On locally produced food

The concept of locally produced food is by nature a very dynamic concept. The self-sustained household would of course provide the most locally produced supplies there are, but  since the market would be so limited (i.e. me and my wife), the fixed and overhead costs would be out of proportion to big to us to bear. The concept locally produced will only be economically sustainable if the market defined as local is large enough to create a demand for an efficiently scaled production.

I Sweden, the largest organization for ecological certification (KRAV) describes a geographical radius of 250 km as a reasonable measure used by other actors. But that only means that the final product is manufactured within that radius, not that the crop in the cereals was grown there, or the cattle in the meatballs where raised there. If we control the whole process from goat feed to cheese, and are doing that on the same very local farm, wouldn’t that be more locally produced than meatballs made from Argentinian and Irish beef and sold as Swedish locally produced meatballs, as long as the cheese is sold on a market closer than Argentina or Ireland?

So if the concept of “locally produced” is stretchy, we can be just as stretchy when finding a market for our locally produced products. Since the concept is neither environmental nor geographical, “locally produced” should be regarded as a crude economical concept.

Turning the concept towards an economical viewpoint, we get the question: How big market can we reach with our locally produced food still being locally produced? We have a minimum of a 250 km radius from our farm, that by all means is considered local.

250km
The map radius tool is found at https://www.freemaptools.com/radius-around-point.htm

 

 

 

 

Well OK, we got Malmö, Copenhagen and Gothenburg, that’s good, but half of our geographical market is water, and we are missing densely populated parts of Poland and Germany. All our family and friends in Stockholm wouldn’t get our locally produced cheeses, neither would ferry connected towns of Klaipeda and Gdynia/Gdansk/Sopot, where food from just across the Baltic sea could be seen as both local and exotic.

So what’s the actual population in this circle?  Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, provides detailed population data. I should probably create an API-request to get the most accurate result, but a quick mapping of their pre-defined regions (I had no idea that Europe was divided in NUTS, only that a few of them lives here) on NUTS-2 level will be good enough.

The 250 km circle gives a market of approximately 11 million people.

Hovedstaden 1,768,125
Östra Mellansverige 1,621,566
Sjælland 820,480
Småland med öarna 826,243
Södra Sverige 4,211,985
Västsverige 1,942,677
Total Result 11,191,076

Let’s reach out a little, and double the radius. 500 km is the new proposed local market.

500km

Now we’re talking! Stockholm, Oslo, Hamburg and Berlin. Those are some densely populated regions. Along with northern Poland, Denmark, Lithuania and Latvia, we have quite a few local mouths to reach. 43.4 million people to be precise (or maybe not that precise, since Latvia and Lietuva only are 1 NUT each, I counted the whole countries. But I forgot the Norwegian NUT Sörlandet, so that will make up for some of it).

Hovedstaden 1,768,125
Latvija 3,972,192
Lietuva 5,842,524
Lüneburg 1,677,715
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern 3,198,276
Midtjylland 1,282,750
Nordjylland 582,632
Oslo og Akershus 1,232,854
Östra Mellansverige 1,621,566
Pomorskie 2,271,559
Schleswig-Holstein 5,661,728
Sjælland 820,480
Småland med öarna 826,243
Södra Sverige 4,211,985
Stockholm 2,198,044
Syddanmark 1,205,728
Västsverige 1,942,677
Warminsko-Mazurskie 1,418,541
Zachodniopomorskie 1,688,486
Total Result 43,424,105

To view the market as a function of geography and population would of course be to simplify a lot. Culture, communications, currency and concentration of cheese-lovers (the 5 C:s of cheese marketing) are important factors too. But one thing that these figures points out, is that the potential market for physical products, never could have been the same if we had decided to stay in the Stockholm region. In fact, The funny thing is that in Stockholm, we lived in a crowded place, in a sparsely populated region. In Blekinge, it may go several days without seeing other people, even as we have 40 millions of them  around the corner.

