Bootstrap Slider


No announcement yet.

How much land does one person need to sustain themselves?

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • How much land does one person need to sustain themselves?

    How much land does one person need to sustain themselves?
    Also how much land does a family of 5-7 need to sustain themselves?

    Hi everyone, I have recently discovered permaculture and boy does it interest me or what! All my life I have known that things were wrong, I have been thinking and saying the things that permaculture discusses and somehow recently I stumbled across PERMACULTURE. I am currently reading "Permaculture; A designers manual" Very hard to get hold of- I had to get it from non local library as the only way I can get it is from Australia there and I cannot afford that. I have read some other short books and pieces and just ordered a permaculture book for the temperate climates (I am in England).

    So yeah, I am looking at permaculture designs- everything and I have come across an important question: Just how much land does a family and a single person need?
    I am not including industry such as timber and metals ect- just the home plot land.
    (my preliminary design ideas have a plot of around 40-50 metres by 100-115 metres per family of 5-7. I cannot figure out if this is too large or too small. I also am wondering about how a `small` farm would be on the end of each road too. That farm would have certain livestock that perhaps the house plots didn`t and also would be where the fish farm would be for that road. (almost everything local)

    Basically I am playing around with town planning designs and am curious how much space is reasonable (including the house itself).

  • #2

    Well, how much land depends on the kind of land, soil types, orientation to equator, tropical or temperate, wet or dry, etc. How self sufficient do you want to be? Veggies, fruit, grains, animals? Each of those need more space than the preceding component. Knowing its in England helps, but England is a big place, and is your place on a nort or south facing slope? Are nearby structures or trees a limiting factor in accessing light?

    For a small lot, you should really check out Joels site: :wav: because this lends itself well to small yards inurban environments.

    Or, this link was posted here recently by Garden Girl and is a pilot for a new show on urban permaculture, which looks very exciting:

    If you get a chance, take a Permaculture Design Course (like the one we are hosting in February, for one blatantly self promoting example :lol: ) as this will give you all the tools to really look at a piece of land. If you are going into owning a piece f land, no cheap proposition, then you owe it to yourself to take a course. I did, and it was the best money I have ever spent.

    Where in England?



    • #3
      Welcome Spartacus,
      There is an old adage that you shouldn't try to farm more land than you can throw a stone over...
      Post WW2 Australian suburban lots were sized at 1/4 acre in the belief that that is enough land for a family to be self sufficient in vegetables and small animals like poultry or rabbits. Obviously in many urban situations these days that amount of land would be a luxury. In those situations Permaculture designers would seek to make use of every available space - vertical space (sides of buildings and fences and by plant stacking - creating guilds of species that can productively coexist - root crops, edible ground covers, vegetables and herbs interplanted with shrubs and trees, both providing living trellis for vine crops), then there are roof gardens and other types of container gardens, reclaiming public space like roads and nature strips, parks into community gardens etc... You might not "own" any land that you can cultivate at all but still create access to food in the city...
      I think a 1/4acre is enough to grow a lot of food though!
      caretaking 14 acres of ridge and gully land at Huelo, Maui. 400-500 ft above sea level
      wet tropics/subtropics


      • #4
        I agree with Richard, 1/4 acre (1000sqm) should be heaps for a family. Plenty of room to grow all the fruit/veges, space for poultry, even a pond/aquaponic system for fish perhaps. Fruit trees can be grown for shade/wind breaks.

        The only reason we picked a larger block was so we could get away from town, other wise 1/4 or 1/2 acre would have been perfect.
        Some people play hard to get....

        I play hard to want!

        PS: No!...I do not want to buy a mobile phone!


        • #5
          As certain kinds of blokes like to say, "it's not how big it is, it's what you do with it that counts."

          Using 6 square metres of garden plots in 12 square metres of backyard area, I'm able to produce about 50kg of vegetables a year, but I'm quite lazy, and don't bother with harvesting everything the moment it's ready and replacing it with seedlings, etc. It's about 45 minutes work a week.

