (it's like gold in a way xD).

Another thing : you mentioned in your book the availability of game in the city. I can add rabbit to your list as I found some of them on the edge of a half-a-million souls' city. I think they would be wiped out if the push come to the shove but it's interesting thing to know.

Bye,
Etienne


Hi Etienne,

Thanks for sending an email. Every single one helps and I’m sure I’ll eventually get a call. (I aslo so several new 5 star reviews in Amazon, so thanks a lot for that as well guys)

Prices went up consistently but that doesn’t mean gardening will make you rich.
Its usually due to prices in general going up, the middle man’s cost, transportation, rent, power and taxes for the grocery store going up as well, as well as everyone increasing their own profit margin trying to stay up to date with inflation.

The Hollywood survival theory says that you’ll grow your food, feed yourself and your family, and sell/trade what’s left for whatever products and services you need but don’t produce yourself.
Why, according to that logic, half of the poor in Latin America should be rich or at least well off since that’s what they do.
So, it doesn’t work that way in 3rd world countries or after a collapsed economy.
When I say it doesn’t work, I mean that you have several other much more profitable jobs and income generating activities that make small scale gardening for a living in most cases impractical. (there are exception and we’ll talk about that later)

First, its impossible to produce yourself everything you need for a balanced diet. As my buddy Nomad concluded after years of survival and preparedness research and some time in Emergency Response school “Money makes the world go around” , even after SHTF, I might add.
Again the Hollywood based theory says you’ll sell your beans and tomatoes for whatever you need, it’s a perfect plan!
Well… no. 
I’ve even read some comments in forums ( and I’m pretty sure the posters did consider it a joke) say that they’ll trade one of their chickens for a bar of gold. Because that would be HIS price… after SHTF.
Today he would be just a fool for even suggesting such a trade, what on earth makes these people believe that will change with a worse or collapsed economy?
Unless you’re dealing with a guy with a bar of gold in a stranded island, that unrealistic.
Neither you nor I set the price of gold or anything else for that matter, the market does it. You can either accept it or customers will go somewhere else.
But then again, food, just like everything else is expensive when you have hyperinflation.

It was just last year or the year before, that tomato reached a world wide historic record in Argentina, a kilo of tomato cost about 4 dollars in grocery stores and supermarkets. The small producers thoughts they could just grow gold, but as soon as everyone got into tomatoes, the excess of production sent it back to normal prices, even below that. Damned tomatoes where everywhere.
The truth is that, while the price is inflated at the grocery, the guy actually growing and otherwise producing the food isn’t getting rich.
He gets a couple cents for what he does, he needs BULK, and that’s why the great majority of small producers are poor.
Poor as in they would be better of getting a regular job in town.
With the succession of economy crisis in Argentina that’s what most people ended up doing. Buenos Aires got overpopulated and many of the small towns in the country just died.
Another example, milk costs around one dollar if you want one that isn’t shamelessly cut with water. That’s around 3 pesos per liter. The producer? He gets paid 7 cents per liter, that’s pesos guys, so he gets 0,02 dollars per liter of milk produced. The inflation makes it expensive at the shelf. Go with a truck full of milk and sell it yourself? Good luck with that.
 Argentine farmers protest in the province of Santa Fe during the the "Country Crisis"(Crisis del Campo)

  Some people do sell vegetables on the streets or in market fairs. I don’t envy their lifestyle nor does anyone that has at least a minimum wage job.
What I mean by this is the following:
Please, understand I’ve got nothing against gardening, or hard working people, specially farmers which is such a honorable job. What I’m saying is that its only going to be harder to make money out of it, not easier as the couch survivalists that apparently didn’t bother to check their own country’s history seem to believe.