Keeping up appearances

We bought the farm in Febuary 2015 but did not move here until a little over a year later. We did however spend our summer holidays getting to know the place quite intimately – scraping, spraying, and painting!

This is what the house looked like when we bought it:
IMG_20150405_130225After brushing the old paint of we rented a skylift named “Dino” and used a paint spraying machine to do most of the red areas, except for the front of the house which we painted with brushes by hand.
IMG_20150717_173600IMG_20150720_203034IMG_20150725_175154IMG_20150718_150545IMG_20150725_101602IMG_20150725_212455IMG_20150717_171619 IMG_20150717_171410IMG_20150726_214745

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took us nine full days, working three shifts a day: before noon, afternoon and after dinner. Luckily the weather was quite good for painting, not too hot and it only rained one afternoon. We had a little help from Claires old friend Yasmina – she came to visit and was probably not expecting to be thrown up on the roof to paint as soon as she got here! The result after all the hard work was thrilling:

IMG_20150723_195358

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since then we have also painted the door green and have put up some lights on the facade to illuminate the garden during the darker season (now in wintertime it gets pitch-black at around 3 pm..)

Happy as clams in our freshly painted house, and happy to have another 10-15 years ahead of us before we need to do it all over again. The barns have yet to be touched up, that will probably be one of our projects next summer!

Arduino for beginners

As you might have noticed we love technology and finding innovative ways to use it around the farm. Nils has a lot of knowledge in programming as well as micro-computers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Claire is an enthusiastic beginner, having participated in courses in Visual Basic, HTML/CSS and Python in the past. Her latest endeavour is to learn more about Arduino which according to the official website: “…is an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino boards are able to read inputs – light on a sensor, a finger on a button, or a Twitter message – and turn it into an output – activating a motor, turning on an LED, publishing something online. You can tell your board what to do by sending a set of instructions to the microcontroller on the board. To do so you use the Arduino programming language (based on Wiring), and the Arduino Software (IDE), based on Processing.”

Happily, we found that there is a place called Blekinge uppfinnareverkstad dedicated to innovations and co-working in a near-by town called Svängsta, and they offer courses in Arduino for beginners -among other things. It is a really cool place, founded in the 80’s in an old factory and is run on a volunteer  basis. Worth a visit (or even membership – 500 SEK for a year) if you are interested in anything from welding to 3D printing.
IMG_20161103_190618The idea is to use Arduinos for some of the many things we want to monitor and automate at the farm – in the milking process, at the dairy – or even to make a goat locator for when the critters decide to break out of their pasture! We will keep you posted…

 

Working 9 to 5

Since we both have “office jobs” it was a priority for us to get a good working space sorted. One of the smaller rooms downstairs seemed like a good option, and since it had a funky smell (hence giving the room the not-so-flattering name “kissrummet”/”the pee-room”)  as well as the floor being way crooked, it felt even more like the best place to start off the interior remodeling. We took out the greenish/brown plastic floor and uncovered some pretty old floorboards and isolating materials which we replaced and built up a little to make the floor more even. Finally we were able to put down a nice new oak floor! After that it was only the small matter of replacing the wallpapers, painting the ceiling, frames, window and radiator and putting up new lamps… We did not get around to finishing the room until October but we were mighty happy to be able to move in our desk!

This is what the room looked like before:


Work in progress… Raoul “helping” as usual!
29591753956_504fcd29ba_k

And this is what it looks like now:
wp-1480278826869.jpg

Getting into the closet

The walk-in closet adjacent to our bedroom was not initially a priority to renovate, but one day Claire got fed up with crawling around on the floor looking for a pair of socks in the cupboard she had been using to store clothes in since we moved here. “It will improve our quality of life!”, she exclaimed, and so the project began. We removed the old plastic carpet, took out the frames and steamed/scraped the old wallpapers off. Also, one of the walls needed to be replaced and the chimney-wall needed a good scraping/cleaning as well as a new coat of paint.IMG_20161030_212752The first idea that came to mind was a nice, red, carpet, so we built around that, adding a colorful wallpaper and golden frames as a final touch. Since the ceiling is quite low we were not able to install any of the standard wardrobe-systems found at IKEA, and in fact did not want to cover up too much of the nice walls. Instead, we found some regular cube-shaped shelves of the “Kallax”-model, as well as a curtain-rod for clothes on hangers.

