Why Growing Your Own Food Matters More Now Than Ever

Reader Contribution by Toby Grotz
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The Protectors of our Industries by Bernard Gillam (1883)

Don’t believe the hype. The mess we’re in is bigger than any one politician’s promises. The policies of both ruling political parties and the concept of an American Dream are based on the fallacy of an infinite supply of cheap energy. The way out is to cut defense spending by 50 percent or print $500 billion more dollars a year for 30 years to pay for infrastructure upgrades, renewable energy, education, health and the general welfare of all the citizens of the country.

And stop selling weapons all over the planet. That ain’t gonna happen. Congressional gridlock prevails over a populace suffering from nature-deficit disorder while climate change is rapidly changing our options for food production.

The need to learn how to grow your own food, live in a like-minded community, and develop the self-reliant skills Mother Earth News has taught since 1970 has never been greater and I’ll explain why I say this, below.

History Lesson

The wealth extracted from us during the last 40 years is gone, sitting in protected off-shore accounts, built into mansions on tropical islands and in towns like Aspen, Colorado. The 401K scam was set up so Wall Street could get our money and they use it to finance factories and operations in Mexico and Asia to outsource our jobs so their profits would rise.

The graphic above titled The Protectors of our Industries by Bernard Gillam was published in 1883 and shows the captains of industry at the time being carried on the backs of the rest of the country. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. We’re in the same boat 100 years later.

The Ronald Reagan dream of living in the Information Age with a service economy is coming to an end and is turning into a nightmare. Uber, self driving cars, and the next smart phone app are not going to save the economy or the nation.

Mother Earth News was founded by back to the landers from the Woodstock generation who were a product of the turbulent 60’s when churches were blown up and cities burned in this country while peasants were massacred for oil in Vietnam. It sounds like Deja View all over again, doesn’t it?

Is it 1969 All Over Again?

An interesting piece of history going back to that time was an exchange between two factions of the back to the land movement.  The Whole Earth Catalog was the paper version of the Internet back when ditto machines ruled before the invention of the Xerox machine.  They couldn’t print enough catalogs. It was a reference guide for access to tools, knowledge and the wisdom needed on the utilitarian and spiritual journey back to the garden. MOTHER EARTH NEWS was the monthly how to for the movement. The Whole Earth Catalog editors also began a publication called Coevolution Quarterly.

In the summer of 1976, the CQ editors asked the founder of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, John Shuttleworth, if he could recommend CQ to his readers. He replied that “CQ is nothing but 1969 endlessly replayed.” My opinion is that the two political parties ruling this country have not progressed since the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trials of the Chicago Seven. The events we see taking place today remind me of 1969.

The interesting thing is that the first three articles in the Fall 1976 CQ magazine sound like they could have been written today by the current sustainability and back to the land movers and shakers. They were titled:

From Present to Future by Herman Khan et. al.

The Shift from a MarketEconomy to a Household Economy by Scott Burns

Future Primitive by Raymond Dasmann

Also interesting is that MOTHER EARTH NEWS continues its fine tradition of publishing the same variety of information it did 40 years ago. I’ll bring two stories to the table. One is based on history, the other is based on numbers.

The Fourth Turning

The ebb and flow of history, the rise and fall of empires, are a familiar themes. The Greeks, the Romans, and recently, a couple of historians named Strauss and Howe have studied the characteristics of generational cycles (20 years) to explain the similarities between political and economic systems that have affected our ancestors. These generational characteristics have distinct psychological profiles and repeat over time. The alignment of these generations has been matched to the great highs and lows in our history.

Strauss and Howe published their book The Fourth Turning in 1997. They predicted that according to the characteristics of generational cycles, there would be an economic disruption in 2008. They were 100 percent correct. So pay attention. They predict that we are approaching a Fourth Turning, a time of immense stress and change. By 2024, they predict that the United States has only a 50-percent chance of surviving intact.

Get the picture?

The Math of Energy and EROI

Now for the numbers. What is EROI? In the oil patch it’s known as “Energy Returned on Energy Invested.” It is the ratio of the amount of usable energy delivered from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy used to obtain that energy resource.

As can be seen in a novel presentation prepared by the Hills Group we are close to the half way or break even point where the amount we get out of a barrel of oil equals the amount it took to find, refine, and transport the oil we use. This presentation has four of the best graphs I’ve seen. It is a little wonky at times but the math is simple. It’s a 45-minute listen, so find a time to take it all in.

Photo still from YouTube video onSRSrocco

The point of the presentation is the effect on the economy. When the energy available in a barrel of oil equals the energy costs of exploration, extraction, processing and distributing, the entire system breaks down economically. Production and processing stop. There is no product to distribute. There is no gas for you car. The economy collapses — worldwide! Carbon emissions cease. Global warming emissions end. At the current rate, the projection is that this will occur by 2022.

I ask the question: Will carbon emissions end in 2022?


We face total collapse, according to Strauss and Howe or the EROI gurus. You tell me. Do you want to take a chance? Considering the recent election, Hunter S. Thompson, in consideration of an upcoming election once said, “All we have to do is get out and vote, while it’s still legal, and we will wash those crooked warmongers out of the White House.” It did not happen in the election of 2016. The status quo is baked in. But we will survive. Change will come. 

The Gambler said, “you gotta know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away when the dealings done.” The dealings done folks. It’s time to ante up. You may be living according to Plan A but you better have a plan B and learn to float like a leaf in the river. This is why I say growing your own food matters more now than ever.This is not bad news. This is just data. Where do you want to be in six, eight or 10 years? Find it and move.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, addresses the changes that are to come with this advice to a young activist; My friends, do not lose heart.We were made for these times.”

One of the best solutions to the problems and the times we face has been proposed by the Transition Towns movement. Their goal is to to build community resilience in the face of challenges such as peak oil (EROI), climate change and the economic crisis. Find your Lake Wobegone and move to a place where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.  You are gathering the tools you will need to make the trip back to nature.

Some of you have all the tools and you’re getting ready to pass then on to your kids and grandkids. Some of you are just beginning. Enjoy the ride. We have.


Coevolution Quarterly, Issue No. 11, September 1976.
Steve St. Angelo (SRSrocco Report)
The Hills Group (2013). Depletion: A determination for the world’spetroleum reserve. Study overview.

Dr. Clarissa Estes

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group.

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