Now, for the good news, you do have options if you know how to market your products well, find several organic stores that may be willing to sell your products.
“Farm chicken” and “Farm butcher” are still pretty popular here and they usually have cheaper prices that supermarkets. That means people will buy. They offer these products supposedly free of all the junk found in the mass produced supermarket meats, but the price is the most attractive thing people notice.
You’ll either need: a) A store somewhere where there’s enough clients b) Store owners, groceries, butchers or organic food stores that may be interested.
If you market it well and the price is right you may do good money.
If you’re planning on getting involved in this type of activity, specially with hard economic times already here and getting worse, I’d tell you that without a doubt the mot important aspect of your business and the key for its survival will be the connections you have to offer your product and how well you market it. You have to be clever regarding doing business. Just producing a good product wont cut it.
Another tip, aim for clients with good income levels.

The poor guy will find a way to save as much money as he can. Even with inflated grocery prices, you still have places like Mercado Central where meat, milk, fruits and vegetables cost 5 to 10 times less.
Takes time, requires you to go to some dangerous parts of town but people do find away, so aim for the higher income client interested in “organic” “green” “pesticide free””100% natural” “ I read Hamlet to the chickens before cutting their heads off”.
 The “CSA or box schemes” may work beautifully... if you know how to market it well and have the right clients.

Advertising is important, fliers in your target neighborhoods, maybe publicity in local radio, TV or papers, but so is connections, developing friendly business relations and word of mouth reputation spreading in your community.
Edible game does disappear pretty fast when things like these occur. Suddenly everyone feels like hunting instead of paying for burgers. It happened during the Great Depression and it happened here too, anything that can be eaten it hunted almost to extinction fast.

FerFAL

14 comments:

Julia said...

I wish I could get my fiance to understand the point about small game. He traps, and does some hunting. We're in a far suburb outside of a large city and I know that we'd have millions of people scrounging for small game in no time. Sigh... I keep stocking up!

Anonymous said...

“ I read Hamlet to the chickens before cutting their heads off”

lol...to sleep, perchance to be dipped in honey glaze and smoked...

russell1200 said...

Ferfal:

Read your own link more closely. The farmers did reasonably well in some regards. What killed them was the tax bills. On my wife's side they lost two of their tracts of land because they could not pay the taxes.

Tax bills in deflationary times are absolute killers.

The other problem was that the years preceding the depression were a time of huge technical advances, and a number of farmers went into debt buying productivity enhancing equipment. Obviously when prices dropped they could not pay off their debt.

Our government is pretty well committed to inflating its way out that situation. There are a number of reasons it may not work, but we will never know until we go down that road.

Don Williams said...

Re Etienne's comment "I read Don Williams's comment about self-sufficient agriculture on the meat prices surge topic and I disagree about fertilizers being a problem. Before we mined phosphate rock, we had to make do with cow poo and other organic matter"
---------------
1) Relying on grazers to manure our garden assumes that hungary people don't slaughter your cow at night and carry it off.

2) Yes, people several centuries ago relied on manure, crop rotation,etc. BUT the lack of FOOD and starvation/disease due to malnutrition resulted in a MUCH lower population density than what we have today.

The American Indians were very lucky that deer were attracted to depleted farming areas and provided a much needed supplement to the gardening.

3) Plus the streams were full of fish --unlike the empty, polluted streams of today -- and fish residue is one of the few organic materials with the 3 primary elements in any quantity.

4) Plus there is the tilling thing -- whereby you have to expend enormous amounts of calories and hope you get them back with the harvest. Because you die if you don't.

5) Watch Mel Gibson's movie Apocalypto -- and see how the ruling elites handle things when the crops fail. Human sacrifice not only reduced the numbers of hungary mouths --but I suspect also provided some rich compost out behind the temple. Human blood and bones are the other organic sources of high percentage nitrogen, potash and phosphates.

6) And then there is the fine old tradition of raiding at harvest time -- both to grab the food and to starve your enemies to death. Part of the military tradition of the US Army, although not one they brag about today.

Feel like sitting up all night with a rifle after a hard day of digging the ground?

7) I'm not against self-sufficient gardening -- but the enormous economies of scale of modern farming ( tractors,etc) make it uncompetitive except under conditions where you are going to have a hard time protecting your harvest and herd.

Don Williams said...

I think if you are going to try gardening, it's best to wait a few months until the population dies back or leaves --i.e, to have a year's supply of food to let you hunker down and hide for a while.

