Feeding People in the Era of Corporate Farming

This post is part my wandering thought process about food production/distribution during a large-scale societal collapse and part a request for feedback/ideas. This is one of the benefits of writing to an audience such as this – free advice. I’m generally more of an opinion and thought-based writer than I am an advice-giving writer. For that reason, I’m quite comfortable asking for help.

Help?

I’m writing a book, you see, and while I like to think I know something about prepping on an individual and familial basis, I’m not going to pretend I have an understanding of large-scale food production and distribution. This is the area I could use reader help with. Readers of Backdoor Survival, it seems, trend toward homesteading as much as they do prepping, so I think I’m asking the right audience.

Without trying to give too much of the plot away, there unfolds a scenario in which states become (largely) dependent on food they can produce within their own borders. This is but one part of a much larger story, but it’s the area I need help with the most. How would this play out?

If I go back in time to look at the history of agriculture in America, it’s easy to see that early in our history it would have been easy for states to meet the food demands of its citizens. As technology progressed, however, things changed. Over time, farming gravitated less toward local farms and more toward corporate agriculture. The death of the family farm has been written about many times.

I saw this happening firsthand just over a decade ago as the real estate boom occurred. Farmland became less valuable for its crop production and more valuable for its development potential. Couple that with an exodus of kids not wanting to take over the family farm (and many other factors), and you had older farmers selling their land to developers. Farm fields increasingly gave way to subdivisions.

I’ve long wondered how our existing food production and distribution system would fare under a nation-wide collapse scenario. The Midwest is known as the breadbasket of the nation, but it’s largely dominated by massive farms, corporate agriculture. How would that food get distributed in a widespread catastrophe? Taking a look at the grocery store, there is equal concern around the sheer number of foods available from outside the country.

This leaves me wondering, how would a state such as Maine, Alaska, Florida – take your pick – fare in a situation where citizens only have access to the food produced within their own borders (or close to home). The era when you could go just outside town to get food from your local farmer, or get the food from your own farm, are largely over. Those remaining local farms would be absolutely flooded with demand in any collapse scenario.

So (self-serving now), I’m looking for people to chime in on how that would play out, for purposes of my story development. Each state is going to be different, of course, but I am still curious to hear what people think. Maybe I will pillage thoughts here to include in the story.

Following are some specific questions I am wondering about, but what am I not thinking of? Any comment is welcome.

  • If push came to shove, how many people could one hundred acres of fertile land provide for?
  • How quickly could vacant land be turned to productive farmland (assuming moderate soil conditions)?
  • Would farms even stay operating or would they be overrun by hungry hordes and gangs who seize a farm only to realize they know nothing about farming?
  • If we didn’t have access to diesel fuel, how would that change things?

Let any response wander as your mind does. There is no clear answer to any of these questions, or to the questions I’m not asking that you’re thinking, but you may have ideas just the same.

AND, if you’re particularly knowledgeable on this subject, I’d love to you have as a volunteer beta reader for my book before it goes to publication.

BTW, I could also use beta readers with recent military backgrounds.

