You're exactly right. The ultimate definition of farm "efficiency" has
to go back to thermodynamics.
John Jeavons and Ecology Action measured the caloric intake of gardeners
using hand labor only and discovered they produced 10 calories of food
for every calorie eaten- a net increase of energy from the sun. Our
present day agriculture burns 10 calories for every calorie produced- an
energy deficit we can only continue through the use of military and
resulting political power.
The other point you brought up is the distribution system. We burn most
of our fuel for food to transport it all around the country and from
around the world. Localizing our food systems on smaller farms which are
integrated with our cities would make us much more "efficient." (What
you wrote reminded me of something I read recently- Ecologists on a
train going 60 miles an hour headed north and walking south on the train
at 5 mph, congratulating themselves on the great progress they're
I realize that some things like wheat and corn can be grown more
efficiently on larger farms. The fact remains that most of our food
would be fresher and more efficiently produced on small market farms. I
think that what we need is farms of all sizes- mini farms in the urban
and suburban areas marketing directly, small farms in semi-rural areas
marketing directly and wholesaling, and large farms for grains, fiber,
etc. in our rural areas.
I am also aware of the mind-set in this country that bigger is better
and that we need to reach an "economy of scale." For those of you who
still believe that "bigger" is more efficient than small farms, read
"Family Farming" by Marty Strange. He looks at this issue from all
angles and his numbers show how much more efficient small, diversified
farms really are.
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