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]

Written by Becky Striepe


Leave a Reply
  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. I had to do this math for another post, I know it is not broken down to useable farmland, but it does put the global population into perspective.
    The claim was that if all 7.5 Billion people were given 4 Sq Ft, and placed in one location, that they would take up less space than half of the state of CT.
    Challenge accepted!

    I initially ran through these rough numbers in my head and didn’t believe my findings so I needed to sit down and confirm the results.

    The numbers we dealing with:
    – Connecticut is 5,544 SQ miles in size,
    – Each Sq Mile is 27,878,400 Sq Feet.
    – CT is square feet is 154,557,849,600 Sq Ft.
    Current population I’m using is 7.5 Billion (it’s actually 7.7 billion)

    So If we gave all 7.5 Billion people in the world 4 sq feet, that would come out to 30 Billion square feet. Considering that the state of CT Consists of 154 billion sq feet in size, that would take up 1/5th of Connecticut landmass. So, at 4 sq feet each, the entire population of 7.5 billion will fit into 1/5th of Ct.

    To take this exercise a step further, using the continental US (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) the continental US is made up of 3,119,885 sq miles.
    If we broadened this to see how much land in the US alone each person on the planet can live on, that comes out to roughly 1/3 an acre each. This leaves the rest of the planet devoid of ALL HUMAN LIFE and in pristine wilderness conditions.

One Ping

  1. Pingback:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Women Farmers Key to Sustainable Agricultural Development

Sharing News: RelayRides Attracts Big-Name Investors