Feeding People in the Era of Corporate Farming

Avatar Derrick  |  Updated: June 29, 2019
Feeding People in the Era of Corporate Farming

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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.


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, a 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.

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32 Responses to “Feeding People in the Era of Corporate Farming”

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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?

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