By Marjory Wildcraft from www.GrowYourOwnGroceries.com
When thinking of becoming self-reliant, the question arises “how much land do I need to be able to sustainably grow enough food for my family?” The exact answer to that question depends on several factors, but you can learn a lot, and make a pretty good estimate, by looking at the extremes of land use.
Lets start first off with the almost magical dream of the pure hunter/gatherer. The shit hits the fan and you take your rifle and a few supplies and head out to the wilderness to live off the land. Just how much land does it take to support you without destroying all the wildlife and plant populations? How much area do you need in order live sustainably as a hunter/gatherer?
Since there are so few actual hunter/gathers left alive on the planet we will turn to anthropological data. The quick and easy answer is that traditional peoples used on average, about 10 square miles per person. 10 square miles is 6,400 acres – that is for one person. There are numerous studies and authors that cite this number and one of the most accessible is Jared Diamond author of the popular title Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed. Another excellent source is Tending The Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. California’s lushest landscape was able to support up to 1.5 people per square mile on the rich coast of the Santa Barbara channel, and 1 person per 12.5 sq. miles in the desert regions.
OK, so you won’t be going that primitive. What about you growing your own food in gardens, food plots, orchards, livestock, and perhaps a bit of hunting? Small scale agriculture is definitely the way to go for most people. So how much land are you going to need for that?
The research to the answer to that question was started back in the 70’s by a man named John Jeavons. The “Bio-Intensive” method Jeavons developed has been implemented worldwide to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. Jeavons has a model for a vegetarian diet and the short answer is summarized as approximately 8,000 sq.ft. for a complete diet for one person (you need 4,000 sq/ft. of actual growing space and at least 4,000 sq.ft. for pathways and access). That is also assuming you have four growing seasons per year, and your harvest is 100% (no failures).
For reference, an acre is 43,560 sq.ft. So in a more southern climate, you could theoretically support about 5 people per acre. But life is never that perfect. My personal experience is that 2 acres in a mild temperate region will completely wear you out and is enough room to comfortably support a family of four with a variety of food sources such as gardens, orchards, small livestock, and wild crafting. You can still do a lot in less area, and of course, everyone always wants more.
The absolute best reference for the Bio-Intensive method is the book How To Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagined. This book is the bible of sustainably growing food and is on the bookshelf of all of the hundreds of organic farmers I have interviewed.
But don’t forget, even if you live in an apartment, there is a lot you can do. The most important thing is to get started.
Marjory Wildcraft is a leader in the self-reliance / prepper movement. She is a regular guest on national radio shows, televison, and print. She is the creator of the video series “Grow Your Own Groceries” available at www.GrowYourOwnGroceries.com.
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