House-Garden Future Options

If increases in the cost of growing food produce failures in commercial farming, or alternatively if rising food prices together with reduced employment in the population continue, then many may turn to growing at least some of their own food.

The underemployed, or those who make either low wages or are formally employed for fewer hours, will use their time, a commodity they may now possess in abundance, to earn money through contractual arrangements with others. They will also use their time to do many things at cost rather than through contacts with others. They will downsize everything. This may include selling a house they are in, and renting or buying another with improved energy efficiency as well as one with facilities for growing plants, storing harvested vegetables and fruit from the previous season. They may have limited capacity to grow their own food, but they may at least have some.

Many countries including America have a housing glut. Many houses are effectively under-priced, meaning they could be sold but at far less than the purchase price, and usually at far less that what the owner presently owes on the house. Many of these houses are now in foreclosure. Others will move in that direction as banks sell off the loans at high discount to investors who may renegotiate loans with home owners or may foreclose on the house and resell it at cost or even with as small profit. In many cases homes have been abandoned and trashed by criminals and left for cities who may move them into demolition and then re-assimilate the land for public use. It’s difficult to know how long this process will go on. Eventually the process will be finished, the banks will have absorbed losses into their balance sheets, and the homes either saved and occupied at less cost or demolished. It will have been a huge waste, but at least it will be over. Being over will be an advantage.

Gradually a new housing industry will emerge. There will be many kinds of new houses. I would like to suggest that one kind of new home will be built with both energy efficiency in mind, and with a capacity for the occupants to grow some or most of their own food. I’m wondering what these houses and the land associated with them should or ought to look like. The people occupying these houses will have money from part time jobs and from paid contracts with others. They will have been growing much of their own food and probably have made significant energy efficiencies in the houses they are in and have cut expenses in all sorts of ways that you and I cannot currently imagine. They will not be rich, but they will not be poor either.

They would likely be able to sell the house they are in and move into one built to facilitate a movement toward more self sufficiency.  The simplest of these houses could be built on a scale of about 500 square feet per occupant, efficiently insulated and with significant window space on the south side of the house with some windows on the south west and south east sides, and very few windows on the north side. Insulating shades would be placed over all of the windows and activated at night in cold weather regions.

On the south side the above design could be integrated with a lower level small greenhouse. There  would be an attached garage or car port on the east or west side and a root cellar attached either to the north side of the house or integrated into the north end of an attached garage.  On the north side of the house, adjacent to the root cellar, would be a place for a shed for tools, supplies or other equipment.

Behind the north side would be an area approximately 105 by 210 ft for gardening. Assuming that two people occupied the house perhaps with a small child, the noted space would provide the half-acre necessary for self sufficiency farming. If four of these houses  were placed at the four corners of a square block, the two acres necessary to provide one-half acre to each could be arranged within the middle area.

By organizing each of these as two acre sections around a central square we would arrange eight such squares around the central square and then sixteen additional squares around the first eight, or a total of 25  two-acre squares. We could use the central square as a community center and build in roads for small electric vehicles could be put in place. Houses and farming space could of course be organized in a more interesting way, not square built upon square. But if we keep the square arrangement for purpose of discussion we have a community built to house about 100 homes containing about 200 people within 50 acres. The square itself would be about 1500 feet (or about 500 yards) on a side.

Of course, the above community only stands at the moment as the beginning of an interesting exercise. There is no consideration of water and sewer, heating and/or electricity, community organization, and a host of other matters that one might want to consider.  The area contains between 50 and 100 city blocks containing only about 100 people compared with the 5,000 or more one might expect to find in a city.

In time, we will see if a sizable group of the population moves toward such a self-sustaining strategy. Some will convert old houses and marginal land into a more commune-like farming existence, some will cultivate cleared land at the edge of the city, some will extend or use completely their existing property after removing useless grass and dead or dying trees. Some will create far more interesting strategies we don’t now envision.

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