This is what it looked like before:


   
..and the result – a luxurious little room, where the only regret is that there is not more time to be spent choosing clothes and hanging out in there:
  

Eggciting times

We are happy to introduce a couple of new members here at Framtida Bruk farm: chickens! They are of a New Hampshire dwarf breed and hence they are a bit smaller than regular chickens. For now there are only three of them: Gösta the rooster, who crows proudly every morning, and his two gals Babette and Fabienne who look up to him and like to sleep tucked away under his wing. They are funny, talkative, and often make a little sneeze-hiccup sound when they get up in the morning.
göstaochbabetteThe first few weeks they did not seem very happy to be here. They were not producing any eggs, even though they have a spacious pen to peck about in, lots of food and places to sit… They were even looking a bit ragged?! Finally, we realized they were moulting. A few days ago however, we found our first eggs and were beyond happy to enjoy our first farm-egg breakfast.

Goats – climate culprits or caretakers?

The reputation of domesticated ruminators as climate culprits has became spread in later years, due to their large emissions of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4). Especially cows in meat and dairy production are considered liable for a remarkable high share of the climate changing emissions, but other ruminators such as sheeps and goats are considered polluters, even if they don’t get as much attentions as the farting cows, as their total emission of carbon dioxide equivalents are lower due to smaller size and lesser numbers.

Hawaii - the peaceful goat
Hawaii – the most peace loving goat in the world, eating her favorite lunch. Maple leaves.

How bad are goats then? They’re small and cute, smells good (well, a doe does) and never farts loudly in public. Their ability to feed from forage inaccessible to other livestock, like bushes and leaves, makes them a great tool in keeping biodiversity and stimulate growth in young trees and herbs, leading to a greater uptake of carbon dioxide from the air. But do they actually pollute more more than they clean up?

There are actually a lot of studies published on the topic methane emission from goats, mostly from an economical view, since methane emission is considered a loss in energy uptake, that indicates a suboptimal ration.

When I started digging deeper in this issue, I realized that most goats in the studies where fed a completely different diet than our goats are. While our goats grazes freely during the six warm months eating a mix of grass, leaves, bark and needles, and during the winter eats mostly hay combined with spruce and pine needles, the goats in the studies where fed a single feed, chosen for optimizing milk production or feeding costs.

I got the notion that most goats in industrialized production are not getting their natural forage, and if they do, not in a natural mix. I know what usually happens to me when I do that to myself.

This study, Murciano-Granadina Goat Performance and Methane Emission after Replacing Barley Grain with Fibrous By-Products suggests that the ordinary forage of barley grain can be substituted with high fibrous orange peel or soy been hulls, without increasing methane emission. That is a good thing from a economical view, because those by-products probably is extraordinary cheap, but it says nothing about what a natural methane emission is, since all three rations are unnatural to a goat.

Another common mistake is to consider sheep and goats the same, as in this study: Energy metabolism and methane production in llamas, sheep and goats fed high- and low-quality grass-based diets. where goats, sheep and llamas are given a low fibrous and a high fibrous grass and the difference in methane emission is recorded. Only llamas showed lesser methane emission on the high fibrous diet. My conclusion: goats, nor sheep, do not do well on llama food.

