Anyone who has seriously considered the prospect of becoming self sufficient has considered what that might actually look like to live in that way and in most cases, visions of 1800 style living or some version of of a homestead reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie come to mind. But even if this idea didn’t scare you off or perhaps was even attractive to you, you inevitably make your way to the question of “How much land do you actually need to be self sufficient?”
This question which seemingly could have a simple answer expressed as a number of acres per person is actually quite complicated. Rather than dive too deeply and get lost in the details let’s take a moment and truly consider the intent of the question. However, in order to do that you first need to answer a couple of other questions:
- What does it mean to you to be self sufficient?
- What standard of living are you willing to accept?
- How many of you will there be in your group
- What locations are you considering?
- What is your budget?
Lets take them in order
What does it mean to you to be self sufficient?
For some this means little more than living out in the country or to be off grid and not have any utilities on your property, while on the other end of the spectrum it means that everything that you would need to sustain life needs to be procured from your homestead. This includes food, medicine, tools, clothing… everything.
Regardless of what your dream is, I’m not going to tell you that something is or is not possible. But I will tell you that there is a difference between being self sufficient and self sustainable. If you were to rely ENTIRELY on the land for absolutely everything, lets look at the Canadian homestead act and practices of the individuals of the time period to get an idea: 320 acres was considered to be the optimal number back then. But even they would need to resupply from time to time.
If you are willing to accept that you will need access to a local community for some of your food and supplies than the number of acres required can potentially be quite low, even in the single digits, but this discussion nicely segues into the next question:
What standard of living are you willing to accept?
If wearing homemade clothing and your workday mirroring the rising and setting of the sun is your thing, then understand that you will be very busy and work very hard to survive. However if you enjoy modern conveniences like refrigeration, clothes washers, TV, internet, you will still find yourself very busy but you won’t necessarily be working as hard or as long as someone who has decided to take up a more “unplugged” lifestyle. Again I’m not here to tell you that one is better than the other. Your dreams are yours, but you need to be realistic and comfortable with your answer before you proceed.
How many of you will there be in your group?
Are you considering being self sufficient with just your immediate family or are you part of a larger group like a prepper group or a religious organization? Will you all be able to work and contribute? In theory the more of you there are the easier it is to get the work done necessary to support the larger size, and you will be able to divide the labor and specialize your skills and gain expert level experience which will allow for greater efficiency and produce larger outcomes. Those who can’t work like the elderly and children will be a draw on the group resources so be sure you take those individuals into account when planning. But if it is just you and your spouse and your kids, than all the work will need to be done by you, so you will need to become a Jack-of-all-trades, so to speak. This also means that a small group will have a harder time managing a larger piece of land so bigger isn’t necessarily better.
What locations are you considering?
Acreage in the middle of a city versus the northern rocky mountain forests, the arid region of the southwest or the swamps of the south east all have different resources available and dangers to consider. Depending on where you are thinking of setting up your self sufficient property you will need to have an understanding of the resources you need and if the area you are considering has them available. Soil quality, water, growing season duration, number of daylight hours, southern exposure, local laws and ordinances, natural disasters, etc. These are just a few of the things to consider and if your preferred region of the country will be able to support your idea of what it means to be self sufficient.
What is your budget?
For most people this is probably the most important factor. If you are thinking of just turning your backyard into an edible garden or if you are considering the purchase of a few hundred acres, your ability to afford what you need will be a significant factor. But there is a wild card I have yet to discuss that will allow you to take almost any type of property and allow it to suit your needs and that is your willingness to accept the benefits of technology to make up for the discrepancies that the amount of land you can afford can offer and what your actual needs are.
For example, solar and wind power to address your electrical needs. Propane for gas, or if you want to take it a step further you can look into a methane bio digester that will allow you to produce your own cooking gas instead of propane. You can also look into gardening technologies like hydroponics, aqua culture or the marriage of the two called aquaponics which will allow you to produce significantly more food in a much smaller space and usually faster than a traditional garden. If your property has a large enough stream you could build a “tromp” which generates an unlimited supply of pressurized air that you could potentially use with air-powered tools.
So the answer I would give to the main question is if you can buy a piece of land that is large enough to satisfy your other needs like privacy, view, hunting, recreation, the number of people in your group, you could allow the use of technology to allow you to become as self sufficient as you want to be on a property small enough for you to afford and make up for any shortcomings in labor you may have if it is just meant to support just yourself.
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