  1. Please listen to this, no disrespect intended, but the main point is missing…seeds. We live in a hybrid seed world and hybrid seed are basically worthless. They will not produce past the first season. Corn seed taken from a hybrid will grow you a stalk but no corn. That goes for the rest of the hybrid world. Exception being leafy vegetables such as collards and other greens. Those hybrids will still grow you a leaf to eat. In reference to your hundred acre plot…that depends on the soil condition and which part of the States you live in. Naturally, South Texas will grow a lot more than Northern Minnesota. We can grow virtually year round down here. Probably the only place that has us beat is Florida. God bless Florida. But after a teotwawki event, such as an emp, a 100 sq. ft. patch will be more likely than a 100 acres. But if anyone did have a hundred acres in South Texas and had the wherewithal to farm it, I dare say that at least 1000 people could be fed year round if it was micro managed. If someone is so foolish as to attempt large animal husbandry (cows, horses, hogs) then the number would be dramatically reduced. #2. Vacant land could be turned productive almost overnight if there are enough energetic people to start de-weeding it and work together.#3. Farmers would not have a clue how to farm without their machinery and what little they did produce would most definitely be stolen. I’ve seen it in every third world country we’ve ever worked in (Sudan, Phillipines, Haiti, Mexico). In fact I don’t even look at the American Farmer as a farmer, they are turbocharged-planters. They plant, apply supper food (commercial fertilizers) and the land has no choice but to allow itself to become the mass incarcerator of plants, cramped into much too tight a space. I know, I was one ( a farmer, not the plant). #4. Without diesel, it’s over. And over forever. Now, let’s look at some other issues. This country alone eats 250 chickens a second, totally about a million an hour. This number does not include one chicken from the egg producing side of the industry. So think about what type of infrastructure, feed, water, and processing required to keep the conveyor belts moving. One glitch and dead chickens are everywhere. Add another 100,000 hogs and cows to this number each and everyday. Factor in the 1500 miles on average it takes to get a typical vegetable from the field to the dinner table, restaurant, or lunchroom. Consider the undeniable fact that Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Cargill control an overwhelming majority of the edible food in the whole world, in conjunction with Monsanto, Dupont, and Dow controlling the production of chemicals, insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides, and we have a monopoliptic formula that bodes no good for the stomach of the average family in America when the lights go out. Last, but foremost, anyone attempting to be a successful gardener (rule out farming please, it will be impossible) after shft then be advised you are going to need a shotgun hoe handle combination. Food production will be your one and only chance at survival. Looters will abound, and they will kill. Yes I know you need water too. I wish all the very best, Christ bless. I’m not here to advertise for anyone, but I get all my seeds from Seed Savers out of Iowa. They are the best we have ever used, and all are 100% heirloom or organic. As far as we know they sell no hybrid seeds. Call them today, or purchase from your own provider. It is the best and most important decision you will ever make that gives you a fighting chance of making it all the way through the abyss that is coming upon us. Again best wishes. Miss Gaye, I appreciate your upfront attitude about asking for help. It shows good character. thanks

  2. I live in a farming village in the UK; I’m not a farmer but a prepper. One thing that has been worrying me is the security of farmers’ water supply. If one assumes that our water board check our supply for contamination and continue to deliver typically 0.5ppm Chlorinated water then if this fails then farmer’s will continue to deplete their massive reservoirs (formerly gravel extraction pits) by pumping/spraying onto their crops. Should this become contaminated either by deliberate means or accidental (e.g. fall-out) then are they organised to disinfect? I don’t know but I’ve visited these reservoirs and not seen anything in the pipeline between floating pump and spray heads. Additionally security is poor.

    If I can help with beta reading (is this like peer reviewing?) I’d be happy to put something back into what you are providing as a good source of information. I have recently been inspired to research water storage and disinfection. The WWW is a great source of ideas, data and experiences but, here is the rub, some of it is confusing and plain wrong. I believe that I have now satisfied myself that I can do it safely and consistently with certain other experts, chemical companies and users of chemicals. NB: Shelf life is often overlooked and of course is crucial.

    You have my resume from an earlier communication by email so if you think I can help feel free to engage further.

    Best Regards,
    Steve

  3. Dear writer, I am a truck driver with 20 yrs experience. I believe that as people can drive and food can be produced then the catastrophic effects would be minimal. It’s when transportation is no longer possible that people start starving and chaos insusses. Probably heard before that there is about 5 day supplies in the stores which is true. Most food is stored in and on the road on trucks with a “JIT” protocol…that means “just in time” or as ordered not to overstock or overpay for inventory. This is our entire supply chain now. Most distribution is now realizing that for quicker delivery it pays the have a lot of products closer to home so if you poss the question ” What if?” Then it depends if transportation is possible at all. Most people can get to food or some supplies as long as petro is available. Trucks and cars could fill a need even if there could still be a shortage. All hell breaks loose if there is no fossil fuel. Nothing matters but beans and bullets if transportation is impossible.

