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How Much Land Do You Really Need to Be Self Sufficient?

How Much Land Do You Really Need to Be Self Sufficient?

Most Americans think that miles of machine-planted row crops and crowded feedlots are required to feed everyone—that without large-scale, industrial agriculture, with its chemical inputs and GMOs, we would all starve to death.

Even people who know that organic agriculture is just as productive as industrial agriculture often think you need to have acres of land to grow all your own food. Here’s why this is totally false…

How Much Land is Enough?

As any of the millions of subsistence farmers and smallholders around the world will tell you, depending on the quality of your land and the size of your family, you can grow all the food you need in a very small space. It simply requires designing a food production system that works with natural processes to make the most of what you have. (See above image of the Russian dacha neighborhoods where everyone’s yard is full of food.)

If you want to develop your land for food production, the following infographic shows just how much land is needed to be self sufficient, including generating all the solar energy you need to run your home.

According to this image, you need a mere 2 acres!

But I think their estimates are actually too high.

Using techniques and principles I’ll discuss after the infographic, you can potentially grow all your food on as little as a quarter of an acre! Most people in the suburbs could start living off their land today! 

Home Solar Power Discounts – One Block Off the Grid

Resources for Small Scale Self-Sufficiency

Ultra-Productive Gardening

I first learned about intensive growing strategies as a horticulture student decades ago, when I was an intern getting certified as a Biointensive® Mini-Farming instructor at Ecology Action.

Biointensive mini-farming is an elegant, small-scale agriculture system that makes the bold claim of enabling you to “grow more vegetables than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine.” Ecology Action has been avidly teaching Biointensive mini-farming to smallholders worldwide, with the goal of helping as many people to become food-secure as possible. In fact, Biotensive soil care and gardening techniques work so well that you can grow a complete diet in less than 1000 square feet (not including animal products)!

I love Biointensive gardening because, when combined with holistic land design strategies like Permaculture, you can create a complete homestead that is not only highly productive, but also low maintenance. 

Biointensive gardens require a lot of soil preparation work up front, including the infamous “double digging.” But for all your efforts in preparation, your gardens will become extremely drought and weed resistant, and very easy to maintain for years to come.

My favorite book to get started with Biointensive mini-farming is called How to Grow More Vegetables. This resource is a must-have for getting very high yields out of a small garden space.

Planning and Maintaining Your Homestead

In recent years, homesteading and self-sufficiency have become popular—even trendy—and dozens of books have popped up that promise to teach you how to do it all.  My two favorite of these are The Backyard Homestead and Your Custom Homestead

The Backyard Homestead will give you ideas and schematics for setting up all the gardens, coops, etc. you need to meet all your food needs on as little as a tenth of an acre!

There is also tons of organic gardening information, food preservation techniques, animal husbandry knowledge and more in the book. The Backyard Homestead is a great primer to get you started homesteading in a small space.

jill_winger_custom_homestead_thumbYour Custom Homestead, on the other hand, takes you through a 21-day process that moves you closer to your homesteading dreams, whether you live in an apartment in the city, or on 100 acres in the middle of nowhere.

This e-book examines different motivations for homesteading, defines exactly what modern-day homesteading means, and then takes you through the prep-work and actual processes of beginning a homesteading lifestyle that will perfectly fit your unique situation.

Getting Off the Grid – Permaculture

Permaculture—short for “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture”—is a very broad discipline covering all aspects of the design and development of a sustainable human settlement. It’s a field so broad that you could spend a lifetime learning and practicing Permaculture design principles. But the average would-be homesteader doesn’t need an entire design philosophy, or even a Permaculture Design Course, to benefit from Permaculture principles on their land.

Gaia’s Garden will break down the Permaculture techniques you can best use in an urban or suburban setting, and help you implement them into your homestead design. From planting fruit trees in multi-level, vertical guilds that increase yields to building renewable energy and greywater systems that fit your family’s needs, this book makes Permaculture accessible to the newbie homesteader.

The plant lists at the end are worth the price of the book alone, and as a certified Permaculture designer and teacher myself, I recommend Gaia’s Garden highly.

If you have a quarter acre or more of good land and a dream of greater self-sufficiency, then I hope these resources will inspire you to start planning your suburban or urban homestead now so you can get started building it this spring!

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog, including Amazon.com links. These small earnings make it possible for me to continue writing this blog for you. That said, I only recommend products I genuinely love, and that I believe would be of value to my readers.
Thank you for your support!

MEDICAL DISCLOSURE: Your health is between you and your health care practitioner. Nothing in this blog is intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations is at the choice and risk of the reader.




