Thursday, January 13, 2011

Backyard Food Production -How Much Land Does it Take?

Here is a free report from Backyard Food Production that will help you in your efforts to become more self-reliant. They also offer a very informative DVD on what it really takes to become effective at producing your own food straight out of your backyard. Along with the DVD, there is a great resource CD with over 60 files with information from rainwater harvesting to composting.
Here is the free report:

How Much Land Does It Take?

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 some scenarios that span the various alternatives.
Let’s start first off with the almost magical dream of the pure hunter/gatherer. I often hear this one from those concerned about a collapse of civilization. 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, and the few places where they do still exist tend to be jungles which look nothing like anything in North America, 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 which is a wonderful book detailing how sustainable wild-crafting is more about taking care of the land than simply taking stuff (both books are available at Amazon here). California's lush and diverse landscapes were able to support some of the highest native population densities known in North America with the highest being almost 1.5 people per square mile living on the coast of the Santa Barbara channel. The plant and animal communities in the Santa Barbara area have been largely destroyed by modern peoples and that density is no longer possible today of course. As another comparison, desert regions of California had roughly 1 person per 12.5 square miles.
Before we head off into other more obtainable land use scenarios, lets pause for a moment to acknowledge that in addition to having access to a huge tract of land for living the hunter/gatherer lifestyle, you also need at least a decade to learn the many, many, skills of living such as tracking and hunting, trapping, botany, weather cycles, fiber and cordage, shelter, tool making, fire starting, tanning, and so much more.
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? Agriculture has gotten us these high population levels so far anyway, hasn't it? Yes it has, and 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 very forward thinking man named John Jeavons. The work has continued since then and a method developed into a system called "Bio-Intensive Gardening". The Bio-Intensive method has been implemented worldwide to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. There is a wealth of detail in the entire Bio-intensive method, but the short answer to how much land you need can be 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. So if you can only get two growing seasons, then you need to double the space needed per person. For reference, an acre is 43,560 sq. ft. So in a more southern climate, you could theoretically support about 5 people per acre.
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 by John Jeavons (available through Amazon here). And for another comparison, with data taken from Jeavons book, the average U.S. diet with conventional farming requires 15,000 to 30,000 sq. ft. and is done in such a way that it diminishes soil - i.e. it is not sustainable.
So small scale agriculture is definitely going to be your best bet. 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. Some caveats I've got to throw in there is you definitely need about a decade of experience to homestead like this, and you also need enough water. An excellent source for seeing what a diverse sustainable homestead on small acreage looks like is the video tutorial package titled Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm. The video we have created shows in good detail the systems we've setup to generate a lot of calories per year, how we did it, and why. It is a good example by folks who are actually living it.
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. Did you get a few plants from a nursery, or check out a gardening club yet?

Jacque and Jim Gates are the owners of Bastrop Producers Market, Inc. ( A market for local, organic, and sustainable farmers. Here is what they say about the DVD: Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm has all the information you need to become self-reliant and sustainable. It comes with basic "how to" DVD with demonstrations on a wide variety of subjects and a bonus resource DVD. A real bargain really well done!"
As always, good luck and
Marjory Wildcraft
& the Backyard Food Production Team
After a review of their DVD and the Resource CD, this is a fairly straightforward introduction for those persons who wish to become more self-reliant. It does make a couple of things very clear to anyone seeking a more self-reliant lifestyle. It takes a lot of time and hard work.
As an added bonus, this DVD along with the Resource CD will be given away on the Texas Preppers Network.
Staying above the water line!


Zlashdot said...

Another way to show the amount of backyard necessary could be found in a nifty synthetic datavizualisation:

Keep going above the water line, your articles are great :D

kottonm said...

Great subject, something that I never really thought about before. Thanks for bringing the subject up. I am going to reference your blog and this idea on my blog if you don't mind. Hopefully it will send a few people your way, thanks

russell1200 said...

Very useful post. A lot of information.

Be aware that how many people live off how much land gets argued about a lot. It is very important for a lot of historical discussions, and nobody seems to have come up with a real solid consistent number.

Why is this important?

Because when they started homesteading the Great Plains areas in the late 19th century, they did not take into account the deeper fluctiations of percipitation (they knew it was dry) and the result was homesteads that were too small and a lot of failures.

Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind is that you can indeed "survive" by growing your own food in a yard not much different then most any yard in the U.S. Where the story often goes wrong is assuming you are replacing everything you now buy from the store. But in fact you would be substituting with those things that grow well and in abundance. Forget grains you would be eating root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, etc. You could have eggs by raising a few chickens and meat from rabbits. This is certainly doable in a backyard and feeding them from your own garden.

I say this not to disagree with the author but to point out that survival is indeed possible from your garden with planning and experience. Not a perfect copy of our civilized diet but certainly a survival diet.

Anonymous said...

One issue I keep seeing brought up,but never really addressed.. Chicken feed! As stated earlier in the comment's,you can raise them for egg's and feed them from the garden. Feed them what? your corn? I used to raise a few birds,and during cleaning the cage,I'd toss the liners and fallen seed into my garden.Guess what? Bird seed grows pretty good! Maybe a bag or 2 of wild birdseed would be a nice addition to preps,not only for chicken feed,but to draw wildlife closer!
As a side note,aside from the required area for a garden,one must consider the range of wildlife,the available firewood,replenishable resources,etc.Off hand,I'd double the required number.
Dean in az

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add...did you know that the old fashion type popcorn will grow? Not sure if I'd use it as food,but chicken feed?
Dean in az

Anonymous said...

