In 1974 MOTHER EARTH NEWS announced a food self-sufficiency competition.
In the September/October 1974 issue we did two rather unusual things:  We asked how many folks would be interested in plunking down $10,000 for a 99-year lease on a small corner of our proposed Ecological Research Center and  we put up prize money totaling $5,000 for the best operational "food self-sufficiency" idea that anyone comes up with within a period of one year.
Or think about the amount of nourishment that might be harvested on a year-round basis from the backyard ecosystem that Jim DeKorne is currently describing in a series of MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles.
And then there's the $400 greenhouse that Clifford Ridley attached to his home out in Boulder, Utah and in which he claims he grows all the vegetables his five-member family can eat every month of the year—for a total annual cost of $100.
Or the rumors we keep hearing about the Community Technology Project in either Washington, D.C. or Philadelphia. According to unverified reports, someone in that project produced 1,000 pounds of trout in a tank located in the basement of a big city apartment house.
And don't forget Michael Dillon—the Britisher now living in Athens, Georgia—who raises the equivalent of a 175-foot-long garden row on a six-foot-tall rooftop tower (see "A New Dark Age, Vertical Gardening, and Other News Items").
Still not convinced? Then you haven't seen the $4.00 book, How to Grow More Vegetables (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine) by John Jeavons. Get a copy, read what Alan Chadwick has done with Bio-dynamic/French Intensive gardening, and then ponder for a few days.
Let's see now. What would happen if we used Chadwick's ideas in Ridley's greenhouse? Or tried Dillon's towers on the Olkowski roof? Or backed up a DeKorne-type ecosystem with all the sprouts and herbs and yogurt and other do-it-yourself provender that can be grown right in the kitchen? Or ....
So all right. So there does seem to be a real possibility for nutritional self-sufficiency for the average American family when we come at the problem from the production end. Now let's turn our attention for just a minute to the processing and consumption segments of the equation.
How much does it needlessly cost the planet every time our society ships a chicken from Arkansas to Chicago, cuts it up, cooks the bird, freezes it into a TV dinner, and then hauls that dinner to Cincinnati for sale to a consumer? And what does it cost the planet for that consumer to heat the meal for a half hour, and then dispose of the aluminum tray and the cardboard box it came in? What does it cost in terms of money, squandered nutrition, poor health, gasoline, steel for trucks, concrete for cold-storage warehouses, etc?
To give you an idea of just how different things could be, you should haunt the secondhand stores until you find a copy of a book published in 1939 and titled How To Live On $1.00 A Week or How To Earn $100.00 A Week. The guide was written by a fellow named Elmer C. Rice and it's a little weird to follow (Elmer invented "stream of consciousness" writing years before Jack Kerouac was invented). But it just happens to contain a few real gems tucked down in among Rice's personal flights of fancy. Turns out that Elmer figured anyone could make $100 a week (even back in 1939 when—as they say—a dollar was a dollar) raising squabs. And he had solid proof (since he had done it) that an individual could eat quite royally on $1.00 a week (say $5.00 a week now).
The secret of enjoying quality food on so little was something known as the Atkinson Oven. This was simply an insulated metal box designed to sit on a metal table which was just high enough to clear the chimney of a kerosene lamp. By filling a pot or two with the cheapest cuts of meats and the least expensive (but nourishing and filling) vegetables obtainable—and then covering the pots, stacking them in the box and burning a very low flame in the lamp—a nutritious meal could be prepared. Automatically. Without watching and without burning. Slow-cooked and tender with all the gravy, flavor, and vitamins and minerals left in. With no need for an expensive "real" stove or oven. Without any packaging waste. Without any waste of food And—to stress the point once again—from the least expensive meats and vegetables available.
Now then. There's no arguing the fact that a number of people have done—and are currently doing—some interesting work in grow-your-own-no-matter-where-you-live food production and low-energy-low-waste food processing and consumption.
The question is: Have their efforts given you any ideas? Can you do better than the examples cited here?
We hope so. In fact, we hope so much that MOTHER EARTH NEWS is hereby putting up prize money totaling $5,000 for the best "How To Become Food Self-Sufficient" concepts which work that we can find.
