Politics Blogs - Blog Top Sites Blog Flux Directory Green Assassin Brigade: Saving the world one bread at a time!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Saving the world one bread at a time!

The way I see things the western world is about to get bitch slapped by reality as an economic and possible fiscal crisis could destroy our banks, money and financial infrastructure. On top of this issue we have global warming, peak oil, and the specter of expanding famine zones spreading around the world all ready to bend us over the bottom bunk like in some sick prison movie.

Now there are things we can do to meet these issues and I do what I can for the environment by trying to curb my consumption of energy, stick to the 100 mile diet when we can, trying and failing in my pitiful attempt to grow a reasonable amount of food from my tiny yard, as well as my activism, blogging and GPC involvement. I am unconvinced however that we will reach a solution that will allow most or any of us to maintain the lifestyle or level of civilization we have grown accustom to in the long term and I’m trapped somewhere in-between going Amish or survivalist. I like basic black clothes and the idea of a simple agrarian life but wool jackets, full beards and a lack of beer just don’t do it for me. On the other side gun toting fundamentalist Christians with no necks and brush cuts scare the fucking shit out of me, mmmm choices?

In the mean time I am trying to learn basic skills that might prove useful in a post carbon future. Gardening has been a bust this year do to a combination of bad weather, very limited space and a herd of slugs and snails that decimated the beans, potatoes and cabbage. Over the years we’ve done some preserves and canning but we are certainly not experts. We expect to be drying whacks of tomatoes, some herbs and if we are lucky we might even get some homemade raisins. I don’t see a lot of reason to learn the proper techniques to freeze things when our power grid could collapse in a couple years when oil/gas prices drives people to space heaters.

As a frugal college student who could not always find what he wanted to wear at the vintage stores like Courage My Love in Kensington Market, or the occasional find at such stores as the South Pacific on Maitland I even taught myself to make shirts. Of course I would need a treadle machine in a post carbon future but did you know you can still buy one?

Apparently a manufacturer did a couple of short runs of an existing electric machine modified to mount to vintage treadles, finding a working treadle does not seem to be much of challenge you can find them on ebay or Kijiji daily.

One place where I have made progress in self sufficiency is in the kitchen where I’ve made great progress in the last year progressing from the occasional misshapen loaves of homemade bread to nice ones like this that the family actually wants me to make. Now rationalizing making my own bread had to include time, taste, cost and assumptions that I can do it using less carbon than a commercial bakery. The time is simple, I do it early weekend mornings while listening to financial web casts. Hell I’m up anyway because the kids don’t sleep and it’s too early to cut grass or go to the farmers market.
It is nice tasting bread and as long as we avoid the real discount breads it’s not only cheaper but I know the ingredients. The only real issue I can’t verify is how much energy my bread, cooked 2 loafs at a time consumes compared to a commercial bakery, per loaf it’s probably more at least until transportation is added. I also cannot know for sure that in a post carbon situation I will have access to the natural gas I will need to cook. So what to do?

Well after a surge in hits and advertising revenue on my financial blog I finally got windfall in the form of my first cheque from Google Adsense and after getting through the spring without going on strike I decided to blow my meager new earnings (plus some extra $) on a SUN OVEN

Now I was somewhat skeptical it would work as well as stated but I was willing to give it a shot as an emergency or camping oven. My first experiment fared poorly because I did not realize the full extent of my yards afternoon shading, the oven works great if I want to cook from 6:00 to 8:00 rather when the family wants to eat. My second attempt, tried and documented at the cottage and was a success, the only exception was I did not know how big a loaf I could put in the pot and it ended up a little on the small side.

The lump of dough in a new but old fashioned granite pot (speckled black enamel on steel) This was a simple white bread recipe I could do off the top of my head without a recipe book.

The Sun Oven in all it’s reflective glory, you point the oven at the sun and adjust occasionally in an attempt to keep the sun focused inward. The simple method is try to keep the shadows even on all sides, I found myself adjusting it every 15 minutes or so. You need sun glasses or you’ll go blind near this thing.

A close-up of the thermostat proving you can get the oven up to a useful working temperature. Eventually about mid cook I did touch 400 degrees.

Dough in the oven and starting to steam up

1 hour or so in, turning golden and surface cracking

The finished product waiting to be served with BBQ and fresh corn.

Now I fully understand that weather conditions, shade, heat up time etc do not make this practical for every person but for the dedicated homesteader or environmentalist, the cottager in area where the power is suspect, the Amish or the survivalist, this is a low tech, zero emissions way to cook bread, stews, soups, casseroles etc. Frequent users claim that burning is not much of an issue and if you walk away from it pointed at where the sun will be later you can come back to a fully cooked mean hours later, and even if you are late the less direct unfocused sun and insulated box will keep your dish warm for quite some time. After trying this I went looking for and found a do it yourself plan that puts the oven on a solar powered turntable that tracks the sun, neat!

While I would recommend the Sun Oven as a quite a useful contraption, for non portable use or a large family I might suggest people attempt to build a larger one that has bigger reflectors, a more stable tilting mechanism (the worst flaw of the Sun Oven) and perhaps the turntable I mentioned. I would also consider any charity project delivering Sun Ovens or some other variant of a solar oven to be a good, long term solution to fuel costs, carbon emissions and deforestation in the 3rd world.

I now know I can make cheaper, better bread with a lower carbon footprint than a commercial bakery. Now I must find a source of locally grown, organic hard wheat and a quality hand mill.Recommend this Post


Steve said...

I fear you are right that our standard of living will decline. You know my view: the state is responsible via its market interventions and restraint of liberty.

It's especially sad because it reverses the division of labour that has made our civilization possible. This is ironic, as those ignorant of economics seem to think that autarky is desirable.