What is the source of the methane then? The complex hydrocarbons in the food needs to be broken down into less complex molecules to be possible to absorb for the animal. In a ruminators digestion, this is an extremely complex process, with enzymes, yeast and bacteria working together decomposing those structures. Goats differs from sheep and cows, since they have an extremely fast digestion, giving them the possibility to decompose the most complex hydrocarbons, lignins, found in wood and all durable structures in the world of plants. The key to achieving this is mostly certain bacterial fermentation processes in the rumen. These bacteria seems to be increasing in numbers when the goat eats a lot of roughage, but decreases when the goat eats a lot of starch and sugars. Instead a methane producing bacteria increases when shorter hydrocarbons are digested.

This study: Methane emission by goats consuming diets with different levels of condensed tannins from lespedeza suggest a very interesting view, that in fact tannins are the key to reduce methane emissions. Even if the study is performed on forage consisting of only two species, the forage is more natural to the goat than in the other studies reviewed. The results is that when the goats are fed with a high tannin forage, the methane emission drops quadratically. The adaptation time of 4-6 days to the high tannin forage is another indicator of transformation in the bacterial balance.

In the study, two kinds of forage, sorghum grass and Kobe lespedeza (a legume, like clover or peas) are compared in different rations, 0/100, 33/67, 67/33 and 100/0. Where the 100% grass diet shows no drop in methane emission after 6 days, the 100% legume diet reduced the methane emission by 50% on day 5. After 20 days, the high tannin legume diet remained at low emission rates (from 10.3 to 10.9 l/day), while the 100% grass diet emission rate was drastically increased (from 20.4 to 26.2 l/day).

Tannins are found in many of the goats natural sources of roughage, such as leaves, bark, needles and branches. When the goat is allowed to forage freely in a diverse environment, the level of tannins would be significantly higher than when grassfed or grainfed.

Aren’t those tannins poisonous then? Yes, to cattle, sheep, and especially horses, a tannin fueled diet, such as lots of oak and beech leaves would be lethal. For a goat though, a much higher level of tannins seems to be acceptable. Several studies suggest that oak leaves are not only nutritious and reduces goat gasses, they also reduce nematode infections.

Amanda Karlsson in Effekten av toxiciteten hos ek för get, får och nötkreatur discusses the effects of oak leaves on goats, sheep and cattle, and concludes that oak toxication on goats are not likely, given they have the choice of eating the right amount.

J.Raju et. al. in Effect of feeding oak leaves (Quercus semecarpifolia vsQuercus leucotricophora) on nutrient utilization, growth performance and gastrointestinal nematodes of goats in temperate sub Himalayas suggests that forage with much higher tannin content than the Swedish oak are suitable for goats in the Himalayans, and protects against parasites.

Content of condensed tannins in the studies performed:

Forage CT g/kg dry matter
Kobe lespedeza 151
Quercus semecarpifolia (himalayan oak) 170
Quercus robur (Swedish oak) 78

Several studies suggest that the amount of tannins in leaves varies over the seasons and peaks in mature autumn leaves, so the figures are just to get an estimation.

29731352930_61b9a7dddd_k
Florida, feasting on hazel leaves

How bad is a goat emitting 10 liters of methane a day? At a methane density of 0.656 g/l, that means 6.56 grams/day. Converting with a carbon dioxide equivalent of 25 for methane gives 164 grams of CO2/day, which is about what a medium car emits on a 1 km ride, or what burning 0.7 dl of petrol emits, like running a chainsaw for 3-5 minutes.

So what all this sums up to, is that a goat can be made into a farting climate culprit when fed with the wrong stuff, but keeping the feed varied and close to the goats natural supply will drastically reduce methane emissions and keep the goats healthy, while minimizing losses in energy uptake.

The goats will still emit some methane, but the carbon emitted will come from the current coal cycle and can be compared to burning wood, in contrary to other methods of keeping the landscape open and diverse, as clearing with fossile fueled machines. If the goats provides you with cheese and meat as by products, that will be a bonus for you and the climate.

30300582391_b6fe3f7ab9_o
Fossil free clearing

 

Wooden food

The forests have always had a crucial role in the Swedish economy. They have given us fuel, building materials, paper and chemicals, but also a habitat for a rich wildlife, and highly valued recreational areas.

