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Amount of land per person?

Walter Jeffries

Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
Tyler Ludens wrote:
Walter Jeffries wrote:
This points out how important it is to consider the location.

Yes, and how important it is when we're discussing these things to give details about location, rainfall, carrying capacity etc etc. Not everyone can live in a good location, so developing strategies for bad locations is important. Being in a good location is a huge advantage to start with, something beginners should take seriously.

The thing is many people consider our location a "bad" location because we have such thin, shallow soil and steep mountain sides at an altitude with a short growing season. Our solution is to focus on what we can do rather than what we can't do. We will never compete on corn, rice, wheat or the other things that do well in the fertile flat valley lands. But we do very well with herding livestock on our mountain pastures. Gradually our soil is improving both from the legumes we've planted sucking in nitrogen and from the grazing and manuring of the livestock.

"Good location" is relative. It depends on what you're going to do with it.

Tyler Ludens wrote:When people say they want to move to the desert to start a productive farming business I can only think "Good luck with that."

Aye, I hear you on that! The solution in some places is they pump in huge amounts of water. The land was cheap and it is too cheap to divert the rivers.
Walter Jeffries

Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
Tyler Ludens wrote:Ideally I would eat the deer and let the deer raise themselves, which they are pretty good at

I know plenty of people who do this but I find it more efficient to herd our livestock.

There is are other issues:

Time investment per pound of meat: I'm very good at hunting but it is far more efficient to raise livestock which I harvest weekly.

Volume - I'm only legally allowed to hunt a few deer a year but our family and dogs need a lot more meat than that.

Seasonality - we're only legally allowed to harvest deer for a short month each fall. I eat food all year round.

Sales - Selling deer meat is illegal. I can raise my own livestock and sell the meat of those which then pays the mortgage, taxes, phone bill, internet bill, buys me a computer, etc. Since I have to pay taxes (land to start with) and a mortgage (land isn't free) I have to earn some money. For us our sustainable logging and farming allows our land to pay for itself.

Since we raise our livestock on pasture it's about the same as letting those deer graze and raise themselves. I breed my livestock for reproducing by themselves without my having to intervene - breed the best of the best and eat the rest. Every week some go to market, only the prime ones stay around long enough to become breeders.
Walter Jeffries

Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
Tyler Ludens wrote:I'm only talking about my own household meat needs

Sure, I understand the 'only my household' issue however there is paying the taxes, the mortgage, etc. In our case we do it from our land, we don't have a town job bringing in money to support us. That was why I mentioned those issues. Even from just the 'household' level the hunting deer isn't enough to provide all our meat since the government makes it illegal to take more than a small amount of deer and only during a very limited season. My dogs will eat mice all year but I find that diet limiting.
Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Tyler Ludens wrote:Ideally I would eat the deer and let the deer raise themselves, which they are pretty good at, and I would not raise any herbivores.

I should mention that plenty of people destroy their land with goats here in the region; it is a very popular thing to do because goats "do very well on poor conditions."

Like I mentioned goats can be somewhat controlled. I have lots of experience raising dairy goats and when they are managed properly the destruction of land doesn't happen. I will still eat the deer but I like milk and cheese too. I am not too sure that milking a deer would be all that easy LOL. I have a friend that used to live in Alaska and kept some caribou for milking purposes. He said compared to whitetails they tame easily. Again just because people mismanage their goats doesn't preclude them from the discussion. No herbivores? What do you raise? I live in a mobile home park and if they ever found out I was raising rabbits for meat they would ask em to leave. That's why my rabbits are well hidden. I suppose the park manager wonder what I am doing with all of the greenery I constantly bring home but I cover that up by making huge amounts of compost and give it away freely to the residents in here. I can't use it all myself so I just help everyone have nicer flower beds since I have given up of convincing them to mix edibles in with their flowers. They see my front yard flower bed all covered with clover and then pepper plants all season long so maybe eventually they will try it.

