Life without a Modern Farmer

Life without a Modern Farmer


How life would change in a post-apocalyptic world if we didn’t have the modern farmer

4 Reasons why we can be thankful for the modern day farmer #FoodThanks

While watching a popular TV show called “The Walking Dead,” a story of a group of survivors in a zombie infested, post-apocalyptic world, an interesting thought came to mind. What would our world look like if modern agriculture was no longer part of our society?

The show revolves around how the characters manage to survive in a world where there is no technology, or social structure. The group of survivors the show follows is barely surviving, living only on the scraps of our former civilization. Coming from our highly advanced civilization, you’d think that survival would be simple, but it’s not. Our society is extremely specialized, so their knowledge is limited. Essentially they would be forced by the cataclysm “to begin again like children,” and start building their knowledge, skills, and begin reconstructing the world from ground zero.

One aspect of the show that comes to the forefront of season 4 is groups attempt to grow their own food. You can only survive on canned goods for so long after the apocalypse. Eventually the food from the previous civilization will run out. You need to start learning how to provide for yourself. This scenario brings an interesting thought, how different would our world look like without the modern farmer.

Variety of Food

Without the modern farmer, you better get used to some dull meals. The variety of food that will be available will probably be pretty limited. Say goodbye to your morning latte. Coffee is the largest U.S. import after oil. (Source) Other luxury items like bananas will probably also be a thing of the past. Better get used to eating only the things that you can grow locally.


**Beware of caffeine addicts in the post-apocalyptic world, coffee is imported and is not local. People will be suffering from withdrawals**

Thanks to the advancement in transportation, food in our modern society can be exchanged and traded all over the world. Rail, cargo ships, and trucks move food all over the place to get it where it’s needed. That’s why we can can get out of season products in our stores at all times of the year. Seasonality doesn’t impact what foods are available to us.

The globalization of our food supply has also allowed farmers to focus on the crops that they can grow best where they are geographically located. Freakonomics writes about this benefit to our modern food system:

Different crops demand different conditions and vary in their resilience to shocks. So California, with mild winters, warm summers, and fertile soils produces all U.S.-grown almonds and 80 percent of U.S. strawberries and grapes. Idaho, on the other hand, produces 30 percent of the country’s russet potatoes because warm days and cool nights during the season, combined with rich volcanic soils, make for ideal growing conditions.

In 2008, according to the USDA, Idaho averaged 383 hundredweight of potatoes per acre. Alabama, in contrast, averaged only 170 hundredweight per acre. Is it any wonder Idaho planted more acres of potatoes than Alabama? (Source)

In most of the U.S., crop diversity is quite low. The Midwest primarily grows mostly corn and soybeans, while the South grows primarily cotton, and wheat. In those areas of the U.S., your menu would be quite limited. Interestingly, California provides a lot of food for the U.S., and produces over 450 different crops. Some crops are exclusive to California including almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pomegranates, pistachios, prunes, raisins, clovers, and walnuts. California also produces 90% of the wine, 94% of tomatoes, 84% of lemons, 80% of olive production, and leads production in many other crops in the U.S. as well. (Source) If you’re living outside of California, you’ll probably have limited access to many different food items.

If you’re an adventurous foodie who loves trying new foods, don’t expect to be taking Instagram’s of your meals in the post-apocalyptic world. It’s probably going to be pretty bland. You may even have to eat more traditionally grown vegetables like… gulp… kale.

Food Scarcity

Without the modern farmer food would be scarce. The modern American farmer is highly productive. In 1801, when Thomas Jefferson became president, 95% of Americans essentially made their full-time living from agriculture. At that period in time, the U.S. population was only around 5 million people. By the turn of the 21st century though, less than 2% of the American population makes their living from agriculture all while the American population has grown to over 300 million people. Today the average farmer feeds 155 people. (Source)

Through better technology, and better understanding of their fields, farmers have been able to increase productivity significantly. Interestingly, over a 60 year period, farmers have produced 262% more food with 2% fewer inputs like labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, ect. (Source)


**Today there are fewer cows, that produce more milk providing a 63% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions**

The dairy industry especially has seen a tremendous advancement in producing food. In 1944, it took 26 million cows to produce 14 billion lbs. of milk. Today with better genetics, nutrition, and animal care, it takes 9 million cows to produce 22 billion lbs. of milk. All while reducing dairies carbon footprint by 63%. (Source)

When you think about it, food in the post-apocalyptic world would be organic and locally produced, but that comes at a price. You would also have severe food shortages. After the apocalypse without the modern farmer, we wouldn’t have nearly the abundance of food that we have today. Most likely, we’d be living in a society very much like that of Jefferson’s, with a population dedicated only to producing food.