You'll find the rules of the competition and the prize money guarantee spelled out in the accompanying box.
So OK, all you budding Clifford Ridleys and Helga Olkowskis and Jim DeKornes. And OK all you real Clifford Ridleys and Helga Olkowskis and Jim DeKornes. Here's your chance to help the little people of the world and maybe put a few bucks in your pocket at the same time. We're waiting to hear from you.
Competition Rules and Regulations
This competition is open to anyone except current and former employees of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS or any of the magazine's subsidiary operations and shall run from midnight, September 30, 1974 to midnight, September 30, 1975. All entries shall become the property of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS and may be used—or not used—in the magazine or featured in any of the publication's subsidiary operations at the discretion of the editorial staff of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Any entries so used and which are not awarded a competition cash prize, will be paid for at the currently prevailing rate paid by THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS for free-lance material.
The theme of this competition is food self-sufficiency. All entries should fully and completely describe methods, systems, and plans which will allow an individual, family, or small group of people to grow, forage or otherwise produce as much of their daily nutritional requirements as possible... and to process and consume that food with the least possible impact upon the planet.
A premium value is placed on non-chemical, low energy, low technology, natural, and "organic" systems which can be easily understood and put into use by unskilled and unschooled individuals at little or no dollar or other monetary cost.
A premium value is placed on those systems which are largely or completely self-righting and self-perpetuating and which to a large or complete extent do not disturb the natural environmental balances of any area in which they might be placed.
A premium value is placed on systems constructed of the older, more basic, and more enduring materials and components (earth, stone, glass, iron, etc.), instead of the newer, more exotic and less permanent materials and components (plastics, integrated circuits, "space age" films, etc.).
A premium value is placed on systems which are largely or completely powered by solar, wind, water, methane, tidal and other clean and/or renewable energy sources instead of nuclear, fossil fuel, and other dirty and/or non-renewable energy sources.
A premium value is placed on systems which produce—on a long-term and non-exhaustive basis—every nutritional element needed for human health and vigor.
A premium value is placed on systems which consistently produce food that is flavorful, varied, interesting, and a delight to eat when prepared in many different ways and according to the culinary customs, styles, tastes, and taboos of the widest possible cross section of ethnic and cultural groups.
A premium value is placed on systems which favor—in this order—the endurance of the planet, the preservation and appreciation of all life—plant and animal—and a decentralized, gentler and more humane human society than we now enjoy.
No particular premium is placed on systems which concentrate on any particular link in the food chain—high or low—but a premium is placed on systems which promote and inspire a reverence for the intricate web of life and spirit of which we all are part.
A premium value is placed on systems which are actually in use on or before September 30, 1975 and which produce a regular harvest of food which may be weighed, measured, tested for nutritive content and otherwise inspected and/or eaten.
Each entry should be in English and should consist of a printed or typewritten manual of any length which fully and concisely explains the design, construction, input, operation, output, cost factors, and all other relevant details of a particular system. A premium value is placed on photographs, artists' renderings, working drawings, charts, graphs, and other supplemental material which supports, illuminates, and clarifies the information in the manual. A premium value is placed on entries which are neat, clean, logically organized, well presented, and easily understood.
The sponsor of this competition, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Inc., hereby guarantees cash awards totaling $5,000, which will be presented in the following manner: First Prize will be a cash award of $2,500. Second Prize will be a cash award of $1,000. Three Third Prizes of $500 each will also be awarded.
Special notice to individuals, families, groups, clubs, organizations, agencies, or companies—public, private, religious or governmental—that would like to encourage the development of self-contained food production systems but who, for some reason, cannot enter this competition: Contributions of prize money—in addition to the awards guaranteed by THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS— will be gratefully accepted and awarded in accordance with the wishes of the donor. Unless otherwise requested, all donors will be identified by name during the presentation of such awards.
Presentations of all cash awards will be made on January 1, 1976 at a time and a place which will be announced on October 1, 1975 at the official closing of the competition.
Entries must be postmarked no later than midnight, September 30, 1975.
The decision of the judges will be final.