  4. As I am in the UK I cannot comment on the specifics of US corporate farming but general comments would be that there are not enough hand tools or horses to work the land. Modern horses are bred for riding not pulling heavy equipment such as ploughs and would be unused to harness. There would have to be a breeding programme set up as soon as possible.
    Colleges would offer courses on old-time skills such as blacksmithing and farriery, dairy work and horticulture.
    I get the impression that US corporate farms are very large. These may be difficult to manage and I think local politicians or local economics would dictate a change in what was grown, and maybe the size of the farms. Local entrepreneurs who can see a gap in the market would flourish.

  5. 4 answers from someone who does not have much in-depth knowledge: All of the information below may be wrong.
    1. A piece of fertile land can support between one and four people per acre, depending on a LOT of variables, but primarily labor, water and soil condition. This is for a mostly vegetarian diet. For a standard american ‘beef diet’ the ratio is probably about 3 to 5 acres per person to be fed. I would assume one person per acre without irrigation.
    2. Vacant land, with adequate water, can be turned into ‘farm’ land in a season or two.
    3. Rwanda had scavengers that raided farms, and then left them after eating everything.
    4. Fossil fuels give us a ‘multiplier’ for how much work on person can do. For wheat and corn, we get about 200x versus ‘manual’ labor, row crops about 50x, ect. Vegetables do better with more people, Tree crops not so much. Labor is MUCH more necessary at harvest times.
    In a somewhat reasonable world, I would expect any government that exists to allocate fuel and protection to farms and food distribution as a critical necessity. If diesel (or bio-diesel) is not available, then we revert to one or two people per acre to do the work.

    Notes: Electric tractors do exist currently, but are more expensive than the ones that run on fossil fuels. Bio-diesel can be made from some tree saps. A modified jeep can do most of the work on a factory farm, but no where near as efficiently as the equipment designed for the different jobs. Non-‘farm’ land (forest) and water (lake or ocean) can support one person per 50 to 100 acres. ‘Backyard’ crops and animals can get to the numbers in item 1 (see Cuban urban agriculture).
    If we assume that the ‘collapse’ happens over an extended time-frame (2 years or so) things are MUCH easier than the instantaneous ‘collapse’ scenarios.

  6. I think this is a book Long Needed. There will be so many challenges (and excuse the title plagiarism) it will be a “Brave New World”. I would really appreciate the opportunity to be. Beta reader. I have done this once before for a friend who’s expertise is in forestry.

    Thank you for offering g you readers this opportunity. This is a topic I have thought about considering the challenges in surviving this type of disaster.

    Thank you.

  7. The country and individuals need seed banks now. The seeds need to be for crops that can fill us up and also crops that prevent scurvy and other malnutrition diseases. The seeds must be heirloom and we need books on seed saving.

    Along wth all this the farms, gardens and farmers, gardeners need 24 hour armed protection. Not just on man, but as many as possible working in shifts.

    This needs to be a community endeavor. All empty land in a community must be farmed. All members must take shifts as guards or farmers. People must be taught how to do these jobs, including harvesting and storing.

    The harvest gets distributed equally to the community. Anyway who didn’t work must find something useful to barter.

    I don’t actually know anything. This is just my vision.

  8. I live in Amish country, our farmers have wells and horse drawn plows, alot of what farming is here, would survive depending on fallout more than anything, our water resources are from deep underground and there is already a sense of community among the Amish at crop time and harvest time alike. That being said us English blokes will be in for a rude awaking if we can’t understand managing a farm without present day equipment and tools. I hope this helps some. Oh, Alaskans would be fine for the most part, there are already those that hunt and forage and trade among their village for other goods and services. I would be happy to beta read for you, just let me know.

    1. Thanks. Send me your info through prepperpress.com. I’d disagree on Alaska, though. That state is exceptionally dependent on outside resources. James Rawles would agree.