The wealthier Chinese of 150 years ago had a good idea of having a garden area/fruit orchard in the backyard that had 6 foot high walls around it. Not to just keep out the animal predators.

Etienne said...

“ I read Hamlet to the chickens before cutting their heads off”
xD !

Okay, I think I didn't express clearly what's my plan : producing vegetables which will be sold directly -no middleman involved- to the customers through a box scheme, that is - for those who don't have a clue of what's a box scheme - getting paid a month or a growing season in advance for providing a crate of mixed vegetables on a weekly basis. You save on time because you don't have to wait for customers at the local market, and you know more or less how much veggies you must grow in the season. There a HUGE demand for organic veggie box in my country.
Where I work, we provide arround 110 boxes a week, selling at 10-15€ each. At this time of the year though we must buy additional vegetables to fill the boxes as we have only lettuces, swiss chards, spinach and fennel. Customers don't mind about reselling because it's cheaper than veggies from the organic grocery store !

Community supported agriculture seems to be a step above but that's not realy common here in France.

Etienne said...

Hi Don. Do you have any background in agriculture ?

1) Relying on grazers to manure our garden assumes that hungary people don't slaughter your cow at night and carry it off.

I've heard of such a thing, some guys killed a cow right in the pasture and butchered it roughly with a chainsaw.
During an economic crisis, you want to have dairy cattle because people won't be able to afford red meat (apart from bourgeois). As you have to milk yours cows in the evening, you leave them in the shed for the night untill the morning's milking.

2) Yes, people several centuries ago relied on manure, crop rotation,etc. BUT the lack of FOOD and starvation/disease due to malnutrition resulted in a MUCH lower population density than what we have today.

It's a multifactorial problem : the PTB used to eat rather well because they drained the food from the countryside, hygiene was an unknown word, bad weather conditions could result in regionnal famines, and finally agricultural technics have evolved so nowadays even without fossil fuel we can produce more food than Middle Ages folks. I think we'd be far better off today.

3) Plus the streams were full of fish --unlike the empty, polluted streams of today -- and fish residue is one of the few organic materials with the 3 primary elements in any quantity.

Fish residue used today in agriculture comes mostly from the humongous quantity of sea fish we harvest like there's no tomorrow. BTW, there's been aquaculture in China for at least 2500 years.

4) Plus there is the tilling thing -- whereby you have to expend enormous amounts of calories and hope you get them back with the harvest. Because you die if you don't.

We use cattle to till the land at least since the Egyptians, and majority of farmers arround the world don't use tractors. There are multi-purpose breeds of cows that can pull the plough, produce a decent milk and a quality meat.

5) Watch Mel Gibson's movie Apocalypto -- and see how the ruling elites handle things when the crops fail.

I watched it, kinda scary. But in the age of the rifle, this should not happen (3S rule). Regarding the use of defunt people as fertilizer, it's no big deal, you just bury the corpse and plant a fruit/nut tree on top of it.

6) And then there is the fine old tradition of raiding at harvest time -- both to grab the food and to starve your enemies to death. Part of the military tradition of the US Army, although not one they brag about today.
Feel like sitting up all night with a rifle after a hard day of digging the ground?


Usualy when the grain harvest time comes, you're not digging the ground but rather dealing with hay. Besides that, in my european environment, farms are not miles from each other so we can settle a effective security watch. Dogs and rifles, that's a good combo.

7) I'm not against self-sufficient gardening -- but the enormous economies of scale of modern farming ( tractors,etc) make it uncompetitive except under conditions where you are going to have a hard time protecting your harvest and herd.

Modern farming, whether it's organic or not, use a good amount of non-renewable inputs which come from far away. After the USSR fell apart, Cuba shifted to organic small scale agriculture because they could buy those inputs. Surely Cubans lost weight, but they're still alive !

I think if you are going to try gardening, it's best to wait a few months until the population dies back or leaves --i.e, to have a year's supply of food to let you hunker down and hide for a while.

This blog is not about global pandemic it's about economic crisis. People won't jump out of the window en masse because they lost their job.
Market gardening is not just gardening though.

I'd like to know if a significant part of Argentina's people started to grow their own food after 2001.

