Covenant Finances: Food and Fuel

I've been trying to think of a better way to express covenant wealth in a medieval world. I'm playing around with an idea and would like some feedback. Can somebody suggest some references on agricultural practices, and the availability of grain and other foods in the open market, during this period?

Basically, I'm thinking the logistics of moving a large bulk of food might put a better check on covenant wealth than restrictions of magically created silver.

Food and Fuel: Only so much food and fuel is available for purchase. This takes the form of a free, mandatory, boon. The availability of food and fuel directly limits the percentage of build points available for vis sources (and perhaps the strength of the aura). For example, living in a major city where food is -- in most instances -- available for purchase for an unlimited number of people means that you can only put 10% of build points into vis sources (or vis stores).

Surplus: Farms and settlements have an amount of both gross and net surplus (which can be negative). Surplus is ranked in man/years. Net surplus is what is available for sale after taxes, tithes and rents. For example, a small Scottish hamlet might have a net surplus of +2. Over the course of a year, you can buy enough food to allow two people to live at a +0 health modifier. Once you've bought up all of the surplus, that's it. Food, normally, does not travel great distances in Mythic Europe. You, cannot simply resort to the international market to bring in shiploads of grain (except possibly if you live in a major city). Net surplus means that, if magi wish to purchase more than a minimal amount of food, they will need to make a deal with the local nobility to keep themselves supplied. Of course, this means that the noble has less surplus to be used as -- for example -- tax breaks for farmers that are having a bad year. Buying up all the extra food in the local area can make a covenant very unpopular.

For many covenants wealth isn't a matter of using magic to generate a huge pile of silver, that's relatively easy. The problem is being able to feed the covenant. In most cases, this will mean a "rich" covenant is one with sufficient fields and labor to meet its needs. In most cases, silver simply can't buy enough food to keep a covenant running in a vis rich region.

The problem with this is that you can spend enough to buy more food- it will have to come from further away, and thus be more expensive, but it can be done. Also there are questions about quality of soil, yearly crop fluctuations, and so forth. That is before you add magic which can, without spending vis, boost the productivity of a farm significantly- you can make a years worth of crops grow in a single day, and you could probably boost the yield per crop as well... really this would come down to a campaign by campaign basis rather than simply being a set rule.

It's so trivial for covenants to bypass a rule like this through various means (teleporting grain, for example) that it's fairly pointless. If a problem can be solved by a season of work or a Verditus commission less than 2 rooks of vis, it really isn't a problem.

Realistic food transport costs are pretty irrelevant to a covenant of magi. If they want to live in a high magical aura, the limit is their ability to find and claim one, not the available food supply. They can conjure food on the spot if they really need to. They can make the local ground fertile, they can change the weather, or grow an orchard in a day as the need arises. Most of that sort of thing is rolled into the assumed establishment of the covenant - the logistics are in place at the start of the saga, unless you want your saga to be about setting up those logistics.

Isn't the entire issue of wealth largely academic though. If ANY covenant puts their mind to it, they should be able to to set up a legendary source of wealth.

The original poster's point is to whether a game would be improved by taking into consideration the local conditions and availability of food. Magi can easily get huge sums of money, but money is only worth what people will exchange it for. Covenants includes the concept of inflation, so magi find their expenses increasing if they keep throwing money about, and if a mega-covenant that historically spent a lot of magical silver suddenly goes into winter, the local economy goes into winter too.

The overall question is whether you feel your saga is improved by stories about getting the resources they need and strategic planning, or whether you want to emphasise other things. Certainly, the story of "how you transported Venetian glassware across the mountain range" or "how you persuaded the monastery to sell you the parchment they were reserving for theological texts" can be interesting and draw attention to the fact the magi are special characters with special needs and desires. I think that following the OP and carefully considering exactly how many staff you can support based on local agriculture is likely to end up with too much book-keeping and accountancy.

It could be, but it's probably better a source of stories rather than a covenant building bookkeeping exercise. The availability of food can and will vary tremendously depending upon events both local and far-flung - famines, bountiful crops, wars, locust plagues, etcetera.

I am not an historian, but I know my cereals, so I will pitch in my bit of knowledge.

Grains are one of the only food, which still unprocessed can be shipped over long distance (if needed, not that it was common practice): as long as you keep it relatively dry, you can keep it for years. Very simple spells or minor enchantment can keep vermin at large and insure dry conditions.

Another tibits of information: in poor conditions (like suboptimal weather condition, no automation, no fertiliser, limited agricultural knowledge), you can expect to produce about a ton, a ton and half of grain (1000-1500 kg) per hectare. This data is coming from the average yield of third world modern countries, which I am streching to take as base line for medieval yield - feel free to divide by two or three for tough situations.
EU or US yields are about 5 times highers (7-7.5 ton/h), which can be considered the yield with magical boost - not considering instant maturation spell.

Considering a calorie intake of about 2’000 kcal/day/person (a bit less for woman than for man) and that a kilo of grain supply 3’270 kcal (it includes moisture content and indigestible fibers), one hectare of grain producing 1.5 tons of grain can support the calorie intake of about 6 persons for a year. It is a very crude simplification, but it can help you put in prospective how much arable lands needs a city or a village to support its inhanbitants.
Keep in mind that it does not consider balance diet, malnutrition and deficiency. But if you want to take in consideration food supply as a measurement of wealth, using yield and field available and population can be one way to have a base calculation.