          The Australian Vegetable Garden by Clive Blazey is an excellent and easy to find (in Australia) book, and they claim you can get 540kg of vegetables from 42 square metres, of which 30 m2 are raised garden beds, and 12 m2 are paths. Assuming that you have a diet of, by weight, 1/2 cereals (rice, corn, wheat, bread, pasta, etc), 1/4 meat and dairy, and 1/4 fruit and vegetables, that 540 kg will support about 4 people entirely, or 2 people who trade their fruit and vegies for their neighbours' bread. With some variation in diet, it'd feed 3 people without any swapping around.

          The work required is about 20-40 hours to set up the garden beds, and after that about four hours a week.

          However, that amount of food from that small area means quite a bit of work and energy going into it. You have to add a lot of compost, grow seedlings, harvest as soon as things are grown, pickle a lot, have seedlings ready to occupy any empty space, etc. They also assume heirloom varieties rather than shop-bought seeds.

          So, if you're slack-arsed and have only a rough idea what you're doing like me, you can get about 8-9kg/m2 of actual garden bed. If you're hard-working and have a deep pool of knowledge about it all, then you can get about 18kg/m2 from the area.

          Also, I use 1lt/m2 (garden bed, not total area, don't need to water the paths!) of water a day on it in the cooler months, and 2lt/m2 per day if it climbs above 30 degrees; obviously I don't water on the one day in four or five that it rains. So your 30m2 of garden will use about 45lt of water a day. At current rates, that'd be about five cents a day, and in terms of water saving, don't flush the loo when you go for a piss, and it evens out.

          There are a lot of ways you can do things, and it's not really the space, but how it's used.
          greenwithagun blog


          • #6
            John Jeavons wrote a book called 'How to grow more food than you thought possible on less land than you could imagine'. He included estimates on yield per square foot for a wide range of crops using his french intensive biodynamic approach (compost, double dig, clean cultivation, frequent irrigation etc..). His system assumes unlimited nutrient, carbon, and water inputs. He figured 1/4 acre for vegetarian diet with grains and legumes as the core and yearround vege production in central california, (USA zone 9?). The vege's don't take up much space. You could get you vitamin needs off of weeds if you had to, but 1 year of protien and complex carbos (grain and dry beans, maybe potatos) is the hurdle.

            So... in short... the footprint is inversely proportional to the amount of energy/nutrient/water subsidy you can gather from your neighborhood. Contemporary permaculture designs on small sites typically takes advantage of your neighbors waste (I currently import arborist wood chips, spoiled straw, and horse manure, and have mooched other peoples vegetable scraps and coffee grounds as well.)

            But if everyone is scavenging nutrients and organic matter, then the game changes. I recently read that your urine contains enough nutrients to produce a grain crop to feed one human for a year.

            Then there is energy, fiber, and construction materials...

            Permculture designs should theoretically increase yield by diversifying yield... but I have not seen any rigorous accounting like that done by Jeavons.

            A final thought... a household is not necessarily the appropriate scale for sustainable system design, or the most effective unit for self sufficiency.

            Then there is the hidden subsidy of ecosystem services... whoops... running out of brain power...

            Paul, Puget Sound, USA
            Paul Cereghino
            Olympia, WA, USA


            • #7
              By gads, Jim Bob and Paul, fantastic posts both of you!

              You could get you vitamin needs off of weeds if you had to, but 1 year of protien and complex carbos (grain and dry beans, maybe potatos) is the hurdle.
              This point is perhaps why I am not a vegetarian, and why I am a believer in incorporating animals into Permaculture systems. Not only do they provide the missing protein from the above equation, but they also satisfy other functions, cycling nutrients and controlling certain pests etc.

              Bill Mollison is of course all about his potatos. Here in the subtropics as I have mentioned elsewhere recently, there are lots of alternatives to the grains if we can only learn how to not be addicted to wheat and its products - cassava, taro, dioscorea yams, breadfruit and all the other artocarpus seeds, and plenty of other tree crops.

              A final thought... a household is not necessarily the appropriate scale for sustainable system design, or the most effective unit for self sufficiency
              You've pounded the nail on the head there Paul. Especially if we are going to create perennial, tree oriented systems, it makes a lot sense to do that on a village scale.
              caretaking 14 acres of ridge and gully land at Huelo, Maui. 400-500 ft above sea level
              wet tropics/subtropics


              • #8
                I second Richards exclamation about good posts, Jim and Paul!

