This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Possibly Disappointing Realization

  99% of what I write on this blog refers to wild plants and traditional uses of mostly cultures other than my own. Though, since I have incorporated these traditions into my own life , I guess you can call them part of my culture too.
  I am an avid vegetable gardener and maybe this endeavor never occurred to me to be an Ethnobotanical Pursuit, but as I think about it more and more, it IS about plants and it is part of MY culture and the culture of many here in the US and all over the world. So from time to time I will be adding gardening plant info/thoughts here also.
  I have 7 gardens. This year I have 100 tomato plants. I mostly grow things in my garden that most people don't, though I also grow things that many people do. What I mean is, yes I grow Tomatoes, but mostly varieties that most gardeners don't. Yes, I grow Cucumbers etc., but I add varieties that most people have never seen before. This keeps things interesting. When I hand someone a yellow Tomato or a white Eggplant or a small round yellow Cucumber, the inevitable response is; "this is a______(fill in the blank) I have never seen one like this before".
  Anyway, you may ask why a person needs 100 Tomato plants. The answer is, I like to make my own Tomato Sauce and Tomato Juice to preserve for the rest of the year. And who can get enough fresh Tomato sandwiches or fresh Tomato salad right from the garden? The growing season is relatively short, especially this year with all the rain and damp humid conditions. Good thing I planted so many plants, as much as 50% of my tomatoes are molding and rotting on the vine even before they get ripe.
  While processing and canning Tomato sauce one day I really started to look at the whole process in a very critical way and since the process takes a long time from vine to canning jar, I had plenty of time to think. One of the reasons I do all this is to save money, to be more self reliant and Environmentally friendly and to always have a supply of Organic food available. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this may be going against that whole premise (except the part about having the food available).
  When I was an Environmental Educator, I used to teach a Primitive Technologies program. I would always refer to something I would call Appropriate Technology, which in a nutshell, is using the most primitive Technology you can for the situation at hand. This saves energy, pollution, destruction of the Environment and helps to keep us healthy through physical exercise among other things. For instance,  to dig a root out of the ground for dinner, I could use a stick to dig it out or I could build a backhoe to get it out, both would accomplish  the task equally well. But which one is appropriate for the situation?
  It was along these lines I criticized the whole Tomato canning process. So, lets go through the process from start to finish to see if I am accomplishing my goals. First, I had to get the ground ready. To do this I bought a $700.00 rototiller. To build a rototiller, first, thousands of other machines, buildings and safety equipment etc. have to be built. And to build those machines and buildings millions of other machines and factories have to be built etc. You can drive yourself crazy when you start to think of what it takes to do just one thing in a technologically advanced way. All of this is just to get the ore out of the ground. Once the ore is extracted it has to be transported to other facilities with millions of other machines and buildings etc. The extracted metal needs to be transported to many other factories with all the necessary tools and machines to get molded into parts. Than the parts transported again to the factories that build the machine, than the machine has to be transported to the stores that sell them, so I can take my van and trailer, which were built in a similar way, to pick it up to till my ground. Of course there are thousands of other steps involved in this endeavor not the least of which is the exchange of money and all it takes to produce this almighty paper product, and all the energy, time, buildings, tools, equipment and pollution it took for me to make it and the hundreds of computers and banks it takes for me to bring it home. I haven't even taken into consideration the electricity and what it take to produce it and transport it to all these factories or what it take to build the roads etc. that allows this all to happen.
 The rototiller runs on Gasoline. As do all the transport trucks and many of the machines that produce the machines. Not enough time and space to go through the whole petroleum thing from start to finish but just think of all the energy, pollution, machines, rigs, boats, storage, transport, refining, etc. it takes to get to the finished product!
 Ok, so now I have my land tilled, I need seed. I use organic seed in my gardens which lessens impact on the Earth but still demands an enormous amount of energy to produce. When you consider all the things needed on even an Organic farm, and the energy it takes to produce all that machinery, add to the mix the gas to run them  and the electricity for all the buildings and sorting and packaging machines and the trucks and gas to deliver them, the trees needed to package them and all the machinery it takes to log, transport and process the trees etc., things get crazy real fast.
 My Tomatoes are planted and ready to harvest. I have to collect them (in a petroleum based bucket, at least it's reused from something else), than prep them and than cook them. I don't know if you have ever made Tomato sauce, before but it takes days of cooking to get it right, a serious mount of propane for sure. Do I need to go through the whole getting, storing, transporting, etc. for the propane?
 Now I need mason jars.  The materials, the factories, the stores, the transport etc., etc.!!!!!!
 After all is said and done, I have about 18 jars of sauce, and 9 jars of tomato juice.
 Now it would take a mathematician and an energy flow expert to figure this all out, but it would seem to me, the amount of time, energy, pollution it takes to produce 18 jars of sauce and 9 jars of juice is just staggering.
 Somethings to consider that are beyond my expertise:  My rototiller has done alot more than help me produce these 27 jars of stuff over the last 6 years. Obviously, all the factories, trucks, roads, gasoline, machines, pollution etc. were not produced or built just for my 27 mason jars. In the life of a factory, for instance, it may produce billions of mason jars. You would have to divide all the mason jars that were produced in the factory by the amount of energy it used to be created and run for all those years to figure how much energy it takes to make one mason jar.
 So whats my point? I'm thinking that a factory, that is built to make Tomato Sauce, over its entire lifetime, can probably make a jar of tomato sauce much cheaper and use much less energy per jar of Tomato Sauce than I can at home. Hey, I'm just sayin!


  1. Very interesting thoughts, Alan. Your argument is inarguable!

  2. Thanks TW, but do you think I am correct or do you think I am just over thinking the matter?

  3. You know, I could go both ways with that. I do completely think that you are correct, but I also think that thinking too much on the matter will only bring feelings of "we can never make change" toward the subject, which, given enough time and energy (no pun intended), I believe that we can.

    I think most important of all is maintaining tradition and teaching the younger generations vital skills and lessons that they wouldn't otherwise be taught in our society. That goes well beyond our carbon footprint, because they will teach their children and so on and so forth.

  4. Your argument is inarguable! Right back at cha!
    Yes, preserving the old ways is very important and passing them on vital to developing a connection to the Earth that goes beyond the physical.

  5. Hi Alan, catching up on your blog, read the last five articles. I think you are overthinking this one, but it needs to be said, and I'd like to use it for my Environmental Science class if I may? Just the idea of making your own garden is a plus for our future.

  6. J,
    Thanks for catching up. Maybe your right, but what the heck, I godda think about something! You know you can use it, no need to ask. Give me a call.