In old times,  cattle was often kept in the forest. Feeding on leaves, herbs and barch, the forest gave an addition to a scarce feedstock, but modern breeds are no longer able to both survive and give milk or meat on such frugal diet.

Goats on the other hand,  has a much more efficient digestion, and is actually the only domesticated ruminator capable of digesting wood fibres and lignine into sugars.  So when your goat heard browses the forests for brush, barch, sticks and spruce needles, and then returns to the barn in the evening to get milked, you actually conduct a refinement process where the input is cheap and abundant cellulose, and the output is exclusive and nutritious milk proteins. The production of proteins for the human diet through livestock handling is often referred to as unfriendly to the environment, with high water consumption  and much larger areas needed than for the equivalent calories from vegetables and grain. The conversion of cellulose to go at milk proteins and buckling meat does not have the same problems, since the forest mostly grows on improductive soil,  suitable for nothing else than forest. The forest does not need to be watered nor fertilized, neither does it suffer from pests and draught as easily as field crops. 

I said a hip HOPS, The hippie, the hippie, To the hip, hip HOPS, and you don’t stop, a rock it…

Hops are growing

One of the first things we did after buying the farm in 2015, was to get some root sprouts from three different kinds of hops and plant them in front of the house. They like to climb high so we used two thin birch trees to make giant props.

IMG_20160821_095002 (1)

The first year they did not yield that much, and unfortunately one of the plants did not survive the winter. But the two that did made lots of little cones this year! We used a nifty little dryer to dry them (the dryer was of course DIY automated – maybe there will be more about that in a seperate blog-post…)

IMG_20160913_205857

Finally we them packaged them into conspicuos-looking zip-loc baggies and they are now being stored in the freezer until it is time to brew some awesome beer with our very own hops!

IMG_20160913_205825

Defcon #24 and small scale farming

What did this years version of the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas have to tell about small scale farming? Nothing directly, being that kind of  happening where the participants and speakers seem to thrive in cellars and abandoned mines, rather than the open air. Indirectly, a lot.


The theme this year was Human vs Machines, and of course, the internet of things was among the most frequent topics. It’s always amusing to watch hackers exploit old gadgets that their manufacturers given a prolonged product cycle by connecting them to the internet, and pranking the neighbours by exposing their porn surfing habits through a vulnerable online toaster mostly raise the question: why did that guy buy a connected toaster?

So why should the small scale farmer be concerned about IoT security (except for the earlier mentioned reason)? The first link in the food supply chain is about to get more complex, as the demand for both locally produced and refined food grows. The specialized farmers that sells crop, meat or milk to industrialized facilities will have a hard time competing with producers that controls the complete value chain, from hay to cheese and steak, and understand to add ethical, esthetical and cultural value to their products.

There are two ways for the small scale farmer to accomplish a substancial increase in value, either by focusing on cultural and estethical factors, and become artisans, or by focusing on efficiency and interamplifying (is that a word?) processes. It’s with the interamplifying processes the internet of things makes its entrance. Automation, surveillance and statistics might not add the cultural value of a handmade cheese from Grannies recipe, but it ensures high food quality, and uniform products even in small batches, and that will allow you to make a larger variety of products, without being an master artisan in every field.

So the sensors and relays that will help you make the best food on the market, will they work for you, or for anyone that comes by digitally? Their information can be a great asset, as they provide the customer with unique data about their meal, but if you expose the controls, you also expose the possibility to replicate or sabotage your products. That’s the downside of shifting knowledge from human to machine.

In the great battle between man and machine, the machines are definitely winning. Knowledge is power, and we keep rely on the knowledge we stuff into machines, while we stress our brains back to the stoneage in our efforts to keep up with them. It’s when we taste the delicious cheese that where made with their help and without our efforts, that we realize who the real winner is. Just keep your networks segmented.