                My own work is
                , too, and while we could get away with using less land, we have so much of it, and we are so devoted to the trees and crops that Richard mentions:
                cassava, taro, dioscorea yams, breadfruit and all the other artocarpus seeds,
                , that we use a rather large acreage for our needs, about 12 acres of managed land, some of it managed well, and some of it managed not so well. We could and should invest more energy into what we have, but we keep expanding at the periphery... and prolly need a 12 step program to stop us. We are hoping to start consolidating what we have with sub canaopy species like coffee and cacao, and reove some of the things that have been shaded and squeezed out, the bananas and pineapples in some places, the "jippy jappa" palms in others, etc.

                While we are primarily vegetarians, like Richard we also raise chooks, ducks and turkeys for meat for our students and interns, and we raise birds for eggs, too, for all the reasons Richard mentions. They do a fantastic job of eating insects, keeping the grass down, nutirnet cycling all over the farm, etc, and take direct advantage of calories sources we don't use, insects, grass, old grains, leftovers, etc. We also feed them lots of that cassava, taro, dioscorea yams, breadfruit and all the other artocarpus seeds that we have too much of, and coconut, and wood lice nests, and leaf cutter ant nests (spent the last two days diggin up nests, getting biten by angry soldier ants, and watching the chooks eat them like popcorn). While we could, theoretically, eat those, a nice bowl of termites is not what I really want for brekkie.

                We hope to raise goats soon. We have seeded an area to five types of grass, planted out glyricidia stakes for fences and forage, designed 5 paddocks (with place for 5 more), radiating out of a central paddock for our dairy goats. Goats can also accumulate protein from sources we are unable to digest. This adds to our acreage though. The whole set up is about 1 acres now, and there is room for another 3/4 acre later, or more.

                My point, though, is that IMO it is easier to design a farm around permaculture in the tropics, especially with large acreage, than it is in a small temperate plot. Design constraints around size, species choice, orientation to equator, prevailing wind, drainage, etc, are significant in a small lot. There is no "well, let's put that over there" when over there is in the neighbors BBQ pit. We get all of our firewood from our farm, much of our building material, all of our mulches, etc, all things that have to be obtained elsewhere in an urban environment.

                A lot of what we are doing is possible only because we have an additional 58 acres of land we are not using actively, too.

                Regarding appropriate scale and community managed agroforestry, Richard, I saw something that made me think of you while I was looking at it. I was in Venezuela in early December and got to visit a community managed agroforestry system in a village called Cata, north west on the coast from Caracas. They grow cacao there, which is what I went there to see, and the village, some 200 people or so, were collectively managing a 400 acre cacao farm that had been abandoned 20 years ago. They had huge amounts of trees, lots of cacao, coffee (not sure if was arabica), plantains, breadnut, jackfruit, various tree legumes, some of them timber, some lemon grass, papaya, gadens, etc, etc, etc, and it was the centre of the village. It was really encouraging to see it, both the scale and the community effort, but the organization involved was impreeive too. The whole plot was divided into zones, and people worked their zones, but were available to work in each others zones, too. In all of the cacao cooperatives I have visited, I nhave ever seen a better community managed agroforestry system. Because of their size, working with other villages, Ocumare and Cuyagua, for example, they were able to access premium markets for their cacao. It was truly inspirational. You would have loved it.


                • #9
                  Thanks for the compliments, I just pass on what someone else told me, I don't know anything much myself. And if you saw my garden, you'd see that's not false modesty on my part

                  I don't think it's bad to want or have wheat and other cereals. It's not really possible to be entirely self-sufficient as a family on land. You'll always be importing something. I notice for example that no-one has mentioned clothing. Why is it alright to buy in clothes, or cloth to make them, but it's not alright to buy in some flour for bread? It's all stuff someone had to grow, after all. What about furniture? You going to cut down trees, clean up the logs, turn them into the right kind of lumber, make all your own tables, chairs, and so on? No? So why is it okay to buy in wood someone grew, but not buy in wheat someone grew?