So if you consider food = wealth and that most food are coming from culture (meat is a delicacy, only nobles can afford), you can more or less do "lands for agriculture" = food = wealth. You can then decide how much land is available for a covenant/town/city, what kind of yield it has and if surplus are available.
Then through magic, magi can easily influence yield, which will tilt the balance of food towards more surplus.

These data do not take in consideration foraging, fishing and such, which can contribute to the overall food production (marginal, complementary or even main source).
For location relying on fishing or hunting, you will have to find other data.
Herds (cows, sheeps) have an overall much lower yield per hectare than grains since they need to graze thus need relatively large area, but they provide leather, wool, milk, glue (from hooves) and welcome diversity in food.

Weren't most animals raised on marginal lands where conventional agriculture wasn't effective? Also, raising livestock was complimentary to regular agriculture, at least if you had fields that lay fallow - that's where the animals grazed, and importantly, pooped.

Dry and salad fish was an importad Shiped food. But Hermetic Magi can transport easy meat, with no salt, just with magic to avoid decay or to dry it. Rego Animal to improve fishing, Perdo Aquam (an) to dry Fish or Rego Animal to preserve. Smoking is another easy preserving option. Herring is the best fishing product, was fished near the coast by season. Baltic is the privileged region for it. Magi can also produce easy salt from the sea, cheaper than mined salt can be used to avoid buy salt, and to preserve meat.
Other cheap food source is rubbit and pigs: beacuse they are easy to reproduce (Plinius said rabbits are Hermaphrodites).
I think Rego Animal is the best pair to 'produce' food. But Perdo Aquam or Rego Animal (style craft magic) is better to preserve than Creo Animal if it is a saga of low vis.
Another good option is sheeps. Magi can make the hair longer so can be selled at more price. Also they can use the sheeps as food when they get old, so you have food and money. Cheese can be made from milk, maybe you can use craft magic to make the cheese faster, maybe it is not necesary. The best sheeps are from Great Britain so you can create troubles with the tribunals there if you start a great emporium of sheeps.
Another form of preservation and a posible gold mine is the creation of Ice, maybe you can do it with Perdo Ignem magic to freeze sea water (or maybe you need other arts at troupe choice): the result is a good refrigerating block of ice that can be preserved in a keep. this is historical: the castles had 'refrigerators'. The ice cream was 'discovered' in europe in sVIII. To make Ice at medieval way you can put sea water in big wooden cubes in a mountain to freeze. Then you bring the new ice to the keep, to the refrigerator where is at low temperature and they keep as ice for a long time. Using this ice you can freeze sweet water or cream. Hermetic Magic can help you to freeze an area, or to low the temperature of products directly.
Fruits and vegetables make a great product to preserve: only available by season has a lot of production and a fast expiration. I think nobility may pay a lot for fruits out of season. Apple and berries in Great Britain, berries in north, Orange in Spain, Fings and Orange, Peach and Small peach in orient and maybe spain. Pear, everywhere. Indeed the consume of fruit is just a luxury and has no nutrition in medieval view.
Cow is a working animal, and only secondary food. But if you dont need them to plow the field (maybe because you use magique) can be used for food. Cow milk is relegated in favor of goat's or sheep's milk.
Mushrooms, is easy to find and collect with magic and good as food. Can be preserved dry or by magic.
Panpepato or panforte is derived from medieval rations, and was used in the cruzades, with no cocoa, obviously. In natural form, this cake can be preserved for a very long period. I know there are cakes in Gran Britain also big expiration time but i dont know nothing more.
Fat can be used to preserve food as well.
As gold resource your covenant can make ale, cider or wine. You can preserve cider and ale with magic, but dont need do it for the wine.
Cider is fast to produce and has fast expiration (low check of finesse in craft magic). The Ale require more time and the wine needs a lot (and has high finesse DC to reproduce). Wine for Italy and France, Ale for Germany and Novgorod and Cider and Ale for Great Britain (the coutry of apple).
Olives may be shipped in anphorae, like in antiquity.
With a lot of research the covenant can farm spices and this may be another of mitic gold resource.

Magi can make oil for the covenant, using low magnitude magic (10-15), this is good just as fuel, dont need vis at all. Can be created animal, vegel oil or tar at the same magnitud. Creo Ignem can be used to produce light and avoid cost of lighting.

Four pawns of vis and a single ritual will get you all the grain you need (Transforming Mythic Europe 120 has the specific ritual). Two pawns if you're a Mercurian. So it's clear that food and fuel are as easy to deal with as wealth generation - easier, in fact, since you don't have to worry about inflation or annoying other magi through wealth creation. Even without this, as has been said upthread, it's not difficult to ship in grain consistently even in the Middle Ages.

I have to say that most covenants, except for freshly-established Spring covenants, can reliably count on having the food they need - the question may be how they get it, as that can be story fodder. The most common solution is for the covenant to have agricultural serfs (vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, the occasional famine, and maybe peasant unrest). Others ship in food (where are they getting it from, and how is the shipping going to be disrupted?). Yet others fill their silos with CrHe grain every few years (which is highly practical, but musty porridge is boring food, and selling it or beer made from it might get the Tribunal on your case).