Category Archives: historical

1969 White House Turkey

Turkey presentation for Thanksgiving Nov. 18, 1969, at the Nixon White House. Note that the person in the right foreground is Secretary of Agriculture, Clifford M. Hardin. Originally from Indiana, Hardin became Chancellor of the University of Nebraska in 1954. In 1969, Hardin was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Richard Nixon. As Secretary, he extended the food stamp program, and established both the Food and Nutrition Service to administer food programs for the poor, and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to coordinate efforts with state and local officials. He served as Secretary until 1971, when he was succeeded by Earl Butz. Hardin died on April 4, 2010. Photo credit: U.S. National Archives.


(Note that Thursday is Luddite Photo Day at B.P.A.)

Hot 5: Midwest Drought. Harper’s Broken Heartland. 2011 Biofuels Stats. Biodiesel Production. Volkening Heritage Farm.

1. How Dry is it?

Above is Iowa’s 60-Day Percent of Normal Precipitation Map (6/20/2012) from NOAA. We can see that much of Iowa has received only 25-75% of normal rainfall from April 20 through June 20th.

Above is the current 30-Day Departure from Normal Precipitation map from NOAA which shows that much of the middle of the nation is lagging in rainfall by 1-4″.

Above is the Current Water-Year (Oct 1) Percent of Normal Precipitation map from NOAA. The Southwest is largely 10-75% of normal precipitation and there are many regions of the nation that are in the 50-90% of normal range.

If we are into an El Nino, we’d expect the Midwest to have “near to above normal temperatures and near to below normal rainfall with the driest weather being in the northwest” according to weatherman Mike Palmerino.

2. Harper’s July 2012 Cover

The cover story for this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine is “Broken Heartland, The Looming Collapse of agriculture on the Great Plains” by Wil S. Hylton, followed by “Citizen Walmart, The Retail Giant’s Unlikely Romance with Small Farmers” by Dan Halpern.

I picked up a copy after a reader tipped me off to this issue. The article mentions Alan Savory (grazing advocate), Wes Jackson (perennial grains researcher), and Deborah and Frank Popper (buffalo commons). It discusses what will happen after Ogallala aquifer depletion progresses and then suggests that on top of depopulation and other rural problems, the Heartland will become a wind farm wasteland. Also see this related post.

3. BP’s Annual Energy Review: Biofuels Statistics from 2011

Conversion Factor:
1 barrel of ethanol = 0.57 barrel of oil
1 barrel of biodiesel = 0.88 barrel of oil

Global biofuels production stagnated, rising by just 0.7% or 10,000 barrels per day oil equivalent (b/doe), the weakest annual growth since 2000. Growth in the US +55,000 b/doe, or 10.9%) slowed as the share of ethanol in gasoline approached the ‘blendwall’, and Brazilian output had the largest decline in our data set (-50,000 b/doe, or -15.3%) due to a poor sugar harvest.

4. Biodiesel Production up Sharply in the U.S.

U.S. production of biodiesel was 92 million gallons in March 2012. The Midwest provided 71% of the U.S. total. Production came from 104 biodiesel plants with operable capacity of 2.1 billion gallons per year. Biodiesel production during the first quarter of 2012 was 241 million gallons, which was up from production of 135 million gallons during the first quarter of 2011 (up 78%). Sales of biodiesel during March 2012 included 73 million gallons sold as B100 (100% biodiesel) and an additional 32 million gallons of B100 sold in biodiesel blends with diesel fuel derived from petroleum. Soybean oil was the largest biodiesel feedstock during March 2012 with 387 million pounds consumed. The next three largest biodiesel feedstocks during the period were canola oil (117 million pounds), yellow grease (54 million pounds), and corn oil (44 million pounds). [source: EIA]

5. Volkening Heritage Farm, Schaumburg, Illinois

Interesting from the commentary in this video was that the farm operators have trouble finding places to buy feed or sell the individual animals which they produce. Our food system has been outsourced from our local communities, that’s for sure. Work horses have the task of ploughing, discing, and harrowing after which the ground is ready to plant. They need to be fed year round, but in winter there is no work for them to do.