                  I don't think you're going to be growing cotton, or wool, or flax for linen, or timber for furniture, etc on that 1/4 acre.

                  It's not really possible for a single family, whatever the size of their property, to be self-sufficient. Even if you had the land and the perfect cimate, who's going to have the time to do the horticulture, mash up the flax and make cloth from it, sew the cloth into clothing, make cheese from the milk, cut the timber, etc? Plus of course it's twenty different skills instead of just three or four.

                  But you can be self-reliant. If you believe in some sort of balance in your little home, you can just say to yourself, "okay, I'll import some bread and clothing and so on, as long as I'm exporting some of what I produce." You trade things with your neighbours, swap, buy and sell, whatever. This small-scale trade builds community. If nothing else, you need community so that when your kids grow up they have someone to marry and start their own self-reliant homes with.
                  greenwithagun blog


                  • #10
                    Re: How much land does one person need to sustain themselves

                    Hey Spartacus,
                    There is a great site by a family in Pasadena California that tried to see just that, they grow all their fruits and veges and trade for grains etc. Have livestock - goats, chickens, ducks and run a business supplying local restaurants with produce - esp salads and other veges that funds the ongoing sustainable renovation of their home. Won't go on too much, but their site is very interesting and has a journal of the family's life garden developments.


                    They seem to have found a balance between the growing and using of items, and are educating and inspiring others around the world. An inspiration to me as I would love to be doing the same.


                    Originally posted by Spartacus
                    How much land does one person need to sustain themselves?
                    Also how much land does a family of 5-7 need to sustain themselves?
                    So yeah, I am looking at permaculture designs- everything and I have come across an important question: Just how much land does a family and a single person need?
                    I am not including industry such as timber and metals ect- just the home plot land.
                    "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops,but the cultivation and perfection of human beings." Masanobu Fukuoka


                    • #11
                      I think my problem with wheat, (and bear in mind that I wrestle daily with the hypocrisy of the fact that I am addicted to the stuff) is that it probably can't be grown sustainably.
                      You have to clear the land to grow it and you need a lot of land... Have a look at the quality of the environment left behind by the wheat growing civilisations in our history. Have a look at the forecast for soils in the Darling Downs or the south west of Australia or wherever else wheat is grown on the broadacre...
                      You can grow cassava, taro, climbing yams and high protein tree crops in food forests that build soils and protect watersheds...
                      While in principle I agree with you Jim Bob, that we should pay as much attention to the sources of our textiles and timber as we do all our other needs, and should strive to build cooperative local communities in sustainable bioregions that provide for those needs, I do think that food, which you eat every day, as opposed to clothes and furniture which last for years, is perhaps a little bit heavier of a load on our environment. (Unless you are like Prince Charles, or a bicycle courier I once knew, and never wear the same pair of sox twice.)
                      And of course, you can buy second hand clothes and second hand furniture. You can't really eat second hand food.
                      caretaking 14 acres of ridge and gully land at Huelo, Maui. 400-500 ft above sea level
                      wet tropics/subtropics


                      • #12
                        On the other hand, wheat has been grown for millenia in Europe, and rice in Asia, and maize in the Americas, with no damage to the land overall. They difference between then and now was polyculture. The traditional European farm had cattle, the Asian one had water buffalos and pigs, the American one various smaller beasts, and the corn was grown with squash and beans anyway, not by itself.

                        When part of the land is for fruit and vegetables, part for pasture, part for cereals and part left fallow, and these parts are rotated one season after the other, things went well and the land thrived.

                        Where things went badly and the land turned to desert is when people got greedy, and left no land fallow, or removed cattle from it, etc.

                        And here in Australia, I think we can certainly say that the wrong cereals have been grown. A low rainfall place like southern NSW should not be growing rice (6,700 litres water per kg of rice grown), but instead sorghum (500 lt/kg) or something like that.

                        Current wheat crops achieve something like 10-15 tonnes/ha as monocultures with oodles of oil products on them. A subsistence farmer in Africa with no machinery but their hands and hoe, and no chemicals but a cow's manure, can achieve 2 tonnes/ha. 1t will feed 3 people for a year.

