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.
Here are two examples of extreme productivity on very little land:
- Growing Power – On a 2-acre urban lot in Milwaukee, Will Allen grows over a million pounds of food every year, including thousands of fish, and a livestock inventory of chickens, goats, and bees.
- The Urban Homestead – A family of four produces all their own food and $60,000 a year on just a fifth of an acre.
- Singing Frogs Farm – Just 3 harvested acres on this farm bring in over $100,000 an acre, using low water methods that sequester carbon and generate topsoil.
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!
Resources for Small Scale Self-Sufficiency
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.
Your 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!