Chickens will eat more then corn and chicken feed. The trick is to not have a lot of chickens. Foru chickens can produce about a dozen eggs a week. More in the summer and less in the winter.
There is an interesting book on this (sorry forgot the name) where a man keeps a couple dozen chickens and rabbits from the garden. He feeds the rabbits greens (primarily alfalfa) and puts table scraps, garden waste and rabbit droppings into raised containers where he grows worms. The worms are harvested to feed the chickens. The entire explanation would be to long for this forum but it was workable.

Anonymous said...

Remember the 2010 Census? How many of you refused to answer all but the first question? Well, it seems, that some of us preppers have been targeted by the USDA, to find out about our gardens and chickens.It's called the National Agriculture Classification Survey...none of their business!!

riverwalker said...

To: Zlashdot

Thanks for the link...

Glad you enjoy my posts.


riverwalker said...

To: kottonm

You're more than welcome to link to this post...hopefully more people will become aware of just what is truly required to be more self-reliant.



riverwalker said...

To: russell1200

Farming the prairies was also a cause of th "dust bowl" conditions that developed due to poor soil conservation methods,weather conditions and overuse.

The formula for success in most endeavors requires three main factors: knowledge, time and hard work. It takes all three and lacking any of these will quite often be the reason for failure of most any project.



riverwalker said...

To: anon 3:13

You make an excellent point...we may not be able to replace everything but "enough to survive"
should be attainable.

Thanks anon.


riverwalker said...

To: Dean in AZ

Good to hear from you Dean.I was wondering if things are going well for you.

You're right about the chickens, rabbits, earth worms, etc. It's going to take a combination of things to make it truly work in order to be self sustaining.

I usually put my bird feeders where they hang over my flower beds...the seed knocked out falls into the bed and the seeds usually sprouts up quickly from there.

Thanks Dean.


riverwalker said...

To: Grill Sgt.

Home gardens are next on the govt.'s list..

If the FDA decides to step in and regulate home gardens, the outcome will not be good.

Thanks Grill Sgt.


Anonymous said...

WOW!!! Never thought of worms for chicken feed! They eat darn near anything you put in a compost heap,make great fertiler,bait,and feed the flock! Along the same thought,should you have a stock pond or a stream,stock it with crawdad's and minnow's. Draw in more wildlife,and crawdads are pretty tasty!
Dean in az

Josh said...

Well, it seems, that some of us preppers have been targeted by the USDA, to find out about our gardens and chickens.It's called the National Agriculture Classification Survey...none of their business!!

The information gathered by that particular question is used to allocate money for, among other things, agricultural extension programs. Way to screw yourself, and others, out of extension assistance by neglecting to accurately report your ag status.

riverwalker said...

To; Josh

My place in the country is already being reported as ag status...keeps the ridiculously high property taxes down quite a bit...may not be worth it in the end if they start regulating things. The govt. has a way of making things unproductive and unprofitable with their regulatory help.

Thanks Josh.


Mitzi said...

Well I've been raising worms for a few years now. Makes the most wonderful fertilizer and I love the little buggers.(I won't be feeding them to chickens) I'm also becoming interested in micro-greens and honey. I have to talk hubby into the rabbits and chickens as we're city dwellers, but maybe he'll see the light. I too believe that if we deny the world and live by faith, that God can and will provide where we are unable to sustain. He has always took care of us and always will. Now if I suffer for the name of Christ, in a persecution sense, that's another matter altogether.

I'm learning I've overeaten my entire life. I've cut my food intake back and feel much better. I've been eating a base staple of rice, beans and potatoes as well. I believe during times of depravation a Christian should fast to the Lord. I read an account somewhere of a Christian who was in prison for the faith; and they fasted during times of hunger and did not become malnourished and gaunt like the other prisoners.

I feed wild birds and we heat with firewood so maybe we're a quarter of the way there? I want to install rain harvesting but we're in Texas and it would have been a waste during this year as we've had hardly any rain at all. We've thought of forming "4 family co-ops" where one family raises chickens & eggs, one rabbits, one veges, one dairy(goats) for barter purposes to trade among themselves. Just possibilities to consider.

Alyss said...

I linked back to your post from my blog, here:

I look forward to reading more about what you have to say on this blog. Thanks!

Scott Molt said...

I bought your products and was promised several ebooks. I received one ebook and said I would get another the next day. I've never heard from you again. I've emailed you three times and no one even has the courtesy to respond. How do I get a refund? Scott Molt Phoenix, AZ.

riverwalker said...

To: Scott Molt

I haven't received any emails from you and this is the first that I've been aware of your problems. The article include one free ebook and the others should have been include in your purchase.

The original article was sponsored by Marjory Wildcraft at:

You will need to check her website for a possible refund.

You can also e-mail me directly at:

and I can send you the file containing the free ebooks (66 pdf files-a total 35.8 mb)which are all public domain.



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