                        John Seymour wrote about this in his, The New Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency. He suggests that if you had 5 acres (2ha), you might divide it into half-acres (2,000 sw m, or 0.2 ha) and have,
                        • 1x half-acre acre for house and outbuildings[/*:m:mv8vnltj]
                        • 1x half-acre for fruit and vegetables[/*:m:mv8vnltj]
                        • 3x half-acre grass plots, with two cows for dairy, four sows, a boar, some sheep and fowl[/*:m:mv8vnltj]
                        • 5x half-acres with cereals, roots and beans, undersown with grass and clover. [/*:m:mv8vnltj]
                        • These 8x half-acres would be rotated each year, and a grass plot would stay grass for three years before being ploughed.[/*:m:mv8vnltj]
                        Syemour is writing of high-rainfall Europe, of course, so here Down Under, anywhere south of Canberra we'd halve those animal numbers. I've visited this sort of mixed farm, but not stayed there, and it certainly looks as though it works well. It also closely resembles the approach used for millenia in Europe. It's when we've stepped away from that approach, going monoculture to maximise production of particular crops for surplus sales or taxation of nobles/government, that we've come unstuck, and had potato famines, wheat blights, soil erosion and so on.

                        It's just your basic old mixed farm.

                        Wheat alone, yes, that's a bad idea. But I think that cereals have a good part to play in a proper polyculture. Like good permaculturists, of course, we'd choose carefully which cereal to put down. It is probably a bad idea for 600mm annual rain inner NSW to grow rice, while 2,000 mm annual rain far north Qld grows wheat. Low water use cereals like sorghum would be much better for Australia. There are 1.5 billion Asians in monsoonal regions growing rice, after all, I'm sure they can spare some in exchange for, say, roo meat.

                        If I were to get this 5 acre farm, I probably would not bother with wheat, because the treshing, milling and so on is rather a lot of work, and other stronger and more patient men are wiling to do this. So I would grow other things, and swap them for bread. But still, it's viable environmentally. Or else the world would have perished in the last 7,000 years of cereal agriculture.

                        It's true that we eat every day, but don't wear new clothes every day. However, don't underestimate the amount of resources going to textiles. World cotton production is about 20.5 million tonnes, requiring 35 million hectares (source). Flax for linen is about 2.1 million tonnes, requiring 1.3 million hectares. Or if you prefer to think of milk, Australia alone has 2 million dairy cattle using 2 million hectares of pasture, and another 2 million hectares of grain supporting them, producing 10 billion litres (10 million tonnes) of milk in all, and we Aussies consume 8.7 million tonnes of it in one form or another (some goes in food to pigs, etc) (source. I couldn't find figures for world pasture put to dairy, but optimistically their land and cows are as productive as ours, and I do know our production is 2% the world's production, so we can say that at least 200 million hectares are devoted to dairy.

                        By comparison, world wheat production of 800 million tonnes requires 320 million hectares.

                        [Incidentally, I could not find figures for world timber production and consumption, or rather, how much went to pulp and paper/cardboard/heating/cooking - so could easily be reduced - and how much went to furniture/housing - not so easy to reduce. Seems like a topic no-one's taken an interest in, really.]

                        So, certainly cereals are the most significant, both in nutrition and in land used, but other things are not insignificant.

                        So I conclude that it is no more sinful to grow other things, and trade them for bread, than it is to grow other things, and trade them for cotton, clothes, milk, etc.

                        I don't think any family by itself can be truly self-sufficient. But they can be self-reliant. By my travels, I just missed out on experiencing the Auckland blackouts of 1998, copped the Melbourne gas stoppage of 1999, and the Sydney water stoppage of 1999. So if I could have a home which had its own solar and wind power, its own biogas, and own rainwater tanks, I think that would be a fine thing.

                        I think the proper way to look at the power, gas and water provided by the state is the way we look at unemployment benefit and medicine - they're there for you when you're in trouble, but you shouldn't live your whole life on them. Rely first on yourself and your friends, relatives and neighbours, and only go to the state-supplied services when you're in trouble.

