keeping tabs

I’m trying to keep a note on how much I’m managing to grow in the garden. So far we’ve got:-

1 kg shallots  (€4.90)
2 kg onions   (€4.50)
~25 (small) garlic (19.35)
34 tbsps coriander leaf (€5 ?)
2kg broad beans (€12.12),  200g broad bean tips
1.78 kg oriental greens (€14)
0.1g rocket (€2)
0.340 kg broccoli raab (think I forgot to record another cut) (€5)
2.75 kg beetroot leaf (€22)
5.35 kg beetroot  (€11.77)
1.7 kg chard (€13.6)
1.3 kg turnip tops (€10)
0.600 kg  leaf lettuce (far more) ( at least €14.70)
2.06kg perpetual spinach (€16)
7.7 kg potatoes (€19.25)
200g chinese broccoli
1.37 kg peas (€5)
2.75g carrots (€7.67)
0.170g asparagus kale (forgot another cutting) (€4)

There are some vegetables like the oriental greens, turnip tops, beetroot etc that I can’t find a price for. Basically if I treat them like perpetual spinach I have a rough guestimate of having to spend about €200 to buy organically what I’ve managed to grow in the garden.

Which of course is a lie because I had to buy the seeds, and slug pellets, and other bits and bobs.

If you want to confirm that our economic system is indeed bonkers and disproportionally rewards unreality while devaluing things that actually matter then you should keep a vegetable patch or just try growing a few onions.

The vegetable that is the easiest to grow, the one that grows the quickest.and  is the least work is the one that will cost you the most in the supermarket. H has been nibbling away at the lettuce and I haven’t been keeping a record of it because it seems to insubstantial compared to vegetables that matter like onions or ones that where a lot of work like the peas. My embarrassing rocket yield was actually worth €2.

Yet my onion patch which would provide a true essential of the kitchen,  which has tied the land up for months, and attracted weeds like a big weed magnet then had to be weeded, which seemed so important is actually dirt cheap.I thought that with the amount invested in growing them that they would be something. It was just about the price of buying the packet of onion sets.  Same with the peas. Grow your peas in the right way treating the world with respect, drive in wooden stakes to keep them propped up, harvest them, shell them and freeze them. Work out how much land would be needed to provide you with those 450g bags of peas you pick up in the supermarket without thinking. Wonder how it all works…


we have to farm Eden

‘Today’s global food economy, with its lengthy distribution networks traversing continents and oceans, makes it difficult for eaters to know the places and communities that produce and prepare food. Having so little direct contact with food’s context’s – the fields and waters, livestock crates and pens, the factories and distribution centers, worker communities and restaurants – it is next to impossible for us to act in ways that would promote the good of any place or community’
Norman Wirzba, Food & Faith, A Theology of Eating

It can tie your head in knots to think that each time you eat something there is some specific place somewhere on planet earth that had to grow that food,
(or the things that make up that food)
with very specific fellow human beings doing the farming and either treating creation with respect and love or else treating it badly.
It can tie your head in knots and so why would we even bother thinking about stuff like that? Why not just be thankful you have enough to eat and get on with living life as best you can.

I often do and my default setting is just to consume uncritically, to munch my way through a Mars Bar as I rush from one thing to the next. Yet at other times a sense of unease comes upon me. Because I eat I ‘m involved with agriculture and farming, and so are you. You are responsible for farming.

This can of tinned rice had to be farmed in different nameless places throughout the planet

It’s an incredibly complex journey from farm to my mouth (without even considering the packaging) so I won’t even try or else I might drive myself crazy.
Yet surely few things (if anything) are as fundamental to humanity to eating, which also means that few things are as fundamental as farming to human beings.
This is something which we have completely forgotten in our culture. We know that we have to eat but we don’t seem to realise or have lost sight of the fact that we are dependent on the farmer to grow our food. Right now you are completely dependent on the fact that someone, somewhere is growing your next meal. Farming and agriculture matter, they matter  more than the Man Utd game or ipad 3 or Google or nearly anything else.
And because we eat and depend on the farmer (who depends on grace and things he ultimately can’t control) we also depend on taking care of the earth like we were designed to do in Eden.
If we’re serious about looking after creation we need to support good farmers and those gardeners who use sustainable practices, even if that means much more work on our part in doing research and paying more for our food. We also need to stop supporting those who use destructive practices.

With most of our mass produced food  it’s nearly impossible to know if you have acted in a way that has promoted the good of the communities and places it has come from. So we need to go looking for good farmers who we trust, (or grow as much as we can ourselves) which means more work for us but is the sort of thing we probably should do more off if we’re trying to reflect that idea in Genesis of tending the garden of Eden.


it can’t go on forever

‘Petroleum, perhaps the single most important input in modern food production (it serves both as a fuel for tractors and transportation and as the chemical base for fertilizers and pesticides), is gradually becoming so scarce and expensive that many of the assumptions underlying a global industrial food system are now in question. Nearly everything about the way our food system has developed over the last half century – from our ability to manufacture fertility to our capacity to move food to import-dependent nations – could not have occurred without cheap energy, and the degree to which that system can continue in a world of high energy prices is a frightening unknown.’
Paul Roberts, The End of Food

If all the cows in Ireland were thirsty how long would it take them to drink all the water in Lough Neagh?