"When there is no life in the soil it is just dirt."
Jesus Martinez

Joined: Mar 07, 2011
Posts: 143
Dave Bennett wrote:The combination of low fat and vegetarian is anathema to maintaining vibrant health. -> a community of thousands of low fat vegan people with vibrant health.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15847
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
I suspect that most people will thrive best on a paleo diet.

And I have seen people become remarkably healthy on a vegan diet. And some people have become horribly sick on a vegan diet.

I think it is possible that some folks will thrive on eating nothing but oats. And some will thrive on eating nothing but bananas.

Human physiology is way beyond my comprehension. And I think it is currently way beyond the comprehension of of anybody and everybody combined.

I think it is fair to present what each of us does with what success. I think it is fair to present bits that have been read.

I think it is not okay to tell somebody else what is or is not okay for them.

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Erica Wisner

Joined: Feb 10, 2009
Posts: 796
Location: Okanogan Highlands, Washington
paul wheaton wrote:...
Human physiology is way beyond my comprehension. And I think it is currently way beyond the comprehension of of anybody and everybody combined.

I think it is fair to present what each of us does with what success. I think it is fair to present bits that have been read.

I think it is not okay to tell somebody else what is or is not okay for them.

Thanks, Paul. Feel free to pull this one too if you feel it's not helping.

I have known lots of people who finally figured out a diet that worked for them, and started asking why everyone was lying all these years.
The thing was, it was a different "truth" each time.

My epiphany was definitely personal. A person who wasn't prone to low blood sugar, wouldn't experience anything like my euphoria when I stopped eating refined sugars and suddenly enjoyed unprecedented clarity of mind, energy, and vitality. I am polite about birthday cake, and still struggle when Ernie offers me some special candy-like thing that might, but probably won't, be OK for me.
The only people I share my hypoglycemia experience with, in any kind of suggestive fashion, are parents whose children seem to exhibit similar symptoms to the ones that went undiagnosed in me for years. And I don't say "You are brain-damaging your child by letting her insist on an all-jelly lunch," I say "She's having a hard day, is it OK if I let her eat some of my turkey sandwich?" or invite them to keep it in mind and ask the family doctor about it if symptoms get worse. You can only know what you know.

I heard there was once a child who ate salt by the handful, and his parents asked the doctor if this was normal, and it isn't, and they made him stop, and he died. The child's needs weren't normal either.

The idea of a one-size-fits-all solution doesn't sit right with me.
Any experiment is great, provided it's small-scale and not imposed on others.

I can't even claim to know how much wood one person's needs would take, in acres, let alone one person's food. Which person? Are they splitting the wood themselves, or sitting in an office? Are they willing to wear a sweater? How tall are they? Are they using a wood-boiler, a rocket mass heater, or building a sailboat to cruise to Tahiti for the winter?
How many calories does it take to weigh all your food before eating it? This is all abstractions.
There may be a bell curve, and we might be able to figure out where belly-of-the-elephant-in-the-belly-of-the-snake is resting at this point in our world's slow digestion of its soil biomass, but there are going to be a lot of situations nearer the head and tail. And a lot of ways to move around inside that roomy curve: diet, husbandry, wildlands restoration, factoring in biodiesel shipment of organic out-of-season produce from other hemispheres, or curling up in goosedown all winter.

It has taken me a long time to find a diet that works for me - in fact I've only definitely figured out breakfast.
(High-nut-and-seed Swiss mueslix, or the closest thing that I can afford. With hot water, and a small dollop of butter, plain yogurt, or olive oil and sea salt if I'm feeling Mediterranean.)
For Ernie, it seems to be black coffee, most days, and trout and scrambled eggs when he can get it. He eats 3 eggs, I eat one, he adds it to his shoulders, I add mine to my boobs.
I still struggle to pack a healthy camp lunch that will keep me going all day, keep without refrigeration, and be possible to eat fast enough to keep ahead of the kids. No nuts (policy/protect allergic kids). Eat only fruits and vegetables for lunch, limit red meat and eggs, eat nuts for snacks (doctor). Olives, an avocado, 3 carrots, and very fast chewing? I need to re-invent fish pemmican.

