Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I am often asked how much space it would take to grow all one’s food. That depends on a lot of factors. I can only address the issue from the sustainability of also growing all the compost crops to feed back the soil. With the world population now topping seven billion, using the least area for this project is high on the list of considerations.
Limiting your diet to only what you could grow in the least area, sustainably, brings nutritional challenges, with the most limiting nutrients being calories, calcium, and protein. Those can be met with careful planning, however the resulting diet may or may not be something you want to eat everyday at this time in your life. This is exactly what is studied at the Intermediate level of GROW BIOINTENSIVE® Sustainable Mini-farming. The basic information for GROW BIOINTENSIVE can be found in How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons.
With good yields, you could grow a 2000 calorie diet, along with the necessary soil building crops, on about 3,800 square feet in Zone 7. Find out more about that diet at Homeplace Earth. That’s the short answer to how much space it would take to grow all one’s food. In reality, answers like this, if there are any, are never easy. John Jeavons has been working on this for forty years at Ecology Action. In those forty years, the infrastructure of sustainability has been slowly growing. According to Altered Harvest by Jack Doyle, Monsanto began buying up seed companies in the 1970’s. However, seed companies such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Bountiful Gardens, and many others are keeping open pollinated seeds available to us and educating seed savers. Ecology Action serves as a catalyst for training sustainable growers worldwide. The program I began in 1999 at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland, VA continues and those students are out starting programs of their own. It is because of community that we are able to grow our own food. In community we pass on knowledge, skills, and tools. I’m sure many of you new homesteaders out there have discovered this. Without others keeping breeding flocks and herds of animals, saving seeds, making tools and supplies, writing magazines and books, producing videos, etc., it would be pretty hard to make a go of it, if you weren’t raised that way. In times past, knowledge, skills, and supplies were passed on as naturally as the sun rises each morning. Although our society went off track for awhile, those things are being revived in 21st century ways. With the help of community systems we can grow our own food, and in the process become part of the whole.
Permaculture ethics call us to care for the earth, care for the people, and return the surplus. Each of us has talents we can use to strengthen the network within our own communities. If our talents and resources allow us to grow more food than we can consume ourselves, we can share, barter, or sell the surplus within our community, building strong ties with others and expanding our own options. Many grow their own food out of fear about the future. However, fear can be crippling. We need to act out of love for the earth and each other. In acting out of love, fear falls away.
Once again, I’m working on Homegrown Fridays. That’s when I eat only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent. I grow a lot of food, but not all we eat. If you really want to grow all your own food, I invite you to try only eating what you’ve grown for a day. Or limiting your meals to choices that you could possibly grow when your homestead is up and running, you retire, your landlord finally lets you have a garden, or whatever it is that is currently holding you back from gardening to the max. You will gain a whole new perspective on how to feed yourself, and ultimately, feed others.