  9. Sustainable food supply has many components; your article and the comments cover most. The biggest trend coming for food is farming warehouses. Efficiency has hit a milestone in that a warehouse can be setup with vertical gardens using hydroponics and supply the local markets/restaurants with fresh produce. This is not all food, just that sub-category. The current deployment of this farming method is highly reliant on the Grid but can be done with Off-Grid technology as well as in protected underground structures (the short term cost is higher).

    I have been growing an Urban Food Forest on my property to learn what must be done to grow food in the southwest. A hierarchy of shade and use of mulch are paramount. Your reader comments have already articulated having a supply heirloom seeds is important along with harvesting and storing seeds. However, knowing how to grow root stock and graft are also essential. There are very very few local people who understand what must be done to locally grow food in a sustainable manner.

    One last comment, over the past few decades generations have been retrained to buy food and products in stores, hire services, and be dependent. Knowledge on how to grow your own food, make your own products, perform your own work, and be independent is fading away. Learn independent sustainability and pass that knowledge along to future generations – that knowledge is the key to healthy freedom.

  10. The small family farm is alive and well in some parts of this country. These are farms where at least one member of the family has an outside job as well. Within say about a 2 hour drive of where I live there are thousands of family farms. There are easily 100 farms within about a 5-10 mile radius of my non-farm home. Ranging from 25-30 acres to 100s of acres. Most are beef cattle operations. But there are farms that raise hogs and goats and livestock feed. There are a handful that raise sheep and many horse farms. Most have chickens and the majority of rural folks around here still raise a vegetable garden and have at least a few fruit trees.

    In my county (population density 36 per square mile) we have three rivers, two lakes and countless streams (1 flows through my front yard), tons of ponds (4 on my half-mile road) and springs all over the place. Any given evening I can step out on my front porch and see a dozen or so deer in my yard or drive 2 miles to a state park where I can see hundreds roaming the grounds and especially the golf courses. There are rabbits and squirrels all over the place and we still have wild turkeys and bears around. Wild blackberry bushes are a serious nuisance.

    The terrain surrounding the farming communities is extremely rugged. Distribution of foodstuffs outside the immediate area would be problematic. Defense of the communities would be somewhere between feasible and easy. I do not personally know anyone who does not own multiple firearms. Firewood is abundant. These are the types of communities that will survive a SHTF scenario.

    The way that I see it playing out is that each household would be responsible for growing their own vegetables and most of their fruits. The farm families would do the same and also be able to hopefully maintain their herds in a sustainable manner while also being able to provide meat to others in the community on a barter basis. “Barter” might include non-farm households providing labor to the meat farmers and being paid in beef, pork, etc. Wild game and fish would supplement everyone’s diet ( at least initially). I personally have purchased seeds that I cannot practically use, such as grains, that local farmers COULD use, as a barter item.

    I see these communities as having the ability to be self-sustaining. Can they produce enough to have excess foodstuffs to export to others? Perhaps – in time……. I don’t see these family farms producing enough excess to feed all of the more urban areas in the state though.

    Not meaning to get into the realm of the dreaded FEMA camp world, but …….. It seems to me that in a SHTF scenario we might find ourselves with a lot of people with no “gainful employment” and no way to survive on their own while having large formerly commercial farms capable of producing significant quantities of food but needing a significant workforce. Voluntary, of course. Hmmmm what to do, what to do?

  11. Lots of good comments! Totally agree that heirloom seeds are a key. Consider looking into commu
    nity gardening, esp in urban settings, to learn about transforming ‘lots’ into gardens, the work involved, and potential yield. Location is key. While it is possible for someone up north to have a productive citrus tree, it means they have ways to overwinter it (ie greenhouse, solarium, etc) and chances are it is likely a dwarf cultivar. Think about the crops that ‘only’ grow in certain areas of the country. And also as previously mentioned, keeping animals is a lot different from gardening. And can one sustain a herd of any meat animal? That includes farming as well, for fodder. Cattle can’t eat grass in the winter up north, for example. Smaller animals might fare better with foraging, even in colder climes.