35 Comments

  1. Where is the picture in the article from?

  2. just wanted to mention to all, that i have been looking at aquaponics. you can grow all the veggies you need in a very small area with a green house and a fish tank. it is pretty amazing. i think if you were to add this type if growing into your homesteads it would free up space for the animals and you can grow all year long, even in cold climates and arid climates because it is a circulating system.

    • Absolutely!!! (where’s the “like” button!) :) Aquaculture or aquaponics is a Permaculture strategy to conserve water for growing food, and extending the season.

      Thanks so much for sharing that!!

    • I agree! Aquaponics is truly an amazing way to grow almost anything. It can be just a small set-up inside your home or scaled up big for real sustainability. Even selling some of what you produce. You can grow up to 10 times the amount of produce that you could on the same area of garden space.

      And, of course it is much cleaner – making it ideal for an indoor gardener. Here is some more info on Aquaponics: http://www.goselfsufficient.org

  3. Thanks so much for the post! My husband and I are saving to buy a homestead and didn’t want to buy a house just to realize that we didn’t have enough land for it. This gives a great insight to how much you really need.

    Check out my blog at:
    dreamingofperfect.weebly.com

  4. This was sounding good until I noticed how much area was allowed for the animals. You’re going to keep each pig in a 3 x 3 ft. area?? Each goat in a 10 x 10 ft. area, & 13 chickens in a 6.5 x 10 ft. area? You have GOT to be kidding. That is ultra cruel! Almost as bad as factory farming. Or maybe it is. You need to amend your plan before you have people trying to do this! Also, goats don’t graze like cows, they wander from tree to tree, rosebush to rosebush & berry vine to berry vine. And this many chickens in this space would be pecking each other bloody. Thanks but no thanks.

    • Um, this is not my infographic or my plan, it is merely meant to be an example of what is possible. If you read the rest of the article, you’ll see you need to make your own plan to fit your own land and to meet the needs of the animals you intend to keep. It is certainly possible to be fully self-sustaining on less than 2 acres, even with a few animals. Backyard Homestead will enable you to create a sustainable system that works for you.

      • it’s true that the main error in this infographic is the lack of grazing space for critters. the amount of space allotted for the animals is sufficient for their Safe Shelter and/or Winter Shelter (if you live somewhere where winter means no green growth), but grazing space and even just space for more movement is needed overall. this can happen cooperatively with neighbors, or by planning extra space on your lot. also, if you fence correctly all three kinds of animals mentioned could be rotated safely with Careful timing through gardens, fruit trees, etc.

        • Good point, Joan. Rotational grazing is beneficial in more ways than one as each species utilizes different vegetation and works to keep the parasite load down. Long story so just google it. If you are going to incorporate rabbits into your plan you can also use vermiculture with red wigglers, creating not only compost but a protein source for your poultry. Again, it’s all online to read. This was all common knowledge to our forefathers and has since been mostly lost due to corporate farming and urbanization. It is up to us to reintegrate it before that knowledge is lost.

  5. this came up at the right time :) I just posted about our adventures in front yard gardening. Will share on Friday’s linky, but here it is. http://homegrownurban.blogspot.com/2013/02/garden-grows-and-garden-woes.html

  6. I am just learning about homesteading, and I am leaning into it. I am so happy to have all this information on using smaller spaces!

  7. looks cool, but what about water? we live on 2.5 acres and even with our own well, have a hard time getting crops to grow without daily irrigation. Plus, I’ve had to make raised beds for those crops as well. Like the idea, would like more information on making it work in hot, arid climates.

    • Gaia’s Garden and any good book on Permaculture address conserving and using water on your smallholding homestead. Permaculture was created in the Australian desert, and has a lot of techniques to offer for dealing with dry, hot climates.

  8. There is a book called”THE JESUS FAMILY IN COMMUNIST CHINA” . It’s on amazon or search google. I have not read the book , but was told on another page I was reading that these people raised all own food on 1/16 of an acre , when the govt. of China said you needed 1/4 an acre. I thought it would be interesting to read.

  9. Thank you Dawn for sharing this post at Beyond The Peel. I loved it! It’s so wonderful to know how we can start being more self sufficient right with very little. We just need to “want” to do it. I’m sharing this with the community at Keep It Real Thursdays this week. Thanks again Dawn for the great book recommendations and information. If we ever move to San Diego, we’ll be in touch !

  10. When deciding how much land you think you’ll need don’t forget to factor in rest time. The infographic above is fun and catchy, but land needs time to do nothing to produce well for you. Especially if you’re keeping animals.

  11. Small farming can be hard work, but life on the land is rewarding no matter how big or small you are.
    Making a living on less than 2 acres will work easier in the south, but here in the north you need more room for trees and livestock. When you have livestock here in the north country you need room for barns to protect the animals from the cold and store winter feed. If you manage your wood lot you will have enough fallen branches and dead trees to heat your buildings.