The Moray: Did the Inca Study Climate Conditions on Crops?

photo: wikipedia
“This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops.”

One of many fascinating archeological spots left behind by the Incas is Moray, near Cuzco, Peru. There are four amphitheater like series of concentric circles terraced into the ground at an elevation of 11,500 feet. Though it is debated, a popular theory is that this was an agricultural testing station of micro-climates, since the temperatures varied by as much as 27-60 degrees Fahrenheit within the stations from top to bottom and they included a sophisticated irrigation system. It might be compared to a modern day greenhouse. Due to design or location, the structure never floods, even during the rainy season. The Incas studied and used hundreds of varieties of maize and thousands of potato varieties, leaving behind a priceless legacy for mankind, especially in our modern age of climate change.

Additional Information: here, here, and here. Additional photo here.

UPDATE 8/3/2011: A new book by a civil engineer from Boulder, Ken Wright, claims to have disproven the Moray site as having an agricultural purpose. He and his wife, Ruth, have researched the area and came to the conclusion that it was a religious site for water worship.

Laziness Sells

Note that the following was sent to me in one of those “email forwards.” I don’t know who wrote it.

flickr by Aunt Owwee

The Green Thing…….
In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.
…….the green thing.

Old Agricultural Methods and Tools on these Luddite Sites

Readers here know that every Thursday I post an old agriculture photo, often a field showing the use of animal labor or old farm equipment. Regardless of whatever “foodie” outlook or feelings of food supremacy we have, the fact is, we have gained leisure time by the industrialization of agriculture over these past decades which has freed us from the endless hours previously spent doing physical labor to put food on the table.

Reminding ourselves about the past probably means different things to different people. One person feels nostalgic. Younger people become educated about the ways of the past. Still others expect peak oil and resource depletion (or pick your own collapse scenario) to return us to old methods of production out of necessity, and so look back to look forward.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a few sites which are more fully devoted to Luddite information. (If you know of others, please leave a comment below.)

No Tech Magazine‘s motto is We believe in progress and technology. To give you an example, the following are five agriculture-related posts from the site:

Low-tech Magazine is the sister publication of “No Tech Magazine.” It refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution and is written by Kris De Decker of Barcelona, Spain. These next links are from the site:

If you grew up on a farm like I did, you no doubt saw the no-longer-used horse collars and other hand tools hanging in barns or machinery sheds on your farm kept around “just in case”. People who lived through the Great Depression simply didn’t throw useful things away. You may still use a personal favorite scythe or other farm tool from your family’s stash.

Personally, I love seeing the old European photos included on the sites included here, since they are in some cases older and different from the new world’s.

Back in February, I introduced you to Open Source Ecology, entrepreneurs out of Missouri who are making DIY plans for the Global Village Construction Set which includes a wind turbine, a bulldozer, and an electric motor/generator, to name a few. One of Marcin Jakubowski’s latest projects is the technical drawing for a steam engine. (Jakubowski was originally from Poland with an advanced degree in fusion physics.)

See previous posts:

And, finally, there is another site worth drooling over, Antique Farm Tools. This amazing site has photographs and drawings of well over 800 tools used by our ancestors. Like…

Sheep Shearers

The home page explains:
Peter Charles Dorrington collected and restored over 750 antique farm tools between 1985 and 2001. Most of these tools were agricultural hand implements and fenland tools that were used in England, Wales and Scotland, dating from about 1600 to 1940, for example: “chaff cutters”, “flails”, scythes”, “dibbers” and “breast ploughs”. Photographs of roughly half of the tools that are still in the collection are included here.

Go to the site and you will find photos of old wooden hay rakes, oxen yokes, potato planters, and countless other tools which were used in England, Wales and Scotland from as early as 1600.