Food Safety

Without the modern farmer, food safety issues would grow. Modern farmers have greatly reduced the spread of food borne illness, and produce a safer food than anything in history. This is due in part to more knowledge about how disease spreads, and microbiology. With this knowledge, farmers today are producing food with stricter food safety standards than ever before. The implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) on many farms has helped stop food as being the medium for the spread of disease.

Many people may not realize it, but food borne illness were a large source of illness and death to people in the past. According to one source:

Several U.S. Presidents are on the list, including Zachary Taylor, who was sickened and died from Salmonella or other foodborne microbes after eating potato salad and other picnic food at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Washington Monument…

…Scholars, for example, believe that the fledgling English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, was ultimately done in not by hostile Indians nor by mosquitoes, but by repeated outbreaks of Salmonella typhi.

Wars have always been friendly to foodborne illness, probably because maintaining hygiene is more difficult with large groups of people who have other priorities.  American soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War were far more likely to succumb to typhoid than to enemy fire.  More than 20,000 recruits contracted the disease and thousands died, many of them while training in southern states. (Source)


In the 1800s, consumption (aka tuberculosis) was a large health concern, and spread rapidly through contaminated food. Interestingly, Consumption was the 2nd most prevalent cause of death in the U.S. in 1900. (Source), and ravaged Europe during this time period. Consumption was the cause of 25% of all deaths in Europe during the 1800s. (Source)

With our hand sanitize nation, people in the post-apocalyptic world will most likely have weak immune systems. Without the modern farmer, the advances we’ve made in food safety will be greatly set back. Disease may be a far more deadly affliction than the zombies prowling around outside.

Affordability of Food

Without the modern farmer, food will be more expensive regardless of whatever currency emerges after the apocalypse. Food will obviously be in short supply, so physical goods will be less of a priority. Food on the other hand is a necessity for life.

Thanks to the modern farmer, American’s are the most blessed people in the world. Our society spends less of their income on food than any other nation in the world. In 1901, 40% of a consumer’s income was spent on food. In 2009, Americans spent 9.47% of their income on food, less than any nation in the entire history of the world. (Source) No person in the history of the world has ever gotten to spend such a small amount of their income on food.

If you’re alive today in America, you’ve already “won the lottery of life.” (Source)

Thanks to in part to technology and streamlining of systems, modern farmers have been able to significantly reduce the cost of food. Cheaper food means that, you can spend more of your dollars on other things. You can invest in and pursue other areas of your life rather than spending all your hard earned dollars on food. This obviously makes room for other industries to grow and flourish.

After the apocalypse, the percent of income spent on food will probably revert to what has traditionally been spent on food. Without the modern farmer, you will be spending much, much more for your food. No need to worry about this one though, I’m sure non-food goods will be in abundant supply.

Income spent on food   The cost of milk

**Left: In 2009, Americans spend only 9.47% of their income of food. Right: cost of milk in the U.S. (Source)**

Income spent on food

**The amount of income spent on food compared to other nations in the world (Source)**

A Valuable Contribution agchtMaster_r1_c1

No doubt, an apocalyptic scenario would have a definite impact on our society. We would probably lose a lot of the advancements that we’ve made with modern agriculture. While most people are thanking military personnel, policemen, and firefighters for their service to our country, most people don’t even think to thank a farmer for the great service they provide for our country.

The modern farmer has contributed so much to our society, and has been able to accomplish some pretty remarkable feats. Through advancements in agriculture, farmers are able to produce an abundant variety of foods, all while making these foods safe and affordable for people. Without the modern farmer, we would be focused on providing the necessities of life with our time and money. Thanks to the farmer, we have the luxury to be able to pursue other endeavors in life, and that is a pretty astounding contribution to society.

So the next time you see a farmer, don’t forget to thank them, and pray that the zombie apocalypse doesn’t become a reality because it would be a pretty miserable existence.

What are your thoughts?

How do you think the zombie apocalypse would impact you? Let me know in the comments below.

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