This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


25 August 2010

miles biked -21
water used -

Today was a big day for the compost, a new beginning really.  John Steingraeber, a fellow architecture thesis student with me last semester, has done a lot of research (and just in general knows a lot) about local foods and composting.  He came over this morning to assess the compost situation (which I've been afraid to look at for a few days now).  When we opened the compost, it was a bit moldy, but didn't look terrible.  John has his own composting operation that's been going for 7 years now.  Its similar to mine, in a rubber tub with a drainage system in the bottom.  He keeps his in his kitchen. His is a worm-compost operation and he brought me a cool-whip container full of worms to start my own that way.  I was a little wary about the worms because so many people have been telling me not to use composting (red) worms.  They are not a native species, and the worry is they will get out and destroy the soil and forest habitats.  However, as John explained, the worms (not being Minnesota natives) cannot tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees.  They will just die (and apparently smell really bad).  This means that the bin basically HAS to be kept inside if composting with worms because the temperatures are already dropping below 55 at night here (50 degrees expected tonight).  This means that even if the worms did escape into the wilds of Lyndale Ave (where they wouldn't have anywhere to go really) they would die the first time it got below 55 (which is basically all the time here. 

Will Allen, the head of Growing Power (a huge local food operation in Milwaukee) uses composting worms as well.  His are actually outside, but underneath a huge pile of compost.  Because compost (especially huge piles like his) generate so much heat as they decompose, the worms can stay alive in this environment through the winter.  Because the worms are getting food from the compost and heat, they don't have any reason really to go anywhere else, and if they did-they would freeze.  This made me feel better about the worms. While I'm a little scared about having my bin inside, John explained that you can tell if compost is working if it doesn't smell bad.  Well-my compost smells pretty bad right now, but he says his just smells like soil.  So we put the worms in.  I told John that I had seen maggots in the bin a few days ago, and as we started turning the compost ALL THESE DISGUSTING MAGGOTS WERE UNDER IT.  Gross.  And it smelled so bad, we were both gaging.  So we decided it was best to just trash the nasty stuff, especially because I was going to be bringing it inside, and start over with the worms.  John fearlessly dove into the maggoty (actually considered a word according to spell-check) compost with his bare hands and scooped all the nasty stuff out into a bag.  Oh my gosh John, thank you SO much, there is no way I would have been able to deal with that.  Gross. 

With a new start, we put the worms in again I shredded a couple City Pages of newspaper bedding for them.  We got the bedding wet (not soaking, but not at all dry) and put in some new organics from my kitchen composter (99 cent can from Goodwill).  It is important that the bin keeps wet, and that the liquids have a place to drain.  The bin still has a bit of a rank, but hopefully after a week or so of worm action, that will get taken care of.

The other really great thing I learned from John was that he has about the same size tub as I do (18 gallons) and has only taken compost out of it ONCE in seven years.  Basically, the worm population self-regulates itself and just eats so much of the compost that it literally disappears.  Magic.  Worm Magic.  Amazing.  This had been one of my concerns because I was planning on using a bit of the compost for my indoor garden, but was thinking I would end up with way too much and would have to find a way to get rid of it. 

When I first learned about composting I had my doubts that it really made a difference in the waste stream.  Questions I had were:  (1) Since the stuff is organic, doesn't it just decompose in the landfill anyway?  and (2) If you turn it into compost and don't have anywhere to put it, are you really helping to reduce waste (if you have just as much compost soil as you did organic matter?  I now understand that: (1), organic matter put into landfills cannot decompose because it is in an anaerobic environment at that point.  Organic matter needs air to decompose (which is why you have to mix newspaper and other things into it) and in a landfill it is packed so tightly without any air (anaerobic) that it just turns into a sludge, taking up space.  Secondly (2) According to John, the worms are eating so much of the waste that it doesn't really accumulate.  The more food you give them, the more they eat.  Apparently they eat just about everything in John's compost (egg cartons, newspaper, sawdust...)  If you are planning on using it for vegetables you need to keep toxic things out (such as printer paper with ink) but it can go on flowers or houseplants just fine that way.  So I need to figure out if my purpose for it is for the garden or just to help me eliminate waste (especially paper waste which I'll have a lot of).  Also, the worms should be able to eat the butcher paper the meat is wrapped in at the co-op (allowing me to buy it!).  Oh worms, thank you. 

Its really been a day of people helping me out (and giving me food), which I am really really grateful for.  John left me with sunflower sprouting seeds.  He buys these for about $25 for a 50 lb bag labeled as birdseed at garden centers.  I found it going for $4 a lb at the Wedge.  The sunflower sprouts, which I sampled at Common Roots the other day are delicious and nutritious.  They have some of the highest protein content of plants, and are most nutritious as sprouts.  And wait-it gets better!  The sprouts can be spread in a seed flat as a thick blanket and are ready to eat in 10 day.  John just cuts them like grass and puts on sandwiches, stir- frys, salads. etc. Other contributions today were: A co-research assistant at CSBR has way too many vegetables and left me her mini eggplants, hot peppers and herbs in the office today.  My friend Katy left me some of her parents famous garlic on the window sill.  And some other friends- Jessie and Mark - have a friend with a hobby farm who hooks them up with eggs every week.  Although I can get local eggs at the co-op, they are 39 cents each meaning a dozen is $4.68.  Jessie/Mark will give them to me for $3 a dozen, and it gives me a reason to run around the city looking for food :)

The egg pass-off location today was Birchwood Cafe (I'm exploring local food restaurant options).  Birchwood Cafe (  is known for their founder Tracy Singleton's efforts to provide Minneapolis with fresh, local foods.  Located in Seward, its about a 4 mile bike.  We got a wild rice salad with fresh veggies and some bread (flour from Whole Flour Milling).  Pretty good, busy atmosphere and not much outdoor space.  Also, of their beer/wine, no wines were local (though there are a lot of options) and only about half of the beers were local.  We asked the lady working at the register if EVERY ingredient was local or just some of them.  She said that was difficult to determine.  For example, they use olive oil for anything needing oil.  This is surprising because on their website they have a list of CSA's (Community Support Agriculture farms) they are supplied with.  I get my sunflower oil (local olive oil substitute) from Driftless Organics (a CSA on their site).  Why can't they use sunflower oil made from a CSA that is already providing them with fresh produce?  It seems like some of these small details could get worked out more completely.  I am hoping to meet with Tracy at some point to get her perspective...


  1. you can use walnuts in the pesto. not sure if they are local, but they are much cheaper. really, any nut or seed would be fine. it's mainly a texture thing.

    go to the midtown global market and shop at grassroots gourmet. you can get all sorts of local meats, artisan cheeses, vinegars, honey and eggs and yum yum yum. check out the produce exchange while you're there (it's right across from g.g. they have excellent prices on organic produce and should be able to tell you what's local.

    i have cucumbers, tomatoes and zuchinni in my garden like gangbusters right now (i'm in south minneapolis), so i'm guesing they're in season here. i'm planning to make this tomorrow:

    you'd likely have to modify it a bit to keep it all local, but it's an idea.

    get your hands on the book called "mini farming" from the library and read about seed starting and fertilizer. it may help you out. it's one of my favorites for produce gardening from seed.

    my name's sonya. i think your project is groovy. good luck. learn lots! i'm following you every day.

  2. Your question about the sunflower oil is a good one. I suspect that the folks down at Driftless would be hard-pressed to supply volume enough for Birchwood to substitute all olive oil for sunflower oil. There may also be a pricing aspect. Finally, there is taste. I have 4 different olive oils plus the Driftless sunflower oil. They all taste and cook differently.