Anonymous said...

Ferfal,

Your insight in city dwelling evirons is very acute during the collapse of Argentina of 2000 and beyond. However, I have been reading your site for several years now and for the most part your commentary is typically against living in rural areas and self sustaining yourself. The truth about the great depression is that nearly 7 million died during that tragic event. Farmers or those who could feed themselves never were without food and shelter. In the south many of my relatives survived and increased there families during the great depression. The urban environ will be a very dangerous place in the later stages of this collapse.
25% of all americans lived on family farms in the great depression even though many lost them due to tax auctions and bank repos. I think storing food for sheltering in place is a good idea but in the long term there is simply not going to be enough food with whats comming and a individual must make plans to feed his family. When Argentina collapses the western world (those that were listening...shook with fear) As the US, Europe, Austrailia slip into collapse the world will simply not have enough productive capability to feed itself. So this is very different, what I believe will happen is those in cities will be trapped and not be able to escape to the countryside where there will be less crime and an opportunity to better protect oneself through community involvment teams. Those who can fish, hunt, garden will fare much better than city dwellers in the US; the facts of the Great Depression bear that out; your facts are not on your side there. I really think there needs to be a hybridization of your survival concepts of Urban tactics married with country skills; I just think you dont give credit to rural living tactics and skils which will IMO allow a person with a family a better chance of survival.
It really comes down to relying on those around you to come to your aide in your time of need; we still have that in rural communities as I have seen it although people are loosing it in regards of caring for their fellow man. As always I appreciate your insight and welcome your response.
michael
Also Study HOLODOMOR - the Ukarainian Famine during the Stalin Purge. The breadbasket of Europe and the reason they could not produce is that they did not all hold together to fight Stalins attempt to break the will of the people. Its much better to die on your feet than to be slaughtered hungry and without dignity on your knees's.

gaga said...

Argentina crash has very specific attributes that many not apply elsewhere and to other economic situations.

The most likely scenario for GLOBAL economic disaster in the west is the effects of a rocketing prices of oil (due to demand/supply). This WILL happen at some point and its effects have already been seen - food prices doubled when Oil hit $147. Wheat prices hit over $20/bushel from their long term average of $7.

What people have forgotten is that food prices have fallen 80% since the 1960 and cheap petroleum is responsible; remove that and prices could rocket fourfold within a year. You will spend every penny you have to feed yourself and in that situation farmers will make a lot of money.

The world's population has doubled in my life time; cheap food and better medicine has allowed that - these people will now put more pressure on commodities that the West has been monopolising. Oil is well known, but there is also a severe shortage of water for food production. Note, pig shit contains 1% of the nitrogen of chemical fertilizer - nothing compares to man made fertilizer.

Food is going to get very expensive - investors know this and they are moving into agriculture as its no longer going to be unprofitable.

Anonymous said...

I have removed my lawn and installed a "Victory Garden", including 8ft high walls, also dug down a couple of feet on the inside perimeter, so that someone jumping my wall will have more to drop down than they had to scale up. It was worth a try to make a difference. The front yard is full of flowers herbs and landscape, fruit trees, etc, back yard and vegs are not visible from the road. I did this not for a market garden but as a way to stretch $ and still provide for my family. I wonder how the gov't will tax the produce if I'm not selling anything, or buying veggies? Also, I think we need to remember that Argentina is the better template than the Great Depression of 1929. It seems we in the US are going into more of a command economy than we had back in '29. ferFAL has done us a huge favor in providing a glimpse into our own future, an economic meltdown in a modern setting. Just my 2 cent's worth. Eric

Don Williams said...

Re Etienne's question: "Hi Don, do you have any background in agriculture?"
-------------
Sorry for late reply, Etienne. I've been in a class for two days and just got back.

1) My father was reared on a small farm, planted a garden when I was
growing up (in which I helped), and I've tried my own hand at a small scale garden attempting to use non-hybrid seeds, organic fertilizer and hand tilling.

My father told me that it was impossible to survive farming without a mule to plow --but that the mule in turn required food as well that had to be planted and harvested for the winter.

