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Measuring peak oil by the can

Freshly filled gas cans

This tiny farm’s entire direct connection with the world of oil is simple: six red, 20-liter gas cans, three for gasoline, three for diesel. It’s a really stark way to watch spiralling gas prices and the so far bubbling-under peak oil panic, made more so for me because I don’t drive (never bothered to get a license), and I’ve lived 100% in big city cores until the farm—North America’s deep-set gas station culture had been a spectator thing for me. And now, gas is suddenly connected in a very straight-flowing line, from pump to a handful of tiny farming tools that perform clear and specific tasks. On the gas side, there’s the riding mower (mowing, mulch collecting, hauling stuff in trailer, used a lot), a walking rototiller (only moderately used since the wheel hoe last year), the pond irrigation pump (with so much RAIN, not used at all this year!), a weed eater (used only moderately), and another weed eater converted into a mini-cultivator (seldom used). On diesel: the Kubota compact tractor (rototilling, moving stuff with the front-end loader, quite used). That’s it! I filled three cans in mid-April, two diesel, one gas (above), today, two months later and all out, I filled two more, one of each. In my five years of tiny farm experience, cost has gone from $15 a can of gas (and quite a bit less for diesel), to about $30-35 a can (with diesel more expensive?!). It’s worrisome, but I don’t get too agitated, probably because the containers are so few and so relatively SMALL. But every time I’m tilling on the Kubota, or driving the length of the field loaded down with harvest and gear, I’m increasingly, acutely aware of the amount of work that comes out of a little gas, and what the manual labor alternative would be like. It’s like a little calculator program running in the back of my mind: how long would it take me to do this by hand? How about with help? What would it be like to do without? I feel great satisfaction when the six cans are filled and set in the drive shed all in a row: supplied for…a while! Of course, gas figures big in getting to the market and getting to town, and I pay my share there (I have an arrangement with Bob for the market season, and for the rest, I get lifts when others are going where I need to). And I also never forget how all those store shelves get filled. And how people get to market, pick up CSA shares, get to the farm. And I’ve started calculating highway mileage to reimburse everyone who volunteers here for their travel. Not to mention all the flying and driving it takes WWOOFers to get here from far and wide. And so on… Oil is everywhere, not easy to avoid or make sense of. At this point, for me, it still comes back to the cans: the color of oil is RED… :)

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5 Comments

  1. granny miller

    We worry about ever increasing fuel costs too.
    This year it is costing us almost double to do the field work.

    In the past couple of years we have considered farming with horses.
    But even with rising petroleum prices, at this point, it still makes more economic sense to use diesel & gas.

    2 tractors, garden tillers, lawn mowers etc. don’t cost a thing to feed when they are idle.
    And the tractor wouldn’t dream of nipping my arm on a crisp autumn day :-)

  2. I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 23, but I finally learned because it is so hard to get around in suburbia without a car. My son hasn’t learned yet either (19) and had to bow out of a job interview because he knew he couldn’t get there (there is a bus that goes near there, but it is an airport shuttle and you have to have a plane ticket to ride, grrr). Right now he is biking to the summer job he did get. Do you find it really hard to live where you are without driving? I’ve always wondered. I keep trying to pressure him to learn to drive but he resists. My mother who also doesn’t drive and lives in the mountains of Colorado, always had to work her life around her rides. Hers isn’t a choice however since she doesn’t see well enough.

    BTW I’ve tagged you on my blog, play along if you like, or ignore it if you don’t.

  3. willing hands organic farm

    Mike,

    I am confused………………how did you get to the gas station and how do you get to market????

    I did not learn to drive till I was in my early thirties. With newborn twins and a toddler I didn’t have much choice.  My daughter who is 25 never learned as she lives in NYC.

    Julie

  4. granny miller: Here, 30-40 years ago, there were tractors and horses, the horses for getting into places where it was hard for a tractor to go… These days, converting an old tractor to electric sounds like something worth considering.,,

    Daphne Gould: Yeah, soon as you get out of the city center, if you don’t drive, you do have to work your life around your rides, unless you have a…driver (like some of the Mennonites here, they don’t drive, but they can be driven, they have a minivan and driver…). For me, the first 2-3 years I liked not being able to pop into town (12 mi/19km) whenever I needed something, it was a novelty, having to plan my supply trips every couple of weeks, and it made me really notice how much less you need to buy in general. But I also kinda wanted a bit of isolation, although it’s not exactly the wilderness here. And I have a well-stocked general store 3 minutes away in the village, if that wasn’t there, I might’ve found things…less fun. Lately, though, last couple of years, as the farming involves more people, I’m starting to feel a bit of inconvenience on the social side, I’d get out more to visit and there are definitely a few assorted meetings I’d have attended if I drove, but didn’t feel like arranging rides for. I can always get lifts, from here on the farm and from people around, but I don’t want to not drive and then just get others to drive me all the time. Plus, there’s a bit of a stubborn independence thing. ;) So I do work things around rides, I try to go when others are also going, I pay for gas when it’s not…rude to. I can also take dozens of expensive taxi rides to the nearest town for a lot less than insurance, a real beater vehicle and maintenance would cost (although I rarely do)… It’s a little complicated, I guess, but I’m less inclined now than ever to get my license. Maybe a horse and buggy… The Mennonites clip-clop by all the time, I think they’re even building a hitching area in town!

    Julie: I edited the post to explain. Since Year 1, I’ve paid for the market run, the money wasn’t wanted, but I insisted, it’s a farming expense! And others here drive. I explained just above. Last year, Conall, who was here full-time for the season, had a car, so he handled a lot of the errands during his working day, with gas reimbursed… It all works out…

  5. I’m always inspired when I hear about people that don’t drive. It always seems that people eventually give up and get their license. It’s sometimes an inconvenience, but I’ve managed to go 21 years without driving… and I’m always afraid that I’m going to be forced to start driving in some way.

    I’m lucky though.  I go to school in a small town that’s at the very end of the bus line. I work at an organic farm a mile out of town. I worked at the local Safeway for month, but they treat their employees horribly so I won’t even shop there anymore. I get as much as I can from the farm or the farmers market (only a couple of blocks from where I live).  For the rest, I try to catch a ride into the city every month or two to buy in bulk. I’m trying to preserve as much produce as I can this summer (just walked 2 miles back to my apartment with a water bath canner and a case of mason jars).

    How much of your own food do you grow on the farm? It’s only 2 acres, yeah? You have enough to sell, obviously, but how much food do you end up buying from elsewhere? I want to get out of the States when I graduate, maybe in conjunction with WWOOFing. Then I’d like to get my own farm at some point, but haven’t determined how much land I’d need to keep myself fed and clothed.

    Thanks for the great blog. Check out mine! I’ll be sure to stop back by.

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