Well Rachel from Wexford.

“Lough Neagh is the biggest Lough in the British Isles measuring over 300 square km’s. It contains over 800 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 7 million swimming pools.”

So if we take Lough Neagh as having 800 billion gallons of water.

For cattle numbers in Northern Ireland
The number of dairy cows decreased by 1%, to 281,100; while the number of beef cows increased by 1% to 258,200. This is the first year beef cow numbers has not fallen since 1998.
For the Republic of Ireland
There are 5,848,100 cows in the Republic of Ireland as of December 2009 according to the Central Statistics Office of Ireland.

I got a figure of 25-50 gallons of water per cow per day.

If we take the lower number (25gallons per day)

25  gallons x (5.8million + 0.26 million + 0.28 million cows) =
159, 685, 000 gallons per day for all the cows in Ireland

800, 000, 000, 000  gallons of Lough Neagh / 159, 685, 000 gallons daily for all the cows =  5009 days
= 13.7 years

I suppose another way of looking at it is how long would it take a cow to drink one swimming pool worth of water (saying Lough Neagh is 7million swimming pools and Ireland is supposed to have over 6million cows)

However, the number of cows does seem very high to me. And perhaps they’re only calves. So in other words, approx 14 years could be completely wrong…

globalised farming

I think these rough scribbles and notes came from a book called ‘So We Shall Reap’ by Colin Tudge which I read a while back.


In the USA/UK/Europe some desirable pinnacle of civilisation and humanity has been reached.
This means that those in ‘developing’ (developing to what?)countries should aim to be like us for rich people are obviously doing something right while poor people are doing  something wrong.

Sustainable development.

‘Is it more important to increase a countries wealth or do the problems lie with better distribution of wealth?’

The only way for poor countries to develop (eradicate wealth etc) is to join the WTO and trade on the global market and one of the biggest (biggest?)commodities that poor countries have is agriculture.

Third world countries are being asked to ‘develop’ by globalizing their own agriculture.


Farmers in these countries are encouraged to ‘modernize’ their farming to allow them to compete on the global markets.
This might mean more machines, more chemistry, more biotech and a movement from traditional farming which they are told is inadequate for competing in todays global markets.

traditional farming ——–> industrial farming

Third world countries need to develop like us and move from agriculture to a service economy.



why church + farm?

I have become a bit obsessed the last week or so with how much land we would need to feed ourselves. The community unit I am most used to (having grown up with it)is not the village but the church and a nice round number for a church seems to me to be about 200 families. It seems easy to get a handle that number as I can imagine 200 actual families huddled together on a Sunday morning, probably thinking more about their Sunday diner than the sermon. Well maybe that is just me.

There is another reason why it might be useful to think about this from a church point
As a church is extended family called by God to love their neighbours, doing some very rough farming calculations might give us a ball park figure as to how wisely (or not) we are using those God gifted resources that we have all been graced with and are called to love our neighbours with.

If we believe that God made the very fabric of the earth and that humans are in some sense stewards, stewards called to keep the world well in order in order to love our neighbours well then we need to make sure that how we farm in our community is sustainable and in some sense Fairtrade. Otherwise we abusing those animals God made, including the soil and messing up the water, air and beauty of the earth.

beef/church calculation

How many cows and how much land would we need to roughly supply a church of 200 families with their average beef needs for a year?

From this table  in 1998 the Irish ate 17.1kg of meat per person per year while in the UK they ate 19.7kg.  So if we roughly say 20kg  per person now in 2010, which would be 40kg for two people, say 50kg per family per year would that be alright?

That would work out at just under a 1kg of beef per week per family. Helen and I don’t really eat much beef, so that seems like a lot to me but maybe it isn’t to you. If you make mince one night that would be 500g of minced beef for example.

It seems hard to get random internet figures on how much meat you can get from one cow but this one suggested it is very roughly about 50% of the total weight of a cow. Or this one gives an average of ~370kg for a dressed carcass.

So if we take 370kg and assume that all that meat will be somehow used (which is unlikely considering how we only like certain cuts of meat) that would give us a VERY ROUGH figure of a 370kg/50kg = 7.4 families per cow

200 families / 7.4 families per cow = 27 cows

So if we wanted to supply each family in a church of 200 families with 1kg of beef we would be talking about 27 cows, perhaps I’ll round it up to a herd of 30 cows.

If we take the stocking density we used for the dairy calculation (i.e. 2.5 cows per 6.2 acres)  that would be a figure of 12 x 6.2 acres = 74.4 acres.

So from a VERY ROUGH calculation we would need about 30 cattle and 75acres of farmland.

(I’m not sure if the land calculation included the area we would need to grow silage and hay for feeding the livestock over the winter.)