2) My maternal grandmother, who was a widow, lived on a partially
self-sufficient farm that I visited in the summers when growing up. Learned to milk a cow, churn cream to make butter, saw hogs slaughtered, killed chickens, and helped her can her garden produce to store for winter.

Note,however, that I say partially self-sufficient: her cow grazed in a field but still needed hay bought in via truck for the winter. The pigs were fed scraps, but also required feed to be bought in.

3) The point being that things become a lot more difficult when you can't use a truck to haul things from retail store. And what happens to animals if they get sick and you either can't get a vet -- or the vet can't get drugs? And looking at the records of my greatgrandfather, it appears that a horse circa 1920 cost almost as much in wages as a car does today.

4) Plus there are the droughts that hit every 10 years or so , even in areas with fairly high rainfall.

5) And insects can ruin your crops if you don't have pesticides. Here in North America we have rapacious maize pests from Europe that our native American population never had to contend with (corn borer,etc.)

6) Obviously, some percentage of the population could be supported with the technology of 150 years ago -- but I think there would be a lot of social unrest and deaths in making the transition.

For one thing, we have nowhere near the herds of domestic animals we had back then. It would take some time for our farmers to acquire plow horses or mules to replace their tractors.

7) Anon at 4:49 PM is partially true and partially false. Yes , a fair number of Americans survived the Great Depression on rural farms.

But we also had huge masses of starving refugees traveling the roads to California because a drought and poor farming practices created a Dust Bowl in the Midwest that rendered huge areas of farmland infertile. Described in John Steinbeck's classical novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grapes_of_wrath

Don Williams said...

PS to Etienne:
1) I think protecting farms would be more difficult than you envision if there was a break down in law and order. A rifle can shoot both ways -- it is hard to work outside if you are in constant fear of a sniper.

2)An advantage farmers had in the old days was that their farm could support a horse. Hence, a group of farmers could form a paramilitary form of cavalry that could chase down and attack raiders on foot. But accurate rifles negate that advantage --since cavalry is also vulnerable to ambushs by riflemen.

3) I think the most protective plan is the fortified town of the Middle Ages -- in which people slept behind town walls at night (with sentries), went outside to works in nearby fields during the day, and had roving horsemen on patrol to scout and give early warning of raiders.

Anonymous said...

My Mother grew up during the Great Depression in the countryside,while my dad grew up in the city.
Her family had a farm,grew tobacco and cotton to sell.Raised pigs,chickens,turkeys,kept a dairy cow and two mules.They had neighbors who would help with the hog butchering or if someone was sick,would help them out.
The downside was the medical and dental care.When you got a tooth pulled it was without pain killers,when you got stitched up,it was again, without pain killers.
There was also the underground economy-moonshine and prostitution.

My Dad grew up in the city,and his Dad worked as a bookbinder for county documents.They did not have a garden,chickens,etc so it was hand-to-mouth as far as food.

Etienne said...

Note, pig shit contains 1% of the nitrogen of chemical fertilizer - nothing compares to man made fertilizer.

It seems that it's even poorer, from what I read (arround 2,65kg/metric ton of slurry). But a solution would be to produce biogas with pig dung, the byproduct of this transformation being a somewhat concentrated fertilizer (again not as effective as the synthetised NPK).

@Don : I see you're not totally out concerning agriculture :-)
I agree with most of what you said. The availability of working horses (in the case we can't us tractors anymore) is some serious problem. And then we need land to feed them barley and hay.

We're in trouble !

3) I think the most protective plan is the fortified town of the Middle Ages -- in which people slept behind town walls at night (with sentries), went outside to works in nearby fields during the day, and had roving horsemen on patrol to scout and give early warning of raiders.

I like this one. I've seriously thought about building some kind of barrier all arround my retreat's hamlet.

@FerFAL : last evening I read the chapter of your book about "People to be friends with" and farmers are one of them. I see many of these "people to be friends with" as usefull elements of the society, thus being one of them is not a bad idea, hey ? :-)
Maybe practicing golf or tennis would be a good idea to get in touch with the doctor/judge/businessman.