Self Sufficiency: How Much Land to Feed Your Family?

self sufficiency

We talk a lot about food security, self-sufficiency, and growing your own food around here, but how much space would you need to totally feed yourself and your family?

The folks at 1 Block Off the Grid have an excellent infographic on the amount of land you’d need to feed a family of four. Check it:

self sufficiency infographic
Click to view the full-sized version

I like that they make meat, eggs, and dairy optional in this outline for self sufficiency! What do you guys think? Does this look like it would produce enough food to feed a family of four?

Is Subsistence Farming Sustainable?

The more interesting question, in my opinion, is about whether this is a sustainable model. As our population explodes, is 2 acres per person even feasible? Assuming there are around 12 million square miles of arable land on the planet, it doesn’t seem possible that subsistence farming like this alone can support our population of over 6.7 billion people. There are 640 acres per square mile, so that makes about 7.7 billion acres of arable land or 1.1 acres per person. (Editor’s note: Thanks to reader Russell Peto for awesome help with the math on this one!)

Of course, how we’re going to feed our world’s growing population is a huge, complex question. Some folks say that we need genetically modified crops. Others say that GMOs are a threat to the future of food security. Intensive farming methods can help, but when you step up agricultural intensity, it can have its own set of problems, like pollution from runoff and plant and animal diseases that are more of an issue in close quarters.

The short answer is that feeding the world isn’t easy now, and it’s not going to get easier as our population numbers continue to climb.

But this is getting to be a bit of a downer, and I’m much more interested in thinking about the solutions than about the problem, so I’d love to hear from you guys:

  • Have you run across any cool ways to grow lots of food in a small space?
  • How much of a role do you think that vertical farming/vertical gardening is going to play in our food future?
  • I also wonder how much you could shrink that 2 acre number if you added vertical gardening techniques.
  • I’m not sure if that arable land estimate included urban areas; maybe urban farming is going to be a big part of the solution, too! What do you guys think? is an organization that offers community discounts for solar panels. The infographic includes how much land you would need for solar panels for energy. For more info on solar panels for your community, go to Home Solar Power Discounts

[h/t Eco Karen]

8 thoughts on “Self Sufficiency: How Much Land to Feed Your Family?”

  1. I would scrap the corn and pigs — in fact we do. How much land you need depends a lot on where you live. We have a farm in what’s considered nonarable land — pasture land and grow all our own food. We used to grow 100% of what we ate on 1 acre with greenhouse and winter garden in an urban area. Now we have more land but its not as productive due to year round frost. We still grow substantially most of our own food. You don’t eat a typical diet and learn to eat what you can grow and it works well.

    On our land, with year-round frost, we don’t do corn, or grains. Goats and chickens are essential to provide protein when you can’t grow beans or grains due to frost. But these animals also live on what you can grow — grass.

    Goats can live on weeds, peas and kale — that you can grow in your garden — they don’t need corn. Get rid of the pigs and put some rabbits in. Rabbits eat the scraps from the garden, and grass or hay. Field peas, mangrel beets, Kale, potatoes all provide human and animal feed without the land waste space of grain and can grow when there is summer frost. But its a lot of work to subsistence farm — especially if you have an outside job.

    And there is enough arable land in the world to give every family enough food. The trouble is in most countries the land isn’t owned by families. The government owns it. And takes the crop or tells the sharecropper what they have to grow — not usually a food crop. And in a bad year, since they don’t own the land, the farmers have to move. So there’s no motivation to build up fertility or use sustainable methods, and the land suffers. Change the way land is owned and you will change the stats on world hunger.

    Most families in the world don’t live in a 2,000 square foot house. Smaller houses need less energy, too. So I think you are correct when you say that this model isn’t sustainable for the whole world. But I think with adjustments to this model, we could feed the world by giving every family an acre or two to grow their own food.

  2. According to the USDA (, in 2007, (the most recent stats I can find right now), the US had a total of 922,095,840 acres in farmland. This includes cropland–406,424,909 acres, woodland–75,098,603 acres, pastureland–408,832,116 acres, and “land in house lots, ponds, roads, wasteland, etc.”–31,740,212 acres.

    Given our current population of 312,133,028, according to the US Population Clock, we would need 624,266,056 acres to feed each of us on sustainable plots as suggested in this model. So it looks like for us, it could be done with nearly a third of our arable farmland left to help feed people in other parts of the world, assuming we keep population growth under control here.

    If Geoff Lawton (Google “Greening the Desert”) and other permaculturists are correct, very likely we could feed the world on small plots of land in this manner. Indeed, there is much to suggest this is a far more sustainable model than Big Ag.

    I’d like to learn more, and if I had any land, I’d be giving it a whirl right now.

  3. Great post! I believe that with creativity, innovation and community sharing, it is possible to become self sufficient on .5 acres or less!

  4. I doubt the earth quality will stay the same. Also, if you buy food for your animals itΒ΄s not self sufficient again. And the space for the animals is not really good for them which affects the quality of their products.
    Also, if we would use all arable land it would have many ecological consequences.
    The earth simply canΒ΄t stand 7 billion humans.

  5. The infographic is correct that goats are more land efficient than cows. However, they forgot to mention needing a buck to breed those does and that those does will not produce year round. In my experience a better option would be to get 3 Nigerian Dwarf does and a buck. Nigerians can produce a 1/2 gallon or more daily of very rich sweet milk (at least 2x that of Nubians) that makes excellent cheese and butter. Unlike their larger and harder to handle/transport counterparts, they cycle year round so their breedings can be staggered to occur throughout the year. Three does and a buck would consume roughly the same amount of feed as two Nubian does. Nigerians don’t mind sharing pasture space with chickens and if you fence around your fruit trees that space can be added to their pasture space too. They keep the grass from competing with the trees and provide fertilizer at the same time. When it is time to harvest, simply close off the orchard area from the animals until you are finished. Then let them feast of the left overs.

  6. This is a great graphic but if you really want to use the space efficiently or do the same with a smaller space, go up. Vertical gardening is a must. If you go up with as many veggies as you can that’s more pasture space or plant hay for feeding animals. I agree totally with the post on using the dwarf goats as well. There are dwarf cows too.

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