                        I think that one day we'll look at people with only grid electricity, etc, the way we now look at "dole bludgers." We'll call them "power bludgers," maybe.

                        Self-reliant, not self-sufficient.

                        This overly-long post brought to you by the letters J, B, and Insomnia.
                        greenwithagun blog


                        • #13
                          Further on wheat and farms, the Aussie/US approach is huge farms, the European one, smaller farms. An online friend talks about that in a non-permaculture context here. Those who have googlemaps will find it pretty interesting, but his text is enough.
                          Originally posted by Jurgen Hubert
                          [...][To see the difference between the USA and Germany] Let's begin with the basics - agriculture.

                          To gain an understanding just how different things work from the United States, a direct comparison might be helpful. Let's examine rural areas with everyone's favorite toy - Google Maps. Here we have a typical agricultural area in the American Midwest. Here we have a typical rural area in Northern Bavaria, near the place where I grew up (my home town is a few miles to the west).

                          Note that the two maps are on the same scale. The differences should be immediately apparent - the fields of the American Midwest are gigantic, while those in Bavaria are almost always tiny, tiny plots.

                          Where does this difference come from? Well, in the USA the plots were sold to settlers in large sizes, while the sizes and shapes of fields in Germany usually were formed during the Middle Ages and went through numerous generations of inheritance. For a long time it was the law that all sons should inherit equally from their fathers, leading to numerous splits in field sizes (and the fracturing of feudal domains, but that's another topic...). There has been some effort in the last century to consolidate those fields into larger unit, but still, the fields remain a patchwork.

                          This has its up- and downsides. For one thing, this landscape is very scenic [...]. Tourism is a major industry and business, especially in Bavaria, and much of that might be gone if the patchwork of fields would vanish - they are a large part of the scenery. Additionally, this kind of landscape has a high biodiversity - many more species (especially birds) make their home in this kind of environment than it would be the case if it was just one unbroken expanse of forest. The fields have become truly a part of nature, instead of being imposed on it.

                          On the other hand, it cannot be denied that all those farms can't exist without large subsidies, which are a constant drain on the tax payer's money. They simply can't compete with the Midwestern giant farms - economics of scale see to that. So what is the "right approach"? Continue the subsidies to maintain this landscape? Or stop paying them and return the money to the tax payer so that they can invest it in something else?

                          I don't know. Though I would miss those fields if they were gone [...]
                          Jurgen fails to note that US farmers also receive large subsidies. US subsidies and price-supports account for 20% their income, while EU ones are 35% (source).

                          So the Europeans have smaller, and more sustainable farms. They use less fertiliser, pesticide, herbicide, etc per area than the USA and Australia.

                          And they eat lots of wheat

                          It's the good old small-scale mixed farm that works well. A polyculture!
                          greenwithagun blog


                          • #14
                            The style of crop rotation you are referring to there Jim Bob is a relatively recent innovation. Middle ages...
                            To say that wheat has been intensively grown in Europe for millenia I think is just plain wrong...
                            To be honest I don't really get your distinction between self reliance and self sufficiency. If you are relying on someone else to be processing your wheat how is that self reliance?
                            Notice I haven't said that I think we shouldn't be designing for local, sustainable production of textiles, timber and fuel. I just think that food production is more of a fundamental priority. You won't need any of that other stuff if you haven't eaten.
                            By the way, trading roo meat for rice in asia is about as energy efficient as pushing a wheelbarrow with a flat tyre uphill! :lol: Besides, we need to get the people in Asia to stop paddy farming too!
                            caretaking 14 acres of ridge and gully land at Huelo, Maui. 400-500 ft above sea level
                            wet tropics/subtropics


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Richard on Maui
                              To be honest I don't really get your distinction between self reliance and self sufficiency.
                              "Self-sufficiency" would mean that you produce everything sufficient for yourself's needs. All food, water, power, wood, clothes, everything. Like the Swiss Family Robinson

                              "Self-reliance" means you basically take care of yourself, but trade things you can't easily make, and you rely on the community only in emergencies.
                              greenwithagun blog