Health, and ecologies, are relationships. Any superlative is only one word in a long sentence. What is the next word? Try a preposition or conjunction: healthiest for.... healthiest in...

The best attitude to other folks' weird diets that I have found is: "Great, that leaves more for me." Applies to wildlife and livestock, too. Circle of life.

I have hypoglycemia, Ernie has anemia, one matriarch has leukemia, several have thyroid conditions, both grandfathers died of strokes, both grandmothers of cancers, we have at least one person with each major food allergy, food sensitivity, published diet, and world religion, and they haven't even got a name for what my stepmother-in-law has got. She subsists for days at a time on nothing BUT dairy, sugar, and grains (instant breakfast). She definitely can't tolerate the best foods to keep my blood sugar stable, like garlic and parsley. She can't eat cilantro, either, which is supposed to help chelate her heavy-metal poisoning. And she can't afford to lose any more weight.

We could hypothesize all kinds of better diets for her, we can bake gluten-free biscuits and hope she can't tell the difference, we can cook her a sample of each 'healthy' food we approve.
But the more we guess wrong, the skinnier she gets.
She doesn't eat much when she's recovering from throwing up.
There's a real risk that she will starve to death before we catch on to what her body needs.
Ron has been trying various things for years, and we've just been asking carefully each time we make dinner, and leaving out problem ingredients while making new things they haven't tried yet. We guess wrong with new foods about half the time. A few days later she's game to try solid foods again.
I am not asking for suggestions, unless you know more about her situation than I do. She will make up her own mind what she is willing to try. But thank you for caring. It is frustrating to see someone suffer, and know that there might be an answer, and that even if we found the right one, it might get dismissed because of an unrelated bad day and never be tried again.

Just finding a healthy meal we can all share is hard enough.
I think feeding any family is hard enough.

We are thankful for home-canned tuna, fix-your-own-baked-potatoes or build-your-own-taco nights, and separate kitchens.


Play with nature, make nifty stuff:
Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 974
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
Erica, I think what you wrote is very wise. My wife worked as a freelance editor for Rodale Press for years and probably knows more about diet than anyone I know - and she would agree with you. She was really embarrassed when once I switched eating and all of a sudden I lost weight, got healthy, etc. As she says now, she was killing me by following what everyone said to do.

There are times I can eat anything, and other times, I can't eat anything. If I tried to eat vegetarian, I would die since my protein requirements are high, and my ability to process grains very low (as in makes me sick usually) - and unless I have lots of red meat, I am anemic as well. I have a friend who is nearly a carnivore due to issues with his digestive system - he can't digest most vegetables. I can't eat grains but can eat many tubers, like sweet potatoes, yuca. I also do well on bananas, plantains, etc. Yogurt for me is a necessary staple, either than or leche agria (one bottle of raw milk, behind refrigerator over night on heating coils, I love the stuff!) I suspect I lack an enzyme or two. Being 52 years old (nearly 53), I have spent a life time figuring out what my stomach wants and doesn't want. And at times, seeing how much I can get away with...

I love bread, it hates me. I could eat eggs all day long, and anything else, and my cholesterol won't rise about 150.

The point is, people are different. All you have to do is look at us and see it. You see it in animals too. For example, white chickens raised for market will generally die if you put them out in a pasture. I suspect the same is true for some people who are from generations of people from cities. I was born in the Ozarks, on a diet that is a recipe for a heart attack - but heart disease doesn't run in my family. The only way I can eat bread without an issue is a hot roast beef sandwich, with lots of rich gravy. I would do very well eating like a caveman - it is cities that make me sick. I have to have a lot of fiber or boy and I going to pay for it.

Since we raise sheep as animals to keep the vines and weeds down among the plantations, and we free range chickens for eggs, and my catfish feast on what is left over from killing the sheep to eat, our carnivorous habits are not causing any problems, we are just the top predator over 3.5 square kilometers.

