The cheap food that we’ve become accustomed to comes to us only thanks to an enormous subsidy of fossil fuel which is used in the mechanised production and transport of mass-produced food. There are two problems with this. First, the burning of fossil fuel is contributing to climate change, an ominous threat to global welfare in the years ahead of us. Second, fossil fuels supplies are finite; Future years may well see increased global demand for a decreasing fuel supply, resulting in rapidly spiralling prices.
At Vallis Veg, we’d ideally like to do without fossil fuel and work towards an agriculture with greater built-in resilience to the shocks of fossil energy prices. We do in fact use a lot of hand tools, including ‘forgotten’ tools like scythes and wheel-hoes which can be remarkably efficient. But we need to make our business work in the current time-poor world of expensive labour and cheap food prices. We therefore do use power tools, and tractor-powered implements. When we see how much person-hours of work we can get out of a litre of petrol or diesel, it makes us marvel at what our ancestors managed to achieve without it, and despair at how much recent generations have frittered this incredible resource away. However, we do try to keep our fossil fuel use to a minimum through methods such as these:
- we buy in very little fertility (composts, fertilisers) from offsite – perhaps the major consumer of energy in contemporary farming
- we grow and sell locally. None of our deliveries are more than a couple of miles from where we grow the food
- by delivering direct we conserve fuel by preventing individual car journeys to the shops
- we plan our delivery route carefully to minimise driving distances
- wherever possible we use post-consumer cooking oil to power our diesel engines, avoiding the problems of adding extra carbon to the atmosphere or taking farmland out from the production of food for biodiesel
- we generally use smaller and older vehicles and equipment, thus saving on the fossil energy costs embodied in buying newer, larger machines
- whenever it’s feasible not to use a machine we don’t use it!