Why not stock up on non-perishables? I haven't done the math, but wouldn't a basement or a shed filled with Kraft Dinner™, canned goods, hardtack, cornpone, and bottled water last for years? Someone should (1) figure out minimum nutritional requirements by age, physical activity, and body size, (2) evaluate various non-perishable goods in these terms, and (3) compute their volume for storage purposes. One would also need a generator and fuel (supplemented by manually-operated devices, perhaps) in order to cook, etc.

Have you researched the available technology (windmills, solar panels, etc.)? I'll bet they are much better now than they ever were, and are probably going to become even more efficient. yesterday I read of a rooftop windmill that has just been designed (although I doubt that the claims made for it are fully justified).

Is there an easy way to measure the energy consumed by a given appliance?

I would think that Third World people are more concerned about survival than pollution. People in dire straits tend to have a high time preference (i.e., they don't think long-term).

Are you sure your bread-making uses less carbon than commercial baking? After all, you did drive to buy your supplies, right? A bakery would employ trucks, of course, but they can exploit economies of scale in this regard. But I think this is a useless, endless debate along the lines of the disposable vs. reusable diapers issue.

In a post-industrial world, I doubt there'd be much carbon production. But even if there were, wouldn't survival dwarf those concerns? Or is your fear that fuel would be priced beyond your reach?

P.S. An idea: make a how-to Website about personal autarky. You could categorize it by topics such as: shelter, food, barter, etc.

Lord of Wealth said...

damn steve, enough questions and topics for several more posts.

Yes storing up on food stuffs is an important thing and if you wanted a breakdown of what a person needs both nutritionaly and in variety to stop bordom the Mormons actually have a very good calculator that after adding number of people/sex/age will generate a list of provisions for what ever time period you set. There are also good links for the storage length of various foods, maybe I will post on food storage later. Needless to say however the amount of food for 1 person for a year is quite large to store and costly to buy upfront. Which is why I invest in precious metals which are real money that cannot be corrupted by government. I do keep some extra food and the means to buy more but could never store what I would need for my family long term.

The cheapest energy is that which you don't buy, small scale wind and PV are toys not yet ready for affordable home use. Solar thermal water, solar thermal air have better paybacks but designing houses that don't need much energy for heating is the most cost/resource effective means of cutting back. If you must generate electricty buy a farm on a river/stream and run micro hydro to be the cheapest, in an urban setting space, zoning, inefficiency of non scale makes it all too costly for me.

There is a device we can borrow from our library that you plug in between the appliance and the plug and gives you a digital readout of electical draw. Places like radio shack probably sell them now.

You are correct third world people don't care about pollution before survival but if we can give them the means to cook that does not take 5 hours of wood gathering, that does not burn the trees they could use for crafts, building materials, harvesting of fruit/nuts/sap it's win win. We can get what the West claims it wants(less carbon emissions, less soot, less deforestation etc) and improve their lives a lot cheaper than foreign aid that usualy buys guns to suppress said populations. Even if you don't buy the climate theories this creates healthier populations, less poverty leading to more stable countrys, less wars and making these people less dependant on goverments that abuse them.

my bread is only cleaner if I use the sun oven, the added benefits are I know what went into it and I know its fresh, and its so damn good just out of the oven the total calculation would need to take into account shipping, heating the factory, heating the store, the storage space required to house bread in stores etc, too much for my meagre brain.

As oil and gas deplete people will move to wood or coal which are much dirtier, unless we have a major die off the first decades after peak oil will get dirtier not cleaner from demand destruction
as seen by the average emissions of a barrel of tar sands vs light sweet crude.

And yes I do see a time when energy might be out of my price range, which is why I want the farm and a chance to build something that is designed to do without to many external imputs!
While I live modestly compared to many people, there are no jobs for life and shit could happen to anyone incuding me.

There are a great number of good how to sites for the wanabe survivalist, don't know if I have the time to be another one. I figure my role is to scare people to look for the other information thats already out there, not duplicate their good work. If I ever get the means to buy property I would certainly document and rationalize every decision from location, heating, target practice 101 and the best chicken for homesteading.

CSB said...

an interesting bit from a book about how to decide what to buy in surplus to store


I think I need to find this book just for the appendix mentioned.

Steve said...

It's costly, but you can install a system that draws heat from the earth. Might be a good investment now; but I'm sure prices are dropping as the technology behind it improves.

GAB said...

1. earth source heat pumps are great devices but for full independance they still need electricity, if you believe the grid will stay up they are the way to go, but otherwise you still have the problem of being able to create the power to run the heat pump.

2. a retro fit for my yard due to the size and drop off would be near impossible, you could do it with vertial holes but could not get a industrial ie 100ft deep auger in my back yard.

3. Still the cheapest thing is to build the house correctly in the first place, for a place like mine no solution is ideal. I do like this tech however for local power gen, don't know if they can make a steam turbine small enough for single house use.

Theresa said...

It can be tough to stay un-depressed some days, that's for sure.

I've been taking Sharon Astyk's Adapting in Place course (www.sharonastyk.com) which is great for priorizing things. I've also been reading the Transition Handbook, which is realistic yet optimistic at the same time - it has some good summary info about post peak oil scenarios and how to re-localize to avoid the worst of them. It's been helpful.

Mother Earth News has a great recipe for "no knead bread" that would probably do really well in the Sun Oven. I've been strongly considering getting one of these since my home-made one takes 8 hours to cook a few diced potatoes.

Also, if you haven't happened across his blog yet, Kiashu at Green with a Gun out of Australia has some really good info/stats/plans, etc.

Sorry for the lack of links - I'm not good at embedding those in comments, but a google search will bring them up.