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Maura Will

Joined: Jan 09, 2012
Posts: 16
I'm glad to see that people understand that the answer depends on the land, the climate and so on. Also vital is the degree of development of the food production system. Most people seem to understand this with respect to building up the soil (hauling in organic matter and fostering beneficial soil organisms, etc.). Establishment of long-lived perennials can hardly be over-emphasized, too. The pinnacle would be establishment of nut trees, requiring most of a generation. A 10-year old grape vine can produce a huge amount of tasty calories, but the first few years -- nothing. I would like to see a video on raising small grains at the farmstead level with an emphasis on those that require little or no processing, perhaps: hulless oats, quinoa, grain amaranth and heritage grains. Small grain systems that involve using animals to harvest the grain may be even more productive. These could include millet for ducks and more traditional grains in a rotational grazing system with goats, cows or pigs. I once grew a fodder plot for my milk goats and they loved it! It was a free-for-all wild ass patch of dent corn, sorghum, amaranth, squash and fodder peas. I didn't keep track of the harvest. The hard part was keeping them from breaking in before it was time. Also, I should have also sown a small clover to fill in and keep the weeds down.
Pete Appleton

Joined: Apr 27, 2012
Posts: 7
Location: Appleton
I did a bit of WWOOFing on a 17 acre small holding. They had a 4 acre food forest that was 5 years old. It not only provided more fruit than they could eat, but much more than they could even harvest! This was even with monthly community days where people were invited to come in and pick. But that is just fruit.

They grew a lot of vegetables, but still bought some in. They also bought in a lot of supplemental feed for their livestock. In order to become completely self sufficient would take a serious amount of work - things were already pretty full on - all day every day.

Self sufficiency is possible, but a lot more work than I think most people realise. Self reliance is much more achievable, whereby you can meet most of your needs, but still rely on some external inputs. The focus then turns to developing communities and local economies, so that all can meet their needs as locally as possible. This allows us to take advantage of some economies of scale too, reducing the overall burden of work.

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Ronald Greek

Joined: Oct 15, 2010
Posts: 22
Location: Outside Yuma, Arizona
Per the CIA World Fact Book, and if I’ve done the conversion right, the U.S. has around 400 million arable acres.

If the Dr Pimentel figure of 1.2 acres per person is right, we in the U.S. need to wake up, because his number puts the upper U.S. population limit at 339 million. As of 27 APR 2012 the U.S. census puts the population at 313 million. As to how much of that land can remain arable given ground water depletion, and modern crop / industrial farming dependency on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, etc., can only lead to a bad-news guess.
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
"Arable" means tillable and suitable for annual crops using conventional equipment. Permaculture allows us to use land which is not considered "arable". The main limiting factor, in my opinion, is water, not land.

Idle dreamer

Christopher de Vidal

Joined: Nov 17, 2010
Posts: 100
I just found this link:

They claim 100lbs per four square feet. That's 25lbs per square foot, per year.

Let's be VERY conservative and say they're overestimating by 100%. That's 12.5lbs per square foot, per year.

There are 400 calories per pound of potato:

There are 43,560 square feet in an acre. If you set these in rows you'd lose approximately 1/4th to walking space. That's 32,670 square feet.

32,670 x 12.5 x 400 = 163,350,000 calories per year.

A hard-working adult needs 5,000 calories per day.

5,000 x 365 = 1,825,000 calories per year.

163,350,000 calories per acre, divided by 1,825,000 calories per person, means that one acre can potentially support 89.5 people.


* This does not include other food requirements such as protein and fat.
* This does not include necessary mineral foods.
* This is not a high variety of food. You'd suffer burnout.
* This is mono-cropping and thus is susceptible to higher inputs, work effort, pest and and crop disease (not permaculture).