  12. Great post. Never thought of being self sufficient but this post will come handy, the day I will think of becoming one. :)

  13. My husband and I were just talking this last week how to expand our gardens and trying to figure out how much land we need to be more self-sufficient so this post was so helpful! I actually was just reading reviews of some of the books you mentioned before I saw this post so I definitely think I’m going to to buy some of them. I would love if you would share this post at Simply Natural Saturdays http://www.montanasolarcreations.com/2012/12/simply-natural-saturdays-12-22-2012.html

  14. Great informations, thanks for sharing! I live in the Northeast where we get plenty of snow and have heard that roof top solar panels are not great because you have to clear them off constantly… How would free standing solar panels change the amount of space you need?

    • Simply figure out the needed square footage for your free-standing solar system and add that in. (Every system is unique and made for your needs, so I can’t be more specific.) It will take some space from potential gardens because both your solar panels and your crops will need full sun all day, but solar systems are not usually that large. 2 acres should be MORE than enough.

  15. we have just under 3 acres in far southwestern NC. We raise all our own produce and most of our fruits (a lot of the fruit is wild.) We also raise laying hens, meat birds, turkeys, pigs, 3 jersey cows, are adding rabbits, and have had dairy goats. now tha being said our land is on the side of a mountain. not favorable o farming. the soil is rocky clay. we are are lucky though because we are surrounded by 100′s of acres of wilderness. Our birds all free range. we dont feed them in the spring-fall at all they have so many bugs and greens to eat. our pigs eat garden and table scraps and pasture. one day when our cow are in milk they will get the excess. the cows are grazing all grass and hay. we do buy hay since we have so little pasture. We do plan to grow more supplemental feed for the animals next year. We were busy finishing up our home this year but YES it can be done. We have no mortgage and live on less than 24k a year with two small kids and we live very very well!!!! NOthing is more rewarding than looking out your door at your animals and hard work.

    • Wow! Living proof it can be done—and three cows no less! Awesome, and congratulations on all your hard work!

      • thank you. we just set goals. the first was to be able to spend as much time with our children as possible, the second was to live within our means, and third was to know as much about our food as we possibly could we dont have tv or cell phones. you choose what is important. our 3 yr old helps when we slaughter the chickens and appreciates her food so much more I think. instead of ipads and whatever the hot gift is we save for something to enrich our farm. it all started in earthbox containers on a 1/8 acre plot back in FL. I will say that you will find a lot of people pushing you in the commercial AG direction. we always think of nature and try to emulate it as much as possible. Look at Joel Salatin. Its a lot less expensive and the animals are happier and healthier.

    • That’s beautiful and quite inspiring–best of wishes for your family. Just curious, you said you produce all your produce/most of fruits, and you also raise a lot of poultry (some for meat consumption). Living mortgage free, does your 24K/year go toward grains/feed,energy demands(or are you offgrid)–just feels that 24K a year makes it seem like you need that sort of money despite providing for yourself and taking care of most of your needs. Am I missing something here? Thanks you, I hope this isn’t too uncomfortable to answer, cheers :)

  16. Thanks so much for sharing at Wednesday’s Adorned From Above Blog Hop!
    Debi @ Adorned From Above
    Angie @ God’s Growing garden

  17. This is great information! Love this post.

    Linda

  18. This is good motivation to do some more planning for next year’s garden! Just wondering if the line through Gaia’s Garden was intentional? I think it is my next book purchase. :)

    • The link is fixed now! Thanks for pointing it out!

  19. I love this layout and it’s so encouraging to see what can be done with just one acre. We have just slightly over one acre and I’m just starting on the journey to turn it into as much of a self sufficient homestead as possible.

  20. It’s really apparent how much land is necessary for raising grasses when it looks like it would be better to have pasture devoted to raising animals–think of the bison and what they contributed to the great plains. Currently I try to grow as much as possible on a city lot and with others are trying to get bylaws changed to allow chicken keeping. A good blog about trying to minimize the cost of chicken keeping is http://paulwheaton12.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/what-to-plant-so-you-dont-have-to-buy-chicken-feed-ever-again-2/

    • Great link!!! Thank you for sharing it!

      Hopefully soon, chicken keeping will be legal and regulated in all cities, and cooperative extension services will offer classes on how to do it right, nurseries will carry supplies, etc. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

  21. Thanks for the motivation to grow more of our own food. Our lot is just under 6000 square feet. We’ve been growing many of our own veggies for years now. We’ve downsized our gardens, but would be interested in growing more. I will be checking out your resources…thanks for the post! :)

  22. This is great! Every year I make my garden a little bit bigger and start another self sufficiency project :) Next spring I’m hoping to start with bees! I would love to have you join the Wildcrafting Wednesday hop again tomorrow! I really enjoyed your article last time about how organic gardening can save the world!

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