    I have done some beta reading, and would be happy to be a part of your beta team. I would be happy to provide references. Good luck!

  12. 1. According to John Jeavons author of How to Grow More Vegetables, it takes commercial agriculture 16,000 to 30,000 square feet to feed one person for a year. This assumes a “normal” American diet heavy on meat and processed foods. Micro managed small organic farms and gardens would need far less land. For a vegetarian diet that has some reasonable variety in the diet, about a quarter acre per person, of course that assumes that there is no crop failure, due to pests, disease, or bad weather.
    2. To turn vacant land into a farm or garden could be done in a few months if you used the small organic farm or garden methods, and hand tools. It would take a lot of manual labor and hand tools that most people don’t have. Unfortunately it would take 3-5 years of intensive organic methods to become really fertile land. Large scale commercial agriculture couldn’t do anything without gas and diesel for mechanized equipment, and inputs of chemicals. These folks truly don’t know any other farming method. The average person knows nothing about farming or gardening, and like anything these skills would take a minimum of 3-5 years just to become an average gardener. For a real life disaster-survival senario check out The Power of Community on YouTube about how Cuba survived the food and fuel crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union.
    3. The biggest problem would be seeds. Most seed companies cater to large commercial agriculture that mono-crops thousands of acres, usually one the of subsidized crops of hybridized corn, soy, wheat, or rice, and like so many other things, seed crops are grown in China or other places where labor is cheap. (The last packets of tomato seeds that I mail ordered were grown in China, packaged in Canada, and shipped from New York to me in Washington state! No joke. So where will we get all these seeds?? There aren’t enough of them in the US. There are still a few family owned small seed companies in almost every state, that could provide seeds to local residents. (Ed Hume and Irish Eyes in your old home state of Washington to name only two)
    4. If your main characters somehow acquired some bulk staples of rice, pasta, dried beans, flour, etc. That would provide enough calories to keep them alive but wouldn’t keep them real healthy. Then all they would need to do is supplement those staples with some fruits and vegetables to provide the vitamins and minerals the keep them healthy.

    I would also offer to beta read for you. Though it appears that you’ll have no problem in that area. I have read several disaster/collapse books and cannot believe how poorly researched and completely unbelievable they were. And PLEASE let some of the women do something smart, capable, and valuable. Usually in these books the women are either stupid or lazy while the men do all the thinking, innovating, working, and protecting of their stupid lazy women.

    1. Great – send me your info through prepperpress.com. And no worries on female roles. They’re neither stupid, lazy, nor confined to traditional roles in this series.

      1. Thank you Derrick!!….I know many very capable women who have raised their children on their own always and while being hard, have done so very well because so many men today are the lazy, worthless ones….so move over, we are here and going no where. I was raised military and proud of it! And while I can put on a dress and be a lady with ANY of them, I can get in the dirt and dig with the best of them too! Back bone in high heels OR tennis, if you will! I do not have red hair for nothin’! It is time to stop the bickering and work together where ever we are and whatever our ‘history’ is or the color of our skin;…brains,heart and faith are the steppingstones to what built this land the first time and we can do so again; altogether!

  13. Lots of great comments!

    A couple of quick thoughts:

    Historically, when there is a food shortage you will see a military style law enforcement implemented. As to how good/affective this is…flip a coin.

    Urban farmers can grow a lot of food. I’ve always been impressed by what was accomplished with the ‘Victory Gardens’ of WW2. But unlike the 40’s, most people today do not have the practical experience necessary to grow their own food. These skills have been largely lost.

    It is very difficult to imagine a winning scenario with these kinds of variables. I suspect that survival, for most, would be dictated by how bad things got. We could all do a lot for society if we would acknowledge our own responsibilities.

    ————–

    I would be more than happy to beta-read for you. I do read/review on around 20 books a year — mostly self-published. It generally takes me about 3 weeks. If you’re interested, you can PM on Goodreads – Jack Fernard.

    I also blog on Grit.com so you can hop over there and read about me living off-grid — in a modern sort of way ; )

    Keep writing!

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