ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

HOW MUCH LAND DOES IT TAKE TO GROW YOUR OWN FOOD?

Updated on December 11, 2011

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.

Organic Vegetables growing in pots on the patio
Organic Vegetables growing in pots on the patio

Modern (Chemical) Farming is Inefficient

Small Scale Organic Farming is Better

Recycled plastic boxes and old ice chests grow tomatoes and potatoes on my patio

Organic 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.

A bell pepper grows in a 2 gallon pot
A bell pepper grows in a 2 gallon pot

Small is Better

Recycled 2 gallon pots growing peppers on my patio

Through 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 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 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.

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.

Home Grown Organic Eggs
Home Grown Organic Eggs

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.

Home Grown Organic Tomatoes
Home Grown Organic Tomatoes

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 John Jeavons 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.

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?

Do You Grow Your Own Food?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Recently, I've started to take more interest in growing my own food, and am currently getting the garden ready for next Spring. This lens gave me more inspiration. Thanks.

    • ss834 lm profile image

      ss834 lm 5 years ago

      What a great topic and very helpful, too. I've been pondering this question a lot lately, and I'm revisiting my original homestead designs to see where I can make some changes for better productivity. While they aren't vegetarian, Anna and Mark Hess (http://waldeneffect.org) have a very productive garden on about 1/4 an acre.

      Great resources!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      There Are several misinformed facts in your blogs, such as organic is more energy efficient.

      Also, most people don't realize it would take 2 acres to grow all the food you need and you would still have to depend on farmers for sources of protein.

      Please don't be so closed minded when you think organic vs. conventional ag. It's a choice for you to pick your food because we live in America, but also remember that not every citizen can afford to buy/grow organic food. We must depend on our conventional farmers to provide food for them.

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 5 years ago

      Smart Folks will keep this lens handy.

    • BlueTrane profile image

      BlueTrane 5 years ago

      I have limited space in Denver to grow, but there are just two of us, so we're planning about 400 sq ft of raised beds this spring.

    • profile image

      JustinDoody 5 years ago

      Hey there I live in Denver and I have to use a greenhouse and its big enough for all my needs through winter. I heat it with my dryer believe it or not, I haves kids and when we do laundry which can be frequent, use the dryer once or twice a day. My greenhouse is solid frame and insulated well so it works, lots of old sliding glass door window panels. I talk about it on my website that you can go to through my lens page and link to it. Im currently trying to install wind turbine for stored power off the grid.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I worked to grow all of the food for 20 people over the past five years including vegetables, eggs, dairy, beef, pork, and lamb. Feeding animals a pasture based diet does use a fair amount of land, however as I have added new species of animals to the farm, synergies have emerged that allowed for multi-species communities using the same land much more efficiently than one species alone.

      This year I am just growing for my own family so it should be interesting adapting what I have learned to a homesteading situation. My goal is to be only eating food that I have raised by 2013.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 5 years ago

      No any more, but with a house I'd be sure to.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      We grow tomatoes. And we buy organic produce as much as possible.

    • Vallygems1 profile image

      Vallygems1 5 years ago

      With the escalating cost of food in South Africa it would be reason enough to grown our own food. Must say that I have been considering this for some time. I have the space 2200 meter square garden as well as the worm farm but continue to make excuses. 2012 is the time to start. More importantly the more we all share this kind of information the more chance more people will follow. Thanks for the motivation

      Warm Regards

      Chris

    • profile image

      Helene-Malmsio 5 years ago

      I have totally committed to growing my own food in 2012 as in summertime I tend to live on a raw food diet, and all that fresh fruit and vegetable supply is pretty expensive! So I have three Square Garden raised beds and am planting nearly 20 fruit trees, and asparagus plants, so next summer should be very interesting indeed in my small 1/4 suburban block!

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 6 years ago

      Nice lens! I grow some of my food. Enough for summer eating with some left to store in the root cellar and to can. Am hoping, in the future, to grow some grinding corn and more dry beans for winter use, as well as more veggies for keeping in the root cellar.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      We used to grow our own vegetables, this summer I'll need to make the patio into a garden of sorts :)

    • yourselfempowered profile image

      Odille Rault 6 years ago from Gloucester

      I don't, but after reading this, there's no excuse lol. I think it'll have to be a New Year's resolution for me! Great information here. I didn't realise you didn't have to have a huge garden to grow your own food. Blessed. :)

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Excellent feature on making the most of every available resource. I feel even more inspired to grow as much of my food as possible. Thanks!

    • daphnedangerlov1 profile image

      daphnedangerlov1 6 years ago

      I wish I grew my own food. This was very inspiring. Thank you.

    • canoz profile image

      Heather Bradford 6 years ago from Canada

      We love our garden! I have more tomatoes than I can reasonably manage right now but have also enjoyed many salad greens, beans, peas, radish, parsley, mint, carrot, cauliflower. Our zucchini and cucumber got eaten off at the ground (possums?!) and we got a big dog to ward off the peacocks.... and had to fence the garden from him! It's a daily joy and the extra work is really worth it in delicious salads.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Tiny, tiny square foot garden is all I have. I dream of being able to at least can things from my garden.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      We have many citrus and fig trees, and also grow a lot of herbs. All of my grandparents grew up on farms and kept cellars full of canned fruits and vegetables.

    • gamecheathub profile image

      gamecheathub 6 years ago

      My first attempt at a garden (in Los Angeles) ended with the Orkin Man (termite guy) spraying the entire backyard with his poison. I haven't tried it since. When I move back to L.A. next year, I hope to try something a tad bit less daunting. Maybe a few pots of food. I love sustainability and the concept of reducing the grocery bill by planting the fruits/veggies. Great lens!