HOW MUCH LAND DOES IT TAKE TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD?
Grow Your Own Food for Security and Peace of Mind
How much land does it really take to grow a complete vegan diet? How about a vegetarian diet? How much more space would you need to include bacon and eggs? Do you ponder these questions? I do.
Homegrown food security in my pantry.I don't like the way agribiz is poisoning our air, soil and water and how they are force feeding us unlabeled and untested Genetically Modified Organisms. If you are looking for some answers to these questions, then read on as I explore them and find some great resources for you.
I love having my organic vegetable garden, fresh produce that I have almost complete control over (Mother Nature does have her say occasionally!) I have a long cherished dream of being very self sufficient in the food department, to become much like our ancestors, with crops in the field and a little more squirreled away in the root cellar and pantry shelves. So I have wondered how much space would it really take to feed myself? Would I have to become a vegan and do completely away with animal food in my diet? Would meat be right off the list or could I still have at least some animal protein like eggs, milk, cheese and maybe a rabbit or chicken now and then?
Even if I can't grow a complete diet in my own garden, I can at least grow a large part of it, thus increasing my own security and peace of mind.
Modern (Chemical) Farming is Inefficient
Small Scale Organic Farming is Better
Recycled plastic boxes and old ice chests grow tomatoes and potatoes on my patioOrganic farming is more energy efficient, uses less energy and more profit for the farmer according to this 30 year study done by Rodale Institute. Modern agriculture uses more fossil fuel energy than it produces in calories of human food. The human body is actually more efficient than the internal combustion engine. For this reason, small scale garden-farming makes the most of land and energy. I personally believe that organic farming and gardening is the way to go so I will focus on this method of food production here.
When we think of organic gardening we often think of just using natural fertilizers and pest controls, however a new term has come to notice and that is sustainability. No industry is sustainable over the long haul if it uses more energy and resources than it produces. Gardeners that import soil amendments, fertilizers, hybrid seeds, manures and other items for their gardens are not creating sustainable systems as all of those items are coming from land somewhere else. The ideal organic, sustainable food production system would be a closed loop, where everything is produced and used on the same piece of land, then all of the waste (including human) is returned to it.
According to this interview with John Jeavons author, gardener and researcher, it takes 15,000 to 30,000 square feet per person for modern agriculture to produce the typical American diet. Since an acre of land contains 43,560 square feet this means that modern agribiz is feeding less than 3 people per acre of land cultivated.
Small is Better
Recycled 2 gallon pots growing peppers on my patioThrough his research Jeavons estimates that it would only take about 4,000 square feet per person to produce a complete vegetarian diet. In that case a small farmer could feed about 10 people per acre. It is not beyond the capability of a healthy person to cultivate one acre of land solely with hand tools, leading to a greatly reduced dependence on fossil fuels. In his books Jeavons estimates that a person could sustainably produce a complete diet for themselves along with enough produce to sell to make a subsistence wage on a quarter of an acre. How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine
When John Jeavons talks about a complete vegetarian diet he seems to actually be talking about a complete vegan diet, calculating protein, calories and specific vitamins in the diet to meet the minimum standard for good health.
Books by John Jeavons
But What About Meat, Milk & Eggs?
Chickens recycle food scraps and make eggs; their manure fertilizes the garden to grow more food.To add any large amount of meat to the diet requires a great deal more land. While huge amounts of grain are not really necessary (agribiz uses heavy grain feeding to make animals gain weight faster through higher fat content), large amounts of fresh clean pasture are needed for most meat animals, including poultry.
There are some tricks though. Chickens are a good example. Older, heritage breeds, also known as dual purpose breeds (because they lay at a profitable rate and are reasonably efficient in converting feed to meat) can often be worked into a small scale food venture in a pretty sustainable way. Because a flock of chickens can convert food scraps into meat and eggs, table scrapings along with garden waste could provide most of their feed. If you also raise earthworms, then the worms can become a high protein feed for the chickens. The composted chicken manure not only breeds more earthworms, it also boosts the fertility of the garden, perhaps enabling you to grow more food on the same amount of space.
A cow and calf on excellent pasture will probably need between two and five acres of it, in addition to some land for growing grain to increase milk production and to fatten the calf a bit before butchering. If you decide to keep dairy goats for milk instead you could keep several does in the same space as a cow and the land could be grown up in weeds and thistles, rather than needing to be lush grass or clover pasture.
What if I Don't Have That Much Space?
Use large recycled plastic or wooden boxes, old ice chests or metal tubs to grow food plants on your patio or balcony.Even if you do not have the minimum 4,000 square feet that recommends, it is quite worth your while to spend your time growing at least some of your own food. You only need about 400 square feet per person, with a 6 month growing season to grow all of the fresh fruits and vegetables you can eat in a year with perhaps storage of some occasional bumper crops. John Jeavons
In that amount of space you will not be able to grow any large amounts of grain or beans, but you could work in some for fresh eating. By growing all of your other fruits and vegetables and buying your grains and beans in bulk, you will still save a huge amount of money on your food bill, and eat better to boot.
Here are some other authors that offer good information about growing your own food, especially in smaller spaces.
The Dervaes Family, Pioneer Urban Homesteaders
I greatly admire the Dervaes family of Pasadena, California. They live about one mile from downtown on a typical city lot. Their growing space equals only about one tenth of an acre. (3,900 square feet) In this space they produce over 6,000 pounds of vegetables and fruit each year! They estimate that they produce between 50% (winter) and 80% (summer) of their vegetarian diet for their family of 4.
They also do many other things to lighten their footprint on Mother Earth, trying to live as sustainably as possible, they have a grid tied solar system, make their own bio-diesel, cook from scratch, often using solar ovens and recycle their grey water.
I love to hear from readers, what's new in your garden?