Even with those caveats, I'll bet an acre could support at least 20 people on a diet that is potato-heavy. Use other highly dense calorie crops (sweet potatoes? Other root crops?), aquaponics, Permaculture, etc. and you'd get some magnificent yields per acre.

What do you think?
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
From a practical standpoint, it's hard to get enough calories on a potato-based diet, especially for men. The Irish did it during a period of their history, but they ate several pounds of potatoes per person per day.

More about the kind of diet you're describing can be found in the book "One Circle" by David Duhon.
Maura Will

Joined: Jan 09, 2012
Posts: 16
Interesting calculation (90 people/acre with potatoes) but something is wrong. That is just too high a rate. There are plenty of vids on utube of gardners saying they aren't even close to 1/person/acre production. The two super productive keeper annual crops for me are Irish potatoes and squash. Goats and chickens will learn to eat squash - probably potatoes, too, with some preparation. My intuitive sense is that I could support several people/acre with a fair about of vegetarian variety and a small amount of animal protein from eggs on a single acre as long as there was plenty of water and pretty good soil. Some dry peas, beans or lentils would help balance the diet, as would some fruit and loads of fresh greens. A greenhouse would help. So would a couple of nut trees. You would have to have some good food storage infrastructure: root cellar, dehydrater, etc. After a pole shift, skies are very cloudy for several years from effects of volcanic ash on the weather. A crop like potatoes would probably grow OK anyway, whereas a lot of familiar crops might not.
Christopher de Vidal

Joined: Nov 17, 2010
Posts: 100
I under-estimated by 100% from the stated figures. But even if you under-estimate by a whopping 1000%, that's still 9 people per acre. This matches the "One Circle" calculations taken out of Jeavons' "Grow More Vegetables." See the comments on the previous page.
Paulo Bessa

Joined: Jun 15, 2012
Posts: 335
Location: Portugal (zone 9) and Iceland (zone 5)
My estimates give a 0.5 to 1 acre for a small family. Because you produce sometimes seasonal surplus you must do food preservation, like jams.
But I am not sure you would seek full self-sufficiency; it takes more effort and land to grow cereals or rice.
Focus on staples: starch and protein crops. For instance, potatoes and beans. Chestnuts too.
The problem is both 100% self-sufficiency is really hard work and requires many different crops for a balanced diet, unless you want a potato boring diet, Possible (people done it for some centuries) but risky if your potato crop fails. And not that healthy to base. Better also to combine it with animals products.

Check numbers for yield of crops per hectare here

If you eat meat, then this number of land required increases further, at least 2x more.

But it also depends in your climate, warm is better, and wetter is better. With less favourate conditiuons, growing food is less optimal.
You might also need to collect water and collect wood as fuel. That might increase the figure to a bit more than 1 acre.
If you want a business, selling food, then you need also extra land.

Our projects:
in Portugal, sheltered terraces facing eastwards, high water table, uphill original forest of pines, oaks and chestnuts. 2000m2
in Iceland: converted flat lawn, compacted poor soil, cold, windy, humid climate, cold, short summer. 50m2
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Paulo Bessa wrote:
If you eat meat, then this number of land required increases further, at least 2x more.

Not necessarily because some meat animals such as poultry and rabbits can live on "waste" from the human food production and don't take up much room. This just takes a little more planning.
Christopher de Vidal

Joined: Nov 17, 2010
Posts: 100
geoff lawton (Greening the Desert video series, Permaculture Research Institute) doesn't think it possible to farm vegetables efficiently /without/ animals tilling, fertilizing, digging, eating, etc. Check this out!
Jeanine Gurley

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1392
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
Christopher, that video is not coming up. Is there another available in a different location? I would really like to watch it.

1. my projects
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
Try here Jeanine:
Christopher de Vidal

Joined: Nov 17, 2010
Posts: 100
If that doesn't work, search YouTube for these terms:
PRI Zaytuna Farm Tour - Apr/May 2012

His farm is jaw-dropping. So inspiring!
subject: Amount of land per person?