Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm

  (Ottawa, Illinois)
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Reasons for Optimism

Recently, I had an email discussion with a good friend regarding "Peak Oil," our current economic crisis, and the future of agriculture and community. With his permission, I'm sharing some of our discussion here.

Tom said :


I normally don't do this, because I've always thought about opinions on the environment like religious beliefs: I don't  like to be preached to, and I don't preach to others.

Nevertheless, I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and this youtube video sums up the issues of peak oil pretty well.  And I find it pretty compelling, and just a bit scary.


Peak oil is the concept that oil supply capability will peak soon (not necessarily end but "peak").  As this video illustrates, it's not just "environmentalist wackos" and "tree huggers" (sorry if I offend) that are saying this- but industry insiders.  Oil production
 in fact peaked in the 70's in the United States. 

I'll warn you there is some neo-con (Bush-Cheney) bashing - but not too much - if you care.

 Jody replied:

I had a chance to watch this, and I have to say that a lot of what is said rings true. However, despite some of the scarier "what if?" scenarios; I'm generally pretty hopeful and optimistic - much more so than the folks in the documentary seem to be.


It may be the this business of  Community Supported Agriculture that we're in, but there does seem to be a sea change occurring in the collective conscience. More and more community matters. Being local matters. Having interdependent relationships with people and businesses that you know and trust is no longer something for which we're nostalgic - they're being established and built every day.


I don't know if the shift to re-localize our economies will occur fast enough to avoid pain and strife; but I'm not hunkering down with a cache of weapons in fear of a swarm of hungry suburbanites overrunning the farm. I think the the re-birth of the victory garden AND the concept of interdependent communities will help buffer the change that is coming/already here.


Here in Ottawa changes are being made. SUV loving families ARE trading in their Tahoes for mini-vans - not just out of financial neccessity but out of a sense of civic duty. Harding grade school is keeping off 1/3 of it's lights each day and putting in solar panels. The school district is planning wind turbines. A pork producer we work with is seeding pasture for his hogs to graze outside in fresh air and sushine & he's planting GMO-free corn to feed them. A beef producer that we work with, bought a bull based on how well it's offspring will grow on GRASS and MILK  while producing the highest quality beef - not on how to produce the MOST beef the FASTEST. Businesses in the city are "going local" too, and their neighborhoods are supporting them. YEAH!


The silver lining of the current economic crisis may be that it jolts everyone to the consciousness of cause & effect. The belief that continued  over-consumption of "cheap" goods equals wealth, and is disconnected from how those goods are produced is ending. People are realizing that this is unsustainable and will eventually lead to wholesale collapse. It's becoming okay to consume less. People are planting gardens and growing some of their own food. Chicagoans (and city dwellers across the country) are keeping chickens in their backyards for eggs and sharing the compost with their veggie growing neighbors. More and more people/businesses are seeking out mutually beneficial interdependent relationships - read community. These changes are individual and incremental but will catalyze further steps. At the same time, state and national policy is shifting, too.


We live in exciting times. If in the future we have less wealth (as currently defined) but stronger communities; I think it will be a fair trade.

Tom responded:

Thanks for your thoughts. I too am very optimistic.  Have you heard of a movement called "The Transition Movement".  It was started in the UK, and has a lot of the principles you discussed as it's basics: local resilience is the main bullet.  Local shelter,local energy, local food.  Everything else is just niceties in a real pinch.

I agree with you on the economy, although I fear (in what I no longer feel is a perverse way) that the economy will get better too fast.  I remember the 70's and the great rush of ideas and technology that come out of the oil crises, only for that to disappear as cheap oil re-appeared.  Perhaps now, people are starting to understand that increasing oil prices are a result of reduced supply, not great corporate conspiracies (although as an aside, I just watched "Enron: The smartest guys in the room".)  And there is no doubt that many people still want to believe there is plenty of cheap oil, or just don't care enough to take notice.

The conversation will continue... 

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